It’s not everyday that you encounter an octagonal stone schoolhouse; but drive on Route 22 through the tiny hamlet of Boquet in the town of Essex, NY and you’ll come across this historic 1826 structure. Designed by architect Benjamin Gilbert, the school served the population around the local, growing sawmills. The octagon was later popularized by Thomas Jefferson at Poplar Forest (read more here from AARCH). Today the building is owned by the town and open for tours by appointment. Many original features remain in this octagonal schoolhouse. The community is undertaking a fundraiser to raise money for restoration of the building. Read more here. And there’s an old set of swings, too. Take a look!
The Giant Stride remains a popular topic on Preservation in Pink, and it brings a smile to my face when a reader sends along a “newly discovered” giant stride or shares a story. Today’s giant stride sits in City Park on Highway 20 in Hines, Oregon. Zoom in and you’ll see that the chains/ladders are still in operation.
You never know where or when you will come across an awesome historic playground! The small town of Waterville, Vermont is such an example. The current library and town offices are housed in the former Waterville Central School, which is a classic 1930s two-room schoolhouse (a relatively common building type in Vermont). The school sits on a hill above the road, with its playground in front, basketball court and playing field behind the school.
This ramshackle playground remains on the property grounds, though it’s fallen into disrepair. A passerby mentioned that a couple used to take care of the playground, but he’s not sure what happened in recent years. Still, it’s a great look at a historic playground. I call this one historic because it has presumably original equipment and it is located in its historic setting.
How old is this playground? Many of the apparatuses appear homemade, which makes it more difficult to determine. However, based on the type of equipment it is plausible to say that playground dates to the early days of the school, ca. 1930s. Anyone have any thoughts on that? Maybe there was even a giant stride on the playground (sadly, no signs of one). But, what a great playground, right? Now it just needs some TLC.
It finally happened: a functioning giant stride has been found on an active playground. Raina Regan, fellow preservationist, found this giant stride in Winamac City Park in Winamac, Indiana.
According to Raina, the park dates to at least 1923, if not earlier. And the giant stride proved to be quite the strain on arm muscles, but many kids were using it. Hooray! Check out these photographs, all taken by Raina.
This giant stride is similar to the 1926 US patent, though as is the case for many, it is not exact. I’d be interested to see if there are identifying marks as to the manufacturing company and what other details can date this apparatus. Obviously, Winamac City Park is now on my list of places to visit in life.
If you come across more in your travels, I’d be delighted to hear about it and to see photographs!
If you love playgrounds, check out the Preservation Nation blog for my intro to the summer playground series.
The Society for Industrial Archeology is a diverse group of members, interested in industrial heritage, manufacturing, the built environment, bridges, transportation and more. In its own words:
The Society for Industrial Archeology was formed in 1971 to promote the study, appreciation, and preservation of the physical survivals of our industrial and technological past. The word “archeology” underscores the society’s principal concern with the physical evidence of industry and technology-the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant sites, structures, buildings, artifacts, industrial processes, bridges, railroads, canals, landscapes, and communities.
Each year the SIA meets for an annual meeting, field sessions and paper sessions. I had the privilege to attend the SIA 2010 in Colorado Springs. Read Parts One, Two, Three, Four. This year the SIA is meeting in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. After a few years hiatus, I’m excited to be attending the conference and honored to be presenting about a topic dear to my heart and my preservation interests: The Giant Stride.
My research on the giant stride started as a paper in my graduate school class titled “History on the Land” taught by Bob McCullough (one of the best classes of my entire education). This is a playground apparatus that you will seldom find on playgrounds now due to safety regulations. However, if I found one I’d give it a try!
As you can read in the abstract booklet, my presentation is as follows:
INDUSTRY ON THE PLAYGROUND: MANUFACTURING AND DEVELOPING THE GIANT STRIDE
The American playground movement of the early twentieth century focused on the health, social habits, and organic strength of children, manifesting itself in the tall, challenging playground equipment comprised of gymnasiums, ladders, poles, merry-go-rounds, swings and including one particular apparatus referred to as the “giant stride.” Best described as a tall pole with a rotating cap from which long ropes hung, children held on to the ropes and ran in circles around the pole fast enough for their feet to leave the ground as if they were flying. Like the other apparatus elements, the giant stride required strength and would look quite unfamiliar on today’s playgrounds. The giant stride stands as a good example of the collaboration between manufacturing advances, social and health trends of the early twentieth century, and do-it-yourself imitations: all contributing to the shared history of technology and resourcefulness.
Despite the popularity of the giant stride, it faded from the playground scene due to safety regulations; few remain in existence today. The giant stride experienced its greatest evolution and popularity in the first decades of the twentieth century. Though its origins remain uncertain, primitive versions appear in publications from late nineteenth century England. In the United States, its ubiquitous use on playgrounds is well documented in 1909-1929 issues of the periodical, The Playground, and its development thoroughly illustrated by United States Patents from 1904-1928.
