Leslie McIntyre sets down a brief history of Eden Park -- and how it started.
A short history of Eden Park and how we got started with an eight acre plot now called Eden Park Country Club. In 1918 or early 1919, a drive to build a swimming pool and golf course was undertaken. The capital stock was to be $12,500. One share sold for $25. A copy I still have was issued to my great uncle M.D. McNeil. The pool was completed about July 1, 1919. I'm not sure about the golf course. The name then was Eden Park Natatorium Club. Lots of us remember learning to swim here in the 20s and 30s. The pool was closed for a few years in the late 30s and early 40s. Grider Field training pilots for WWII personnel leased the Natatorium and operated the pool and part of the clubhouse during the summers of 1943 and 1944. Grider Field closed for training pilots in the fall of 1944.
At loose ends and just riding around on a Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1944, Bill McNeill, 23, Olen (Rusty) Jones, 26, and I, 21, and maybe others I don't remember were riding out south Cherry and went in 41st Avenue to see the old Natatorium. It had just been abandoned by the personnel of Grider Field. Not being in the service we were looking for something to do. We decided to check it out.
After a trip to the courthouse, we found that Mr. Wiley Barron was trustee for the entire 54 acres. He represented ten ladies, one being his mother, who had title to property. They were willing to sell. We made a deal for an original 3 1/2 acres plus 4 1/2 acres more than we would need. It required us to make a down payment of $1000. The total price was $5500. We now had to get about $350 each to pay the $1000. I'm not sure where Rusty (26 years old) got his. Bill (23 years old) was living with Dr. & Mrs. Thomas Jefferson Cunningham, parents of Dr. Pete Cunningham. They let him have his $350. I was 21 years old and had worked at the Arsenal the summer of 1942 and part of 1943. I had saved through war bonds enough to pay my third of the down payment of $1000. The balance was to be paid at $1000 a year bearing interest at 5%. We have now made our deal and are also broke. Rusty is going to keep his job and Bill and I are going to clean up the buiding and get it ready, along with the swimming pool, scheduled to open June 1, 1945. At this time we named it The Reservation Club, like an Indian reservation and carried out an Indian theme. Bill and I worked the month of January 1945, cleaning and rearranging.
By now we were needing material to continue our remodeling. We went to Pine Bluff Building Material (now Barton's) to see what we could work out. Mr. Dick McGill was the manager then. We told him what we were doing and also said we would like to open an account with them. This was the first of February, 1945, and we could not pay for material until June 1. He agreed to this arrangement. We were now ready to start the project.
Druing this point in time and war, certain things were rationed to stores and people were lucky to even be able to buy a Coke. We applied for a beer permit in February. Beer was also rationed. During the time we were remodeling, we were buying beer as we could get it and also buying Cokes. Chasie Hart had a Coke route that included our area. He was our age and a friend. We bought what he could let us have. The time we had before opening was now about three to three and a half months. By June 1, 1945, we had 100 cases of Coke and 100 cases of beer.
The old Natatorium as we had known it had only used city water to fill the pool. We thought it would also be good to have our own well water. Arthur Craig, a man in the business of digging wells, put one in for us. It had a six inch casing and was 90 feet deep when he completed the well. It was almost artesian. The water on its own came up to within 14 feet of ground level. The water had five parts per million iron and was 55 degrees. We filled the pool with both city and well water. At this day and time, we filled the pool, drained and cleaned it every two weeks. There was no filter system. We finished work on pool and remodeling by the end of May and were ready to open.
The upstairs was to be a nightclub, open to the public, but the pool was run only by buying a summer membership. In 1945 it was $15 a person or $25 a family. At the time of opening, our liability was a little over $2500 to Pine Bluff Building Material, $1000 to Mr. Craig for the water well and some other miscellaneous things.
