By Steve Cichon
The removal of the Sheridan Drive pedestrian bridge is stirring memories of the generations of kids who ran across the bridge in anticipation of a jump into the Delaware Pool.
Sheridan Drive was built as a “super highway” in 1925, connecting Clarence, Amherst and Tonawanda to the waterfront and to Niagara Falls via Niagara Falls Boulevard. The divided highway remained most rural and mostly in use for its original purpose until the postwar expansion of the 1950s brought a dramatic number of homes to the former farm country and the Youngmann Expressway became the preferred route for quickly crossing the suburbs just north of Buffalo.
More than 20 large subdivisions were either built or in the works by 1955, along with supermarkets like Park Edge, hot dog stands like Ted’s and Pat’s, and custard windows like Anderson’s.
To support the quickly growing area, the Town of Tonawanda built both Herbert Hoover Elementary School and the “glistening” Delaware Pool, both near Delaware Road on Sheridan.
The pool cost $250,000 to build in 1954. The 80-foot-by-120-foot pool was built by contractor Howard Stimm. During the first year, 2,500 residents were using the pool on warm weekends. More than 60,000 people used the pool, and more than 5,000 took swimming lessons in 1956.
The foot bridge over Sheridan Drive was conceived of only months after the opening of the pool. The $40,000 price tag was seen as steep in 1955, but also necessary to keep the free flow of automobiles along Sheridan Drive. A footnote in one 12-paragraph story in 1955 mentions the safety of the children crossing the busy highway, as well.
After years of bickering and a gubernatorial veto by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, it wasn’t until 1965 – 10 years after the bridge was first proposed – that the state finally gave permission and some funding to allow the pedestrian bridge to be built. It was completed just in time for the 1967 school year.
The pool was such an institution, that the town sponsored a big celebration of the pool’s 25th anniversary in 1979, featuring synchronized swimming and salutes to those instrumental in the building of the pool.
Numbers of swimmers had dwindled dramatically from the glory days, but Tonwandans were still using the Delaware Pool until the early ’90s, when, in 1993, it was replaced by the Tonawanda Aquatic and Fitness Center in preparation for Western New York’s hosting of the World University Games.
The foot bridge across Sheridan Drive is being dismantled this week. It was closed following a state inspection deeming it unsafe in 2016.