It was one of Tampa's first family fun spots -- a peaceful park with a wild, secret past.

Why do they call it Fred Ball Park?

Take a look around. There's a fountain, a gazebo, and nice old oaks. It's a pleasant park.

But nothing more than that, right?

Even in an aerial view from high up above, this park along Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa seems so simple.

But there's something hiding. Beneath.

Your first clue -- your only clue -- is to look across the street, over on the other side of Bayshore Boulevard and its world-famous sidewalk.

There, not far at all from the park, you can see a change in the color of the water of Hillsborough Bay. From above, it looks like a jet of fresh blue water pushing away the murky green on the bay's surface.

Fresh water is shoving away the silty waters of the bay, after flowing out from under the street. It's coming from beneath Fred Ball Park. But why?

You see, before the park was a grassy, tree-shaded field -- it was a giant, refreshing swimming pool.

This was Palma Ceia Spring. For generations, it was fabled as a place to restore your failing health or just do a cannonball and soak your sisters.

"There was no Busch Gardens, there was no Adventure Island, there was no Lowry Park Zoo. Recreation options were very, very limited," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

"So, either you play on your front porch or play in your front yard, or you go down to the local park or the local spring... and you have fun and cool off.

"You'd enclose it, and let that spring water fill up, and so you'd have a real pool. You could even put sand in the bottom. It's much better to have that than just this kinda mucky old pond."

Theearliest pool here was ringed by a row of short columns, just like the ones that would later be built next door along Bayshore Boulevard.

Around World War II, amuch bigger pool was built on top of the spring. Everyone around came here to cool off!

"Mobility was such that even though we think of going to the beach now from Tampa over to the Pinellas Beaches as something easy," Kite-Powell said.

"Well, that was nearly impossible for people back before the bridges were built. And so... if you wanted some kind of water recreation, it had to be closer to home."

In a city with nearly no A/C, this was summertime heaven.

A county commissioner led the drive to buy the spring and make it a public park in the 1940's. Eventually the park was named for him, Fred Ball.

But then something changed.

Swimmin' hole springs all over Hillsborough County lost that liveliness.

"Either the land was so valuable that they had to develop around it, or we polluted the water so much it couldn't be used," Kite-Powell said.

"Or we started drinking so much of the water, that the water levels dropped and you couldn't use those springs as pools anymore."

The old pools are long gone. First dried up, then covered up with soil.

The only evidence you'll see today of this refreshing spring of rejuvenation is what's left of its meager flow -- fueling a small fountain, and then piped underground and out into Tampa Bay.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

If you're a fan of our "Why do they call it that?" series, please mark your calendars!

Grayson Kamm will be talking about "Why do they call it that?" in a live presentation at the Tampa Bay History Center. He'll share some of the best stories he's covered in the series.

It's Thursday, January 10th at 6:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, right next to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Downtown Tampa.

It's free and open to everyone.

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