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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Midway School - 1912 - Smith C. Snyder (Written in 1985)


What can I say - schools are in session for a couple more months, spring is here, and recess is out-of-doors most days.  Right?  Well, in Smith’s recollection of his days as a student at Midway School, he shares the fact that although classrooms and school buildings may have changed, recess remains the same.  Only the games change - it’s still a time for fun.

Now my question to all the students out there is this:  do you play any of the games that gave Smith such satisfaction?  And, do you think you will be able to recall your early school days when you too are 82 years old as Smith was when he wrote the following story.  Ask your parents, or grandparents, the same questions.  

Midway School - 1912

The 1st of September was the beginning of a new era for the Snyder family.

The family consisted of my dad, James L. Snyder, age 47, my mother, Lida, age 38, my brother, James Paul Snyder, age 12, myself, Smith C. Snyder, age 9, and my little sister, age 1, Mary lie.

My dad had been General Secretary of the YMCAs in railroad towns and mining camps in Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado and Washington.  His last assignment having been Roslyn, 3 miles north of Cle Elum.
J. L. Snyder - 1916

My brother and I had started school there and were eager to get started in the country school of our new location.

My folks had preceded us to Gig Harbor the day before.  We had stayed with family friends in South Tacoma so we were starting forth on this adventure alone.  We boarded the small steam boat, Ariel, at the municipal dock under the 11th Street Bridge in downtown Tacoma.  The trip was very exciting as it was our first experience on a Sound boat.

On the way over we got talking to another kid about our age, and asked him how to get to the W. O. Bell place which was our destination.  His name was Bill Kennison and he said we could get off the boat where he did and he would take us to the start of the trail thru the woods that would lead us directly to the place.

We got off the boat at Nesika land and climbed the steep bank and crossed the road near Bill’s house and started up the trail thru the woods and brush that lead to the LaVallee place.  Here we met Damien LaVallee and he showed us the last 300 feet of the trip.  We had found 2 new friends before we ever got to our new home.

Mr. Bell was an old bachelor probably about 45 years of age.  He had built a small house or shack about 300 feet NE of the old house and was living there.  I never quite figured out why he sold us the place, 10 acres, unless he figured the $1200 he got would last him the rest of his life.  I never knew him to do a lick of work in the 5 years or so that he lasted.
Snyder Mansion - 1912

As soon as we got to our new home I discovered strips of real light wood probably cedar strips they used for wire spreaders for supporting lag on berry vines.  I was real thrilled and promptly made a model airplane or airplane as they were called then.  I had never seen one in my life but a Popular Mechanics magazine had a picture of one in flight so it served as my guide.  It was pretty crude but so was the original in the picture.  Wright Brothers first powered flight was made in 1903 the year I was born.  Before 1913 was over I watched Strohmer fly a pusher in South Tacoma.  (Gustave Stromer (the ‘h’ was added in error to the spelling of his surname.)  flew air-mail 24 miles from Tacoma to Seattle in his homemade hydro-aeroplane plus Jane O’Roark,an actress, on February 20, 1915)  It was one of the highlights of my life.  

School started a day or two after we arrived at Gig Harbor so we walked the mile and quarter to Midway School with our new friend, Damien LaVallee.

Midway School had only one room and one teacher and 30 students in 8 grades.  The teacher’s name was Bessie Dorsey.  Some of the kids had her the year before and warned us that she was really strict.  A swat with her hand or a threat of corporal punishment seemed to suffice to keep the kids in line.  I never saw her really beat up any.

