In the early 1920’s a swimming hole in Darlington, Pennsylvania, located on the North Fork of the Little Beaver River, was established when a dam was constructed across the river just near the bridge on Elmwood Road (Route 168). The swimming hole was upgraded with a small beach area, large wooden sliding board, and a diving platform, while a dance hall, a concession stand, a picnic grove, a campground, and athletic fields were added in the immediate area. Cottages, available for rent during the summer season, were also later constructed along the banks of the river. The area, known as the Darlington Lake Park, became a summer resort for folks from Pittsburgh and also a popular location for family reunions, church picnics, and other social gatherings.
In the late 1940’s, in the wake of World War II, many of the cottages were sold off to military veterans and others who all became part of the Darlington Lake Association. The popularity of the park slowly declined in the 1950’s and most of the non-swimming activities were closed down. In the early 1960’s the park’s owner, local resident John Matteo who also formerly owned the Darlington Hotel, dug a new landlocked lake just inland from the swimming hole on the river. This may have been in response to a flood management initiative, overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which saw the old dam removed and the swimming area generally filled in during the mid-1960’s. Admission was charged to access a beach built along the west side of the lake, which was also stocked with several species of fish.
Ownership of the property changed hands several times in the years after Matteo, at the young age of fifty-seven, passed away in February 1968. In 1987 Eddie Knott purchased the 35-acre property, made a few upgrades, and reopened the lake to public swimming the following summer. About a decade later the property was closed to the public, as the Knott family built a large rustic cabin as their private residence there. In about 2004 the Knott opened the facility to the public as the banquet hall and bed and breakfast. The “Gathering Place at Darlington Lake” continues the legacy of the once-popular swimming hole and is a picturesque setting for many local weddings.
To read about two incidents of men drowning in the Little Beaver River in the early 1920’s click on: DIVER STRIKES HEAD ARTICLE and VETERAN DROWNS ARTICLE. To learn more about a beauty contest held at the park in August 1924 click on: BATHING BEAUTY ARTICLE. To read a typical mention about activities at the park from the summer of 1927 click on: GRANGE PICNIC ARTICLE.
Patrons enjoy the “lower pool” of the swimming hole on the Little Beaver River. The dam is barely visible past the giant slide. The “upper pool” area, past the dam and before the bridge on Elmwood Road (Route 168), was apparently very deep and could be dangerous. (c1954) Full Size
I put this map together from an old aerial photo (taken in 1939) to show some detail of the layout at Darlington Lake Park. The camping area and athletic fields were located to the center of the left side of this photo. The new Darlington Lake, dug out and filled in the early 1960’s, is quite large and pretty covers much of the bottom left end of this photo. (1939) Full Size
Folks enjoying a summer day near the cottages at Darlington Lake Park. (c1930) Full Size
Darlington Lake Park. (c1946) Full Size
(Jun 1947) Full Size
(Jun 1947) Full Size
The view from the new Route 168 bridge over the Little Beaver River, showing a modern-day view of the former location of Darlington Lake Park. You can see where the retaining walls were constructed in the mid-1960’s to contain flooding along the banks. A few of the old cabins, now fulltime residences, can be seen on the right. (May 2013) Full Size
The new concrete bridge across the Little Beaver River. (May 2013)
The sign for The Gathering Place at Darlington Lake, a small resort area operated by the Knott family. (May 2013)
The Gathering Place, a bed & breakfast and banquet hall. (May 2013)
(May 2013) Full Size
(May 2013) Full Size
Scott Matteo #
The lake was once owned by my uncle. This web page brings back memories. Thank you.
Jay linn #
My grandfather, Charlie Maclane help John Matteo build Darlington lake, my grandfather was a pipe fitter from Monaca and center twp.thank you
Debbie Snyder Rousseau #
My uncle Ed Berresford ran the heavy equipment with Johnny Matteo. I remember watching him! My Mom, Nora Snyder, and Dad, Joe Snyder, were friends of John and Kate, his wife. My brothers and sister and I had free lifetime passes because Dad never took a payment when he helped work on the facility. We fished in the Lake, too, but over on the side! We lived in one of the Lake houses. Mom and Dad bought it after Dad came home from WW II. We swam right behind our house and in the front yard when it flooded. What a beautiful, carefree childhood we had there. Thanks so much for the pictures and the memories!
Benois Walton #
I was surprised to find Darlington Lake info under Lawrence County. Darlington Lake is in Darlington Township, Beaver County.
Don’t forget the Friday night Beach Parties!!
Jeff Bales (EDITOR) #
(EDITOR’S NOTE) Keep in mind anything marked with an red asterisk on the LCM Archives list is physically located outside the borders of Lawrence County. The subtitle of this website reads, “Historical Recollections from Lawrence County Pennsylvania and surrounding areas.” I love history and it’s hard to contain it within geographic boundaries!
Art frengel #
I’m trying to find a place where Ithey had rock bands play in 1971. I attended an event on a lake in summer of 1971 and saw Black Sabbath. It was a small venue on a lawn with a small lake. $5 per car.
Any chance this was the place?
Mary Kaye Williamson Garcia #
My parents, Jim and Sally Williamson, owned Darlington Lake Park from 1970-1974, purchased from Katherine Matteo. The lake thrived during those years. My mother started the “beach parties” and had a manager booked the bands. The beach parties were originally every weekend (Friday or Saturday…I can’t remember exactly) and became so popular that she added Wednesday evenings and had them twice a week. I was in elementary school during those years and grew up with some amazing music. We kids (me, my sister and brother) would be sent out to pick up the litter left behind and we were paid $.01 for each cigarette butt we picked up off the lawn and sand area close to the lake. We would put them in a paper cup from the concession stand and cashed in when we were done or just got tired out. The bonus for us was finding whole or broken guitar picks in cool colors and patterns lost from the band night before. The lake was drained after every season and refilled before opening day (Memorial Day). My mother started every day by peeling potatoes in this giant silver machine in the back yard. We had regular deliveries of potatoes in burlap sacks delivered to our garage. She would pack them in bushel baskets and put them in the back of our station wagon (with the fake wood on the sides) and drive them around to the entrance of the lake. One by one, every day, she put them in a potato slicer attached to the wall and cranked the top down and out would fall french fries. I remember the old, large-sized candy bars being sold for $.10. She spent a long time perfecting her pizza sauce for the pizza sold from the concession stand. Later on, at one point my parents decided to open the lake in the winter for ice skating. The lake was drained to about knee deep so it was safer. There was still plenty of surface to skate. The greatest memories of growing up were during those years. During the summers we lived in a cottage right next to the part of the lake where people didn’t swim. We used to play behind the cottage where some of the playground equipment and buildings still stood from the “old” Darlington Lake. St. Rose Church used to have their church picnics there. The cottage has now be rebuilt and became The Gathering Place. My mother cried when they sold the lake. Years later, my parents opened a very successful pizza shop in Beaver County and she has never shared her sauce recipe to this day. Thank you for letting me reminisce.