Transcript of a taped interview.
Narrator: Yvette Bredbenner
Tape*: 91 A&B
Date: May 6, 1992
Place of Interview: Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury .Interviewer: Jodie Stone
Mrs. Bredbenner has been a resident, of Salisbury since her parents came to live at Stillwaters Farm, in the 1920’s, Her father was manager/butler of the household and caretaker of the farm, She speaks of the Swans, who owned the farm through the 1940’s, of their activities and friends. This oral history tells us also of the travel In this area in the 1920’s and ’30’s, People used the railroad to come to Salisbury and were met by their chauffeurs, Farmers’ sleighs were needed on the winter roads that cars could not traverse. Children walked distances to school, as Yvette did when she attended the one-room school In Amesville. This Is an Interesting account of her memories of life at Stillwaters Farm.
Property of the Oral History Project.Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library,Salisbury, Connecticut 06068
JS:This is Jodie Stone on the 6th of May, 1992, interviewing
Yvette Bredbenner, Is that your whole name, Yvette?
YB:Yvette Helene Mojon Bredbenner,
JS:How do you spell Mojon?
YB:M-O-J-O-N, it’s Swiss.
JS:Were you born here?
YB:No. I was born in Boston.
JS:Why’d you come here? How’d you get here?
YB:Well, my father came to this country from Switzerland. They
were French-Swiss. My father came In1910 when he was twelve. My mother came right after the war, the First World War, in 1918. She ■ had a sister in Torrington. Then the Mojons came to Torrington and they finally met and were married. All the Swiss in Torrington worked in factories. They came over because they were quite good at technical things. Major Besse was the Swiss person In Torrington and he had a lot of Swiss come over.
My father didn’t like to work in factories. He hated it. In fact, my father was an artistic person. He was an artist and in those days he couldn’t go to school or anything for art work. That wasn’t heard of by his father and mother. So, my mother and he decided to go and work for people. They worked in Pennsylvania in Stroudsburg. They had to leave there because the people – he was the postmaster – couldn’t keep them. He came to Torrington for a year and my father- hated it. They knew the governess of the Joseph Swans. She was Swiss and she contacted my parents and said the Swans were looking for someone to come and be in their home. My father came up and was interviewed. This was in 1928. I had been in the first grade in Torrington. I was about five years old. I was born in 1922. So, that’s how they got the job.
YB:He was manager/butler of the household and caretaker at
YB:Yes, It Is now Herndon’s. Mr. Swan bought that farm some years
before. He was very wealthy and at first I didn’t come because I had the measles. Mrs. Swan said to my parents, “Oh, no.” because they had three daughters. The youngest daughter was just six years older than me, I was about five and a half or six and she was twelve. I had to stay In Torrington for two weeks and then finally got up here, It was .In June.
They had a big household in 1929. At that time, my father was the butler and caretaker of the house. They had people running the farm. In fact, the Rands rented the farm land, William Rand up on Hamlet Hill which is now Prospect. At that time the main house was over two hundred years old. It used to be the White Farm. I really haven’t read too much about it. I meant to do it several times. But it was the White Farm. The Swans bought it and added on to it. It was a gladiolus farm and Mr. Tracy was the gardener and took care of the gladioli. I can still see the fields of gladioli. It was early summer when we got there.
My father found out, after a few months, that Mr. Tracy was cheating Mr. Swan. He was evidently selling the bulbs and keeping – some of the money. My father found this out: it wasn’t too long after we were there, within the year. Of course, my father told Mr. Swan and Mr. Tracy left, had to leave.
The Swans had three daughters. Lolo was the youngest, and Emmy was the middle and Natalie was the oldest. I then went to Amesville School in Amesville, which is right across from the falls, which is Joanna Beal’s house now.
JS:Is this the one that has the huge window?
YB:Yes, but we didn’t have the large window. There are a few of us
left here now: John Bates, who Ilves in Amesville, and the Peterson girls, Ruth and Doris, who was the librarian in Falls Village. The Lockwoods had a farm. From Stillwaters down to Amesville you passed a farm which is where the Wolfs live now. That was the Lockwood farm. My father always had to take me, because we didn’t have buses in those days. All eight grades were in one room. Usually the teacher didn’t have eight grades all at once. I was at Joanna Beal’s the other day and I could tell the people just where I sat.
We had three different teachers Lou Berti and I can remember. We had Miss Noble, Miss Dower and Miss Marcy, who was there quite a while, even after I left. One of the teachers, I think ft was Miss Dower, lived over In what Is now Fairacres. At that time it was a pig farm. As you’d go by you could smell. Everybody called It the pig farm. I remember toward the last day of school… I came here and was in the second grade. I did the first grade In Torrington, In South School In Torrington… I can remember she took the whole class – there weren’t many of us, eight, nine, or ten of us – over for a picnic at her house. We went upstairs and she had all these beautiful old dresses from the 1800’s. I remember we tried them on and they were beautiful. These were all in her family. Evidently this had been their
farm for a long time. I haven’t checked into that either. She was only there that year that I was there. Then she moved on.
