By Mary Kathryn Hassett
Traveling on Owensville Road, one could easily miss the discreet blue and green sign announcing the presence of the Blue Ridge Swim Club. But a turn at the sign and a short drive down a gravel road leads to one of Albemarle’s hidden treasures. While the Blue Ridge Swim Club is private, membership is open to all and interested parties are invited to try it out for a first-time free visit. Guests have only to sign in and report to the lifeguard.
The spring-fed pool, set among venerable tulip poplars and pines, harkens back to older time in America when summer fun meant relaxing in a quiet, leafy, outdoor environment. The pool was founded as a boys’ camp by R. Warren Wood, sometime in the early part of the last century at an uncertain date but probably before 1914. Wood carved a 16-acre plot of land out of his family’s Holkam farm property and built the pool primarily to train canoeists. This accounts for its unusual dimensions—103 yards long and 30 feet wide. The size allows plenty of room for lap swimmers and for the always present cohort of young teen-agers showing off their diving board skills. Toddlers splash in a roped off section at the pool’s shallow end. Dedicated readers sometimes can be found floating in a tube with book in hand. The athletically inclined enjoy volleyball or badminton in a playing field just beyond the pool. Even with all this activity, quiet prevails. Recorded music is not allowed.
On a hot July day the shady quiet of the place seemingly subtracts at least ten degrees from the heat. The pool is fed from underground springs, first captured in holding tanks, and then circulated in the pool until being discharged into a nearby stream. The whole process amounts to changing the entire water content about once a week. In a Daily Progress feature story (May, 18, 2003), David Maurer recounts the time when state authorities, skeptical of the opaque water, insisted on testing it only to find it purer than the local drinking water. Today only an undetectable amount of chlorine is added to insure compliance with state standards.
Jeff Baker, an Ivy resident and retired professor of biology, has been a member of the club for over 60 years. In fact, back in the 1940’s his mother, Monica Baker, purchased the pool to prevent undesirable development, including the possibility of a night club. Asked about his memories of the pool, Baker noted that he first proposed to his wife under one of the giant poplars that grace the pool’s perimeter. He added, “It took only four more times before she accepted.” As a child he recalls walking to the pool almost every day with his ten cent admission in hand. Adults were charged a quarter. Allie Crowell, another life-long member, recalls a unique Blue Ridge tradition, stand tag. “The advantage of the dark water,” she said, “made being ‘it’ the most fun of all. It almost made up” she added, “for many embarrassingly memorable performances in water ballet.”
Today the club is run cooperatively by a number of charter members and other volunteers and is open from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
President Kim Taylor recently announced special rates for new memberships—$400 for families and $225 for individuals. More information can be found on the Club’s web site: www. BlueRidgeSwimClub.org. Long-time members never miss the Fourth of July festivities, which feature “funniest dive” and greased watermelon contests as well as the popular grandmother race.