Emmitsburg [MD] was a kid’s haven in the winter. With hills and ponds a many, it boasted some of the best sledding and ice skating around. While almost forgotten today, in younger days places like Bunker Hill, Havilah, and Popular Hill were names that every child knew.
At any given time, thirty to forty sleds raced down these prime sledding spots. But if it was time on the sled one was looking for, then Irish Town Road, as it was affectionately called back then, was the place to be. Starting at the top of the hill near Saint Joseph’s, one could slide clear down to the ‘Wharf’ at Flat Run Creek.
When it came to skating, Emmitsburg was tops. Skating was so good, in fact, that kids in Thurmont would often be seen crying and even cursing their parents for not having the foresight to settle in Emmitsburg. By far, the best skating was at Toms Creek’s Bridge.
A pond, almost a quarter of a mile long, formed behind the old Maxell mill race dam, and offered a smooth surface that twisted and turned through Tom’s Creek Valley. Whether your goal was to skate fast or to skim slowly hand-in-hand with the one you loved, Tom’s Creek offered it all.
Other prime skating destinations included Flat Run, whose thick tree screen provided protection from biting winter winds, and the Old Mount St. Mary’s Pond, drained long ago for a new student hall. But it was Fraily’s Pond that offered Toms Creek’s its greatest competition.
Located just to the west of town, 200 yards south of the Dough Boy’s statue, it was a popular spot for skaters who had grown too old to skate with their parents. Fraily’s Pond was laced with small caves around its perimeter, in which fires would burn all night. On the ice, or around the fires, those who would soon face the horror of terrible wars frolicked with friends and loved ones into the wee hours of the morning.
Whether you skated, sledded, or simply played cards, a winter storm offered a chance for everyone to stop and take notice of the good things in one’s life. But before winter play could begin, chores had to be attended to.
If you lived on a farm, milking was always the first order of business for girls. For boys, it was the stocking of firewood and coal, cleaning ashes from the stoves and burners, and drawing water for kettles that simmered all day, and provided the only warm water in many houses.
Winter storm breakfasts were reasons for feasts, too, often consisting of ‘pudding’ and corn cakes, pastries and other sweet treats. Pudding of course being a ghastly concoction of dead everything boiled down to pure artery choking lard. But boy did it taste good!
For those lucky enough to have a storm hit on their mother’s shopping day, a trip to town on a sled was the order of the day. Though the long walk back seemed a lot longer then the ride in, the sight of the town asleep in the snow provided memories that lasted lifetimes.
Snows were much deeper back then. Many tales are told of fences disappearing for months at a time – fences that still dot the countryside, viewable to all who dare to doubt. Snows were so frequent and heavy that it was often possible to step over fences that were otherwise insurmountable.
Winter storms of course meant money for enterprising kids. Work clearing driveways and walkways could be readily found at ten cents an hour. While cars were on their way to predominance, heavy snows often forced them to yield their role once again to horses. Untroubled by the cold, icy roads, or deep drifts, teams broke from the fields and pulled sleighs of gleeful children. Returning at dusk with their cargo full of joy, they were rewarded for their service with bran mashes and an hour long brushing.
As evening descended, all scattered toward home and the hot meals that waited by fires that would warm. Evenings were full of games of all sorts – Chinese checkers, gin rummy and games of that sort. But no snowy night was complete without the popping of corn. On really snowy nights, taffy pulling was performed.
Heated bedrooms were a luxury that few could afford and electric blankets were yet to be born. The fire did beckon as bedtime approached. The goal, need I say, was to suck up enough heat, in hopes of staying warm through the cold night to come. The one beauty of winter was it made friends of us all. It was impossible to be mad at one’s brother or sister, for you depended on them for warmth as you laid back to back.
“Reflections on Emmitsburg Winters of Old,” by Michael Hillman, Emmitsburg Area Historical Society
online at www.emmitsburg.net/archive_list/articles/history/stories/winters_of_old.htm