Katherine Chilcoat Interview: Part #1
This is file 53. This is Jean McMillen interviewing Katherine Chilcoat, the town Historian at her office at the Scoville Memorial Library. Today’s date is June 18, 2013. Katherine is going to give us a lot of information about her life and times in Salisbury. We’ll start with…
JM:What is your name?
KC:My name is Katherine Whitney Payne Chilcoat.
JM:Your birthdate, please:
KC:I was born May 10, 1927 in New York City.
JM:What were your parents’ names?
KC:My mother was Ethel Nelson Payne; my father was Donald Payne.
JM:Do you have siblings?
KC:I had a sister who was killed in an automobile accident in 1943 when I was a teenager.
JM:Was she older or younger?
KC: She was three years older than I.
JM:What is your educational background?
KC:I went to public school in Mt. Vernon, New York where I grew up through high school, A. B. Davis High School in Mt. Vernon. From there I went to Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and graduated in 1949 with a major in American Studies.
JM:How did you come to this area?
KC:Well, my father was in the advertising business (Young & Rubicam) in New York City. In the 1930’s it was the thing to do to have a home in the country. I think he was a frustrated farmer, maybe. He grew up in the Middle West; so he decided to buy a farm. He had a friend who had a farm over in Pine Plains, New York. So he started looking in Duchess Country for a farm. He found one about half way between Millerton and Amenia, on top of Silver Mountain, 365 acres with buildings, for which in 1935 he paid $24,000. (It was called Silver Mountain Farm. Ed.) So from that time on went I was 8 years old for the rest of childhood, I spent weekends and summers over in Duchess Country. That was just like 5 miles the other side of the Connecticut border so I was familiar with this area.
JM:What kind of a farm was it, mixed crops or dairy?
KC:We started, the first things we put on the farm was flock of sheep. The first people that my father hired to take care of the sheep were Ken and Ann Rossiter who were Salisbury people. After ken
& Ann left we gave up the sheep. The thing to do in those days was Aberdeen Angus cattle, so my father put on a herd of Black Angus. After my mother and father divorced in 1943, my mother got the farm and decided it had to be self-supporting which Black Angus weren’t. They never could be self-supporting. She got rid of the beef cattle and put on a herd of Guernsey’s. That was the beginning of how I got involved in the Guernsey business which ultimately led to my meeting my husband to be.
JM:Let’s move on to Deep Lake Farm. We’ll stay with the cows.
KC:Deep Lake in Lakeville was owned by Sam Berke who was President of the Old Mr. Boston distillery. Sam decided he had the farm and he had a herd of cattle on it, just a herd of run of the mill Guernsey cattle. He got the idea that the “slop”, the left over from the distilling process, would make good cow feed.
JM:They‘d be very happy cows!
KC:By that time there was no alcohol left. So he hired a young man from Maryland by the name of William Chilcoat to research the feasibility of turning distillery slop into dairy feed. Bill used to really be based in Boston at the distillery, but he would come to the farm in Lakeville. When he came to the farm, he would stay at Madeline Garrity’s boarding house on Walton Street. Sam Berke, in getting to know Bill, learned a lot about Bill’s expertize with dairy cattle, Guernsey’s in particular. He decided that he would give up the research project in Boston and he would hire Bill to be herd manager at Deep Lake. When Bill first came to Lakeville to work for Deep Lake, he lived at the Farnam Tavern. In those days the Farnam Tavern was a tavern. I think it was after the fire at the tavern that he started boarding with Irv Hibbert who was manager at Deep Lake. AT that point Sam Berke realizing that he had a gem in a herd manager, decided he wanted to have the best herd of Guernsey cattle in the world. He set out to buy the best, and they acquired the best and became world famous for Guernsey cattle.
JM:What did you have to do with Deep Lake Farm?
KC:Well, when I graduated from college, I went to secretarial school in the first place to learn to do something that I could make a living at. I got a job in New York City at the Ford Foundation which was just starting up. After a year in New York the man I worked for was transferred to Pasadena, California. He asked me if I would go which him which I did. I didn’t like California. So after a year in California I came back with no job. I came up to the farm and got a job with the Connecticut Guernsey Breeders Association which was then based in Lakeville. The office was in Lakeville. When that folded, I went to work in the office at Deep Lake Farm for Sam Berke. In the meantime Bill and I had gotten to know each other. We had spent time together at sales and shows.
JM:Had you married Bill before you came to Deep Lake or while you were at Deep Lake?
KC:While I was at Deep Lake because I remember the Berkes were at our wedding. I had been working at Deep Lake before we got married.
