8 Wonders of Kansas customs

An 8 Wonder of Kansas Customs

Swimming in the summer, Garden City

Address: 403 S. 4th, Garden City, KS 67846
Website: www.garden-city.org/government/departments/big-pool

Custom: Swimming in the summer

Historic place that exemplifies the custom: The Big Pool, located on S. 4th Street, Garden City 

Hours & Admission:

Monday - Thursday 1:00 - 6:00 p.m.

Friday - Sunday & Holidays: 1:00 - 7:00 p.m.

The pool will be cleared 15 minutes prior to closing time.

Fees - All ages 0 - 100 years

Daily Admission Rates: $2.00 per person

Daily Admission Rate & Slide Pass: $3.00 per person

Learn more about it: Display at the Finney County Museum (just west of the pool), 403 S. 4th, Garden City. 620.272.3664.  Open daily 1-5 p.m.

Source: Laurie Oshel

Affectionately known as the "Big Pool", it is indeed a jaw-dropping mammoth concrete pond. At 330-feet x 220-feet, it's larger than a football field with a surface area of 72,600 square feet. It holds 2.6 million gallons of water.

The real value of the Big Pool is as an historic Garden City landmark, tied to the community's heritage and identity.

The pool was originally the inspiration of Mayor H.O. Trinkle in 1921. Amidst concerns over the cost of the construction, the pool became a hometown project. Every citizen was encouraged to pledge labor, materials or money. The Big Pool was dug and concrete poured by the people of Garden City. At its dedication on July 18, 1922, a band played as hundreds of people hit the water in unison to inaugurate Garden City's first summer swim season.

From the Garden City Herald, undated issue, sometime after the pool opened in 1922

Garden City is proud of her municipal pool, for Garden City made it herself...There is a little story of community enterprise in connection with Garden City's municipal pool. Early this spring Mayor Trinkle, who is something of a water fan himself, proposed the building of a city swimming pool. Everybody was willing, of course -- even enthusiastic, but -- and several "buts" were interposed, chief of which was, "but where will be get the money?"

"Suppose we build it with our own hands," said the mayor.

Subscription papers were circulated. "How many day's labor will you give to the pool?"  How many teams will you furnish?"  "If you can't work and haven't any horses, how much money will you give?" were the questions put to the citizens of Garden City, high and low, rich and poor.  And Garden City's citizens...each set down some sort of pledge to the pool and signed on the dotted line.

Almost before the ink was dry...the work commenced and by the end of the first week the new pool began to take on form and shape…the dirt was flying and men and horses were toiling.  Everybody worked.

Then came the problem of the cement. Garden City had the sand. In the enthusiasm of the workers and the planners, the pool had taken on such tremendous proportions it would take train load of cement for the concrete.  How Mayor Trinkle and the commissioners got the cement nobody knows, and nobody is asking foolish questions...  Now the great pool is completed and filled to the brim with clean, clear water, and there it basks in the sun and sparkles and smiles, a 'gem of purest ray,' the pride of Finnup Park and the joy of Garden City.

The bath house was a WPA project during the 1930s. A children's wading pool was added at this time as well.

From an article in the GC Telegram, August 26, 1987

More that a million swimmers from around the world can lay claim to being in or under the water at Garden City's big municipal swimming pool.  Yesterday, two Garden City youths became the first to ski atop its nearly three million gallons of water.  It was a promotional stunt for the benefit of photographers, who will use pictures such as this in the new city brochure next year.  The idea is to promote Finnup Park, the zoo and the world's largest outdoor free concrete municipal swimming pool.  Navigating the boat is City Commissioner Cecil Baker.  Following close behind are skiers Kent Seba, 1012 N. 3rd, foreground and Joy Durham, Imperial Rt.

From article in the GC Telegram May 17, 1996 written by Kathy Sexson

For several years, the zoo's elephants, Moki and Chana, had the opportunity to swim in the municipal pool after it closed for the season.  The crowds came from as far as California, and numbered in the thousands daily for the week that the girls swam.

It was great fun for the many spectators to watch them roll and frolic in the pool, and "I have no doubt that Moki and Chana enjoyed these excursions just as much as their audience," said Dan Baffa, zoo director.

By the late 1990s the pool was badly in need of a face lift.  After gathering input from a community pool committee, the City Commission prepared a master plan.  Because of the $8 million dollar price tag, the project was broken down into smaller pieces.  In 2003, the Garden City Recreation Commission took over the management of the Big Pool and instituted the pool's first user fees.  Though nominal, the change was significant in that it voided the Pool's traditional claim to fame as the "World's Largest Free Outdoor Concrete Municipal Swimming Pool."  However, he pool is still enormous and the attendance actually increased the first year the user fees were instituted!  This has held true for the following years as well.

As the first eager swimmers hit the water of the Big Pool in 2006, they inaugurated the most significant improvements to the Garden City landmark in its 84-year legacy.  It had undergone its third and most visible face lift during the late winter and early spring of 2006.  Five slides were incorporated with a plunge pool and a bulkhead that divides the pool into north and south halves.

The pool project will not be completed for several more years, but Garden City already has the best of both worlds.  The community has a modern pool facility for swimmers of all ages to enjoy and an historic landmark has been preserved.

View from the southeast corner.  Photo KSF