Richard Alexander Interview:
This is Katherine Chilcoat interviewing Rick Alexander on July 28, 2013, at Mrs. Chilcoat’s home at Lion’s Head, Salisbury, Ct. All right Rick, let’s get the details: your name, your date of birth, where you were born and those things.
RA:I am Richard William Alexander Junior, not to be confused with Senior. I was born in Camden, New Jersey on September 18, 1951. (His parents were Richard & Doris Alexander. Ed.)
KC:When did you and your family come to Salisbury, actually probably Lakeville?
RA:It was Lakeville, but Lakeville is part of Salisbury. It was 1964 or ‘65, and Lakeville or Lakeville/Salisbury was chosen as a result of dad’s business. He was a sales rep for a prefab manufacturing company called Fabston Homes, and Salisbury happened to be the center of his territory: simple as that, just geography.
KC:So you were how old when you came?
RA:How old was I when I came here? I entered 7th grade here. That would make me 12.
KC:You went to Salisbury Central.
KC:And then to Housatonic.
KC:Now when you were at Salisbury Central, your mother (Doris Alexander Ed.) taught at Salisbury Central.
RA:Yes, I didn’t have a great deal to do with mom being there. It was my brother who actually got mom as a teacher. Mom was in the other building from me the whole time I was at Salisbury Central.
KC:What grade was your mother teaching?
RA:I don’t know; it was a low grade at the time. She spent two years teaching low grades: then moved to the junior high as I cut loose and got out of there. So mom teaching at the other school I went to didn’t have an impact on me. Yeah, it did; everybody knew who I was by virtue of being Doris’s son, much like Molly Kelly’s daughter, but I don’t remember her name. But everybody knew her, knew her on sight. “That’s Molly Kelly’s daughter.”
KC: Tell me a little something about… you say you were in 7th grade so you were a teenager when you came to Salisbury. What were some of the things that occupied your time when you weren’t in school, and who were your friends?
RA:At the time I was hanging out with the Caranci boys. Norma Caranci worked at Hotchkiss and they lived on campus. Rick McCue, we spent a great deal of time down there in the swamp where the sewer system now is out behind Dr. Redman’s house. I knew every inch of that swamp. Oh of course there was the Grove also. We just spent all summer at the Grove. I was on the swim team.
KC:Tell us a little something about the swim team. Who was the coach? Was it Art?
RA:I don’t recall. I think it was Mr. Hemmerly; it may have been before Art. My real memories are Jeanette Axelby and taking the lifesaving course and swimming around the lake with her, and learning all the boating safety from her. That is my memory. Was his name Don Hemmerly, was the man who preceded Art Wilkinson?
KC:Yes, Wilbert Hemmerly.
RA:Wilbert, I am not sure I ever knew his first name; he was always Mr. Hemmerly.
KC:Tell us a little bit about Jeanette Axelby. Was she at the bank? Do I remember that?
RA:You probably do. I don’t. No, my association with her had to do with her time at the lake. I never associated her otherwise; I am not sure I ever knew what she did for a living. I was impressed by her really deep felt desire to go swimming because of her polio that she had. I didn’t know anything about polio at the time, but it was impressive to me that she would do all that.
KC:Were you involved with SWASA?
RA:I was. I skied cross country and I have jumped on the jumps, but it was not my thing. No, I was a cross country skier, and I went to all the meets. You know I have driven up there to Lake Placid all the time. Bear Mountain and everywhere there was a jumping meet.
KC:Who were some of the people involved in SWASA at that time: Joanne Moore Erickson, the Whitbecks? Whom do you remember?
RA:I remember the Whitbecks. This is probably a later memory but I remember Art Wilkinson was involved, and George Kiefer, Mat, Kitty. Who else? Gosh there were a lot; there were a lot of people involved, but I am drawing a blank. This getting old stuff, you know.
KC:Now you were in the service. Did you go in right out of high school?
RA:I did not. I went to Waterbury State Technical College to learn mechanical drafting. This was something that I thought I wanted to do, but frankly I was not an academic person. Within a year I was done with that. I was working at Geer as an orderly for Mary Salisbury. Do you remember her?
RA:She was from Canaan or Sheffield. Mary Salisbury taught me a great many things which I continue to use. If you are going to the other end of the house to get something, on your way be thinking about what else you need to bring back. Those little shortcuts in life, she was the one who taught me all those things. Then one day mom asked me if I had ever considered going into the service, and I hadn’t but it dawned on me at that time that I didn’t want to be an orderly for the rest of my life. I looked into the services, and I went into the navy primarily because their food was better. A navy man eats better than an army man. Air Force I wasn’t into flying but taking a ride on a big ship was intriguing to me. So I did it. I spent four years; I even considered reuping and staying. Today I regret not having stayed.
KC:What did you do in the service?
