Children enjoy winter wonders

  • Children enjoy their Flexible Flyer sleds on a nearby hill. Library of Congress

For the Monitor
Published: 1/13/2021 9:58:13 AM

As our fall leads into winter and the crisp air turns cold, my thoughts wander back to the early years when children were creative and always active with finding adventures in and around our little town. If you could travel back in time a century or more and question the first child you encountered on the street, the answers would be similar to today. Children search for adventure, though the adventures today are quite sophisticated to the adventures our ancestors were afforded. 

A century ago, the community of Concord was similar to most communities across the nation. The young children living in Concord during the year 1909 were settled into their classroom studies and then set free for the holiday season. With fresh snow, no school and the freedom to roam, the children set about town on their many adventures.

Our Concord ancestors were fortunate to live in a rural community where they had the freedom to visit various stores down on Main Street to secure penny candies or travel to the surrounding hills to enjoy the snow.

My father and his father before him often spoke about the old snowstorms that blanketed Concord under multiple feet of snow. Many local residents were still using primitive wooden shovels with some owning heavy metal versions. The lightweight shovels manufactured from colorful lightweight aluminum and plastic would not arrive for decades. Once the snowstorms ended and the residential clean-up was completed, the Concord city crews would venture out and start the process of clearing and compacting snow around the town. 

Prior to the invention of the heavy commercial trucks fitted with large snow plows, the city employees resorted to other methods to control the snow. During the last of the 19th century, there were no automobiles traveling the streets, just horses, carriages and wagons. Many residents simply walked to work and shopping while carrying their paper bags of groceries under each arm.

The city owned and operated a large piece of machinery that was considered to be cutting edge technology during this early period. This machinery was aptly named the Snow Roller and was a large wooden cylinder connected to a horizontal axel with a bench for the operator to sit upon it. The Snow Roller was pulled by two or more strong horses and traveled the streets of Concord after each and every snowstorm. The process involved compacting the new snow that had fallen on the streets after every storm rather than plowing the snow to the sides of the road. This process worked wonderfully for many years allowing the early snow season compacting to go quite efficiently. It was towards the end of the snow season when the process became a bit more challenging. By the end of winter, there would be many feet of snow compacted into ice on all city streets, when the first warm days of spring arrived the frozen streets began to thaw. The thaw resulted in some flooding and breaking apart of the winter snow and ice, making many roads impassable for the horses, carriages and wagons. Many streets were still unpaved and the resulting spring mud is affectionately known by New Englanders to this very day simply as mud season.

As the children enjoyed the sight of the Snow Roller, they would retrieve their Flexible Flyer sleds and head to the hills for a day of recreation. Their layers of wool would be soaked and frozen as the day progressed and they would return home to warm themselves near the fireplace or radiator steam heat. The hills used for sledding were the same that we also enjoyed as children growing up in Concord, but our ancestors had some really nice additional options sure to add a thrill.

Our ancestors witnessed many streets with hills being closed during the winter months. Travel was not allowed due to the compacted snow. As late as the 1930s and into the 1940s the steep hills with streets were barricaded. My father often spoke of his afternoons in the north end of Concord sledding down Rumford Street with his sled traveling way past the intersection with Walker Street and almost as far as Penacook Street. Another wonderful street to sled upon was our School Street towards Main Street. As the 20th century approached, we did have many automobiles, snowplows and more technology, but the sledding down a steep city of Concord Street continued.

As the children from a century ago aged and matured they ventured to the surrounding ponds and enjoyed ice skating, snow skiing and certainly evening bonfires where they could socialize. Once the Christmas season concluded with a few more months of snow and cold the youths in Concord embraced the many wonderful opportunities that recreation provided. 

As we enjoy the remaining winter months here in Concord, travel back in time and remember our ancestors. They managed their cold winter months creatively though simply. They sought recreation and they fou nd so much more.

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