The school was heated by a big pot bellied stove.  We kids kept the wood box full during the day by carrying in one piece at a time from the woodshed at one end of the main building.  The older boys did the splitting.  The porch next to the road was divided with a small cloak room on the left (N) for the boys and the one on the right (S) of the front door for the girls.  We kept our coats and lunch boxes and bags there.  At the front of the room there was a raised platform or stage about 2 feet high.  The teacher’s desk on the left and the blackboard across the back of the stage the full width of the building.  Part of it was low enough for the first graders.  In the left of the main floor stood a huge Websters Unabridged Dictionary on a stand.  We could consult this at any time.  Above the blackboard near the center was the standard picture of George Washington, Lincoln’s picture was further back.  A furled flag was at the front of the room.  We had to salute it and pledge allegiance each day.  Practically the complete left or north wall of the room was solid high windows.  They were high enough off the floor so we couldn’t see much from our seats but extended almost to the ceiling so gave us quite an expanse of blue sky and fleecy clouds to fuel our daydreams and make us oblivious to what was going on around us.

There was a hand bell on the teacher’s desk to call school into session and sped our fun at recess and lunch.

About a quarter of a mile north of the school was the home of John Carlson, a school director,.  He usually built the fire on cold mornings early so it would be nice and warm when we got there at 9.  Grace Carlson had been the teacher before Miss Dorsey, and her brother, Elmer, went to Midway with us.  Later a younger brother, Phil, started too.  They had an older brother who was away from home.  I think he had gone to sea.

The teachers lived with the Carlsons unless they were local girls living within walking distances.  There were no cars there at that time and for good reason.  They were expensive, our roads were terrible, and it was 125 to Tacoma by road thru Olympia.  (Remember there was no bridge so you had to travel to Tacoma by way of Gorst, Shelton, and Olympia.)  Horse and buggy was the long accepted mode of transportation and the natives were’t too much in a hurry to change.  Since vehicle traffic was not a problem our play area was in the road in front of the school.  The mail carrier, Claude Elms at that time, didn’t come by until later in the afternoon.  The noon hour was the best time for fun and games as the recess time was too short to really get going good.  Baseball was always popular, especially with the older boys, weather permitting, regardless of the season.  There weren’t enough players available for all positions so there were usually a pitcher, catcher, 1st baseman and one covered second, third and shortstop, and fielders.  The batters would rotate.  Some of the girls were extra good players.  Baseball was played in an open field below the school and the road was reserved for games such as Pom Pullaway, Dare Base, chase-it games that required opposing sides and lots of room.  The thick underbrush and woods north of Foxy John’s house was a great place to place hide-and-seek and Run Sheep Run.  In season those inclined to play marbles chose locations where they wouldn’t be run over by those in wilder operations.  We had several modifications of the standard circle ring marble game and a game called Perg, where holes or depressions were made at intervals on an irregular terrain and numbered and the game was like golf to see who could make the course with the least number of shots.

Whittling wood was a great pastime for the kids fortunate enough to have a sharp knife.  Another knife  game was Mumblety-Peg.  The small blade was opened clear up and the large blade halfway open and a spot a foot or more in diameter was softened enough so the knife would stick in the ground when thrown from various positions.  There was a definite order of rotation and if the knife stuck in an upright position the player could proceed to the next play until the knife failed to stick.  Then the opposition would take over and proceed thru all the routine motions until he missed.  Whoever got to the last motion first won the game.

Another very popular game was called Anti-I-Over.  Sides were chosen from the available kids and half went to the south side of the school building and half went to the north.  A tennis ball was used because a hard ball might be lethal as you never knew when or where it might be coming from.  Whoever had the best pitching arm would throw the ball completely over the roof of the school building and holler “anti-eye over”.  If it didn’t make it, he would yell “pigtail”.  The other side would catch the ball and run around the end of the building and tag the first person they could catch and he had to change sides.  Whichever side had the most body count at the end of the elapsed time won the game.

