Sunday, November 7, 2010

1960's Memories of Skyline Drive Part 2

When I turn onto E. Skyline Drive off of Leavitt Road these days, I sometimes have a hard time remembering the way it all used to be back in the mid-1960's, when my parents moved our family there.

Back then, the area around our new home was right in the middle of transforming from farmland to suburban neighborhoods, just like some of Lorain's west side had already gone through a decade earlier. But the difference is, this time we had a ringside seat to watch it all.

As the last house on the block, we had a unique perspective, because our yard was adjacent to the undeveloped land to the west and to the south. The road sort of ended in front of our house, and trailed off towards Leavitt Road as a dirt path.

To the west of us was a field, which was sometimes swampy and sometimes dry. The field extended north to Martin Run (the creek that ran roughly parallel to Skyline and Meister) and south all the way to W. 40th Street and beyond.

It is my understanding that this huge parcel of land had been owned by a gentleman who we had always referred to as "The Farmer". We could see his house if we looked out our west window across the field. (More on the farmer in a future part of this series!)


To kids used to a sterile post-war neighborhood of streets laid out in a perpendicular pattern, living next door to an undeveloped field was a veritable wonderland. The field was full of frogs and toads, which my brothers and I would eagerly catch and bring home as unfortunate pets.

Pheasants could be seen occasionally meandering through the field, and killdeer were a common sight. Their distinctive cry still makes me nostalgic for those days.

My brothers and I were always playing in the field, and we used a huge rock next to our yard as a sort of base of operations. We would set up our elaborate G.I. Joe camp around it, and use it as a mountain from which our G.I. Joe's could rappel down. My younger brother Ed remembers that the rock was covered with all kinds of unusual fossils. (I wonder what ever happened to that rock?)

Rabbits seemed to be everywhere. Strangely, I don't remember ever seeing any other kind of wildlife around there – no deer, raccoons, possums, skunks, groundhogs, etc. – just rabbits.

I remember several times trying to catch a rabbit with a homemade trap set up out in the field. Unfortunately, my research on constructing a trap was limited to watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. I tried both propping up a box with a stick (with a carrot tied to it) and digging a hole and camouflaging it with sticks and brush – with no success!

Exploring by the creek 'across the street' (there was no street yet) was even more exciting, because at the time, it had not been paved over and 'improved' for use as a storm sewer as it is today. Back then, it was still in its original form, and you had to slide down a rocky cliff to get to it. Once a kid got there, he could catch all sorts of things, including crayfish, turtles, minnows, tadpoles and small fish.

We were always going over there with our boots on, and coming home with something else as a pet. We would even have crayfish races in our driveway. (I've often wondered if my brothers and I wiped out that whole wetland ecosystem.)

We didn't go too far into the woods by the creek, because often there were 'big kids' in there smoking.

A house was built directly across the street from us a few years after we moved in. Later on in the early 1970's, homes were built to the west of us, and E. Skyline Drive was finally extended west from in front of our house to Leavitt Road.

Like all kids, we had to investigate these new homes as they were being built. There's something very interesting about tromping around inside a home under construction. But as interesting as that was, we hated to see the field disappear.

The eventual owner of the house next to us turned out to be a great guy and became a good friend to my father, truly the best neighbor we could ever ask for.

Today the area that comprised the field is a neighborhood that looks, well, kind of like what we left over on W. 30th Street!

Today the whole area by the creek that we used to explore (behind the Jehovahs Witnesses Kingdom Hall at 2330 E. Skyline Drive) is nicely graded, landscaped and is unrecognizable to me. But at one time, it was an exciting place for a kid to poke around.

Looking east from Leavitt Road towards Martin Run today

Next: The Airport


Ken said...

I remember the fossils on the huge rock, too. There were so many on there that I grew up thinking that fossils weren't all that unique or surprising. One day a neighbor who lived up on Temple a few blocks west came chugging up on a small bulldozer, picked up the rock and away he went! I told Mom that he was stealing our rock, but she said it wasn't ours and there was nothing we could do about it. So it is probably still in his yard.

-Alan D Hopewell said...

One of the benefits of tramping around prooperty like that (we had a similar patch between 21st and 23rd Streets, near Leavitt Road) was wild strawberries. They weren't very big, but really good. Also, if you were into snakes, there were scads of garter snakes.

Bill said...

I grew up on Tower in the 70's and 80's and remember spending a ton of time riding our bikes on that property where Kingdom Hall now stands - it had a few dirt trails with dropoffs toward the concrete creek. I learned how to skip stones at that creek, too.

We also used to ride in the field south of Emerald Valley where St James Reserve was later developed, and in the woods across Leavitt where Walmart now stands. I'm starting to feel like an old fart with all these memories...