Drive past Coca-Cola for real refreshment

Posted 6/23/20

Last week’s Musings included Charlotte Barrett’s memory of Bailey’s Pool. The Museum sells “A Pictorial History of Madison County, Texas,” a brown book about the size of a school yearbook and published in 1994. A photo on Page 60 is captioned “Mr. and Mrs. Ben Bailey, pictured here in 1935, owned Bailey’s Swimming Pool on Highway 21 west of Madisonville. Summertime found young and old alike enjoying and sharing the fun at the pool! What a delightful way to cool off! The pool was opened in approximately 1932 and was enjoyed by people from Madison and surrounding counties until it closed in 1969.”

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Drive past Coca-Cola for real refreshment

Posted

Last week’s Musings included Charlotte Barrett’s memory of Bailey’s Pool. The Museum sells “A Pictorial History of Madison County, Texas,” a brown book about the size of a school yearbook and published in 1994. A photo on Page 60 is captioned “Mr. and Mrs. Ben Bailey, pictured here in 1935, owned Bailey’s Swimming Pool on Highway 21 west of Madisonville. Summertime found young and old alike enjoying and sharing the fun at the pool! What a delightful way to cool off! The pool was opened in approximately 1932 and was enjoyed by people from Madison and surrounding counties until it closed in 1969.”

Bailey’s Pool indeed belonged to Ben Bailey (1877-1968) and his wife, Bessie (1888-1971). It lay about 80 yards behind their home, an older brick structure on the south side of Highway 21 West, about an eighth of a mile before FM 1372. A tall, round, Coca-Cola sign stood near the highway, after which the driveway curved to the left behind a garage apartment, past a lake on the left, and back to the pool. Large moss-covered oaks stood nearby.

Recently, family members supplied some facts about the family. Whenever Mr. Bailey needed something, he made it. He dug the lake and the pool with a team of mules and a Fresno scraper. That lake drew so many swimmers that Mr. Bailey decided he wanted a pool where he could teach folks to swim.

Somehow the Works Progress Administration (WPA) had a hand in it, too, probably later improvements, because the pool was open before the WPA was very active. When the pool opened, Mr. Bailey followed through with his plans and taught hundreds of people to swim. Folks say he never got in the water, and it was rumored that he couldn’t swim.

Jeff Farris lived nearby, and his parents were friends with the Baileys. Recently he stated, “I lifeguarded at Bailey’s Pool for a few years when I was a kid. Mr. Bailey’s long pole with the loop on the end saved me for sure when I needed to help out someone bigger than me. Real work started when we drained the pool on Sunday nights. After it was empty, we took brooms and rubbed down the sides with copper sulfate, to kill algae. That was a real job! Then we rinsed it out and filled the pool. The big water well had a six-inch pipe but it still took all night to fill that pool!”

“Behind the pool, there were picnic tables where birthday parties, family gatherings, FFA meetings, and such were held.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bailey raised four sons, including Thurman (“Crane”, 1905-1986), Weldon (1907-1995), R.B., Jr. (1910-1987), and Melvin (1913-1984). They all attended Madisonville schools.

Mr. Bailey was a bricklayer, and he used that skill on the old First Baptist Church, with the help of sons Melvin and Weldon.

Some of you will recall Mrs. Bailey’s 1957 turquoise and white Chevrolet that she drove into town only once a week for groceries. The family laughed about her fast driving. Mr. Bailey told that once when he was leaving the house, he saw her backing out of the garage. Before he got far, she passed him like a bullet and zoomed out of sight. Family members said that no matter what the destination, she was always lead-footed! She did fine on the highway, but the garage was a problem. It was never wide enough!

After Mr. Bailey’s death, his wife was raking and burning leaves in the yard there. She had noticed a string-tied bundle of newspapers in the garage, so she got them and threw them onto the fire. When the string burned in two, wind caught the pages so that they opened up, and hundred-dollar bills started flying in the air, having been pressed between the newspaper pages. Mrs. Bailey quickly scattered the newspapers and put out their flames, finding many unburned bills but some scorched and damaged. She took those latter to her bank here and they replaced them.

Soon after that, Mrs. Bailey was sitting in a lawn chair when a man drove up and got out with his young son. He said he was hoping they could swim. She informed him that her husband had died and they had had to close the pool. After small talk, the man said they’d be on their way. She said, “Wait. Before you go, would you please go inside and call my son? I fell before you got here, and I think I broke my hip.” She was tough, sitting there visiting calmly, with a hip that proved to indeed be broken!

Mr. and Mrs. Bailey provided entertainment, some supervision, and role models for local youngsters. That was a different era, when segregation was part of much everyday life. I consider it a shame that we don’t have a similar pool now but open to the public.

Madison County Museum is closed for the time being. Hopefully that will soon change. Call and check, 946.348.5230. The mailing address is P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864. We have a Facebook page by that name that you might enjoy.

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