Dwight Collin Interview:
This is file #107. Today’s date is September 11, 2015. This is Jean McMillen and I am interviewing Dwight Collin from Mt. Riga. He is going to tell me a lot of his family background, the history of his property and even ending up with some ghost stories. We’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
DC:Dwight Collin III
DC:June 6, 1940
DC:White Plains, New York technically
JM:Your parents’ names, please.
DC:Dwight R. Collin, my father.
JM:He would be junior?
DC:Yes, well he was senior as the time, I am now senior or the third if you like. My mother was Dorothy Lesser Collin.
DC:Elizabeth Palmer Collin, well Elizabeth Collin Kluchman, born Elizabeth Collin. She was deceased in 1995.
JM:Was she older or younger than you?
DC:She was two years older than me.
JM:Your educational background after high school?
DC:I attended Hamilton College for two years; I then attended the Junior College at Albany and got an associate’s degree, not even that. Then I graduated from University of Maryland night school while I was in the Army with a degree of General Studies. Then I went to law school at Syracuse University after I got out of the army.
JM:Did you do that on the GI Bill?
DC:I was paid $100 a month because technically I was a Viet Nam Vet, although I was never closer to Viet Nam than Paris.
JM:Please tell me about your connection to the mountain and how your people got up on the mountain.
DC:Somehow my grandparents on my father’s side knew one of the original families up there. I think it was a McCabe or a Wells. I don’t know their genealogy well enough. They knew them well enough that as a wedding present which is still there. They gave a fireplace set to that family which at the time was probably a Wells family. (It was Pauline Wells and Ambrose Farrell McCabe who built and lived in the camp called Wish-Come True. Ed.)
JM:it was in wish-Come-True and I have seen that fireplace set (8/17/2015)
DC:My grandfather has written entries in the book that they keep up there. So I know it goes back that way. A later generation Frank McCabe (oldest son of Ambrose and Pauline Ed.) was a good friend of my uncle Frank Collin and he was kindly toward our family. My earliest recollections are spending summers at what was called Wentworth which is now the Miller camp (See File #106 Fran & Pete Miller). I was four or five years old, but I believe there are stories that we were up there earlier and there was a lot of rainy weather and wet diapers hanging around. In the later 1940’s we had an opportunity to occupy the Farmhouse at the top of the hill. We were there through the 1950’s and into the early 1960’s. My parents then ran into hard times and my Aunt Margaret took over the Farmhouse (See file # 103/116 Mary Collin Sullivan) who was Mary Sullivan’s mother. Frank McCabe being such a good friend of the family arranged for us to stay in what was then called the garage. It had been an actual garage, but it is now the Ben Faye camp; you would not recognize it as a garage. It had been Chapman’s camp. Maybe you have heard that name. That was sold. (Kay Chapman was a superb artist and I saw some of her works in the Miller’s home at Wentworth. Ed.)
JM:Do you know who owned the camp called Whippoorwill?
DC:I don’t know whose camp that is. (According to Alice Combes it was a Warner camp. Ed.) The name sounds familiar.
JM:So you have rented a couple of places?
DC:Then my parents stayed at least for a couple of winters on Lion’s Head in Frank McCabe’s house there. That is how good he was to my family. Then we moved out to Michigan. We come to the mountain as I would term it as “hangers-on”. We are not the original landed gentry. Then in the late 1970’s Robbie O’Brien’s sister Elizabeth who had been living in Frank’s Agway metal barn, died leaving her husband Milton Wernstrom, who died 2 years later. Frank then wanted to sell the barn; I believe he offered it to several people, several Welles, and I believe he offered to my brother and sister but they never talked about it, but I heard it from their son. They said, “oh no why don’t you offer that to Dwight.” So he did and I said, “I accept! Thank you.” That was in 1979; the deed did not get on until 1982 because we ran into 3 acres zoning. The survey had to be redone. This little lot that I was
perfectly happy with got expanded into 3 acres. Then the deed went on in the winter of 1982. In 1999 Martha McCabe, as one of the heirs of Frank and Mary Lee McCabe, offered to sell to us the remaining 2 acres between me and the Griggs camp. Would I like to buy that? I said, “I accept.” There was no bargaining on the price.
JM:You wouldn’t. You are one of the few people that I have interviewed that actually owns their dirt under their establishment. That is very rare.
