Transcript of a taped interview.
Narrator: Cilio Berti.
Tape: # 47 A/B
Date: July 16, 1986
Place of interview: Mr. Berti’s home in Lime Rock, CT.
Interviewer: Robert Steck.
Mr. Berti has lived and worked in Lime Rock all his life. He describes the community and the residents of Lime Rock, names and places familiar to him. The Barnum Richardson Company had dominated the iron industry in that community, an industry which had been important to Lime Rock’s economy for two hundred years. Attached to this interview is an 1899 map of Lime Rock and a piece by Ed Kirby about Lime Rock Furnace #2
Property of the Oral History Project.Salisbury Association at Scoville Memorial Library.
Salisbury, CT 06068.
This is Bob Steck, July 16, 1986. Let’s start with your name, your full name.
Cilio Al Berti. B-E-R-T-I. Cilio, C-I-L-I-O.
Have you lived all your life in Lime Rock?
I was born August 3, 1913 and have lived in Lime Rock all my life.
Where in Lime Rock did you live?
The Staber’s house – the brick house
How long did you live there?
We lived there until 1922. Went to Italy in 1922 from August until the last part of September. Came back to Lime Rock again and moved across the street, where Olsen’s are living now. Lived there about 9 months and then my father bought this place down here in 1923. This house down the road here with all this land.
The house that is right next to you now?
———- place. We bought that piece of land that goes up Norton Hill Road to where VanHoven used to live and that came all the way across and came down here. So my father owned all of this.
Was your father born here?
Where did he come from?
He came from Italy
And your mother?
She also came from Italy.
Which part of Italy were they from?
Northern part – Milan
When did he come?
Well, as far as I know he came about 1909 or 1910, something like that there.
oDid your mother come at the same time?
No, she did not
What kind of work did your father do?
My father worked as a — he drove a team of horses from where the Chester Tilt’s live to Ore Hill down here to the furnace and back, twice in one day.
What kind of cargo did he carry?
What brought him, first of all, to the country when he came?
Perotti who lived in that house, she was a cousin of my father’s and I guess that’s why he came.
He came to America knowing that he was going to come here?
Came to live up there.
And your mother?
My mother came in about 1912, something like that.
And what brought her to this area?
She came because of my father. They came from the same town in Italy and then they were married in New York and came up here.
Any brothers or sisters?
I have two sisters.
Living in the area?
I have one sister living in Great Barrington and one sister living in Winsted.
What do you remember about growing up in the area?
Well, I remember when everything was running in Lime Rock; when the furnace was running, when the smelter was running, foundries, and carpenter shop.
Did you work in any part of that?
No, I didn’t.
Let’s go back, as well as you can remember, in terms of just being a baby crawling around even – how far back can you go?
Oh, I can remember when I was 4 or 5 years old. Those foundations up at Staber’s — the roofs used to come right down almost to the ground and had a tin roof on it. So us kids used to get up there and slide down. We could walk up to the top and slide down on the tin.
Now that’s not there now?
The foundation is there.
Where is that foundation? Oh, that’s in the back.
That’s right, in front of the house – that big rock foundation, it goes all the way around?
Oh yes, was the house the way it is now?
The house had a porch on the front. They took the porch off. The porch on the back was not there at that time. There was just a staircase that went upstairs.
What was the house used for before you moved in?
It was an office at one time.
For the iron ore company?
And were you the first residents of the house?
I don’t think so. There were four families living in that house. One in the basement, two in the center and one upstairs.
Oh, I see. Was that during the iron ore days?
Yeah, that’s right.
As I understand it, all of the houses around there, one of which we have, were kind of worker’s homes?
Did you know the Sandys?
Of course, I knew them. Known them for years. I knew everybody in Lime Rock. Every house, they lived there all the time.
Was it largely an Italian population?
No, a lot of Polish and French.
That’s interesting. Were they Canadian French?
No, I don’t think so. I think they came from over across.
Coming back to when you were growing up in the area. Did you go to school?
Went to school in Lime Rock right here.
The one-room school house?
No, there were three rooms – from 1 to 4th and the other for 5th to 8th and the other from nine through high school. We had three teachers, all sisters.
Do you remember their names?
Esther Lowell, Helen Lowell and … can’t remember the other one.
Are they still around?
Oh, no. They went to Torrington finally. One of them, Helen, was in the Motor Vehicle Department. She was the head chief at the Motor Vehicle Department. She died here a few years back.
Now the school you said went through the 8th grade?
No, through high school.
So that you went to that same building. What about the road? Was it paved then? Dirt road?
Along here it’s almost the same. But down by the school, it turned in more and came out where that big stone is and the road went right by that big stone. And where the bridge on Route 112 is now, the carpenter’s shop was there. The carpenter’s shop was on this side and the wheel foundry was on the other side.
