McKinley pooled opened its waters to visitors for the first time this summer on June 10 and according to pool manager, Sean Garnett, things have been going well so far.
Earlier in the year, it was unknown whether or not the pool would be able to operate this summer, due to much needed repairs and the expenses associated with maintenance.
A crowd funding page was launched by the North End Project Committee through GoFundMe to raise funds for the repairs. Led by Thomas Bailey, the committee aims to improve and restore public spaces within the North End neighborhood.
Many members of the community pitched in, sharing stories of the fun times they had at the pool.
Not only is the pool the only public pool within city limits, but it also plays an integral role in Portsmouth’s history. Serving as a site for the fight in ending segregation in the community.
The pool was built in memory of 14 year old Eugene McKinley. On the last day of school, June 9, 1961, McKinley and a group of other African American school boys went out to find a place to beat the heat and celebrate summer. The boys went swimming in a flooded sand and gravel pit, where McKinley drowned.
“Portsmouth was actually ahead of the curve in some areas of race relations, particularly when it came to law enforcement and public health. Ted Wilburn served as the city’s first African- American Chief of Police and James Forrest Scott, MD, had the honor of being the nation’s first popularly elected African-American county coroner,” explained historian, Dr. Andrew Feight. “Yet, for all of the progress these men represented, white residents of Portsmouth still maintained Jim Crow at their swimming facilities. The day Eugene McKinley drowned, the city’s only swimming pool blocked blacks from admission. His white classmates swam at the Terrace Club’s famous Dreamland Pool in the East End; his black classmates swam in dangerous pools of water such as that which took McKinley’s life.”
Feight explained that, rather than integrate Dreamland, citizens of both races decided to open a new pool, promoted as a “place in the sun for everyone.” Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, construction on the pool would come to a standstill for a few years.
“On July 2, 1964 The Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was now banned by federal law. It specifically outlawed racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. Private clubs, however, were exempted and it was unclear whether or not the federal law applied to Dreamland Pool, which at the time was owned and operated by the Terrace Club, a private club.The fight to end Jim Crow in Portsmouth was not yet won,” Feight explained.
A non-violent protest, known as a wade-in, was organized.
“At 1 p.m., on Friday, July 17th, 1964, when the pool was packed, and everyone was enjoying the sun and water, six African-American males approached the entrance to the Terrace Club. They asked for admission and were denied. As planned, they placed their 60-cent guest membership fee on the counter, hopped over the turnbuckle, and made their way to Dreamland. Once they entered the water, the lifeguards blew their whistles, and a pool employee went on the loudspeaker, calling on everyone to immediately clear the pool. When the protesters refused, they were threatened with arrest. Then, while everyone awaited the arrival of the police, some of the younger white swimmers, in a show of solidarity, jumped back into the pool,” said Feight.
The four adults, Curt Gentry, Roy Burns, Jesse Baggette, and Charles Stanley Smith, Jr. were charged with trespassing, while the two juveniles were released without charges.
The following summer, the Terrace Club club’s board of directors, ended their ban on black members, dropped the “Terrace Club” name, and reopened as “Dreamland.” But as time went on, Dreamland ultimately came to a close.
McKinley Pool, like many of the city’s other park facilities became neglected, much needed funds for repairs and improvements cut by a shrinking budget and tax base, as can be demonstrated by the delay of this year’s typical Memorial Day opening.
But thanks to community volunteers and many hours of volunteer work, the repairs necessary for opening were able to be made.
Prior to filling the pool, a new layer of paint was added to the bottom and sides. The restrooms were also repaired and updated. New paint was added to the perimeter fence, volunteers pulled weeds, raked leaves and cleaned up the premises.
“I spent a weekend painting the pool and deck with my wife Sara. This has been a large project with a lot of people doing what they can to make it happen for the community,” said Main Street Portsmouth’s Executive Director, Joseph Pratt.
Nick Sherman of Nick Sherman Design and Creative Minds are Rare (CMAR) also created a new mural to brighten up the space.
“Joseph told me of the revitalization project. I got in contact with Sean (McKinley pool manager) and we came up with a train graffiti inspired look for the McKinley lettering. I started first thing Monday morning. Sean, Tom and the other volunteers trusted my vision and I just went for it, with their suggestions and adjustments we ended up with something awesome by the time the sun went down,” said Nick Sherman. “I’m always enthusiastic to see people responding positively while I’m working. Friends and community members stopped to talk throughout the day. They were all excited about the pool’s reopening, and the effort being put forth. When possible, I’m grateful to use the talents I’ve been created with to serve and provide a visible difference in Portsmouth.”
However, the work is far from over. There are still several projects and improvements that can be made at the facility.
“We really appreciate everyone coming together to help out this pool, I’ve been here 7 years and we’ve never been able to complete any projects due to funds, it means a lot that people would want to come together and raise this money for us,” said Sean Garnett, the pool’s manager. “We still would like to make some updates to our bathrooms and we keep having issues with our kiddie pool and we’d love to get those resolved. We’d also like to purchase a new canopy and things like umbrellas and chairs.”
The North End Project Committee is still collecting donations through their GoFundMe Page, contributions can be made by visiting, www.gofundme.com/help-fix-portsmouths-mckinley-pool.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-981-6977, Facebook “Ciara Conley – Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara.