R.T. Shaw, a contractor, saw an opportunity to begin a business and at the same time provide the community with a place of recreation. Shaw opened a swimming area on land leased from his sister, Eva Waddel. Approximate time of the opening of the swimming area was between 1915 and 1918. Shaw directed his construction workers to build a dam of cement on each side of a bend in Waxahachie Creek northeast of the small community of Lone Elm near the M.K. & T. Railroad tracks.
During 1916, a heavy rain flooded the creek and washed out the dams. The dams were rebuilt about 45 feet down the creek from the original site. The remains of these dams may still be seen.
On the creek banks to the west of the swimming area was a grove of large shade trees. In this area were picnic tables and a refreshment stand. Lighting in the area was powered by a Delco generator.
Shaw's plans for the business end of this matter came when he found that a large number of people were swimming in this bend of Waxahachie Creek. “The Plunge” was located near Shaw's home, which was about one third of a mile west of the creek. The Plunge was located about 3 or 4 miles from downtown Waxahachie near the MKT railroad tracks. Today its location may be found on FM 875, between U.S. Highway 287 and the MKT railroad tracks. It is located about 100 yards to the northeast of FM 875.
This particular bend in the Creek was perfect for a “swimmin’ hole.” It was wider, bank to bank, than other parts of the creek. During the most popular period of The Plunge, the cement dams held the water and flood gates regulated the flow of water. Located at The Plunge were a platform, swings, a mud slide down the bank and diving boards for the enjoyment of the swimmers. Also, there was a long set of steps leading down the bank to the edge of the water.
John Shaw, son of R.T. Shaw, stated that “the beauty of the place was almost unimaginable.”
The refreshment stand, located in the picnic area, was operated by Mrs. Shaw and two of her three sons. The other son acted as the lifeguard. Ice cones, cold drinks, candy, hot dogs and hamburgers could be purchased by swimmers and visitors. There were two bath houses and showers, one for the men and another for the ladies. Swimsuits could be rented at the refreshment stand. The charge for swimming in the plunge was 15 cents but, if one needed to rent a suit for swimming, then the charge was 25 cents.
Rumor has it that a young boy was fond of diving off the high board. One day in the late 1920s, after rain had washed a large rock into The Plunge, he made the first dive of the day, struck the rock and broke his back. The accident helped cause The Plunge to lose popularity while still in its prime. People at one time came from around the area to Shaw’s Plunge because it was one of the finest family outing places in the area. Frequently families would pack a picnic lunch and drive out after church on Sunday for a swim and fellowship with friends. It was a good meeting place and many people met their future husband or wife at the popular spot.
But after the accident, The Plunge began a gradual decline in popularity until Shaw decided it was time to sell the facilities. A nephew, J.C. Malone, desired to purchase the swimming retreat and some kind of exchange took place.
With the Shaw family no longer managing the swimming site, it began to lose more of its appeal and, by the early 1930s, it was closed down as a business operation. However, swimmers continued to make use of the area for many years.
The area is now owned by Weldon Eckerberger Sand and Gravel Company. Eckerberger now digs gravel out of the exact place where The Plunge was once located.
Though Shaw’s Plunge is gone, people in Ellis County still remember it. The beautiful trees, remains of the dam and the creek are still there, with the memory of the popular swimming spot lingering among many local citizens who were a part of this era.
This work by Mike Shaw originally appeared in the Ellis County Junior Historians’ anthology, a project led by Waxahachie ISD educator Billy Hancock during the years 1977-1981.
The works, which have been lightly edited for use in the Sun, are reproduced in their original form in a single anthology, “This Was Ellis County: An Historical Perspective,” available at the Ellis County Museum, 201 S. College St., in historic downtown Waxahachie.
All proceeds from the book’s sales benefit the museum’s program of work.