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The Clougherty Pool

Charlestown's relationship with the pool has changed over the past 60 years, but one thing has remained the same: it's *the* place to go in the summer.

 The George Robert White pool -- now known as the -- opened for business in the summer of 1949. The pools and bath-house were built with money from the George Robert White Fund.

George Robert White (1847-1922), a philanthropist and a resident of Boston, worked as a boy for the Weeks and Potter Drug Company, a company best known for its Cuticura antibacterial soap. Over time White became president and owner of the firm.

Over the course of his life White amassed a fortune. During his lifetime he gave to a number of charitable organizations, and after his death his will bequeathed an endowment of $5 million to the City of Boston. White’s will specified that the fund was to be used only for "creating public beauty and utility" for Boston’s inhabitants. The pools, built in Doherty Park, where there once was a wide lawn, filled the gap for a swimming hole in the Charlestown neighborhood.

In 1948 a contract to build the pool for $450,000 was awarded and the two fenced-in pools -- a long lap pool and a diving pool with its treacherous yet thrilling high diving board -- opened in the summer of 1949. Almost immediately, swimming teams were formed.

Swim Teams and Races

For more than 10 years, several swim meets were held at the pool every August. Boys and Girls CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) swim meets attracted teams from all over the city, while the annual Boston Parks Department swim competition was one of the highlights of the summer.

As part of the Charlestown teams, I practiced with my team mates every morning of the summer. We met up at the pool at 9 a.m. to swim laps, practice and refine our strokes and receive the invaluable attention, coaching and leadership of Frank Vita. He and his brother Dick Vita were part of the George Robert White Pool.  While Dick seemed more "office bound," Frank was always out on the pool deck, willing to be a force for good in our lives.

Workouts were strenuous. Vita tried to prepare us for actual competitions coming up in August by having us take our mark and then he would fire a starter pistol. He would call out the stroke, fire the pistol and we were off.

At one of these practices I didn’t hear him call the stroke and was still on deck while everyone else was in the water and a quarter of the way up the pool. When he yelled "breast stroke" again, I dove in, swam with everything I had -- and won the sprint!

Frank said "Helen, now we know -- that’s your stroke," and from then on, that’s how I competed. Breaststroke is still my favorite way to swim. "Frog’s arms and legs" can save your shoulders from the strain of swimming overhand.

It seems the whole neighborhood came out for the meets. They were held at night. The long lap pool had amazing submerged lights lining its walls, fabulous globes that seemed to shoot shimmers back and forth across the water. Night time at the pool had such a tropical feel for me. The meets were exciting, festive and it was very satisfying to win a trophy or two. 

In front of the bath house there was a dais and trophies and medals were awarded for first, second and third place. Peggy Donohue, Sissy Suprey and Peggy Harrington were a few members of the team. Spectators sat on the stone bleachers, cheered us on and screamed when we won.

The High Diver

Sixty-two years later, the lap pool still retains much of its integrity. It’s still a fabulous "almost Olympic length" pool and provides as great a workout as it ever did. The diving pool no longer has diving boards, although two low pedestals remain. In the middle of two low diving boards there used to be a 16-foot high diving board.

We often silently watched as Domingo de Jesus, in his red Speedo, slowly climbed the diving board's ladder, then inched out to the edge of the spring board, and tested the spring with tiny, tension-filled jumps up and down. He then positioned his toes to the edge of the board, while his heels hung over the rim. He closed his eyes, and waited, with the deepest concentration, for the perfect moment to execute the dive.

You could laugh all you wanted at de Jesus’ preening, but at the moment of the dive, when his body flew into mid air and then his fingers touched his toes in the first phase of the reverse jack knife, before his full body extended into a perfect backward swan dive -- all you could be was amazed.

The pool is still amazing and continues to be the place to cool off in the summer heat.

  • Check our for hours and schedule. You can also see our for more details.

 


Information for this article was compiled from various research sources, including Christian Science Monitor September 1, 1948; various Boston Globe Archives between the years 1949 and 1965; and various web-sites, including www.cityofboston.gov/ and www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Robert_White#George_Robert_White_Fund

