Geyser City, Waco: Reading a Photograph of the Crystal Palace Pool

Crystal Palace Pool, 1910s, Franklin Avenue, Waco, Texas

The imposing structures in the background of the Gildersleeve photo are the R.T. Dennis Furniture Co. (left) and the Tom Padgitt Co. (right). Both of these buildings were destroyed in the 1953 tornado that struck the heart of Waco. The portion of the Dennis building was located on Austin Avenue and is now a parking lot. The buildings were so large they were practically back-to-back when they stood.

An old photo allows us to take a dip into the past…and in no image is that comparison more apt than these views of Waco’s Crystal Palace pool! Such an image almost allows you to see, hear, and feel the environment that people experienced many decades ago. By taking one photo (above, by Fred Gildersleeve, circa 1910s) and breaking it down into pieces, we can “read” so much about the former landscape of downtown Waco, Texas, and the city’s history…including one of Waco’s most cherished but now mostly vanished natural resources: artesian well water.

Crystal Palace pool fountain

This fountain was the source of the warm artesian water that flowed into the pool. Due to this natural spring and its widespread use, Waco was known as “Geyser City.”

Crystal Palace pool, streetview

The second deck entrance is directly from South 5th Street at ground level. Notice the cars visible here and how much below street level the pool was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crystal Palace pool had its source of water from one of the city’s many natural artesian wells. A pipe can be seen where this natural resource freely flowed (above, left). Maybe a little too freely, as the people of Waco would learn.

The first artesian well in Waco was drilled by J.D. Bell in 1886. Bell later established the Bell Water Company and in 1904 it was sold to the city of Waco. Many more wells were drilled and consequently, Waco became known as “Geyser City.” This name was well deserved as it was recorded in 1890 that one of this city’s wells was 1,800 feet deep and had an output of 1.5 million gallons of water per day!

This natural resource supplied business needs such as the water supply for the Amicable (Alico) Building. Additionally, it supplied the nearby Artesian Bottling Co. that later became the Dr Pepper Bottling Co. The Natatorium Hotel boasted Waco’s first indoor pool being supplied by this same artesian water. These warm natural waters were even purported to have medicinal effects when consumed or used for bathing.

But in the 1920s the artesian wells below downtown Waco began to run dry and could no longer sustain a constant supply for water-based establishments such as the Crystal Palace pool. Factors for their demise included more demand from changes in population, the arrival of Camp MacArthur in 1918, and the constant strain from various businesses.

Waco ISD building, Franklin Avenue

The pool was located where the Waco Independent School District administration now stands at 501 Franklin Avenue. If you were to walk down the street today in the area of the Crystal Palace pool’s former location, you also would see the South 5th Street side of the City of Waco Water Office at 425 Franklin.

Pedestrian walkway connecting Waco ISD building to the Waco water office, Franklin Avenue

Present day: Seen above is the current pedestrian walkway from the WISD Administration building that many decades ago had it existed would have transported one to the Tom Padgitt Co. building. The City of Waco Water Office at 425 Franklin now stands in its place.

Gildersleeve took his picture with a large format view camera that used 8×10 film to capture the image. The digital version seen here was scanned from Gildersleeve’s original 8×10 inch cellulose nitrate negative now held in The Texas Collection. (We’ve digitized many of our Gildersleeve prints if you’re interested in seeing more views of Waco in the first half of the 1900s. We now are working on processing the many negatives we also house.)

Crystal Palace pool diving girl

Why is this young girl about to dive into the pool wearing shoes and socks? We are guessing that Gildersleeve had her pose for the image. (And we love her bathing cap!)

The remarkable detail of the photo is due to the size of the negative that Gildersleeve’s large format camera used; a high-resolution digital scan makes it even more amazing! Indeed, even today’s digital cameras would be hard-pressed to match the kind of detail seen in this nearly 100 year-old image. The artesian waters dissipated, but we still have wonderful photos like this one to preserve Waco’s history as the Geyser City.

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

This entry was posted in Amicable Alico Building, Archives, Artesian Bottling Co., artesian water, Bell Water Company, cellulose nitrate negative, Dr Pepper, Franklin Avenue, Fred Gildersleeve, Geyser City, Historic Waco, J.D. Bell, Natatorium Hotel, Photographs, Waco, Waco ISD. Bookmark the permalink.

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