A Finger Lakes Winter: 1932

January 1, 2011 at 7:47 pm 1 comment

Skaneateles 1926

Winter in the Finger lakes early 1900s

Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.

~Bill Morgan, Jr.

“I envied kids with summer birthdays. A birthday in the middle of the winter restricted activity, plus the gifts that accompanied winter birthdays were knit mittens, socks, hats and scarves. Hands and feet were often cold during the winter, as wool mittens were useful for making snowballs then became soggy and freezing. Feet were encased in cloth, four-buckle Arctics, which were neither warm nor waterproof.

Skaneateles winter of 1932

Harold and Lester playing in the snow

Skaneateles 1932

Typical Finger Lakes Winter

Snow and ice created many diversions for boys; we spent a disproportionate amount of time clearing a space on which to skate. The lake at our end always froze over. In the village hockey was played, iceboats and various types of races were possible. What I remember best is when after several bitterly cold and windless nights, the lake froze a few inches and was a clear green crystal, which made for beautiful skating, particularly when the wind blew us.

Skating in Skaneateles

Heading out with Gladys

Sliding downhill was also exciting. Nothing was more fascinating than to pack down the snow on a hill until it became an icy surface with nothing to slow down the sleds. One would run with his sled, belly flop and go. It never occurred to us that steering and control were offset by the thrill of hurtling down a hill at breakneck speed. Trying to steer through the narrow gate at Grandma Hoag’s was a challenge as there were cement posts situated so that there was about an inch of clearance for the sled.”

Wisdom from 50+ years in the future:  Lester’s 5 children suffered broken legs, broken collar bones, concussions, and returned home bruised and bloody, after being schooled in these same sledding techniques!

“The art of digging snow caves and tunnels was a rewarding effort as the snow banks were huge and the west wind piled the snow high in the nearby fields, giving us an unlimited supply. When a big storm forced the closing of school for a few days, we had plenty of time. We would dig on our hands and knees, hacking out a tunnel, and eventually enlarging an area in order to create a room.

Automobiles were still unreliable during the winter months. Getting out of the driveway to the street was a constant winter challenge. Our drive sloped away from the street (towards the lake) and there were no regular plows available nor snow tires, so the snow would be compacted and turn to ice. Sometimes Dad would have to put on chains, a dirty, difficult task. Other times we would put ashes under the rear wheels and push. More often than not, we would shovel for long periods so Dad could back out, turn around and get stuck again.

The trolley car was the predominant and sometimes only means of transportation in the 1920’s. My Father usually put his car up on blocks during the winter and took the trolley to work. The single trolley ran on electrical wire overhead and was operated by a conductor or motorman. The trolley helped take us to school when the roads were impassable.”

Excerpts for this post are taken from the autobiography of Lester Hoag Leonard, my Dad. He was born February 2, 1917, and grew up on the eastern side of Skaneateles Lake. He loved winter and cold. He taught me to love skating, skiing and ferociously fast sledding — but not shoveling.


Entry filed under: Activities, Finger Lakes, Skaneateles, Skaneateles Lake, Skating, Sledding. Tags: , , , , , , .

Harriet Hollister: Snow Above All Seneca Meadows: Turning trash into treasure.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. J G Flood  |  January 1, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    What a lovely New Years Day memory. Thank you for sharing.


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