May 26, 2005 - (Fort Wayne, IN 12/17/04)

Fort Wayne Beach

By Eric Olsen

June 18, 2010 Updated Jun 11, 2007 at 7:07 AM EDT

You'd be surprised at the secret history of some spots we pass by every day.
In the shadow of the Memorial Coliseum and Wizards Stadium, the St. Joe River meanders through Johnny Appleseed park on its way toward a rendezvous with the St. Mary's.

And though you wouldn't know it today walking along this stretch of river west of the St. Joe dam, not long ago this was the spot to be on a hot summer's day in 21Country.

Historian Jim Baxter says, “IPFW was all farmland. There was no Glenbrook, no Coliseum, none of this. This was all in the boondocks.”

From the roaring '20's to the 1940's, this spot on the St. Joe was known as Fort Wayne Municiple Beach.

The only swimming pool in town back then was at the 'Y', so most families found relief from summer's heat here.

Each year, the city dumped truckloads of sand along the riverbank, which quickly washed away leaving a rocky, muddy shore...but no one seemed to care.

Baxter says, “Well, it was always full in the evening if it was warm weather.”

Jim Baxter was a regular at Municiple Beach as a kid back in the '30's.

He says families would park along Anthony Boulevard and walk through the powerhouse and across the dam to get to the swimming area.

Baxter says, “And you came down here and enjoyed the evening and bought a Holloway sucker for ten or fifteen cents that lasted all night. Then grandpa gathered you up and you went back across to the car and fell asleep on the way home.”

For families hit hard by the Great Depression, Municiple Beach offered cheap entertainment…easy diversion from economic hardship that touched everyone.

Baxter says, “We didn't have a lot in those days Eric. People didn't have it and you didn't know it because nobody else had it so you were contented.”

Fort Wayne Municiple Beach lasted until the mid 1940's, shut down not by river pollution as many think today, but by a subtler, deadlier threat…Polio.

Tens of thousands of children were struck down by the crippling disease in the late 1940's.

Fear of the illness affected nearly every aspect of life.

Baxter says, “That was when they canceled theatres and churches and beaches. Anywhere there was a crowd of people, you didn't go.”

Fort Wayne Municiple Beach never reopened…even after the Polio scare subsided.

Public swimming pools were built and splashing in the muddy river lost its appeal.

Today, little is left of the old beach, just the cement steps that took swimmers down to the sand and the water...and maybe an echo or two of children's laughter, when the wind is just right.

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