Digby Brown Interview:
This if file #7 cycle 2. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is November 5, 2015. I am interviewing Digby Brown who is going to talk about the Salisbury Association, SWSA, the Historical society and anything else he wants to chat about. We’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name? DB:Digby Brown
JM:Where were you born?
DB:Keene, New Hampshire
DB:a long time ago, June 15, 1935.
JM:Your parents’ names:
DB:Gordon and Persis, You don’t see that very often any more. It is a name from her ancestors.
JM:Did you have siblings?
DB:Yes, I have 5 total two older sisters and three younger brothers.
DB:Starting with the oldest Jane Brown, Ann, Digby, Douglas, Duncan, and Derrick, the 4 D’s.
JM:You came here looking for a second home in about 1985. Where did you buy this second home?
DB:I started looking from North Greenwich north and I wanted to stay in Connecticut. I looked in all the towns that you and I can think of that had a decent reputation on the west side of Connecticut, Litchfield and a whole bunch of others. I was looking for an old house that had not been trashed by modernization. I thought it was going to be easy but it wasn’t. I finally ended up looking in Salisbury. I found a house that was not exactly what I expected but it was un-trashed with a beehive oven and a center chimney and all those things still intact.
JM:What was the address?
DB:76 Factory Street.
JM:It was an old house. Was it part of any business?
DB:It had been a long time ago the wood working operation for Salisbury Artisans. This was the home where they lived and the next house above it was the shop.
JM:Now when you say it was the house where they lived are you talking about Phil Warner?
DB:I gather. It was long before me.
JM:Did you restore it or change it after you bought it?
DB:Fortunately the predecessors had done a good job of mechanical and electrical, both without demolition, so it was mechanically in pretty good shape. It was lucky. I did some. I took out a pink 1960’s kitchen sink the first day I got there and put in a 2 inch think wood counter, continuous in one piece that everybody said you could not do between two walls but it was pretty easy. Everybody laughed at me, but I did it, almost instantaneously. I couldn’t live in this beautiful old house with a pink sink. Everything else was alright. The best part of it was that it saved all the really good parts. This was the one thing that really had to go. They had the old beehive oven, the old crank and the big fireplace, the steep stairway about 2 ½ feet wide around the chimney. Upstairs was just like you would expect. It probably had been subdivided into two or three rooms instead of one big room or two bigger ones. It was not trashed. The downstairs was a dining room or now we call it a family room, then the main room and then the kitchen off the back was a wing with its bathroom and one bathtub.
JM:That is fortunate.
JM:How long did you own the house?
DB:From 1985 to 1998. Then I thought I could find another one without too much trouble, but it was not as easy as I thought in Salisbury anyway. Some I found in Sheffield, and other places. All I really did was put it back to what it was, exterior and interior. I didn’t have to do too much, mostly TLC. The wood floors were restored here and there.
JM:It sounds beautiful, it truly does. When did you get involved with the Salisbury Association know you told me you have been 15 years on the board.
DB:15? Probably about that.
JM:Did you join it shortly after coming to town?
DB:Oh no that would have been longer. Total years here are 30. I don’t know the exact date but it was one of those things where they were doing a lot of things that I liked.
JM:What is it that they were doing that you liked which caused you to join?
DB:The land trust and what they were trying to do to save the farms and woods, fields stuff like that and a lot of other things too. That was just one of the things that struck me as important with this town in particular because we have been saved better than most. When I first bought the house here, I didn’t
know anybody here or anything except the house. It could have been a disaster. It reminded me exactly of where I grew up in Keene, New Hampshire. We have the same rough hills and the same kind of lakes, brooks and rivers. It was so similar; Keene was a bigger city by far. The setting is about the same. So every time I came back here, as I had a place in the city still, to make sure the house had not been terrorized or burned. It was a happy moment because this was home. It did not take long; people here were very friendly and helpful and that is how I got into the SWSA winter sports organization.
JM:That question is coming up next.
DB:They could not wait to pursuit me because I was an ex jumper in high school and college.
JM:Did you get involved in SWSA after Salisbury Association?
DB:No, SWSA was the first, probably within the first year so it is almost 30 years.
JM:George Kiefer was a neighbor on the other side of the pond on Selleck Hill.
JM:George Kiefer got a lot of people involved.
DB:That was not too far away and the next thing you know I was…
JM:The thing that I want to ask you particularly is about building the new hill, the new jump because that is very important.
DB:The older one that we had is about 65 years old. It turned out that we had been trying to get, and were finally awarded the Junior Olympics they called it then for pre-Olympic competition for the kids and for cross country. We were chosen as the location. That is great except they wanted us to have an updated FIS jump which was not what we had. We had an old jump that had been restored and replaced and tweaked numerous times by all of us and other people. We were kind of patching up the old one. There were two things that were important. The first one was that we had to have it by February of the following year.
