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Hill's Beach/El Rio Beach - New Castle PA

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William “Bill” Hill Sr. leased some property and opened a small beach in 1917 at the site of a popular swimming hole on the Neshannock River. Hill soon built up the area by erecting a playground, a concession stand, bath houses, and a picnic grove. In 1925 he opened a large pavilion that hosted dancing and roller skating. The location was at the site of the dam that supplied water to the nearby paper mill. The area became known as Neshannock Beach, Hill’s Beach, or Paper Mill Beach. Longtime regulars knew the area as “Second Dam,” as the structure there – constructed of concrete and wooden railroad timbers – was the second dam to be built at the location. The main swimming area (on left) before the dam was generally calm and shallow, but anyone swept over the dam was subjected to deep water and whirlpools. The possibility of getting pulled under the open side of the dam (seen at lower right), and its protruding timbers, resulted in an extremely dangerous situation. A long raceway once supplied water from this location to the paper mill, located further downstream by the modern-day Paper Mill Bridge. The entrance to the raceway can be seen on the far bank and is cordoned off to swimmers by wooden fencing or grates. In 1928 a corporation was formed to run the beach and it was renamed as the Neshannock Amusement Park. (c1923) Full Size


Two people drown at the dam in the summer of 1924 and the City Council started serious discussions about the future of this swimming hole. The above notice appeared in the New Castle News after 24-year-old James G. Rigby of New Castle went missing on Sunday, June 29, 1924. Volunteer swimmers and divers scoured the area for days. Dynamite was even used underwater near the dam in an unsuccessful attempt to free the body to allow it to return to the surface. Rigby’s remains were found by railroad employees five days later, four miles downstream in the Shenango River at Mahoningtown. Frank Brown, a 13-year-old boy from Ellwood City who was part of a nearby church camping trip, disappeared at the swimming hole on Sunday, July 13, 1924. Police officers located his body under the dam the following day. Another man, 24-year-old John Economidis of Greenville, was swept over the dam in June 1928 and also drowned. At some point, the dam was reconstructed to reduce the dangerous hazard. This likely happened after the paper mill ceased operations in 1927 and the entire property was sold off two years later. (New Castle News Wednesday Jul 2, 1924)


Ownership of the park changed hands several times in the coming years and it was renamed as Castle Beach in 1931 and then El Rio Beach in about 1939. The city bought the 18-acre park property in 1967 and continued to operate it as a picnic area. The old dance hall was lost to a suspicious fire in April 1973 and the park generally fell into disuse by the end of the decade. In this photo, taken about a decade after the one above, several significant changes are visible. The raceway appears to have been permanently closed off by sturdy walls, which seems likely as the paper mill ceased operations in 1927. Also, the dam has been altered to remove the dangerous conditions that resulted in various drownings over the years. (c1935)


(Jun 1956)


(Jul 1964)


(Jul 1971)


Ermino “Mack” Casacchia (1896-1979), a veteran of World War I and a local businessman, purchased Hill’s Beach in the summer of 1939. He was also operating a night club, which had vaudeville acts, gambling, and dancing, on Neshannock Avenue near the downtown area. Casacchia renamed the popular swimming area as El Rio Beach. Casacchia, who built up the 18-acre facility, operated it for many years until he sold it to the city in July 1967. (1953) (Photo courtesy of Art Casacchia) Full Size


Mack Casacchia and an unknown patron at El Rio Beach. (c1955) (Photo courtesy of Art Casacchia)


The small carousel at El Rio Beach. (c1955) (Photo courtesy of Art Cassachia)


The dance hall at the city-owned El Rio Beach, once the site of lively events, was gutted by a raging fire on the early morning of Saturday, April 7, 1973. Fire investigators ruled that it was a case of senseless arson. Damage was estimated in excess of $45,000, which included valuable recreational equipment being stored inside the building. (Apr 1973)


(Apr 2012)


(Apr 2012)


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(Apr 2012) Full Size


(Apr 2012)


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(Apr 2012) Full Size

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Comment

  1. I have some pictures of ElRio back in the day . I could email them to you to to add to your current collection. The owner, Erinmo “MacK” Casacchia, was my uncle,

    Art Cascchia · 05/26/2014 10:25 PM · #

  2. I USED TO CUT GRASS FOR MACK IN 1964 1965 BEFORE HE RETIRED. MACK AND I HAD A GOOD TIME TOGETHER.HE WAS A GOOD PERSON.I WOULD CUT ALL THE GRASS AT EL RIO BEACH FOR A CANDY AND POP I WAS 12YRS OLD

    EUGENE HOOVER · 08/30/2015 07:20 PM · #

  3. yes i would enjoy seeing some pictures from back in the day i am trying organize a nonprofit org to re open elrio beach and restore it back to an amusement park

    mark a melillo · 11/04/2015 07:03 PM · #

  4. We were never allowed to go there because it was too close to “The Horseshoe(I think it was),” so, instead, we went the Horseshoe to swim. Our poor parents! How did we survive?

    Jim Keil · 05/11/2016 02:22 PM · #

  5. Curious to who owned the park from 1928 – 1931? Any pictures of the river then? I heard you could swim across and was watched by life guards. Any thing would be appreciated. Thanks

    George Stefaniak · 02/16/2019 04:46 PM · #