VanGorder’s Beach near Wurtemburg in Perry Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, was a popular swimming hole on the Slippery Rock Creek during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was located on a bend along VanGorder’s Mill Road (just north of Farm Lane) not far from VanGorder’s Mill Bridge. It was located on the property of Joseph A. VanGorder, a prominent local businessman and farmer who built up the “beach” with picnic areas and bath houses and charged visitors a small fee to maintain the site.
Joseph A. VanGorder, born in November 1876, was the son of Alvi S. and Rebecca (Marshall) VanGorder. Joseph was a great grandson of Jacob VanGorder Sr., who was born in New Jersey to parents who had come to this country from the Netherlands. Jacob Sr. came to Perry Township in about 1800 and settled on about 200 acres along the Slippery Rock Creek. His son Jacob Jr. erected a small dam in about 1844 and operated a saw mill and grist mill on the property. Jacob Jr. married Nancy Elliott and together they had nine children, including Alvi – Joseph’s father. Joseph grew up in the area, attended Slippery Rock State Normal School, operated the grist mill and a mercantile business for a time, and started farming in about 1907. Years later he established – maybe in the late 1920’s – the swimming hole known as VanGorder’s Beach in the wake of the old dam.
The VanGorder swimming hole and other similar locations known as Huber’s Beach and Little Falls were quite popular during their heyday. An article in the New Castle News of July 29, 1932, reads in part, “It has been reported that over three hundred people have been at VanGorder’s Beach during the week end. People have been present from New Castle, Sharon, Butler, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown. Due to the warm weather all the creeks and pools in the area around here have been filled to the over flowing.”
Joseph suffered a loss when his wife, the former Nellie Baldwin, died in November 1941. The swimming hole was probably rendered useless when the old dam washed away in 1947. The aging grist mill was also torn down that same year. Joseph died sometime after this time. Today the site of the former VanGorder’s Beach is barely noticeable and the long lost swimming hole – once a favorite hangout for many of the area’s youth – is slowly becoming nothing more than a fading memory.
The popular swimming area of VanGorder’s Beach. This photo depicts various members of the VanGorder family. Patriarch and property owner Joe VanGorder is at the bottom right corner, with Ross VanGorder standing next to him. (Sept 1931) Full Size