Houlton residents recall outdoor ice rink, sledding down Reservoir Hill

HOULTON, Maine — Jean Hershey of Houlton looks back fondly on the “endless” winters of her youth.

The memories include snow that always fell before Thanksgiving, long weekends spent at the outdoor skating rink near Watson Avenue, and wooden toboggans that were perfect for sliding down the community’s most popular sledding spot, Reservoir Hill.

“Looking back, some of my fondest memories were formed during that time,” she said Friday. “I had all of these friends from the Bowdoin Street School, and we would meet up at a certain time on the weekends or during school vacations to go skating or sliding. It was wonderful.”

Although the town’s indoor skating rink had not yet been constructed in the 1950s and most children walked to destinations instead of being driven, Hershey and several other current and former area residents look back happily upon winters of the past.

“I used to love skating on that outdoor rink,” Marilyn Vesey, a former Houlton resident who now lives in Hartford, Connecticut, said Friday. “I believe that the fire department would flood it as soon as it became cold enough. We would have so much fun there. Half of the children in town would be out there when the weather was just right.”

Hershey agreed.

“I remember my little brother, Arthur, loved to skate so much that he wouldn’t tell my mother when he was getting too cold,” she recalled. “He would put wool socks on under his mittens and just try to tough it out, and one time he got severe frostbite. My mother was furious.”

One of the downsides of the rink, Vesey recalled, was that the weather would make it inaccessible several times during the winter.

“Of course, when it got too warm, the ice got soft and we couldn’t use it,” she said. “There were really only about four months during the winter when the skating was really good.”

That changed in 1974 when the John A. Millar Arena was built and area residents had access to the indoor ice rink. After it collapsed under the weight of ice and snow in 1998, a newer, larger building was constructed and named the Millar Civic Center.

Howard Gentle of Houlton said Friday that his favorite memories revolve around sledding down Reservoir Hill, “the best hill for sledding you could ask for.”

“My parents gave me this great old wooden toboggan when I was about 8-years-old, and I wish I still had it,” he said. “My friends and I loved to pile on top of each other and try to zip down that hill as fast as we could without falling off. We could never do it.”

Half of the challenge of sledding down the hill, he said, was trying to climb to the top.

“It was so steep,” he recalled, laughing. “Especially for a young child. It was years before I had the stamina to get to the top.”

Today, Gentle said he enjoys taking his grandson to the Millar Civic Center and watching him skate and practice his hockey skills.

“Although I believe that I had a little more fun in my childhood,” he said, “I concede that his winter play is at least a bit more comfortable.”

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