Darr, Hegan and Lohr, interested in attracting summer people and selling real estate, had a brilliant idea for attracting clientele—putting in recreational facilities. Add a swimming pool and tennis court and people would come…
Their idea worked. “The place was absolutely jammed with kids, an absolutely fun place to be,” Rose said. “It was amazing how many people used them (the pool and tennis courts).” Lifelong friendships were formed here, noted Harwig.
According to Nell Williams, the pool area was originally much more “woodsy.” Many trees were cleared before the pool was hand-dug and cemented.
Several people confirm the pool was dug by hand. John Darr believes his father, Charles W. Darr, worked on it. Williams said her father also helped with the digging.
Initially the pool was unfenced. Rose said the water came from a three-inch stream-fed pipeline about 100-150 yards away, where Darr Dam was located. “Water came into the dam through nine different holes,” Harwig said. “It flowed into the pool by gravity. The dam is now obliterated.” If the dam wasn’t turned off when it rained, the water became especially murky, according to Allshouse.
“They filled the pool every two weeks,” Rose noted. “The water was not chlorinated or anything, and being unfiltered creek water, algae grew in it. The underwater would get so dark and we couldn’t see. You could dive up beside someone and surprise them.”
Following stormy weather, the water became so murky from silt and dirt the pool had to be emptied and cleaned. “We all got a wire brush to scrub the pool,” Allshouse said. “Then we let it sit in the sun five to six hours to dry. It filled all night.”
Kinsey recalls the Sunday nights when the pool was emptied. “Someone would dive down in the murky pool and pull the plug,” she said. “On Monday morning when you dove in it was cold. We would turn blue. As kids, we didn’t mind.” Her grandchildren now enjoy the same pool she and her grandmother experienced.
Although the water was often cold and murky, Allshouse shared a time it was used therapeutically. “I was walking on the back path to a baseball field in Laughlintown, Karnes Camp when my dog dug up a nest of yellow jackets,” he said. “I was stung so many times, twenty-two stings. Those bites almost disappeared when my mother sent me to the pool for them.”
Rose recalls people could swim anytime day or night in the unfenced pool. Although sixty to eighty kids played at the shallow, safe end of the pool, there were no fights, Harwig said. “They all got along together.”
There was no lifeguard, but there was a prominently displayed sign, “Swim at your own risk,” remembers Kinsey, who added there has never been a drowning in the Park.
That swimming was safe could be credited to Netheway, recalls Allshouse. The head of physical education in the Pittsburgh school system, Netheway challenged kids to swim across the deep part of the pool at age six. Those who succeeded were taken out for four scoops of ice cream. “I don’t think there was a kid in the park who couldn’t swim by age six,” Allshouse stated.
Harwig also credited “old man Darr” with keeping kids safe. Darr, who wore an old fashioned bathing suit that went down to his knees, lived in the office and “taught the kids to doggie paddle.”
Swimming across the pool underwater was an achievement, according to Harwig. “I could only go one way, others could do both,” he said. “A kid from Ligonier did it two and a half times.”
The pool developed cracks over the winter, and each spring it was painted and maintained. Harwig never volunteered to help—he was always out hunting rattlesnakes!
By 1934 new legal regulations required fencing around the pool. “We hated it,” Harwig said. “We thought it looked ugly.”
The fencing and further regulations concerning water circulation and chlorination necessitated hiring a caretaker.
“My grandfather (Darr who?) took care of it (the pool) for a while,” Nell said. “He was like a caretaker. He had his quarters in a little house. Then they had the offices where the Kinsey house is.”
Next the Park hired Felix Kremp, between jobs, who was followed by Bob Black, Harry Lohr’s son-in-law. Black held the position until after WW II.
Harwig explained the new legal requirements created unexpected expenses necessitating a usage fee. That eliminated the free swimming promised to Park residents, and angered some of them.
“For one year they had beautiful numbered brass pins purchased for a season of swimming,” Harwig said. According to Allshouse, Mr. Darr, wore tag #1. “If you loaned out yours you couldn’t swim that day,” Allshouse said.
After that year, tickets were sold. “Originally you bought a strip of tickets, twenty-four for a dollar or eight and a third cents per swim,” Rose said. “When Black took over the price went up to ten cents.”
Through the years the pool has raised additional funding by inviting non-residents to swim for a fee slightly higher than residents paid. Gladys Light, now a resident, and Bossart often swam there as children. When Light became old enough she began left to swim at the Ligonier Beach pool, she said. John Darr swam there and continues to do so today.
The regulations also brought restricted hours. The pool opened between ten o’clock a. m. and noon, closed for lunch, then reopened one to five o’clock p. m. Sometimes it opened in the evenings.
Numerous youth sidestepped the designated hours by climbing over the barbed wire topped fence. “As kids we used to go over the fence at night and skinny dip,” Rose said. “We weren’t supposed to get over a barbed wire fence, but we did. It was the most fun time for swimming.” Numerous residents and “guests” reported “that was when the real fun started, after dark.”
It wasn’t all fun, noted Allshouse. “Dave Gaw and other friends managed to get ripped up some with barbed wire, and water was too cold,” he said. “But sometimes they would take a blanket.”
Although Craig Miller occasionally joined the fence-climbers, he indicated by the time he was a teenager in the 60s most of the lifeguards were his peers. “They made the pool accessible at off-times,” he said. “The lifeguard was always one of us and we had access by taking him along,” he said. “We would just go down and swim at night if it was warm. It was a wonderful experience.”
Beside the pool and tennis courts was a community building. “It was built as a sort of a dressing room. You actually entered the building through the pool gate in 1935-1936,” said Rose. “When Black took over pool maintenance, he put a little store there. You could get candy and ice cream there.” Later, state-required restrooms were installed.
The pool still serves Laurel Mountain Borough, their families and their guests. It operates under the auspices of Laurel Mountain Park, a separate entity from the borough. For further information E-mail email@example.com
Check out the following sites: www.beanerywriters.wordpress.com & www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com & YANKEE INGENUITY AT THE ELLSWORTH COUNTY COURTHOUSE (this latter is located on a new blog hosted by the Ellsworth American, a Maine newspaper).