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Bluffton's most mysterious places

Why is there a flagstone wall on both sides of the

Riley near Harmon Field? Who build it and why?

­Imagine a mysterious Bluffton location partially under water. Stand near the entrance to Steinmetz Field. Turn toward Harmon Field. Take about a dozen steps toward the creek.

There you will discover the remnants of a dam. That dam backed up the creek, but not anymore. Instead, it simply creates a mysterious Bluffton location.

And, if you'd like to read about another mysterious Bluffton swimming pool - you won't believe this one because it floated in the Buckeye - click here.

Remains of the dam today

Today the dam is just an impediment in the stream. However, on the Harmon Field side of the stream stand the remains of a very well-constructed flagstone wall. The wall on the Steinmetz Field side lost its battle with nature years ago.

Why is there a dam? Why a flagstone wall? Who built these structures and when?

By our definition, Bluffton’s places of mystery involve unexplained human-constructed features on our otherwise familiar landscape. They exist today like the statues of Easter Island.

This partially underwater site fits our list.

To fully appreciate this site, imagine Bluffton one century ago when this was a pretty interesting place.

Here’s the story:

In the past century the village has operated five separate swimming pools. Don’t be disappointed if you can only identify two of these pools. Our mysterious site dates back to the late 1920s and 1930s. For almost 10 years this was Bluffton’s swimming pool.

Lifeguards included Carl Smucker, Evan Soash, Garfield Griffith, Maynard Coon and Bob Schaublin. This is according to Herb Conrad and Jean Szabo, who talked about the pool in an interview conducted in 1980.

The pool had two flagstone walls and a dam. The dam controlled the water level, creating the perfect community-built swimming hole.

The dam had a gate, controlling water depth. The dam, however, trapped silt traveling down the Riley. Eventually, the area became too muddy for decent swimming, according to Forrest Steinman, also interviewed in 1980s.

The Riley Creek pool was abandoned and replaced with a new and improved “floating pool” located on the Main Street side of the Buckeye in the late 1930s. More on that mysterious object later.

As years passed, the dam disintegrated, swimmers grew up, and the town forgot and moved on.

1950 Aerial view

Builder list

The pool was a door-to-door community fund-raising project. Herb Conrad provided a list contributors and cancelled checks showing material and labor.

Checks for labor and services were written to Walter Burkett, Caesar Klay, Ross Tripplehorn and Gid Schaublin.

From the lists of donations and the bank deposit slips, persons who canvassed for contributions were George Combs, C.G. Coburn, George Klay, Harry Shally and John Garlington. Forrest Steinman thought that the building of the dam may have been a Lions Club project.

John Swisher was the superintendent in charge of construction and Don Conrad was treasurer of the project.

Bob Schaublin told me that kids who didn’t have the money to gain admission to this pool simply walked, or waded upstream to a location known as Hoover quarry. They swam there, unattended by adult supervision.

Here’s a description of the pool from one of its youthful swimmers, Anne McGinnis Parker, also interviewed in 1980.

1935 map

I always assumed it was a WPA project. The town dammed up the creek at Harmon Field. Nearest the dam was the deep section. Toward the railroad trestle was an elevated area with fine gravel bottom, fenced off for lesser swimmers.

Fresh quarry water was pumped in continually from the nearby waterworks. There was no need for chlorination, filtration. But, sometime we could see cattle wading upstream. My mother, a nurse, used to question the sanitation of such an arrangement, but she allowed us to use the village pool anyhow.

Every year the silt would build up inside the dam and each spring the fire department would use their pressure hoses to flush it away. Eventually, the silt and weeds won out, the dam pool was abandoned, and the Buckeye became the permanent swimming pool.

I remember some super divers around Bluffton. How did they get so expert? Did they go to Lima or Findlay for lessons? Did they gather their style from the Pathe newsreel? There was no TV and they couldn’t watch themselves on video. Did they, by intuition, practice, grace and skill helped establish present standards of spectacular diving.

Doc Soash, Clyde Fisher, Bud Newland, Jack Romey, Ted Clark, Maynard “Coonie" Coon, Bud Lora were some of those divers doing swans, gainers and summersaults. Jim Martin was good at all the above, but he always concluded his “program” with a belly smacker off the high board.

On your visit to this mysterious Bluffton location don’t be surprised if you hear the sounds of water splashing, divers showing off and life guards whistles wafting through the breeze. Those sounds and images come with the territory.

1945 Triplett photo

The 1945 photo

Study the photo with women sitting on the dam. It’s a picture from a Triplett newsletter in 1945. Think for a moment about the photographer. Was this person standing mid-stream? It appears that way.

If this location is not mysterious enough for you, consider this story from the Aug. 8, 1907, Bluffton News. It tells of an even earlier pool, but keeps the location a secret:

Attorney John A. Eaton, of Kansas City, Missouri, spent Thursday with relatives here. He was met at Bucyrus, the former home of the Eatons, Sunday by W.W. and Frank Eaton, for the express purpose of viewing the scenes of their boyhood days and visiting familiar places, including the old swimming hole.

The story did not reveal the location of the old swimming hole. Was it Hoover quarry, mentioned by Bob Schaublin? Could be, but in reality we believe there were several possibilities.

On the Harmon Field bank of the Riley

Remains of the dam

Dam view from the parking lot at Steinmetz Field

Steinmetz Field side of the stream

1950 aerial photo with arrow pointing to the dam

1945 Triplett photo with employees taking a break from work

1935 map showing "swimming pool"

1 Comment

This is pretty interesting. I always enjoy learning about the past history of Bluffton. Thank you for the story and the photos !


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