Austin's natural beauty is a big part of its appeal, and Barton Springs and its pool are some of its most enduring enchantments. Since the pool bathhouse is turning 70 this year (and being fêted and renovated for the occasion), we thought it would be fun to take a look back at how the place has transformed (and hasn't) over the years.
There's pretty good evidence that some of the first people to inhabit North America lived near Barton Springs for at least part of every year. It has definitely been established that by 1837, William ("Uncle Billy") Barton, the springs' namesake and owner, was hawking it as a tourist attraction.
Andrew Jackson Zilker, whose name graces the park where the springs are located, was its last private owner; he deeded the land to the city in 1918. In the 1920s, the city created a bigger pool by damming the springs and building sidewalks.
In the 1940s, the city built a bathhouse; the photo below shows it and the diving board more or less where their current counterparts are.
The pool remained a popular spot for the ensuing decades and in the 1980s became a flash point for environmental concerns due to increased development in the city (as well as a popular time for topless lady sunbathing, mostly in the courtyard of the women's changing area). The Save Our Springs organization fought for environmental protections and limits on development affecting the springs and the area's Edwards Aquifer and became a permanent watchdog and activist group for the city.
In 1994, the city Glenda Goodacre's Philosopher's Rock statue—depicting Austin men of letters J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek, and Walter Prescott Webb, who used to meet at Barton Springs every afternoon and hold forth in a kind of salon—outside the main pool entrance.
There were several more renovation projects, mostly of buildings and grounds throughout the years. The most recent was in 2011, when access to the east side of the pool was improved and the dirt parking lot paved.