A visit from old friends sparks memories of their Woodbury homes in another, slower time

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:53

    CENTRAL VALLEY-"I love Central Valley" said Doug Jones smiling as he spoke. His brother Jim and I agreed. Doug now lives out west, Jim in Highland Mills and me in Peekskill. But many of our best memories and great days came when we lived there. Jim and Doug came to visit me one Monday this past October. We started right away talking about the old place and looking at old pictures. My wife Georgie couldn't get over the number people and places we still remembered. We learned we also did many of the same activities as children. Digging up the past That visit from my old friends started me thinking more about Central Valley and Smith Clove Road, mostly the part of the road that starts at Route 32 and goes down the hill to the railroad track that was the center of much of my past fun. The road at that point we always called "Church Hill" because the Central Valley Methodist Church was located there. I never knew there was another name. After a snowstorm they always plowed "Church Hill" but sometimes not all of the other roads. The town only plowed the roads - no sand or salt was put down. The plowing always left some snow on the road, but most cars put chains on their back wheels and had no trouble going up the hill. Once the hill was plowed we had a great place to go sleigh riding. When the snow was crisp we would go all the way to the circle. Just like Snow Valley we had a tow back up to the top -provided by the back bumper of cars. There weren't that many cars to begin with, and most of those never knew we were there. My parents, who lived on the hill, probably didn't know either. Bill Stevens had a big old taxicab and his great big bumper was one of the best, but he knew what we were doing. He would try to speed up before we could grab on, but his old vehicle didn't have much pickup and at least one of us would grab hold of his rear. From winter to spring After the snow melted we used the hill for a fast rides on our bikes and to try out special stunts. One day three us went down the hill riding on one bike. I was on the seat steering, Leo Ellert on the crossbar and very brave Skeet Lewis sat on the handlebars with his back facing down the hill. We made it, no was one hurt, but we never tried it again. The hill also gave us a great start to see how fast we could circle the long block. This block was down "Church Hill" to the railroad, over to Valley Avenue, up on old Route 6 and back on Route 32 to the front of Lawson's automobile showroom building. Lawson's was a gathering spot for the young and adults and the men, like Paul Nollie, had the watches and acted as timers. The distance was probable a mile or so. After several tries Bud Conklin, who had the biggest and best bike, had the record time of 2 minutes and 23 second. Now 65 years later, believe it or not, that record still stands. After World War II, the races switched from bikes to go-carts. The cart races would start by going down a ramp off the back of a truck. The races normally ended once the carts past the church. Henry "Bubby" Jones has movies of these races that were held in the 1950s and 60s. During school days there was always someone running down the hill. The noon hour whistle would blow, the school doors would fly open and many that lived at the bottom of hill were off and racing. Some were hungry; some wanted to eat and quickly get back to school for the noon hour touch football games and most just couldn't resist running down that hill. Nelson Clearwater always ran. To fewer people the hill was also a challenge going up. No one ever met that test with more vigor than Mary Crusco Bonetti's mother did. When she moved up that hill you just had to stop, watch and admire her speed. Quick time marching in the military is 180 steps per minute; Mary's mother looked like she was up to a 200-step pace. There was one other walker going down that sidewalk I will always remember. That was Artie Stevens, who had just come home from Marine Corp boot camp. He was in his full dress Marine Corp uniform. His back was ramrod straight and he moved as briskly as any Marine could. It was inspiring to watch. The old fire house There was a group that marched up that hill, the Central Valley firemen. After they sold the old firehouse on Route 32 they built a new one at the bottom of the "Church Hill." Whenever there was a parade, they had to start there and go up the hill. Again, old movies by Henry Jones, show them moving smartly and in step. Most of those firemen had been in the military and they marched like trained soldiers. The sidewalk on the church side of the street was an all-weather walk and most people used that. On the school side the walk was an old rutted red gravel path. Even that old path provided activity. When the snow started to melt streams of water rolled down the gutted gravel. Young boys, liked myself, just couldn't resist trying to build snow dams to block the flow. We had some luck, built some good dams, but mostly got soaking wet and cold. Many of these activities on the hill could be done over, but the grandest event of all we will never see again. We could restore the grand archway of trees, maybe even shade trees to that could match those great elm trees. This show of shows, this glorious event, I probable only had a chance to see eight times. I believe even if I had only seen it just once I would still remember. The march of the American soldiers I moved to Central Valley and the old Richard Ficken House in 1930. I was three years old. The house was across the street from the Central Valley Methodist Church and just at the edge of this archway of trees. We weren't the first Woodwards in the family to live there as my grandparents and their family moved there during warmer months of 1902 and 1903. My father's sister was born there in 1903, delivered by Dr. David Sprague. The house had a family history that for me was soon to have a new and special chapter. It was probable 1932, when I was five years old, that I first witnessed this greatest parade to ever pass over the streets of Central Valley. This event had already had about a 14-year history. It was a parade where every soldier was mounted on a horse. My grandfather had already filled my head with stories about General Custer and his Last Stand. Now I had a chance to see a long column of mounted troops, with the caissons, come out from under that long canopy of trees. WOW! I was close to their line of march, but not too close. Since that day I have had many chances to be around and ride horses, but they never forget they are large animals and they get my respect. I am not sure if there were 100 mounted troops or 200, but it sure was a grand parade. I was thrilled to see the horses, caissons and soldiers. It was the only event I would put first over going downstairs on Christmas Morning. This army column didn't travel far from my house, making camp about a mile away, but that is another story for another time. When the war in Europe started in 1939 West Point and the Army had to give up the horses that they truly loved and switch to jeeps, trucks and tanks. To add insult to injury the troops no longer went past my house, but by the way of Valley Avenue over to railroad underpass and Smith Clove Road. I often wondered why they didn't use this route when they had the horses. I guess the grade from old Route 6 down to Valley Avenue was too steep, especially for the horses pulling the caissons. I have searched for years to find a picture of the cadets riding through town, but I have had no luck. I would pay a king's ransom for one or those photos. In the meantime, people like Jim and Doug and I have our loving memories of Central Valley.