Summertime and swimming go together no matter where you live, and despite its altitude and rugged mountain terrain, Bisbee has always been a swimming town. No doubt early prospectors and settlers took a dip in pools that formed in the canyons after summer rains or in the streams that were more abundant at the time. Later on, some of the best swimming took place in the washes and gullies farther up the side canyons. One person recalled using sand bags to make a pool. Many took advantage of run off from summer rains that collected behind the check dams built to control flooding downstream. They became Bisbee’s version of the old swimmin’ hole.
A 1905 Bisbee Daily Review reported the first real swimming pool owned by a Mr. Tribolet someplace on upper Tombstone Canyon. Apparently it was in use until the water supply ran short, though we don’t know where it was or how long it lasted. The Queen Consolidated Mining Company built an indoor pool, called a natatorium, near the site of the abandoned smelter works. Fed by a stream of water from the Lowell Mine, it was said to be the largest swimming pool in the west and must have been spectacular for the time featuring shower baths, travelling rings, trapeze, spring and diving boards. In 1914, the YMCA put in a pool that was blasted out of the hard rock on the mountain. It was state of the art with heated water and filtering system and was used for many years until the Y closed.
When the Calumet and Arizona Company developed Warren as a planned community for its employees, quality of life became important and a swimming pool was constructed at the end of east Vista across from the ballpark. Opening in July 1922, it was 60 feet by 90 feet and divided into two halves, one side with a depth of 1-4 feet for the kids and the other 5-9 feet for adults. Later, change rooms, showers, springboard, and a boardwalk and fence were added. The fence was essential. The Review reported that before it went up, every friendly cow and stray mountain canary—the common name for burros—began wandering toward the pool and its water. That water came straight out of the mines and varied from clear to cloudy often staining bathing suits and anything else it touched. Parents made sure their kids showered after swimming. Pool water was changed once a week and a reminder of how different the early days were is the offensive fact that Mexican Americans were only allowed in the pool on Mondays, just before the water was changed. The pool closed around 1937 and the lot turned into a garden. For many years, Dr. Charles Roberts who lived next door tended his colorful roses and other flowers giving Warren residents a different kind of enjoyment.
When the C & A pool was built, residents of upper Tombstone Canyon decided they deserved some fun in their part of town. They circulated petitions and raised about $4000 toward the cost. The public works department handled construction and the city pool was built at the upper end of Locklin Avenue. A well provided water that was stored in a nearby cistern. To celebrate the grand opening and before it was filled with water, a big dance featuring an orchestra was held in the bottom of the finished pool. The WPA built bathhouses and a private concession stand opened. The pool was a popular place for the people of Bisbee though discrimination against Mexican Americans was practiced there as well. Older residents recall that the pool became fully integrated before it was closed permanently at the end of World War II. The empty pool is still there though mostly forgotten now. For years after it closed, it continued to hold standing water, green and thick. A popular myth claimed that the city would not drain the pool for fear that it might crack open. Another story said the fire department fed its hydrants from the old pool, but everyone knew that wasn’t true. It would have been like fighting fire with pea soup.
In the 1930’s the WPA built the Country Club and golf course in Naco. With the Warren pool long gone and the Locklin Avenue pool eventually closed, there weren’t many opportunities for people to swim during the summer and a pool was added at the club for members and guests to enjoy. Though the Turquoise Golf Club continues to flourish, the pool is gone and a putting green is in its place just outside the restaurant windows. When the Elks constructed a new club and headquarters in Bisbee Junction in the 1960’s, they installed a large modern pool that members and families used for several years. Both the club and pool are closed.
Bisbee’s landmark Copper Queen Hotel has a swimming pool for use by guests. Built into the side of the mountain, it opens off the second floor and is entirely secluded, not visible from the outside. There were a few pools in private homes around town, but for many years, there was no public swimming pool. In 1974, the city constructed the present day pool on Quality Hill in the old Horace Mann field that borders highway 80. Today, residents can still enjoy summer fun and find relief from heat by taking a dip. Swimming is still an important part of summertime life in the town.
But like almost everything in Bisbee, swimming comes with a little mystery. There’s a reservoir beyond Brewery Gulch in Zacatecas Canyon. It is huge, 30 feet wide by 75 feet long with 12 foot walls. There is a gaping hole on the downstream end to prevent it from holding water. The story goes that someone drowned there and the hole was blasted to drain the water so the body could be recovered. Myth or truth? It might be a little of both. In Bisbee you never know for sure.