Memories of Budlong Pool

Posted 6/21/22

To the Editor,

It’s too quiet at the old Budlong pool these days. Sounds of five year olds shouting, “Look, Ma!” are missing and may become only faded memories. For nearly a …

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Memories of Budlong Pool


To the Editor,

It’s too quiet at the old Budlong pool these days. Sounds of five year olds shouting, “Look, Ma!” are missing and may become only faded memories. For nearly a century, thousands of Cranston kids held their noses, closed their eyes and bravely dunked underwater at the low end of the great pool; a millisecond later they bounced back up proud as they could be. Watchful mothers cheered and felt a little pride themselves at the big milestone.

Yet, the City of Cranston appears to be on the verge of ending those great Budlong Pool days. It is weighing budget considerations and may install pop-up sprinklers instead of rejuvenating that great city resource.

The city did a terrific job of running that pool for decades, but somewhere along the way it neglected to manage and maintain the facility properly. It became no longer the bright, safe place it had once been.

Kids still need to run around, climb trees, ride bikes and they still need to learn how to swim. The pool was always the best place in the city for learning to swim.

A Gathering Place

When schools let out for the summer, the joy is beyond description. From the second the final bell rings and the kids are let loose, they’re off everywhere: playing in yards, in fields, in empty lots and on quiet streets. But for thousands of kids through the years, it wasn’t quite the real summer until a few days later when the pool finally opened. Some kids went to camp, of course, and on vacations, but usually not for more than a week. And those weeks were mere interruptions. The pool was where their friends were, where their real fun was and where they learned to swim.

The pool was open, seven days a week, in the good years, from ten in the morning to eight at night – for the whole school vacation practically.

They came alone. They came in pairs. They came in groups. They walked. They took their bikes. They got rides …. by the hundreds, they found ways.

The city kept them safe. The worst that happened was a sunburn. Lifeguards were everywhere, walking around twirling their whistles and sitting high up in their chairs. They weren’t out to spoil fun, but running and pushing weren’t allowed; it said so right on the big sign. And those lifeguards didn’t fool around. It was really amazing how well the kids behaved – not that there weren’t times when someone couldn’t resist the fun of giving an unsuspecting buddy a push in. Whistles blew and those kids were in big trouble. Mostly, though, there was too much fun for anyone to think about getting in trouble.

Cranston never did anything better than the way it ran that pool during those good years. It has been a city asset for what seems like forever. If it is not restored and managed the way it once was, it will be a huge loss for the kids.

Granted that water was always ice cold at first, but after you were in for a minute, it didn’t matter. And it was always beautifully crystal clear. You could always see to the bottom, even at seven feet.

Kids liked tossing nickels in from the edge and diving to find them; those were the older kids, after they proved they could swim back and forth across the whole pool without stopping. Little kids stayed busy in the low end where the slide was. They practiced their deadman floats and hung on to the edge kicking their feet as though they were really swimming.

The Go-To Pool

The Budlong Pool wasn’t the only pool around for a while. Rocky Point had its fancy saltwater pool in Warwick, but going there wasn’t half as good for Cranston kids as Budlong Pool. At Budlong – no matter what day it was – there would always be kids they knew from their neighborhoods or schools. It didn’t matter what neighborhood they were from or what school they went to. They met up, had fun and learned to swim. Most of the time, they did it without adults interfering and making things complicated. Their friends told them how good they were doing. Fancy dives off the wall – including belly flops and cannon balls were studied and rated on a scale of one to 10. Scores were received either humbly or proudly but never disputed. Adults could have learned a lot from the kids at the Cranston pool.

And right up there with the little kids holding their noses and dunking under were the big kids on the diving boards; what a big loss their removals were. There was an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment after a good swan dive, or jackknife or the rarely attempted gainer. The high board was the ultimate confidence builder. A kid doing anything off that big board had nothing else to prove, either to himself or anyone else.

A Potential Fading Memory

It sure would be a huge shame if all that is traded for little more than a public sprinkler.

Granted things have changed through the years, and it hasn’t always been for the better. The pool was once open all summer long, seven days a week, from 10 in the morning to eight at night. And it was free. All kids (and adults) had to do was take a shower and go in. Gradually, the season was shortened, the hours lessened and fees were charged. Fewer kids came. One has to wonder what the result would be if the trend were reversed. And instead of closing the place completely it is revitalized to the way it once was. It would prove that Cranston is still a great American city that knows how to care for its kids and not a place of fading memories.

Bob D’Agnenica

D’Agnenica grew up and raised his family in Cranston. He now resides in Wickford.

Letters, editorial, Budlong Pool


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