Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bullshitting to All Fields, Part 5

The “Horse Field” Woods

I hadn’t taken my mountain bike into the woods behind Hillcrest Park Cemetery in a while, so it was high time I rode the “Horse Trails,” or the “Horse Field,” as the locals call this reservation, officially named Woodland Park.

I had heard rumors that the city and the cemetery were getting serious about blocking access from quad and dirt bike riders here, but how could they possibly stop them—except through police patrols? Surely, the Springfield Police are too busy to kick these enthusiasts out of there, right?

Blockades don’t really work. I mean, in the aerial photo above, look at all the potential access points from streets in Springfield and Wilbraham, never mind the cemetery.

My favorite trailhead is at the end of Harness Drive in Wilbraham, behind circular the cul-de-sac island above.

There it is, just to the left of the fire hydrant.

We’re in. But there is an obstacle just down the hill. There used to be a decent bridge across this brook. Now look at it, and swollen from recent rain to boot! Was the bridge dismantled to discourage motorized sports?

No matter, I have little problem walking my bike over the junk on the right. 

There is the old bridge: it was moved down the path a little. Is it being repaired? Who knows? Time to pedal on.

Nice wide trails, most of them not overgrown at all. The only problem with these paths—aside from there being too many of them for such a sensitive habitat to handle—is that many of them are loop trails, and they all look the same, so it’s easy to lose your bearings. How many times in years past have I struggled to find that trail back to Wilbraham?

This time I vow to remember that it’s the nondescript—almost hidden—trail next to a tree that was cut down to block another trail. There are many such barricades in these woods.

To make sure I can find the fallen tree, I take out my phone and drop a pin.

You gotta love the huge pine grove in the middle of the reservation.

And there is the motocross track in the wide-open area inside the preserve: the Horse Field (above and below), where horsepower of the four-legged variety once roamed when Sixteen Acres was truly The Sticks. Amazingly, I don’t see or hear any engines in the woods, although the empty water and juice bottles are evidence of recent activity there.

The hillbilly bridge that crosses the North Branch of the Mill River on the Sabis International Charter School side is looking rather peaked. It was much more robust when I snapped this photo three years ago:

Curiously, barriers on the cemetery’s sturdy bridge over the North Branch no longer block access. They were moved over to the side:

So much for keeping out the riders. This same bridge was blocked three years ago:

These woods were a big party area in the 1960s and 1970s. On the side streets off Parkerview, including Jordan, hundreds of teens could be seen on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights trekking into the preserve with blankets and sleeping bags. (You couldn’t park at the cemetery, because they closed the gates at sundown.)

My bike ride got me wondering: where were the stolen/abandoned cars that I saw in these woods just a few years ago? Did city or cemetery workers finally haul them out of there?

Below, from the book The Circle by James A. Coleman, is the narrator’s account of the Circle Gang racing and smashing up stolen cars on the Horse Field almost 50 years ago:

Above is a clock/plaque given in 1976 to “Kemps,” Coach Robert W. Kemple, after his Sixteen Acres team went undefeated. I had the pleasure to play for him in 1973 and 1974 and he was by far the best coach I ever had. Kemps died in 1980. You might recognize some of the names on the plaque—all solid ballplayers. One of them died after falling down the South Branch park waterfall off Parker Street in 1985.

I thought when I moved back from Boston that they would have fixed this nightmare rotary. Nope.

The body of U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, one of five U.S. service members shot to death in Chattanooga, Tenn., makes its way from Chapel of the Acres, past Fresh Acres market and the old Sixteen Acres Friendly’s, to his funeral at Holy Cross Church on July 27. He had helped 13 Marines and a sailor escape the gunman.

Cinema X in January, 1975

Did you know that there were once 22 candlepin lanes in the Smith’s Billiards building on Worthington Street? According to the article, they were moved to “a modern Connecticut bowling alley” in 1963.

Another rare photo of the turtle fountain in Stearns Square actually working. We continue to hear of plans to make it functional again. Read more on the history of the fountain here.