JM:What year was that, do you remember?
DB:It was five years ago, 2010. We got the word somewhere in the late spring early summer so we had to design the jump according to the new regulations, fund it, or try to fund it anyway, and schedule the construction. The best part of the story was, and I was prepared to be the bad guy but I did not have to be which is great. My theory was if we hadn’t sorted out looking for money among the locals we could borrow some but we couldn’t borrow $750,000 which was the figure for our budget. We (meaning the whole team) were trying to find where money might found; we got requests. People said ok I’ll donate so much if it goes ahead. We were getting pledges. It turned out we had a meeting in early July at the jump site and we were going to decide whether we were going to build this jump and have the Junior Olympics or forget it! Everybody was enthusiastic about doing it. I somehow
remember that things like this do not always work out too well so I had a hidden agenda that if we did not have 50% of the money spoken for by that day, I was all set to be the bad guy. I did not say a word to anybody. This is the best part of the story. I did not want to prejudice the sponsors. Believe it or not, I think we had somewhere around $375,000 just over half, maybe $400,000 even. So I carefully didn’t say a word until now. I can tell these stories. I did not want to be the bad guy either, but I figured somebody had to be. I was ready for that. We would have just had the high speed part; I think we were going to solve that one way or another. It would have been a shame to make that decision.
JM:You did get the money. Was it all privately funded?
DB:We borrowed some too which we have been paying down. We got the Berkshire Taconic Foundation involved, but they were actually handling the donations for us. They did not donate much, but they handled the donations for tax deductions. The rest we borrowed from the Salisbury Bank. We are down to paying it all off in less than a year.
JM:According to Mat Kiefer (see file #3 cycle 2 Mathias Kiefer) there is about a year or a year and half left of the debt.
DB:So much a year, I don’t know the exact numbers. That is amazing because it was a substantial amount of money. It was not a gift. We are going to have a celebration; it is coming up this coming year. I think it is scheduled.
JM:When they actually started construction, how long did it take to do the building?
DB:Probably concrete and all that sort of stuff it started in December; it took some months. After the steel structure was put in which was all prefabricated and so it erected pretty fast and that is the nice part. Once we got into it, it was pretty simple; then you add the deck and the trail
JM:Who was the contractor? (Seth & Rafe Churchill Ed.)
DB:Churchill Builders which was great because they were new here at the time and trying to build their business. They were very good. They understood the schedule and they know schedules which was a great help. If you pick the wrong people you are not going to make it. We all know that. They were new but they had good credentials. I have to say they did a great job.
JM:Now tell me about the flagpole and the flag.
DB:To some degree it was not part of the jump design. The next thing I know it was roughed out. Both Churchill men worked together; the brother Rafe was the main guy and he and I ended up there trying to figure out where to put it and how to put it because it was a curved roof and normally it would have been on the side of the jump instead of the dead center. It did not have to be on the side but that was where it was before. Before a few hours were over we had designed it. I had already figures out that we needed a big flag so I went to the town hall which could get a big flag at nominal cost. He
worked nights to put it all together; next thing you know we had a flag pole, we put up the flag. The good news was that when we had discussed it and tried to figure out how to light it. Solar was far way then and it would have been a big round thing at the top and it would have looked like hell. We wanted to light it in the worst way, but it might have been more of a negative than a positive. Usually the hill is used in the daytime anyway. Now as of a month ago I found where you can buy exactly the lighting we want and hang it on the pole. It is a tiny little thing and we can get however many we need, but they are so inexpensive that I will buy a bunch of them. We can figure out how to install them. I am sure Rafe will be pleased to finish that chapter. Then the best part is that both night and day one can see the flag. It was a nuisance to take it down every night. Now it is permanent. You can leave it all year round if you want. It beats us the flag, but so what. We were lucky on that.
JM:You can always replace the flag. When you are actually doing the ski jumps, how many judges are there?
DB:I should know the answer but at least 5. It is an odd number, but 5 sounds right. It scores the distance is one thing which is half the total points.
JM:What is the other half?
DB:That is the form; how they look are they doing proper landing. It used to be based on the take –off too but now it is just air and landing. In my era they judged starting right from the top and how intense you looked.
JM:Were you very intense?
