Monday, December 8, 2014

Local ski hill

This is the local ski hill in my memories of Danvers. This is where I learned to ski. This is where I skied for years and years with family and friends.

I love this 1954 photo, which captured the scene very well. The photographer (David Brewster) was standing on the flat area at the top of the slope – the place where we started each downhill run.  Last year his son Dave digitized his father's old slides and shared this with me. Such memories!

The rope tow ran along the right side of the open slope. In the photo I can see (faintly) a few bodies coming up that tow, and I know that the little figures at the bottom of the hill are approaching the rope and getting ready for the up-hill ride.  The rope tow engine was, in those days, a Model T Ford that sat in a shed at the top of the hill, behind and to the right of this photographer.

The view here is eastward, towards (unseen in the distance) Summer Street in north Danvers. On the right in the distance would be the St. John's Preparatory School property; on the left, Bishop's Meadow. By 1971, bulldozers and other large earth-movers were re-shaping this landscape, preparing to build Route I-95.

This ski slope disappeared in the construction.  In fact (I discovered today while staring at a Google map of the area) I-95 now runs right through this location, though hundreds of feet lower. Much of the hill, containing good gravel, was re-distributed elsewhere, leaving behind a valley and a much steeper slope on what was left of the old hill. That new slope dropped 300 feet, my father said. He attempted to ski there, but highway officials discouraged the practice.

What hill was this?  We called it "Locust Lawn" because of the old estate that had once been built there. Some people called it "Nichols Hill" because so many generations of our family had lived on or near it. Older maps mark it as "Dale's Hill," probably for a similar reason. Today the fragment of it that remains is called "Conifer Hill."

Update: On Thursday December 11, 2014, the Danvers Herald published my column about skiing on this hill. The online version was posted December 14. See  Remembering Danvers: When family ran local ski hill.


Anonymous said...

Sandy, Thank you for writing such a beautiful article about one of my favorite childhood memories.
We were members from the mid 60s thru 1972 or so. We were members for a few years at the "new" location on Rt.1. But there was a snow drought and things seemed to fizzle out. My brother and I were away at college anyhow.

My family was a member during the time that the Model T was replaced with the electric motor. What fun we had going up and down that hill again and again.
Some nights we were the only ones there and my Dad would flip on the lights and fire up the wood stove in the warming hut while my brother and I laced up our leather ski boots. Your Dad would often come over to say hello and chat with my Dad.
Thanks for the great flashback!!

Paul Blomerth

PS; I'm sure that you have seen the website "The Lost Ski Areas of New England" ?

Sandy said...

Thank you Paul for your comment. I too remember flipping the switch and having the ski hill to myself some evenings. Lovely! By the mid-sixties I was away at college, so I probably didn't ever ski with you.

Yes, I know of the NELSAP project. In fact, I first began writing about my memories of Locust Lawn Ski Club in order to report it to NELSAP as another "lost" ski area. They didn't have it listed, so I contributed some information.
Sandy Nichols Ward

Widge Merrill said...

There were actually two rope tows. The one you mention as well as another than ran down the lookers left from the top of the hill. However, I am not sure it was always operational. Old jalopies must have been a challenge to keep running.

BTW, I broke my leg there on New Years Day, 1961. Bud Lord and Thurl Brown )and I am sure, others) ferried me down to Hunt for repairs!

Widge Merrill

Sandy said...

Hi Widge, You are right about a second rope tow to the left of that photo. It was longer, and served the more advanced, narrower, steeper trails that went deeper into the woods. As young kids we stayed out on the open slope and only used the row tow to the right.
Sorry to hear about your broken leg. I'm only aware of a few other injuries that happened at the LL Ski Club. My mother once fell at the top of the long tow because her jacket had became twisted around the rope and when she turned away, the jacket continued moving with the rope, knocking her down and then dragging her along the ground, unfortunately so low that she slid UNDER the safety line (which would have shut off the tow). Fortunately some people saw this, and ran to kill the power. My mother's ankle was badly twisted.