Then we had Miss Marcy who was not very pleasant. I remember that one day my father came and picked me up at three-fifteen or whatever time it was. Not long before that I had done something and Miss Marcy was a very nervous person. She was really not meant to be a teacher. She had no patience. She grabbed me by the throat and shook me, so when I got out to the car the marks were still on my throat. My father said, “What happened?” I told him and my father got very angry. He went in and I guess he told her off.
At Amesville School it was all one room. There were two doors in the front where the big window is now. On either side there were doors. The boys would line up and go in one door: the girls would line up and go in the other. Of course, we’d be there all day. We’d have our lunch. Some of them walked home. Not very many of us stayed for lunch as most everyone lived in Amesville and in that area. But we stayed. We had a good time. We went down by the brook quite a bit. There’s a lovely brook there and I think the teacher had to watch us.
Of course, there was one big room and while the teacher was working with one grade or one or two students, we’d sit and read or do arithmetic. We’d always listen because it was always hard to concentrate. In the back there were two rooms. Of course, the bathroom was outside. We didn’t have an inside bathroom. There was a big room where the boys had crafts and woodworking. We went through that room to the back which was the girls’ room where we had sewing for half the year and cooking for the other half. Mr. Hemmerly was already there. He came and took care of the boys and played games and those kinds of things with us. Miss Frink was the sewing half of the year and cooking the second half. I was terrible at sewing. She used to get angry with me. She had no patience with me. I just couldn’t do sewing, but when it came to cooking, then, – see my mother was a great cook and I love to cook. I remember toward the end of the year I made this wonderful strawberry shortcake and she thought it was just great. We made It right there, I remember.
Also, I’ve tried to ask several people, but people don’t remember. Maybe I haven’t asked the right people. We used to have every year, I guess it was beginning in the fall when we came back, there was like a field day up here in Lakeville at the building that is now the Masonic building. I don’t know what that was in the early days, probably ’29 or ’30. It was like a 4H or agriculture thing. We all had to do projects. I remember there were a lot of people and they came from all around, all different schools around. It was like a 4H fair, I guess. I can
remember one because I had to do a long talk and explain. I can’t remember now what it was I was demonstrating, but I know I had practiced for weeks ahead of time, and doing it in front of Miss Frink to be sure I had it all right. It was a big day. I can’t remember if it was the end of the year or the beginning of fall after everybody had grown things in the summer, vegetables and all kinds of exhibits. I can’t find anyone who remembers this.
JS:You don’t suppose this was sponsored by the Salisbury
Association, because they used to have big fairs?
YB:Well, of course, this was way back in ’29 or ‘30.
JS:The Salisbury Association was founded in 1902 or thereabouts.
YB:That may be. I’ll have to ask because I’ve often wondered and I’ve
– asked people my age that went to different schools. They said that they didn’t remember that. But I said that they must have been ’cause it was all different schools. I remember standing on the grass and the big hedge in back of me and a big table in front of me. It was a long thing to do. I cannot remember what I was demonstrating. I know there were a lot of people from the various schools, Salisbury, Lakeville, Ore Hill and maybe other towns. That was a day that I remember and I imagine we had two or three others that I can remember.
Mr. Hemmerly used to come – some of the people don’t remember this – used to come once every two or three weeks to our school in the evening and have something for the parents. I can remember, I still have It, my mother learning to weave baskets. I still have it, what she learned. It was a tray and she weaved around it. He used to have all kinds of things for adults. My father, as I said, was an artist. Unfortunately, he never had the training. I have his paintings. He did a lot of oil paintings. I mentioned the Rands and, of course, Mrs. Rand was a famous artist.
YB:Yes. Of course, they were great friend of the Swans. Oh, going
back to school, my father always had to bring me ’cause we didn’t have any buses in those days. Many times he’d take me down as far as the Lockwoods. That would be half way and we’d walk. There was Dawn Lockwood and her brother, Arthur. He was a little younger and Dawn was my age. We’d walk down to school from their house ’cause that wasn’t very far, less than a mile. One day we met a rattlesnake. I can still see that snake curled in the dirt road. Arthur, he told us It was a rattlesnake and we heard the rattles. Off we ran. We didn’t stay long there.