Were there a lot of children around at that time? That you played with?
Oh yeah, there were quite a few kids.
So, what did you do after school?
I worked around the house. Chores and things like that there.
What were they?
Getting wood, bringing wood in. Coal in the winter time. Water. We used to go down to the pond down there to get water.
That little pond that’s there by Davis’s? We used to go down there and get water and haul it up with a sled with a copper washtub. We always ran out of water. The only water we got was from the eaves. Then there was a spring in back of the Fitch’s and right in that triangle, there was a watering tub there and the pipes came from up on the hill up there and fed that watering tub that fed the two houses where -I don’t know what the guy’s names are now – right on the comer there – Kennedy, that’s right. The water came to that house and then to the Olsen’s and then to the watering tower. The big house didn’t have any water – only from the cistern.
So that was your drinking water and for washing?
Yes, and if we ran out, we had to go down to the pond, which was a lot of the time.
Did you have to boil it, or could you drink it the way it was?
We drank it the way it was.
Can you recall what kind of games kids played at that time?
Yes. Never knew anything about football or basketball. I never saw basketball until I went to Lakeville School.
So when you graduated the high school here
No, what they did finally was get rid of the high school so they had just the 8 grades because there weren’t enough kids. In the eight grades there may have been, from 1st through 4th there may have been 40 kids, each in different grades and in the other part there would be 25 or 30 kids from the 5th through the 8th. Then finally, they got just one teacher, so she took care of the eight grades and then finally they got rid of the 7th and 8th grade and that’s when I went to the Lakeville School.
They got rid of the Lowells?
The Lowells finally left.
Do you remember the name of the teacher who replaced them?
One of them was Mrs. Buber and I can’t think of the other one’s name.
Do you know what happened to them?
They finally moved to different schools. One taught in Ore Hill for a while and then she left there, went somewhere in New York State. And the other went back to Maine, I think.
Berti: Beginning that night with the smelter. I remember when they used to fire that up to melt the iron and let it run – that flat part that is in front of the furnace down there now – they used to tap that and then they had ditches that the iron used to run out – the hot iron used to run down those little ditches and then they would let that cool overnight and they would break it up the next day and take it down to the foundry.
The furnace you are talking about is the one where the Blocks are now?
Yes, that’s right.
So let me get that process clear. They had ditches —
They had that whole flat area there was ditches in there and when they let all the hot iron out it would run down these ditches and then the next day they would break it up. It became cast iron when it cooled off. They would put it on the wagon and bring it down to the foundry.
And the foundry prepared it for what?
They made car wheels for freight trains.
Do you remember what year they went out of business?
In 1926 the lower foundry burned down. They stopped making car wheels just before 1924, 1 guess, because then they started to make grates at the foundry. My father worked there. He was a molder there. Made car wheels and then he made the grates until it closed down and that was 1926.
You went through school there. What did they teach there? Just the three R’s or more than that?
Mostly, that’s most of what we had.
Boys and girls together?
Oh, yeah sure.
What did they do for discipline? How did they keep you in line? Hmmmm, they slapped you beside the head if you weren’t good. That’s all. This one teacher, I’ve forgotten her name, she came as a one-room school teacher. She had an 18 inch ruler about 3/8th of an inch thick with a steel edge on the front of it and if you weren’t good, she would crack you over the knuckles with that and she would cut you, too. She would pick you up by the hair on your head right out of the seat. She was about six feet tall and she weighed probably 200 pounds. She was strong.
Did your parents object?
No, no, no, no. That was great. In fact my father told the teacher that “if my boy’s bad, you lick ’em.” So whenever you did something wrong, that was it.
What did you study in high school when you moved over there?
I didn’t go to high school. I went through the eighth grade and then I quit.
So it was the 7th and 8th grade that was in Lakeville?
What happened when you were that age level, the 7th and 8th level?
Did you get a chance to play with other kids?
No, after my father bought this place here there was always work to be done here because my father was working and I took care of the land.
So what skills did you learn?
Well, I was learning to be a plumber and I worked during the summer when I was going to school and then after I got out of school I worked there for about a year-and-a-half and then it slowed right down in the 1930’s. There was no work so then I started mowing lawns down near Lime Rock. I mowed lawns for about three years, I guess. Then I went to work for John Gibbs.
Where Mrs. Dubol lives – Mrs. Blagden. I went to work up there in 1932 and I worked there 50 years. And finally after 50 years, I figured it was time to retire.
Yes, 50 years.
Good for you.
I retired from there, but I’m still working.
So the Depression hit up here?
Oh, yeah. During the Depression you could buy any house in Lime Rock for $500 – any house. No matter which one you wanted to buy.
Now, were they company houses then?
