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The Historic Warm Springs Pools – An African American History: A Pride of Place and Race

Warm Springs, Va. –

The Old Dairy Heritage Festival kicks off on Friday night October 5th with a talk by John Reddick entitled The Historic Warm Springs Pools An African American History: A Pride of Place and Race.

Reddick spent his childhood summers in Bath County visiting his aunt, Estelle Tonsler, who was the attendant at The Homestead Resort’s Ladies Pool in Warm Springs. Her husband Horace was the attendant of the Men’s Pool and his family had worked at the pools for generations. After his aunt’s death, Reddick found photographs that he had never seen before, some dating back to around 1900. He recognized generations of his family posed at the pools.

“The more I saw these great old photographs I realized why do they always take these pictures in front of the pools,” says Reddick. “In my youngest pictures my mother is holding me up with my twin sister with my aunt and uncle at the pools. And you can see the buildings in the background, or my aunt’s picture on the bridge. So that environment was something they took pride in and it ended up being sort of the other member of the family in all these photographs.”

John Reddick is an architectural consultant in New York City. He grew up in Philadelphia and while visiting Bath during those summers of his childhood, he learned to swim in the Warm Springs pools.

“Coming from the North, there were certain kinds of cultural practices in Virginia in the late 50’s and 60’s that were very different from the way I was growing up in the North,” says Reddick. “And my aunt really kind of sheltered us from that. I can remember the old Liberty movie theatre which had a rope down the center, and you know, blacks sat on one side, whites sat on the other. But outside of this, most of all her friends were African American. And even though she worked at the pools and it was segregated, we were kids so we knew we couldn’t go in with the adults. And when the day was over with she would let us go in there and swim. So we thought we had our own private experience and we could bring friends there and all of that. So all of that made it special.”

Generation after generation of the Tonsler family were attendants at the pools for more than ninety years. His aunt Estelle was an attendant from the 1940’s to 1983.

“My aunt had certain freedoms there that she would have never had if she was working right in the hotel,” says Reddick. “It was five miles away from the hotel and as long as you did an excellent job, you were independent. We came down for the summer. We could come with her and stay in her place of employ and we’d stay in the little house on the grounds and things like that, which she could have never done if she was in the hotel. The little suits that the women wore, the little kind of bloomers, she made those and that was an added charge. And that added charge was something she could take home that was separate from her salary at the pools. I think it kind of gave them a kind of position that allowed them some ways of making extra resources and having certain kinds of privileges that maybe not everyone had at the time.”

Reddick’s presentation The Historic Warm Springs Pools – An African American History: A Pride of Place and Race is Friday night October 5th at 7 o’clock at the Old Dairy in Warm Springs. He will discuss the pool’s history, their architecture and his family that worked there. He will also exhibit his family’s photos. Space is limited, so please reserve a spot by calling 540-839-2407. And you can visit the website olddairyheritagefestival.org

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather as the host of Noon Hour magazine Monday through Friday and also on Wednesday nights from 10 p.m. until midnight as she and Chuck co-host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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