Mary-Louise Gentile Diaz-Matos Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Mary-Louise Gentile Diaz-Matos. Today’s date is March 31, 2023. This is file #14. She is going to talk about her father’s business, The Apothecary Shop, in Lakeville, describe Lakeville Center as she remembers it from 1950 to 1970. But first we’ll start with the hard stuff>
JM: What is your name?
MLG: My name is Mary-Louise Diaz-Matos. My maiden name was Gentile.
JM: What is your birth date?
MLG: January 13, 1940
JM: Your birth place?
MLG: Grace New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Ct.
JM: Your parents’ names?
MLG: My mother was Mary Marcencowicz. She was adopted when her parents died in 1918 (in the Spanish flu epidemic) by a family named Sheldon. My father was Anthony John Gentile.
JM: Where did you go to kindergarten?
MLG: I went to the Grove School in Salisbury, Ct.
JM: Do you remember the teacher?
MLG: I do. It was Miss Gloria Hayde. Then she got married and her married name was Mrs. McGrory.
JM: Then you went to Salisbury Central School.
MLG: Yes first thru eighth grade. My teachers were: Hazel Flynn for 1st grade, 2nd grade was Bet Matheson, 3rd grade was Fran LeMoine, 4th grade was Veronica Metcalf, 5th grade was Louise Peacock, 6th grade was Mrs. Alice Eggleston, and 7th grade was Mrs. Betty Miner, Elizabeth Miner. It was a split 7th and 8th grade, but I was in 7th grade. 8th grade was Mrs. Greer.
JM: High school?
MLG: Housatonic Valley Regional High School 1954 to 1958. I had Mr. Just, Mr. Travis, a lot of my teachers I loved them. Mr. Kobler from Lakeville, Miss Allen who was my English teacher, I had Mr. Foster for 4 years of Latin.
JM: Oh lucky you!
MLG: It was a great experience. I belonged to a lot of clubs, the Latin Club, the Drama Club, and the Yearbook Club.
JM: for college?
MLG: I went to the University Of Connecticut School Of Nursing. It was a 5 year program. I was on campus at Storrs for 2 years. Then my clinical started. I did one year at Yale and then I transferred to Hartford Hospital because Yale was just taking only their students. I was a UCONN student. So we were transferred to Hartford Hospital where I did my last 2 years. Actually it worked out very well because I got to do a lot of wonderful placements in different locations. One of my last rotations was at the Institute for Living in Hartford. That got me interested in psychiatry. Since Oct. 12 of 1964 I have done work in the field of psychiatry.
JM: Bless your heart.
MLG: I love it. I really love it.
JM: We need more people.
MLG: I still do some hand-holding for my former staff when I get asked for help for former patients. They ask for me. I will do a ZOOM call or something like that. It’s good technology.
JM: Wonderful Now tell me about your father’s business. He started in Lakeville in 1935.
MLG: He started in Lakeville in 1935 with Doctor Leverty. The drugstore was located at the bottom floor of the Holley Block. Dad was there for, I really don’t know for how many years, but he and Mom had married Sept. 21, 1936. Mom was kind of lost when she was here, growing up in New Haven, it was very different. Dad had Thursdays off and they would always go back home to see relatives and everything. Dad was with Dr. Leverty until he closed the drugstore. Then dad went to work for Andy Phair in Canaan. AT that time in Canaan there were Andy Phair, and there was another drugstore and dad help out them too. Times changed after the war. He came to Sam Whitbeck (Salisbury Pharmacy) in Salisbury and ran the drugstore for Sam.
JM: In the late 1940s, middle 1940s?
MLG: Right up until dad opened the drugstore in 1956, the Apothecary Shop.
JM: Was his business where the Apothecary Shop used to be (343 Main St. Lakeville) or was it elsewhere?
MLG: Originally the Apothecary Shop was in the Borden Building, the center part of the Borden Building. On one side of the drugstore was Rod Aller’s law firm and on the other side was the Borden Real Estate office. Then upstairs was rented to the Hurlbutts. Mr. Hurlbutt was a lawyer also. Then it was sort of like musical chairs. Growing up in Lakeville the First National Grocery Store was where the Boathouse restaurant is now. Prior to dad’s buying this business from Mr. Rudman across the street, Mr. Rudman had a grocery store and lived above it. He (Rudman) sold his business to Morris Brickman, just the business, not the building. When the First National went out of business, Morris Brickman bought that building and opened his store there (The Lakeville Food Center Ed.).
JM: This was when your father bought the building?
MLG: Dad bought the building in 1963 when he moved from the Borden Building to 343 Main St5reet. He owned the business and moved it across the street.
JM: So it was 1956 when he opened the original business, but he bought the building that we are talking about in 1963. In that building there were, the drugstore was on the first floor…
MLG: Then there were 3 apartments.
JM: There were 2 on the top and one in the middle?
MLG: One was behind the drugstore.
JM: When did he sell the business?
MLG: Dick Walsh
JM: But your dad kept the building.
MLG: He kept the building. There was an agreement that Dick Walsh could rent the building from my father for 5 years. Then he would have to purchase the building behind. My father died in 1977 and my brother inherited the building, Richard Anthony Gentile.
JM: Would you describe the Apothecary Shop as you remember it?
