Awakened by the Joyous Sound of Bells

The coal was in the cellar, a barrel of flour in the pantry, preserves and piccalilli stored away, plenty of beans for baking, a good supply of winter vegetables and you were all set for the winter.


Then one morning you would be awakened by the joyous sound of bells. To children this meant one thing - IT SNOWED! The pungs were out! (a pung is a low one-horse sleigh) First to announce the good news were the milkmen who started their deliveries before five o’clock in the morning. The horses had special shoes for the winter, which had, caulks driven into them - sharp pieces of steel which would give a gripping power in the snow and ice. Each night after the days work the horses hooves were checked to see if the caulks had become dull. If so, they had to be replaced.

At the first storm of the year, if it were accompanied by severe cold or wind, the horse would be sporting his winter shoes, a warm woolen blanket and the bells, which would announce his coming. He was “rarin’ to go” with half the schoolchildren of the neighborhood running alongside him. Hopping the pungs on the way to school was a way of life for children in Jamaica Plain, It annoyed some of the drivers but most of them, remembering their own childhood, either closed their eyes or just made sure you were on safely. It was great fun!

All was great for the horses as long as they were on level ground, but there were hills, which were difficult to go up, and, when they were iced, were more difficult to come down. Vividly I remember an icy day when a horse fell on Newbern Street, broke his leg and had to be shot. Also, if there was a thaw the main streets would become bare in spots and it would be a very difficult drag for the horses. However, the milkmen know the angles and would use the side streets as much as possible. The Public Works Department in Jamaica Plain was located on Child and South Streets where the Farnsworth House and equipment needed to carry on public works. Snow removal, as we know it today was not a problem. Mother Nature would take care of it in time. Huge weighted drums six feet in diameter and eight to ten feet in width were drawn by teams of horses through the streets after a storm. The roller left the street hard packed with snow over which teams of horses pulled pungs on snow runners.

A horse and small V plough with a driver took care of the sidewalks and made them passable for pedestrians. Children who had no fear of horses whatsoever found them a formidable sight when they invaded the sidewalk. They were given the right of way as the children watched from the safety of their yards.

After the First World War, the automobile and the truck came into their own, and the days of the horse, wagon and sleigh were almost gone. Snow removal then became a problem and the people were required by law to shovel the snow from their sidewalks. This applied to both property owners and tenants as well. If there was a delay in clearing your sidewalk the police would be at your door to read the law to you. As a general rule those who were fortunate enough to have a car would put it into the barn or garage for the months of January, February and March until the roads were usable for tires again. This continued until the 1940’s when a car became a must for the year round.

For children there was much to do in the winter. There were great hills that were safe for coasting; skating on Jamaica Pond, and the playground at Child and Carolina Avenue was flooded for skating as well. The girls built snowmen and women and dressed them up in whatever they could come up with. The boys built snow forts and piled up a heap of snowballs, and from the safety of the fort went to war with their adversary. There was, indeed, great fun in the simple things of life in those days!

Sources: Gerry McCarthy, McCarthy Brothers Milk Company; B. Tafty, 1001 Questions Answered About Storms.

Written By Mary Glynn. Reprinted from From the Archives, Winter 1989, a newsletter once published by the Archive Committee of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Copyright © 1989-2003 Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Photograph courtesy of Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0090242.