Advances to the giant stride followed two patterns: manufactured and homemade. Manufacturers focused on function of the apparatus, specifically the revolving head or cap, the ropes or ladders (i.e. handles), and promoted the hot drip galvanized steel used in the equipment. More than one company manufactured the giant stride and variations of it. Companies include the Medart Manufacturing Company, Giant Manufacturing Company and the National Playground Apparatus Corporation, among others. While manufacturing advances continued to improve the giant stride, not everyone could afford the steel apparatus. To remedy that factor, people employed their own creativity and constructed homemade giant strides using materials such as wood poles, wagon wheels and rope.
This presentation will include a discussion of the giant stride’s development within the social and industrial context, complemented with historic images, advertisements, patents and present day photographs.
Aside from being excited for my own paper, the panelists on all sessions have many familiar and respected names, including some people I’ve only had the opportunity to converse with via social media such as Raina Regan. A few days of preservation related chatter, exploration and new and old faces – what a time we’ll have! And although I’ve been to Minneapolis briefly in 2009, it was only a few hours, I’m looking forward to exploring the city more. And maybe it will be sunny this time.
If you’re going, let me know. I’d love to meet fellow preservationists. See you all soon – next week!
Doesn’t everybody love swings, young and old alike? As long as I live, I’ll swing on the swings. My sisters will be sure to join.
This swing set below is definitely an older model. Based on the size of it, it seems like it was always meant for young children.
Are you out swinging in the sunshine? See any old playgrounds? Send some photographs my way, please! More playground posts on PiP.
Historic schoolhouses are commonly found throughout Vermont, some converted to residences, some as museums, some abandoned, some creative rehabilitations, and some remain in educational use. In the 1930s schools faced state regulation, and had to comply with standards in order to become a Vermont “Standard School.” These regulations were for the quality of education. Schools were also required to have a certain amount of light (which is why you see the bank of windows on schoolhouses). When schools met these standards they displayed a plaque (see image below).
Very few have historic playgrounds in the school yard, most likely because of change in use and change in playground regulations. What an exciting find to see this playground at a school in Craftsbury, Vermont.
The date of this playground equipment is likely the 1920s/1930s. I’ve yet to find a giant stride; have you?
The giant stride is a long-since-removed playground apparatus that dates from early 1900s. Simply put, it was a tall pole with ropes/ladders attached to it. Children could grab hold of the handles and run in circles, so fast that their feet would leave the ground. For safety reasons, it was mostly removed from playgrounds by the 1960s, though some remain.
In graduate school I researched the manufacturing and development of the giant stride, and was fortunate to find a few images of giant strides. I’m jumping back into that research. Readers, have you come across any giant strides or remnants of giant strides? If so, would be willing to share those photographs? If so, please let me know. Your help would be very much appreciated. Here’s what one might look like today:
Does anyone remember hand rhymes & games from elementary school? You know, the kind you played in the schoolyard. Or maybe you sang them as jump-rope rhymes. My mother, sisters and I were recently discussing “Miss Mary Mack” and “Miss Lucy” and other rhymes. We couldn’t remember the words, so naturally we turned to Google. And wow, are there many crazy versions of these rhymes. We were all intrigued.
We could get as far as “Miss Lucy had a steamboat / the steamboat had a bell / Miss Lucy went to heaven / and the steamboat went to – / hello operator, give me number nine … ” and a few more verses. Remembering the appropriate hand motions was even more difficult. However, I have fond memories of standing in the kindergarten playground and playing these clapping games with my friends.
Recently I came across the British Library’s exhibit of “Playtimes: A Century of Children’s Games and Rhymes” (found via Playscapes) which has a section about clapping games. While traditions might vary from Britain to the United States, this exhibit reads (click to access videos of the games):
Clapping games continue to resonate across modern-day playgrounds. Although they have an earlier history, these games found real popularity in the 1960s, travelling to England from America and filling playgrounds across the country. They can be employed in a number of situations: to pass time while waiting in line, to play with a large circle of friends, or to keep your hands warm on a cold day. Enticingly, they offer the chance to demonstrate to your peers your ability to memorise and enact dazzlingly complicated rhythms and rhymes. The songs vary in complexity, from basic songs such as ‘A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea’ to hybrid pastiches drawing upon established clapping songs, pop songs, TV shows and actions. The result is a fantastically varied genre of play in a constant state of transition.
Introduction by Michael Rosen.
What other games do you remember? Do you have good sources for reading about playground games? Much research has been completed on playground history and design, but the games that took place within these spaces is a topic just as important.