Sometimes in the spring, particularly, you couldn’t drive with thecar on our dirt road. In those days they didn’t put gravel down. It wasjust a mud road in the spring and I mean real mud. The mud would beup as far as the top of the wheels on the car if you got stuck. So, theSwans had a horse and a buggy. They didn’t use it for much.Sometimes they rode him or the girls did. But he didn’t like to beattached to the buggy. My father who, of course, had grown up on afarm in Switzerland for twelve years knew something about animals.So he’d have to hitch up the horse and take me down to school in thebuggy.
The Swans came on weekends during most of the year, sometimesnot all winter. Then in the summer they brought al) their householdfrom New York. I still have many pictures. They had a chauffeur andanother butler, parlor maids, upstairs maids. Mrs. Swan, of course,had her own maid and they were all Irish. We were the only Swiss. Iguess we were the only Swiss in all of Salisbury and Lakeville. I’mpretty sure ’cause when I went to high school I still was the only onewith a foreign background. Most everybody in the schools and up inAmesville, they’d all lived here a long time, the families. When Iwent to Salisbury High School It was the same way. I was the onlyone foreign-born, not foreign-born, but with foreign parents. I guesssometimes I resented that, unfortunately, until I went to high schooland my mother and I went to Switzerland for four months when I wasa sophomore. When I understood that I knew more French than theFrench teacher, then I was a little more proud of It. Miss Crofton wasour teacher and she taught me quite a bit In the grammar. So I wasrather ashamed of that, which I guess I shouldn’t have been. I’m notnow, by any means.
Also, on the farm, the Rands ran the farm. Their sons used tocome down when it was hay time. They had three sons, like the Swanshad three daughters. We always thought they’d marry, but they neverdid. They all went their own ways. They were all about the sameages; I remember when they used to come down. I was always downin the barns. I was the only one; I had no brothers or sisters. I’d bewith the farmers. My mother wasn’t too crazy about it. The Rands hadtwo families running the farm. They had them living in the twohouses there. They were really very poor, poor people and my motherwasn’t too crazy my being with them, I don’t know what happened toall those families. I often wonder,
What happened to the Swans?
Well, the Swans… You don’t know when the fire happened? Thefire, the big house. That happened In ’47, ’48.
So, I used to ride on the large horses. I can still see myself riding on those huge horses, those farm horses they had. Then I’d go down and get the milk every day and I’d clean the milk pail. We always had milk right from the farm. In the winter they’d make ice on the big pond in the back. There used to be a big ice house. My mother in the summer and the cook, whoever was there… The Coons worked on the place, Charlie Coons and his son. Mr. Coons worked on that place until he retired. His son, young Charlie, worked with him and they’d bring in the ice. I can still see them and I can still see the refrigerator and my mother taking the cream off the milk. Every Sunday was ice cream and roast beef for the Swans when they were there. I can still see my father cranking the ice cream.
In the morning [Sunday morning – ed.] he’d have to take the maids to church. They all went to Catholic Church. He’d have to take them all. Later in high school I went to the Congregational Church, but at that time my mother couldn’t go to church ’cause she was busy and so was my father. Sometimes the maids would take me to church with them. So I’d go to the Catholic Church and sit there and wonder what was going on. I was sort of the baby of the household because I was small. The maids and the Swan daughters would play with me.
The Swans had many friends. One of the most famous was Alma Gluck, the opera singer, and her husband [discussion as Yvette tries unsuccessfully to remember the husband’s name. Gluck’s husband was Efrem Zimbalist –ed.] Their son is a famous actor and now his daughter is an actress. Then there was a famous other opera singer that was a friend of one of the daughters. Famous Italians. Let me see. Who else? The Henri DuPonts of Winterthur were the friends of the Swans. My father and mother went down there several times to Winterthur to bring plants up to the Swans. Judge Hand, a famous New York judge. I have a letter of his that he wrote to my father. They all thought a great deal of my father. My father managed the household and was also the butler. He did all the shopping. Then the cooks didn’t do the shopping. He came to town and did it. He ran the household.
The Swan girls, as they got older, they didn’t have a governess any more. She left. Then they had a French maid, Albertine. On the place was a young German man named Adolph. This was before World War II. When Hitler came to power Adolph was still very attached to Germany. He had been here a few years. He worked on the place, on the gardens. He wanted to go back. My father told me he admired Hitler. Evidently he went back to Germany. In fact, he and Albertine were sort of going together, I guess you might say. But she was French and he was German. I often wonder what happened to him. He
was a tall – I have a picture of him – a tall good-looking young man, so I’m pretty sure he was in the armed services.
