Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Dip into History: Five Historic Pools and Swimming Holes in Pennsylvania

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Summer is definitely here in Pennsylvania! And when the weather turns hot and humid, my mind turns to swimming and lazy days by the water.

Historic pools and swimming holes probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think “historic resource.” You’d be surprised at what I find in CRGIS!

Even if we can’t take an actual dip into all of these pools this summer – some are closed all season out of precaution because of the novel coronavirus – we can still “dip” into their fun and fascinating history.

The Nile Swim Club – Yeadon, Delaware County

The Nile Swim Club of Yeadon (Delware County), is a pool with a powerful history from the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.

A view of the Nile Swim Club in Yeadon, Delaware County. Taken by Charles Fox for The Philadelphia Inquirer. CRGIS file photo.

In 1957 the black residents of Yeadon were refused memberships to the local Yeadon Swim Club due to their race. In response, Carson Puriefoy, Elmer Stewart, and Zoe Mask, and seven black families incorporated the non-profit Nile Swim Club to serve the children and families of their community. The group successfully opened the pool to the community in 1959.

PHMC is proud to honor this story and site with a blue and gold Pennsylvania Historical Marker in 2020!

Black Moshannon State Park – Rush Township, Centre County

If you are looking for a natural body of water in which to dip into history, try out Black Moshannon State Park (Centre County).

A panoramic photo of the Black Moshannon Lake at Black Moshannon State Park in Centre County, PA. Taken June 2020 by the author.

This nearly 3,500 acre park surrounds Black Moshannon Lake and provides opportunities for swimming and other water-based activities such as kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding (all available to rent at the park), and fishing.

Historically, the Black Moshannon bog, tributaries, and surrounding environs were used by the Seneca Tribe for recreational purposes as well as being fertile hunting and fishing grounds, and many of the buildings at Black Moshannon State Park were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (see other blog posts about Pennsylvania’s CCC and state parks here and here!)

Furthermore, visitors to Black Moshannon State Park have the ability to experience three different National Register listed historic districts within the park related to the CCC:

  • the Beach and Day Use District (Key #088870),
  • the Family Cabin District (Key #088871), and
  • the Maintenance District (Key #088872).

Bendigo State Park Pool – Jones Township, Elk County

If you would prefer a solid bottom to a rocky one, but still want to be surrounded by nature, the Bendigo State Park Pool in Elk County might be the right place for you.

Undated file photo of the pool at Bendigo State Park in Elk County. CRGIS file photo.

Here you can ponder the product a community and state collaboration over several decades while floating in the sunshine. The Bendigo State Park was born in the 1920s as a collaborative community project between the residents of a nearby town named Johnsonburg.

The residents of Johnsonburg were interested in established a recreation area with a swimming pool and chose the location of the former village of Bendigo for its long association with beloved local swimming holes. The land for the park was donated to Elk County and began to be improved by the Works Progress Administration in 1936 during the Great Depression.

After setbacks with flooding and funding, the park property was transferred to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1949 to become an official state park, and the residents of Johnsonburg – and Pennsylvania – finally got their pool. (Click here for a list of all the Pennsylvania state parks with swimming pools!)

Dormont Pool – Dormont Borough, Allegheny County

The individually National Register eligible Dormont Pool (Key #200801) is located roughly five miles outside of Pittsburgh in the borough of Dormont in Allegheny County. This one is closed this summer because of the pandemic so make sure its on your list to check out next year.

Undated file photo of the Dormont Pool showing the bath house. CRGIS file photo.

In addition to being eligible for listing on the National Register on its own, the Dormont Pool is also part of the National Register eligible Dormont Historic District (Key #202028).  

Its greatest distinction, however, comes from its history of holding the title the largest outdoor pool in Pennsylvania. Completed in 1937, the Dormont Pool has a water surface area of approximately 57, 000 square feet (over 1.3 acres) and contains approximately 1.5 million gallons of water.

The pool itself is accompanied by a 1928 Art Deco style bath house. Since the pool was completed in 1937, there have been very few alterations to the setting or experience. Here you can swim back in time to when swimming pools were the biggest things in outdoor entertainment!

Rock Run – Loyalsock State Forest, Lycoming County

If you are looking to experience one of Pennsylvania’s historic landscapes, it might be time to pull on your water shoes and head to Rock Run near the old lumber town of Ralston in Lycoming County.

Rock Run along Old Loggers Path in the Loyalsock State Forest, Lycoming County. Undated photo courtesy of PA DCNR.

Located in the Loyalsock State Forest, Rock Run is often referred to as the prettiest stream in Pennsylvania and as one of the top swimming holes in the United States.

While the path to Rock Run includes the gravel Rock Run Road for automobiles and occasionally forging your own path to the stream on foot after you park, you are rewarded with the opportunity to savor one of Pennsylvania’s unspoiled natural historic landscapes.

Along the seven-mile course of Rock Run in addition to waterfalls, slides, chutes, and other natural water features, there are three different deep water swimming holes waiting to be discovered by new adventurers. With the stream’s path carved into a bedrock gorge, the unchanged landscape is one that allows you to step back in time and appreciate Pennsylvania’s natural history.

Swim and Survey!

While almost every Pennsylvanian can share fond memories of the places they love to swim or sunbathe, very few of these important historical and cultural institutions are documented in CRGIS as potential historic places!

As you go out and about in the outdoors this summer, please don’t hesitate to snap photos of that places in Pennsylvania and in your community that matter to you! Email them to me at elishultz@pa.gov and I will make sure that the recreational resources that matter to us all our recorded for posterity.

Stay cool, safe, and healthy this summer!

Author: Elizabeth Shultz

Elizabeth Shultz grew up splashing around on the banks of the west branch of the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania. She currently works at the Pennsylvania SHPO as a Cultural Resources GIS Specialist and Survey Coordinator. She has an undergraduate degree in Public History, with a concentration in Architectural History, and a master's degree in Historic Preservation from Tulane University's School of Architecture. She is also a National Development Council certified Historic Real Estate Development Finance Professional. Elizabeth loves historic bridges, signs, and brutalism.

2 Comments

  1. This is really stunning! I wish I could visit soon!

  2. Awesome! I felt the same when I first saw this too!

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