Winter Pastime for Children of All Ages
While ice skating may seem like a young person's pastime, Chevy Chase Lake attracted skaters of all ages. Parents, children, even businessmen would rush home to put on their skates and head out the lake as soon as the water had frozen. An article from the December 18, 1904 Washington Times reported the frenzy that occurred throughout the city each year as Chevy Chase Lake and other skating sites were opened for skating:
“Street cars of a local railway company bore a small pasteboard sign yesterday-- a sign in itself innocent enough, but which, nevertheless, caused high school students to neglect night studying, and in not a few cases to neglect school altogether; caused staid, respectable Government clerks to rush home, eat an early dinner and immediately leave again, and caused the Chevy Chase line to carry more passengers than they have had since summer. The sign had not been on the first car half an hour before it was known and discussed all over the city. It bore only five words: "Skating at Chevy Chase Lake."
Ice skating at Chevy Chase Lake was popular for people of all abilities -- from the novice skater trying his luck for the first time, inevitably needing help back to his feet, to the more experienced skater who glides around the ice as if flying, everyone flocked to participate in this idyllic winter sport. Many people didn’t even wear overcoats as they were known to hinder ones skating abilities. Children begged their parents for skates, and sometimes were rewarded with a pair Christmas morning, barely containing their excitement to try them out for themselves.
Memories of Skating on the Lake
Long time local residents like George Winchester Stone, Jr. remember ice skating at Chevy Chase Lake when they were younger. Taking the streetcar for 5 cents a ride up to the park, he and his friends would come together to enjoy an evening of ice skating, sometimes building a bon fire from which to keep warm.
Click on the YouTube link to hear a clip from Professor Stone's interview.
African Americans may also have participated in this popular winter pastime, though we have no direct evidence that they skated on Chevy Chase Lake. In the Washington Times article from December 1904, as quoted above, the author describes "Old Ben," a sixty year old man who had been skating for forty-five years. Each winter he would abandon his position as a driver of a coal cart so that he could take up the sport for which he had been deemed an expert, showing off his skills or offering to check overcoats and sharpen skates. According to the news article, African Americans would often be seen around the edges of the frozen lake trying to make a little bit of money. There they would offer to put on people’s skates, sharpen the blades, check coats, and even sold snacks and hot drinks. Perhaps this man, or someone like him, provided similar services at Chevy Chase Lake (In the news article, it’s not clear exactly where “Old Ben” skated).
Click to the next page to learn about the tragic drowning of a teenage couple in 1912.