Sometimes Gypsies would come. We’d have a whole group of Gypsies and that’s what reminded me of Adolph. He came one day and said the Gypsies are camping out in the fields, near where I live now. I guess they got permission, to camp there. They were in cars and a couple of wagons. So my mother wanted to go. They were so worried about me. I couldn’t go out of the house. In those days, in the early thirties, they thought Gypsies were not too nice people, but I’m sure they were all right. My mother wanted to go and some of the Irish maids, to get their fortunes told. I remember Adolph had to go with them, ’cause he was big, and my father saying you can’t go unless Adolph goes with you for protection… I remember my mother coming back. I forget what they said…
Then we’d have all kinds of gentlemen that would stop by. I guess we’d call them beggars. In those days you’d have a lot of beggars and my father was always generous. They’d come to the back door by the kitchen. I guess they’d probably tell each other, “Well, that’s a good place to go, the big house in on the dirt road, the Swan place.” My father’d always give them a meal and a dollar before they left. This was quite a thing in those days. They’d come by on the trains, I guess. They traveled around on the freight trains. And there’d be one at the back door way out in the country.
Mr. Swan was perhaps one of the very important financiers on Wall Street. He was compared to JPMorgan and other great men on Wall Street. He was with the Guaranty Trust. I have read about Smith Barney and I always thought from my father that he was one of the founders of Smith Barney. But he was with Smith Barney for many years, a head of Smith Barney when he retired. I assume he was one of the founders of Smith Barney. He was also president of Bronx Botanical Gardens in New York. When we first went there they had a town house in New York and then as the daughters got older, I guess as the youngest one got married, they went into an apartment In the River House. The place is still there now. My parents would have to go almost every week during the winter with the station wagon loaded down with plants. Mr. Walker was the gardener then. In those days, in the thirties and forties, every place had a gardener around here. The Scotch gardeners were the thing. Mr. Whitridge had the Mills and they were great friends of our gardener, Mr. Walker and Mrs. Walker. They had older children. They were all gone, but they had a younger daughter who went through high school here, Roberta Walker. But she was older than me. She was about four or five years older
than I was. I was always with her because I had no friends, no friends close by.
People would come from all over to come to the gardens at Stillwaters. Mr. Swan had a rock garden. Unfortunately, It’s all gone now, where the brook comes down across the road from the main house. That was a beautiful garden. I know he had people come from the Botanical Gardens. The gardens across the road from the main house were Just beautiful. Of course, Mr. Walker and the Coons worked and Mr. Walker was a professional gardener and Mr. Mills at the Whitridge’s place was also a professional. His daughter was my best friend, Dot Mills. So you see how far we had friends. We didn’t have anybody close by.
Mrs. Swan was very Important In education In New York, She was a Henderson. She grew up In Southampton. They were wealthy people, not like today. They were very good to their people. My father was like a son and I was like a granddaughter. They treated them well all the time. Mrs. Swan was very interested in education. It was because of her that I went on to college. She was on the New York State Board of Education, she was a trustee of Teachers College at Columbia and she was the founder of Bennington College. She spoke French with me and my mother. Mr. Swan didn’t speak too much French. He knew It. Mr. Swan was a big man and he just didn’t go for that. But Mrs. Swan always spoke French to my parents, always.
In the winters when the Swans would come up for weekends, or even In the summer, they were usually here all summer… In the beginning they had a house in Bar Harbor, Maine so they’d go up there for months, maybe two months, part of July and August. They finally sold that. I remember one summer they went on a camping trip out west with their daughters. I could never Imagine Mrs. Swan because she was so dignified. I could never see her on a camping trip out west. But they did go.
Going on the train, my father would pick them up. This was the big thing on a Friday night when the train would come with a parlor car and everything from New York. They didn’t always have their dinner but they had their cocktails on the train. And the porter all dressed In white and all the chauffeurs would be there from the Scovilles. I don’t remember all the names, but the Warners were there, but all the chauffeurs would be there.
JS:This Is Canaan?
YB:No, Millerton. Oh, no not Canaan. Oh goodness, no. It was
Millerton because there they had the parlor car and the dining car, everything coming up for just two hours, Sometimes in the winter we
had terrible snow storms and my father couldn’t go. They’d call and say what train they were taking and my father couldn’t go and pick them up because in those days they didn’t keep the roads the way they do now. In fact, on our dirt road it was the farmer that had to do it with a horse and wagon to plow it. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it was. The farmer had a big sleigh and so they’d go up the old hollow. [Now Wild Cat Hollow Road – ed..] We called it Pete Shaw road because Mr. Shaw lived there. So my father would go up with the farmer and this big old wagon and the big horses and go up to the top of the hill there to meet them with the taxi. The taxi would bring them from Millerton and there they’d put all the luggage on the sleigh and come down that hill for the weekend.
They always were there for New Year’s, rarely for Christmas. We’d be with our families in Torrington for Christmas. Mr. Swan was always well-known for giving a New Year’s Eve party. This was the big thing and he always made the eggnog. My father couldn’t make it. He had to. My father always made all the beverages and was well- known for the cocktails and so forth. Mr. Swan would make it, perhaps, if they came a few days before New Year’s. He’d make it, get it started.