RA:I was a hospital corpsman. I worked in the intensive care unit at Chelsea Naval Hospital in Boston for 2 years, and then I worked on a ship out of Norfolk doing tours to the Mediterranean for the other 2 years. It was myself and another man who ran the sick bay; we were on an oiler. There was a compliment of only 300 enlisted and officers, so there were only the two of us. But because of my rate, I had also to stand shore corps duty. I got to see the ports the way normal seamen didn’t get to. Part of my responsibilities were to rent a car at the port, go get a hotel room, and deliver the car to the pier so when the Liberty boats came in, the officers would have the use of the car all night. At midnight when the officers went back, I took the car back to the hotel. In the morning, I’d go to the airport and get the mail, and then start my regular day. But I had the car all day to myself. It was terrific duty.
KC:But you never got overseas?
RA:Oh yes I did. This was all in the Mediterranean, all over north and south Mediterranean east and west. I even got to Guantanamo. I got to go diving at Guantanamo. That water was so crystal clear that you could see 100 feet. It was amazing.
KC:When you got out of the service, did you came back to Salisbury?
RA:Yes, by that time I was already married. I married Marilee Sherwood, Roy Sherwood ‘s eldest daughter. I came back to Salisbury and worked in the Respiratory Therapy Departments at Fairview Hospital for several years. But then I realized that this was going nowhere. I did have an opportunity. Bill Muyskens had called me and said, “Hey, we’re moving our office. Would you care to help?” “Why sure, Bill. I’d be glad to help.” When we got done moving all the office equipment into the-this was the second floor of the building that Robin Leech is in (318 Main Street); we lived next door in the brown house (322 Main Street). This was Dr. Brewer’s offices we moved into those spaces upstairs. We, I say we, I wasn’t part of the “we” at the time. I took the bull by the horns and I went in to see Bill. I said, “I need a job. Is there anything here that you think I can help you with?” He hired me right then and there. I spent either 8 or ten years with him doing post production work. I learned how to take motion pictures with film. I traveled into Manhattan once a week to do post production work. I recorded voice-overs and then assembled the video in different studios. That’s what I did for MMJ.
KC:All right, explain a little bit what MMJ is; Madison, Muyskens, Jones.4.
KC:Now what did they do? They filmed commercials?
RA: They were advertisement syndicators. They would…we would travel to Arizona because it was a large work state and you could count on the weather to film commercials. The commercials were generic in nature. You could plug in any retailer’s name. There was a sales force headed by Herman Shelner. They went all over the country and some international things. We sold those commercials over and over again, once in each market. You could buy an exclusive use of a commercial in a market. Washington D. C. that commercial would only be sold once, but then it would be sold again in Harrisburg. It would be sold again in St. Louis. It would be sold again in Miami. My job was to customize them for each of those locations. I had to write the script, modify the scrip. The script was previously written. Modify the script to suit the client, photograph his art work, and then assemble it and ship it off to the customer.
KC:After you left them…
RA:They left me.
KC:They left you, but that was?
RA:The Company simply folded.
KC:Yeah, but that was in the 1980’s?
RA:The end of 1987 or early 1988, they simply announced that” this time next week, we are done. We are closing the doors.” If I had my druthers, I’d still be doing that job today, but I didn’t get my druthers. We rarely do, do we? Well, I had nothing to do.
By this point we had children, we had a mortgage, we had a lifestyle to live up to our means, and of course we were living up to our means. I had to do something. I have a love of buildings. I love old buildings, but probably was why I was trying to become a mechanical draftsman. I have also been very good with my hands, and wood worked well with me. So old buildings talk to me; I have an affinity for wood so I started restoring homes. I started with small projects just to get your feet wet and learn how to do it and to get people interested in you which did happen. I didn’t have, I didn’t need to advertise; all of my work came to me by word of mouth. I think because I was good at it and/or people really, really liked me. That first year was rough; our income for the year was one half of what it had been the previous year. But by the third year I was back up to my income and it continued to grow. I did that as I say from 1987 or 1988 until I gave it up in 2008. January, 2008, is when I moved to Florida; my folks were at the point that they needed hand holding, so I held hands.
KC:Let’s go back a little bit. Tell me some of the places that you remember as a teen ager, when you first came to town. Everything from the milk Bar to the movie theater; just do a little reminiscence about it.
RA:You mentioned the movie theater; I do remember seeing the movie theater. I remember next door was Lou Barbieri’s produce store. I have in my mind’s eye a picture of the train trestle. Is it real? Was it planted? Was it something I wished I remembered? I don’t know; it is so nebulous that I can’t call it a firm memory. But I do remember that block of buildings where Dufour’s garage was, where the luncheonette was…
RA:Barnett’s-I remember those, and the grocery store across the street that Bill Jenks ran for a while. What else? Frank Bogue’s gas station
RA:Do you remember Frank Bogue’s gas station?
KC:The Apothecary Shop?
