For many years on the day after Christmas, countless L-A youngsters (and adults) have brand-new ice skates to be tested at Auburn’s Pettengill Park.

Of course, a lot depended on the weather. If it was a year with lots of cold days in December, the popular skating pond near the ball field would be crowded with skaters of all ages. 

That community skating rink holds priceless memories for many local residents.

I remember the 1950s when I was a Webster Junior High School student. At that time, a rickety wooden ski jump towered above the hill beside the pond.

The pond was a wide place in the brook that flowed through the park, and hundreds of young people of the area glided in counter-clockwise loops around the rink. They skated many evenings under lights and to music from the warming shack.

The air was filled with the popular songs of the day. I never knew who was in charge of the music that came from a simple tabletop turntable. It was an enviable collection of the latest hits on 45-rpm records, and L-A teenagers enjoyed it very much.

In the early 1940s, Walter Beleckis was hired as skating rink supervisor. He was assigned a 32-hour workweek and was paid 58 cents per hour.

Beleckis was on duty through many winter evenings. The rink was open from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, as well as weekend afternoons.

I never found a date for the construction of the warming shack atop a steep banking beside the ice surface. It had a cozy wood-burning stove and benches along the walls. That shack, as well as the evening lights and music, were essential to the rink’s popularity.

As I recall, supervision on the rink was often in the hands of an able group of volunteers. They kept things safe and orderly. Nevertheless, regular outbreaks of a “whip” formation were common. It was always instigated by some “usual suspects” of high school age who couldn’t resist challenging the rules.

At the outflow end of the large, oblong pond, a big culvert passes under the park roadway. It was moving water, so ice there was very thin. Wooden barricades were often placed to warn skaters of the hazard, but there were some inevitable dunkings in the frigid water.

A light snowfall in the evening might require some maintenance. There was no Zamboni … just six or eight high school boys, each with a snow shovel. They would line up side by side and begin to circle the ice, plowing the snow ahead of them. As long as the snowfall was light, the skaters were able to continue.

My aunt, uncle and cousin lived nearby, so I was able to walk from the rink to their house where my parents would pick me up.

Pettengill Park has been the site of memorable community events for many years.

The first Auburn Winter Carnival was held there in 1922. Old newspapers told of events at Pettengill, as well as at the Court Street rink (location not specified). The first festival was called a “Great Big Value For One Dollar.” That price covered “everything except the Carnival Ball,” including professional acrobatic skating, college hockey and skijoring, in which skiers are pulled by rope behind horses. “Fire Hoop Jumping” also was advertised.

When the fifth festival came around, it featured a wood-sawing contest. Bill Harrigan of Auburn, who held the championship of Maine, was one of three entrants. He volunteered to prepare a quarter of a cord of wood while two members of the American Legion were sawing the same amount. Afterward, the sawed wood was auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Auburn streets of the Pettengill Park neighborhood were the site of dog racing. The route ran north on Winter Street to Rowe, east on Rowe to Summer Street, south on Summer to Dennison and west on Dennison to Winter, returning to the starting point.

A large bonfire and fireworks at Pettengill Park capped off the 1927 festivities.

I recall that the field near our farmhouse offered another modest skating opportunity. It was barely more than a puddle, less than a foot deep, but it was an inviting frozen surface, and an acceptable substitute when I couldn’t get to Pettengill Park. At one time, my father helped to create a Pettengill Park facsimile by setting up a couple of kerosene lanterns and a transistor radio.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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