So when the company was out of business
Alfred B. Stone bought all the land for $25,000 from all over. He was in real estate. He was in the company with somebody else, but they ran under that name. And then when the iron alone, he made another $25,000, just selling the iron that was left over, down by the Lime Rock Station. You’ve heard of the Lime Rock Station?
Yes, I’ve heard about it. Where was that exactly?
As you turn by the Regional towards West Cornwall, the second house in, that was the railroad station.
Yes, I’ve seen the railroad tracks going up.
But it was across the street. And Andy Arnot used to have the grounds where Route 112 and 7 is now. He owned the garage. So they bought the station and I helped move it from where it was to the present site.
Where is it now?
It’s right across the street from where the old station used to be.
You can actually see the station there?
Oh, yeah. It’s the second house on the right as you are going down that road there.
I’ve been up there several times. I’ll have a better look the next time. Now, what was Lime Rock like when you were just a kid?
VZIt was a booming town.
What did it have?
We had a store, which was right next to where the lodge is now. The building with the steps going up the side. That was a general store. They sold everything there. You could buy material, shoes, food, whatever and the Post Office was in there too.
When did that go out?
In the early 1930’s.
And there has never been anything since?
Not there. Then they turned it into apartments.
Was a store any other place?
Yes, up on the hill where that antique shop is. If you go up the hill right next to Dorsett’s.
Filo Lyons built that.
Is he still around?
No, but his daughter lives in Great Barrington. She married … can’t think of his name. It will come to me eventually. She is still living up there.
On the same side of the street as the antique place that you mentioned there are several houses there and I was told that one of them was a movie house at one time?
The first house. As you are going up the hill, that first house on the left. That used to be a movie theater – a brown shingle house with a portico.
Was that a one-room place?
It wasn’t then. The upstairs was one large room that was where the theater
What was below it?
I don’t know.
Last night I met some people and they told me that they bought a place. A one-room place. Is there a house just below there? A small house?
Next to that is where the Olsens lived. They sold it. I don’t know who owns it now. There is that little place right next to the antique shop. That’s a small, one room place, I think.
That must be the one. What was that?
That was built as a shop at one time. Some woman built a shop and she had it there and then they went out of business and they turned it into a house.
There is no water there?
I have no idea.
Then as you go up on the left hand side you come to this open space where there is a house with that big porch that people fixed up several years ago?
You mean that big house with the copper cupola?
Yes. What was that?
That was N/A. McNeil Insurance Company. They have an office in Lakeville. That was a part of that insurance company: it was named McNeil a long time ago.
Even when you were a kid?
Did you go to the movies when you were a youngster?
Yes, once in a while.
What did you see? Can you remember? What kind of pictures they showed?
Charlie Chaplin, I remember, and western movies. I didn’t go that much but I did go a few times.
Do you remember what it cost?
Something like 15 cents.
As much as that, because when I – I come from Davenport, Iowa – on a Saturday afternoon saw three westerns for a nickel.
But they only had movies there once a week. I think it was 15 cents, the same as haircuts. In fact, where Kennedy’s used to live there was a barber, named Jack Dunn.
So that was a barber shop?
He had a barber shop there.
Was it a private home that he had a shop in?
Yes. It was in his home. I think it was l0 cents. And then where Sheldon Glass is now it used to be a barber shop.
You mean you had two barber shops in Lime Rock?
Yep. And down there they had three barbers and they were busy all the time.
It must have been a good-sized community.
We had a lot of people. There were people everywhere. Across the river where Staber lives right across from Rufus King bought the mess. But in back there were a lot of shanties that people used to have. They would build their own. A man would come here and another man would come and they would build a shack and live in it.
Was that during the iron ore time?
Yes. They worked in the foundry. All these shacks are gone now. They fell down with rot.
Where did those people come from?
Same. They were Polish, Italian, French, whatever. And at night you’d sit up there at the brick house and you would hear music from everywhere. The people would be playing guitars, mandolins, accordions, singing, hollering, and shouting all over the place.
Lime Rock was a really booming town at one time.
I wonder why we don’t do singing today like the people did then.
Those people could really sing. They were really good. They were justamateurs.
Did they ever run any dances?
They always had ’kitchen dances.’
What’s a ‘kitchen dance’?
In someone’s kitchen. They would just push the table away and they would dance in the kitchen. The guy with the mandolin or the guitar or ukulele or an accordion or whatever, would come in there and play and they got nothing for it – they just played for fun. Everyone would dance and sang and drank and so forth.
Did they have any other kinds of activities? Did they do anything else?
This was all self-contained people. They did their own thing. They would say, ‘tonight come on over to the house, we’ll have something’. Or somebody would say ‘well, come down to my house we’ll have something.’ Even down where you live.
Was Sandy there?
