A Look Back at Hull’s Winter Pastimes

Hull locals found fun in the coldest time of year

By John Galluzzo

While Hull was known as one of Boston’s most prominent summer vacation destinations around the turn of the 20th century, the town also provided sport and spectacle during the shoulder seasons and even in winter. When the weather was cold, the locals turned to anchor-dragging, coot shooting and even ice skating as means to while away the lonely hours when Hull’s year-round population plummeted (about 450 souls in 1890 and about 1,000 a decade later).

The combination of cold winds and sea spray made for icy conditions. Waterfront hotels and other businesses of the Victorian era were covered in ice patterns. Judging by the wreckage on the ground to the left of the porch, this photo was probably taken in the aftermath of the Portland Gale of 1898.

When the temperatures began to drop in the fall, the gods of the gridiron took to the field. Football players of the late 1800s and early 1900s (like these young men on Fort Revere’s team) wore baggy pants (no tackling below the waist), slick shirts and big heads of hair. Helmets, at the time, were seen as unmanly.

Gunners hunted for native coot, an aquatic bird with black plumage. In the late 1800s hotels competed for the title of “best coot stew,” though many who tasted the stew for the first time never came back to the table for seconds. Old recipes say to boil the bird with an old shoe and to eat the shoe instead.

Nantasket’s mighty summer steamer fleet, with boats named for local historical figures like Myles Standish, Rose Standish, Benjamin Lincoln and others, went into hibernation each winter. Some went to Quincy for the colder months while others were tied up at the Nantasket Wharf.

Toward the end of the Hull peninsula, sitting prominently on Main Street in Hull Village, the former residence of John Boyle O’Reilly took on a spooky appearance whenever snow fell. It only enhanced its reputation. O’Reilly died in the house under mysterious circumstances and by 1900 local residents were convinced that he haunted its halls. The house is now the town’s public library.

Hull’s Spring Street gained its name from the natural spring that created a pond in today’s Village Park. A gate can be closed to allow the park to flood and when temperatures drop Hullonians have their own skating pond. The tradition goes back to the mid-1800s—just another example of the fun one can have when Hull freezes over.

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