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By-gone winters on Horseshoe Island

Though neither our ancestors, nor we were around in 1854, the earliest map of Horseshoe Island does show a school on the corner of Bonstead Road, which the children attended.

It shows mostly forest and a few houses on the lower part along the road. The schoolhouse that was lost in the Tornado of 1983 was built in 1880 and used as a school until 1952. Think of the children walking to school and thinking about Christmas.

In a few years, there were a dozen farms on the Island. Of course, they grew everything they needed, some coopers making barrels from the vast forest, making butter, preserving, drying, all learned from the locals.

Fishing, and hunting. They would go to the Center of Town in Clay for supplies at the three stores. Eventually, trains made it easier to go to Town and ship their farm products to New York City.

In winter, besides their chores, the children probably went ice skating on the Oneida River. It still freezes over in a cold winter. They probably had homemade skates and I have heard they made homemade skis from barrel staves. Transportation was by snowshoes. Also, the horses would be hitched to a sleigh -- no snow plows in those days. The snow would be packed down for the sleigh ride with the bells ringing.

Two more recent memories are the blizzard of 1966 when the residents were stranded on the Island for days: and the rescue of a deer who had fallen through the frozen River in the 1990's by Mr. White.

Old-fashioned Christmas -- of course everyone cut down his own tree -- if not on his own property, maybe off to Pine Plains. It would be decorated with real candles, popcorn chains, cranberry chains, pinecones, hand-made decorations made in the one-room school house, beads, etc. Gifts were probably hand-made since this was a farming community and money was scarce. Lots of wooden toys and knitted scarves and mittens.

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