I can remember, they came from all over, all the wealthy people. The Scovilles, Whltridges, Warners, Judge Warner. I guess the Blagdens were here already. It can remember sitting…. Part of the house was ours, sort of like an apartment but In the summers when all the maids were here, there was Just one kitchen, and one dining room and one living room, But in the winter when we were alone that was all ours. We had our bedrooms upstairs. The maids were In another section. I can still see all the chauffeurs. Of course, they brought all the people. In those days they didn’t drive. They were sitting In our living room and here I am a little girl about eight or nine years old with all the chauffeurs. My father would bring In some eggnog for them and they’d have some food and so forth. This was the big party so I’d stay up a little while and then I guess I had to go to bed. This was the big event, every New Year’s Eve.
My father and mother would go down once a week to New York and bring plants. The plants that had been there a week or two they’d bring back ’cause the Swans had a huge greenhouse. It’s only part of a greenhouse now. But the greenhouse that Is down at the high school that was the Swans’ greenhouse. When the D’Oenches bought the house after the Swans, they kept the greenhouse. But when the Meyers bought the place they didn’t want all that, so she sold most of that greenhouse to the high school, The Swans had orchids, every flower
I used tobeach on
you can imagine. Sometimes I’d go with my parents once in a while orI’d have to stay with the Walkers after school.
In fact, Mrs. Walker was very Scotch and a very lady. She was avery lady. She always had to have her afternoon tea. So in thesummer I thought it was just wonderful. Every afternoon I’d walkdown to the Walkers about two-thirty or three, and she’d have teaaround three-thirty. We’d sit outside with the daughter, Roberta, and
somebody else was visiting and we’d have tea. We’d talk. Part of my summer,
Also, in the summer, – people don’t believe it- I used to swim in the Housatonic River. There was a lovely beach
Stillwaters Farm. It’s still there but no one swims there now, We used to go canoeing. When I think I used to go canoeing on thatriver by myself sometimes in a canoe. The Swans had two or threecanoes. I remember when the Swans had a chauffeur: they had achauffeur in New York. But by 1931.,. I remember, Mr. Kline was hisname and he had a son. There are pictures of me and the son in thecanoe. He was real good looking. I thought he was really something. Ioften wonder what happened to some of these people. My mother keptup with some, but over the years she lost track.
Another important thing about my father. He was well liked byeveryone. Everyone knew James, my father. My mother was Rose. Myfather did paint. In fact, Mrs. Swan gave him a lot of the materials tostart his painting. She encouraged him, Mrs. Rand knew that he didthis, my father would bring the girls up to the Rands. They used tohave a riding school up at their place. Miss Miner was the teacher. I’dalways go with my father. I didn’t go If Mr. or Mrs. Swan was in thecar. If the daughters were in the car, I’d be with my father. I’d be inthe front seat. So we’d go up. He’d take the girls up for their ridinglessons. One day, this was on a Sunday, Mrs. Rand was working on aportrait of Roosevelt, the famous portrait of Roosevelt. She came outone day. I was not there that day. My father came home and told us.She said to my father, “James, come in. I want you to see something.”My father was probably the first person that saw the painting ofRoosevelt. She undraped it and there was the painting. She said, “Iwant to know what you think of it.” Of course, he told her It wasreally wonderful. What could you say? This Is the one over at thehouse. Of course, she made one or two of that same painting, I guessone Is in the White House, In the capital. So my father was probablythe first one to see it. I think she told him that.
In 1932, the Swans lost a lot of money on Wall Street. Hecouldn’t keep so many people on the place. He asked my father – in
In 1932 the Swans lost a lot of money on Wall Street. He couldn’t keep
so many people on the place. He asked my father- in
those days you could do this – if he could go and work, if Mr. Swan got him a job at another place for two or three years. Then when he could have him back, would he come back? Of course, my mother and father wanted to. They liked the Swans. That was the arrangement, that they would have a place for him. So where my father went? Where they found the first place – this was in 1932 – at the Rees Harris’s father and mother. The Harrises would come to the Swans, so they knew my father and mother. But Mrs. Harris didn’t want a little girl. I was nine years old. They didn’t want a child in the house. My parents didn’t know what to do.
I went to stay with my mother’s sister In Torrington for two months. I went to school there. In fact, I went to the school that my father had gone to when he first came to this country In 1910. It Is now the Board of Education building. If you go by the Board of Education building on Midgeon Avenue, that’s where my father went to school and where I went for two months In the sixth grade, I was about nine or ten. After about two months they had a day off and come visit me. Of course, we had never been separated, so my parents told the Harrises that no, that would not work out.
