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A Natural Swimming Pool and Polio at the Allens'

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Clizbe Trout Pond
The spring fed pond and 'swimming pool' created by the Allens was another 'first' on our museum landscape. In 1926, concrete swimming pools did not yet exist-they only became popular in suburban homes after World War II. When the Allens inherited the property through Marion Clizbe Allen's father, W.D. Clizbe, it had been 'improved' at the spring several times.  At one point, it had been a trout pond, and during that period in the early 20th century, a concrete weir or dam had been built for the trout. It seems the Allens had the idea to turn the former trout pond into a swimming pool for the kids. John Allen, Harry's father, was a farmer who also worked in construction, and appears to have been involved in enlarging the natural spring and lining it with concrete. Portions of these concrete walls can still be seen, especially parallel to Willits Street. 
Allen House Pool 1928We can imagine the excitement in the neighborhood when the Allens moved in and a swimming pool was conveniently located in their backyard! (The only other swimming hole commonly used was Quarton Lake, which at the time had a reputation for being smelly and mucky, and the Rouge River had been used for dumping sewage.)  Unfortunately, the very same natural swimming pool at the Allens may have been the source of 9-year old Jim Allen's exposure to poliomyelitis. Polio was a frightening viral infection (before it was eradicated by vaccine) that often left its victims paralyzed and even unable to breathe on their own. Most people acquired natural immunity to it while infants, because it was present in the environment. However, in cases where people never got that exposure, they could ingest it unknowingly, for example in contaminated water or water runoff. As it happens, the natural spring pond at the Allens was also fed by storm runoff, as it is today, since it is a low spot on the way downhill to the Rouge; so it could have been theoretically the source of the virus.
Marion Allen signing contract
The impact of Jim's polio on the family was considerable, especially on his mother Marion Allen. His was the only known case of polio in the town, and she worked tirelessly to push him to physically challenge himself and re-acquire some of his mobility. It was a full time job for them both, but ultimately Jim was able to attend school, where he was popular with his classmates in Birmingham. He was voted class president two years running in high school, and became an attorney, like his father, and a city commissioner as well. In the late 1960s, Jim and his mother arranged for the purchase of the Allen House property by the City of Birmingham through a public bond issue. In so doing, they made it possible for the Birmingham Museum to exist today.