Legends, mysteries and urban legends have surrounded the Tenino Quarry Pool since work shut down and it was filled with water.
For 90 years, no one was certain what was at the bottom, and locals speculated about old mining equipment and the possibility of bones from miners who didn’t make it out.
On Thursday, the first ever diving expedition to the bottom of the pool was conducted. Despite limited visibility, Mayor Wayne Fournier and the rest of the dive team discovered a large steam engine used for mining.
“I’m certainly hoping it is old steam equipment to put in the museum,” Fournier said when he surfaced after touching the large metal implement.
After another trip down, he surfaced from his 75-foot dive and yelled for the local historian and president of the South Thurston County Historical Society Rich Edwards.
Fournier told Edwards he had touched the large steam engine seen in the historic photos of the quarry in operation.
“I was all over it,” Fournier said.
Edwards pulled up a photo of men working around a large steam engine and showed it to Fournier and the group of children and adults that had gathered around.
When another diver surfaced and saw the photo, he exclaimed, “that was it.” Then he began identifying the different parts he had felt underwater.
As the four divers dipped beneath the water and arose again, the smell of decay filled the air from the sediment that had settled for 90 years that had been stirred up. Old leaves and twigs floated to the surface, and the water changed from its normal bluish green color to tan.
While divers were in the water, people gathered around waiting to hear what the divers had discovered.
“I don’t think they will get down that far,” said Tyrick Weyrauch, a lifeguard at the pool.
He said most people who visit the pool are more intrigued and surprised at how deep it is rather than what is at the bottom.
Fournier was reluctant to provide additional details of the dive team’s findings, noting photos and video from the dive are being offered exclusively to King 5 Evening Magazine, which plans to air a program about the effort in the coming weeks.
In 1888, sandstone was discovered in Tenino by George VanTine and Wes Fenton, according to a report prepared by Edwards. The pair, along with Charles Billings, formed the VanTine Stone Co., which later became the Tenino Stone Co.
The first shipment of Tenino stone was made in 1889. As the quarry grew, so did the town. In 1891, the population was 335. By 1910, the population had tripled to 1,038. In 1906, Tenino was incorporated, and Henry Keithahn was elected as the first mayor.
Buildings were constructed around the quarry as part of the operation. Stones were cut to specific sizes to be used for construction of fireplaces, and other ornate designs were carved out of the stone before they were loaded onto a nearby train for shipment. The only building that remains is the Quarry House, which served as the main office for the stone company.
In 1914, the Tenino Train Depot opened and was moved closer to the quarry for easy loading.
After World War I, stone was starting to become more expensive and cheaper concrete was increasingly being used. Production at the quarry slowed in 1919 and it was officially closed in 1926. By 1924, Tenino found its own stone to be too expensive and went to concrete.
Exactly how the quarry flooded is unknown, but there are two theories. One is that workers hit a natural spring that caused the massive hole to fill with water very rapidly. This caused miners to abandon their equipment and flee to ground level before being lost in the flood.
The other theory is the workers left the quarry during a labor dispute and turned off pumps used to keep the quarry dry when they left. Then, over time, it filled with water.
Fournier said most mining operations have pumps to keep groundwater from seeping into the mine. He added that the pool is fed by a spring.
The quarry remained the property of the Fenton family, which owned and operated it.
Although it was fenced off, locals would sneak in to take a dip throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The city of Tenino officially bought the quarry in 1946.
“They opened it as a pool because it was where everyone swam,” Edwards told The Chronicle.
In 1950, the Tenino Quarry Pool officially opened as the city’s pool. It’s considered a World War II memorial.
Edwards learned to swim in the shallow pool as a kid and remembers oldtimers throwing coins into the deep part for kids to dive for. His father found a Danish penny from the late 1870s while swimming in the area around the diving boards.
Two questions about the pool were answered on Thursday — what is at the bottom and how deep it is.
Some believed the quarry to be 100 feet deep; however, according to sonar and the divers, it is around 75 deep in the area below the waterfall.
Other mysteries still remain, like how if flooded and what else could be down there.
Fournier and the divers only explored a small portion of the pool. More artifacts, equipment and coins could still be below the surface. The expedition was sponsored by Olympia Underwater Sports, Don Juan’s Mexican Kitchen and the city of Tenino. Sonar and a boat were provided from the Olympia Marina.
Tenino Chamber of Commerce President Tyler Whitworth was pleased to see the dives because they raise the profile of the one-of-a-kind pool.
“The more we get the word out about the pool the more people use it,” he said.
With the discovery of the steam engine, Fournier wants to start discussing what to do with it. It could be raised and put on display in the museum, or the pool could be turned into a dive park if visibility is improved.
But as a Tenino native, Fournier said the expedition was a dream come true.