It must have been about 1913 or so when the playshed was built.  It was an open shed with large upright poles supporting a shake roof with the roof panel to the south a lot longer.  That gave better protection from the rain or mist and what little wind there was.  Our winters were mostly pretty mild and consisted of mist - Oregon Mist - “Missed Oregon and hit us” we would say.  You could workout in it all day and never get wet - that is unless you needed an excuse to stop whatever you were doing.  We had snow on occasion.  A couple times quite deep for little kids.  We wore short pants or knickerbockers with long black stockings so in the snow we wore leggings that were wrapped around our legs over the stockings and buttoned using a button hook.  We didn’t have overshoes, at least I didn’t, so our feet only had heavy shoes.  In the heavy snow my dad insisted that we wrap our shoes in gunny sacks for extra protection, much to my chagrin.  From a practical view it was a good idea as we had to walk a mile and a quarter each way.  Some of the kids had farther than the Snyder boys.

To get back to the play shed.  The peak of the roof ran east and west and the vertical posts were round fir poles 9 or 10 inches in diameter.  The horizontal beams at both ends and center, and running east to west about 8 ft. or so under the roof ridge, were 8 x 8 square timber.  At the west end of the open shed was the turning bar that was high enough off the ground so that a 10-year old kid had to jump to reach it.  Next were two pair of rings suspended on steel chains and then two swings hung with rope and had hard wood board seats.  A large teeter totter finished the equipment.  A vertical post was between each type.

After tiring of merely swinging back and forth, Orson Higgens and I devised variations in our routines.  We would face in opposite directions in our swings and then backup and wind around the post at our right as far as we could and with a foot against post we would, at a given signal, give an extra hard shove and sail in a wild arc and become entwined when we met in the middle.  After we came to a stop we would unwind and arc back to our posts landing on one foot and wind around and then head out again in the opposite direction.  This maneuver was called Zebulon Snow, named after a character in a book the teacher was reading to us on Friday afternoons at the time of our invention.  I doubt very much if this type of activity would have bee approved by the safety board, had there been one, or by the teacher for that matter.  Constant practice at noon hour and recess had refined and fine-tuned our act until it was a joy to behold.  We had few copycats as they were too scared or too smart to try it.

Brown bagging or lunch pails was a way of life as there was no other way to stave off starvation.  Cafeterias and lunchrooms were undreamed of at the time.  Our mothers packed our lunches with whatever was at hand.  We had no corner supermarket or deli to give us variety.  Our sandwiches reflected our other meals & of course, peanut butter was a standard base.  It was enhanced by jelly - pickles, onions or whatever else was close at hand.  Fried egg, bacon, beef or pork or even thinly sliced cornmeal mush.  Apples were standard, pie, cake or apple sauce were used for dessert.  Around Christmas we might have an orange.  I seldom had cake, or pie, so I used to trade John Simerson a sandwich for pie or cake.  He loved my mother’s sandwiches and I loved his mother’s pies.

Just south of the school building, near the road, was a well with a plank cover that supported a big cast iron pump with a long handle.  A tin cup hung from a hook on the pump body.  I don’t ever remember it being missing when we wanted a drink.  It probably wasn’t all that sanitary but everyone in school always got whatever childhood disease was making the rounds anyway so it was no big deal.  A tea kettle was kept full on the flat top of the big stove for the teacher’s tea or coffee or the postman, and it also furnished the needed humidity to our winter air.  I suppose we had our share of colds but I don’t recall them as being a major problem.  Kids on farms had to work hard, and had their chores to do, and we were out-of-doors a great deal, ate well, and were not loaded down with patent medicines so I could say they were a pretty healthy bunch.
Smith Snyder 


For all of you who have enjoyed the experience of a day of classes in the Pioneer Midway School, some of Smith’s recollection will sound familiar.  But for others perhaps it is the first time they have read about what school was like 100 or more years again.  Smith’s story is reminiscence of “Little House on the Prairie”, “Bonanza”  or other TV programs or books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  
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1 comment:

  1. Steamboat Ariel (referenced above) after it had moved to service Lake Washington in 1914: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ariel_(steamboat).jpg
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunt_Brothers_(steamboat_line)

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