LOIS WARNER BEE
Transcript of a taped interview.
Narrator: Lois Warner Beer
Tape#: 87 A
Date: October 25, 1991
Place of interview: Mrs. Bodel’s home in Lakeville, CT
Interviewer: Mary Bodel.
Mrs. Beer is a descendent of the Scoville family on her mother’s side and of the Warner family on her father’s side. She grew up in Salisbury living here until her marriage. Her home was the historic Bushnell Tavern. In addition to her reminiscences of life in Salisbury in the 1920’s, she speaks of the Scoville origins as property owners in Salisbury and of her grandfather’s development of the iron industry in Buffalo.
Property of the Oral History Project.
Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library.
Salisbury, Connecticut 06068
Lois Warner Beer
This is an Oral History Interview with Lois Warner Beer on October 25, 1991. Lois is the daughter of Donald and Lois Scoville Warner. and she now lives in Fairport, New York. She is here visiting me for the day. I am Mary Bodet a classmate of Lois’ at Vassar, and I have asked Lois to tell us in two parts, first of all about the Scoville side of her family, and after that the Warner side of her family. She is a local person who has been raised in this town and knows a great deal about it.
LB: Although I now live in Fairport, New York, that is a strange connection to Salisbury, Connecticut because in Salisbury, as a small child, I lived in what had once been Bushnell Tavern. Then, when I got married and moved out to western New York, I ended up in Fairport, which is very near Bushnell Station, which was for a couple of years the end of the Erie Canat until the builders of the canal could come up with a solution as to how to build an aqueduct across a creek and continue westward. So Bushnell Station was where supplies and produce were loaded and unloaded and the canal barges ended their trips from the east or started their return trips to the east. So from Bushnell’s Basin back to olden times in Bushnell’s Tavern, where I lived as a young child. I was a young child in the 1920’s. My parents, Donald and Lois, had been lifetime natives of Salisbury. My mother’s family, the Scovilles, had in earlier time lived in what is now the farm that is now Undermountain Inn. That was the family farm of my grandfather’s family, Grandfather Scoville.
MB: What was his first name?
LB: His first name was Nathaniel. He had two brothers, Jonathan and Samuel, and three sisters, I believe. Nathaniet my grandfather, was born earlier than my grandmother. He married her when she was a young woman in about 1870 or ’72. He had grown up on this farm in Salisbury, or outside of Salisbury, with his family.
This was iron ore country. The Scoville farm was one of the locations of a small iron mine. Nathaniel and his brother, Jonathan, became very interested in the potential value of this land. This was before the invention of the Bessemer steel process. Therefore, in those days, back in the middle nineteenth century, hematite iron ore was considered of excellent quality. Well, how about doing something with that iron instead of farming the family farm? At some point, when they were young men, two of these Scoville brothers, Nathaniel and Jonathan, started an iron ore business where they made iron castings. They had as an example to observe BarnumRichardson in Lime Rock which did similar work. But they said to each other, these two brothers, “We don’t want to do this here. Let’s go to Buffalo. That’s where the action is. That’s where all those little railroads are starting up that are going west.” This was before the days of amalgamation into things like the New York Central. So, they went to Buffalo, where they started
Scoville Manufacturing and they made castings out of Salisbury pig, which was very good quality. They made the castings for train wheels. It worked out very well. They became established and profit-making in Buffalo. In fact, Jonathan, at one point, was mayor of this blossoming city of Buffalo.
At some point my grandfather met Frances Wasson. She was a young woman from a Scotch-Irish family which had immigrated to the part of the country around Livingston County, south of Rochester, but not terribly far from Buffalo. Her father, Archibald Wasson, was a produce grower and dealer. He produced produce and with his partner, John Butterfield, carted their produce to Rochester and Buffalo to bigger markets than were available locally. Eventually, they had a little business called Butterfield-Wasson. My grandmother, as a young woman, was living a good deal of the time in Buffalo, although her father was sometimes on the road between the Genesee River valley and Rochester and Buffalo. Nathaniel Scoville met my grandmother, Frances Wasson, in this era and they became married.
