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A Winter Sports Land

by B. Edwin Siemenn

When you think of winter sports, Monroe is not the first location that comes to mind; however from   the early 1930’s until the days of WWII, Monroe was hailed as a “Winter Sports Land” with hundreds of people traveling by train as well as auto to partake in skiing, tobogganing and ice skating.  

Central to the winter merriment was a one-eighth mile long toboggan slide known as the “Silver Streak.”  It was located on the westerly side of Bald Hill in what would eventually become Smith Clove Park.  It consisted of a hand dug trench down the side of the longest slope and it was lined on either side by planks.  In the wintertime when the toboggan chute was filled with hard packed snow it became quite an exciting attraction for its day, so much so, that it was the central attraction of Monroe’s winter follies and people traveled for miles just to try it out.   

On the north of the toboggan slide, the mountain was cleared for skiers, few trees existed there as they do today. The longest run was for experienced skiers and several gentler slopes were available for beginners.  At the foot of the mountain located conveniently to the toboggan slide and ski slopes was a lodge with an open fireplace where concessions were served.   During the war years when man power was short,  the concession stand was actually operated by the Boy Scouts.  

As well as the skiing and tobogganing, another main attraction in wintertime Monroe was ice-skating.  Because of Monroe’s many well-known ponds and lakes it became the natural location to seek out skating opportunities.  Ponds directly adjacent to Bald Hill as well as the ponds at Orange & Rockland  were kept clear of snow in the winter for the ice-skating enthusiasts.  In addition, ice-skating races had become a popular annual event on the Mill Pond at the Village center. 

The Chamber of Commerce highly publicized Monroe as the winter time place to be, even suggesting it as the ideal location for a winter vacation.  They recommended hotels and lodging to stay at, of which there were many in the area at the time such as the Monroe House, the National Hotel, and the Granite House.  

The publicity brought hundreds of people by passenger train and car from New York City and metropolitan areas, many of them seeking the perfect winter vacation in a day and age when travel was limited and simple enjoyments were all that was necessary for family fun. 

Smith Clove Park was not officially incorporated until 1965, many years after the demise of the Silver Streak and skiing activity there.  The property was at one time a golf course dating back to 1909.  It was eventually acquired by Roscoe Smith, the O&R power magnate, along with adjacent properties including Bald Hill- all of which he then donated to the Village of Monroe to be used as parkland.  

The path cut in the mountain side for the toboggan run can still be seen today and one can easily image the skiers covering the adjacent slopes and ice skaters on the nearby pond.  It’s interesting to note that there was never a chair lift of any kind, returning to the top of the mountain was purely by foot power.  To spite the trouble of reaching the top, it is fondly remembered as “quite a ride” by many  longtime residents. 

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