Choteau Lions Club Swimming Pool

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The Choteau Lions Club began its service when it was chartered in May of 1927. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected the nation’s 32nd president in November 1932. FDR took office on March 4, 1933, during the depth of the Great Depression. The Civil Works Administration was created by law on November 8th, 1933. Its purpose was to create temporary manual labor jobs in rural areas. Projects included city sewer and water improvements, airports, roads, parks, and swimming pools. The CWA was short lived and was replaced by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) on April 1st, 1934.

Information sourced from Choteau Acantha articles during the time frame of February 15th, 1934 through September 27th, 1934 provide a glimpse into the efforts involved in getting the first community swimming pool built.

February 15th, 1934

A delegation of Choteau businessmen; Mayor C. W.  Burns, Algon Udin, Otto Wagnild, K. E. Sturgis, L. E. Taylor, and Paul Kropp traveled to Helena to meet with CWA administrator T. C. Spaulding to formulate a list of feasible work projects for Choteau and Teton County. The list of potential projects included a city sewer and drainage system for the east part of town, a fish rearing pond, and a swimming pool.

March 1st, 1934

CWA Authorizes the airport and swimming pool projects. 50 men are employed; 12 for the airport and 38 for the pool. In order to help the pool project along, the Choteau Lions Club purchased Lots 10-14, Block 13 in the Original Townsite of Choteau from Christine Sulgrove for $375 (an approximate value of $7000 in 2017 dollars) and gave them to the city for a pool site. This money came from a fund started by the Lions in early 1932 for a recreation building and pool project.

March 8th, 1934

CWA workforce for the pool was reduced to 32 men but with numerous horse teams and wagons one city dump truck, a 45′ by 128′ pit had been dug out and nearly completed. Clint Stillman was the foreman of the crew. Plans for the pool project were prepared by the Lions Club recreation committee well before the purchase of the purchase of the lots. This committee consisted of R.E Nelson, chairman, Robert Clarkson, John Hentges, and J. E. Byrne. The committee estimates that the pool project will cost $4,000 – $5,000 to complete. Not yet sure how much labor will be provided and paid for by the CWA. Lions committee set a fundraising goal of $2,000 to get the pool to a usable state without a bathhouse.

March 15th, 1934

Excavation of the hole and the water/sewer trenches were completed. Lions recreation committee has charge of the project and hired Joe Knudtzon, contractor and builder to take charge of the construction work. The Lions Club has formed four teams of two people to be in charge of the fundraising and nearly $1,200 of the $2,000 goal was pledged so far.

March 22nd, 1934

Joe Knudtzon and a crew of 29 men are now in the process of forming and pouring the concrete walls of the pool. Each man on the crew is now allowed to only work 15 hours a week. CWA program and funding set to end April 1st, 1934.

March 29th, 1934

The government announced that CWA will be replaced on April 1st, 1934 by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), a new relief agency with new rules. All present workers will have to reapply for relief jobs and will be able to work at least 3 days a week and 54 hours a month. Wages will be much lower than CWA. The wage for common labor will start at $.37/hour.

April 11, 1934

CWA labor ended on March 31st, 1934. 32 men have registered for the new FERA relief work but no approvals have been made. Joe Knutsen is still making progress on the pool with a limited crew of donated labor CWA assistance for the pool work through the end of March amounted to $1,673.70 for labor and $356.23 for materials. Total labor hours from CWA was 2,102 private contributions from the Lions Club fundraising is $1,960.40 pool walls are nearly complete.

April 12, 1934

FERA has qualified 20 men for work on the pool. Work is to begin on the pool floor.

May 17th, 1934

FERA approves a $1,750 Grant pool materials $750 for pool floor cement and $1000 toward a bathhouse. Construction work can now resume. Bathhouse plans will allow for building 14 foot by 39 foot with three rooms. Two dressing rooms with a shower and toilet and a caretaker room/office. No funds are available for heating or water sterilization water plant. The Lions Club will try to raise the funds for these beginning at the upcoming Fourth of July celebration.

June 7th, 1934

FERA announces that sanitation measures will be required for all pools before they can be opened. The installation of a chlorine and treating process has not yet been provided for the Choteau pool. The minimum cost for a chlorine treating process is around $300.

June 21st, 1934

The pool bathhouse was nearly completed in forms are in place for laying a 6-foot wide concrete walk around the entire pool. The Hirschberg’s store now has swimming suits for sale starting at $0.79.

August 2nd, 1934

Lions Club president Dr. H. W. Bateman announced that the new pool will open on Saturday, August 4th. A Lion’s Club swimming pool operating committee has been appointed to oversee pool operation. At that present time, the pool will not be operated as a municipal project. Committee members K.E. Sturgis, C. O. Johnson, R. I. McClue, and Frank Sterns. Season tickets for the balance of the 1934 season will be $1 for adults $0.75 for high school students and $0.50 for grade school students. Daily rates are $0.20 for adults $0.10 for children up to 15 years old. Full season rates will begin in 1935 at $2.50, $2 and $1.50 respectively. Two adults will be on duty at the pool. One to oversee operations and one lifeguard. No heat is available for shower water. Water in the pool will be sterilized by hand with a chlorine preparation.

The Lions Club pool committee and officials of the Teton County chapter of the Red Cross met last evening. Leslie Jourdonnais was appointed lifeguard and swim instructor for the new pool. He will spend a few days at training in Great Falls. A. H. McGinnis will be in charge to oversee the pool operations.

