Sunday, August 30, 2009

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TORONTO'S WOODS





Like the city itself, the woods situated along the Gem City's southwest border has a history, deep, rich and mysterious.
Foremost amongst the deep green forest was Camp Crumb. It stood upon a plateau where Sloane's Run forks west to Wallace Heights and northeast to Rock's Farm. A dirt road once twisted along Sloane's Run, but has long been covered with the natural erosion of the steep gully through which it passes.
Walter M. Kestner, in his book, The Era of Elegance, mentions Toronto's early park: "The log cabin and the rustic pavilion for dining up Sloane's Run hollow called Camp Crumb where clambakes and corn roasts were regularly held. My first picnic in Toronto was held in the second grade when Miss Nora Yingst, our teacher, escorted us out the Pike to Camp Crumb, and I ate my lunch on the way but dined elegantly on the bounty of the others who were not as voracious as I was.
The Boy Scouts of America began operation in 1910, and the local troops found Camp Crumb and its environ of beeches and oaks, huge boulders, rock shelters and cascades an ideal place for scouting activities. If the initials carved in the rocks and towering beeches are any indication of its usage, then the 1940s was the peak period for Camp Crumb.
Local lore reports that this bucolic getaway fell into disuse after a distraught Toronto man hanged himself from a beech tree overlooking a cliff. Legend also hints that he carved his initials into the tree prior to committing the act. Some old-timers say the grounds are haunted.
Another long forgotten piece of the Gem City's woodland past is Slaughter Hollow, which today is just west of the state's access gate along Route Seven near the south end ramp.
"One of the favorite Sabbath afternoon walks," Kestner wrote, "was out the Knoxville Pike to Sloane's Run then up the left fork to slaughter house hollow where the crumbling remnants of the old abattoir still sheltered the grisly implements of its former operations. Along the way at the base of the hollow huge limestone rocks produced a prolific harvest of sea animals which offered mute testimony that the waters of the distant seas had once laved these shores."
The Gem City author was certainly correct regarding water once encircling the Toronto we know today. In Roadside Geology of Ohio, Mark J. Camp wrote about Mount Nebo. "On the south edge of town the highway swings around a large hill that is separated from the Pennsylvanian (an era 320 to 286 million years ago) escarpment by an abandoned channel of the Ohio River. During Wisconsinan (90,000 to 10,000 years ago) time this was a bedrock island in the Ohio River. At some point sandbars cut it off and the river assumed its present course."
Modern man has also left signs of his presence in the surrounding forests. A couple of anomalies are rock piles appearing to be funeral cairns, one each on both sides of the hill upon which Fairview Heights stands.
In Greater Toronto 1899, author G.H. Stoll noted that before the inception of Union Cemetery, people sometimes buried their deceased in the hills above present-day Toronto.
Another mystery is an abandoned well, or cistern, concave and still open, which sits approximately 50 yards west of Route Seven above Daniels Street. An 1878 map indicates that the property once belonged to an R. Lee, an 1871 map to an H. Gaston.
Lesser oddities include rock carvings of a snake, an eagle and an oak leaf upon different boulders scattered throughout the woods and Indian Rock, named such for the collection of arrow heads near it.
PICTURES top to bottom: Indian Rock.  Open Well.  Winter Scene of Rock Shelter.  Oak Leaf Carving by JMW.

Friday, August 28, 2009

THE FIRST BAND CAMP




Some of our favorite memories soon come to mind when certain songs play across the radio, but no experience is so sweet as making the music that makes the memories, such as the case with the participants of the inaugural Toronto Band Camp.
This Toronto high School tradition started in 1949 when the band fathers converted a Yellow Creek farm into a practice field for the marching band and the barn into a cafeteria. As the years progressed, succeeding band fathers added more modern amenities; the first year, however, they simply roughed it.
We slept in tents," then high school senior Dolores (Argentine Graceffa said, "five or six tents, as I recall, about eight to a tent. There were individual tent counselors, one for each tent."
"It got very cold in the mornings that summer, down into the forties," said Ruth Ann Campbell) Davis. "Two of the girls in our tent had to go home with ear aches. We had old iron double-decker beds. I was fortunate to have a big feather comforter that had been in our family for years. I slept on it and pulled the other half over me."
Reveille awakened the campers from their chilly slumbers every morning and then before breakfast, under the leadership of band director D.W. Hover, the 70 members of the THS band exercised and marched and then attended breakfast.
"When I think of band camp," Madonna (Smith) Baker, class of 50 said, "I think of reveille played at 6:00 every morning. So I left a nice, warm blanket and went to the lower part of the barn for a shower. Breakfast was held in the barn dinning hall, and we sat at picnic tables."
The band marched and practiced during afternoons and repeated their routines in the evenings, the early morning coolness soon forgotten.
"It was terribly hot," Mrs. Graceffa said. "It was a lot of fun. John Sabol, a graduate and band member of Ohio State University came out and taught us single line formation across the field, and we did it admirable. I think we were the first small school around here to perfrom this formation."
Band members did find some play and mischief time during the evenings.
"We had the lake back then and the kids swam," Mrs. Graceffa said. "In the evenings we had bonfires and sing-alongs."
There were the usual raids by the boys," Mrs. Devlin said, "but none of us got in big trouble. We really had a wonderful time and certainly needed the practice."
Before the inception of Toronto Band Camp, THS practice alongside the football field during summer while Director Hoover gave individual lessons at the Roosevelt Building. Attending the Yellow Creek camp broke up the monotony and created a tradition celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Graceffa summed up the sentiments of the thousands of band members from the various high schools who had the experience of marching upon this hallowed ground. "It was an experience for a city girl. I wasn't rich enough to go to a summer camp. I wouldn't have taken anything for that experience."
Band members from the classes of 50, 51, 52 and 53, if interested in forming a reunion, should call Doloroes (Argentine) Graceffa at 740-537-2106.
Picture of drum major is Dale Westlake.
Campers in front of tent are, left to right: Dolores Wagner, Ruth Ann Campbell, Joan Paisley, Letilia Arehart, Madonna Smith, Dolores Argentine, Marilyn Williams, and counselor unknown.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

