Opinion

Bob Mitchell: Hill provided a thrill for many youngsters

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Long before Cassville had the profusion of city park acreage she enjoys today, it might well be that West Seventh Street might have been the recreational center of town.

The hill leading out of the west side of the square up to a pair of old water towers and most importantly, the brick schoolhouse that served the district for so many years.

Outside of Flat Creek, which bisected the street to eastward, The Hill had a variety of activities to offer, mostly depending on the season of the year.

Lots of young legs climbed the hill seeking an education until the early 40s when the elementary unit joined the high school on the Main Street campus. Even in those days there was some reservation concerning mixing the young with the older students on the same campus.

Fire escape

As long as the old school stood, it provided a recreation feature that not many will remember. That was the slide fire escape that came out of the second floor. Getting to the covered slide was possible by going through the cloak room of a second-story classroom, or climbing up from the ground. That cloak room was the location of many student paddlings for one cause or another.

The latter was possible best by removing shoes and going the barefoot route since the metal was slick all the way to the top, and back then there was not the availability of tennis or canvass shoes.

Several trips up and down the slide doesnít seem like much these days, but for youngsters of that generation it was a respite from playing shinny, mumble peg or softball on the field, which had a degree of slope that was toward town and afforded many a home run.

Doors at the top were always locked, except in fire drill exercises, which made the slide available to youngsters at their choice.

Winter thrills

Anyone who missed the thrill of winter on the The Hill just hasnít lived a full life in Cassville. In the past snowfall was adequate each year to provide sledding on the steep slope. What made it even better was the cooperation of city officials in those days to rope off cross streets to keep traffic from ruining the slick surface.

When the snow came, sleds of about every description were found on The Hill both day and night. In the latter hours, a large fire was maintained by the youngsters, which was often joined by some of their seniors and even parents. Everyone who enjoyed the nighttime sled rides would bring a few sticks of firewood from home as they pulled their rides to the location.

Sliding didnít stop

There was always more sliding to do in those winters when snowfall was adequate for heavy sleds made of oak would to be towed behind vehicles during the evening hours. There were two age groups, one for the youngsters behind the Nicoll Furniture truck driven by Tom Nicoll, the other with Gene Kidwell driving his truck.

Their routes were the dirt roads around Cassville.

Hill at night

Nighttime sledding was possible with rides that went through the square and to the Flat Creek bridge. This was accomplished by lookouts at the square and highway who could see the riders as they passed under street lights. Armed with flashlights, they would stop traffic that might be coming.

The thrill of the hill didnít stop there as it was a real challenge, especially for the older boys, to roll an old tire down the hill. This was a game of sorts on level ground, but The Hill meant a number of run-a-way toys going through flower gardens down around Gravel Street.

Back side

Going out the back side of the school property was an adventure for the younger classes who would make a trip or two in the west direction on their way to a picnic in the old quarry where Barry County Ready-mix is now located.

Trips up and down the rocks and in some places sliding down the clay surface quickly put the youngsters in a mood to eat their sack lunches.

In all the trips to the quarry, and there were many, memory doesnít provide any incident of injury to anyone, which is nothing short of a miracle.

A feature of the area, which was heavily used by the youngsters was Hawk Branch that ran through the area. Elusive tadpoles were targets of many waders, who took the opportunity to wash the clay stains from their trouser legs during the water time.

Before the school bell would ring, it was back up the back side of The Hill, get your books and go down the other side of The Hill toward home.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.

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