- Hershey Park’s first swimming pool, ca.1914
For almost 60 years swimming at the Hershey Park Swimming Pool was a popular destination for visitors and local residents. Today, for many people, seeing the Lighthouse across the street from Chocolate World and the Hersheypark entrance evokes memories of swimming in the “giant” swimming pool, meeting friends, and teensagers staying late to listen the the dance bands performing at the Hershey Park Ballroom.
Hershey Park’s first concrete swimming pool was added in 1911. Completed in the fall, the pool served as an ice skating rink that winter and opened for its first swimming season in 1912. The pool was a popular destination and attracted 1000s of visitors both as users and spectators. A few years later the pool was enlarged and a water toboggan feature was added. To ride the toboggan swimmers carried wooden “sleds” to the top of a long wooden slide and rode the sled down to splash in the pool below. The ride was so fast that riders hydro-planed for several yards before sinking into the water.
Hershey Park Pool; York and South Temple Water Polo teams, 7/12/1936
A new expansive pool complex was added in 1929. The new Hershey Park Pool was actually 4 pools: a circular baby pool, a diving pool, a swimming pool and a wading pool. A concrete island separated the swimming pool from the wading pool. Altogether the pools covered 35,000 square feet and contained 1,240,000 gallons of filtered spring water. Admission fee for adults was 25 cents (10 cents for children). If you didn’t have one you could rent a bathing suit at the pool bathhouse.
By the 1940s over 100,000 people visited the pool each summer. The Archives’ oral history collection contain many fond memories of the Park Pool. Many families came to the pool every day during the summertime. Young men remember the pool as a wonderful place to bring a date if you didn’t have much money. The pool was located right next to the Ballroom. From the pool, you could hear all the great bands that played at the Ballroom, such as Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Harry James. The Pool was closed following the 1971 summer season. Today all that remains of the famous Park Pool is the lighthouse along Park Boulevard.
- Harry James and band perform at Hershey Park Ballroom, 7/25/1945
Hershey Park Ballroom was a popular venue for Big Bands during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Virtually every nationally known Big Band played at the Park Ballroom, making it the leading dance floor in Central Pennsylvania. Dancing was sometimes a problem in the ballroom, despite its 190 foot length and 40 foot width. The crowds were frequently so large that it was hard to move, let alone dance. Dances always ran 8:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m., except when Guy Lombardo played and for some unknown reason the time shifted to 9:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m..
Harry James was one of the most popular bands to play at the Ballroom. At his July 8, 1944 performance attendance reached a new high with 6,194 people. That record was broken a few years later when Vaughn Monroe’s August 23, 1947 performance brought in 6,945 people.
Vocalists Buddy DeVito and Kitty Kallen wait while band leader Harry James performs his trumpet solo at Hershey Park Ballroom, 7/25/1945
During the 1940s the price of admission to the Ballroom was $2.40 for dancers, $1.20 for spectators and $1.50 for military personnel. For those that could not afford those prices, the pool offered a cheaper alternative. In an 1990 oral history interview with Dick Bacastow, he explains: “You could go swimming for twenty-five cents. . . .The swimming pool was right next to the Ballroom, and if you went down there later on when you got interested in young ladies and you didn’t have the money or weren’t old enough to go to the ball room, you’d go in swimming in the afternoon, four, five o’clock, and then you could sit along in the sand–they had a great beach–and listen to Glenn Miller, Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, etc. All the great bands in the world came to Hershey’s Ballroom.”
Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians perform to a standing room only crowd at Hershey Park Ballroom, 7/4/1953