He was there for years and years. He had two daughters and a son.
I met the son. He came to visit one day.
Oh, did you? Oh, I see, all right. His name is Donovan, but he calls himself John.
Oh, yeah. What did Sandy do?
He worked in the foundry. And outside of that, he made salami for different families. Like in the fall and winter time. He would come to my father’s house and he would go to somebody else’s house or whatever.
And sell salami?
No, no, he would make it right there.
That must have been quite a skill. How long did he live?
I can’t remember when he moved out.
Oh, he moved from here?
V Yes, he moved down to his son’s house down in near Simsbury. Avon, Simsbury in that section.
I think it was Simsbury.
He lived there four or five years when he finally died.
Do you know who he sold to? Mrs. Fish didn’t buy it from him, did she? She had it when we bought.
Oh, I see. I think somebody else had it. That house where Worthington is now, Mr. Shaw lived there and, of course, the house burned down. In 1955 when the flood I know they were staying over there then. I was living with the Clarks then. I inherited that house. So I went there to live because we had legal problems, so I figured I’d go down there to live and left this place empty for eight years. In 1955, the day of the flood, I head Mrs. Shaw call out ‘Mr. Sandy, are you all right?’ I woke up and looked out the window – it was at 4 o’clock in the morning – and saw nothing but water all over the place and said ‘I can’t believe that.’
How high did it come up?
It finally came right up to the steps of Mrs. Clark’s house – within about 2 inches of the floor basically and at 12 o’clock at night I went down to the basement -1 didn’t have any water at all. Between 12 o’clock and 4 o’clock in the morning we had four feet of water in the cellar. I went down and turned the power out. Of course, the meter was under water anyway and at Shaw’s the meter was under water and they had lights.
And he had lights, and the meter was under water?
Yes, and the meter was under water. The only reason he woke up was because the water was up even with the top of the mattress and he was getting wet and here he stepped out into water.
He was an artist, right?
Yes, he was an artist. I can show you one of his pictures.
I saw one at Marcello’s house. How long did it take for the flood to recede?
By 12 o’clock the water was all gone.
As fast as that?
Well, it had stopped raining. It had been raining for 3, 4, 5 days.
When did his house burn down?
Well, it was after the flood, so it was probably 1960.
When the iron ore moved out, a lot of people moved away from here.
Oh, yeah. It became a ghost town.
There wasn’t anything to do. Now, I heard, I don’t know if this is true or not, that a lot of artists moved into the area.
Oh, yeah. That’s when all the artists came into Lime Rock. They bought the houses cheap, you know. They just flocked in here.
What happened to them?
They sold, made a few bucks and just moved out.
Were there well-known artists?
Well, to tell you the truth. I didn’t know any of them. They would come today and go tomorrow.
When was this approximately, would you say?
Well, late 1929, 1930, through 1932.
Coming back to these workers who had the shanties and worked in the iron ore industry. Were they organized then? Were there unions?
Oh, no, no, no. I don’t know how a lot of these people came in here but a lot of them came from Bristol – the Polish people. They moved out of Bristol and came up here and usually the husbands would come and work for a while, find a house and bring his family up here.
Do you remember what they got in wages?
My father used to say he go about $11.00 a week.
How many hours?
14, 15, 16 hours a day.
Eleven dollars a week. Of course, things were a lot cheaper back then. Would that be in the 1920s they got that?
No, that was before that. I was 14, 15,16 years old.
And there was no bitching on the part of the workers?
Not really, and they all seemed to work together.
And they got along on that money? And in the 1920s the pay went up a little. And they were never organized into unions.
No, they weren’t.
That’s very interesting because in some parts of the country there were already unions at that time.
They didn’t have anything like that around here.
Did they have benefit organizations?
What happened when a guy died? Where did they get the money to get buried? Everybody chip-in?
It was cheaper back then.
Berti: Of course, as I said, my father worked in the wheel foundry. And he was a big man. So, several men working together would bet they could pick up one of the car wheels, which weighed 600 pounds. And my father could pick one of those wheels right up.
Really? What happened to a man’s family when he died?
They just went back to their other relatives, I guess. Or they just stayed here and struggled to get along.
Did the women work any place?
Yeah, the house where the Davis’s live now that was closer to the road and he bought it and moved it back. The people who lived in there were named Carley and they had six children, three boys and three girls, and the husband died and she lived there and she did work for the Richardsons.
Yes. And they lived there for quite a while and she finally moved to Canaan. Up there she did the same thing – housework. She brought up all six of the kids.
Some of them still in the area?
Ahh, I think there is one of the girls still living in Canaan. One went to California and the three boys died and I don’t know where the other girl is.
I am struck by the fact that these people worked such long hours and yet they didn’t gripe or anything.
