Locals know the community pool as Eisenschmidt Pool, but they may not know its long history.
The pool gets its name from Herb Eisenschmidt, who was the first manager of the pool according to his daughter-in-law, Christine Eisenschmidt, who still lives in the area. Built in 1939, as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the pool was developed as a life-saving measure for residents of St. Helens, Christine said.
It will be turning 80 this year, and Anne Scholz, pool manager, is planning two different celebration days-one on July 18, from 7 to 9 p.m., the other on the pool’s birthday, August 29, also from 7 to 9 p.m. Scholz said that everyone who attends the barbecue will get a free hot dog, and free access to the pool for those two hours.
Herb Eisenschmidt died in 1996 at the age of 89, but information about the pool lives on in various sources. One of those sources is Christine, who, along with being Herb’s daughter-in-law once chaired a committee that established long-term financing of the pool. Another source is a box of old photographs and documents about the pool that sits in Scholz’s office. Among the photographs and documents contained in the box rests a 1961 master’s thesis entitled “A History of the School Comprising School District 502C” by Marguerite Egelston, which includes history about the pool.
Egelston’s thesis states that by end of the summer of 1936, three St. Helens residents had already drowned in the river that year. Townspeople were getting serious about building a swimming pool, and their plans were realized when, on August 29, 1939, the pool was officially built and opened after a year and a half of construction.
Almost 80 years later, pool staff believe it is still in very good shape.
“It’s a fabulous pool,” Scholz said. “We’re proud of it, and we’re proud that we’ve kept it going. Before I was hired they were talking about demolishing it and rebuilding it, and that was never necessary, and we’ve kept it going.”
Scholz, who will have been the manager of the pool for 17 years this September, has seen the pool go through many changes. Some of the physical changes have been tiling the shell, installing two climbing walls, and getting a small and big slide. The pool has also had many of the original valves replaced that weren’t working anymore. But other than adding a covering in the 1970s to make the pool an indoor pool, Scholz said the general structure of the pool has not changed much since 1939.
The operation of the pool has changed a lot in the last 80 years, however.
One change, which happened just last year, was the changing of the name of the district that funds the pool from the “Greater St. Helens Parks and Recreation District” to the “St. Helens Aquatic District.” The former name has no relation at all with the Parks and Recreation District that the city is trying to establish, although Eisenschmidt Pool does have a partnership with the St. Helens Recreation Center.
The name change, which happened in 2018, was enacted to limit confusion. But the district itself was formed in 1993 in order to raise money for the pool, according to Scholz.
Overcoming financial difficulties has been a theme in the pool’s history. When it was first established, according to Christine, it was overseen by St. Helens School District and was free.
“They never charged anything because it was built to save lives, to prevent drowning in the river,” Christine said.
Over time, Christine said, the pool started charging small fees, starting at 25 cents in the 1950s, then three dollars in the 1980s, and eventually its current general admission price, which is four dollars for children under 18, and five dollars for adults.
But even with an added small fee, the pool could not continue to operate with the school district due to severe budget cuts in the 1980s, according to Christine.
During one of the school board meetings that discussed budget cuts, a group got together, appointed Christine the chair, and called itself the Eisenschmidt Pool Patron’s Committee, Christine said. The committee dedicated itself to finding ways to finance the pool.
“We did a lot of research, and most of the successful pools around Oregon are owned by park and recreation districts, and so we went in that direction, establishing a recreation district,” Christine said.
Establishing the district was no small feat, however. Special districts must be voted on and approved by the public, so the committee dedicated itself to holding additional meetings, providing information to the public and getting the measure on the ballot.
The district, now known as the St. Helens Aquatic District, was officially established in 1993, according to Christine. Since then, the pool has not struggled financially.
However, one thing that will change is how the pool pays the city for its utilities. When the pool was first built, a “gentleman’s
agreement” stipulated that the pool would not have to pay the city for water.
“This year, the city sent us a letter stating that they could no longer honor that agreement,” Scholz said. After a little bit of negotiation, the pool worked out an agreement with the city where they will incrementally pay more of their utility charges each year until eventually paying 100 percent.
In the future, Scholz said she has a few additions in the works. One of them is to add a therapy pool on the outside wading pool deck, and also a splash tab added to the outside play area.
When it comes to the regular operations of the pool, Scholz said she hears good things from its users.
“I get very positive feedback about the pool and about the job I’m doing,” Scholz said. “They just really appreciate the pool being open. We’ve got a pretty high population of regulars.”
Eisenschmidt Pool offers more than just a place for recreational swimming, but also swim lessons, fitness classes, lifeguarding classes and a special event called Kids Night Out where children can have a night to themselves at the pool under the supervision of certified lifeguards. Scholz said that she also tries to keep pool rates low in order to make the pool affordable for all community members.
While the pool’s namesake is no longer alive, Herb Eisenschmidt’s daughter-in-law said she thinks he would be happy with the fact that the pool’s operations are alive today, and how the pool in general is run.
“Herb used to say there’s no better exercise than swimming,” Christine said, because Herb believed that swimming has fewer injuries than other sports, and competitive swimming involves only competing with oneself. “He would be really happy to see that still being supported by the pool.”
Christine added that her father-in-law would be proud of the good condition of the pool and noted that Scholz has additional plans for improvements and upgrades in the future.
“It’s still got a future,” Christine said. “It’s still got a life ahead of it.”