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November 10th, 2009
Ongoing Aquarena project brings area history to life

STAFF REPORT

Texas State is initiating a long-term project to catalogue, record and preserve oral history and artifacts from people associated with the former Aquarena Springs Resort. Graduate students studying public history will be conducting much of the research and interviews.

Dan Utley, the public history course instructor, said the the groundwork for their efforts began in the fall semester of 2009. At the Aquarena reunion, Nov. 6-8, last week, they got a chance to meet and network with many of the former employees at the famous resort.

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

Students are not only seeking interviews from former employees but are also interested in the input from the many tourists who visited from other parts of the country as well as local community members. In addition to collecting stories and memories from individuals, students will also be seeking memorabilia and various souvenirs that will help tell the story of what people were interested in when they visited Aquarena, shedding light on a larger aspect of American life, culture 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 be archived and the oral histories will be recorded both digitally and with written transcripts to ensure they will be preserved despite future technological changes.

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 important aspects of American life and the people living in the mid-to-late 20th century. After the challenges of the depression and World Wwar II, the economy boomed and people took their families on the road using the brand new Interstate Highway system. Aquarena was one of the destinations of choice.

“It’s historically important from a tourism standpoint,” Denton said. “The Aquarena Springs Resort really helped to shape that industry. 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 for understanding other important aspects of American life, history and travel habits. It is a story of how people from different socio-economic backgrounds and heritages lived and utilized their leisure time throughout the century.

“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 or to possibly donate souvenirs or information, contact the public history program at (512) 245-2142.

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