Watch: Footage of '58 Barton Springs flood surfaces
This story was originally published on July 20, 2016.
The “Godzilla” El Niño that brought plenty of rainfall to Austin – and record flooding to parts of Central Texas – last year is no more, and Austinites are settling into the oppressive heat that accompanies a dry Central Texas summer. Luckily, Austinites have Barton Springs Pool. But, 60 years ago, waves of floods over two summers shuttered the pool to summertime swimmers, and recently unearthed footage offers a glimpse of one of those deluges.
The 1958 footage comes from longtime Austinite Pattie Rose, who donated it to the Austin History Center. Rose had recently moved to Austin with her then-husband, Don Foote, prior to shooting the footage. She says she and Don headed down to the springs on a lark when they'd heard of the extensive floods.
“We’d had a lot of rain, and we’d heard that Barton Springs was flooding, so we just decided to go down there and look at it. We were just interested to see what it looked like," Rose says. "As you can see in the video, nobody was there telling us to …get back, you know, it might come up higher, or anything like that.”
Rose says she can't remember the exact date that they shot the footage – she has an extensive archive of family footage – but estimates it was between February and July of 1958, after making the move from San Antonio.
From that estimate, it's likely that the flooding took place in either May or June. The pool flooded three times in that timespan, but the worst of the flooding came on May 5 and June 17. The latter flood turned out to be the worst of the three. At the pool, floodwaters washed away flood-mitigating renovations to the pool, which left it closed for about three weeks as crews dredged the pool, and added more than four feet to the Lake Travis. The pool had flooded the previous year, as well, and was closed for two months.
The floodwaters in 1957 rose to within a foot of the bathhouse at the pool's entrance, according to a Statesman account. Rose recalls a similar torrent in 1958. She says the floodwaters were a few feet below the bathhouse – lower than the previous year, but still enough to make an impression.
“Seeing the power of that flood, and having seen the power of water in more recent floods in rivers around Central Texas, I know it’s almost a losing battle to keep from doing some damage," she says. "Water is an awfully powerful force and that video really reinforces that, I think.”
As for the last time she's visited the springs since then, the 78-year-old admits it's been a while. And, while she and her family love the outdoors, the year-round 68-degree oasis doesn't always appeal to her.
“It’s always been a little too cold for me to swim," she says.