By Charles F. Sullivan
The most popular sport for Winter was ice skating, for roller skating did not come in, until I was about grown. Nearly all young folks had skates and used them too, but sometimes, the skates had to serve several persons in a family in consecutive service during the afternoon and evening. The first skates I saw, had a screw to insert in the shoes’ heel, but when ice or dirt got into the hole in the heel, it gave considerable trouble. When the screw was solid in the heel, a toe strap was all that was needed, to keep the skate tight. Later skates came out, that clamped to the heel and sole of the shoes, which made a firm grip on the shoe and could be applied and removed at an instant’s notice.
As we lived close to the river, it was the most convenient place for us and the river was a pool from Main Street to below the Dayton View bridge, and the ice was strong there and plenty of room for all comers. Jesse Booher, a well known man at that time was a great skater, and when the ice was good, he was sure to be on hand and while past middle age, could do some fancy skating. After the Roberts’ fill was made, and the dirt taken out of the river bed with a dredge, a large lake was left from the bridge to First street, which froze quickly and made fine ice and was filled every afternoon and evening during the season. Some times, a fancy skater would be there, and take the attention of many. The boys and young men frequently played polo upon skates, using a tin can for a ball, but it would not be long before it became just a ball of tin.
Even then it made enough noise, for players to follow it, even on dark evenings. If you was there to skate, it would be well for you to keep away from that crowd, for if the ball got near you you might be pretty roughly handled by some of them.
Ezra Bimm had an ice pond at the east end of Ottawa street, with a fence around it, to keep the wind from stirring the water and make ice freeze smooth and quickly.
After it froze over in the fall, it seldom thawed until spring.
His plan was to cut the ice during the winter and store it in his many large icehouses located around the pond, and these were usually filled every winter. As soon as the ice was strong enough to bear a horse, he could scrape the snow off leaving a fine skating place, and the ice would freeze thicker, and I have seen them harvesting 18 inch ice from the pond. When it was 6 inches thick he would start cutting, starting his ice plows, marking the ice deeply about two feet square. This would be followed by a man who would cut off a double block containing about ten blocks, with a large bar and start them floating toward the elevator. There they were cut into single blocks and worked to and onto the endless chain which slid them up an incline and from gravity took them to where they were set on edge and close together and when one layer was full they immediately started another until the house was filled. It was then covered with a layer of straw and closed until it was wanted the next summer. Skating was allowed at all times except close to where they were cutting, and many used it, but as it was a long way from home, I did not go there often.
With the coming of artificial ice, Bimm allowed this business to run down and later, his holdings were bought by the city, because there were several good wells upon the ground, that were used by the water works. I was up there about a year ago, but could not see any old land marks to locate the old pond.
About Steele’s dam, now Island Park, was another good place, for the dam held the water still and the ice was smooth. When Dave Beeghly had his ice house at Pioneer and Riverside Drive, he would keep the ice clear of snow, but after that was gone it was up to the skaters to clear off the snow. Sometimes the best ice would be on the Miami but usually it was better upon Stillwater.
One evening, I went to the river, skated across to the Riverdale hydraulic and up it to the dam and there I met a boy and we decided to skate up the river. We went up Stillwater to above Shoup’s dam bridge before the ice became too narrow for us to skate further.
We turned back and just above the Siebenthaler Bridge, I tripped and fell and my fellow skater stood by until I was again upon my feet. I found that I had given my ankle quite a strain and since it was nearly dark, it was necessary to get home as quickly as possible. Putting all my weight upon my good foot and using the other as rudder, my comrade towed me to the dam with the use of a scarf I had around my neck. From there I walked to Herman Avenue getting a ride from there to Second in a coal wagon and walking again, home.
The canal went right through the city, but as it furnished much water power for the factories, the height of the water was up and down and there was quite a current, so no ice could form on it.
Occasionally, during the winter, there would be an ice storm and all out of doors was covered with a sheet of ice. Upon such occasions, the pedestrians would take to the street, for vehicular traffic all horse drawn, was almost nothing, but slow and noisy, so there was no danger. Most of the sidewalks of that time were made of slabs of limestone and not as smooth as the present cement walks, yet we would put on our skates and go all over town. In the center of town, we would have to skate in the street, for many of the merchants had wooden awnings over the sidewalks, making it fine for pedestrians but not good for skaters. When these ice storms would hit the country, trees would be frozen stiff with it, and if a strong wind would come along at this time the branches would be broken off and the tree ruined.
When snow was upon the ground and soft enough to roll into balls the boys would build a fort of large balls and get behind it to throw snow balls at all passers by. Some took it in fun while others made objections to it, while still others would throw back at the boys in the fort and chase the attackers out of the fort and into their homes for shelter.
Some times they would place snowballs upon each other, three high, and then cut them down to resemble a man and sometimes they would make a good likeness, and it would stay there until way into the spring before it melted completely.
In those days there was no artificial ice, so in wintertime, slaughter houses and other places using ice, would go to the river and cut ice and fill up sheds or buildings with ice for summer use, but now no one stores natural ice for we get artificial ice, which is much purer and healthful because it is made of distilled water, and also it is cheaper.
I think that the young folks of those days had much more out of doors exercise than they do now, and I sure they had better times and were more healthy than the young folks of the present day, who go to look at a base ball game, a foot ball game, or a picture where they can see others doing things while they are only looking on. I think that they would be much better off if they were actively in these games than just sight see-ers.
Chas. F. Sullivan
December 24, 1941