THE COOL SPRING OF CROXTON'S RUN




Back before the practice of bottling water in plastic and associating it with Alps Mountain names was in vogue, people obtained the real thing from the real source and kept the promotion really simple.
From no source was the simplicity and ease of living better exemplified than the Cool Spring that once spurted from a hillside across Croxton's Run just outside Toronto.
"It gushes forth from the hillside and no water in existence is purer and sweeter than this," wrote G.H. Stoll in his book Greater Toronto 1899.  "It's waters are as clear as crystal and as sparkling.  Its source is so situated that there is no suspicion of its contamination.  It never fails to yield water and beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant never has this spring ceased to flow."
A spring results from groundwater that resides within large permeable sandstone and limestone called aquifers, from which some of the water is drawn through cracks of the rock and then through the surface of the earth by gravity.
No record exists to document who first called this aquifer "Cool Spring."  Indian scout and city patriarch Michael Myers could have well been the first pioneer to discover it.  Given his reputation for simplicity in speech and demeanor, he might have called it "Cool Spring" in passing reference to any of his acquaintances when he patrolled the Ohio River from Yellow Creek to Mingo during the Revolutionary War.
Before Myers, or Abraham Croxton, from whom the nearby creek is named, American Indians undoubtedly stopped to slake their thirst at the bubbling spring.  Shawnees ambushed and scalped several soldiers hunting buffalo near this site.  Four years later, the same tribe abducted Mary and Margaret Castleman while slaying their uncle John Martin.
In his book Fowler suggested that the use of Cool Spring predated the arrival of white man to the region.
"What tales it could talk, of the scenes enacted within the sound of its musical murmurings: tales of tragedy, love and pathos: tales of aboriginal orgies," he wrote.
During his scouting missions, Myers undoubtedly watched for Indian activity at Cool Spring and similar fresh water sources.  Although no reports exist that he encountered any Indians at Cool Spring, he did shoot and slay an Indian at Poplar Spring, which today would be somewhere in the heart of downtown Toronto, and another at the head of Brown's Island near a spring just north of Wellsmar.
After the settlement of the hamlets Newburg, Fosterville and Markle, their merger leading to the eventual incorporation of Toronto in 1881, the use of Cool Spring continued to increase.
"For many miles in all directions," Fowler wrote, "people came to drink of its beautiful waters.  On Sabbaths during summer, the spring is constantly surrounded by crowds.  Toronto people greatly appreciated this natural, eternal, ice cold drinking fountain."
The tradition continued for years, according to longtime Gem City resident Tom McKelvey.  "Before most people owned cars," he said, "people dressed up on Sundays and walked out Croxton's Run and stopped at Cool Spring, and many sat on the decks of Kilgus Country Club drinking the spring water."
Author Walter M. Kestner wrote briefly in The Era of Elegance about such an excursion.  "...the pleasant Sunday walk up Croxton's Run to the Cool Springs where the limpid water gushed forth into a watering trough for the animals and a hand dipper was suspended from the wide spreading willow tree from which the humans drank indiscriminately."
"It was just good cool water," McKelvey said.  The longtime Toronto resident, in fact, when he was nine years of age, toted water in five-gallon cans by a wagon form Cool Spring to the old two-room Lincoln School.  "The school didn't trust river water back then.  It was my first job.  I made five dollars a month."
Toronto had running water pumped by its own electrical power house as early as 1891, but the popularity of the Cool Spring continued for another half century until it finally fell into disuse.
"It hasn't been used since the clay works shut down," McKelvey said.  "It was west of the railroad bridge, down the hill at the bottom on the left."
Fowler believed Cool Spring would never go dry.  "It has doubtless flowed for centuries, slaking the thirst of man and beast alike, and will so continue."
This early Toronto author may well be right, for the Cool Spring still flows, although it is obscured by an elevated highway, invasive Japanese knotweed and discarded tires and bricks.  The once famous aquifer may no longer be used, but its memory will remain preserved with the Gem City's northernmost boundary, which, like its source of origin, is named, simply, Spring Street.