A place to go made it work for us. We sold summer tickets to the pool that brought in over $10,000. This let us pay for all we obligated ourselves for. Also, paid another $1000 plus interest and had enough to run the pool all summer. We are now open and going. It was like two businesses. The swimming pool from 9am until 8pm or so and the night club business from 7:30 or 8pm to midnight or 1:30am. The swimming pool was open seven days a week. Night club was open Monday through Saturday, but closed Sunday night. During the day we also opened the upstairs for dancing and a gathering place. Lots of cards were played.
We completed our first summer with the pool and upstairs. Now, we are in the fall of 1945 with nothing but a summertime place open on three sides. The porch had a slatted floor, so we closed in the dance area with moveable panels between the post going to the porch, put in two large gas stoves, red lighting and were ready for fall and winter. We would open on Saturday night with a local band, then would be open during Christmas holidays and a big New Year's Eve.
Rusty, Bill, and I were together all of 1945 and until the spring of 1946. Rusty wanted out and Bill and I somehow managed to borrow the money and buy him out. Bill and I had two great years together the summers of 1946 and 1947. The summer of 1947 we had entertainment, a band sometimes three times a week and a broadcast live over KOTN. During the summer of 1947, it was not uncommon for the crowd to be 250 to 350 on Saturday night.
Probably thinking of The Reservation Club as a seasonal place, Bill decided to leave in the fall of 1947. I struggled with operating it as a night club and private membership swimming pool for two more years. In the spring of 1950, men such as Paul Jones, Joe Maynard, Cotton Levey, and Reggie Eilbott formed The Reservation Country Club. I had a working lease agreement until spring of 1959. When the Reservation Country Club lease expired, the lease was not renewed. I took the club back to operate. Not being able to use the name Reservation Country Club, we renamed it Eden Park Country Club, almost back to the original name, Eden Park Natatorium Club. The name Eden Park fits because from 34th, south, the area is known as Eden Park Addition in Pine Bluff.
Bill Foster had put in a jukebox upstairs. The cost of a tune was 10 cents or three for a quarter. Most other places the cost was only five cents. Our jukebox would usually start about noon and play until we closed midnight or after. It was one of Bill Foster's best spots. Sometimes our share would be $100 a week. The Reservation Club was the hot spot all of high school and college attended. It was a fun summer place to be during 1945-1949.
In summer of 1954, my Uncle Ray McIntyre, retired from AP&L and came to work with me. He handled all of office work for old Reservation Country Club and Eden Park Country Club and also bookkeeping for my contracting business which started September, 1951.
Always a project of sorts at Eden Park with my contracting crew. In 1955, we did a major renovation of the pool. We poured a continuous overflow around the pool, about 600 feet. This made it a modern looking pool as it looks today. We also put in a water volleyball court. About the same time we changed the center station in the pool from a wood structure to a pipe and wood floor, two level structure with a diving board on top level. With the help of E.J. Richardson, Engineer for General Waterworks, we installed our first filter system for the pool. It turned the water about every 24 hours in 1962, and for the first time since the pool was built in 1919, it was not necessary to drain the pool every two weeks. It was also our first time to see the bottom in 10 feet of water.
In 1963, we built a concrete tennis court. It was then the only other court in town except some at Pine Bluff Country Club. One was not enough and Eden Park needed something special. With the help of National Bank of Commerce in 1965, we built two indoor courts. At that time there were only 50 indoor courts in the USA and our two were the first this far south. In 1972, we put in the big slide and it was in use 20 years or so. In 1973, we remodeled the old club house. In 1973, we also built and put in a new filter system, one we have today. This system changes the water at 1800 gallons per minute, the entire pool every eight hours. Also in 1973, we put in three more outdoor courts with viewing balcony as we have today. In the fall of 1975, we built a wooden outdoor tennis court, maybe the only one like it anywhere. It was a very good playing court and easy on your legs. It lasted for about 15 years. It was built over two ravines and finally some of the footings washed out and we had to take it down. All the wood was treated and about 30,000 feet.
