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Phillips’ Natatorium - A Pool from Piqua’s Past

By Judy Deeter

Most town swimming pools are centrally located in urban areas. People can often put on their swimsuit at home and walk to their community pool. That was not the case, however, with one of Piqua’s early pools known as Phillips’ Natatorium. This long-ago swimming spot was outside of town in what seems to have been an open field. It was located north of Piqua at Swift Run Lake, along State Route 66. It stood about where the old Piqua Water Works is today.  

   A traction rail line of the Western Ohio Traction Company (a short line railroad) ran near the natatorium. A ride there from Union Depot in Piqua took five minutes and cost 10 cents for a round trip.

   In the early 1900s, the word “natatorium” was used for a swimming pool. This pool was built by and named for Cincinnati swimmer Frank J. Phillips. It opened on June 1, 1907. Phillips had previously opened natatoriums in several other cities including Cincinnati, Dayton and Springfield. Information about why the Piqua site was chosen, how the pool was financed and when construction of the pool started has not been located.

   Phillips was an expert swimmer. At the time of the opening of Piqua’s Phillips’ Natatorium, he was the swimming instructor for the Cincinnati Gymnasium and Athletic Club. In old stories, Phillips is sometimes referred to as “Professor Phillips.”

   He and his wife came to Piqua from Cincinnati about May 1, 1907 to “take charge” of the pool. 

   Mrs. Phillips was both an expert swimmer and swimming instructor. The Piqua Leader Dispatch of May 3, 1907 says, “Mrs. Phillips being an accomplished swimmer will have charge of the ladies, and no one will need to fear to learn from her.”

   James C. Oda wrote in his book An Encyclopedia of Piqua, Ohio, “The pool offered covered bleacher seats for women to watch various swimming events. No mixed bathing was permitted at this pool.”

   Historical records say that local residents had looked forward to its opening. Hundreds of people visited the natatorium site before opening day. A story in the Piqua Leader Dispatch newspaper of May 21, 1907 indicates that the pool was originally scheduled to open on May 25, but that the opening was delayed until June 1 because of cold weather.

   Opening day was a memorable one for the people of Piqua. Admission that day was free. A champion swimming team from the Cincinnati Gymnasium and Athletic Club gave a swimming and diving exhibition. 

   Historical images of the Natatorium from the Piqua Public Library Local History Department (shown here) show women watching male swimmers from the side of the pool and walking along a road above the pool, but not in the water. The photographs seem to show two diving boards and perhaps a swing out over the water. One photograph shows what looks like a man standing on top of the water. He may have been standing on a swing seat at water level.  

   The pool was destroyed in March 1913 when the great flood of 1913 struck Miami County and Piqua. An article in the May 25, 1916 edition of the Piqua Daily Call newspaper says that in 1916 brothers Tellie and George Leffel owned the land where the natatorium had stood. At the time (1916), they planned to open the Swift Run Egg Farm with 500 laying hens.

   The newspaper article also describes what happened to the natatorium after the flood: “The swimming pool was filled with sand and gravel, one of the concrete walls was carried out and the buildings wrecked. The land was wholly denuded of earth or soil covering. Leffel brothers have built out of the wreckage a small cottage and brooder and roosting houses for their poultry…They plan for a capacity of 500 laying hens.”

   The August 1936 article mentions that the foundations of the bathhouse could still be seen at a bend near the spillway (at Swift Run) in the 1930s. 

   Phillips’ Natatorium and the people who swam in its waters are now gone. Only a few lines in old newspapers and history books tell its story.

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