That was the only thing you could do, you just stayed there and worked.
Were there people who were better-off in the area? Apart from the Richardsons or the owners. You know, what today we would call middle class people?
Well, there may have been. The families all worked. That’s all they ever did was work. At night they worked in their gardens so people got along that way. In fact, up there at Langdon’s field that used to be gardens that different people used to have. They would plow it and plant and the men and women did the gardening.
Even after 14 or 15 hours?
Sure, plus on Saturdays and Sundays. Actually, I guess they didn’t work on Sundays, just on Saturdays. They would plant potatoes, coms, whatever and get ready for the winter.
Was Lime Rock different than Salisbury, Lakeville or Sharon at that time? A different kind of community?
Well, there were mostly foreigners here. They were citizens but they were foreigners. They just came in here. I know my father, at one time the foundry shut down in 1919 and my father went to Torrington to work. He went down there in September and he’d stay there all week and come back on weekends. And finally in 1919 we moved down there. My mother, sisters and I. My younger sister was born December 13, 1919 so we moved to Torrington just before Christmas and we got on the train in Salisbury and went through Twin Lakes, Canaan, Norfolk, Winsted and then changed trains there to go to Torrington and when we got to Winsted, my father sent a telegram because they were moving the furniture from the brick house to Salisbury to put on the train. They got up somewhere along the way and the
sleigh tipped over and they lost all the furniture. So they put all the furniture V/back on the sleigh and brought it back to Lime Rock. My father, of course,
was supposed to join us that night but he didn’t get there because he had to take the furniture back. And I guess he came the next day. We stayed down there until school was out the middle of June, when we moved back to Lime Rock. And he went to work in the ball up here at the golf course up at Hotchkiss School. He was the foreman up there when they built the golf course at Hotchkiss. Then he worked on the road and did odd jobs. He worked for DiMichael (?) and different contractors.
Did you get into Salisbury or Lakeville very often?
The only time we went to Lakeville as kids we would go to the movies or we would go to get a haircut or to buy something.
Swimming in the lake?
No, no. We used to swim in the Salmon Kill River.
Did the people in Lakeville and Sharon also work in the foundry?
Well, they worked in the knife shop (the Holley Knife Shop) up where the restaurant is now.
They were different kinds of people?
I never knew much about them. Lime Rock people stuck to Lime Rock.
And the only time we went to Lakeville, as I said, was for haircuts or shopping. There were three barbershops in Lakeville and each shop had three barbers. The one up on the hill had three barbers, the one down below Jud, he had three barbers and then another one opened up and he was by himself.
Was there any other kind of business in Lime Rock other than the iron ore?
At first they had the grist mill and was part of the carpenter shop on this side of the river where they would grind com and wheat, etc. But that faded out.
Was there a lot of farming?
Everyone had gardens.
But were there big dairy farms?
The Belters had a farm and, of course, Hezekiah Goodwin’s father had a ofarm and Lorchs had a farm and then there were the Wilkinsons up on
Brinton Hill, they had a farm. And over on Sugar Hill there were two or three farms over there. Whatever they raised. They did raise cows, whatever and they would sell milk. And then they had Borden’s Milk Factory below the Lime Rock Station. All the milk from local farms was brought into there. And Bordens had other places in Sharon Station and Millerton, Sheffield, Canaan. Bordens had everything.
When you were growing up here, could you buy your milk from the farmer or did you have to get it from the store?
Well, we had our own cows. We were selling milk for 100 a quart. We finally got a letter from the State saying we couldn’t sell our milk for 100 a quart.
Why was that?
It was just the law. We had to sell it for 120 or 140.
They told you what price you had to charge?
That’s right. Said we were under selling. We were only selling about 10 quarts of milk, but we were still under selling. Then in 19well, I built this house in 1936. My father sold the place down there I think in 1939 and he moved in with us, my wife and I and our son. And then in 1940 they built the house up there. There’s another house in back here. They built that house and they lived there quite a while.
Do you remember Lime Rock as a place you enjoyed growing up in? Or do you remember it otherwise?
Well, I always had to work. Other kids could play, but I couldn’t because I had too much work to do. In the summer time I could hear the kids playing ball or whatever down at the school and I would be working up in the fields, pulling potatoes, picking the bugs off the potatoes, and hoeing the com.
How come they didn’t work?
Well, because they didn’t have to. Unless they did it other times, I don’t know.
What about a comparison with today? Was it more fun then than it is today? What is the difference today, in your opinion?
Well, today there is nothing to do. There’s nothing going on here. You just get in your car and go somewhere. We have relatives in Torrington so we used to go to Torrington. My daughter lives in Torrington, so we go down
there. We have two children. Son and daughter. My son graduated from ORegional, went to West Point and went in the service. He served 20 years in
the service, he’s out and now he works for General Telephone. He lived in Fairfield. He moved from there and went to Needham, Mass. He still works for telephone. He graduated in 1960 and got out in 1980. My daughter was married in Torrington and is still there. So I have two grandchildren.
