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The Way Things Were

These reminiscences of Life Before the Freeway won't be found in historical records because they are images and impressions written in the heart and mind, not on paper. We offer them hoping they might kindle memories of past or present Esko area residents who got their recreational kicks in the great outdoors and whose most memorable youthful experience with electronic gadgetry was learning how to operate a dial telephone.


While some of today’s riparian property owners may permit family or friends to take a dip in the Midway River or the township’s many small streams, the days are long past when families or kids—especially the kids—would enter someone else’s land to go for a summer swim.

From the early days until perhaps 30 years ago, the township’s summertime shorelines were often strewn with towels, clothing, grocery bags, picnic baskets and beverage containers. Families would be there, the adults keeping eyes on splashing children, along with teenagers, challenging or teasing or flirting, and late in the day a few farmers, young and old, soap bars in hand.

Liability issues? Legal concerns? Not in those days. In fact, in the mid- and late 1950s Pat Churchill, Esko teacher, coach and summer recreation director, organized frequent swimming trips to the rock-infested Harney Hole. He'd load up a school bus, drive it both ways, tell a few stories, exercise discipline as required—and as far as anyone can remember, the most serious casualties involved multiple mosquito bites, leeches on legs, or the inevitably lost towel or shoe.

The Harney Hole, probably the most popular swimming venue years ago, is just west of the Midway River Bridge on the Marks Road. It is described in greater detail in the book, as are sites known as Meadowbrook (behind the former Meadowbrook Dairy on Juntunen Road), Snakeville (west of the Midway Bridge on Korby Road), Deep Hole (where Hay Creek enters the Midway south of the North Cloquet Road), an unnamed spot below Julia Sunnarborg's farm off the end of the then-Fisher Road (now Memorial Drive) and, in neighboring Midway Township, the Stark Hole (west of the Midway Bridge on Stark Junction Road). The Stark Hole, with its sandy bottom, was generally considered the finest swimming hole in the area.


What was it that was so inviting about the warming house at the Esko Skating Rink in the 1950s? It definitely wasn’t the musky odor of woolen mitts, tassel caps and socks drying on the coal-fired stove, nor the sudden blasts of cold air from the endlessly opening door—and certainly not an unclad foot pinched under someone’s skates. Maybe it was simply the warmth, especially in contrast with the frigid outside temperatures and sometimes biting winds of a northern winter.

Just south of old Lincoln High School, the rink occupied an area that's been swallowed up by today’s school parking lot.

Out on the ice, in daylight or under the lights at night, youngsters so bundled up they could hardly walk, let alone skate, would be shuffling along or falling down, sometimes causing pileups. Older kids and a few adults glided around the rink, some of the nervier boys arm-in-arm with girlfriends.

When the caretaker wasn’t attentive, games of “Crack the Whip” were apt to erupt. Several skaters would line up, hold hands and, with one sturdy soul serving as the pivot, they’d swing around in a great arc, steadily gaining speed until the outer skaters—no longer able to resist the centrifugal force—flew off headlong into a snowbank or, worse, other skaters.

A frequent visitor in the 1950s was “Buppie,” a huge, amiable St. Bernard that often ambled in from the nearby home of George A. Johnson (wife Sylvia, daughter Karen) on Thomson Road. Buppie seemed to relish the role of tugboat, pulling kids around the rink, his tail serving as towline.

The rink’s operating costs and personnel (Erv Davidson is remembered as the longest-serving caretaker) were provided by the school district. Its years of operation have not been determined, but it is believed to have opened in the late 1940s and closed in the 1960s. Following establishment of the Esko Volunteer Fire Department in 1949, the water for each season’s first flooding was hauled from the Midway River by a fire truck.


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