Splash from the past: Blue Ridge Swim Club celebrates 102 years

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As the third-oldest in the country, the spring-fed pool at Blue Ridge Swim Club earned historic landmark status earlier this year. Photo: Tom Daly As the third-oldest in the country, the spring-fed pool at Blue Ridge Swim Club earned historic landmark status earlier this year. Photo: Tom Daly

Whether you’re a believer of climate change or not, there’s no denying that it gets hot as Hades here during the summer. The Charlottesville/Albemarle area has its share of holes in the ground filled with water where you can get a respite from the sweltering heat and so-thick-you-can-taste-it humidity, but there’s at least one pool in the area with natural spring water that rarely exceeds temperatures above the 70s. And with less concrete, more grass and 100-year-old trees surrounding the swimming and lounging areas, the Blue Ridge Swim Club may be one of the coolest (and oldest) spots in town.

Built in 1913, owner Todd Barnett says the property was originally intended to be a summer camp. Tucked away among tulip poplar and chestnut trees in the western part of the county, it’s the only natural spring-fed swimming pool in the area. Earlier this year, according to Barnett, who bought the property about five years ago, the club was recognized as a Virginia historic landmark, and as far as he knows, it’s the third-oldest pool in the country.

It’s beloved for sure. But despite its following for the past 10 decades, Barnett admitted that the swimming experience at the Blue Ridge Swim Club may not be for everybody.

“The natural water looks like lake water, which doesn’t appeal to some people,” Barnett says. “Our water is natural water so it has a green appearance, and some people don’t like that.” 

The water, filtered as it goes into the pool, flows at a rate of about a gallon per second, which, Barnett says, is how the water is able to remain so clean, even in a 102-year-old facility.

“It’s actually a lot healthier and cleaner [than other pools],” Barnett says. “I feel like it’s healthier in the long run to be swimming in natural water.”

Barnett described the atmosphere as relaxed and vacation-like. The club also features a picnic pavilion with grills and tables, plus a couple of soccer fields. And nothing says summertime quite like an evening concert—at the Blue Ridge Swim Club, you can float around on a noodle while listening to a live acoustic band on the weekends. The club also hosts an art program during the summer.

There are plenty of reasons for a pool like the Blue Ridge Swim Club to close down—modern pools can be expensive to maintain, and building a new one across the street is often easier and cheaper than maintaining an old one. But there’s something about this pool that makes it different.

“It was well-built in the first place, which is why it’s held up this long. A lot of people have wanted to protect it and take care of it over the years,” he says. “I’m hoping we can keep it going for another 100.”

Dive on in

Memorial Day has come and gone, which means one thing: The pools are open! Here’s where to take a dip in the area.

City pools Crow Indoor Pool and Smith Aquatic & Fitness Center are open year-round, but for summertime splashing in city limits, check out Washington Park Pool and Onesty Family Aquatic Center at Meade Park. You’ll get your classic play-Marco-Polo-or-swim-laps experience at Washington Park, and Meade Park features a small lazy river, in-water playgrounds and water slides.

County beaches We may be a couple of hours from an ocean, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dig your toes into the sand this summer. Albemarle County offers season passes to Chris Greene Lake, Walnut Creek and Mint Springs Valley Park, all of which feature sandy beaches and swimming areas. They opened for the weekends on Memorial Day, and beginning June 10, they’ll be open seven days a week for the rest of the summer.

Sherando Lake You can get your swim on at Sherando Lake, located southwest of town in Lyndhurst, which has a sandy beach and a little island to which you can swim or boat. If hanging out on the water appeals to you but you don’t want to actually get wet, you can also take to the lake in a boat, or try your hand at fishing.

Hike ‘n’ swim If you really want to earn your dip in the water, check out one of the area’s several hiking trails that lead you to creek-fed natural swimming holes.

Rip Rap Hollow Trail, in Shenandoah National Park, is an intense trip with a swimming hole tucked away about four miles in.

St. Mary’s River flows over a ledge into a picturesque little pool that’s the perfect spot for a mid-hike dip in the St. Mary’s Wilderness area. 

If you follow the South Fork of the Moorman’s River about a mile and a half up the hollow, you’ll find Blue Hole, a cold, clear pool about 12′ deep.

For more summer fun, continue reading here.