Rock Lake Rock Lake Rock Lake Rock Lake

Rock Lake
Rock Lake
Rock Lake
Rock Lake
Rock Lake

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Rock Lake
Rock Lake

Here's a wonderful LARGE photo from 1940!


Hear Poppa Jay Jarrell and a Rock Lake commercial from 1965


See photos of Rock Lake Today

See a great video of Rock Lake Pool here:


Rock Lake Pool

I started going here on a regular basis at age 13.  Before that, we (and most people we knew) swam in the Coal river or maybe the parks at Kanawha State Forest or Camp Virgil Tate.  Rock Lake was a kids dream that will never be known  by today's pampered prodigies.   No one on the East Coast had anything like it.   Dave & Sam Wilan  loved us kids and we thought the world of them.   I personally believe that the opening of cheaper "Government owned" pools and lawyers put the Wilans out of business.    Sue-happy people often get more than they asked for and in this case they prevented thousands of future kids from ever experiencing the wonder of Rock Lake.

Rock Lake Pool was an outdoor swimming pool located in South Charleston, West Virginia operating from 1942 to 1985. Being 550 feet long, it was billed as "the largest and most beautiful pool in the East." The pool was built in an old rock quary in the 1930s and opened by Joe, David, and Sam Wilan in 1942. The pool was enclosed by tall natural rock walls that provided high dives. The pool was very popular in both West Virginia and neighboring states and on one occasion, even drew a crowd of around 4,000 swimmers in one day. The pool was surrounded by rock walls which were used as natural high dives. It also included things such as a 50 foot slide, water trampoline, spraying fountain, trapeze and miniature churning sternwheel. After a long decline, the historic pool eventully closed in 1985 due to increased insurance cost and competition from government pools,  many which are now "free" to the public.  Soon after its initial closing, Rock Lake Pool re-opened as Rock Lake Golf and Games. The old pool house had been transformed into a restaurant and indoor arcade. The front entrance and parking lot had been changed into a go-cart track. In the rock quary where the old pool was located, it was partially filled in to build a mini golf course. In the remaining swimming pool area, a sectioned off area allowed for bumper boats. Rock Lake Golf and Games eventually closed in 2006.

The area was purchased by the Rock Lake Presbyterian Church in 2006 for $440,000. In 2008, The remainder of the pool was filled in to create a playground. The final demise of the pool brought a variety of emotions from residents who remembered it either with memories of fun days playing there or as a place they were denied access to.

Part of a newspaper article.....

Its 400-by-200-foot dimensions qualified it as one of the largest concrete-bottom pools in the country. Businessmen C.A. French and George Caldwell carved the pool out of a former Spring Hill rock quarry. High rock walls on two sides hinted at the site's heritage.

Despite the opening splash it made, French and Caldwell sold the pool to a real estate company in 1942. Joe Wilan, who had been managing the property for the real estate agents, bought it four years later.

Wilan had operated a swimming hole on Coal River, Lower Falls Beach. Bad weather in the summer of Depression-era 1931 bankrupted the Lower Falls business.

But Joe and brothers Dave and Sam were to make much more out of Rock Lake.

Dick Reed of WCHS-TV broadcasted weekly "record hops" from the upstairs portion of the pool's sprawling clubhouse.

Rock Lake captivated the imagination, with its slides, spraying fountain, trapeze and miniature churning sternwheel. Folks used to travel from other states to swim there.

Swimmers jumped off a platform in the deep end, to be catapulted into the water from a tilted trampoline.

"They were just accidents waiting to happen," reflects Mike Haynes, who bought the pool property from Sam Wilan in 1992. "You couldn't do those kinds of things today."

The Wilans ran a tight, clean ship. Joe Wilan docked lifeguards' pay for each cigarette butt he found.

The Wilan brothers owned an assortment of business concerns in and near Charleston. A motel. A drive-in. A restaurant. Vending machines. Parking lots. Gasoline stations.

Though for years he owned the only large pool in town, Sam Wilan, 85, describes the profit as "lousy."

"You were working against the weather all the time." Still, Rock Lake used to pack them in. One day brought 4,000 people, Sam Wilan said. People knew better than to try to get in on July Fourth weekend.

In 1964, 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated education, the Wilans forbade blacks from entering their grounds.

Homer Davis, 77, and Paul Gilmer, 76, helped lead the charge. Both men are ministers. Gilmer still pastors Vandalia Baptist Church, and Davis is the state director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

At first, Sam Wilan said he didn't want to talk about the integration struggle.

