This tale takes place in 1951. It was a Saturday, and my friend Jackie and I had gone to the pumping station with my father in the morning on our bicycles. We played in the woods, where Pyne’s sandpit would be located, all morning. We cooked hot dogs on an open fire for lunch. Afterward, we decided to venture around Lake Whitehall on our bicycles.
We began our ride going up Fruit Street, across Cunningham Street to Spring Street. A ways up Spring Street, we could start to see Lake Whitehall and, shortly, Kelpin’s Boat Rental. A little further on, we went to the “old” boat landing, where my father’s rowboat was padlocked to a big tree root. It had rained recently, so I bailed out the boat. We continued up Spring Street, past the “Spite House.” (Two sisters lived there, and they could not agree on anything, including the color of the house’s exterior. They each lived on their own side, and the house was painted red on one side and yellow on the other.) Then we turned left onto Pond Street. We continued past Rice’s cranberry bog on the right and the old cemetery on the left. Further up Pond Street, we passed Anderson’s Boat Rental, then around the left curve, and came to the head of Lake Whitehall. We tossed some stones in the lake for a while, then continued on our ride.
At the corner of Pond and School streets stood the Old Bear Hill Schoolhouse. At the time, it was a community center for the neighborhood.
What’s this? An old black hearse was parked in the schoolyard, with a strange-looking old man there in a long black coat and leather-brimmed hat. We stopped, and he said to us, “Hi, I’m Ora Cheney, and I’m getting the hearse ready to go to the Florida Everglades for the winter. Been going to Florida for many a year.” He invited us to visit his house on School Street sometime to see his Indiana arrowhead collection.
We continued up Pond Street to Winter Street. A couple of houses down on the right was an antique fire engine parked in front of a house. There was a pair of legs sticking out from under the fire engine. We stopped to look, and the man attached to the legs emerged. He introduced himself as Chester Ranlett, and he was just making some adjustments to his old fire engine. He told us he worked for the State Forestry Department, and he patrolled Lake Whitehall in his boat in the summer. He showed us the fire engine, and then we proceeded on our journey on Winter Street, down Snake Hill. We stopped at the dam for a while and walked around the point where we saw Edmund’s Boat Rental.
We went back to Winter Street and continued our ride past Farrar Fire Truck Mfg. Co., past Wheeler’s Variety Store on the corner of Winter and Wood streets, crossing to Well’s General Store and Post Office, where we stopped to enjoy a cookie. We continued west on Wood Street, past the old wood Fire Station located on the engine house pond, past the Woodville Baptist Church on the left, then past the Woodville Rod & Gun Club on the right. We continued on to Fruit Street and back to the pumping station to conclude our adventure.
Note 1: Each of the local boat rental places on the lake were owned by fathers of my classmates.
Note 2: Little did I know then, but in 1967, Chester Ranlett and I would be hired as the Hopkinton Fire Department’s third and fourth full-time firefighters and become good friends for many years.