JM:Which came first the mail order business or working as part of the town government at the town hall?
KC:The mail order started first. Sam burke was really a very brilliant man and his mind was always working. He decided that signs in his barn that told the story of each individual cow, a sign up over the cow.
KC:Yeah, but he didn’t know what form the signs should take. If he had somebody paint a sign, every time the cow had a calf or every time she completed another record, they would have to do a new sign. So he was sitting in a diner one day and he looked at the menu board which was black felt with grooves in it that you could put white plastic letters on. He thought, “Now that would work!” so he found a fabricator out on Long Island willing to make 12” by 15” signs. He started giving them away. Then he started selling them.
KC:I can’t remember how much. When it became really successful, he got bored with it. He had created the business; he had proved his point, and he no longer was interested. So he approached me one day and he said, “Would you like to buy it?” I said, “Sure, but I can’t possibly afford it.” He said, “Well, buy it over time. You don’t have to put anything down, just do it.” so we took it over and we started running it out of the basement of the house at Deep Lake, and then we moved it. Every time we moved, the sign business moved.
JM:When did you first take over the sign business? Can you give me a year?
KC:It had to have been around 1960, I would think. Bill and I ran it until…Well I ran it until after he had died in 1992. It had gotten to the point where there was so little money to be made and it was such a lot of work that I simply closed the business down.
JM:With this Guernsey herd and the blood lines, did they have the ear tags with the numbers on them like they do now?
KC:The great big ones? No, in those days the ear tag was just a little silver ear tag that fit over the edge of the ear; not these great big huge things that you can see half way across the field.
JM:Did you go to the town clerk’s office after Deep Lake Farm?
KC:Yes, I went to work in 1965, about the time Susan went into kindergarten. I was suffering from an empty nest and needed something to keep myself busy. The school was setting up a library in the lower building, and I volunteered for that project. I don’t remember whether the principal at that time who was Bob Sullivan approached me or I approached him about some part time work at the school.
But I started working part time at the school in 1967. I worked part time at the school for the next five years, and then I took additional part time work for the town in town hall, starting in 1972. In those three years I worked for Joe Pinkham who was Sanitarian, Henry Rossire who was Building Inspector, and Charlotte Reid who was First Selectman. It was actually Charlotte who needed somebody to review the land records. In those days they were kept, long before computers, hand written in two volumes; one was the seller and one was the buyer.
JM:They had to balance.
KC:They had to agree. The state mandated that somebody had to physically check every entry and see that it was in each book. Charlotte hired me to do that.
JM:Who was town Clerk at that time?
KC:Lila Nash was the Town Clerk. She was none too happy to have somebody overseeing her work.
JM:At that time was she the only town clerk? Thus whatever had been done in the land records, she had done?
KC:Yes, Lila had done.
JM;that must have been an interesting situation!
KC:At the end of every day, I would have made a list of whatever didn’t balance, and I would leave it with her and go home. I would go back the next day, hoping that while I was gone she would have made the corrections. Then I would go back the next day and pick up where I had left off. But I was covering years’ worth of material.
JM:Mistakes happen in any business. Working at Salisbury Central you worked your way up from part time to full time.
KC:I did in 1975 the work load in the office increased every year; there were more state forms and more paper work of all different kinds. At that time even though we had two buildings there was only one school secretary, and it was Evelyn Elder Bellini. She needed help. So they hired me first part time and then they turned me into full time.
JM:You were always the principal’s secretary.
KC:I was; I don’t know how that actually evolved except that Evelyn knew all about the complications of things like transportation, and bus routes. Rather than try to teach that to me, it was easier to teach me how to do typing of teacher evaluations, make appointments, and that kind of thing.
JM:More secretarial rather than the lunch money or transportation.
JM:I know you used to call the busses, but did you ever get involved with the nitty-gritty of the bus routes and the transportation.
KC:Never, I never did transportation. When I was there, Pat Laverty had been hired and did transportation.
JM:Now there are 2 if not 3 secretaries in the office.
KC:There are 2 in the upper building, and one in the lower building.
JM:Who is in the lower building now?
KC:(Gail Condon Ed.)
JM:You left Salisbury Central when?
KC:I left Salisbury Central in 1992.
JM:Knowing that you needed another project, is that when you went to Fitch-Kane then?
KC:No, I actually started working for Fitch-Kane in 1993 or 94. My mother had died in 1982, and I had settled up her estate and brought all her things from both the farm and the apartment in Mt. Vernon to our house in Lakeville and had a humungous tag sale.
JM:In Lakeville you were living where at that time.