"I saw enough of that trouble, " he said. "It's dead. Let it die."

When pressed, however, Wilan maintained that money drove the decision. White customers told them they'd quit coming if the gates were opened to blacks, he said.

"We were under enormous pressures from white people," Wilan said. "We were running a business, not a social experiment."

Protesters formed a human wall in front of the ticket window, causing those who wanted to swim to step over them or be carried. Others would stand in line all day, forcing the Wilans to turn them away. They would return to the back of the line and wait their turn again.

None of the protesters resorted to violence.

Did the Wilans, a Jewish family, feel that morality competed with their interests?

"Hell, no," Sam said. "We didn't go into people's morals. In our other businesses, we had colored people and we were on
good relations with them."

The Wilans maintained that federal civil rights laws did not apply to them because they were a privately owned business.

Finally, in July 1967, the Wilans relented and allowed the first blacks to swim.

"It had the effect of opening up the whole Valley,"  (Black leader) Davis said. "After that, we didn't have any problems with discrimination in public places."

A deluge of black swimmers never materialized at Rock Lake.  Davis, Gilmer and other black leaders had made their point.

"When we did let them in, they never came," Wilan said of black protesters. "All they ever wanted out of that place was publicity."

Many whites quit going to the pool because they didn't like the tension.  When it ended, they never came back.

Rock Lake's business never recovered, though other factors helped explain it.

Government-subsidized pools popped up all over the Kanawha Valley, charging low prices the Wilans couldn't compete with.

Taxes and insurance also ate into profit, Sam Wilan said.
"You'd get sued every time somebody stubbed their toe."

Rock Lake Pool finally closed in 1985. The Wilans had tried to sell the property, as a pool and also as government housing. They simply held on to it, keeping everything in working order.

Rock Lake Pool


A pool that was

Rock Lake Pool

Date published: 11/24/2007 By Paul Akers

THE ATHLETIC GODS in my hometown were not football team captains or Golden Gloves boxers but the lifeguards at Rock Lake Pool who dove off the high rocks of the one-time quarry. The lifeguards--and a few others, by dispensation--scaled the rock cliff to a small ledge, maybe 25 feet above the trapeze stand (the pool's upper limits for mere mortals), extended their arms, flexed their calves, and took flight, executing beautiful, exhilarating swan dives that indemnified them better than Lloyd's of London against dateless Saturday nights.

After teaching myself to swim in a creek near my aunt and uncle's house, I set about perfecting my stroke at Rock Lake. It was 41/2 blocks from my house, meaning that a short bike ride took me to the second-largest concrete-bottom outdoor swimming pool in America. Blessed were the days of youth.

For several summers I bought a season's pass on opening day and recouped my money in about two weeks. From then on, every day--I didn't miss many until school bells knelled summer's end--was free. While I never dove off the cliff, I did surmount a series of challenges that all together constituted a personal rite of passage from childhood. I bounced off the end of the high dive. I slid down the giant slide (on stomach facing forward, on back facing backward, on stomach facing backward, or twisting lathe-like all the way down). I jumped off the trapeze platform. Finally--the test of tests--I swung out over the water on the metal trapeze and dropped off into space and transformation.

Rock Lake must have spawned thousands of identical stories, but it also denied some. The three brothers who owned it, the Wilans, prohibited blacks from swimming there. Locally, this stance commanded majority support, but even some white patrons winced when one Wilan reportedly said that "colored people can have half the pool--the bottom half." The brothers were Northern Jews, a demographic inclined to support civil rights, but there was no doubt about the Wilans' racial opinions when one of them greeted sit-ins with a pistol on his hip.

But I was 13 and stone-deaf to the call of social justice. I wanted to swim.

No, you can't go home again. You can't even go swimming.

The Wilans' created a place of limitless spontaneous fun. Rock Lake was unlike the corporate and regimented water parks of today, which, despite their more elaborate equipment, do things by the numbers and minimize risk.  No boys will swing on bars of steel toward manhood there. No bronzed lifeguards will plunge like kingfishers into blue water or, on god-humbling grounds-duty, spear with a sharp stick cigarette butts and gum wrappers dropped in hot and flashing sand.

Paul Akers


Note: Samuel I. Wilan, 94, of Charleston and owner of Rock Lake Pool,   passed away on Thursday, June 18, 2009, at Hubbard Hospice House, Charleston.

Many people dont know that the Wilans also owned the Lower Falls Bathing Beach in St Albans.

Lower Falls Bathing Beach

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