DB:I was good at that! My air-born was not so good. I was trying to be a Norwegian, but I was way off in that. That was a long time ago, too. I have to admit they taught me more competing in the Ivy League, guys from Middlebury and some of those guys because they had a lot of Norwegians. I learned a lot by watching them. Some of them even helped you. Some did not want to have any part of it. It was kind of interesting how they did that. I had a lot of fun; basically I was a jumper to beat any of them. We had a good system. We had three jumps in those days and only two of them, the best jumps counted so you could throw away one jump. If you crashed, your jump was fined. As a team you had to have of those 5 people jumping, you had to have three. Each team had 5 jumpers at least, but you had three that counted. You couldn’t afford to crash otherwise you were a zero. If three crashed, you had no score. I would go 90% on the first jump, 100% plus on the second jump, and if I made two of them I would go crazy. If I crashed, it was not all that bad. It is all contours going downhill; you can slide with it mostly as long as you end more or less right side up. I was lucky. We had 60 jumpers from 12 schools with teams of 5 jumpers each. There was a lot of competition.
JM:I did not realize that they did teams.
DB:Yeah now it is all team and the same with cross country and Nordic combined which was the jump and cross country, 6 events including jumps, Cross country, Nordic, combined, downhill slalom and Alpine, so there are 6 different events.
JM:Alpine is different from Nordic?
DB:Yeah Alpine is downhill only.
JM:What is Nordic?
DB:Nordic is jumping cross country. That is where the terms come from Norway, I think.
JM:Does the Salisbury Winter Sports Association do any actual teaching on the site?
JM:Before the jumps, after the jumps?
DB:We have a school for kids just to start usually Christmas week time up there for anybody who wants to jump or at least go out to try to do it on the smaller jumps.
JM:You have three hills.
DB:Right, a 20 meter, a 30 meter hill which is kind of a real jump from the tower and 65 meter which is the big one.
JM:Is it 65 or is it 70?
DB:It is really 65, but they round it up.
JM:OK because according to Mat Kiefer it is 70.
DB:You jump 70 but the design is for 65 and goes 70 without hitting the flat. They design it so you don’t get hurt by landing on the flat. I only did that once as a kid on the 30 meter. Once was enough.
JM:I would not even want to try. Is there a ski program that SWSA sponsors for the Salisbury Central School students?
DB:We helped on the cross country in a big way or downhill skis. Mat Kiefer was involved with that just to get skis on them and just romp around in the snow at the school. They had Bittersweet in those days.
JM:Where was Bittersweet?
DB:Just to the left of the jumps. If went up the little road on the very left side and then you go left up above that.
JM:It is sort of where Serena Granbury’s alpaca farm is?7.
DB:Yes, just beyond that, if you go left and right of her place that is exactly where it is. It is a great place to start little bitty kids. It has kind of lost its appeal; it used to be a family affair because of dads and moms. The town was involved too. We tried to get it resurrected, but what we do now is we start them out where we can and then we help them for those who can’t afford it on their own to go to Catamount.
JM:There is a good strong connection with Catamount.
DB:I think that has been a success. It is a good way to get them into the scheme. It helps with the jumping. Back to the jumping itself we have Mark Green who is a very serious jumper in his own right but he is also very helpful to all of us jumpers. He is out there several days a week, weekends and whenever we’re together, he is there. He lives in New York State, not all that far away. We have had others to help; we have always had one jumper who’s willing to help others.
JM:You have to have someone that knows what they are doing.
DB:And teaching. I know what to do, but I am not a teacher.
JM:Teaching is an art.
DB:Totally and I stayed away from that. If I have to save somebody’s life, I’ll do that but otherwise I try not to. Because I know I shall confuse them with others who really are good at it.
JM:You know your limitations and that is very important.
DB:I try to.
JM:You also are on the Housing Trust Board, I believe.
JM:How many members are on the board?
DB:I think we have 6 or 7.
JM:What does the Housing Trust actually do? Is it Sarum village, is it affordable housing? What is it?
DB:The Housing Trust was set up by four of us, Richard Dunham (See file #81/93 Inge Dunham) being the lead guy. He was good at searching out what other people had done similar or useful. The others were Carl Williams, myself and Gordon Johnson, the veterinarian. We were the nucleus of it and what we were trying to do was to what some other towns did. They owned the land and then somebody else would build a house on it. That is what we learned from them; we also learned we did not want them to build a house which might take 10 years or 5 years or 3 years. We knew that might be dangerous for this area so we decided to go a notch further and provide the house at cost or less. We would own the land so they would not have to build the house.
JM:When you provide the housing, is it like Habitat for Humanity where there is sweat equity?
DB:To some extent but usually not much because the new ones that were built were modular so that gets pretty involved without getting into quality, finishes and stuff like that. You can get modular that are from A to Z. You can make them look wonderful. Mostly we pick colonials and such. We try to make it look like the neighborhood. That was intentional; that was more important that the house itself in a way.
