Backstory and Context
Driving along the Lincoln Highway in the Ligonier Valley, all visitors would be in for a satisfying surprise to come to the Ligonier Beach sign that stood as the entrance to the gigantic pool that was home to fun summers, music, laughter, and a relaxation spot welcome to all. The Ligonier Beach was one of a kind measuring a tremendous 400-foot by 125-foot pool that held over 1.3 million gallons of water. Tourists traveling along the Lincoln High were always welcomed with a smile to envision themselves relaxing on a beach with their children playing in the pool water. The Ligonier Beach is touched the lives of everyone who came and soaked in the fun. “People like to tell stories about spending time at the pool. Now they bring their grandchildren here to see it” (Brehun). Once the largest swimming pool in America, the Ligonier Beach offered a family experience to all with great food and other attractions that kept visitors coming year after year.
The Ligonier Beach all started by Nick Gallo, a Ligonier native who found hot summer days needing a cooling outlet for the community. The Ligonier community had never had a pool as vast as the one Nick Gallo created himself with the help of his family in 1925, but on the day July 2 the Ligonier Beach was officially open to the public. It was an instant hit for the community and all driving across the Lincoln Highway and looked to stop on a seemingly endless drive on a summer day. With a diving board, sand surrounded entrance to the cooling waters, and a beautifully designed fountain in the middle of the enormous pool, the Ligonier Beach had all the features to make visitors wanting to turn their cars right back around and come for more. The Ligonier Beach included a small restaurant with great homemade foods, a pool house, and bar for the adults. It acquired musical guests over the years that would have special concerts some days in the open field the Ligonier Beach consisted of with beach chairs lined up around the pool.
Nick Gallo handed over the ownership of Ligonier beach to another Ligonier native, Ray Graham. With his run as owner for ten years came minor changes, and then the ownership was put in the hands of daughter and son-in-law of Graham, Sherry and Steve Kozar (Smykla). One item that stayed consistent throughout the years is the Ligonier Beach sign. “A row of raised red neon reads LIGONIER as a double line traces BEACH, greeting motorists traveling east and west. Once America’s largest” (Baron). The sign greeted all who passed and became a lasting welcoming to visitors, and a friendly goodbye as drivers went back on their way after staying at the Ligonier Beach. The Ligonier Beach sign has been touched up and repaired but has been being still the same exact that stood as the “gateway to Ligonier” (Brehun) as it did when first put up by Nick Gallo.
After passing the Ligonier Beach sign and entering the pool, guests were welcomed by homemade meals, guest singers, and even a poolside bar. Ligonier Beach hosted activities like dance nights where they would bring live singers, that made the poolside a dancefloor for everyone. The later years of Ligonier Beach offered a disc jockey instead of live performances. The music was captivating to everyone and the food Ligonier Beach offered made the stay so much more worthwhile. Every attraction needs great food, and Ligonier Beach definitely delivered.
There would be home-cooked food by patrons, specials like 90 cent pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, and a variety of foods that everyone could find something they’d enjoy on a hot summer day.
What truly made the people rush out of their cars and into the pool were the prize wooden chairs laid out poolside. As they were numbered, the chairs were a hot commodity for the early birds. Those who would get to Ligonier Beach first would rush to claim their chairs and hold them the entire day spent at the Beach. These chairs became so valuable to some visitors they have turned into household furniture as a way to keep memories of Ligonier Beach alive. It may not have been the ocean, but Ligonier Beach was more than worth the stop on the Lincoln Highway on a hot summer day.
Flooding in 2018 closed Ligonier Beach indefinitely. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Kozar began to have trouble keeping the pool in its original condition after severe flooding before the 2018 season and felt it was best to retire the pool. Prior to the flooding, in 2016 a teenage boy stole from the Ligonier Beach, opened the beer taps, and burned a pool house down (Hilmer). The costs and reconstructions took a toll on the Beach and the owners then shut the pool and resort down until it was functional and safe again. The Ligonier Beach remains permanently closed and it has taken its effects on the entire community. The Ligonier Valley suffered a loss when the Ligonier Beach closed because it was a foundation to so many great times throughout the years, and old patrons have come to try to resurrect the Beach.
The community has begun to act to try and buy the property back from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (Pierce). The community is coming together to try to bring back the Ligonier Beach and recreate the place so many came to love year after year, driving across the Lincoln Highway passing through Ligonier Valley. The reopening would make a local landmark once again live on for the entire community.
Baron, L. Jennifer. (2006). Historic signs. Western Pennsylvania History. 16-17. Retrieved from https://journals.psu.edu/wph/article/viewFile/7707/7480
Brehun, D. (2015, July 16). Ligonier beach marks 90th year. TribLive. Retrieved from https://archive.triblive.com/news/ligonier-beach-marks-90th-year/
Himler, J. (2016, October 6). Police: teen steals cash, sets fire to ligonier beach bathhouse. Triblive. Retrieved from https://triblive.com/news/adminpage/11269369-74/fire-ligonier-police
Piece, Paul. (2019, April 10). Surf’s up? Township wants to buy, reopen historic Ligonier Beach. TribLive. Retrieved from https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/surfs-up-township-wants-to-buy-reopen-historic-ligonier-beach/
Smykla, M. (2015, September 4). Ligonier beach marks 90 years of swimming, music and entertainment. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from https://www.post-gazette.com/life/recreation/2015/09/04/Ligonier-Beach-marks-90-years-of-swimming-music-and-entertainment/stories/201508280009