DC:It was a pure historical accident. That whole tract of what is now the Whittier’s house which was originally Frank McCabe’s main camp up the hill from me going out in a triangle between the two roads between Mt. West Road and Mt. Middle Road, that whole tract for quite a ways had been acquired by Frank, one way or another. I can’t tell you the exact chain of title, but I think some of it may have been purchased or given from a Wells.
JM:Probably because the Wells and the McCabes were an intermarried family,
DC:That’s right because Pauline, the grandmother, was a Wells and still alive. I have heard that story, but I have no idea. He had that whole big tract and then he in his later years sold one piece to a fellow named van Griggs who was alive until 1952 or 54. He died way too young. He was beloved by all of us. His son, Steve Griggs has that property. (See file #23 &24 Steve Griggs Mt. Riga).
JM:I have seen his cabin
DC:Frank also provided for Harry Wells, one of his generation, with an acre plot down there that is now occupied by Hubbard Wells. He also sold what was called the garage which I referred to earlier to the Chapmans, Jim Chapman had been a personal director in Frank’s bank up there the National Commercial Bank & Trust Company of Albany and also a good friend of Frank’s. So that was sold.
JM:Was Jim Chapman the husband to Kay Chapman?
DC:Absolutely she was a painter.
JM:I have seen a number of her paintings.
DC: A lot of us have those and we hold on to them.
JM:Now on your property are there any other buildings besides the house in which you live?
DC:The house or the Agway metal barn which was built out has a kitchen and a dining room and a living area. There is what we call the big room which was built in the late 1980’s by some Texas carpenters also, originally friends of Martha’s. She had them come up. We have added on a cabin; the beams were done by the Heartwood School. (Of Washington, Mass. Ed.) They run a wood working school. My daughter has a cabin which we call Julie’s cabin which is built on rock; that is actually on part of the 2 acres I bought between us and the Griggs camp. There used to be a cabin where Julie’s cabin is
located that was rented to the Brazees way back. This had now fallen into disrepair and disuse. I have a magnificent tool shed with a translucent roof.
JM:What kind of a tool shed?
DC:It is big enough to drive the lawn mower into; it is just a building, a very nice tool shed. That is one of MY buildings. Roger Newkirk built it.
JM:You told me something about fire protection and a very clever thing that someone did.
DC:This may be apocryphal but it all adds up. South of the farmhouse was a barn with a silo and a hay loft and then there was a milking parlor for the cows. The milking parlor had a nice cement floor. That was turned into a garage in which there was a LaSalle France fire engine with hoses. It would start if you put the ether into the little cups; it was ancient and that was a long time ago. I was told that that was a way of reducing the premiums for fire insurance up there because technically we had fire apparatus at hand.
JM:Oh that is clever.
JM:I think you told me during the war you did water detail?
DC:In the 1950’s I must have been 12 or 13, somewhere in 1952,3,4 I was given the job of keeping the farmhouse in water which meant pumping twice a day. But I was not allowed to pump before 9:30 AM or after 5 PM out of consideration for restoring the silence of our neighbors.
JM:By pumping you must have had a generator?
DC:Yeah no actually there was a mechanical pump on Frank McCabe’s lot; again he was very generous so he shared that well with everybody. There was a pipe running down; it was a belt driven pump with the arms going up and down. It made a racket.
JM;it is so quiet up there that anything would make a racket.
DC:I am not a fan of lawn mower noise or pumps or weed whackers after 4:30 in the afternoon when the air gets still and sound carries a long way. What sends me absolutely stark raving berserk is when some of these people start a water pump at 8:30 or 10 at night. That just sends me into orbit. I can go home and be in my typical American suburb and get that kind of noise. That is one of the elements of beauty up there is the absence of noise, or that kind of noise.
JM:It was so peaceful. I spent about 3 hours with Mrs. Miller at Wentworth; it was just incredibly beautiful and so quiet.
DC:The first thing that hits you when I go up there after being away is aahh it is quiet.
JM:Did you have to do garbage detail?5.
DC:We did for a while we, Robbie O’Brien and I did, but that was mostly by car down to some dumps. There was one spot at Jimmy Dresser’s camp now closed over, but I remember because I got stuck on a hornet’s nest. I will never forget that. There were other dumps up there; one was right behind where the public beach is; one was down below Hubbard’s house down that way. So we used whatever was available in the way of garbage dump. One summer Mrs. O’Brien to keep Robbie and me busy she had us do water delivery on a cart pulled by Chiefy, the pony. Chiefy was mostly cooperative, but he had a mind of his own sometimes, when he had had enough of us. So that was water detail which we did for a while.
