Yes, there is a swimming pool underneath the gymnasium at L.C. Hatcher Elementary. This is one of those “things to know.”
Some of you might say, “What?” Others of you might say, “Oh yes, there is indeed,” or “Oh my, I had forgotten about that.” Extraordinary bits of trivia can be found in any community or town. Lucedale is not without its share. Because enough interesting truth lies within this small town, no one needs to make up grandiose tales.
The swimming pool was completed in 1936 using Works Progress Administration (WPA) monies under the presidential tenure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt created the New Deal program, which included the WPA, to help Americans bounce back from the Great Depression that suffocated too many families. According to an article in the April 25, 1936 issue of the Biloxi Daily Herald, a municipal swimming pool was built near Lucedale High School using these funds. The concrete pool was 104 by 45 feet and cost about $5,000. Its depth was six to nine feet. The project employed about 30 men a day for approximately three months. Luwana Hobby found the article and posted it on the Facebook group George County and Surrounding Communities – Memories to Treasures. Several local citizens commented on the posting. Some had memories about it. Others had heard scary tales about it and were terrified during gym classes that took place over the pool.
I’ve talked to several friends who grew up in Lucedale during the 1930s and 1940s trying to get the most accurate facts possible about the swimming pool. These included Dr. Dayton Whites, Roy Grafe and Jo Ann Weaver. I’ve also gotten information from people who grew up here in later years – people like Patsy Bryant Horn and Lee Hedegaard. Many of these interviewees’ stories overlap stirring me to believe they are likely true. Some stories were memories from a single person that seemed to fit the same narrative. Other mentions weren’t corroborated so I have refrained from including them in this column.
The consensus of the swimming pool history is the pool existed from 1936 until sometime prior to 1948. Roy Grafe remembers using the pool as an athletic dressing room when he played football at Lucedale High School where he was a 1951 graduate.
By that time a gymnasium had been built above it and the empty pool became a locker room. “If you were changing on the shallow end of the pool you had to bend because you’d bump your head, but if you were changing clothes on the deep end of the pool you had plenty of room to stand up. And if you were on the slope where the pool went from shallow to deep you had to be careful about slipping,” Grafe recalled. Born in 1933, Grafe isn’t certain whether he really remembers the pool when it was operational for swimming or if he has just seen photos and heard stories.
Weaver remembers it well; however, she never swam in it because she never learned to swim. Born in 1930, Weaver remembers walking past it and seeing others use it as a pool. A tall, chain link fence surrounded the pool. It had wooden bath houses on the north side of the pool for changing from street clothes to bathing clothes. Back then no one sunbathed. That would have been a sin. Pools were simply for swimming.
The pool was considered a municipal pool, a city pool. Whether a fee was charged to swim has not been determined. Grafe said he has never heard a fee was charged. Weaver did not know either, but said if so, it would have been only a few cents. It is speculated the pool closed sometime in the 1940s and the reason was probably due to leaks. A leaky pool is expensive to keep filled with water.
At the time it was built, Lucedale School encompassed grades 1-12. This was before additional halls, or wings, were added onto what we now call L.C. Hatcher Elementary School. The pool would have been on city property at that time.
Next time you drive along South Pine Street which travels the south side of L.C. Hatcher Elementary School, look at the rear of the gym. You’ll see concrete steps which land at a locked door. Those steps lead into the swimming pool.
Yep, there’s a big ole pool under there. This is just one of those “things to know.”
*Photo courtesy of stock photos.