Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: January 1984 Volume 22 Number 1, Pages 11–16

Club Members Remember : Winter's Snow and Ice

Club Members

Page 11

Winter - Snows - Moonlight nights -
Horse-drawn sleighs, sleigh bells jingle-jangling!
Our German Shepherds racing by our side
Through Valley Forge Park, shimmering silver in the moonlight.

General Lord Stirling's Quarters -
Lighted windows welcoming us home -
Hot chocolate aroma greeting us at the door -

— Frances H. Ligget

The winters of my childhood are full of happy memories. Getting to school meant a walk of a mile and three quarters, and fair or stormy we walked - unless a kindly neighbor gave us a lift on his way to the feed store or grocery store or blacksmith shop. A few had cars, but they were not used every day, or else went by very early to catch the milk train or on some other errand, not often in our direction. When the roads drifted, we climbed through the drifts, though when we came home they usually had been shoveled out, as this was a way the neighboring men could earn their road tax - and get the road cleared at the same time! There were not mechanized snow plows as nowadays. A few farmers had horse-drawn plows and cleared their lanes and some of the roads, but a really deep drift was shoveled by hand as a group of men working together made light work of it.

Page 12

Sledding was my most-loved winter sport. I remember being pulled on a sled by my father perhaps as early as aged three (although it was probably nearer four). When I began school at six I remember wanting to bring a sled to school or ride it on the road, but not until I was ten did I have a Flexible Flyer, then the ultimate in sledding equipment, although many of my peers relied on a Lightning Glider and some others whose name I don't remember. We lived on the north side of Valley Hill, and could start on the road and sled almost half a mile to a slight hill, and then walk perhaps three city blocks to another hill which, if there were no obstructions (horse and sleigh, or bad ruts), we could sled down for almost a mile, walk another block, and sled right to the school. At noon time we had a wonderful hill on Clothier's farm, where earlier in the fall they held the Pickering Hunt races. The school was at the foot of this hill, and we could coast right to the door.

My father had a large bobsled, with front and rear sleds that could be taken off. The front one was on a pin and could be steered. It was probably made about 1875, and had a heavy ring-shaped piece, to which he attached a rope. It held about ten people, two of whom were required to pull it up the hill again, so a sleighing party was usually in progress when it was used. After many rides down the hill, we all went inside, where my mother usually had hot cider or hot chocolate and doughnuts or whatever she had baked for the occasion. We also went down Diamond Rock Hill, and with the weight of all the people it went past Wedge's house, about a mile. With the water breaks at intervals, though, it was a very rough ride, and wasn't done very many times. The long plank of the bobsled was taken off the runners and used for a seesaw in the summer, atop a large trunk of a dead cherry tree; we played many times on it.

Riding down Diamond Rock Hill "belly bumper" on my Flexible Flyer was an experience not to be forgotten, as when you hit one of the water breaks going very fast you flew out in the air - sometimes 25 feet - with the result a loss of breath when you came down bang on your stomach. If you came down sideways, there was a scramble to right the sled to continue on down the hill or you'd end up on the sides, with a scraped face or knuckles or worse. We also had a toboggan, but that necessitated a smooth field to go on, and wasn't used as much.

We had a pair of clamp-on ice skates between us and skated on Valley Park pond many times. When I grew older I grew into my mother's shoe skates. Both she and my father were expert ice skaters, and when they were courting they skated on Gustine Lake in Fairmount Park.

Winter sports were always my favorite, and long walks through the fields around home were always a delight to me. You could see many odd things when the leaves were gone, and it was a favorite Sunday afternoon pleasure to walk along the top of the hill and look out on the Chester Valley on one side and in the other direction towards Phoenixville, Pottstown, and Reading.

Page 13

We also had a box sleigh with a single seat. When we had a horse - about 1919 or 1920 - we would take it out and ride to the store and various other errands or just for a ride in the country. One day a new horse, who didn't like pulling a sleigh, ran it into a deep ditch and broke one of the shafts. Fortunately, a neighbor gave us some baling wire and binder twine, and he and my father bound up the broken shaft temporarily until we could get home. Needless to say, shortly after that my father decided to keep the horse for harrowing and garden work, and purchased a Model T Ford for people-driving and rides.

— Janet Irwin Malin

I remember coming out from Philadelphia when there had been a good heavy snow, and we coasted down Diamond Rock Hill, from the very top down to North Valley Road. If you made the "S" turn at the top of the hill, you could go the rest of the way with no trouble. But in those days, before "blacktop", there were a couple of "thank-you-mums" that caused the sled to be air-borne for about twenty feet!

— Ed TenBroeck

Since Diamond Rock Hill was "off limits" for us as too dangerous, our favorite hills for sledding were either down Cedar Hollow Road from the Paoli railroad yards to the underpass under the Trenton cut-off (which was probably about as dangerous), or down a barricaded Warren Avenue in Malvern. How we wished we could reverse the hill when we got to the bottom so that we wouldn't have to walk, and drag our sleds, all the way back to the top!

Later we also sledded down the old bridle path in the Bodine Woods in Daylesford, or down the lane that used to run down the slope, from Old Lancaster Road and up the other side to the Heyburn-Roye log cabin. At the foot of the hill was a turn over a narrow bridge: if you missed it you would drop straight down about eight feet into the creek!

If the snow wasn't too deep, we'd also sled in fields, especially on the hill on the old Betz property on Monument Avenue in Malvern.