JM:What did you have to actually do with the water detail?
DC:We filled a big galvanized can with a spigot on the bottom at Castinook; then we took it up to various camps on the Upper Lake to deliver the water. We filled their jugs.
JM:Do you remember the school house?
JM:Do you remember it before it was moved?
JM:It was on Frank McCabe’s property.
DC;It was down below, it was on the north slope of that hill and he moved it right into the field next to our place. It was there until it burned down (May of 1985 Ed.). It was after we had moved into the farmhouse.
JM:Had you ever been inside that building?
DC:Oh many times.
JM:Did it have a blackboard? I have heard about the maps around the room.
DC:I can’t verify that for sure.
JM:Did you play sports, baseball?
DC:We played a lot of swiffle ball during the summer and then we played softball. There was a soft ball field below the farmhouse that got used. There was a Labor Day game but not for kids of my age in the early years it was between the Mountain Lions and the Lilies of the Valley.
JM:That was your dad’s generation?
DC:That was my father’s generation. Later on I remember playing on Frank McCabe’s front lawn up at Daniels Cottage, the Whittier place.
JM:What’s Daniels Cottage? It that the Whittier’s cabin?6.
DC:That is the Whittier’s camp; that is the old name for it which I thought was a little fancy because none of us called it that. Jim Dresser called his place Hill Acre.
JM:That was the old Frink house.
DC:Our parents did provide opportunities for us to play and that was part of the Labor Day celebration.
JM:This year how did your baby back barbeque ribs go over?
DC:Everyone went and they went fast so that is the best evidence I got!
JM:I heard about them: It must have been Fran Miller who said they were wonderful. You had talked about the dam house and jumping off the roof into the lake. I now know what you are talking about because I have actually seen the dam house and I saw pictures of it. Now it makes sense to me, but when you described it to me originally, it made no sense whatsoever. Tell me about the dam house and the rite of passage.
DC:From my knowledge the first young men to jump off the dam house were the Sherwood brothers( Roy & Bill). He was later a ski jumper (Roy Sherwood Ed.) In those days there was no easy access to the roof so you had to chin yourself up on the outside and pull yourself up to do it. Not everybody got up there for one thing. Then at 12 years old or 14 it took a little courage to take that leap. The water is deep enough there. I can remember watching the Sherwood brothers go off and I was just in awe. Later on we started doing it; at some point a hole got cut in the roof to make it easier for people to get up. Still to this day it is for a young man or woman it is a rite of passage. “Did you jump off of there?” “Not yet.”
JM:it would be like a diving board. I was so grateful for seeing pictures because sometimes I can’t visualize that you are talking about until I have seen it. You built a boat, a Sunfish?
DC:True in the 1950’s probably about 1954 the kit was hauled up there on a truck by my father and he got us started. Betsy, my sister and I were supposed to make progress during the week when he went down and worked like all the fathers did in those days. Sometimes he would come back and we had not sawn much off the bottom. It was hard and we used all hand tools, there was no electricity. The sawing of the plywood on the bottom of the hull took forever. It was nailed and glued and the boat came out true. It took longer, but it was true. It would actually do well against other boats.
JM:Tell me about the 21st birthday party for Cheefy.
DC:Oh yes up at Castinook we roasted marshmallows and other things. The reason I remember marshmallows is because one of them got near the eye of Margie, Robbie’s sister and we had to put her in the water. (She was taken to Dr. Clark who saved her eye from damage. (See file #2/123 Margie Vail Ed.) We were very worried about it.
JM:She told me that story about Dr. Clark saved her eyesight.
DC: Dr. Clark saved a lot of us up there. I never had to see him; there were hatchets through feet…
JM:Yes, Fran Miller told me her story about the axe hitting her foot and he took care of that. Then Mrs. Vail told about the marshmallow that was very close to sister’s eye and they were afraid that she would lose her sight. (See File #2 /124 Margie Vail) He must have been an incredible doctor.
DC:He was incredible. We all imposed on him, but he didn’t seem to mind up there.
JM:Besides the marshmallows and the wiener roast what else did you do at that party?
DC:At Cheefy’s party? I don’t remember.
JM:You told me that you did some dancing.