Bernard “Bunny” Murray, a Chicopee institution who has “directed” traffic in the city for years, is pictured above celebrating his 69th birthday at the Aldenville Commons. Read more about Bunny here

Speaking of “Chick-o-billies,” here’s Chicopee’s Bill Budness, who worked at the old Burns Package Store in The Acres—and was a gym teacher at Duggan for a year, as well as a football coach at Wilbraham and Monson Academy. He played linebacker for seven seasons for the Oakland Raiders and in the 1967 Super Bowl. Budness was considered the best linebacker ever to play for Boston University (Marc Fauci fans might disagree) where he graduated in 1964 with a degree in education. This is his 1966 rookie football card.

Courtesy of the Facebook group Friends of Shaker Park. Apparently there were dancing girls at the place in 1963:

Old Union Station

Here are some old photos of Springfield’s Union Station. The peeling paint in ones above brings back memories, because one day in 1973, shortly before it closed, Sam, our counselor at the downtown YMCA, led a group of us kids over to the newly built Baystate West on a fool’s errand to go to the top and see the view. Unfortunately, there was no observation area in the building, so we looked out a small window and left.

Then we decided to take a look at the lobby of Union Station because it was “creepy and there are bums and stuff,” according to one of the kids. We opened the door and stepped in to see the cavernous area with all the paint coming off the walls and ceiling, which resembled stucco by then. The floor was littered with paint chips. There wasn’t a soul in the lobby. I’ll remember that sight forever: we could tell it was once a grand place, but obviously little-used close to being shuttered at that point.

This is what the lobby will look like in the fall of 2016, when the $84.5 million restoration project is completed:

Lobster at the Hotel Charles anyone? Somehow this sign was saved from the building, which was right next to Union Station.

Courtesy of Brian Kiddy: Main Music, next to the Nuttie Goodie Tearoom, in 1974.

I’ll leave you with this not-so-politically-correct headline topping a front-page story from the Springfield Republican on September 13, 1915. I never knew the Canton Restaurant had such a bloody past. I remember this place from my childhood because my barber on Worthington Street. The Canton closed in 1975.

No, I did not see murder on the menu.


Anonymous said...

"...were the victims of his wanton slaughter." - not sure if the writer intended this as a pun or not (wonton soup is a Cantonese dish).

Hell's Acres said...

You know, I was going to make a joke about that, but maybe that's what the writer intended lol.

Jim said...

Bill's kid Jim Budness broke my finger in 1977 when Cathedral was playing Chicopee at Szot Park. Also have fond memories of watching the Hotel Charles going up in flames from my apt. on Spring st. back in the 80's

Anonymous said...

I recognize a lot of names on the that clock but don't remember the waterfall incident in 85. I lived just up the street from the Kemples. I remember he always had the "Wynns" van in his driveway. His son Bobby had a killer 70 Chevelle SS that ruled the Acres back in the late 70s. Good times!!

Hell's Acres said...

Bobby assistant coached his dad's '73 and '74 teams. I swam in their pool a couple of times at end-of-the season parties.

Agawamian said...

Loved the old photos of Union Station. I thought I had a very vague memory of the old Union Station from my very first train trip in 1979, but if the station closed in 1973, then I don't. It must have been the shrunken excuse for the train station that's been there for almost 45 years. Anyway, restoration of the station is about the only exciting thing happening in downtown these days.

Stephen Elsden said...

I saw your blog maybe less than a year ago. Found it interesting. Recently stumbled upon it again seeing the photo of the 16 Acres baseball team eating ice cream out side I presume a Friendly's restaurant. I wore one of those uniforms. Can't say I'm one of the kids in the picture unless its the one with his head down. Also my little sister road that Elephant.

Anyway. I can say I knew Colman when he was researching for a second book that I never heard was written. Someone stole his notes though and he pretty much got dissed from us, possibly on account that we thought he was gay.

I knew most of the Croutos's (sic), used to wrestle with Danny out on my front yard. That kid was strong as an ox. I even got a cold case call just a few years ago. I wish I knew more to say about that. His next older brother however was not as strong I beat the shit of his bother Micheal once when him and my brother were trying to tell us we couldn't hang around. That was many years latter though.

I knew Phil C. according to his youngest brother got discharged from the Marines because he smacked an NCO in mouth with a hammer. I'm pretty sure Peter joined up too. And I met their father. When I did he was good to Paul. Maybe his older brothers wore him down.

