History in the Hills: History is a splash
With high temperatures and sunny days so typical of Ohio Valley summers, one is compelled to think of ways to cool off. If you didn’t have access to a clean spring or creek nearby, the best thing to do was visit your local pool.
For most of us in the Weirton area growing up, one had the choice of a few local pools depending on where you lived or, most importantly, where your friends went. And some of us lucky devils even worked at these great recreation facilities. In high school I was a lifeguard for a few summers. The best part about working at the pool in those days was getting paid to sit in the sun with a cold drink in my hand for hours on end. I always went by the mantra, “A good lifeguard never gets wet.”
Only once did I have to help someone get out of the pool in the years I worked. Perhaps the pool goers did not appreciate the strict rules I tried to enforce, but on the other hand, no one got hurt either.
The pool I spent the most time at in my youth was Lynnwood Park Swim Club located on Lisa Court, off Culler Road in Pleasant Valley. Although a membership was required to swim, there always were a ton of families who took advantage of the amenities. The pool was located next to the old No. 9 hole, then later the No. 18, of the Pleasant Valley golf course, and often, golfers would tee off then swing by the fence for a cold drink or to talk to pool goers.
Sitting by the pool on a chase lounge overlooking the golf course was always relaxing. Lynnwood was constructed by the Sellitti family in 1964 and is still privately owned today. An article in the Weirton Daily Times in October of that year explained, “The recreation center offers a main pool measuring 75 by 50 and a kiddie pool 25 by 25, both featuring overhead and underwater lights for night swimming. The swim club offers a heated pool to ensure comfortable swimming from early May until late September.”
Lifeguards that first season were Stephanie Gordon, William Ludewig and Daniel Allen with Michael Rumora as pool manager. The pool today still looks as beautiful and relaxing as I am sure it did in the 1960s. For me summer just simply isn’t summer without Lynnwood.
On Weirton Heights, families also could go to Starvaggi Pool, part of Starvaggi Memorial Park, given, as the paper described it in May 1968, “as a gift to the residents of Weirton by Starvaggi Charities Inc., through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Starvaggi, one of Weirton’s foremost philanthropic families.”
The pool was part of a 45-acre complex that still today hosts picnic and recreation facilities. The pool itself comprised of 16 acres, and at the time of its dedication was considered “the finest outdoor swimming pool in West Virginia measuring 165 feet long and 55 feet wide.” Included also was a “baby pool, a spacious parking lot, the most modern filtering plant available and a large building that housed offices, showers and locker rooms and concession stand.”
The building at that time had a flat roof that also served as additional seating, especially during busy days. And there were many a day in the summer that if you didn’t get to the pool early, there was no space on the benches or on the stands to lay your towel. On hand at the dedication was the Weir High Band, Mr. and Mrs. Starvaggi, J.G. Redline, Mrs. Tom Millsop and Mayor Frank Rybka, among others, with Don Donell serving as master of ceremonies.
Anthony Torchio, who at the time was Weirton’s recreation director, explained the admission rates: “The fee for Weirton residents will be 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children and students, while season passes would be $15 per family; $10 each adult; $7 student.” What I remember most about the pool was the deep end, measuring 13 feet deep at its deepest with several diving boards serving the space. Now diving boards at Starvaggi pool are a thing of the past, but with the addition of the splash pad area and the water slides, there is still a lot of fun to be had at the pool.
The longest serving pool in Weirton by far was the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool in Marland Heights Park. Given as a gift by E.T. Weir and the estate of his late brother, David, in honor of their mother, the pool opened in 1934 and served the community of Weirton for 71 years with Carl Hamill serving as director from the day it opened through the 1967 season.
Arguably the most architecturally and aesthetically pleasing of the three Weirton pools, the unique complex was designed by the Bintz Swimming Pool Co. and added to the National Register of historic places in 1993. As of 2018, there were only 19 Bintz pools still standing out of possibly 120 ever built with only eight in operation in their intended use. The pool is above ground and is ovoid in shape which makes it pretty unique as pools go.
Articles could be written about the memories folks have of this pool. From summers spent at the pool, the high dives, to dances, picnics, orchestras, and graduation parties in the park, this Weirton landmark has been present through it all. For most folks who lived in other parts of the city, a trip to the pool almost always included walking the path at the end of Brookline Drive from downtown up through the woods to the park, mostly to save bus fare up Marland Heights Road, and on the return journey, to dry off after a day in the water. For almost 50 years, the pool was under the management of Weirton Steel and in 1983 the pool was turned over to the city. In 2005, the pool closed its doors to the public after its long career of serving the needs of our community, especially on hot summer days.
Although many of us today are blessed with backyard pools at our own homes, nothing seems to replace the memories made with friends at the public pools in our community. This summer, take a trip down memory lane by visiting these special places. Pull up a lounge chair, get a drink and relax the summer days away.
(Zuros is executive director of Historic Fort Steuben.)