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.