Probably, very soon after they were married, Nathaniel decided to establish his wife in New York City. Now, maybe he went back and forth to New York to pick up orders for car wheels from railroad companies and maybe this worked out better than having her live in Buffalo. I’m not sure. But she was established in New York City before my mother was born. My mother was the youngest of her six children and was born in 1885 in New York City. My mother grew up as a young woman in New York, but with connections to Salisbury, Connecticut that took the family back there at certain points in time because there were still Scovilles in the Salisbury / Taconic area.
Before I continue with the Scovilles, I would like to return for a moment to my grandmother, who was Frances Wasson Scoville. When Grandmother was born, it was 1855 and she was born in Tylerville, New York near the Genesee River in western New York State. She once told me a little story relating to the death of Abraham Lincoln. Now, you have to go back and think that when Abraham Lincoln died she was a young girl. When President Lincoln was assassinated his body was taken from Washington to Springfield, Illinois for burial. Stops were made along the route to give people a chance to pay their last respects to their beloved leader. The funeral train arrived in Buffalo on April 27th. The body of Lincoln was placed in a special hearse, made for the occasion, and taken to James Hall on the south side of Eagle Street, west of Washington Street. The Union Continentals. a regin;tent from the Civil War, escorted the hearse. The body of the martyred President lay in state in the hall throughout the whole day and into the evening. During that time thousands of citizens filed past the casket with bowed heads, many with tears in their eyes. At ten o’clock that night, the body was replaced in the hearse and, attended b y the guard of honor, it was taken back to the railroad station and soon afterwards the train left for Chicago.
Well, I want to pass on a little bit of history relating to this and my
grandmother. Grandma told me she went with her family to see Lincoln’s train pass through Buffalo. When they were gettil1g ready to go, her parents told her she should remove the red tassels from her high shoes and replace them with black tassels. Being then a little girl of ten, she really didn’t want to do this, but probably went along with the request. Only this past year when I read the previous account about the funeral train stopping in Buffalo and Lincoln’s casket being removed and displayed, did it dawn on me the importance of Grandma’s being required to dress appropriately. Heretofore, I had only thought in terms of her probably standing by the railroad tracks somewhere and watching the train pass by – bowing, waving, whatever. Now I think it is much more likely that she and her parents went to view the body in Buffalo and therefore you would have to be dressed appropriately if you were going to do that.
MB: I love that story, Lois. You were so nice to tell me about it.
LB: If you had known my grandma, you would have really appreciated it, too. Grandma was really a charmer, and I only wish I’d spent more time asking her to tell me little stories like this.
MB: Lois, I want to ask you now about the Bushnell Tavern, which was your home, your family’s home, and where you lived during the 1920’s and the 1930’s. It would be a great help to the Oral History Committee if you could just tell us anything you choose to and anything you want to remember about the house.
LB: When my parents purchased the house, it stood much nearer to the highway, probably very close to the one remaining large spruce tree. At the time when they bought the house, there were at least two trees there. They hired someone to put the house on rollers of some kind and teams of horses pulled it back to its present foundation. The house may have been added to in earlier time because when you went into the house the levels of the floors all matched on the first floor, but if you went upstairs the east third of the second story had a higher floor and you had to go down a step or two to get to the western part of the second floor. The center of the second floor was the ballroom. It had an arched ceiling, and that room was long and not terribly wide and extended from front to rear. I don’t know for sure, but I think it is quite possible that in its tavern days there may have also been room for one or two overnight traveling guests.
The house had three fireplaces on the second floor, one in the living room on the west side, which went into the same chimney as a fireplace in the 1!allway. Those two fireplaces were probably ten feet apart because there was a stair to the second floor that wound around that chimney somehow. Then, on the east end of the floor in the dining room there was another fir-eplace. This probably dated back to its days as a tavern, too, before there was central heating and all that kind of luxury. The house had four bedrooms on the second floor and additional little rooms on. the third floor, some finished, some less finished. One of these was my bedroom and even that had a fireplace.
When there were four of us children in the family, although it looked like a very large house accomrnadating many people, because my mother and father had some wonderful, almost second family, domestic help, that reduced the amount of bedroom space available for us kids. At that point in time, my mother and father built on the wing that extends to the rear of the house. That became mostly our turf, with a living room where we could make a lot of noise and fool around with our friends and not interrupt my mother and father who were great book readers in the evening or who wanted perhaps to have friends of their own for dinner or to visit.