I guess most of the young people didn’t stay here. There wasn’t anything to do.
Nothing to do, no. None of the kids I went to school with are around here at all.
Like the Johnson children. Two are away and one is still here and he’s doing very well. He’s the only one left.
That’s right. None of the kids stayed around here. The minute they got old enough to go someplace they just left.
(End of tape side A)
(Tape side B begins at Oil on dial)
Is there anything that you can think of that I haven’t asked you about or things you would like to put on the tape?
Well, they built this road here in 1930. Which made it a lot better. Before it was just dusty and terrible. Of course, the road is a little different than it used to be. We have zigzags up here by Cuneo’s the road went right near the house and went up to the right of the present road and came out on the top where Blagden’s stone house is. Then it followed pretty much the main road. But mud, I’ve never seen so much mud.
You must have started out with a horse and wagon.
I didn’t, no. We did a lot of walking. When we lived in the brick house we didn’t have a car and we used to walk everywhere. My father, when we moved up here, did buy a car. He bought a Studebaker when I was a kid. But he spent too much money on it so he traded that in and got a Model T Ford. A brand new one and got it down in Winsted. We used that for a while and finally he sold that and we didn’t have any car when we moved back here we didn’t have a car until 1930,1 bought my own a Model A Ford. But before that I had three or four Model Ts and we used to run up and down the road with all the time.
You must have started driving pretty young.
Yeah, 12 or 13 years old. I bought my first car for $15, a Model T and it ran. Then I had three or four given to me. I had a roadster with a rumble seat and it was given to me. We had to go down to White Hollow Road and get it and we towed it home. That was in the 30s. Took it all apart and got it running and got rid of it. Just threw it in the dump.
You should have held on to it.
Yeah, I know. In 1930 I bought a Model A Ford. I spent $550 on it and in 19311 swapped that one in for another $150 got a brand new car. But I was making 190 an hour.
190 an hour in 1930-31? Let’s see, that’s about $12 a week?
Yep. When I built this house in 1936 I was working up at General Gibb’s and I was getting 350 an hour- and that’s all I got. I tried to raise a family and build this house.
Do you think people live better today than they did then? I’m talking about in overall living in fun and learning and physically, everyway. With today’s wages you can buy a lot more then you could then, but things are also much more expensive. It seems to me you can afford to buy things, whereas you couldn’t at that time.
What about the quality of living? Is it more fun to be alive today then it was, or did you have more fun in those days?
I worked all the time, so I don’t know. I worked at General Gibb’s and then came home to build the house.
Did you ever participate in any community activities? Meetings? or anything of that kind?
We had a men’s club at one time that lasted about two years. Mr. Robinson was a paper maker. He came over from England. He had two sons and a son-in-law and they ran the paper mill down here for Dard Hunter. And they brought them over here on the pre-text that they would be part owners in the mill eventually, but things went sour so they didn’t even get all their money. They lost all their wages. So then he was a organizer and he started this men’s club and we used to put on little skits and things at the schools. It was fun, you know.
Did you participate? You were an actor?
Yeah, I was an actor.
What kind of skits did you do?
Well, we’d make them up ourselves. Along with singing, etc. That was 1929 and 1930. I think they came over here in 1928 to work in the paper mill.
Where was the paper mill?
It was in where the carpenter shop used to be. It was part of that until they changed things around. Everything was in there. They used to use the generator — they let the water out of the dam to run the generator or whatever you want to call it and that used to run all the machinery. They had belts and things to run for cutting up the rags, grinding up the rags and the paddles they used to mix up the rags and the water and stuff.
The dam above the Block’s. What was that used for?
Those were spares. The second one was used to feed the furnace, the smelter, run the blowers and things for that. The upper dam was just a reservoir in case they needed water: they would let it out of there and let it run down to the next one. And there was a pond here too and there is a pipe that goes from here to that place down there in case there was a fire. This was always kept in case of fire. There is enough fall from here down to the furnace, so they used to get enough pressure to use that. The pipe is still underground.
So, coming back then – what about life here today, in your opinion.
Everybody does their own thing. People don’t work together. There was more community. More than now.
What changed that?
Everybody has a car. One goes one way, one goes another. You want to go to Poughkeepsie or you want to go to Great Barrington or Torrington or Waterbury.
Nobody gets together?
No, not really. People are friendly, but you know, you don’t get together at all. You must feel the same way.
Yes, there is no doubt that there certainly is … my impression there were a lot more cultural activities – not like somebody coming to do a concert, but where you put on your own thing.
