When attorney William Wing bequeathed 121 acres of wooded farmland to Elgin, Ill., in 1902, the community of more than 20,000 had no swimming pool. Instead, there was the Fox River, and swimming holes in gravel pits and creeks for skinny dipping and ?promiscuous bathing.?
A local newspaper reported in 1888 that ?the river swarms with bathers of all ages, attired mostly in mere nothingness.? Boaters, passersby and even railroad passengers had good views of men and boys diving off the Kimball Street Bridge.
The city?s first public outdoor pool was constructed in Wing Park in 1908 by damming up Tyler Creek and spreading sand for a beach. It was usually referred to as a ?mudhole.?
Voters in 1923 approved a $35,000 bond issue to build a reinforced concrete swimming pool in the park, and it opened in 1924. The pool (100 feet by 225 feet) was fed by Tyler Creek, with the water passing through a purifying chlorine tank. Lights were provided for evening swims. Towels were 5 cents, and swimsuits (no skinny dipping allowed) could be rented for a quarter. It was called a ?democratic spot,? available to bankers and bakers, debutantes and dishwashers, but African-Americans were not allowed until the early 1940s.
The Wing Park pool was closed by the state in 1947 because of an inadequate filtration system, and it took three referendums before voters agreed to a $75,000 bond issue to remedy the problem and allow a reopening in 1950. In 1976, the pool was rebuilt in a $900,000 project.
Renovated in 1987, the pool was closed in 1998 for construction of the new Family Aquatic Center, which opened in 2000. This water wonderland, one of the largest in Illinois, cost $5.5 million. It is a considerable improvement over the ?mudhole? at Tyler Creek