Past Times

Raleigh residents spent their summers at Pullen pool

Pullen Park’s swimming pool was the place to be for more than 50 Raleigh summers.
Pullen Park’s swimming pool was the place to be for more than 50 Raleigh summers. N&O Photo

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of summer and swimming pool season. For many years in Raleigh, that meant heading to the big outdoor pool at Pullen Park. The pool opened in 1935 to great fanfare.

Over 5,000 people, attracted by a night of free entertainment, thronged Pullen Park here last night, overflowed the grandstand and bleachers around the new pool, stormed the dancing pavilion and took turns riding the hobby-horses, as new park facilities were dedicated.

Hero of the crowd was Wiley A. Howell, white-haired and slightly-stooped veteran in the city’s service, who is now in his 48th year as superintendent of the park which Philanthropist R. Stanhope Pullen donated to the city nearly half a century ago.

Tributes were paid to Mr. Howell’s service in every speech made from the diving board platform overlooking the spacious new pool constructed with ERA funds.

In the blaze of floodlights, the Senior Life Savers Corps of Raleigh presented a demonstration of life saving, swimming and diving following the speeches.

At least 2,000 automobiles were driven down the winding park roads to the site of the pool on Western Boulevard, estimated city police officers, who placed the attendance at from 5,000 to 8,000 people.

Traffic was handled smoothly by five officers, only one accident being reported. A hit-and-run driver ripped a fender from the parked automobile of Father John P. Manly, superintendent of the Catholic Orphanage and one of the speakers on the program.

Prolonged applause followed the introduction of Superintendent Howell by City Purchasing Agent Clifton Beckwith as “the patron saint of Pullen Park.” Mr. Howell was presented a cake by Fred Staudt, local bakery proprietor.

Mayor George A. Iseley extended a welcome to the throng, congratulated Mr. Howell on his record and presented Mrs. Thomas O’Berry, State relief administrator, whose organization has spent $100,000 on Pullen Park and is now spending more to complete a lake and playground facilities. Mrs. O’Berry told of the purpose of her organization to rehabilitate depression-stricken citizens and at the same time provide communities with worthwhile projects....

Father Manley, through whose efforts 13 acres of land for the lake now under construction were secured from the Catholic Orphanage, declared that the new facilities would contribute to the physical, moral and spiritual welfare of the people of Raleigh and surrounding communities. The N&O June 22, 1935

The pool was used until 1992 when the new indoor Raleigh Aquatics Center was built. Writer Treva Jones gave readers one last look at the old pool and its history.

The first pool at Pullen, built in 1890, was a huge wooden tub structure built by R. Stanhope Pullen, a philanthropist who gave the city the land for Pullen Park in 1887. Girls were allowed to swim in it only twice a week, when the park superintendent ran the boys out of the pool, locked the doors and let girls swim. They wore ankle-length bathing suits, stockings and slippers.

The city later replaced the wooden sides of the old pool with concrete. That pool was replaced with the 1935 pool, built with $100,000 of government money during the Depression.

During the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, the pool was a big family attraction and a prime teenage hangout.…

When the pool opened, there was a ballroom on the second floor of the bathhouse. Later, there was a roller skating rink. Both are only memories now. The N&O Aug. 14, 1992

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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