- 1920, 1940s, 2023
- Historic Status:
- National Register of Historic Places, Austin Landmark
Found within the Zilker Park Historic District, Barton Springs Municipal Pool is a 3-acre natural spring-fed pool that runs approximately 940 feet in length, and up to 18 feet deep. The pool is used for both recreation and social activities all year long. It is home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander, making this pool a federally protected habitat.
Barton Springs is an oasis in the heart of Austin’s metropolitan area that gathers people from all walks of life. The pool is sourced by four underground springs that filter through the limestone strata below to the pool above—a process that helps to keep the temperature at a consistent 68 degrees all year long. Shady green hillsides, perfect for lounging, run along both sides.
The history of Barton Springs is filled with a variety of incarnations: this location has served as a residence for influential Austinites, a power source for the production of goods, the site of interesting attractions, and—most importantly—a place for people to come together with nature. Early evidence indicates that the springs were used by Tonkawa Native Americans for purification rituals. During the 1730s, there were three Spanish missions located along the springs. In 1834, William “Billy” Barton lived and developed attractions on the property, including a merry-go-around. During this time, the creek’s name was changed from Spring Creek to Barton Springs. In the late 1880s, mills were built near the spring to take advantage of its constant flow as a power source for flour production and a sawmill.
Eventually the land was bought by Andrew Zilker for a planned residence; Zilker also used the waterway to transport ice to other homes in the city. In 1918, Zilker started the process of donating his property to the City of Austin, with the intent that it should be developed as a public park. A permanent concrete dam was constructed two years later, creating the large pool that is enjoyed today. Soon after, the bathhouse and diving board were added.
Though the structures around Barton Springs have changed since the 1940s, the pool still maintains its purpose as a gathering place for everyone—from local Austinites to wandering travelers. Even before the sun rises in the morning, you can find people swimming laps or taking a quick dip to start their day, greeting the sun with yoga on the lawn with a view of downtown at sunrise. As the day continues, the lawns become filled with sunbathers enjoying the unique atmosphere and people-watching. Take time to wander, start up a conversation with a stranger, jump off the diving board, join a drum circle, swim laps, or scuba dive in search of the elusive Barton Springs Salamander. – Stephanie Guaraglia, AIA