Now what I can't figure is who you are. I did the Sixteen Acres, Duggan, Classical Route and then it was into the Military, (not by order of a judge which was kind of common). It seems you were Cathedral and seems from your posts maybe a few years older than me. I'm guessing by your associations you may of lived near Plumtree. Me I was on the opposite side of the block from Giovanni's Pizza and Flair Cleaners. I knew the circle when it was flat. Up. And flat again. But when I was aware of the circle gang they all had long hair. Not like in the pictures you showed. And yes I read 'The Circle Gang' book when it first came out. Even at my young age I thought it was tripe, but I used to read alot. It was interesting though.

Anyway.. just saying.. has more I could share in some of your other posts and can see how this piece here might be misplaced in your blog but sees it would be the most recent post and that's why I put here.

Hell's Acres said...

Hi Stephen,

I'm 52--you're probably older than me if you can remember before the Circle had its mounds, because they were built in '67 I think. The photo of the baseball team: it was at the Friendly's at the corner of Bay and Berkshire, probably after they played at Blunt Park. Kevin Brown is on the top left of the photo. (We lived on the same street as the Browns). Vin Grassetti is third from the left in the same row. Stephen Bushey is on Vin's right. Others in the photo (I'm not sure which ones they are): the late Keith Bransford, Andy Barlow, Chuck Ertel, and Gene Carr (bottom row, right).

I never knew Coleman was planning to write another Acres book, although his obituary said that he worked with Acres gangs until 1975. I believe the Circle Gang was gone by '75, but maybe he was hanging around the guys at the logs and the Rail Gang. Where did you hang around? Too bad someone stole his notes. I would have liked to have read another neighborhood book by him! You're not the first to say you got weird vibes from him, but I didn't.

Regarding Danny Croteau, you probably got a call from independent investigator R.C. Stevens. He was looking for Danny's whereabouts after 4:00 p.m. that Friday night, where he was last seen walking from Ferncliff toward Sixteen Acres Center. He believed that Danny was going to a party that night in the Acres. I don't know what the investigator asked you--Danny had made some questionable adult friends, and aside from the prime suspect--you know who (although the tire tracks didn't match his tires)--the cops back then were also looking at his Boy Scout troop leader. Know anything about him?

Stephen Elsden said...

Okay Hell,

Yeah. I was born in 59. Just looked me up. It says I'm 56. I guess that's right. I was hoping I was 57.

On the photo: That very well could be me with the head down. I knew Andy B. Hanged with him off and on. Bransford sounds familiar, he'd be tallish and lanky. I heard the name Bushy quite a few times. And I may of heard of his death. I heard Andy died too. I don't remember the circumstance. And yes I do know I ate ice cream there. My Grandmother's house was very nearby. And we got ice cream whether we won or not. If we were playing Holy Cross we likely lost. If all those guys continued on to Kennedy and Cathedral its likely why I don't fully remember them.

Anyway as to Logs and the Rail.. I'm thinking the Rail was along the athletic fields behind Western Mass U. The Logs I'm sure I've heard of but can't remember them specifically. As to us, we hanged around my house. When we figured out something to do or too many people started to hang around we picked up and moved. It was normally referred to as 'The Field' , The Pine Tree, or just Elsden's Field. It was located kitty corner to the Circle, across Parker street.

Regarding your last question. I never really knew the details. So I looked them up tonight. Was sort of thinking the river bed led into Ludlow since that headed toward Tashin's Barn (Red Barn Speed)that's some place Danny would of known about since he knew Jack T. Anyway, see's that not likely when I looked at the map for the bridge. Somewhere in what I read it said the 'Boy Scout Leader' lived closed by. That would be Brown. I never knew him. I only glanced the man maybe once even though I went into the house next to his (Skipton's) over hundred times. If he was our boy scout leader I don't remember. Yep.. was a boy scout for maybe six or more months however I don't remember ever wearing or owning the uniform. Also I was never an Altar boy. Anyway we used to climb up on top of the school roof (Sixteen Acres Elm.) and drink black berry brandy before we made a mockery of the meets.