KC:We were living on Montgomery Street (Now #56 Sharon Road Ed.) the A. E. Robert’s house just before the Catholic Church on the left. We bought that house in 1982 and lived there for 14 years.
JM:What did you do for Fitch-Kane?
KC:They would get a sale and would need people to sort through attics and basements. I started doing that; I ended up being their cashier. On sale day I would be at the desk taking people’s money.
JM:That’s always fun; I like taking people’s money. When did you get involved with the Holley-Williams Letter Project?
KC:That again happened after 1992. George Vincent, no George didn’t get me involved with that; he got me involved with recording for the blind. One of the people who was recording with our group was Steve Bohlmer, and Steve Bohlmer was part of the group that was reading letters at the Holley-Williams House. When people find out that you are available, they find things for you to do.
JM:How about Byron Scott, was he involved with the letter project?
KC:He was. Byron Scott was head of the letter project. The letter reading had been going on since 19–. The Salisbury Association got the Holley-Williams House in 1971. They started reading those
letters little by little very soon, maybe 1975. There were a couple of people reading them then. When Bryon got involved that it became well organized; we would meet once a week and there would be 5 or 6 of us.We would read letters.
JM:You used to read at the house?
JM:When I joined in about 2000, you were reading in the upper part of the Academy Building.
KC:We started out reading around the dining room table in the house. I don’t think I know why we moved because it meant we had to move all the letters, so I don’t know why we moved.
JM:There was something like 3,000 letters.
KC:Oh 6,000 letters in the attic.
JM:Town Historian. You became town Historian after Norm Sills?
KC:I did. I have always been interested in history, and I would come into the library and see Norm sitting, in those days the Town Historian was located on the first floor where the librarian is now. Norm would be sitting there reading things. I would poke my head in; I have always been fascinated. “Is there anything I can do?” He got me started doing some computer work for him. Then he would say, “Take a box of documents home and see if you can order out of them.”
JM:That’s right up your alley!
KC:That is the kind of thing I love to do. I would spread it out on my dining room table and I would do it chronologically and then I would do it by people. I would put everything in file folders and put it all back in the box. It would be all nice and neat.
JM:It is wonderful if you are doing research for specific things which I have been doing. It is just great.
KC:So when Norm decided to retire in 2004 and that was because Nancy was not well; he wanted to devote his time to Nancy. There was nobody to take on the job. I said I would do the work but I didn’t want the title. I got away with that for about a year, and then I picked the town report and found my name listed as Town Historian. What I didn’t want to do was to go to meetings in the state of Connecticut as Town Historian. I wanted to just do local stuff.
JM:Like the bells, the kettles, the exhibitions that you have put on which are a tremendous amount of work.
KC:Yeah.So in November, 2004, I took over full time.
JM:And been going strong ever since. It is a job.7.
KC:Well, you know I love it. It is just who I am; I like to make things in order; I like to have order in my life, and I like to know where things are so that I can put my hands on them. I like to work by myself.
JM:Same characteristics that I have with the oral history. I really enjoy it; I love working with the people for short term, and then I can do my own thing in my own way. I am very happy doing that.
KC:I have often said that I would have been content to have been a researcher who sat in the basement of a library someplace and just researched.
JM:Would you like to do the “slop” of the liquor business? What else have you done for the Salisbury Association besides the letters and town historian? I am referring to the de accessioning of the Holley-Williams House.
KC:That was an enormous job. When the Salisbury Association decided to de accession the house, they were faced with what do we do with what is in the house? There existed a number of inventories that had been done when the house first came and at various times. They needed a definitive list of everything that was in the house so that we could have accurate list of what we did with everything that was in the house. So I took that on. It was a daunting task, but it was fun. It was kind of like the thing I used to do for Fitch-Kane; just handling every object and saying, “What is it?” “What do we do with it?”
JM:Did you do it with a digital camera? Did you do it with still pictures? Or did you do it long hand with a legal pad?
KC:Marianne Curling who was hired by the Salisbury Association as a professional to work along with me did it on the computer in spread sheet form, and used a camera to take pictures of almost everything in the house. We still have all those records; we have all the pictures although most of the material, what we ended up doing was the Salisbury Association determined that they would keep only those things that had a direct relationship to Salisbury history. That immediately precluded a lot of the things. There probably wasn’t 10% of what was in the house that had any significance to Salisbury. We went in search of a way of disposing everything else. We chose an auction house that would sell everything with no commission paid the Salisbury Association. Their entire commission can=me from the sellers fee. At an auction if you buy a $1000 desk, you are going to pay $1,100 dollars for it because there is a seller‘s fee that gets attacked. The auction house kept the sellers fee, but did not charge the Salisbury Association. We spent about a year taking stuff out of the house and sending it over to Windsor to be put into sales. The things we kept because we had no place to store them were put into storage pods at Arnoff Storage facility over in Millerton. We still don’t know what we are doing to do with that material. But that was a huge job, but again it was the kind of thing I love to do so I was more than happy to spend a couple of years doing it.
