Sun Kissed Days
with Katie Shands
The tang of Coppertone suntan oil hangs thick in the air, mixing with the scent of chlorine, hand-patted burgers and freshly mown grass. Teenagers sprawl on beach towels spread across a manicured, green hill that gently slopes toward two swimming pools. Kids splash in the glittering water while mothers chat over the music of the Ink Spots playing from the nearby jukebox. A breeze tousles the branches of the weeping willows on the far side of the water. June bugs flit, birds sing and the sun shines. The stage is set for another idyllic day at Franklin’s beloved Willow Plunge.
This summer paradise began as a humble fishing pond, created in 1923 by Claiborne Kinnard III on his farm for his sons and friends to enjoy. With only a mule and scoop, he’d dug a 300-by-125-foot hole connected by a ditch to a dammed stream that flowed from the nearby Winder Spring. It wasn’t long before Kinnard’s pond became the talk of the town, and boys began to show up for a dip in the muddy waters. Kinnard built them a makeshift diving board as well as a plank walkway for any spectators.
After much encouragement from the local mothers, Kinnard decided to turn the pond into a concrete, spring-fed swimming pool. Before he knew it, several thousand dollars were tied up in the project, which resulted in the largest concrete pool in the South. Willow Plunge opened in 1924, and the next few summers involved much trial and error. In 1927, Kinnard divided the pool in half to maintain the water supply, and government engineers provided valuable guidance in combating algae. A purification system later was installed that kept the water clean enough to drink.
Willow Plunge soon became one of the most popular recreation spots in Tennessee. It wasn’t unusual for more than 1,500 people to be there on a hot weekend. In 1932, it was named one of the best pools in the United States. Over the years, the Kinnard family made numerous improvements, including a nine-hole golf course, tennis court, miniature golf course, football field, aviation field, lake, horseshoe pits and picnic areas. A drink stand was constructed, as well as a screened-in coffee shop that offered burgers, hot dogs and various sandwiches. It’s said the cooks kept a skillet of onions simmering with a fan behind it, blowing the mouth-watering aroma toward the pool area. For dessert, visitors had their choice of homemade chess pie or fudge squares with walnuts.
Though the place was often boisterous, Kinnard strictly enforced several rules: No horseplay, no alcohol, no holding hands, no cuddling, and no kissing. Any violators would be immediately escorted out. Even so, teenagers flocked to Willow Plunge, paying fifteen-cents to enter the gates and another thirty-five-cents to swim. The girls tanned on the grassy hill overlooking the pool, while the boys tried to get their attention with tricks off the high dive. In the 1960s, combo bands often performed under Willow Plunge’s pavilion, including well-known groups of that time such as The Exotics, The Fairlanes and The Allman Joys (a precursor to the Allman Brothers).
As they say, all good things must come to an end, and this was true for Willow Plunge. It closed in 1967, and the Kinnards’ land was sold to a developer. The pool was filled in, bulldozers leveled everything else, and Heath Place subdivision was constructed. Today, nothing is left of Willow Plunge except a few crumbling foundations and a historic marker at the entrance to the neighborhood. However, those who experienced the magic of Willow Plunge will never forget those sun-kissed days of simple pleasures when a burger never tasted so good, the music never sounded so vibrant, and life never felt so easy.