Monday, June 15, 2009

Yardville Heights

Yardville Heights was a fairly isolated little community. It was about 5 miles from Trenton down South Broad Street, one crossed over Gropp's Lake and then on the right side was Highland Avenue which led up to Yardville Heights. The Heights was really "Heights" because it stood on a hill overlooking woods and swamps on 2 sides and the lake on the other. It was a good place for a boy to grow up, there were lots of fields, swamps and woods to play in. From Highland avenue there were two streets that went back and then several more cross streets. I suppose there were 30 or so houses in the 1930's. In my childhood, there was a small grocery store at the corner of our block operated by Mrs. Thompson. I do know that she had penny candy for sale and I suppose other staples. Such a store was necessary because many people did not have cars then and all the mothers I knew stayed at home to care for their children and families. We had a telephone but not everyone had a telephone. Since it was fairly isolated, everyone pretty much knew everyone else by sight if not in more detail. As kids, we were in and out of the houses of our friends. Every Sunday, we made the rounds to Casons, Fronleys and Moores all of whom got different Sunday paper comics than we did. When I was about 8 or so Eddie Cason died from Leukemia so we didn't go there anymore. I dont recall any of the details just that he disappeared from our lives. The Casons later adopted a boy (Eddy Miller) and a girl. In Yardville Heights, there were a lot of people who were related to each other. There were several branches of the Middleton family. The Heights
was surrounded by fields and woods. Across Highland Avenue was farm which was usually farmed with corn, but sometimes pumpkins and other crops. The farm was the full length of Highland Avenue and went almost over to Yardville which was nearly a mile away. It was a good sized farm. I do recall that it was plowed by a horse drawn plow. On the other side of the Heights was South Broad Street and Gropp's Lake and then on the third side was the Little Creek which ran from a dam at the end of the lake out to the Big Crick which was on the fourth side. The Little Crick was bordered by woods and the Heights was on a hill. From the back of the Heights, we had to go down fairly steep wooded hills to get to the creeks. The big creek was bordered by swamps where muskrats lived and during the winter a lot of the local boys trapped muskrats and sold the skins. I never had traps myself but often helped kids who did when they made the rounds of the traps. In the very early spring, usually late March on the first warm day, we always wanted to get the swimming season started. We would go down the hill behind Bunky Middleton's house to the little crick to our swimming spot in the crick. There was a big birch tree overhanging the crick that we used for diving. We would strip and hop in to get our first swim of the season. We didn't bother with bathing suits, girls never went any where near the woods as far as I know. Later in the season, we swam there a lot as well as in the lake. The little crick was a favorite spot. From our swimming spot it was possible to walk in the crick out to where it intersected the Big Crick. The big crick was bigger, wider and faster moving. We didn't do too much swimming in it but there was some great mud out there, real thick and black and gooey. We liked to go out and get all smeared over with it.
I'm not sure now why we did it but it seemed like fun then. It took a while to get rid of the mud when we got back in the water. The woods around Yardville Heights were a favorite playing spot. We had trails all through the woods. We knew them intimately and some were used in winter for sledding, others were just trails along the creeks. We knew where the springs were where we could get a drink of water. At the base of the hill, there were several cisterns. Yardville Heights, when I was very small, had it's own water system. The cisterns were the source for water from the swamp area to filter in to be pumped up the hill to a big water tank. The pump house was at the foot of the hill. When I was still rather young, the city water system reached the Heights and the local system was left to go in disrepair. It was probably a good thing because the people who operated the system sometimes forget to go down to turn on the pumps to refill the main storage tank. People would have no water and they would have to get someone to turn on the pumps. In the winter there were several spots that were favorites for sledding. Bakers Hill near the middle of the back of the Heights was the best. It was longer and had nice curves in it as it went down through the woods. One summer we built sides on some of the curves so they were banked for speed. Lockwood's hill nearby was also good but did not have any curves in it. There were things in the woods that we liked to do, there were always logs across the cricks to walk across. There were certain places were we knew there was a clay bank where we could get clay to try to making pots "like the Indians did". We knew where the nicest flowers grew, dogwood, violets, may apples, wild azaleas, lady slippers, jack in the pulpits. Sometimes we picked them and tried to sell them to some of the neighbors. In the woods we played games like "Release". We had teams and a jail, the object was to capture a member of the opposing team and put him in the jail. His team would then try to sneak up and tag him to "release" him from the jail. The games would last for hours and we roamed all over the woods to hide from the opposing team while trying to release a captive.
Back home at the house, we had a good sized lawn which we cut with a reel type power lawn mower, one of the first in the neighborhood. Earlier, my grandfather had cut it with a push mower. We played games on the lawn. In my ;youngest days, we played Kick the Wicket and Hide and Seek. Later on it was football. We always had a football game going in the side yard. We also had a "basketball court" at an old barn on the lot next door We had a hoop stuck on the side of the barn and we cleared out bushes and weeds to make a bare dirt "court". It was not like the smooth courts kids have now but we spent many hours shooting baskets. Fortunately, we didn't have adults telling us what to do or how to do things. Bicycles were big, we all had bikes. We didn't roller skate because there weren't many good sidewalks. We rode around the neighborhood on our bikes and set up ramps to jump on. The sort of things do now on skateboards. Being near a lake, we did a lot of swimming at Gropp's Lake. The Heights had it's own little beach with a small dock/diving board. I learned to swim at the YMCA, my mother took me up there once or twice a week one summer. At Lakeside we swam across to the bridge or over to the dam. The dam overflow formed the little creek. In retrospect, the little creek probably wasn't the best place to swim. It was fed by the lake but along side the dam was a dump, a lot of the garbage and trash from Trenton was dumped into that dump. It was actively used and you could see rats running around it, sometimes we used rifle to shoot at them. Half the time it was burning and any water that fell on the dump from rain washed right into the little creek so we were swimming in polluted water. The dam itself was fairly sturdy but once in a while in a big rain storm the water would go over the top of the dam in a stream several feet thick and they would struggle to open flood gates to relieve the pressure. After I left home, the dam finally broke and the lake drained. It was empty for several years until a new dam was built.
We did a lot of sledding in the winter, at Bakers Hill and Lockwood but also on the Bluff. The Bluff was the hill that lead from behind Middleton's in the Heights down to the lake. When there was snow and also ice on the lake we could sled down the bluff, which had a nice bump in it, down on to the ice. The lake was a great place to ice skate and we looked forward to the time the ice was strong enough to skate on. We cleared off the snow so we could play hockey.. Sometimes we just liked to skate through the snow. We always careful because there were always a few spots were the ice didn't freeze completely. As a youngster, we spent a lot of time building model airplanes. The first World War hadn't been over too long (15 18 years) so the Boy's magazines had lots of articles about war planes, (G8 and the Flying Aces) and air battles. Airplanes were a big thing they were not very common. If an airplane flew over, we kids would ruin outside to see it. We also got to see dirigibles because we were not too far from Lakehurst Naval Air Station were most Airships were based. We spent many hours building model planes. Clarence Heaton (Clink) had a small room in a garage back of his house where we often did our model building. His house also had a 3rd story attic where we would take or balsa wood tissue airplanes to fly out the window. If a plane didn't fly well or got damaged, the most fun was setting it on fire and launching it from the attic window. As I got older I continued to build models and at one point in High School had a gas engine for a model though I never really got it running in a plane..

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