PAST TIMES: Outdoor fun in 1960s Williston

The Jordan family in 1967 — back row left to right: Loretta (mother), Richard (father), Joe and Joan; front row left to right: Louise, Elizabeth, Patricia, Tom, Teresa and Veronica. Photo courtesy of Liz and Joe Jordan

By Elizabeth Allen

Special to the Observer

In “Joe’s Story: Growing Up in Williston,” Joe Jordan collects tales of growing up in an 1804 farmhouse at 8225 Williston Road. Joe’s 38-page booklet illustrates how he and his neighboring friends made their own outdoor fun in rural Williston of the 1960s.

Born in 1950, Joe spent lots of time as a boy next door at Pepere Lefebvre’s small cow farm. His friends Edward, Francis and Gloria Mungeon and their parents lived there, as did the Mungeon kids’ maternal grandfather, known as Pepere, who ran the place. 

“Pepere’s farm was the center of our play time with many places to explore and venture,” he recalls. 

Joe, who retired from a four-decade career in residential construction, showed an interest in carpentry and construction at a young age. Joe, Edward and Francis built their first platform treehouse about 2 feet off the ground in a stand of pines near the eastern edge of Pepere’s property. The treehouse was an actual small house with four walls and a roof.

Another — and more elaborate — endeavor took lumber that the Mungeon boys’ dad was saving to build a new family home. (Unsurprisingly, he did not appreciate this theft.) Their three-story structure boasted locking doors, a small window on each floor, and an elevated walkway out of the third floor that extended to a planned second treehouse. 

After a windy storm, however, the walkway nails loosened, and the walkway broke, dumping Francis 10 feet to the ground. Shaken by this, the kids removed the walkway and just played in their three-story tree palace.

Espionage games occupied the kids in warm weather. Joe and Francis formed one team, Teresa (Joe’s 1-year-older sister) and Edward the other. 

“Each pair tried to find out where the other group’s secret hideout list was hidden and steal it,” Joe wrote. “Then we tried to find where the other two were hiding … in the barn, under the barn, in the ferns … in the tiger lilies, and in the swamp out back.”

In the summer and early fall, Joe watched Pepere cut hay, haul it to the barn, and carry it by conveyor belt to the loft. There it made perfect piles for jumping in. 

When Pepere switched from loose hay in 1962 and bought a hay baler, the kids built tunnels and forts as they were stacking the 3-foot-long bales. Their constructions, complete with vertical shafts and lookout points, extended through all levels of the 12-foot-high piles of bales.

During winter, an old semicircular gravel pit near Pepere’s barn turned into “the perfect sliding hill. We spent many winter days … sliding down those hills on pieces of cardboard boxes, runner sleds … and my father’s 14-foot-long toboggan,” Joe recalled.

Cold weather also brought snow warfare. Teresa and Edward squared off against Joe and Francis, each pair in a snow fort, with about 25 feet between them. They pelted each other with their stocks of snowballs, at least until someone introduced painful ice balls into the artillery.

Besides Pepere’s farm, Allen Brook also provided the setting for many activities, especially where red alder sticks were involved. At 12 feet tall and 3 inches in diameter, red alders made excellent fighting staves or vaulting poles for catapulting oneself over the brook. (At the time, Allen Brook had lower banks, about 8 inches high, with much less sediment.) 

“It was a lot of fun jumping across until you slipped and fell in,” noted Joe, wryly.

Summer brookside activities also included picking the tiny strawberries that grew near the water, swimming by the landmark “Big Rock” on the brook’s edge in Jon Thompson’s cow pasture (now the Siples’), and even making temporary pools. 

“We would go to the other side of Ward Johnson’s cow pasture and form swimming holes” with sod dams cut from the bank of the brook, Joe reported. Unfortunately, “the sod dams never lasted too long, as the brook overwhelmed them.”

When it froze over, Allen Brook became a skating rink, as did the nearby fields.

“During a thaw, the brook would easily overflow eight-inch-high banks and flood the fields on both sides of the road,” Joe said. Then the skateable area expanded to “acres and acres.” Teresa and the other girls waited for Joe and the boys to clear snow from the ice before skating.

Not all of Joe’s pursuits were innocuous; in fact, some were injurious or just plain messy. Joe, Francis and Edward unearthed bottles from Pepere’s barn dump, lined them up and smashed them. The broken glass caused the occasional nasty wound.

Shooting arrows at crows with the Beaudry boys — David and Stephen — led to a fight, with David and Stephen shooting at each other. “Luckily, both of them missed,” Joe wrote. 

Less dangerously, the wild cucumber bombardments with Micky and Ricky Fleming and the Santimore twins in late summer and early fall splattered everyone with pulp from the 2-inch-long spiky fruit. 

Joe’s explorations also led him into some risky spots. He, Micky and Ricky played in the abandoned dairy barn on the Flemings’ property, which was used to store hay and equipment. They tunneled through hay bales, walked on crossbeams about 20 feet in the air, and climbed the roof, slid down the tin, and then jumped 10 feet to the ground. 

“I’m surprised that no one ever broke a leg or an ankle,” observed Joe.

Construction of the Interstate, which began in 1962, brought dramatic changes in the land and new, impromptu playgrounds. In the process of leveling ground for the roadbed, earth-movers created a sand pit behind Twist o’ Hill Lodge at 9505 Williston Road. Joe and friends looked for Indian arrowheads there and tried to scale the sand cliffs. 

When the Interstate was being built, the Allen Brook was temporarily diverted. 

“Micky, Ricky and I went over to check out the construction, and someone suggested crawling through the now-abandoned two-hundred-foot-long culvert under both (lanes) of the Interstate,” Joe reminisced. 

Though dry and dark, the culvert seemed eerie, especially when they were in the middle and could see no light from either end. Worried mostly about being ambushed by a skunk, the three traveled through the culvert without incident.

Joe’s family’s new black-and-white TV (which only got two channels when purchased in 1955) and the arrival of the Interstate signaled the upheaval he was living through as a boy. 

Cars and screens soon took up greater portions of the day, while swifter travel and communication expanded Vermonters’ horizons. Joe’s childhood experiences — very local and largely outdoors — became a thing of the past. 

But if you read Joe’s story (available at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library), you can travel back to a time when, for a boy and his friends, Williston was the whole world.

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