Throughout history, humans have followed water for survival, bathing, and recreation. Whether it is saltwater in the oceans or inland fresh waterways on the North American continent, water is life. The runoff left from the last glacier of the Ice Age created White River and a large hardwood forest grew around it. The Miami tribe called the river, Wapahani, meaning “white sands”. It was common for aboriginal people to know how to swim, although many European immigrants had not learned. When William Conner and Josiah Polk plotted the town of Noblesville in 1823, they chose to locate it along the West fork of White River for commerce and for everyday needs. Swimming and the desire to spend time submerged in water goes back to our beginning.
Access to bodies of water often determined whether people learned to swim and it was most often the front crawl. Local residents bathed and swam in the rivers, streams and ponds in the area, but safety was always an issue. Currents, riptides, cold temperatures, and dark water contributed to drownings. The first swimming pool built in the United States was in 1868 in Boston. Competitive swimming became an Olympic event for men in 1896 and for women in 1912. During the 1900s, a sand bottom swimming pool was used by residents in Noblesville. It was dug on two acres along the West bank of White River below the railroad bridge and to the east of State Road 19, but it became muddy and unusable at times. Free swim lessons were offered there by the Red Cross and it was advertised as a bathing pool.
By 1910, technological advances were made in building pools including the invention of Gunite and sterilizing water with chlorine started to replace draining water to filter out the dirt. In the 1920s and 1930s thousands of permanent public pools were built across the United States to accommodate the desire for a clean, safe place to learn to swim and to socialize with friends and family. Rivers and lakes, often contaminated, were no longer preferred by many as swimming destinations for recreation or for training. American swimmer Gertrude Ederle won three gold medals at the 1924 Paris Olympics. The City of Noblesville joined the recreation movement when Forest Park was created in 1925. It spans 150 acres overlooking the West bank of White River. Mayor H. G. “Pop” Brown owned the land chosen for the city park, so he resigned from office to sell the land and then was reelected in a special election. In 1926, the city formed a parks board and planted more than 3,000 trees. In 1928, George A. Ball and his wife of Muncie, Indiana, donated land on the high ground for a concrete and tiled pool, along with the building on the property for a bathhouse. Park board leaders, led the project to build a permanent public swimming pool on the property at Forest Park. A $15,000 bond was passed to finance the city project and Works Project Administration (WPA) labor was used for the construction. Renovations to change the old biological laboratory building, formerly the Hamilton County Chemical Company, into a bathhouse cost $2,500. The pool opened to the public on June 18, 1931. According to the 1930 census, the population of the Noblesville Township was 6,564. As reported by the Noblesville Daily Ledger, a crowd of approximately 500 people attended the official grand opening ceremony. It was 175 feet long, ranged from two feet to ten feet deep, and held 300,00 gallons of cold water. The pool immediately became a popular destination for the surrounding community. It is believed that the first ever Noblesville swim competition occurred on September 6, 1932 at the Forest Park pool.
Generations of community leaders kept the facility open every summer as pools were repaired, renovated, torn out and replaced with new ones. Led by longtime athlete, coach, teacher, and Superintendent of the Hamilton County Park Department, Terry Busby pushed the effort to develop and implement the construction of the plan for a large aquatic center at the pool site at the park. In addition, the President of the Hamilton County Parks Board, Ed McMahon, and was a driving person behind the creation of the new complex. The original kidney-shaped pool was removed and a 50 meter Olympic-sized pool opened on July 23, 1976, renamed Central Pool. A 25 yard diving well with 15 diving boards and a 10 meters high diving platform, along with a toddler pool were added. A new bath house was also built in 1976. In the 1980s, an adult US Masters Swimming team, named Noblesville Adult Swim Team (NAST), was founded. These adult swimmers competed in meets, but also became caretakers of the facility. The Central Pool was a premiere destination when it opened, but twenty years later the aquatic center lacked the funds to properly maintain and repair it. In 1996, a co-founder of NAST, Noblesville attorney Doug Church, helped launch a nonprofit volunteer group to help save the pools at Forest Park. The Friends of Central Pool (FOCP), a 501 (c) 3 organization, developed a plan to renovate the facility with the help of the city. As public pools closed across the country for lack of funding, the Noblesville community successfully restored their local pools. Each year is a challenge, but with a large group of volunteers of all ages and a paid staff the pool opens every spring. Attendees, sponsors, and events help produce revenue to sustain the facility.
Ninety years later, as we celebrate the anniversary of our city’s first permanent public swimming pool, the custodians are faced with the same challenges and some new ones. Noblesville reached its’ highest population of 67,398 in 2021 with many non-swimmers in the expanded population. The pools and diving well still need to be treated, pumps are replaced, the Noblesville Swim Club oversees the Learn-to-Swim program for youth, and large multi-day swim and diving meets are hosted at the aquatic center. Local swimmer and executive, Greg Conner, administers the business of the Forest Park Aquatic Center these days. He guides the FOCP board to finds ways to innovate their non-profit organization to manage the city’s asset. Three long-time NAST members, Randy Crutchfield, Dick Sidner and Chris Sikich, are key to the overall success of FPAC as part of the year-round management team. Faced with the potential spread of COVID-19, many swimmers around the world faced closed pools. They were forced to find bodies of water and chose open water swimming in lakes, rivers, and ponds. Some had access to private pools shared to limited numbers of guests. The FOCP board made the decision to open the facility to swim and dive clubs and to the public. FPAC Aquatics Manager, Kim Bowling, oversaw last year’s pool season including team training and a national diving event by following health department protocols. It became clear how important our community asset is to the locals, but also to the athletes who have devoted themselves to competing in the water. Whether for recreation or a way of life, the Forest Park Aquatic Center is a treasure to be shared. As generations before, you should spend time this summer outdoors submerged in the cool water surrounded by the beautiful forest.
Words from Community Leaders.
Doug Church, Partner CCAH Law Firm: ”From the old swimming hole in White River to the updated and modernized Forest Park Aquatic Center, swimming has been a big part of the Noblesville community for nearly 100 years!! Thanks to the investments made by its patrons, members and the Noblesville City Council, the Forest Park Aquatic Center is recognized nationally as one of the premier outdoor swimming venues!! AND, the best is yet to come!!”
David Mundy, Noblesville Schools Associate Superintendent: ”On behalf of Noblesville Schools, we want to wish the FPAC a happy 90th anniversary. The aquatic center is a beloved summer tradition, enjoyed by generations of Noblesville children, families and student athletes. Thank you and best wishes for an exciting future ahead.”
Lisa Conner, President of the Noblesville Swim Club: “It’s hard to imagine a Noblesville Swim Club without the Forest Park Aquatic Center. Our club was founded in 1969, but really didn’t take off until the 10 lane, 50 meter, Olympic caliber competition pool at the Forest Park Aquatic Center opened in 1976. Our community is incredibly lucky to have such an amazing amenity. We look forward to being part of the next 90 years of swimming at Forest Park!”
Chris Sikich, Member of NAST: “Soon after moving to the Indianapolis area, I showed up to a masters swimming practice in 2003 at Forest Park Aquatic Center. The pool was love at first sight and I’ve been swimming with the Noblesville Adult Swim Team and volunteering at the aquatic center ever since. It’s amazing to find an outdoor pool of that quality anywhere in the country and then to put it within the beautiful park setting in Noblesville is icing on the cake. It takes a lot of loving care to make sure the aquatic center opens and runs smoothly every year, but it’s worth every bit of energy. I look forward to swimming outside in Noblesville every year.”
Writer: Molli Cameron
Logo: Jordan Cooley