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Where Bluffton learned to swim 100 summers ago

Ever hear of "the lower end of the Buckeye?"

Swimmers in Bluffton in the 1920s learned to swim in the “lower end” of the Buckeye. Here's the story.

Ever hear of “Herrmann’s Quarry”? Probably not.

That’s because it’s somewhere in the memory of a forgotten Bluffton generation. Perhaps at one time it had two names. We may never know.

But, Herrmann’s Quarry never disappeared. It simply had a name change.

One generation of Bluffton swimmers forgot to inform the next generation, and Herrmann’s Quarry slowly became the Buckeye.


Note: We've posted this story before, but since it's swimming season this is a good time to review all of Bluffton's early swimming holes. Consider this part 1 and watch for more parts to this series.

There’s more to this story than simply a name change. There’s a location change. Swimmers in Bluffton in the 1920 learned to swim in the “lower end” of the Buckeye.

That’s another forgotten Bluffton term. Today the lower end is more commonly known as the Spring Street, or Sportsmen’s Depot side of the Buckeye.

Very little remains today to reveal that swimming location. We have two photos and one account of swimming and learning to swim in the Buckeye’s lower end. A 1980 interview with Margaret Steiner, who learned to swim there, tells us about Herrmann’s Quarry.


Margaret Steiner interview

A recent visit to the Buckeye park renewed by memories of swimming in the early 1920s.

Bluffton has more than one quarry. We called the quarry with the summer swim program “Herrmann’s Quarry.”

Although today it is known as the Buckeye, we never called it by that name.

I remember arriving at the quarry for my first beginner swim lesson along with a few young friends and my mother, Bertha Althaus Hahn, as our escort.

The program developed into future swim summers of action, events in skills with the participation of friends of all ages.

In the 1920s you’d go north on Spring Street, cross the Riley Creek bridge and to the left would be a herd of dairy cows grazing in the pasture – present location of the Sportsmen’s depot.

To the right, past the bridge was a wide grassy levee separating the creek and the quarry.

The levee was created by the development of the Herrmann Quarry.

The levee had a path in the center that angled in short bends and slants. The levee facing the quarry became a public observatory for swim and fishing events.

Although now abandoned, the Northern Ohio Railroad tracks bordered the pasture and continued past the north side of the quarry on its way to Pandora.


The railroad played an important part of the swim program.


I recall the trains’ prompt travel and sounds of locomotive bells and whistles. These marked the time of the day for the regular swimmers.

The quarry entrance at Spring Street was the “low end.” There was a natural walkway from the Spring Street entrance to the bath house. This building was located near the present shelter house.


In the wooded area between Spring Street and the bath house were two outdoor toilets. The women’s was nearer to the bath house. The men’s was placed near located between the quarry and bath house.

I remember a bell and well water pump. The bell was like a farm dinner bell. It hung with a long rope attached.

The well water pump had a hole drilled in the pump spout. As you pumped, by holding your hand close near the mouth of the spout, you could get a refreshing drink.


As I think about it, I recall additional swimming equipment in the deeper water depth of the quarry.

On the north bank, there was a tower with a diving board for deep diving. A second and shorter diving board was located near the bath house.


As you walk around the north end of the quarry you see limestone. In the 1920s there were natural steps in the bank that formed wedges. These created stepping stones to help swimmers get out of the water.

As swimming beginners, we met our swim instructor, whose name was Steiner Geiger.


I knew him as a friend of my older brother, William Hahn.


Belts around our waists

Before we entered the water Geiger placed belts around our waist. A rope was attached to the belt. The rope was held by our instructor or his assistant.


His assistant was his sister, Mabel Geiger.


Two swim students at a time were gently lowered into the cold quarry water.

I remember that we had some trouble catching our breath. This was not wading in Riley Creek. In the quarry our feet never touched the bottom!


After advancing from safety belts we went into safety lessons.


Now we had swim partners. LaDonna “Speck” Stepleton was my partner. Speck became a very skilled swimmer, as I remember.


Following our lessons we usually watched an advanced swim program in process.


Cheering and whistles

I remember often seeing Steiner Geiger climb up the diving tower. From the tower spring diving board he would dive, be suspended in air, then plunge to the deep water of the quarry. Watches would cheer and whistle.


This would be followed by the swim class practice of diving skills as those students prepared for swim meets.


You see, each summer, the name Steiner Geiger was widespread for his personal swim skills and instruction of swim classes in the Bluffton quarry.


Swimming in Bluffton was one of the most popular summer sports for youth at a time period of bicycles and motorcycle travel.


Swimming in the quarry was not just for youth. Adult swimming was also active at this time.


The adults usually swam with their own rules. Some would swim in the large, more open swim area in the deep end of the quarry.


An announcement addressed to them, using a horn that appeared to be from an old record player, was used to warn adults when they strayed from the safe swimming area.


This deep end, I recall, was the same area used for long-distance swim practice.


The high point of the summer was the July 4th swim meet. It was always well attended.


There was a lot of noisy cheering from land and physical energy in the water. Often the winners would come from the water and drop exhausted to the ground.


Some competitive swimmers

As I remember names of some of the more competitive swimmers, I think of Josephine Steiner, Virginia Tripplehorn, Dorothy Basinger, Louise Benroth among others.


I should mention that another very good swimmer was Mable Geiger, sister of Steiner Geiger. She was an advanced swimmer and a skilled diver at these meets.


I can’t remember how many basic strokes I learned at Herrmann’s Quarry. And, I can’t remember the year as a teenager that I won in a water race at Findlay Park, or the number of swim seasons I participated.


I do remember Bluffton’s special swim instructor names Steiner Geiger, who taught me and many Bluffton youth to swim in the low end of the quarry.


These times were great memories for me at Bluffton entered the 1920s.


Here are two photos of the early 1920s-era swimming location in today's Buckeye.

In the top photo Steiner Geiger stands on the deck. His sister, Mabel, is believed to be the girl on the diving board.

The next set of photos reveals this location in today's world.




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