Ice Skating on the Canal
Brrrr…it’s winter time again, isn’t it? Makes me mindful of the time I was a teenager and looking for some outdoor winter fun. My name is Marie Conrad and I was born here in Waterville in 1889. My papa built a two story brick building on Mill Street (you now call it “Third Street”) where our family of nine children lived.
We worked hard in those days but occasionally an opportunity came along to enjoy an outing with friends. That’s what happened when I experienced the scariest moments of my entire life!
I was 20 years old at the time and my sister Hannah (Hanse) and I were invited to go ice skating all the way to Maumee on the canal with our friends Charlie and Paul. Charlie was an older bachelor and Paul was younger (and so handsome!). Charlie was my date and Hanse went with Paul. They met us at our house and walked us down the banks to the canal where we put on our skates.
Off we went gliding along toward Maumee talking excitedly and enjoying the cold late afternoon air. Charlie and I were in the lead when we heard a gradual cracking sound and realized we were breaking through the ice! Unbeknownst to us, there was a paper mill located at the outskirts of Maumee near the canal bank. As I recall we were later told that hot water ran from this mill into the canal, causing only a thin layer of ice to be frozen over that area. Charlie told me to be calm and hang onto the ice for if we were to go down again and plunge under the surrounding 12” ice shelf, we may not be saved!
We struggled and called out for help. Luckily, two railroad workers heard our cries and ran to save us by throwing out large tow ropes and pulling us up the canal banks. My head was cut, my coat was torn, and I could hardly catch my breath from shivering so violently. But those men knew that to keep us from freezing, they had to make us run all the way to the nearest cottage where it was warm and dry. A very kind woman and her daughter helped us into dry clothes that they had and warmed us at their fireplace hearth. They sent us on our way on a street car, “The Pumpkin Vine,” that luckily ran between Maumee and Waterville.
When we got into the house, we were exhausted and bedraggled! Papa made us drink a cup of hot “hop” tea and sent us straight to bed.
The canal provided much entertainment and many fond memories to residents but it was also very dangerous. Eight years later, the Utz girls, Clara and Jessie, broke through the ice near the interurban bridge. They were not as fortunate as Hanse and I were. Tragically, they drowned. After that many parents no longer allowed their children to risk ice skating on the canals in winter.
NOTE: This article is adapted from a letter written by Marie in 1962 relaying this canal ice skating incident.