JM:And knowing the quality of your work, it was done with precision and detail because I have worked with you for a number of years. Is there anything else that you have done with the Salisbury Association that you want to add before I go on to a couple of other things?
KC:Well I was chairman of the Photo Archives Committee, Salisbury Association had a computer in the building on which we have scanned in at the moment something in the excess of 3,000 pictures of Salisbury; that is an ongoing project, there are always new pictures coming to light to be scanned in. It is a fabulous resource. I do that and I am still doing it. That’s about it.
JM:What about all of the exhibitions that you do?
KC:Yes, I started that, I don’t remember what the first one was, that got me going, long before World War II. I get an idea, I think one of the very first ideas that I had was that I didn’t think there were very many people in town who knew what kind of things had ever been made locally. Most of the people who live in town are new comers to the town and they think of it as a place to live. So I set up an exhibit and went back to the Iron Industry the very first thing we made in town were cannon balls. I went right up through Oxy Christen which was a patent medicine; all kinds of things, medical splints for fractures were made during the Civil War. There were fascinating things made in town; springs for doors, and I thought this would make a fascinating exhibit. I pulled that one together. People came up with ideas; we did one on schools, both private and public, we did 2 on World War II, we’re doing 2 on the Civil War.
JM:The one on the Cedars was stage managed by the Oshmann sisters.
KC:Exactly. I gave them the space to do it but I didn’t have a lot to do with it.
JM:We did one on Wanda Landowska which I was involved in.
KC:We did one at the Holley-Williams house on doctors in town. There are just subjects come up and we use the material here in the History Room. We use the pictures off the photo archive and we do some additional research. It’s a way of showing people a side of town that they don’t necessarily think about.
JM:Which is a wonderful venue for people to come in and learn about the town; no fuss no muss. They can come in at their leisure and it is a wonderful way of giving them town history.
KC:The only other thing I’ve done that pleases me is when I first started out there is a lot art work in town. I would look at a painting and say, “I wonder where that is? When it was done? Who the artist was? Who it belongs to?” I decided to make that a project to identify every piece of art work in the public spaces in town. That’s the library, the Town Hall, Salisbury Academy, and the school.
KC:Salisbury Central and find out that information.
JM:What about the Post Office?
KC:There is a mural in the Post Office, right. I have accumulated the information on the object, where it is, who it belongs to, and it is all in a notebook. Things that have been appraised have an appraised value; if they have been restored, it had the date of the restoration and what it cost to restore it. If it has been loaned out for an exhibit, it is noted that it has been loaned out for an exhibit.
JM:So all of the paintings that loaned out for the Ellen Emmett Rand exhibit at Hotchkiss, you have records of all of this.
KC:Yes. That I thought was important the fact that I didn’t know the answer to any of these questions, and I found that nobody else did either. Now it is all on record.
JM:You have also done research the kettles in Salisbury.
KC:Oh I did that just to please myself. I wanted to know about the various bells in the churches, and the kettles around town. I tried to document every bell that I could find, and where it was made.
JM:You were President of the Noble Auxiliary Association for a while. How did you get involved with that one?
KC:How did I get involved in Noble?
JM:Perhaps working with Audrey Whitbeck?
KC:I must have volunteered at a Christmas Fair or something or Audrey Whitbeck twisted my arm and got me involved. I don’t remember, but I’ve done a lot of things: Salisbury Planning and Zoning for 4 years, I was on the Scoville Memorial Library Board as vice president for 3 years, President of the Noble Horizons Auxiliary Board. I volunteered for Owls Kitchen; I volunteered at Tremaine Gallery and headed up the procurement of volunteers to sit in the art gallery.
JM:Oh yes I remember that well; you signed me up.
KC:I like to keep busy. One thing we have not touched on is the Wells Hill race track. When bill and I were living at Montgomery Street, we had a barn that had horse stalls in it because it had been Mr. Roberts’ property.
JM:Was that the Mr. Roberts of the Roberts’ building, Roberts Hall?