For several years, we had in mind to make an addition to Eden Park that would allow members to have at Eden Park Country Club almost any size party they may need. In late 1979, and early 1980, we elected to take on with just the maintenance crew a big project. Looking back on this now, we wonder how we handled it. Our project was not only to build an addition to Eden Park, but one that was double the size. Adding to the difficulty, we planned to find as much used lumber as possible. Our first such find was the Rosenweig Building at 3rd and Main. They were razing it. We made a deal with the person in charge for all the lumber. We put a four wheel trailer on the site each morning early. They would load it and we pulled it off and unloaded each evening. This lumber was cleaned up free of old nails and ready for use. The other find was an area ab about 3200 West 5th, Federal Compress Building and Etc. being disposed of by Billy Bell. We dealt with Billy for a building 90 feet wide and 500 feet long. Also, under a part of the building (that was from another building) was 650 beams size 6'x10'x20' and 6'x12'x20' out of yellow pine wood. We cleaned up all the beams and had them trucked to Eden Park. We then took the building down. Lots of good old lumber. We had about 200 pieces of 2'x14', all of which were 21'6" long. We took the lumber from both of these locations and built the addition that is now east of the original building. This took us seven year. During this building, we had Grinnell put in a sprinkler system for the entire building. During all of the additions we made, maintenance was always going on. Other material used in the bid addition to Eden Park was brick from Woodrow Wilson Junior High Building. We used the maple flooring from the gym of Southeast Junior High School (bucked from a flood) and after reworking, for our dining and dance floor. We also acquired carpet bought through insurance adjustment from a basement flood. The art glass came from the Simmons Estate once at 5th and Walnut. Also, door from same. Doors from Andrews Home at 6th and Walnut. Other doors and trim from old homes on West 5th Avenue.
In the fall of 1988, we started converting a shop area we were using, under the new dining room to a fitness center. We worked on it for about a year before we openeed in November, 1989. We learned of some nautilus equipment that we purchased. We added several other machines and free weights that made an appealing workout center. Today it is enjoyed by a number of Eden Park members.
The outdoor tennis courts had some major problems and in 1989 we put in a French drain on the north side of the courts to divert the ground water from the courts. This allowed us to overlay all four courts with 1 1/2" of asphalt and then resurface. In 1991 and part of 1992, we re-did the indoor courts. We built frames out of 1x2 lumber about 5'x13' and covered with material. This material was the kind used for backing on carpet. We covered all the ceilings and most of the walls. The balance of walls was in plywood. To be able to install this, ceiling height at peak 40', we built three rolling scaffolds stretched out with walking stairs. The scaffolds were built on a 5/12 pitch and 45' long. After the material was in place, we were then ready to put a new surface down. After we re-worked the teenage room, we left the tennis building to finish the project on the main building. This was a new dining room on south side and new foyer and entrance on south to let you enter in bad weather. The dining room framing came from the wood tennis court (we had to take down) brick in new foyer from the old Woodrow Wildon Junior High Building. From Coy's Restaurant in Little Rock (at auction) we got light fixtures, hand carved mahogany doors, and foyer benches. We made all the wall paneling from 4x8 x 3/4 CD plywood, ripped and grooved to look like board paneling.
In the spring of 1995, we had the Strong Company of Pine Bluff to fill almost all the voids under and around the swimming pool. We drilled over 400 holes and pumped special grout to fill voids and seal leaks the pool had after 75 years. It took over 11 cubic yards.
In the fall of 1995, we built a workshop 32'x36' on the east end of the building.
Spring of 1996, we put up two storage sheds for lumber. We now have 45 beams left and Mr. Kenneth Wheeler set up his portable saw mill here at Eden Park and cut all the beams into boards. The beams are yellow pine and about 80 years old -- beautiful lumber.
Also, in 1996 we converted an unfinished room 10'x30' into an office, making cabinets from our new, but 80 year old lumber.
By having our new dining room on the south side, we are now working on a new kitchen, using some space from old kitchen and space from old original dining room. The kitchen was finished in the fall of 1997 and winter 1998. Other projects are under way to be completed, if, and maybe two more ifs!