If you wanted, yeah. That’s right. If you could get people interested in helping you out, fine.
How about Town Hall meetings? Were there Town meetings in Lime Rock?
No. See everything was done in Salisbury: this is a part of Salisbury.
So, did you ever go to meetings in Salisbury?
Did they ever pass any regulations or rules that affected you?
Not that I know of. I know when I … this garage I have out here was up on the hill and I had it moved down here and had to go get a permit to get it down here. So when they were building the foundation, the fellow who was going to move it didn’t want to move it down here until we had a foundation because he didn’t want to bring the building here and then leave it all jacked up and then come back another day. So, first the inspector would come down and check all the time. I said to him, “what are you doing here?” “Well, I’m checking.” “Checking for what?” I said, “Do you pay the taxes here?” “No.” I said, “Do you own this land?” “No.” I said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “You ain’t got no business here.” I said, “You don’t see me come up to your house.” I said, “I don’t even know where you live, but I wouldn’t go up to your house and ask you what you are doing up there.” So, they came and measured and everything else and made sure I had plenty of room.
And yet at one time you could move whatever you wanted?
Of course you could. You could do whatever you wanted. If you wanted to build a house right out there, you could build it.
Now today you need a certain amount of acreage.
Oh yeah, oh sure. Like when I built this house. I didn’t have to have anything. I just started to dig and that was it.
What else can you remember that we haven’t covered?
Up on the mountain by the race track they used to cut wood there. And they would cut it for charcoal. They would cut the wood, let it season and then
stack it all up and then they would make charcoal out of it and haul it down here and put it in the sheds. They had high wagons: they must have been 12 feet high, huge big wagons. They used to go under my mother’s clothes lines. Well, my mother used to bawl them fellows out.
What was the charcoal used for?
For the smelter. They used that.
How many horses did it take to pull those wagons?
Two. Charcoal was light. Then one of the men that were hauling the wood out up there was picking the wood up and he thought he got a sliver in his finger or something. Finally when he got down near the bottom there was a rattle snake in the pile of wood and then be started to wonder whether he got stung or if he got pricked by the wood. Come to find out he was bitten by a rattle snake. So he ran. There were all French people living up on the top up there on the mountain, so he ran up there and told this woman a rattle snake had bit him. She put him in the wagon and brought him to Salisbury to the doctor and he died on the way.
He didn’t know what to do.
He didn’t know that he got bit. He thought it was a sliver until he got near the bottom he figured the snake must have bit him, you know. But you couldn’t see anything.
But they didn’t cut it and drain it?
No, they didn’t do anything.
What happened to the French people? Where did they go? Are they still around here?
No, I don’t think so. You know, up on the mountain they had a clay bed that was up on the top of Sharon Mountain. Did you ever hear of that? It was white clay. And they had a pipe from the top of the mountain up there all the way down to West Cornwall. They used to make pottery from the clay they got up there. We went up there to get some clay and we could still see the pipe. It was a wooden pipe bound with steel, like a barrel, and went all the way on the top of that mountain, they used to run it down with water. Slush it down with water.
And it went to Cornwall?
It went all the way to Cornwall. And as you go to Cornwall on the back road (along the river) there is a place where there are footings across the river, you must have seen them,
Yeah, I know just where you mean.
Well, there was a bridge across there. And that pipe came right across that bridge and then went south. As you go down that way, maybe a half-a-mile, there is a foundation right along the track line and that was where the factory was.
There was a pottery factory?
They used to make dishes from the clay up there. And that clay was just as white as snow.
Is there still clay up there?
Yes, there is a pond up there now. You can go down White Hollow Road and go up that way. Have you been up on top?
Yeah, I’ve have.
Did you ever see the pond up there?
I never noticed it.
It’s on the right hand side of the road. And then if you keep on going you come out on Route 7 at the bottom of the hill.
So, the pottery factory was in West Cornwall.
Yeah. There were French people all over up there. There are foundations all over the top of that mountain. They probably came from Canada, I don’t know for sure, to cut wood. They used to cut wood all the time. They cut that whole range of mountains there all belonging to Barnum and Richardson.
It must have been Canadian French. There were a lot of them in Vermont. They would build little shacks?
You go up there and you will see lilacs all over, groups of lilacs and there were houses any place you see lilacs.
How did the French and the Polish and the Italians get along?.
Everybody got along fine.
Oh, yeah. There were Germans there too.
There were some disputes, like every place else. People getting mad at one another, but normally things worked out pretty well. Do you know Bart Perotti? Lives in Salisbury now.
No, I don’t Is he part of the whole Perotti family?
No, this is a different Perotti. He lived in back of Staber’s. There is a small house in back of Staber’s.
Is that McMillan’s?