KC:Yes, it was. Bill loves horses and I loved horses and I had always had a horse as a child. I decided about 1960 that I wanted a horse. So I went looking and I ended up buying a Morgan from Florence Crosby Ortez. Well, she was Florence Crosby then, from Crosby Farm in Canaan, the farm at the foot of Smith Hill. Bill created a stall for him and while he was doing that, he created the second stall. I went to a Morgan horse auction one day and in a weak moment bought a weaning filly so we had both.
JM:What is a weaning filly and how do you spell it?
KC:Weaning which is a baby horse that has just been weaned from its mother, just old enough to go home with somebody; so we had 2 horses while we were there, the Morgan I had bought was both a driving horse and a riding horse. I liked to ride and Bill liked to drive.
JM:Did you ride English or western?
KC:I only rode English on him; Morgans are not big enough to carry a western saddle.
JM:What kind of driving did Bill do?
KC:We had both the jogging cart which is just a 2 wheel cart that can be used on the road and w3e also had a cart that you could use on a race track, like a sulky. So in the summertime we would take Frosty which was his name and take a stall in the barn up at the Wells Hill race track. In those days Dr. Robert Noble kept his horses there and so did Bill Ford.
JP:Is this Bill Ford the lawyer?
KC:Yes. There was an empty stall and we would take it and put Frosty in it in the summertime. Every morning Bill, my bill, would go up and hook Frosty up at just about dawn and drive him on that track anywhere from 3 to 10 miles, just round and round that track. When I wanted to ride, I would go up there and saddle him up and ride the many bridle trails that there were in those days in Lakeville. But on Sundays the Wells Hill Driving Park Association would have races. They have a card with 4 or 5 races; people would bring their horses. Henry Folger from Copake kept trotting horses; he would bring his horses down to race on Sunday. The local horses were always there, Bob Noble’s horses, Bill Ford’s horses, Bob Noble’s horses would always be driven by Larry Perkins who was his stable manager.
JM:Was Larry Perkins Betty Haas’ father?
KC:No, he was Mandy Perkins, and who is the Perkins at Salisbury Central School? He lived on Farnam Road.They would have races up there on Sunday and people would come from all over. There were no grandstands; you had to stand and watch them race. Bill would saddle my horse and use him as the lead horse. Race tracks always have a horse that leads the racers out. So Frosty would be the horse that led the racers out; there is a neat article in the Lakeville Journal in 1979, talking about the Wells Hill racing.
JM:Now please be specific, is this sulky racing, or horse racing?
KC:It is sulky racing, trotting and pacing. There were pacers and trotters. Bob Noble in particular had some very good horses; he used to race at Saratoga. He always raced at Rhinebeck. It went on until I don’t know when they ended it. I would say they probably raced up there for 15 years. They started in the early 1960’s and were still racing into the 1070’s I think.
JM: You mentioned a farrier, a blacksmith.
KC:Oh Eddie Clark, a black man, who lived down on Farnam Road was the local blacksmith. It was very handy to have a blacksmith who lived right in town. He took care of all our horses.
JM:Did Jim Vaill have anything to do with this activity?
KC:I don’t think so. The other person who raced was Paul Cleaveland. That would be the connection with the Vaills; Paul Cleaveland’s farm was up there on Wells Hill and so was the Vaills. I am not sure whether they were related in any way, but Paul Cleaveland would also race.
JM:What was the area of this race track? Was it a half mile, a quarter mile?
KC:I don’t know; I think probably a quarter mile. It is not very big. It belonged to the Baroody family; the property belonged to the Baroody family. When they moved to town, all that property from the corner of Race Track Road and Wells Hill that whole corner all the way down Race Track Road was part of what they bought. They bought the race track, and actually after they stopped racing, Lorraine Baroody used to run horse shows.
JM;isn’t that where the Pony Club was at one time? Or was it always out at Lucy Drummond’s farm?
KC:I think it was always at Lucy Drummond’s. In this article it says they bought the property in 1959.
JM:Now is this the original men that bought the property? Or are we talking about the Baroody’s?
KC:This is the Baroody’s; they bought the property in 1959. In 1965 they built a show ring on the infield of the track. They quit doing horse shows in 1971 according to this. The race track was originally built by Wells after whom Wells Hill is named because he kept trotting horses. But that was back in the 1800’s.
JM:It is an interesting aspect of Lakeville that very few people know anything about.
KC:I don’t imagine there are many people left who have any memory of it at all because it has been 45 years since there has been anything going on up there.
JM:We have covered a lot of territory. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
KC:I can’t really think of anything.
JM:I thank you very much for all your information, your time, and all of the effort that went into this.
KC:Thank you, jean.