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A secret garden
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An old farm pond that was enclosed for swimming in the early part of the last century still lives on in the legend of Gibbs Pond, now incorporated into a sunken garden hidden away in a Social Circle neighborhood.

In the hot dusty summers of the 1940s, Joe Walton and his friends would walk from their house on South Cherokee Road in Social Circle to the local swimming hole John Gibbs built 25 years earlier behind his farmhouse up on West Hightower Trail (then called Gibbs Street).

Their mothers didn't think it was "proper" for the children to troop through town in their bathing suits so they would change clothes in the bathhouse Gibbs also had built on his property.

Gibbs' wife, Annie, was the lifeguard and swimming instructor. As far as Walton remembers, no one every drowned in the icy-cold water although there was a case of typhoid fever allegedly caused by the mosquitoes that frequented the swampy area.

Gibbs began building the 40-by-50-foot pool in 1915 from a pond fed by two springheads that bubbled up out of the ground and then traversed through pastures to form a creek behind where the Freshway Market now stands. Old bricks from a burned-out mill in Rutledge that processed cottonseed oil were used to build the walls and floor of the pool. Some of the burn marks are still visible.

According to local lore, it took about seven days and seven nights for the pool to fill with water after it was enclosed and a skim of cottonseed oil that had been absorbed by the bricks seeped out to cover the surface. It soon dissipated and the pool was opened around 1919.

It was these antique brick walls, still standing, that attracted Carole Taylor to the property 10 years ago when the new Corby Creek subdivision encompassed some of the Gibbs land, although "I didn't know it was so big," she said. An avid gardener, Taylor planned to build a sunken garden with a water feature on the site but as workers kept on clearing out mud, brush and overgrown privet, the area became larger and larger and now the empty pool covers the bottom half of her back yard on Justin Court.

Also uncovered were what had been bricked-in fish tanks where Gibbs, a dedicated fisherman, raised minnows for bait. The original catalpa trees where he raised bagworms for fishing also are still standing and casting shadows over the pool. Taylor made planters out of the fish tanks, put in benches and sculptures and planted lilies and hostas and other shade-loving plants.

The garden and its unusual setting have been featured on the Social Circle Tour of Homes, and Taylor and her husband Flagg were married there four years ago in front of a rustic chapel she had built out of old barn wood that she now uses as a potting shed.

Although the pool was located on private land, it was used by any local child who wanted to swim in it, Taylor said, and that included both black and white, thus making it the first integrated swimming pool in Social Circle. At first, Gibbs charged each swimmer a nickel or a dime but in the depths of the Depression in the 1930s, the children couldn't even afford that tiny bit of change.

Larry Knox was born in 1948 on the Gibbs farm. He remembers swimming with the white children in the pool, where they "fished" for Annie Gibbs' pet goldfish. A lane ran behind the pool, well within walking distance of the Knox house on Clover Drive. Local churches also used the pool for baptisms. Gradually, the pool silted up and was closed by the time the property changed hands in the 1960s.

The Gibbs farm long ago slipped into memory but the swimming hole slumbers on in the Corby Creek garden. For the past decade, Taylor, a member of the Social Circle Historical Society, has worked to preserve the integrity of the 90-year-old pool but she will turn it over Aug. 1 to new owners as she and her husband prepare to move to a town house in Punta Gorda, Fla.