JM:For the ambience and curb appeal
DB:When we first started our first purchase was the land here on East Main Street that had two houses on it. The first thing we did was rehab those houses, insulated, to make them operational houses, concrete on the floor instead of dirt in the basement and a few things like that. One of them had a little shed which was falling down and we turned that into a downstairs bathroom and laundry area. We made it more like a house. We as a team sort of helped do some of the work, but merely cosmetic cleaning, moving. We had contractors do most of the work.
JM:When did this Housing Trust start? Can you give me a year?
DB:Maybe 12 or 15 years ago.
JM;How often do you meet?
DB:Monthly at least and more often as needed.
JM:Do you have any projects working now?
DB:We have several ideas; the biggest problem finding applicants who fit our criteria. Then the question is can they get a mortgage and to what extent. It works out pretty well because in some cases there are people who by the time they bought some of those early houses, the mortgage was less than the rent they were paying somewhere else. They had a house that may have been better quality and they saved half or more of their energy bills. They went from a rental in town to one of our houses. I didn’t think of those kinds of things any more than anyone else.
JM:Those are the unintended circumstances that come up; that is wonderful.
DB:That was our goal to make the house livable, not just a house. People would want to live in our houses. We had a picture of a comfortable home; that makes it easier to understand. It may not be the size you want, but the quality of it is very important. That has been the goal. If it falls below that, we try to improve it.
(Current board members are: Leo Gafney, President, Teal Atkins, Sec./Treasurer, Digby Brown, Inge Dunham and seeking three more board members. Ed.)
JM:You are also on the Historic District Committee?
DB:Yes the Historic District Commission; that is a town board.9.
JM:How many members on that board?
DB:I think about 5 or 6. (See tape #71/83 Jane Fitting)
JM:Again what do they actually do?
DB:Their function is state mandated, not something we originated. We share the paperwork and all the stuff we did for it with Sharon and other towns including a few up in New Hampshire even. We are trying to do the same kind of thing. That does not start with a bare piece of paper that is why that anybody who has a similar desire can join; we want to spread the idea.
JM:With the Historical District being state mandated are there certain requirements or regulations that you have to follow?
DB:Definitely the main thing the simple way of putting it is with a house of whatever era you try to maintain its visual aspect from public ways; it is all based on what you see as you walk or drive.
JM:So it is exterior.
DB:Yeah that is right. That is intentional; it is supposed to be maintained. If windows are to be changed they must comply. You are not going to put in the exact same thing, now you can put in windows that look like the old ones.
JM:But if you had a Victorian house you would not want a plate glass window.
DB:That’s right or one of those arched window which are very dated. No matter what they do; it is what you see that counts. Additions are fine as long as they conform to the visual exterior. There are a couple of things we can’t do. One is you can’t pick a color because that is considered temporary and the other is landscaping which is also considered temporary. Although most of us would say that it is pretty permanent. If you plant maple or oak trees they are pretty permanent.
JM;I remember the blue house down in Litchfield which was a Victorian. It was bright blue.
DB:But that is Victorian so in a way it was alright.
JM:But if you have a bunch of white clapboard houses with green or black shutters and then you have this awful blue house…
DB:I know, but the curious thing is if they were more careful with the color it could probably blend in. That is what happens. If that does happen, we can’t stop them. We spend a lot of time with the people. If we know before they start, what they are trying to do, we can at least help them be in keeping. We are not trying beat people up or trying to change what they want to do with the house. We are just trying to help them make it look appropriate. If we get early enough in the process, it is pretty easy. Most people want help. If they bought a house that is older why would they want to bastardize it for no good reason? In any case it has really been a good thing; some people have
problems because they think they know better that anyone else. Most people want help. I think the good news is in time even those cases they end up helping camouflage something that you and I wouldn’t approve. But they did it before we even got involved. Once they have done something, it is hard to undo. Some people so it and take the risk. I hate to see it in small town like this. I understand the corporate world were you that sort of thing. If you are going to play those kind of games, but we are talking about homes and country settings.
JM:How often do you meet?
DB:Monthly at least.
JM:Is this the one that meets at 8:30 in the morning?
DB: We were going to meet on Election Day except the Town Hall was closed.
(Current board members are: Candace Cuniberti, Elyse Harney Sr. Thomas Callahan, Digby Brown, Jane fitting, Leon McLain, and Arthur Taylor who just died.)
JM:This has been absolutely wonderful. Before we close, are there any additions or anything that you would like to add either about SWSA, the Housing Trust or the Historic District that I haven’t covered?
DB:I just want to check on the specifics about the people involved and how long ago some of these things happened.
JM:That would help tremendously. You might as well be accurate. Thank you very much for time and effort.