The backyard of the house was wonderful because you could run down to the brook, even wade across the brook over to the other side of the brook and wander up into the woods. It was really a fun place to live as far as outside life. You had lots of options and we tried them all. If you went up the brook a way, up in the woods, there was a small pond. I remember my father taking me up there and teaching me how to fish when I was a young kid. The first time some little fish ended up on my hook, I was so thrilled. I just yanked the pole and line in, laid the pole on the ground and ran all the way back to the house to tell my mother I caught my first fish. When I came back later, my father asked me if I had thought the fish would still be on the line. I had never even thought about it.
We also used to be able to walk up through the woods and connect with Uncle Phil and Aunt Mill Warner, my father’s brother and his wife who lived on the first back road off the road up to Selleck Hill, the first road to the left, right before what used to be the cutlery handle factory, which hasn’t existed for a year or three. Running back and forth through the woods to Aunt Mil and Uncle Phil’s house was fun because Aunt Mil, when she married Phil had two children. They were more or less our age, so we could get into a few more adventures with them. There were also, down the road not far from us, Millie Fowler with her two adopted, probably nephews, Art Jones and his brother. We used to fool around with them, too. We could sometimes get up a little tribe to play “One-A-Cat” in our backyard or somewhere or meet up with them.
It was probably a little different living on the main street then. I also went over to the library across the street and I think I read every mystery story in the children’s section by the time I grew up. I had probably taken out every book that was there. Charlotte Norton was at that point the librarian. That corner was a unique place where the Fell Kill as my mother and father called it. It was really a unique place. The watering trough was right across the street on the corner and the people, perhaps in that time frame, stopped there to get water for convenience purposes more often maybe than they do nowadays. But there was the big stone basin there and there was the cemetery behind the town hall. We went over and investigated that although I can’t tell you who is living in the cemetery. Although there were a lot of small town activities in that little corner area of that community.
MB: How long would you say you actually lived in the community. For instance,
when you married and moved away, was that when you left or had you left when you went to boarding school and college?
LB: I think I came home for almost all vacations and holidays until I finished college. That was nice because I still had a few friends and relatives to come back and connect with, besides my parents. I got married very soon after college and after that, I never really lived in Salisbury again. But I have never ceased to try to come back and renew my adventures here.
MB: Tell us about your marriage.
LB: I was married in St. John’s Church in September of 1943. My husband was from Rochester, New York. I had met him through my cousin, Bret Smithers, part of the Warner clan. My husband and my cousin, Bret, had gone to college together and we met that way. We got married in St. John’s Church here. Unfortunately, some of our close friends and relatives were already gone in the service overseas so were not able to come to the wedding. But I do remember there were a few who got there. We got married in the church and had the reception at Fell Kill. It was a nice way to have it because I can’t imagine where else I would have wanted to get married at that point in my life because I had never really been anywhere else. My husband was in the service and we began living in other places.
MB: Lois, that story about your being married and moving away sort of concludes your actually living here in Salisbury, but I wonder if you’d like to think of any other reminiscences you might have about your childhood there on the main street.
LB: Well, if you think about it, when I was a child on Main Street in Salisbury there were no paved roads. About the most elaborate and luxurious procedure that happened annually, they came and tarred the Main Street road. For some reason, because I had been to visit my grandmother in New York and my aunties and maybe I’d been to Hartford with my dad a couple of times – I don’t remember – but I had seen pavement. I had seen guys having a wonderful time on scooters. One year my mother said to me, “What would you like for your birthday?” I said, “There’s just one thing I want. It’s a scooter” My mother said, “What do you think you would do with a scooter? There aren’t any sidewalks here.” I, being a rather stubborn little girl, said, “But that’s the one thing I want.” Well, my birthday came and I could hardly wait to see what I was going to get. So, when it came time to receive my presents, what do you think? I got a cocker spaniel puppy. My mother said, “Well, you wanted a scooter. Here’s a four-legged scooter.” Then, one time my four-legged scooter, named Wendy, found out that there was at that point a connection between the kindling box in the living room fireplace and the kindling box in the hall fireplace. One time when he was not in good grace with the people in the ~ouse, he somehow wiggled his way into the wood box and when we found out from a few squeaks that’s where he was, hardly anybody wanted to crawl in there and rescue him. But he proved that there was some kind of a connection in those days between those two wood boxes, and he knew where it was.