DC:Oh in those days Castinook had a big old generator out in the shed. The place had been electrified at one time so we had lights and a phonograph that would play. I remember we played a lot of Harry Belafonte. It must have been around 1956 or so. We did some dancing, attempts at jitterbug that were probably more like polkas. That was the kind of dancing we did.
JM:The reason that I specifically wanted to talk about dancing is when I talked to your cousin Mary Sullivan (See File #103/116 Mary Collin Sullivan), when they would have at home parties, I asked how about dancing and she said, “Oh not because of kerosene lamps.” So you have progressed to electricity up there. That was the transition.
DC:Yeah, well for at least one summer where we all went. We played black jack there and we danced.
JM:But you see there is a progression that I am trying to establish. How about the hurricane and flood of 1955, what do you remember about that?
DC:I was there in the farmhouse and there was a sound that we had not heard before. It was like this background roar. It soon became apparent that the water was going over the spillway, the dam had not given way, but the spillway was full up and roaring. It torn out the opposite bank and a lot of the road up at the top. Things were impossible trying to go anywhere. Some kids wanted to have a trip down off; they went down. I wasn’t in that trip, but the famous story that Jimmy Dresser went to the local liquor store. He was all of 12 or 13 and asked for a bottle of scotch for his mother and the proprietor gave it to him absolutely no questions asked. He lugged that up the mountain and got as far
as almost the top of the flats and was in view of people and he fell in a hole. He came up with the handle of the bottle, but he had broken it so he will never live it down!
JM:Do you have any memories or additions that you would like to talk to us about your sister?
DC:Yes, before that there is one other thing about the flood, Robbie O’Brien had jeep. We loved that jeep; it was a WWII surplus. I think he had picked it up for $100 or $300. After a week or so the roads may have been passable; we figured out a way. We just explored going down the Ore Hill Road as far as we could go. Then we built rock fords over the gullies and kept going and kept going and before you know it, we made it all the way down and drove back up. When we got back up, what about the Over Mountain Road, it is now 4 o’clock or getting on to dusk. We went but it was the same thing; a lot of wash outs but we were pretty good now at building tracks across the fords; we got on the other side of the Over Mountain Road.
JM:Where does it end?
DC:It comes down into Mt. Washington and then it comes down toward Jug End Barn (to Smiley Pond on Rt. 41 and joins with Rt. 23 Ed.) We got on the paved part and there was a bulldozer, parked in the field. Chet Sawtelle, his father was in the military, these guys had already been in trouble at Ft. Hood or someplace like that for getting on an Army vehicle of some kind. Chet saw that bulldozer and there was no going on; we had to stop and we got the bulldozer going. He was driving it around and then we heard a siren. Somebody must have called it in. I was in the jeep; I was the first one back in the jeep. “Come on you guys come on!” They couldn’t shut the damn thing off. So they wound up putting it as low as they could grinding against a tree and we all bailed out. The siren was getting louder and louder; we got out of there and came home. Well now by the time we got home it was dark and the mothers were worried. We had broken the one rule, the only rule. You had to be home by a reasonable hour. They had all gathered up in the school house; we were in Dutch! That is really what I remember most about the 1955 flood.
JM:Again those are nifty stories. What about your sister?
DC:Well she was 2 years older than I; she lived in the farmhouse after she was first married. Nobody had any money; we couldn’t even pay a phone bill. They were fixing up the farmhouse nicely and sharing it with my cousins. Sharing is hard. Then they got an opportunity to rent and build on what was the old barn next to the farmhouse where the fire engine was. They redid that. Winifred and I would come up and stay sometimes in the farmhouse for a week or two. My aunt Margaret still had it then, but we would get a couple of weeks. I only had two weeks at most for a vacation anyway. Sometimes Winifred would come up and visit Betsy with the kids down in the barn. We did that for many years. There was a period of years when we didn’t get to Mt. Riga; we went to Maine and camped out up there. Then Frank offered the Agway barn to me and that is what really brought us back. Meanwhile Betsy and Allen were up there. The mountain is not the same for us without them; they made it a lot of fun.
JM: Of the many things which I have gotten from various people is that it is a very congenial group. They shared and they had a good time together. You had parties. Tell me about your Labor Day party.
