40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#101: Kelly Pool

on January 4, 2020

lawn + pool

Location: Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Configuration: 50 meters with 3 lap lanes during my visit; 8 lanes total

Fee: Free

I’d long been wanting to visit a public pool in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia has the country’s highest outdoor pool-to-resident ratio (1:21,600 versus 1:150,000 in New York, according to the New York Times), and a higher total count of pools than New York despite having just a fraction the population. Their season starts earlier in June than ours (though it also ends earlier), and as is the case in New York, Philly’s outdoor public pools are free for all comers.

My anticipated end-of-summer weekend getaway to Philly turned out to coincide with a family emergency that would reshape my fall, yet somehow I still did most of the trip and got in some precious moments of outdoor lap swimming on a Sunday afternoon. Kelly Pool had the honors for this important mental-health duty, chosen based on a recommendation from Philadelphia’s pool blogger, who cited it both for its lap lane availability and its expansive lawn.

pool deck, museum in background

More remarkable to me was that we could just walk onto said lawn without showing our bathing suit liners and locks or submitting to a search for contraband items such as newspapers and colored T-shirts, as is necessary at New York City’s public pools. The only delay was that the pool area was at capacity, so we had to wait about a minute until other people exited to be allowed in through the gate.

While just a quadrant of the pool was open for rec swim, in accordance with the lifeguard count, the three lap lanes extended the full length. Another novelty for this New Yorker was that the pool had actual lane lines corresponding to the black lines at the bottom. Interestingly, the “deep end” was in the middle of the pool, with shallow ends at both ends of the lanes.

The fellow swimmers were an eclectic bunch of chlorine addicts ranging from polite to oblivious and using all manner of gear. I enjoyed the view of the Please Touch Museum alongside the lawn. It seemed like there were changing facilities in there, but we never made it over that way because of a grumbling rumbling. About 20 minutes before closing time, we suddenly had to clear the pool and exit the lawn due to a thunder-like sound. We heard something, but the sun was out and there was so much noise in the park that we were skeptical of there actually being thunder. Still, the lifeguards were more than happy to get off a bit early.

Philadelphia Aquarium history posterThe park is a bit of a distance from the downtown area. Knowing we were short on time even without accounting for the possibility of thunder, we took a cab to get there. Heading back into town, we caught a direct bus just across the street from the park entrance. There was a lot of free parking by the pool, and correspondingly a lot of people fled to their cars when the thunder machine roared.

Earlier that same day, we happened to learn some pool history at the amazing Fairmount Water Works Museum. Kelly Pool used to be right here on the Schuylkill in the former water works building, but it was destroyed by a storm in the early 1970s. The National Historic Landmark site is now full of information about Philadelphia’s water supply and environmental stewardship — I highly recommend a visit.

Likewise, I recommend the pool. The Parks Department website is short on detail, so see the pic below for some valuable intel about when you might be able to enjoy the lane lines at Kelly Pool.

sign with pool hours

Post-thunder exodus. All photos courtesy of Neil.


5 responses to “#101: Kelly Pool

  1. Mica Root says:

    This is so great! I’m excited to check out the rest of your blog. What inspired you to celebrate your birthday with swims? (Or, maybe I’ll learn that as I keep reading!) Thanks so much for flagging this for me.

    • Hannah says:

      If you go back to the first-ever post you’ll find the answer. The inspiration was 8 years ago when I turned 40 and wanted a way to mark the occasion with swimming despite having a January birthday. I got to 40 pools pretty quickly and still seek out new ones.

  2. Jill says:

    What a fun blog. If I may: perhaps create a way to quickly determine indoor vs. outdoor pools for the winter months. I’m going to try Riverbank this Saturday with my son, most likely. I swam at NYC Rec Chelsea and Flushing for years, but scheduling visits became tricky about a year and a half ago. I miss it.

  3. […] for bathroom access) and enter directly onto the pool deck in order to stay more spread out. It works in Philadelphia, so why not here? This could save money and allow New Yorkers to exercise their creativity in […]

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