So then Mr. Swan got them a position In Southampton for the George Clarks. They were very wealthy people also. We were there for three years. Then Mr. Swan wanted us back so we came back in 1935 when I was a freshman in high school.
Salisbury High School. It was October when we came back. We used to come back to visit. We had a lovely little cottage on an Island, Ram Island off Southampton. It’s still there but now it’s a club or yachting club or I think It Is a development. I was there a few years ago. It was just very private and belonged to Mr. Clark and his family. I enjoyed It. I enjoyed Southampton very much. You could go to the beaches there. We had a good time.
When we came back, the youngest Swan daughter was married at Stillwaters. She was married at St, John’s, Lolo Swan. She married Joseph Junkin from New York. He was also a banker In New York. They had a wedding reception out on the lawn by the pond. Of course, it was beautiful in those days, not like It Is now. It was a big wedding. They came from all over.
Mr., Swan retired after the war, My mother always wanted her own house. Finally Mr., Swan gave my father the land, He didn’t want my father too far away. That’s how we have our house which was part
of Stillwaters. It’s my house now, on the very edge of the property. My father wanted it sort of in the middle up on the hill, but Mr. Swan said, no they didn’t want to divide the property there, so he gave him two and a half acres. The house was built in 1947.
The Swans would be there in the summer. My mother didn’t work anymore. She used to do sometimes the cooking when they came up. My mother was a very well-known cook and a wonderful cook. She always had back trouble. In fact, the Swans were so nice. They had her go to specialists and she had this big operation in New York. The Swans took care of everything. They were really wonderful people-a very devoted couple and a very distinguished couple, very nice, very fair to those who worked for them.
The Swans started going to Florida in the winter, because Mr. Swan had retired from Smith Barney. They went to Boca Grande where the DuPonts had a home. Eventually, they bought a home there. My parents went with them every winter.
In 1948, in March, the first day of spring, an electrical storm…. We hadn’t had one, of course, all winter. We were in our house and the Swans were just coming up from Florida. The house had all been renovated that summer. The old part, the part that was two hundred years…. Of course that was very interesting. A lot of the original
things like fireplaces and places where you kept the wood, the ovens and things were still there. The bedrooms upstairs I remember there were three bedrooms and it was a very low ceiling, because this was the original farmhouse. The floor boards were very wide, all the original. They had it all done over, but they didn’t do anything to the old part. They were just restoring it and painting it and putting in new bathrooms. So that night, it was a Sunday night, March, I think it was the twenty-first or the twenty-second, the first day of spring.
I was back living with my parents. I had been in the Army during the war and I was married. That didn’t work out. I had a little boy. So my parents said, well, come back and stay with us. So I did. Dr. Pete [Dr. Peterson – ed.] got me a position over at the hospital. ‘Cause I had gone to school in New York after high school. I went to college one year and didn’t care for it, to be a teacher at that time. So I went back into food. I love food. My mother had taught me all this about food. So I took a dietitian’s course for one year. I had a certificate, not a college degree. I did that in the service and when I came out Dr. Pete said, well, we haven’t had a dietitian for over a year at Sharon Hospital. Of course, Sharon Hospital was just a house then. I was hired on as a dietitian. That was the time when Dr. Fowler, Dr. Noble, Dr. Gevalt were just coming. It still remember, Dr. Pete was there.
And then they added on the new wing. We had a very small kitchen. It was nothing to begin with. Then we had this new kitchen. I was there two years before I was married again. I was there all through the construction and opening up the new kitchen and new dining room. It was quite an event. I know it’s in the Lakeville Journal because we had tours and there were pictures in the Lakeville Journal at that time. That was from ’47 to ’49 ’cause 1 left in the summer of ’49.
