Diaz-Matos, Mary-Louise Gentile #2

Interviewee: Mary-Louise Gentile Diaz-Matos
Narrator: Jean McMillen
File No: 16/ Tape 163A
Place of Interview: Scoville Memorial Library
Date: June 13, 2023

Summary of Talk: local people: Margaret Williams, Wanda Landowska, Denise Restout, Connie Smith, the Knowlton family, Carol Peters, George Ernst, St Mary’s church

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

Mary-Louise Gentile Diaz-Matos Interview #2

This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is June 13, 2023. I am interview Mary-Louise Gentile Diaz-Matos for the second time. She is going to talk about a few of the local people that she remembers from the 1950s to 1970s.  Then she is going to talk about St. Mary’s Church. This is tape 163A

JM:       What is your name?

MLG:    Mary-Louise Diaz-Matos, my maiden name was Gentile.

JM:       Would you give me your memories and a description of Margaret Williams?

MLG:    Margaret Williams lived in the Holley-William house which was across the street from the Holley Block where I grew up until I was age 8.  Miss Williams had a routine every day of walking her front porch 100 times, back and forth, back and forth, several times a day. When I was about 4 years old, I remember she invited me to come over and join her.  My mother walked me across the street, and we walked back and forth. She held my hand. Margaret never had any children of her own so I think I was special to her because she made an effort to give me juice, or a cookie or a cracker when we were finished. Then she never walked me back home.  My mother would be watching out the window and then should come across the street to pick me up.

JM:       What was her hair color?

MLG:    She had frosted grey hair and she wore her hair in a bun on the back of her neck.

JM:       What was the color of her eyes?

MLG:    I think if I remember correctly they were brown.  She had very pale skin. She wore dark clothing and comfortable shoes.  I remember thinking at my age of 4 or 5 that she wasn’t very pretty.

JM:       Probably not. Who was Nana?

MLG:    Nana to me was Esther Marks who was the woman who lived across the hall from us in the Holley Block. She was Miss Williams cook, caretaker, housekeeper and companion. Nana had a daughter Helen who was a nutritionist at Edgewood Park Junior College in Briar Cliff Manor.

JM:       There was something about a chestnut tree?

MLG:    Yes there was a chestnut tree on the outside of the white fence of Miss Williams’ house.  The nice part about it was I loved to go across the street with my mom. I would pick the flowers and make them into different designs. We would pick up the chestnuts in the fall and everything. Margaret never paid any attention to the tree.  She actually had a gardener. She had a man who cared for the horses and the carriage. She would often ride in the carriage on her property. Her property actually went up to Lincoln City Road and beyond.

JM:       That is a long way

MLG:    It is a long way. The reason why I know this is because when my husband and I were going to buy a house in Lakeville, we went up the mountain where Mr. Riva had built a home. We could look down and see Charlotte Reid’s house on Porter Street. We could see the lake and also seeing Margaret Williams house.  By that time the apartment building had been knocked down and was a park.

JM:       Tell me about Wanda Landowska.

MLG:    Wanda Landowska was an incredible harpsichordist. She lived next to Emily Miles (63 Millerton Road Ed.) on route 44right across from Holleywood, home of the former governor (Alexander Holley Ed.) She would walk into the village. She would wear a white flowing cape. She, too, wore her hair pulled back: it was sort of grey with a knob in the back. She was very sweet and pleasant in everything. As I got older like about 7 or 8, she invited me to come and sit in her garden while she played the harpsichord and the harp. She had a huge harp. Denise Restout was her companion who also taught student.

JM:       We’ll get to Denise later. What were Wanda’s eyes like?

MLG:    Her eyes were light colored. She had kind of a pinky complexion. She was a wonderful woman. She spoke with an accent (She was Polish. Ed.) She taught me a lot about music, not that at that age I was absorbing most of it. Still it was important and I have somewhere in my collection a picture of her that my mother took of us one day in the garden.

JM:       She must have liked children to invite you across.

MLG:    Yes she did.

JM:       You had a good story about the swing bridge.

MLG:    Yes the swinging bridge was next to what is now Deano’s Pizza.  It went from that parking lot across the pond to the lake. This is the way we liked to go to the lake, but the swinging bridge was rotting so we had to be very careful because some of the planks were missing and the pond was full of snapping turtles. That eventually was torn down and it was an historical place when I think about it. When we moved from the Holley Block, we never went across the bridge again and I was 8 years old then.

JM:       I don’t blame you.

