For nearly 90 years, man has controlled nature at Gainesville’s Glen Springs Pool–and man is faring surprisingly well.
The pool was built in the late 1920s and expanded in the 1940s by Guy Chandler Fulton, best known for his post-World War II works on the nearby University of Florida campus. Glen Spring was a popular recreational spot, hosting a range of events at the pool and inside the spring house, which was also designed by Fulton. The spring may have even hosted a “mermaid” show.
The pool closed to swimmers in 1970 after Gainesville banned the dumping of chlorinated water into its waterways. It has not been maintained since. The Elks Club now owns the property, and the pool serves as a fish pond that is occasionally raided by otters.
I discovered the pool via a posting on the blog Visual Ephemera. Its existence surprised me, because I have driven past the site, at 2424 NW 23rd Blvd., many times but never knew what was tucked behind the club’s nondescript buildings. Elks member Linda Califf wrote in the entry‘s comments that she is heading an initiative to clean and restore the pool and offers tours. (The property is fenced and only accessible through the Elks-owned spring house.) I contacted her and arranged a tour for April 7, 2012.
The concrete pool is actually three pools. The head pool, where the fifth-magnitude spring bubbles out of the ground, is 18-by-10 feet and perhaps 8 feet deep. The water then enters into a middle pool that makes an approximately 160-degree turn and measures about 170-by-25 feet and 3 feet deep. Next, it trickles into the southernmost pool, which is about 140-by-25 feet and 8 feet deep. Finally, the water exits underneath the diving board and flows down the 500-foot Glen Spring Run before it reaches Hogtown Creek in Ring Park. Trees tower over the pool, the perimeter of which is lined by a chain-link fence. Multifamily residences look down on the site, just 50 feet to the west.
When I saw the pool firsthand, I was surprised at its condition. It resembled a crumbling pit in photos, but only the deepest pool, which is full of debris, was opaque. Algae and leaves are most responsible for the water’s unsightly appearance, and those can be removed. The concrete appears to be repairable–amazing considering the lack of maintenance over the past 40 years and perpetually wet surroundings. The only major area of concern is the southernmost end near the diving board, where the pool is at risk of collapse because of erosion.
Califf gave a comprehensive history of the pool and explained the brilliant drainage system designed by Fulton. She noted that the pool was emptied every Sunday, when lifeguards scrubbed the walls with push brooms.
Next, she gave a tour of the two-story spring house, used mostly for storage by the Elks who own a larger building next door. It’s difficult to imagine the spring house as a center of activity as described in the 2003 Gainesville Magazine article “Ghosts of Glen Springs.” The lower level changing rooms are now dank storage spaces, and the windows that looked out to the pool were long ago blocked in. The room that hosted so many dances appears tiny and stuffy, and only the outline of a bar on the maple floor remains in the main room.
In 2010, Amy Grossman wrote a Glen Spring restoration plan for a UF graduate level class. She called for the spring house to be renovated so the general public–not just the Elks–can once again enjoy the location. I agree with her on that point.
However, she also called for the spring run to be restored to its natural state. I disagree. While the pool impedes the spring run’s natural path and volume, it does not disrupt the spring itself. Furthermore, the pool is historic on multiple counts, significant for its engineering, recreational past, and association with Fulton.
But, most importantly, the pool is still capable of functioning in its intended capacity. A pool can be built anywhere, but few places have the opportunity to reopen a historic, spring-fed one. (Think Austin’s beloved Barton Springs.) In a region so synonymous with springs, a spring-fed pool in Gainesville would be a celebrated attraction.
Whether or not the water flowing out of Glen Spring is safe for swimming is unknown, and the water exiting the pool may have to be filtered before entering the city’s creek system. Fortunately, water treatments have improved since 1970 and may be implemented. But, if the levels are OK, why even treat the water? Green Cove Springs, 50 miles to the northeast of Gainesville, has a spring-fed public pool, and it’s not treated. Gainesville’s regulations can always be revised.
Of course, returning the Glen Springs Pool to active use requires money–something the Elks do not have. If they do decide to restore the pool, listing the site on the National Register of Historic Places should be the first step. NRHP listing will provide non-refutable proof that the site is historically important and thus worth saving. The listing will also attract attention to the site and open up potential funding opportunities from preservation organizations. At the same time, NRHP listing will not prevent alterations to the pool or spring house, should that building be listed.
Also, government entities and many organizations won’t fund projects that are not available to the public. Therefore, it may be wise for the Elks at some point to sell, donate, or lease the pool to the city, county, or nonprofit that can manage and maintain it.
I have taken a personal interest in the spring and hope to play a role in its preservation. Should the Elks support us, a friend and I would like to write the National Register nomination. We also would like to have the site’s archaeological survey updated; one conducted 30 years ago found evidence of American Indians, but it’s unlikely the spring will be NRHP eligible for that association.
Those interested in tours and volunteering for upcoming pool cleanups should contact Linda Califf at firstname.lastname@example.org.