This is the second in a series of posts about my favorite summer spot, the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool. Upcoming posts will offer more memories including: the bathhouse, the pools, the snack bar, and working there.
Before you could enjoy an afternoon at the pool, you had to get there. And for many of us, that was quite a trek.
The pool was, to put it mildly, inconveniently and inaccessibly located: In what was then Ambridge Borough Park (now Walter Panek Park). On the top of a high steep hill overlooking 22nd Street. High above a town that was basically one big hill rising from the Ohio River--or a number of medium-sized hills, stacked one above the other, depending how you looked at it.
True, there was a road that entered the park, part way up the 24th Street Hill.* If you were driving up the hill, you made a right turn into that road--a narrow, winding, bumpy road that, if I'm remembering correctly, the borough "paved" with tar and chips.
Yeah, about that "driving"...
If you had asked an adult to drive you to the pool, I dare say that you'd get an incredulous look and "If you're too tired to walk, you're too tired to go to the pool."
And, as a practical matter, most of us came from one-car families (or a no-car family), and that one car had probably been driven to work by a parent. Or if the car was parked at your house, parents had much better things to do than to drive their kid(s) to the pool. Even when we were old enough to drive, very few of us had a car or even regular access to a car.
So we walked.
I started walking from the 1500 block of Beaver Road. The walk along Beaver Road wasn't really so bad for the first six blocks, even though I often wished that the street were tree-lined to provide shade, especially on really hot days.
Then, I passed Walnut Street and had to climb up that really steep hill that was such fun to ride a bike down, but not so fun to trudge up on a hot summer's day.
Then another five blocks. Finally, just past 22nd Street, there was an alley that intersected Beaver Road. If I made a right turn, walked up that alley, made another right turn, walked a bit, then I could see...
Onward and upward.
You'd think we'd be too exhausted to swim after the climb, but you'd be wrong. Maybe it was the smell of the tar wafting from the parking lots that perked us right up. Or maybe we were so eager to get into the pool we didn't realize we were tired. Or maybe we just were in really good shape from walking everywhere. And climbing lots of steps.
There were also shortcuts through the woods. One path led southwest-ish down the steep, wooded hill, across a small stream, and ended at Walnut Street, not far above Beaver Road. I took that path once in a while, but since that route lacked parental authorization, I always felt a bit guilty when I did.
Kids walked much further than I did; some walked from Valley Road, at least a 3 1/2 mile trek.
We walked, because if the choice was between staying home or walking miles, literally, to the pool, the clear choice was walking, because the pool was the best fun you could have on a hot summer's day.
Next: The bathhouse.
*I learned just two years ago, while looking at a map during a visit to Ambridge, that the road I'd always known only as the "24th Street Hill" had a name: Breitenstein Road.
Until a private fly ash landfill owned by Gabriel Sacco was opened in ravines near the park's boundaries in the late 70s, the entrance to the park road was aligned somewhat differently than it currently is. That landfill closed in 1988.
**There is some disagreement on the number of steps. 122? 124? Perhaps someone who still lives in Ambridge could volunteer [their grandchild] to climb the still-existing steps and provide a definitive answer.