NORTH AUGUSTA — Today, Getzen’s Pond is rarely seen, stuck back in the thick, swampy woods that border the River Club golf course near the Savannah River.
Undergrowth guards what was once the area’s most popular summer swimming spot.
There’s no road, no lane, no path, no gate.
And no swimmers.
Nature has taken it back and does not appear likely to give it up again.
This is what’s left of Getzen’s, a spring-fed water spot that gave generations of Augustans and North Augustans a place to swim, dive, relax and stay cool in the days before cement swimming pools and recreation department water activities.
Originally it was the millpond on the large estate of Robert Butler. Butler died in 1888 and his daughter, Julia, married Judge Henry Getzen, according to North Augusta histories.
The judge not only gave the pond a name, he opened it up for swimming, taking advantage of the many cool water springs that fed into it and gave it a semblance of privacy, something the Savannah River, a couple of hundred yards away, did not have.
Privacy was important in the beginning because at Getzen’s one didn’t wear a bathing suit. You didn’t wear anything. Everyone swam naked, the style of the day. And those swimming were all males. Women and girls were not allowed.
During the first World War, Dr. Henry Mealing took over management of the swimming operation, and local ladies approached him about being allowed to swim on Wednesday afternoons. Naked swimming was replaced by bathing suits, and soon everyone was jumping into the spring-fed pool.
Old newspaper accounts indicate Getzen’s had become the area’s biggest summer child-care, activity center.
Generations of Augus-tans told their children and grandchildren about the grand times they had playing, splashing, swimming, diving and basically, staying cool in those always hot Augusta summers before air-conditioning became common.
It was considered healthy. Augusta Dr. William Mulherin advised parents of the advantages of swimming as good exercise, so kids soon flocked to Getzen’s. Going their became so popular – for children and adults – that Augusta’s J.B. White’s Department store advertised free Getzen’s swimming passes if you bought your bathing suit at the store.
Dr. Mealing turned management of Getzen’s over to his mother, who built cabins around the pond. When she died, her daughter Katherine became involved and introduced Red Cross lifesaving lessons with licensed life guards.
Eventually, the cost of all this became too much and she closed the pond to the public.
Swimming pools – both public and private – had begun to spring up around town. Augusta and North Augusta started up their own recreation departments and facilities such as the YMCA began their own swimming and life-saving efforts.
Getzen’s closed, but it wasn’t forgotten. In fact, over the years, it was remembered consistently by a series of Chronicle editors and columnists.
Johnny Battle, The Chron-icle’s crusty old city editor for much of the 1900s, wrote nostalgically of this favorite swimming hole .
“Do you remember when the Fifth Street Bridge was a covered affair?” Battle asked in a 1949 Chronicle article. “Over the bridge we tramped to Getzen’s.
“Those were the days when we paid a nickel or a dime to swim ... nearly all of us learned to swim in that old pond of shadowy memories.”
In 1964, Earl Bell, an opinion writer and co-author of a book on the newspaper’s history, wrote of the pond as a source of summertime joy and sometimes tragedy, recalling the 1913 drowning of his brother William, while he swam in Getzen’s Pond.
And finally, the legendary newspaper columnist John Barnes wrote shortly before his death of summers past.
“In the hot summertime, when we needed to cool off,” Barnes explained in a 1985 Our Town column, “we would walk across the 13th Street Bridge, down a ramp and walk a dirt road to Getzen’s Swimming Pond. This was a refreshing swim, for the water was ice cold.”
Getzen’s lives on in quiet ruin and those fading memories. Thoughts that go back to a time when boys wearing nothing but their birthday suits, jumped and splashed and swam and dove and generally enjoyed Augusta’s famously hot summers in the cool, spring-fed water of an old mill pond that became a civic institution.