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Graduate class to archive oral histories of Aquarena Springs

By Alec Jennings
University News Service
October 29, 2009

Aquarena reunion

Graduate students studying public history at Texas State University-San Marcos are embarking on a long-term project to catalogue, record and preserve oral histories and artifacts from people associated with the former Aquarena Springs Resort.

Dan Utley, who instructs the public history course, said that groundwork for their efforts began in the fall semester of 2009 and they are furthermore looking forward to meeting and networking with numerous former employees at the Aquarena reunion celebration Nov. 6 to 8.

"This isn't just a story about Aquarena Springs, but it's a larger story about automobile tourism in the 20th century," Utley said. "We're just now getting started on a project we hope will keep students working for many semesters to come."

Students in the program will seek interviews not just from former employees of the resort, but people who visited from different places around the country as well as members of the local community who may have memories from times when the national tourist attraction brought new faces to San Marcos on a weekly basis. As well as collecting stories and memories from individuals, students in the class will also seek memorabilia and other various souvenirs that will help tell the story of what people were interested in when they visited the Aquarena, shedding light on a larger aspect of American life and history.

"We want to talk to and learn from anyone who can tell us the history of Aquarena Springs," Utley said. "It's a very wide umbrella. There are a variety of details that can tell us a lot about various individuals from diverse backgrounds and interests."

Memorabilia will subsequently be archived while the oral histories will be recorded digitally with written transcripts produced to ensure they will be preserved indefinitely despite potential technological changes in the future.

Lynn Denton, director of the public history program, said the preservation and archiving of this history will also serve as a future resource for anyone looking to understand an important aspect of American life and people in the mid-to-late 20th century. It was a point in American history after the challenges of depression and World War II when the economy was booming and people were taking their families out on the road using the new Interstate Highway system.

"It's historically important from a tourism standpoint. The Aquarena Springs Resort really helped to shape that industry," Denton said. "It was very much that summer destination for people from all across the country."

Utley said the oral histories and archived memorabilia can serve as a resource in understanding other important aspects or American life, history, travel habits and how people from different socio-economic backgrounds and heritages lived and utilized their leisure time throughout the century.

Ultimately, they hope to have a body of work that can be shared with the public and surrounding community. Denton and Utley agree that the project presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between several different university departments that might not otherwise have that level of interaction.

"This is a project that utilizes the Department of History, University Archives, the Alkek Library, River Systems Institute and the Aquarena Center," Utley said. "This is not just one class, one program, but many programs and departments on the university campus."

For more information about the oral histories project, please contact the Public History Program at (512) 245-2142. For more information regarding the Aquarena Spring reunion, visit www.aquarena.txstate.edu/Home/reunion.html or call (512) 245-7544.