By Joe Earle
Scott Tomlin was stunned by how little had changed.
He remembered it all.
The pool. The diving board. The concession stand. The bathrooms. The trees that screened the outside world. Even the hill.
Maybe especially the hill.
“I broke my arm on that hill,” he said, breaking into something between a grin and a grimace at the memory. “I got a concussion on that hill.”
That steep hill led to a place Tomlin and his friends spent much of their youth in the 1970s and 1980s. It was the drive down to their neighborhood swimming pool.
“I literally remember swimming before I remember walking,” he said. “I was the youngest and I remember swimming in the shallow end in a [plastic] bubble.”
When they were growing up, Tomlin and his brothers and sisters and their friends spent hours in the Roxboro Valley Association’s swimming pool. They swam for the swim team. They jumped off the diving board. Some got their first jobs at the pool, working as lifeguards or running the concession stand.
Come fall, they might go to different schools scattered around Buckhead and Brookhaven — North Fulton High, say, or Cross Keys High or The Marist School — but come summer, they were all in one place: the Roxboro Valley Association pool.
“It was young families [in this neighborhood]. Lots of kids. We became friends,” said Tomlin, who now lives in Watkinsville and works in the furniture business. “We all hung out here at the pool.”
Tomlin’s parents actually met at the pool. Steve Kappel and Ellen Tomlin, then divorced, brought their kids to the Roxboro pool to swim. Their kids knew each other before the two even met. Steve and Ellen first got together when he was working at a diving meet and she was judging the swim meet, Steve said. They now live in Sandy Springs.
“My kids all grew up here,” Ellen Tomlin Kappel said. “We loved it. We just loved it. This was our life.”
On May 2, Tomlin, his parents and others returned to help the families that now fill the pool at the end of Roxboro Drive celebrate the club’s 50th birthday. The club brought in Varsity hotdogs and onion rings and the swim team’s shark mascot as hundreds of current and past residents of the Buckhead neighborhood swam and watched their kids swim and remembered.
“It was a small community thing, a real neighborhood thing,” said Molly Read Woo, who grew up nearby and now lives in the neighborhood. “We were here at 9 o’clock in the morning till 5 o’clock in the afternoon. … You would walk to the pool. I just remember burning my feet on the asphalt. We‘d go barefoot, for some reason.”
The pool got its start because a half dozen families in the neighborhood wanted a place their kids could go in the summer and stay out of trouble, several long-time members said. Several of those original families had several boys and they wanted a place where their boys could be boys.
“It was just a bunch of kids that needed something to do,” said Randy Terrell, who grew up going to the Roxboro pool and now is vice president of the organization that owns and operates it. “I had two brothers and the next-door neighbors had four [boys].”
The original families put up the money to buy the land and build the pool, Terrell said. Construction started in 1960. Through the years, tennis courts were added. The pool, built on about six acres and shielded from the outside world by towering trees, feels isolated, but actually is less than a mile from Lenox Square.
Through five decades, membership in the club that owns the pool has fluctuated as the surrounding neighborhood aged and the kids moved away. Terrell, who was 6 when the pool was built, said that 20 or so years ago, it was hard to fill the 175 memberships they needed to keep the pool operating in the black.
But in recent years, new families with young children moved in to the neighborhood and some of the kids who grew up in the area have returned with kids of their own. The pool association now has 250 member families and 80 more on the waiting list, Terrell said.
“We’re practically at the high water mark right now in terms of interest,” said Roxboro Valley Association president Steve Langston.
It‘s easy to see why, he said. “It makes people hearken back to a neighborhood swimming pool where everybody knows each other.”
Hugh Hamil remembers the days when he knew just about everyone at the pool. His mother was among the founders, he said, and he started swimming in this pool when he was 7.
He’s 57 now and lives in Gainesville. He brought his 8-year-old granddaughter Kaitlin to the homecoming party.
“It’s good to see all these young people here,” he said. “It means another 50 years for the pool.”