Two and a half weeks before marching bands, a stunt pilot and “Diablo the Human Torch” entertained some 50,000 people at the dedication of Schoonover Park, the man most responsible for making it all possible quietly tried out the park’s recently completed swimming pool.
“T.R. Schoonover, president of The City Loan and Savings Co., and donor of Schoonover Park to the city, Sunday had the honor of taking the first ‘dip’ in the park’s new $140,000 swimming pool,” The Lima News wrote June 17, 1940.
“Taking advantage of the first water test at the pool, the philanthropist, members of his family and a few friends staged an informal initiation of the new swimming plant which will become the mecca for thousands of Lima and district bathers on and after the big Fourth of July dedicatory celebration. Splashing into the pool’s clear waters with the enthusiasm of nine-year-old boy, Schoonover proudly waved to the small audience which stood by to witness the first plunge,” the newspaper added.
The wear and tear of 80 years, however, took a toll, and at the end of summer in 2019 the last of those tens of thousands of swimmers The Lima News foresaw flocking to the pool clambered out of it.
Lima had long wanted a public swimming pool, and the topic came up again on a hot July day in the middle of the Great Depression.
“Plans for a swimming pool estimated to cost $55,000 and capable of accommodating as many as 25,000 persons daily were disclosed at a meeting of Lima playground officials, city and federal authorities Tuesday night in the office of Fred L. Roose, Work Progress head from the 13th district,” The Lima News reported July 22, 1936. The Works Progress Administration was a federally funded jobs program.
As a result of the meeting, a committee was formed, an executive board organized and a slogan contest declared. An expert from Terre Haute, Indiana, told the meeting of “the present trend toward artificial bathing facilities under competent supervision.”
In late October 1937, the dream came within reach.
“In a few simple, unassuming phrases, Thomas R. Schoonover, donor of McCullough’s park to the city of Lima, turned over the deed to the property to the city at a program staged in Central High School,” the News reported Oct. 28, 1937. The newspaper noted that the property had been purchased by Schoonover at a price “reported in excess of $25,000,” and “has been designated as Schoonover Park by act of city council.”
McCullough Park once had a large swimming hole, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, penny arcade, fun house, roller coaster “and the finest dance hall in this part of the state” and was known as Lima’s “playground of the Twenties,” a former manager of the park told the Lima Citizen in May 1959. By the mid-1930s, however, the park had become rundown and was sold to Schoonover.
Schoonover, in addition to donating the park to the city, pledged “$25,000 to improve the resort and $5,000 annually for 10 years for its upkeep.” He would ultimately give much more, in land and money.
On Jan. 2, 1938, The Lima News revealed plans for the park to be funded, “in addition to the sizeable cash donations from Schoonover,” by a “vast sum” from the federal government assured by its inclusion as a WPA project.
“Among the major projects planned for the park are an elaborate swimming pool, wading pool, a spacious auditorium, shelter houses, a club house, recreation grounds, tennis courts and other recreation facilities including a club house, a boat house and other features,” The Lima News wrote, adding that 125 WPA workers were “engaged in preliminary cleanup work at the park site.”
On Feb. 22, 1938, The Lima News announced that the pool, “one of the biggest features of Lima’s newest recreation center,” would cost “in the neighborhood of $121,000” and that construction of the “elaborate WPA project” would begin in two or three weeks and employ 200 workers for eight months.
Nearly a year later, on May 28, 1939, The Lima News reported work would start that week on the 100-by-220-foot pool, which would accommodate 1,200 bathers, on the high ground along Findlay Road on the northeast side of the 41-acre park. That ground, like the park itself, had been donated by Schoonover, who purchased the four acres for $3,500 in October 1938.
Finally, in early May 1940, the city announced that Schoonover Park would be dedicated on the Fourth of July. On May 17, 1940, in an open letter, The Lima News declared, “It is appropriate that the dedication celebration should be held on this day. It affords all Lima a splendid opportunity to turn out by the thousands in tribute to the city’s No. 1 citizen, T.R. Schoonover, the park’s donor.”
And turn out they did, although whether it was to honor Schoonover or enjoy the entertainment — including “Diablo,” a Lima man who dove off a 75-foot tower into flame-covered Schoonover Lake — is uncertain.
This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.
See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce
Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].