Going back to the house, it was Sunday night and I knew I had to go to work the next day. I was in the living room. It was about eleven o’clock and my aunt and uncle had been there to visit from Torrington. They had left an hour or so before. My parents were just going to bed when I heard my father jump up and someone yelling outside. It was the farmer, because the Swans didn’t rent to the Rands anymore. They had a regular farmer. He was a very good farmer. He came running and called out to my father from the road, “The house is on fire, the big house.” I can hear my father, “Oh, God.” I can hear him getting up, he tried the phone in the hall and there was no phone. The farmer yelled to him, “There’s no phone! I have to go down to the main road and call the fire department.” My father said, “I gotta go over there right away.” I said, “Well, you can’t go there alone. I’ll go with you.” So I had my pajamas on. It was raining, sort of drizzling out, so I put on a raincoat and he put on his pants and coat. My mother had to stay there with no phone and my little boy. [Richard was eighteen months old. She used to take care of him while 1 was at the hospital.] We jumped into the car and ran over. Mr. Byam, that was his name, he was the main farmer. It was the farmer’s helper who had come down the road to warn us. Mr. Byam was there with the garden hose and the flames were already coming out. My father was going crazy because he was responsible for the house. Finally, the fire people came. There are still a few people around that remember that fire. The thaw was coming out of the road and the fire engines and everybody were coming in their cars and getting stuck. It was mud all over. Mr. Hemmerly came, everybody came, all the towns. One town stayed, I think it was Falls Village or was it Canaan? All the men came and all the sightseers when they heard that the Swans’ place was burning. My father knew there were some very valuable paintings. The Swans had had everything done over, just had spent quite a bit. They had a big meat freezer downstairs, one of these walk-in freezers. Mr. Swan had a gun room with all the ammunition, because he was quite a hunter. He used to go on big hunting trips out west. My father knew where all that was, of course, ’cause he knew everything in the house. The state troopers would ask him where all this was, particularly the
ammunition. I can still see the firemen going like a line, taking out these big boxes of ammunition out of the gun room. All the part of the house that burned was all the old part, so nothing was left of the original house.
My poor mother was at home wondering because my father had just been there. He’d go every day to check everything. He smoked, unfortunately, and she said, “Oh, he probably left a cigarette there and he’s going to get blamed for it.” That’s all she could think of. My poor mother was there all night from eleven o’clock. Mr. Hemmerly brought me back ’cause we had to call the Swans to tell them, and they were on their way from Florida.
There were some very important paintings and my father tried to jump over the fence when the state trooper stopped him. He said, “I have to go in there. There’s a very famous painting of Andrew Wyeth’s in the dining room. It’s gotta be saved, its gotta’be saved. Mr. Swan said if anything, James, save that painting” In fact, it was saved; The firemen got it out when the state troopers told them where it was. That painting was willed, when the Swans died, to the Wadsworth Athenaeum. So it Is there, It was Just a window with the curtains blowing, a window up In Maine. It was over the fireplace In the dining room.
So, all that part of the house was gone and most of their part. Our part, where we used to live, we had some things In, Mother had a piano. I had al) my dolls there. They were all smoked, not destroyed. But they were smoke-damaged. The part where the maids were, the other wing, that wasn’t damaged too much, but all the Swan’s part, everything was ruined.
When I called the Swans, they were in a hotel In Washington. I said, “Mr. Swan” It was about seven In the morning. He said, “What happened, Yvette?” I said, “The house burned.” He said, “Oh, my God.” I can still hear him. I told him what happened. Fortunately, it was not my father’s fault. It was a freak accident. Lightning had gone along the wires, the telephone and electric wires. Just one bolt struck the wires. When the insurance people came, they proved it. It came along the wires into the house. The house was rebuilt which Is the house there now. The Swans, In the meantime, rented the house now over on Weatogue Road where Al Borden lives. The Swans lived there for a couple of years while their house was being rebuilt. The Swans didn’t want to stay here anymore, so they bought a house In Farmington. Fortunately, we had the house but my parents had to go to Farmington. They were there for quite a while with the Swans, until the Swans
died in ’63 and ’64. They also had a house in Boca Grande, so myparents went to Florida every winter with them and had a wonderfultime. They really enjoyed it. Mrs. Swan died in Farmington and Mr.,Swan died six months later.
Mr., Swan wanted to take a trip and the doctor said, “Well, youcan’t go,” He couldn’t go because he had heart problems and had totake medicine. “You can’t go unless you have someone with you.” “I’llhave James go with me.” So they went to Hawaii because Mr., Swanknew Important people in Hawaii who had a huge plantation ofpineapple, They went to San Francisco and stayed in a big hotel there,and Hawaii, My father was right along with him, They came back onthe boat to San Francisco. He always said, “My son, James,” My fatherhad a wonderful trip. I think it was late summer/early fall and Mr.Swan died that November. Then my parents retired, after a fewmonths, after they had to oversee everything with the auction and soforth, and they moved here. They were here for nine years until theydied.
What about you and the Army?
My father didn’t have any sons and, of course, in those days we
all got caught up in the war efforts and fevers. I didn’t want to work
in a factory, I was like my father, there was nothing I could do.
After I finished school in New York City, the New York ‘Institute of
Dietetics, then I worked in a cafeteria in the telephone company in
Hartford. I think I was making about fifteen dollars a week and living
in a lovely room on Prospect Avenue, One of these old Victoria
houses made into a rooming house, Very nice, a lady ran it. It was
fine with my parents because I was only nineteen then.
