Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, January 22, 2006, pg. 12
We continue our mini-series this month about City-of-Albion related items.
We drive by it everyday and look at it sitting there in the distance. It’s there, but no one is using it. For those of us who grew in Albion during the 1960s, this time of year brings back special memories of that place. I’m writing about the Rieger Park skating shelter. This was once the place where hundreds of Albion youth would gather for nightly skating on crisp winter nights. The place was run by Joe McCrackin, who served as both a leader and a fatherly figure to all those who came.
The shelter was a place to change into your skates, warm up by the fire, use the facilities, and have fun together as you skated outside. Joe would see that the ice was well groomed in order to provide a smooth skating experience. He would lead groups of youth around the rink together, help novices learn how to skate, and supervise the operation each evening. Music would play over the loudspeakers, and a string of colorful lights overhead across the center of the pond provided a festive atmosphere.
The skating pond was constructed during the summer of 1953 when the City of Albion filled in the old Consumer’s Power raceway which had once flowed through the site. Skating began the following winter. The new park was named in honor of retired Albion City Engineer Hugo A. Rieger on August 17, 1955.
During 1954, various Albion volunteer service groups in conjunction with the City of Albion erected a log-cabin type skating shelter. This worth-while community project was something that left a lasting impression on those who grew up in Albion from 1954 through the 1970s.
Back to our story. What happened? As time went on, the recreational focus changed in our town. Outdoor ice-hockey at the nearby “hockey rink” was discontinued and that rink was filled. An outdoor pavilion was erected in Victory Park, and skaters were encouraged to go there. Unfortunately, it was too far away and there were no bathrooms there. The atmosphere was not the same as it had been at the shelter. Furthermore, the City began charging skaters a “skating pass” fee to skate when formerly it had been free. Of course Joe McCrackin retired and the continuity and leadership that he had provided was not there anymore. Skating was becoming outmoded as Albion youth turned to other recreational sports to occupy their winter evenings. Mother nature didn’t cooperate, either. It seems that the skating season began shrinking each year as the weather moderated with warmer temperatures, untimely thaws, and slushy ice conditions.
Whatever the combination of reasons, interest waned and ice skating became the exception rather than the norm. Today the facility sits silent today. Perhaps shelter usage could be revived with the proposed swimming pond that is in the planning stages. It could be turned into a bathhouse to change into swimsuits, and also provide restroom facilities. If children can’t use the bathroom facilities in the skating shelter, we all know what they will use...
From our Historical Notebook this week we picture members of the Albion Exchange Club working together to put siding on the rising Rieger Park skating shelter. The date is September 23, 1954. The view is taken looking north from the south end of the shelter. The pond is on the extreme left. Left to right: Vern Colburn, Jim Harrison, Kenneth King, Ben Snyder, Walter Krueger, Basil Mason, Willard Snyder, Hugo Rieger, and William Rieger. How many of our readers remember ice skating at the Rieger Park pond under the leadership of Joe McCrackin?
September 23, 1954 Albion Exchange Club working on the Rieger Park skating shelter
Next: GROUND OBSERVER CORPS
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic