Area swimmers once flocked to the St. Joe River

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

With the possible exception of the Three Rivers Festival raft race, you just don't see this many people in Fort Wayne's rivers anymore.

But before people started to worry about pollution, the municipal beach at what is now Johnny Appleseed Park drew thousands of people into the murky waters of the St. Joseph River.

This scene was common for about 10 years at the beach, until a growing public concern over water quality finally caused the decline and abandonment of the local swimming hole.

The beach opened to the public in July 1936, and more than 7,000 people supposedly utilized the beach during that first summer. The riverbanks were graded, and sand was trucked in. Swimmers were watched over by lifeguards and floodlights, and diving boards were later installed.

During the next several years, other attractions were added near the beach, including boxing rings and softball diamonds.

Although there was some initial concern over the purity of the river water near the beach, tests in 1936 indicated swimming at the beach was perfectly safe.

Within 10 years, however, fears of pollution grew and beach use declined. Today, just a few crumbling concrete steps and corroded handrails are left to remind visitors of what was once a most popular recreation spot.

Ironically, the old municipal beach is just a couple of hundred feet north of the spot where the raft race is launched each summer.

--Aug. 15, 1981

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