For ice skating, we went to the Big Lake at Malvern Prep School, or occasionally down to Walton's (now Eastern College) in St. Davids. But more often we just used our "clamp-on" skates on our own pond.

— Bob Goshorn

Page 14

We used to ice skate at Burnham's pond (now Leopard Lake). Since it was shallow and in a wooded area, it remained frozen long after other ponds had melted, I remember coming home one lovely spring-like day in early April, when we had guests visiting from down the line, and they wouldn't believe me when I came in with my ice skates and said I had just been skating!

Around 1935 we used to be able to sled from the top of Grubb Road in Willistown down onto Rt. 202 (now the Paoli Pike) and down to what was then called Rustic Park. We usually had at least one big snow a year that would drift and close Rt. 202 down by Rosengartens (now the Phelps School). Later they planted evergreens all along that stretch of road to prevent drifting, and the road wasn't closed for very long. It was such a long ride that it took about half an hour to walk back.

— Grace Winthrop

Sledding was the backbone of our winter fun back in the mid-thirties. Any ski equipment at that time was make-shift, ice skates were soon outgrown and skating rinks were a long, cold walk away, but the sled was always ready to go!

We never thought of sledding in the road as safe fields with downhill slopes were everywhere available. Snows seemed deeper then, up to waist deep on a ten-year old. So often half a day was needed to pack down tracks. When this chore was done, we stayed until dusk, climbing up and sledding down the slopes, choosing from the variety of tracks we had made.

— Barbara Fry

Brought up in Minnesota, my father had long delighted in the joys of ice skating, but had equally disliked the frigid fingers from lacing his skates at lakeside.

By the 1920's he was a conservative, Republican bond salesman. That is how his clients and friends saw him, and the image was an accurate one. But in a special section of our basement, his inventive other self had a home. There he labored happily to make American life more enjoyable and easier. It might be pre-packaged coffee, in units small enough that each infusion would be wonderfully fresh; it might be something mysterious, involving firecrackers and closed tin cans, with discreet but exciting bangs - or it might be to put zippers on ice skates!

Page 15

So when I was about seven years old he developed, with considerable patience, a shoe skate with a zipper. Further patience was required to obtain a patent for his brainchild. It turned out that such a patent had already been issued in the United States, but he was granted one in Canada,

The negative side of the story is that, unfortunately, most skaters want a tighter fit than could possibly be secured with a zipper. But on the positive side, all our family had zippered ice skates. We could zip, and then zoom over the lake with warm mittened hands, while others laced and shivered!

— Liz Goshorn

While going to school in the early years of this century, my brothers and sisters and I walked across the fields of our farm and those of Chesterbrook Farm to the Walker School. It seems to me we had more blizzards and heavy snowfalls then than in more recent times. When the snow was deep, my oldest brother John would walk ahead to break a path for the rest of us, I can recall times when the snow had a thick crust which was strong enough to hold us, but still walking was difficult as it was so slippery. When the snow was hard and deep, we walked over the top of the fences, rather than climbing over them as we usually had to do.

When the snow drifted over Wilson Road, which it did frequently, we took out the rails of our fences, as well as those of our neighbors, so we could sleigh across the fields to get to Swedesford Road.

I can also recall times when Valley Creek froze over and we skated on that part of the creek which ran alongside the 300-year old sycamore tree located in our meadow.

— Eleanor Wilson Dunwoody

Snow flakes or heavy snow are still as much a joy to me today as they were when I was in grade school - if I don't have to drive in it!

Until I was in fourth grade I trudged across a large field on Chesterbrook Farm to the one-room school -- the old Walker School - where Mrs. Eleanor Dunwoody was my first grade teacher. All the pupils walked to school, so many days we did not attend because of bad weather. We had a lot of fun sledding, snowballing, and ice skating on a pond in TenBroeck's meadow, but sleighing, on a small sleigh or bobsled, was the most fun.

Page 16

One night my parents and I went to Norristown in a sleigh. On the way home I remember skirting the Memorial Arch, then under construction in Valley Forge Park. We still have an old sleigh robe in the family; along with other blankets it kept us toasty warm. We also wore a scarf or veil over our faces to ward off the wind. We don't have snows like we used to!

— Elizabeth K. Weaver

As I lived at 41st and Westminster Avenue in Philadelphia during my early school years, going to school meant that I had to ride the trolley to 13th and Spring Garden.

One of our problems in the winter was that, after a deep snow, a coal truck drawn by a team of horses would often follow the car tracks for blocks, being unable to move to the side due to the deep snow. The motorman would clang the bell, but to no avail - but it was a good excuse if we were late to school!

— Dorothy Reed

What do I remember about winter when I was growing up?

Sledding down Cassatt Road, all the way from Berwyn to the checkerboard bridge at the entrance to the Cassatt Farm. This was possible because the hill was so slippery the police closed it to traffic. A marvelous ride down - but a long walk back up!

Going to Great Valley Presbyterian Church by horse and sleigh when our lane and Swedesford Road were filled with several feet of snow. We took the rails out of the fences and went across the fields.

Only once can I remember not having church at Great Valley on a Sunday morning. The reason was the deep snow and blocked roads. However, some adventurous visitors, finding their own church closed, managed to get to Great Valley, all the way from Wayne. Finding our church locked also, they admonished us by leaving a note on the door: "Proverbs 31:21," (It reads, "She is not afraid of the snow for her household,")

— Mary Robertson Ives


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