MLG:    It was scary, but I remember Timmy Barr who was a friend of my brother’s and his brother Wally Barr and Mickey Barr they liked to get on the bridge and jump up and down on it and scare the girls.

JM:       Oh sure that was fun!

MLG:    Wally Barr was the oldest of the boys.  Mickey, short for Michael, was the middle and Timmy was the youngest. Their father was the local dentist.

JM:       What did Denise Restout look like?

MLG:    Denise wore her hair in a knob also. I don’t know if it was the times or not. Her hair was long because one time she was drying it in the sun.

JM:       She was younger that Wanda. Would her hair have been brown?

MLG:    It was brown and had some flecks of grey in it. She was just a wonderful, warm person.

JM:       Oh yes

MLG:    She did not wear a cape.

JM:       No cape?

MLG:    No cape

JM:       I took lessons from Denise for 12 years.

MLG:    There was another man; I think he was from Argentina, who took lesson from Wanda. He performed at Carnegie Hall.

JM:       Was Denise related to Wanda?

MLG:    No they were just friends at the time. She actually was a student of Wanda in Paris and then she stayed on and took on some of her students who were basically foreign students. I don’t remember anybody local taking lessons from her at least in my time.

JM:       When I was taking lessons from Denise, she had a couple of pupils who were coming from New Haven and Bridgeport, far distances too.

JM;       Tell me about Connie Smith’s disappearance.  What can you tell me about that?

MLG:    I can tell you that lived on route 44 at the time. I was 16 years of age. It was a devastating event for the people on the town of Lakeville. The story had it that she had fallen the night before and might have had a subdural hematoma and became confused and disoriented and just wandered off.  I remember that when she came out of Camp Sloane, she made a right hand turn onto Indian Mountain Road.  She stopped at the home of Mrs. Walsh which was at the intersection of Indian Mountain road and route 112. She asked directions to the center of town.  The reason I know this is because Joan Walsh was my babysitter.  She was the daughter of Mrs. Walsh. Her brother Bill Walsh and her sister Patty Walsh when I grew older, they became friends of mine.  They told me the story.  For some reason she went up the hill and after that nobody saw her.  We don’t know whether or not somebody stopped and offered her a ride, or that she wandered into the woods.  I do remember for weeks people were volunteering to look in the woods, they drained the lake, not only Lake Wononscopomuc but…

JM:       They drained Lakeville Lake?

MLG:    They dragged it and Mudge Pond. They searched the woods in the area because there were a lot of woods at that time. It since has been built up. They found nothing.

JM:       You also said there were helicopters.

MLG:    Helicopters as well.  I remember a group of us were at the lake that afternoon. She was our age and it was very frightening.  What could have happened to this girl? I often think of her because she disappeared in the month of July, the 8th of July.

JM:       1953?

MLG:    No 1956. I was 16 years of age.

JM:       Who were the Knowltons?

MLG:    Don Knowlton and his wife were original founders of the Woodland Restaurant. (See Janet Vaill Maus’ interview: Franklin B. Vaill built it. Then it was called the Half –Way House and run by his aunt and uncle Rolf Clement. Ed.) It was a breakfast lunch place, a little more high end than a deli. There were stools in the bar, there were tables.  It was a burger joint. AT that time it was the only one in town so it became very popular. I got to know their son Bill Knowlton and their daughter who was a nurse at Sharon Hospital.  She had a family. I can’t remember how many years they were in business, but I do remember when I went off to college and nursing school that they sold it to Carol Peters, whose parents owned the Interlaken Inn.

JM:       When did they sell it? When you went off to college you would have been 18.

MLG:    It was probably in the early 1960s. Then Carol turned it into a very elegant restaurant.

JM:       Well it wasn’t elegant in 1967 the first time I was there.  But it was as you say, it was a burger joint.  It became elegant and expensive.

MLG:    Their son Bill went into the Air Force, loved country music.  I remember when the Knowltons owned it was that Bill would play his awful music. People complained. You know elderly people in this area they don’t like that kind of music. It is not their kind of music.

JM:       Do you remember the names of Carol Pete’s’ parents?

MLG:    I only knew them as Mr.  & Mrs.  Peters. They owned the Interlaken.

JM:       There was a connection between Carol Peters and George Ernst.  You told me about a plaque?

MLG:    There was a plaque on the last booth at the Woodland in his memory when he passed on. “In loving memory of George Ernst” They were good friends, never married.  He owned Shargoy’s. I think he had a lot to do with providing Carol with produce and everything for the restaurant.

JM:       What did he look like?

MLG:    George was very distinguished, dark hair, had a moustache. He was a nice looking man. I don’t remember if he married or not, I don’t think he ever did.