RA: The Apothecary Shop, May Bissell, across the street was the Methodist church. I believe his name was Gerry Pollock. Gerry Pollock and his kids lived right across the street. We were in the brown house. (322 Main Street). I remember I was always an outdoor kid. I was up playing in the Porter property; of course we weren’t supposed to be there, but we enjoyed it immensely. My brother Mark was friends with, oh a doctor up there across Burton Brook and across Main Street…
RA:It may come to me, the Reid boys. We hung out with the Reid boys some.
RA: No, I was never… They were younger than I am. The Gentiles, at that time the Holley Block was still standing. The Carancies had, Norma had retired from Hotchkiss. She and her boys went to the Holley Block. I remember we scoured that building before it came down. We knew every nook and cranny of that old place.
KC:I know your folks bought a place up in Pine Grove. Tell us something about Pine Grove.
RA:Pine Grove is a lovely place. Its security is rooted in the fact that no one knows it is there. Mom and Dad had bought the house in Salisbury that they called “Yesterday’s Yankee”. It was next to the cemetery on Route 44 (52 East Main St.). Actually they essentially rehabbed that house. I did a lot of that with my dad. When they sold that house, the proceeds of that was sufficient for them to buy a house outright in Florida and a house in Pine Grove outright which allowed them then to bank the remainder. That is what they are living on today. The house in Pine Grove was in sorry shape when Mom and Dad bought it. My brother Mark and I and Mom and dad rehabbed that house. My brother Mark is still living in it. I spent time on the Board of Directors of Pine Grove because I had done a great deal of work in there. I like to say that if I had stayed in business a couple to three more years, I would have put a roof on every building in there.
KC:Now tell us what Pine Grove was for those people who don’t know.
RA:Oh I do know the history; yes, I do. It was a Methodist camp. It started with just tents in the dirt in this cathedral pines, if you will, area. This was just post-Civil War. They were using Army surplus tents, and those Army surplus tents were all the same size. They were approximately 13’ by 26’ so consequently all the houses in there, the base footprint was 13’ by 26’. What happened was that families would come to spend the summers there. Dad would ride on the train down to New Haven or the city or wherever to go to work during the week and ride the train back. There was a train station at what is now the defunct mining operation just off Sand Road. There was a train station there, and it was more than just a whistle stop. These tent platforms were built because mamma said she didn’t want to sit in the mud anymore. They put their tents on the tent platforms, and as the tents aged and rotted from the bottom up, the houses grew from the bottom up. The Victorian bric-a-brac, the color and the fretworks were all Sears Roebuck. They were all mail order Sears Roebuck. You can find every one of those patterns in a Sears Roebuck book. There was a hotel, an oil house, a stable; they even had a jail because, of course, the Methodists were not drinkers, so any one imbibing at all had to spend the night in the hoosegow. All those things are gone now with the exception of remnants of the hotel. When the hotel was taken down, the architectural elements, the windows, the stain glass windows, the doors, etc. were distributed to those houses. Most of those houses have an element of the original hotel, built into them.
The philosophy of Pine Grove is interesting in the fact that the trees have the right of way. Houses have to accommodate the trees. Trees are very important in there; the trees are what Pine Grove is all about. Without them it would be Plain Grove. There are houses there with pine trees that are 2 1/2 to 3’ across that are growing right straight through the middle of the porch. The hole in the porch has to continue to grow larger as the tree does. Actually there is one house in particular with that same scenario that I have personally enlarged the hole three times. Well, you enlarge the hole and the tree grows, and the wind blows and it starts knocking the porch off the house. Three times I did that hole in the roof. Oh it was a lovely place to work, and I enjoyed the people. I am glad that I still have an association in there.
KC:Well, can you think of something we may not have touched on that has a fond memory or otherwise? Do you have any connection with Mt. Riga?
RA:Oh I know some folks who have houses on Riga. I have spent a bit on time up there, not a lot. My fondest memory of Mt. Riga is before children. Before my daughter Kerry was born, I had a large stable of motorcycles. I was into that. Young men do. I had some dirt bikes. I used to love to ride all over Mt. Riga. I could get to places where people had never walked. I had a fellow show me a piece of original virgin forest that had not been downed during the” iron age”. I don’t even remember who showed that to me, that piece of forest.
KC:I don’t think I have any more questions. If you…
KC:If you don’t have anything particular to add, I thank you.
RA:You are welcome. I hope it was sufficient.
RA:Katherine had instructed me to come back and add to this if anything occurred to me, and it did occur to me… Dr. Noble, Dr. Noble and his sons were the ones my brother use to hang out with. Dr. Noble had that house at the bottom of the hill (299 Main St.) below the Peck’s house (267 Main St.) that keeps getting hit by cars as they go out of control down that hill. The Lloyds, Jeff Lloyd has made an entire career out of fixing that fence. I remember the Pecks. We were close to all the Pecks. If anything else occurs to me, I’ll certainly stop back and add it.