(Part of the Austin Rocks series of posts by a local about things to do and see in Austin, Texas)
One of Austin’s most well-known delights is the spring-fed Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. There is a nearby alternative, though, if you know where to look (and maybe you prefer a regular pool environment for swimming rather than the more natural rocks, aquatic plants, and fish in Barton Springs.)
Deep Eddy and Eilers Park off of Lake Austin Boulevard is not a secret to local Austinites, and certainly not a secret in my family. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, my Dad used to catch a cross-town bus from his home in East Austin to swim and hang out at Deep Eddy Pool in the western part of town.
In later years, he’d talk about spending time there, “In the Texas heat, with no sunscreen, can you IMAGINE,” usually after a dermatologist visit to have some suspicious-looking spot taken off of his skin. Wear your sunscreen, kids!
The land and spring was home to a Swedish immigrant family in the 1850’s, then opened as a resort in 1902. A.J. Eilers bought and expanded the resort in 1915, built a concrete pool to hold the spring waters in 1916, and added a bunch of novelties to keep swimmers entertained, including,
“Silent movies, a Ferris Wheel, carousel rides, a diving horse show, trapeze swings over the water, a 70-foot slide, and a 50-foot diving tower.”
The City of Austin bought the complex in 1935, but then a mere two weeks later, the Colorado River flooded the area, dumping muck and debris into the pool. This was the height of the Depression in the U.S., so the Federal government’s then-new WPA (Works Progress Administration) got involved, helping the City clean everything up and building the stone bathhouse that is still used today.
Follow the big mosaic mural on the west side of the pool area, to learn more about the history of the pool.
That’s where you’ll find some fun tidbits, like the turn-of-the-century rule that women over 12 years old who swam at the resort during that time had to wear stockings on their legs (and prove it by showing the stocking seam that ran up the back.)
Almost half the pool is set aside for lap swimming, and there are designated lanes for sharing (“circle swim – try to choose a lane of swimmers with speeds similar to your own.”)
I saw people of all ages motoring up and down their lanes, some with fancy gear and intense concentration, and lots of others who were more interested in a well-formed stroke and pleasant experience than speed.
Since this is a spring-fed pool, there is no chlorine. You’ll get a faint whiff of a sort of pond water scent, and see a green tint to the water, which is an almost constant 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
There is a small snack bar at the pool with drinks, candies, chips, hot dogs, empanadas, and Austin’s own Jim-Jim’s Water-Ice in flavors like Mango, Dragon’s Blood (strawberry plus a little coconut,) and Sour Cherry.
For more substantial fare, Pool Burger is across the parking lot, and one of Austin’s own Thundercloud Subs locations is right across Lake Austin Boulevard. If your post-swim plans include hanging out at a local dive bar, Deep Eddy Cabaret is close by; it’s been there since 1951.
Throw a towel down on the grass under the huge trees, or find a spot on the long stone bench seats around the perimeter. Wait for a nice breeze off the nearby lake, plus summer cicadas thrumming and the occasional cardinal or other bird passing through the tree branches.
Disabled swimmers can also enjoy Deep Eddy Pool.
A big curving ramp winds from the Eilers Park parking area down to the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail that runs between Lady Bird Lake and the pool. That’s the ramp with the mosaic on one side (see photo above.)
Use the entry gate on the Hike-and-Bike Trail to get into the pool, where there’s a roll-in-roll-out ramp at the shallow end, and a pool lift next to the lap lanes.
The pool is closed on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it’s lap-swimming only from 8 a.m. to 12 noon on the open days. The shallow side becomes available at 12 noon, and the whole complex is open until 8 p.m. in summer. Check the website for winter hours, pricing information, etc.
Sitting poolside swinging my feet in the cool water brought me closer to the memory of my Dad, and I really appreciated the words on a small sign on one of the green metal bench seats nearby:
“To our parents who taught us, our friends who share lanes, and the waters that renew us.”
(All photos by the author)
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