JM:       No he didn’t. He was killed at age 51 in a rafting accident in West Virginia April 29. 1987. Alright let’s go onto St, Mary’s Church. This is where you bring out your notes.

MLG:    I’ve got my notes.  I did some research on this. St. Mary’s Church has quite a history.  It is very interesting, but as you know, when you are young you do not pay too much attention to things. I was very excited to find that St. Mary’s Church was founded by the miners in the town: the ore miners and the local people lived on Mt. Riga at the time.  Originally the masses were said in private homes and then it moved on down to the center of town.  The property was bought by Father Lynch from the Congregational minister of Salisbury.

JM:       Do you know when?

MLG:    Jan. 16, 1876 St. Mary’s Church was built by local people; the ore miners and the iron ore workers, donations from people in the town.

JM:       Now you told me that he bought the property but the church was dedicated Jan. 16, 1976, but that was not when he bought the property. He would buy the property beforehand.

MLG:      The first Mass was said July 4, 1849 at the Davis Ore Mine.  St. Patrick’s Church was built in Falls Village by Father Peter Kelly in 1853.

JM:       But you don’t have a date for when Father Lynch bought the property for St. Mary’s?

MLG:    It was somewhere around the early 1860s because the building had to be built and everything. It was dedicated on Jan. 16, 1876. That was still Father Lynch. (He also had built the Rectory, a parochial school, a convent and acquired land for a cemetery on Lower Cobble Road in Salisbury. Ed)

JM:       Then it was rededicated…

MLG:    It was rededicated in 1903 and then again in 2015.

JM:      Tell me about the school.

MLG:    In 1923 it was a convent: that was the only time there were nuns here. There was a school like what they have in the cities that went with churches and everything, a parochial school.  There was a summer retreat for girls.  It was called the Lakeville Manor on route 41.  It was 2 houses.  The girls would come in the summer by the end of June until Labor Day weekend. They participated in local sports, they would go to the lake where they would learn how to sail, swim and everything.  They attended Mass every morning at 7:45.  You could see them walking up the hill. Then they would go back to the Manor for breakfast.  Then they would come over to the lake and have swimming lessons from Jeanette Axelby. Unfortunately they sold Lakeville Manor to a contractor who made it onto apartments.  They are very beautiful apartments.

JM:       The Manor closed in 1968.  The school had closed in 1920. When was the church renovated?

MLG:    The church was renovated in 1975-76. The man who did it was Mr. Thomas G. Hussey who passed away recently.    (He died Aug. 6, 2020 leaving his wife Nora C. Hussey and children Emmet, Pearse, and Tracey Hussey Ed.) We were here in the late 1970s after my parents died. We spent summers here from 1977 to 1992. I remember Mr. Hussey and his sons Emmet and Pearse did lots of the work.  I remember the scaffolding.

JM:       There was a special Mass in 2015.

MLG:    Yes it was an anniversary mass. (A Pontifical Mass by Bishop MacAluso Ed)

JM:       How many years?

MLG:    125 I think it was. The first priest I remember was Father Lawler, who was like a sourpuss!

JM:       Who followed?

MLG:    Father Gresh, then Father Murphy, and then Father Forte.

JM:       Who taught catechism?

MLG:    Catechism was taught by Mary Goderis and her brother Ernie.

JM:       What day and time was it held?

MLG:    After school we used to have to walk down the hill. We would all walk in a group, walk through the center of town and then up the hill to the church.  WE had to memorize the Baltimore Catechism. We would get there, the school got out at 3:00 O’clock and we were at the church from 3:30-4:45 ON Tuesdays. Parents did not pick you up or drive you then: you walked. For me it was to walk down the hill, up the hill and then along route 44.  There were no sidewalks to my house.  From my house on the main road to the central school was one mile, and from there to the church.

JM:       You had plenty of exercise.

MLG:    Yes plenty of exercise.

JM:       Before we close is there anything you would like to add?

MLG:    St. Mary’s has always been a beacon in this area because I remember climbing Bash Bish Falls and you could see the steeple for miles around.  It was like God was calling to us.  With the hullabaloo, the shortage of priests, and the fact that they wanted to close St. Mary’s that was kind of hard to swallow and to merge with St. Joseph’s and Immaculate Conception. Now they are getting 2 Franciscan priests which everybody is very excited about.  I think that they are going to be sharing their duties in Winsted and St. Mary’s. That will be very nice.

HM:      Thank you so very much.

MLG:    You are very welcome. Lakeville is a very special place.