Remember This: Generations enjoyed swimming, sports, lots of laughs at Pleasure Isle in Independence

Massive pool was playground for many Kentuckians
Posted at 7:00 AM, Jul 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-16 07:15:52-04

INDEPENDENCE, Ky. -- In what used to be a rural area of Kenton County in the 1930s, northern Independence was home to a popular, natural swimming hole and picnic area. Near the intersection of 3L Highway and Hands Pike, a pool was formed by a run-off from the Banklick Creek.

The property was purchased by George Winholtz in 1933 and named Island Lodge, with plans to build a sportsman's club and fishing lake to complement the swimming area.

In 1940 the sportsman's club, Pleasure Isle, opened, featuring tennis courts, horseshoe pits, badminton, shuffleboard and a mini-golf course. A sand-bottom pit was created to serve as a pool until a concrete one was constructed in 1951.

Lois Hall, 86, used to go there to swim when it was still a lake in the late 1930s and early ‘40s.

"You would walk in to the shallow end gingerly because you were never sure how deep it would be under your next step," she said. "Little fish would bump into you when you were playing. It was typical lake water."

Near the intersection of 3L Highway and Hands Pike, a pool was formed by a run-off from Banklick Creek, later to become the popular Pleasure Isle. (Photo provided)

Although everyone referred to it as a swim club, it was actually a public pool open to anyone who paid the daily admission fee. In the evenings, the area turned into a nightclub, with live music and entertainment.

Cincinnati radio legend Ernie Brown, 62, better known as The Fatman, grew up near Pleasure Isle and has memories of working and playing there.

"It seems like all the kids who lived around there worked there, too," he said.

Starting at about 9, he was paid 25 cents an hour to pick up trash, and then worked his way up to parking cars, lifeguarding and even bartending around the time he was getting his first gig as a disc jockey.

Brown said the pool was massive -- 15 feet deep in some spots -- and easily the largest in Northern Kentucky.

"I think two Coney Island pools could probably fit in it," he said.

When the pool opened in those early years, there was no competition. However, as the surrounding suburbs grew in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, private swim clubs began taking away some of the business.

It was in these years that the McDowell family of Villa Hills would pack six kids, and usually some friends, in the car all summer long and head down the old 3L Highway to swim.

"When we saw the creek with all the rocks alongside, we would get so excited because we knew we were close," said Teri McDowell, 55, of Erlanger.

She recalls that she and all her siblings learned to swim there.

"There were multiple concrete pillars in the shallow end of the pool. We were not allowed to jump off the diving board until my mom determined that that we could strongly swim between two of the pillars," she said. "It didn't matter how we thought we could swim, it was what my mom thought."

Pleasure Isle eventually featured a massive pool that reached depths of 15 feet in some spots. One longtime visitor guesses the pool could have held the large Coney Island pool - times two. (Photo provided)

In 1975, Pleasure Isle was purchased by Charlie Robinson. The complex was devastated by fire the next year, which destroyed the pool clubhouse and bar and Robinson's on-site barber shop.

A new concession stand was constructed and the Pleasure Isle Lounge was built on the roof, and the area continued to be a social center for Northern Kentucky.

Pleasure Isle was forced to close in 1997 because of the widening of 3L Highway.