Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Swimming Pools

Most of us who grew up in working class Youngstown didn’t have air conditioning back in the Fifties and Sixties. Nor did we have in-ground pools at home. We didn’t belong to swim clubs. Rather a summer afternoon would find many of us from all over the city cooling off at one of the city’s swimming pools:

  • Borts Pool on the west side (pictured above)
  • North Side pool
  • South Side pool
  • Shady Run (Pemberton) also on the south side
  • Lincoln Park on the east side
  • John Chase, near the Westlake Terrace
  • Bailey pool in the McGuffey Heights area

Trust me, I didn’t remember all these pools after all these years but found them on a Vindy.com forum.

When I was growing up, I would walk about a half mile to Borts Swimming Pool practically every summer afternoon and would swim from when they opened until it was time to deliver papers. You could get into Borts Pool back then for a dime! You paid your money and then got a basket and a tag you’d keep. There was a locker room to change in and shower and you turned in the basket with your clothes to the locker boy or girl in charge. Occasionally people had things stolen but I just brought clothes and never had a problem.

Writing from a boy’s perspective, there were three things we’d do at the pool: spend time in the water actually swimming, diving and playing games like water football; tanning (it’s a wonder all of us don’t have skin cancer!); and looking at, talking to (if we had the courage), or even flirting with the girls (something I wasn’t all that good at!). There were always the lifeguards who would blow their whistles or even make us sit out of the water if we got too rowdy in our horseplay. And every half hour or hour (I’m not sure which) a siren would blow and we all had to get out of the water so the lifeguards could make sure no one was in trouble. I can’t remember there being a problem during the years I was there.

These pools always had a lot of chlorine in them and you smelled of chlorine afterwards until you showered. I had brown hair as a kid but it was always blonde by the end of the summer because of the chorine and sun.

Occasionally we went to pools and local lakes outside of Youngstown. Some of the favorites were places like Farmer Jim’s, Firestone Park, Rose Lake and Smelko’s. Sometimes, our families went to lakes further away or places on Lake Erie like Geneva on the Lake, but during the hot summer weekdays, our local pools were the place to cool off.

If you read the list of the pools in Youngstown during the years I was growing up you realize that these reflected the racial segregation in our city at that time. Borts was a “white” pool, as were some of the others on the list, while others served racial minorities. At some level, I have to say I was aware of that and it is one of the darker sides of growing up in working class Youngstown, one I’m not proud of. We still struggle with these issues as a nation and I long for the day when “we shall overcome.”

Nevertheless, children in the various areas of our city had pools within a reasonable distance that they could swim in for a summer for less than $10. Most of these pools were associated with parks and recreation centers that offered all sorts of summer programs for children. While these facilities may not have been the “posh” facilities the well-heeled enjoyed, they made for a rich childhood of experiences for many of us growing up in Youngstown in the Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.

One of sad things is that nearly all of these pools have closed. From what I can tell, only North Side Pool is still open. Borts Pool closed in 2010. It makes me curious about where kids go to swim these days, or whether they even have places that are easy and affordable to reach, as we did when we were growing up.

Did you go swimming at one of Youngstown’s pools growing up? Which one(s) and what are some of your memories?

17 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Swimming Pools

  1. We would ride our bikes about 3 miles from Austintown down to Borts Pool. The lasting memory for me is how rough the pitted concrete of the pool bottom would feel on the soles of your feet. People pay big money to get their feet exfoliated like that nowadays.

  2. I only lived a block away from Borts,so I was there most day,even had some nite swims,was real scary,didn`t want to get into trouble,had to keep real quite.

  3. If you play with the google map thingie you can see my house,it`s on the corner of Bella Vista and Manahatten

  4. We live in Campbell, so our pool was Roosevelt Park Pool…a great place to swim. That’s where I learned to swim, taking the Red Cross Swim Lessons every summer morning. Oh and the best part, this is where I first met my husband, his family owned the concession stand!!!!!
    Many good memories!!!!
    L

  5. I grew up on Bella Vista about a mile away. I lived there in the summer time myself. I remember playing ringers with the washers that you would throw into the steel cups like horse shoes. There was a candy store on Oakwood that we would buy candy and pop at. Does anyone remember the name of that store? There was a cherry tree on the way home we used to climb and get sick from eating so many cherries. Man no wonder I was so skinny back than all we did was swim, run, walk everywhere and raid the icebox when we got home.

  6. I was a Bort’s pool kid. My brother and I went every day and stopped on the way home for a Dairty Queen cone-yum! Thanks for the post Bob. Brings back great memories. On weekends our family would go to Lake Milton and camp or go to Geneva for the day of swimming and picknicking. Michelle

  7. I grew up on the northside, only a block from Northside Pool. We went there sporadically as kids, but usually found ourselves at Mineral Springs in Vienna, Firestone in Salem or Yellow Duck Park in Canfield.

  8. Every summer in the 1950’s my family traveled from South Carolina to Youngstown. My grandparents lived on the South Side , but we had to swim at Chase pool on the North side of town , a considerable distance from the South Side whose pools African Americans were not allowed to use. We we used to segregated pools in South Carolina, but were stunned and angry that they also existed in Ohio.So much of Youngstown was racially segregated then — housing, seating in many theaters, restaurants, churches, YMCA, and on and on — and no one in power seemed to give a damn about our constitutional rights or simply care that we, too, were Americans.
    .
    Dr. Al-Tony Gilmore
    Grandson of the late Curtis and Willie Atchison

  9. Every summer in the 1950’s my family traveled from South Carolina to Youngstown. My grandparents lived on the South Side , but we had to swim at Chase pool on the North side of town , a considerable distance from the South Side whose pools African Americans were not allowed to use. We were used to segregated pools in South Carolina, but were stunned and angry that they also existed in Ohio.So much of Youngstown was racially segregated then — housing, seating in many theaters, restaurants, churches, YMCA, and on and on — and no one in power seemed to give a damn about our constitutional rights or simply care that we, too, were Americans.
    .
    Dr. Al-Tony Gilmore
    Grandson of the late Curtis and Willie Atchison

    • Al-Tony. Yes this was a dark part of our local history. We had no right to point fingers at the South. We could have written a different history, and I wonder how the city might be different today.

  10. I worked as a ‘locker girl’ at Shady Run pool in the 60’s. Worked my way up as cashier. Loved that place. Had a crush on Lifeguard Bill Sokorski. Does anyone remember him?m

  11. I endured many sunburns earned at Shady Run Pool in the 1950’s. I didn’t realize at the time it was segregated. Just never thought about it when I was 12. Sad to see all the big public pols have gone. Kids still need a place to swim and cool off. I remember walking to a frozen custard stand not too far away after swimming. Always tasted better there after you had been in the pool all day and were tired and hot. Then I had to walk all the way back to Market and Evergreen with my new sunburn already starting to hurt. A couple days later I would be right back though.

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