Mary Brock July 19, 2011 at 03:58 PM
What would we Charlestown kids have done without that pool? We were so lucky to have something to do ALL summer - days and nights. And oh those summer nights at the pool! Thanks for the memories, Ms. O'Neil.
Helen O'Neil July 19, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Thank you Mary. I agree, and it's great that the pool is still there.
Linda MacDonald July 20, 2011 at 01:14 PM
Hi Helen, I remember going to the pool and having to walk through that cold water, through a cold shower before any of us could enter. Then jumping in the pool with every other kid from Charlestown, and bobbing up and down because there was no way anyone could swim with all of us in there. It was great fun on a hot day. Linda MacDonald
Helen O'Neil July 20, 2011 at 01:42 PM
Linda, what a great memory! I forgot about the 'foot' pool. It was such a shocking way to enter, having to first put our feet in such cold water. Thanks for reading and sharing.
Nancy Hannan July 20, 2011 at 03:55 PM
The written sketches of the days and nights at this unforgettable oaisis for a child brought this former townie deep into some lovely nostalgia. Oh, to see Domingo just one more time flying like a bird from the sky.... That likely won't happen -- but to "see" him in your words was for sure the next best thing. Thank you Helen.
Helen O'Neil July 20, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Thanks Nancy. To write about something so pleasant that happened so long ago is really fun.
Mary Aylward Stewart July 20, 2011 at 08:19 PM
Loved reading about the pool--the facts and figures--but particularly the reminiscences. Nothing like the personal touch. I found myself Googling George Robert White. You gave him credit in your piece, I realize, but you might think about writing an article on this philanthropic man at some future date. I think your readers would enjoy knowing more about him. Thanks.
Helen O'Neil July 20, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Mary, that is such a great idea. His name shows up in several spots around Charlestown, such as at the clinic on High Street. We owe him a real debt of gratitude. I often wonder where cities would be without these great philanthropists.
naomi kooker July 21, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Briliant description fo Doming's dive! I love how you, Helen, included your own experiences on the swim team. It certainly makes the pool come alive; and glad it's still the place to go, especially in this heat! Well-timed article!
Helen O'Neil July 21, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Thanks Naomi for reading and your comment. It's been another great summer up at the pool.
John Tag July 22, 2011 at 11:52 AM
To clarify Greg's statement, I have confirmed that a young man did not have an accident in the pool. Give credit to the Community Center staff for keeping the bathhouse and pool clean for all. With so many taking advantage of the pool during the extreme heat, the pool is tested every hour because of its excessive use to ensure it is safe for all. A great job by the entire Community Center Staff!
Helen O'Neil July 22, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Thank you for letting us know. So many are using and enjoying the pool this summer.
Virginia Mansfield July 22, 2011 at 01:00 PM
The "Bunka" as it is fondly referred to is a great oasis!  Great staff, great management and CLEAN!!!!!  (the bathrooms are sanitized daily and the water is crystal clear, staff are seen checking the p.h. Levels throughout the day).  Whether you'd like to relive the old days on the stone bleachers or sit in one of the comfy adirondack chairs there is no better place to spend a summer day. Thanks to tireless management of Beth Burton, supervision of Lisa McGoff, Jean Marie McGlaughlin, the many lifeguards, staff of our beloved Charlestown Community Center and of course Mayor Thomas Menino,  it is a safe, inexpensive, enjoyable way to socialize and beat the heat.   I am so proud to introduce this pool to new neighbors.  When some hear the words "public pool" they get a look in their eyes that you can see they are forming an opinion.  As they join me and enter the facility (greeted so welcomingly by the staff) their eyes change to one of surprise and wonder.  After a great swim they've looked at me and said, "I had a different thought of this place, so glad I joined you." There is so much to do at the adjoining playground during the day.  (Arts/crafts, games, riding toys for the little ones, free lunch from 11:45-12:30 for all under 18 and activities staff to engage the kids).).  Why would anyone want to go anywhere else?
Helen O'Neil July 22, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Virginia, Thank you for giving us even more information about the jewel of the pool. I love the 7 AM lap swim; it was an awesome way to start the day today, with all the heat we're having. Those of us who use the pool regularly appreciate everything you all do to keep it clean, safe and fun.
Joe Foley August 02, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Great article . I used cuticera soap as a kid finding out about Robert White. I a lived at the bunkerat hill pool. When we go to a hotel and the pool is crowded ashe will say it looks like the Bunker Hill Pool . My sister has a few records at the meets . What a great descripition of the meets. DO you remember the blind guy and doberman dogs that ran the the hoy dog stand Joe Foley
Helen O'Neil August 02, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Hi Joe, I do remember the fellow who ran the hot dog stand. If you haven't seen it yet, there's an article about the park itself. Check it out: Doherty Playground: History Within History.
Jay K. August 03, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I agree. I would really enjoy reading more about George White, Helen. As always, thanks for these stories.
Helen O'Neil August 03, 2012 at 06:26 PM
So many people have asked about George Robert White. He would make a great topic. In Charlestown his fingerprints are on so many gifts -- not only did his benevolence make the pool possible, but also the MGH Health Center on High Street, to name two.
Helen O'Neil August 23, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Can anyone answer two questions that came via e-mail? 1. "I've noticed the name of the pool on Bunker Hill Street is called the Clougherty Pool. Is that because of the large Clougherty clan from Washington Street?" 2. " Where can I purchase the Charlestown flag?"
Karen Green September 18, 2012 at 03:28 AM
@ Helen O'Neil. Mayor Kevin White dedicated the pool to my Uncle Paul Clougherty, who died on the job on December 26, 1982. He worked for The City of Boston, Parks and Recreations Department.
Ann Marie Clougherty White September 18, 2012 at 10:44 AM
I remember as kid going to work with my dad there before we moved back to Charlestown. He loved working there every summer. So in June 0f 1983 when the City on Boston and the people of Charlestown dedicated the pool to him . My sisters and brother were very proud to call him our dad. It is his legacy to us for generations to come. I it was a place that was special to him
Helen O'Neil September 18, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Karen and Ann Marie, Thank you for letting us know that the Clougherty pool was named after your uncle and father Paul Clougherty.
Mary K. Smith September 21, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Thank you for answering my question regarding the Clougherty Pool. I didn't realize it was dedicated in 1983. What a wonderful legacy to Paul Clougherty. Any suggestions on where I can purchase the Charlestown flag? Thank you, Mary Kate (Smith) Woodruff
Helen O'Neil March 27, 2013 at 10:57 AM
This request came via e-mail. Does anyone have photos? Sounds like such a great idea. "I am a resident in Charlestown and am on the Charlestown Community Center board. We are have a fundraiser on April 12 2013 to raise money for the Clougherty pool renovations. Our goal is to bring back the roof deck snack bar! For the event we are looking for a photo looking towards the G.R. White building from the pool side from the 1970's era when the roof deck was in full swing. We plan to enlarge this photo and print the tag line "let's bring it back!" at the top of it. Would anyone have any such images we can use for this Fundraiser? Thanks you for you consideration, Petra Eldh"

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