When I was growing up in DeForest the ice skating rink at Fireman’s Park was just a short walk from my front door. Back in the 50s the rink was in the outfield of the softball diamond which is where the Fred and Helen Chase Pavilion is now located as well as the children’s playground.
Even though it was very close, I did not ice skate on the rink be-cause most of my outdoor fun was taken up sledding down the great hills around the village. I especially enjoyed flying down the north slope of Campbell’s Hill and coasting to a stop behind the church. Also I didn’t have a pair of skates. There was a pair of skates hanging on a hook in the back staircase. They were black figure skates that my mom used. I wasn’t going to be seen wearing old women’s black figure skates. I got a new pair of men’s hockey skates when I was about 14. I was excited to try them out as I was a pretty good roller skater.
A day or two after Christmas I went over to the park to try them out. The first few minutes were okay and then I realized I was skating on the side of the blades. The harder I tried the worse it got. I skated off the rink after about 15 minutes.
My folks asked me later how the skating went. I told them about my skates turning on the sides. Dad shook his head and said he and his brothers all tried ice skating with similar bad results. “Apparently the Emerson’s had weak ankles when it came to ice skating,” he said. He told me not to give up, to try harder and maybe the ankles would get stronger. I tried several more times that winter but there was no improvement. The skates were hung up in the back staircase next to the old black figure skates.
I love to watch figure skating competition on television. The smoothness of the routines, the spins and jumps. Unfortunately, I never moved forward from skating on the sides of my skates.
David Blanchard grew up in the big old Blanchard house on DeForest Street, across from Firemen’s Park. He became an excellent piano and organ player and taught music at a college out west. Every summer he would travel back to DeForest and stay in the old Blanchard house. He enjoyed revisiting his DeForest friends and often played the organ at area churches as a summer fill-in organist.
He was a very interesting fellow to talk to and one day he told me about the old street car warming house at the DeForest ice skating rink. Every winter the village would have a very fine ice skating rink in the south west corner of Firemen’s Park but it lacked a warming house. The DeForest Commercial Club heard that the City of Madison was closing down its city street car line and they were practically giving away the old street cars to organizations or other municipalities. It would be the responsibility of the buyer to move the street car to its new location.
The DeForest Commercial Club bought one of the street cars and had it delivered to DeForest Fireman’s Park and set down in the south west corner of the park for a warming house. The village hired David to open, close and run the warming house. He said it was always busy all through the winter. He kept the place clean and in order and even ran a little snack corner where he sold candy bars. The street car warming house apparently had out lived its usefulness by the mid-50s as I don’t recall seeing it in the park although my old friend, John Gest, lived right across the street from the street car warming house and he remembered using it when he went skating.
Through the years the skating rink has been moved to several locations in Fireman’s Park, and to the Veteran’s Memorial Park location off North Main Street. Last winter I believe there were four rink locations: Fireman’s Park, near the Village Office, out at Bakke Conservancy and Sunfish Pond off Windsor Road.
The warm weather early this winter plus many snow storms cut the number of ice rinks down to one location this winter — Sunfish Pond off Windsor Road.
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