No, there was another one. He lived in there. He used to work for Milmines. They died so he lives in Salisbury now by himself.
O What did he do here?
Well, he just grew up here. He went to Hartford and worked for a newspaper there and then he came back here and worked for the Milmines. He worked there 45 years, something like that
Were his mother and father here?
Yes, his mother and father were here.
So, he was born here?
I don’t know if he was born here or not. You talk about arguments. My uncle used to go with one of the Sandy girls and this man who was boarding with the Perottis was going with her too, so they got jealous. Well this one night he got the shotgun out and saw this person walking and he thought it was my uncle. Shot Barfs mother and killed her. Of course, they had a trial, but I really don’t remember what happened. I was too small to understand it. It was just one of those arguments that people get into. Asa whole everyone got along all right.
When they got together, did they all speak different languages?
Most everyone spoke some English. But if you ran into a Frenchman, I suppose you spoke French, or Italian you spoke Italian. But I do know the Italian people always spoke Italian. They never spoke English not unless they absolutely had to.
Were there evening schools for adults?
I didn’t know of any. There may have had them, but I don’t think my father went to any.
He just picked up his English through meeting and working with English speakers?
Yeah. I know he and my mother both liked to read the papers. She wasn’t that studious, but she got so she could read the paper and enjoy it to a point.
Have you ever gone to Italy?
Yes, I went there in 1922. We went to above the area where my mother and father came from. Castelleone (?) is where they came from. My father and mother were neighbors.
Were families there farmers? Or was there industry?
Well, I really don’t know what their business was. My father’s father always had a store. They sold bread, wine, etc. And I did meet my mother’s father and my father’s father. But I was only 9 years old so you know you don’t take that much interest in anything at that age. If you brought me to Italy right now, I could go from there to Laga de cogda (sounds like) or anywhere around there, because I can still see it right now and I could go any of these places by myself.
Did you know Andy Cassale?
I did know him, not well, but I knew who he was.
I worked with him. Beautiful, beautiful man. Too bad
Yeah, it really was too bad
We are very close friends with his wife and the son is now 6’2″.
I haven’t seen them for a long time.
Steck: He’s at Bridgeport University doing very well. He has a very good mind.
Berti: So he’s going to be a teacher?
Steck: No, he is going to be an electronics engineer.
Map of Lime Rock (Sanford, 1899)
LIME ROCK FURNACE #2
Barnum and Richardson’s’ Lime Rock Furnace #2 in 1880
In 1728, as part of a move to open the western lands for settlement, surveyors were sent to this area from Hartford. Their primary assignments were to determine borders and establish townships. It was during this survey that tell-tale traces of iron were found. By 1731, John Pell and Ezekiel Ashley began exploring the areas in the western section of Salisbury. Their efforts were rewarded with a discovery at Old Hill (later named Ore Hill) that would prove to be the largest and richest of the deposits of what would become world renowned as Salisbury iron.
In 1732 Thomas Lamb, a wily entrepreneur, arrived in Salisbury from Massachusetts. Lamb was granted water privileges on the Salmon Fell Kill in Lime Rock and by 1735 his bloomery forge was producing wrought iron about 400 feet upstream from the present Lime Rock Furnace. Thus began the production of high quality Salisbury Iron, a process that would continue along the Salmon Kill for one hundred ninety years. Lamb soon added both a gristmill and sawmill to his ironworks. Foundations and wall sections are extant from both structures.
In 1830 John Milton Holley and John Churchill Coffing constructed a blast furnace on the Salmon Kill just below the site of Lamb’s original forge. This furnace remained in blast through 1856. Another eminent family name was added to the history of Salisbury iron when Milo Barnum came to Lime Rock in 1820. Barnum quickly recognized the potential of the local iron industry and within a few years he was in the iron business with his son-in-law Leonard Richardson. The Barnum Richardson Company (BRC) would grow into a veritable iron empire and dominate Salisbury District iron production through three generations.
Constructed as a hot blast type, Lime Rock Furnace #2 began production in 1865. By 1870 under the nationally influential William H. Barnum (U.S. Senator), the BRC became one of the largest producers of railroad car wheels in the country. The furnace operated successfully into the 1890s when it was used sporadically, then full time when an 1896 fire closed the Beckley Furnace in East Canaan. In the twentieth century it was used sparingly. When a 1925 fire closed the Lime Rock car wheel foundry, iron making ended in the Salisbury Iron District.
The first restoration work on the 1865 Lime Rock Furnace was performed by Peter Brazzale and Son in 1972. By the 1990s, due to side wall, arch and interior collapse, the Lime Rock Furnace was in precarious condition. With this writer selected as project manager by owners, Richard and Freya Block, Lime Rock Furnace #2 was stabilized and restored in 1996.
Ed Kirby, September 3, 2003