August 9th, 1934

The pool opened on Saturday with a hot day. Attendance for the first 4 days were: Saturday 69, Sunday 112, and about a 155 on each day, Monday and Tuesday. Receipts for the first 4 days was approximately $25. Patrons included men, women, and children of all ages. Everyone enjoyed the water to the utmost. K. E. Sturgis, Pool Committee Chairman announced that Red Cross sponsored swim lessons will begin at 10 a.m. on Monday, August 13th. Instruction will be free and will be taught by Leslie Jourdonnais.

September 6th, 1934

K.E. Sturgis announced that with the school opening pool hours will be 3:30 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Sunday as long as the weather permits.

September 27th, 1934

On Friday, September 21st a sudden heavy snow storm hit continued through Monday. 16 inches of heavy wet snow was measured on the level. The storm signaled the end of Choteau’s first pool season. The pool was open from August 4th to September 20th a total of 46 days.


In 1932, less than 5 years after the Choteau Lions Club was chartered, a group of community-minded men had already started a fund to someday help provide area residents with a pool. When the CWA relief program became available in 1934 for the Lions pool plan and $375 for the site purchase gave the pool a head start over some of the other worthwhile project ideas. CWA authorized the pool project on March 1st. Construction and Lions Club fundraising begin shortly after that. By April 11th the Lions had met their goal by raising $2,000. This was done in 40 days. By August 2nd the pool and bathhouse were completed and ready to be open this was done in 140 days all by manual labor including digging the hole. The total cost of the pool and lots was approximately $6,114. Choteau Lions Club fundraising provided $2,335 and the two Federal relief programs provided the balance; CWA $2,029, and FERA $1,750. A substantial amount of donated labor was also provided by Choteau Lions Club members and area residents. Approximately 30 pools were built in Montana during this period. Like Choteau, most pools started out being managed by Lions Club and other civic organizations. The pool was owned by the city but the Lions Club volunteered to provide management and funding to prevent the pool from becoming a burden on the already stressed municipal budget. In 1956, there were still 27 pools managed by civic organizations in Montana. As of 2013, the Choteau pool was the only pool in Montana that still managed by a volunteer civic group.

From 1934 to 1960 the Choteau pool operated without a filtration system. The pool was drained and clean each Thursday evening. It would be refilled with fresh water by Friday night and reopen again on Saturday. The pool had a homemade flow-through water heater system but the water temperature rarely got above 70°. A pool filtration system was installed in 1960 and new pool water heaters were installed approximately 10 years later. The swim lesson program was reorganized and expanded in 1956. The Choteau swim team started swimming competitively in 1957. The Choteau pool was the last 1934 era pool still being used in Montana until it was torn out at the end of the 2012 swim season.

New Choteau Pool

The original Choteau pool was used for 79 swim seasons, from 1934 to 2012. Over that time the bathhouse was replaced and a new bottom was put into the pool, but the pool walls were original. About 15 years ago with the Choteau Lions Club began a serious debate over what to do with the pool. Annual repair and maintenance cost had increased in the Lions question how they could continue to keep patching the old pool. Discussion turned to the idea of a major pool renovation or even a new pool. The Choteau Lions Club formally started fundraising for a pool renovation/replacement project in 2004. Many ideas were considered over the next several years from putting a liner in the original pool to building a completely new pool in a different location. All options and cost estimates considered were well over $1,000,000. The Lions Club, with the approval of the City of Choteau, finally agreed that a new smaller pool and a remodel of the existing bathhouse would be the most feasible option. In 2009 with approximately $400,000 in the pool replacement fund, a professional engineer developed plans for the pool got the plans approved by the State of Montana and helped arrange a contract agreement between the Lions Club and a pool contractor to construct a new pool as phase one of the total project. Work began on a new pool in 2010 and was completed in 2011. Phase 1 included the new concrete pool, a stainless steel gutter system, and roughed-in plumbing. The total cost of this phase was approximately $600,000 for engineering contract, labor, and all materials the Choteau Lions fundraising and community support was adequate to completely pay for this first phase. Phase 2 would include remodeling the bathhouse connected to the new pool, put in the new concrete decks, a fence, and demolish the original pool with an estimated to cost an additional $430,000 if done by the pool contractor. In early 2012 several retired and active Choteau contractors volunteered to work with the Choteau Lions to complete the pool project. By doing this with the Lions Club being in charge of the volunteer labor and other local contractor donations, the completion of the pool appeared possible for much less than $430,000. At the end of the 2012 swim season, the original pool was demolished and work began to remodel and add on to the existing bathhouse. With approximately $300,000 remaining in the pool replacement fund, the Choteau Lions were hopeful that the new pool project could be finished in time for the 2013 swim season. Volunteerism of snowball and before long, a large amount of the material and labor needed to complete the project was provided at no or a reduced cost. Over 8100 hours of volunteer labor was provided by Choteau Lions Club members, contractors, and community residence during the Spring of 2013. The pool was 98% completed and was officially opened for swimmers on Monday, June 10th 2013. The approximate cost of Bays to completion was $200,000. Thanks to the volunteerism and elimination of a formal work contract, a savings of $230,000 was achieved and the new pool was completed in 2013. It could have taken many more years to accomplish this if fundraising had been needed.

Approximately $932,000 has been raised by the Lions Club and the Choteau community since 2004. Unused pool project funds can now be invested and saved for future capital needs to assist with the annual operating expenses of the pool or an endowment fund. The money needed for the first pool in 1934 was raised in a few weeks, and the pool was built and opened in 150 days. The fundraising for the new pool after it took 10 years and construction took place from 2010 until completion in 2013. There was great community support for the pool in 1934 and that support has continued during the last 80 years. Without the generous support of present and past Choteau residents, the 10-year fundraising drive and reality of a new pool in 2013 could not have been possible.