DC;The Labor day parties were a homey affair because we went to one camp or another. There was beer, there was a piano my aunt Margaret played the piano and we sang the same old songs every year. Then my cousin Frank learned to play the guitar pretty well and knew a lot of folk songs. We sang the same old folk songs. It was mostly singing; now it had grown too big and is a different kind of party. It is still good to have it, but nobody can host it anymore.
JM:It is too much with too many people. Where do you hold it?
DC:We hold it at the forge; I supply the generator because mine is quiet and goes behind the forge. They put some candles on the forge so it looks west. We have a band or DJ. This last year was a terrific band from near new Haven. A kid who played who is the grandson of Sheila and Bill Moore was terrific. His name was Finn Moore we all just enjoyed the heck out of seeing him up there with his band and doing really well on the violin.
JM:On the violin? It doesn’t sound like band to me.
DC:You would be amazed. He really just has the knack; he studies classical as well. He is 16 or 17. It was a great party because things like that make it. Of course there are my ribs!
JM:Of course there were your ribs, they were the main attraction!! About how many people attend this year?
DC:I would guess 60 -80.
JM:We are almost going to end this with stories about Grandma Thurston’s ghost. You had a couple of good ones.
DC:I never saw her but according to others she lived in a bedroom in what was called Wentworth. (See file #106/119 Fran Miller).
JM:Yeah, the loom room; that is what Fran Miller called it.
DC:Was that where the Thurstons lived?
JM:That’s where they supposedly lived there. It is now a bedroom, but I was shown that room. Mrs. Miller calls it is the loom room, because Grandma Thurston used to have her loom in that room for weaving.
DC:The story I know about Grandma Thurston a real story is she would walk down to Salisbury do her work, walk back up the mountain, change her clothes for a dance, walk back down the mountain dance and then walk back up the mountain.
JM: She had stamina.10.
DC:I’ll bet that is true because I have heard it several times.
JM:How many miles between where she would be at the Lower Lake to Salisbury?
DC: 3.9 miles right to the cross roads here. In any case over the years there were stories of a ghost and way back in the 1960’s or 1970’s there were people who looked for ghosts.
JM:Oh ghost busters.
DC:Paranormal activity they came up in a van and they had all these magnometers and one thing and another. They got out and investigated; I don’t know what they found. Too many people have verified seeing her for something not to be going on.
JM:See Fran Miller’s interview (File #106/119 Fran Miller) for the story about the ghost busters.
DC:It is just perfect. People have claimed, perfectly solid citizens who claim to have seen her and they are not kidding.
JM:Was she called a white lady or Grandma Thurston’s ghost or…?
DC:Some people call her the white witch; I never heard that until recently. I always called her Grandma Thurston’s ghost. I joke that she plays jokes on me in my water line, but it is really air traps.
JM:You had story that maybe Jim Dresser had told you?
DC:His mother stayed in that room at one point; she claimed to have an intimate relation with the ghost. Apparently she was not threatening. The other story that I have heard was from Jimmy Casey. He said that while he was working he caught her out of the corner of his eye and when he looked it was like a lady dressed in white. I know that is a cliché but that is what he said he saw.
JM:She could have been in a night dress or she could have been in an apron.
DC:He said she could have been in a bridal gown; he reported it to Danny Brazee and he said, ”Oh yeah, a lot of people have seen that. It is just common knowledge.” I think she deserves a place in the history.
JM:Oh absolutely. The impression that I got was that she certainly wasn’t a poltergeist or intimidating: it was just that she was a very strong presence. It would go very naturally with an older house that she had lived in. Before we close the interview, is there anything you would like to add to this?
DC:It has become like a church up there to be honest. It has its own history and its own sort of traditions and story. It is a special community. Literally now with the recent generation they want to be buried up there in the cemetery. That has become the best place to be buried. My wife who is a
minister is where I got the idea of a church. She is the one who thought of it. She said, “This is a church.”
JM:There is the cathedral like presence because of God’s beauty in nature.
DC:The community acts as one.
JM:Several people have said to me that it is very comforting for them to go to the cemetery and visit their relatives. I have been with Mrs. Vail at the cemetery. “Hi grandma, and oh I remember Uncle George” It is a very comforting feeling.
DC:I will say I go up there at least once a year to just to refresh my recollection of the dates. I remember the people and the dates. It is not like they are present or anything. It evokes everything.
JM:Do you go to the cemetery for the 7 guns salute on Memorial Day?
JM;I thank you so much for your time,
DC:My pleasure. Thank you.