by Cindy Beckman
As temperatures rise, swimming becomes a popular activity in central Arkansas. Nothing is better on a hot summer day than a dip in cool water. Most early Conway residents, however had to find a nearby creek, pond or river to cool off.
However, that changed in 1922 when Conway residents finally got a swimming pool. On the outskirts of northwestern Conway, a group of 13- and 14-year-old boys ambling about in the Kuykendall’s pasture discovered a pool of standing water next to a knoll. Suspecting there might be an underground stream there, they began digging, hoping to build a swimming pond.
Frank Kuykendall discovered the group, which included his two sons, Arnold and Robert, and asked what they were doing. Once he heard their explanation, he told them, “If you are going to do that, I’ll help you and we’ll do it right.” With the help of a hired hand and two mules, Frank and the boys dug a swimming pool with a shallow wading end and a deeper end for swimming and diving. The pool was ready by the next spring.
The shallow third of the pool was concreted while the deep end was only tamped-down dirt. The sides of the entire pool were reinforced with rock and mortar. After the first year, some businessmen asked Kuykendall if he would finish concreting the pool and make it available for the entire city. A drain was installed with a long pipe laid to “Rocky Branch” where the water emptied. Wooden pipes were laid alongside the pool to fill it from the city water system.
During the season, the pool was emptied, cleaned and refilled weekly. The sides and bottom were scrubbed and rinsed thoroughly before new water was added. It would be years before there would be a filter system.
Dressing rooms were built. The Kuykendall daughters, Ivah and Claudia, managed the basket room (where patrons stowed their possessions) and the concession stand. Their brothers were lifeguards. Eventually, the Kuykendall sisters took over most of the operation.
The Kuykendalls opened the pool every summer for the next 18 years. In 1934, the original building at the pool burned and a new, larger two-story building made of logs was built. The second story living quarters had a deck all along the front.
In the early 1940s, the Kuykendalls sold the pool to Karl and Margaret Dreher, immigrants from Germany. The Drehers made several improvements, including rebuilding and enlarging the pool house. They lived upstairs all year round. Many patrons remember the one-armed lifeguard, Tony Zermatten, who worked for them.
In the mid-1950s, the Drehers retired and sold the pool to Jim Miller who updated the pool, added a new filtration system and renamed the pool Miller’s Swim Club. In 1964, he made it a private club with membership dues of 50 cents per individual or family.
The summer of 1964 ended with a memorable Labor Day party at the pool. Miller drained the pool for dancing and Conway Twitty’s Band, which included Conway native Tommy Markham as drummer, performed in the shallow end. Eight hundred young people attended.
The pool was a very popular place. My mother told me that as a young girl, she walked from south Conway (Nutter’s Chapel Road) to the pool where she met up with friends and stayed all day. School class parties were also held there.
Miller added a Health Club with a gymnasium, sauna, a Jacuzzi whirlpool bath and massage tables two years later. By 1968, a nine-hole golf course and driving range was added and the facility, with 300 members, was renamed Miller’s Swim and Golf Club.
Miller sold the club in the late 1960s and it was renamed Briarwood Country Club in 1970. The name change gave the club more prestige and made it easier for members to utilize the facilities of country clubs elsewhere. It was a very popular place during this time, providing swimming and golf at an affordable price.
Conway residents, however, soon had other places to swim. Cadron Valley Country Club (now the Links at Cadron Valley) opened in 1973 and Centennial Valley Country Club opened in 1998, providing beautiful pools for their members. Many residents would build their own backyard pools or swim in pools at apartment complexes.
Briarwood Swim Club closed a few years ago but the pool still sits on Tyler, stirring the nostalgic memories of passersby.