By Rick Warwick
A drive out Lewisburg Avenue about a mile from the Public Square, you will cross the railroad tracks and approach Carnton Lane. At that intersection, you will notice an historic marker dedicated to Willow Plunge. For the unfortunate newcomers and those locals not old enough to remember Franklin’s summer playground, it can simply be said, “too bad.” If those passing Carnton Lane will pull over and read the marker, the reader will learn some important social history concerning one of middle Tennessee’s most popular summer venues. I’m going to take the liberty to reprint the marker text to save you the trouble.
Opened in 1924, this was the largest outdoor concrete swimming pool in the South. Willow Plunge was owned, and for many years operated by the Claiborne Kinnard family. Water was piped 1,023 feet from a spring to the willow-shaded double pool which measured 75×150 feet and had a capacity of 750,000 gallons. The water was treated by the latest scientific methods of purification and was pure enough to be used for drinking. In 1932 Willow Plunge was named one of the six best equipped pools in the United States. Additional features included a tennis court, 9-hole golf course, miniature golf course, football field, aviation field, and lake. Willow Plunge closed in 1967.
Some old timers I have discussed the subject will declared they spent their summers at Willow Plunge. Parents did not have to worry about safety because misbehavior was not tolerated by Mrs. Porter Kinnard or the lifeguards on duty. Any rule-breaker was sent home. The most vivid description of the water in the swimming pool could be summed up with two words, “ice cold.” Many still rave about Mrs. Mary Robinson’s chess pies and Louise Brown’s hamburgers. Teenagers of the 1960s still remember the combo parties under the pavilion with local bands such as the Fairlanes and the still active Exotics.
The Kinnards were fortunate to hire hardworking local students during the summers to keep the pool clean, keep the grass cut, keep the gate and bathhouse, and most important, talented lifeguards. Over the years, the Kinnards hired pool managers such as Jimmy and Bobby Gentry, A.B. Thomas, Ralph Brown and Milford Brown, all formidable educators and coaches. Swimming skills were also taught by the lifeguards and the versatile Mrs. Inge Smith.
The photographs should surely tell the rest of the story without words. Sadly, the young folks of this modern era will not have the memories their grandparents were able to collect at Franklin’s summer playground – Willow Plunge.