Friday, March 3, 2000
Treasures of Carlisle's Past: Winter Past Times
Think of winter and any New Englander thinks of snow! Whether it is the blustery cold, the ice-covered walkways, one inch of snow or twelve winter weather defines our winter recreation. It would seem that the more things change in our age of technology, the more things stay the same! A hundred years ago, children anticipated ponds freezing over to try new skates and hills covered with snow to test their sleds.
Cold winter evenings found families around the fireplace, reading (often aloud to one another), visiting with neighbors or enjoying an "evening out." School days meant lessons to be done for the young students in the family. Maybe not MCAT's, but sums to be memorized and spelling words to learn to advance to the next grade level in the one-room schools. Always homework!
In the Historical Collections are several items which provide links to these winter activities. We know that then, as now, a nice snowfall would encourage sledding and sleigh riding. Indeed, in the days before automobiles, sleighs and sleds were the chief means of transportation on snow-packed roads. There were even devices to roll the snow to pack it for better travel. People would walk, using snowshoes, such as the pair in the Town Collection. These are larger than the sleek models available at sport and outdoor stores today. Each one measures 28 and 3/8 inches long and nearly 13 inches wide. They are made of wood, twine and leather or sinew. They belonged to Isaiah Green who died in 1855. Green was one of the early selectmen, serving the town from 1820-1823. We can imagine that he maintained these snowshoes, and that he and his family used them to get around town and to enjoy walks in the woods.
Henry David Thoreau, in Walden (Chapter 14) describes his winter walks:
In the deepest snows, the path which I used from the highway to my house, about a half a mile long, might have been represented by a meandering dotted line, . . . But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree, or a yellow birch, . . .
Thoreau's snowshoes are in the collections of Concord Museum.
Ice-skating was a popular winter entertainment. In January 1860, Annie Keyes Bartlett of Concord wrote her brother: some of the little boys and girls are skating on the brook and they seem to be enjoying themselves. I am afraid I shall never learn to skate oh dear! I wish I could at any rate. George Willis has invited me to go with him next time he comes up if there is any ice. (Vault A45 Bartlett Unit 2; Concord Free Public Library, Special Collections).
In the nineteenth century, skating offered an opportunity for young girls and boys to meet and enjoy good times. Skating and its dangers were immortalized by Louisa May Alcott in her description of Amy falling through the ice in her novel, Little Women. We may be sure that Louisa remembered skating on Concord's ponds during her own childhood.
Of course, ice skates were not what we know today! Two different skates are part of the Historical Society's collection. While they are both from the family of George R. Duren, they are not a pair. Made of wood, they have hand-forged iron or steel runners and would have been strapped onto the boots of the skater. George R. Duren was one of six children born to George and Lucy Duren. He grew up in Carlisle and lived here himself during the 1800s. In November 1897 he was one of the members of a committee appointed to purchase an official "Town Seal."
Long winter evenings offered opportunities to gather with friends. Our nineteenth-century ancestors enjoyed games such as charades and family card games like "Authors."
The Carlisle Town Center witnessed many merry gatherings. Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins recalls reminiscences of James Harry Wilkins in her book Carlisle: Its History and Heritage. (pp. 227-9) Dancing was enjoyed then, as now!
In winter weather the horses were stabled in Gilman Nickles' barn, for the dancing went on sometimes until one or two o'clock in the morning. Richmond Nickles was the hostler and took in twelve or fifteen dollars for an evening's work. . .
Mrs. Wilkins refers to dance programs from the 1880's, featuring "quadrilles, waltzes, contra, galop and polka."
Several card programs remain from the early twentieth century which give an idea of the type of entertainment one might attend. For instance, in 1911 the Congregational Vestry Committee presented the following programs for the community:
January 17: The Family Album
February 10: Concert and Entertainment
March 9: Concert and Antiquarian Supper ( a Senior Citizen Event)
April 6: Entertainment by the Children
April 27: Steoptican [sic] Lecture
On February 21, 1889, one might have heard "A Great Concert" in the Unitarian Meetinghouse.
Traveling entertainers offered other divertissements to the community throughout the year. Again, from the Wilkins account, there were glassblowers, a performer called "Comical Brown" and a memorable illustrated lecture called: "Kimball's Cyclorama or A Trip Around the World." This program involved moving images. It seems that pictures, painted on cylindrical canvases were "rolled" across the stage during a lecture. Mrs. Wilkins tells us that free admission was granted to two boys for turning the cranks of these cylinders one on each side of the stage. Apparently, competition for this honor was keen!
Indoors or out, Carlisleans then as now, delighted in the community in which they lived. Winter meant time both to socialize and time to be alone with the wonders of nature.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito