A black and white photograph of a gondola going over a park setting as people look by

Photo by John Suhrstedt

The weirdest and most wonderful water park Texas has ever seen opened on Spring Lake in San Marcos in 1950. At Aquarena Springs, gondolas rode in the sky, never deigning to touch water. “Aquamaids” picnicked and performed ballet in daily shows that were staged underwater. There was a swimming clown named Grupo, and a swimming pig named Ralph; there was also a chicken that played tic-tac-toe, though swimming was not in its repertoire. The park featured a fleet of glass-bottom boats that gave visitors a glimpse of eels, catfish, turtles, and other aquatic critters. From below, springs bubbled up from limestone rock formations, giving the impression of being “inside the world’s biggest Alka Seltzer,” as one park announcer put it in a 1970 Texas Highways story. This photo was taken in the park’s heyday, when Aquarena Springs drew more than 1 million annual visitors. It shows a family watching the gondola, named the Swiss Sky Ride—a creation of fiberglass sculptor Buck Winn, a native of Celina. As the new century neared, the park began treading water financially; it finally tanked in 1996 due to competition from rival amusement parks. Now the city of San Marcos pays tribute to Aquarena Springs each September during its Mermaid Capital of Texas Festival. —Christopher Collins

Know of any fascinating vintage Texas photographs? Send copies or ideas to [email protected].

 

From the June 2024 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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