Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool, Part 2: Getting there--the trek to the pool

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...

The Steps.

124 steps.**

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.


  1. How wonderful to read this :) So many memories ,I also used to walk with my friends m 4th and Maplewood to the pool and back ! Would meet some on the way and then drop some off on the way home. If I had to walk that now and the steps wooo I would follow over lol

  2. When the improved road from 24th street was opened, the route to the pool (by car) was amazingly shortened. Before that, the road meandered wildly, with sharp curves. The new one pretty much bulldozed straight through the trees to the park.
    There was a very well maintained baseball field near the pool where American Legion teams played. Beyond that was the town dump.
    Across the road from the dump was the picnic area. I don't recall anyone thinking it was strange to have a picnic next to the dump.
    I remember going there several times for church carnivals (my friend and his parents took me, I don't know what churches - Orthodox?). There were lots of good things to eat, games, prizes, Bingo. We were out after dark. The weather was cool. Fireflies were out. The wind was blowing in the right direction.
    Dad used to take ashes from our coal furnace out to the dump once a month or so. He collected the ash in galvanized metal tubs which he loaded into the back of our station wagon. It was an adventure to ride to the dump over that treacherous road in our rickety car, loaded with coal ash and kids.
    He converted to gas in 1960, so the fun trips to the dump ended. We did gain a lot more room in the basement.
    A word about the dump - it was pretty much an open air affair with fires burning day and night.
    More to the point, getting to the pool was hard for me, which is probably why I didn't go there too much until I was older and could hitchhike. Then I went 3 or 4 times per week.
    (We used to hitchhike all over the place, which is another whole story in itself.)

  3. There was a ball park near the pool that we played pony league at. Huge field but am told somebody put over the right field fence into the pool

  4. Yeah....It was called Boro Park, the dump was the parking lot, for the
    church picnics that were held there. Divine Redeemer had theirs in the park. Remember the men, straw hats and white shirts, with dress pants, my dad opening the beer bottles that were bought..after a while, they were feeling good , and started to sing Slovak songs. Talk about fun!

    Then there was the band stand excellent polka bands with great
    dancers! I was just a kid, but I remember as though it was yesterday!