Then the war broke out and all our friends were scattered, youknow, went In the service, many of them. I wanted to go into theservice, but I wasn’t old enough, you had to be twenty-one, thewomen. So I applied and got a Job In New Jersey managing arestaurant with the gentleman who owned It, He taught me all aboutthe restaurant business. I was his manager and he was the owner, Iwas there almost two years until I was old enough to join. This wasin Cranford, NJ. I joined the army from Salisbury, Of course, we wentfrom Hartford. This was the WAAC, the auxiliary army before theregular army. I think I was Inducted In April, I didn’t get my ordersuntil June, I went In June 1943, I went to Fort Devens. Did all mytraining there, Believe me, It was hard, But I made friends there.
They had to place us and come to find out, there was a wholegroup of women who were dietitians, nine of us and the army didn’tknow what to do, l was the one with the least education. I didn’t have
a college degree yet. All the others did. In those days, the dietitians in the army were not like the nurses. They were civilians. All those other friends of mine joined because they wanted to be in the army. They didn’t want to be a civilian dietitian. They could all be dietitians.
We finished our basic training after eight weeks. In August, if you wanted to stay in, that was when the women were made regular army, WAC. We all had to re-enlist. There were nine of us. We all became great friends because we were always together. They didn’t know what to do with us. The orders had to come from the Surgeon- General in Washington. Some of them wanted to get out because in the meantime they had made that summer, after these other women had joined, they made the dietitians regular army like nurses. They were commissioned second lieutenants. These women couldn’t get out of the army any more. They were in the army and they had re-enlisted and the army wouldn’t give them a rank.
We were all assigned to Staten Island. The army took over a lot of civilian hospitals. It was Halloran General Hospital which had just been built. It eventually became a children’s hospital. I read some years ago it was for mentally ill children. I think it’s been closed now because it was so poorly kept up. Anyway, we were there about six or seven months. Dietitians there who were regular army dietitians didn’t like us. I was the one that was least qualified. My best friend had been a home ec teacher. She had her degree and the others all had been home ec or had been dietitians. We were from all over the country. Really surprising. At this hospital there were all small buildings and each building had a kitchen. We were in charge of the kitchens. The regular dietitians were in the main kitchen where the food came from. The men would bring the food. We were in charge of a building kitchen – maintain it, make sure it was clean and so forth and so on. The dietitians really didn’t like us.
At this hospital when the first ships with the wounded came in from Africa, we were the ones who got the first ones. I can always remember when they came in. It was just before Christmas and we’d only been there three months. They hadn’t had hardly any attention on the boat because hospital ships hadn’t been started yet. This came later. These were just troop ships and they sent all these wounded. These poor men hadn’t had any attention. Oh, my goodness, and they saw some of us and they said, “Oh, we haven’t seen a woman, a smiling face, in so long.” We were there just about six months – we always thought it was her fault – the head dietitian had us transferred out.
We were transferred to be dietitians. We were called dietitians’ aides. We were privates one day and then we got our commissions and
we got to be sergeants because we were technicians. A lot of people resented that. A lot of the men, they said, “How come in one day you got to be a sergeants?” Well, anyway, we were transferred out to Mason General Hospital, which had been Pilgrim State Hospital out in Bayshore, Long Island. It was a mental hospital for the army. This was where we were sent. So, you see, we were not liked. There it was just one building. The army acquired another building a little later on because they had so many men coming in for psychiatric problems.
JS:When did you get out of the army?
YB:I got out of the army in ’45.
JS:Tell me one thing before we finish. You told me before we
■ started this, that the name of the farm is incorrect.
YB:It is Stillwaters Farm.
JS:Plural. From the Bible?
YB:From the Bible. Mrs. Swan named the farm that.
JS; When did it stop being plural?
YB:I don’t know whether it was before the Herndons came. When the
Swans sold it they sold it to the D’Oenches. Whether they didn’t look on the deed that it had an ‘s’. Then the Meyers bought it when Mr. D’Oenche died. I can’t remember if there was an ’s’ on it. It didn’t come to my attention until the Herndons said that he had gotten a letter from Emma Swan.
There are only two daughters left. The oldest became an architect In the Boston area. She died some years ago. The second daughter and the youngest daughter are still living. The youngest daughter had two sons. In fact, the young son, he’s the one l hear from. They thought a lot of my father. The middle daughter, Emma, wrote a letter. I guess she must have heard It from some place, from someone that he had bought the farm. It was Stillwater. She said that’s not correct. She wrote them a note. In fact, they showed me the note, saying that It was Stillwaters Farm, from the twenty-third psalm. When I looked up my army papers that were sent to me when I came back, sure enough on the address and on my army record It was Stillwaters Farm. I know my father would always say to people that no – Stillwaters Farm. I told the Herndons that, but they’d already made the signs.
JS:Well, you’ve done a wonderful Interview.
YB; How’s that? Is that enough? I’ve probably forgotten some things.
JS:No, that was great. Thanks, Yvette.