Frisbie: Sleigh rides a highlight of winter in early Arlington Hts.

Updated 12/16/2014 3:31 PM

He's 33 now, so it must have been about 30 years ago that we took our first grandchild to the first, or close to it, of the remarkable carriage rides launched by Historic Arlington Neighborhood Association.

It was a crisp, chilly night, wispy with snow, so the enclosed carriages, reminiscent of an earlier era, felt warm and cozy after our walk over and wait. A bonfire glowed at Festival Park. Carolers in scarlet scarves and stocking caps were singing their hearts out. Luminaria lining the streets shed filtered light into the darkness, making the whole scene invitingly luminescent.


We were mesmerized, even the 3-year-old. When his father brought him over the next day, he looked around in dismay and asked, "Where has all the magic gone?"

We've never forgotten. For us, for 30 years, carriage rides defined the beginning of Christmas. Not as much as Advent, nor even in the same way, but notably fundamental all the same.

Looking back to other Arlington fundamentals, I realize that a local farmer called Billy Guild played something of the same role in our town's early days.

Billy, as everyone called him, brought his first-days-of-winter enchantment to the schoolchildren. When snowy crystals began to dance in December skies, the kids at North School would risk furtive looks away from their texts to the windows, hoping the snow would bring Billy Guild and his sleigh. Which it inevitably did.

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Billy was, as Daisy Daniels wrote in "Prairieville, U.S.A.," "of small stature, with merry blue eyes." He "magically appeared on snowy, blowy days with his trusty team of horses and a bobsleigh."

He would arrive at the schoolhouse at closing time and invite the younger children to pile in on the clean straw. Sooner or later all would get their turn.

And the Presbyterian ladies of the choir, who braved winter nights for practice sessions, were relieved and happy to find Billy at the church door when they finished. It is said they sang all the way home in the sleigh.

When he wasn't delighting schoolchildren and choristers, Billy Guild used his trusty team to move buildings around town. One notable story recalls his purchase of the first Presbyterian church building. He planned to move it from its Dunton Avenue location to a lot at Vine and Vail.


Circumstances intervened and the old church was still in the middle of Dunton when it was time for Sunday worship. Stalwart Presbyterians "walked the plank," according to Daisy Daniels, "to hear the sermon that day."

The old church lived on for years as a gymnasium and then an apartment building until it was declared unsafe and burned down by the fire department for practice.

Just as we, in our day, were devoted to HANA's carriage rides, so Billy Guild and his faithful team engendered a loyalty in all who rode in his sleigh, snow gently grazing against their cheeks. The Presbyterian women showed their appreciation by surprising him with a handsome lap robe and the children collected pennies to buy him warm gloves.

Billy thanked them with a poem describing how he was pleasing himself "while he is pleasing you."