MLG: The one on Main Street was a large store. My father first graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Then he went to Yale College of Pharmacy. Dad was always very artistic. He actually designed the drugstore himself, the whole layout. McKesson -Robbins of New Haven which was a big pharmaceutical company worked with dad in planning the drugstore. They also put in the products. As you came in the center door to the right was a beautiful soda fountain, all in stainless steel with 6 stools that my mother, who had never worked a day in her life, took over. Straight ahead in BIG letters was PHARMACY. To the left of the front door at the far end were all the cosmetics, the perfumes, the candy was in the center aisle. Personal items were in the center aisle. Up against three windows at the far end were all of the cards and gift packaging and things like that. Where the soda fountain was, there was a station for candy, gum, peanuts and things like that. Against the front windows to the right were all the magazines and everything. (One of the soda fountain treats made by Mrs. Gentile was a Dusty Miller. This was a concoction of coffee ice cream, hot fudge sauce, marshmallow topping and a sprinkling of powered malt.)
I remember my father. I always had to decorate the windows. There were 5 windows. He always had to have displays in the windows. Arpege, Lanvin, My Sin used to send beautiful cutouts of their products so that would be one window. I would do an apothecary window in the middle. Dad had some beautiful antique pieces of mortars and pestles, scales and things like that that I would put into the center. Then we did for the spring different kinds of flower arrangements, but it was always something to make the people feel good when they came into the store. At Christmas time he loved as you came in the front door there was always an 8 or 10 foot Christmas tree that Herm Erickson would cut down, put the lights on. I would decorate it with candy canes and popcorn balls so that when the children came in, they could take it. All the windows in the front had big green wreaths with red bows.
JM: Don’t forget the outside trees.
MLG: `The outside trees Herm Erickson would put the small Christmas trees with white lights on them, right along the front of the store between the sidewalk and the curb. It was wonderful because people enjoyed it. As a result more and more businesses extended it. (Norm Gardiner took over the care of the trees sometime in the late 1970s. My husband Foster McMIllen took over in the 1980s. We would go out each night about 6:30 and checkout all 94 trees to make sure all the strings of lights were working and the trees were upright. On Jan 14, 1987 Foster received a plaque:” In appreciation of many years of dedicated service to and leadership of the Lakeville/Salisbury Christmas Tree Lighting Program.” from the Salisbury Rotary Club. Ed.)
JM: Don’t I know it!
MLG: It was just lovely.
JM: It is lovely. It is still lovely.
MLG: I am so glad that we did it. In the summer time the kids would come in and mom would give them their ice cream cones and things like that. There was a play group that the town ran at the ball park. Every afternoon they would come over. My father and mother would give them treats so there would be an ice cream cone or a candy bar of if they wanted lemonade or whatever. It was at 3:00 in the afternoon. They would come across the street and they would be holding hands. It was wonderful to watch.
JM: Now we are going to move onto the Main Street of Lakeville. We are going to start at Farnam Road. (See Marion Romeo’s interview)
MLG: Farnam Road going up the right side of the street was Ward Finkle’s garage. John Palmer who lived on Farnam Road was his handyman. John did everything. He was an incredible human being. Next to that was Bill Reilly’s small A&P store, nest to that he had a small liquor store, a wine shop. Next to that was the Barnett’s Department store. (See Cindy Smith’s interview) It was 2 floors. At Christmas time it was wonderful when Bill Raysford was the Santa Claus. He was so perfect for the job. He and Mary were, they didn’t have children, but the children of Lakeville were so important to them. After the department store was the entrance to the ball park (Community field Ed.) The next building was the telegraph office, Paul Argall’s barbershop, and upstairs was the Neilson family lived. Barney Neilson and wife had 4 children 2 sons and 2 daughters Peter, Joe, Ruthie and Rita. Down underneath Carl Isaacsen had a little restaurant.
JM: That wasn’t Bessie’s Lunch?
MLG: I think that came later.
JM: Then it was Isaacsen first then Bessie’s Lunch and Isaacsen went out onto Undermountain Road to do the Iron Dube.
MLG: Next to that building was Dufour’s Garage. That took up almost 2 storefronts, basically the garage itself, right on the corner of Montgomery (Sharon Road) Street across from the intersection with route 44. Next to that was a small apartment upstairs and a little bakery for a while, but it never really took off. I remember it being an office for a while. Next was the Salis/Lake Jewelry. (It was run by Ron Barry, Ed.) Then was Danny LaFredo’ shoe shop. Then there was Borden’s…
JM; What about Mrs. LaFredo’s house?
MLG: Yes that was next door to the shoe shop. Next in line was the Borden Building which had been the O’Loughlin house. The Bordens bought it. Next to that was, it was an art place years later but I don’t remember what it was. It was like a private house that people only used occasionally. Next was the Dillon house. Then was Paavola’s where Gudrun Duntz had her seamstress business and Hugo had his newspaper, magazines and souvenir shop. I think that is where the wine shop is now (The red building which was called the Mulville Building with April 56 in it. Ed) I don’t know what happened when Hugo passed away. I know his wife died before he did. The next building is Herrick Travel Agency.
JM: It went I think from Abe Martin’s garage, the Herrick Travel Agency, and now it is Churchill Builders. Then we have the gas station, Lakeville Automotive. Now we are at Pettee Street.
MLG: Where the Litchfield Bancorp is now (Northwest Community Bank) it used to be Bronson King a very exclusive dress shop. It was beautiful. (Before that it was Dr. Bissell Sr.’s housed. Ed.) Next was Dr. Brewer’s…
JM: No there is a house there before Dr. Brewer’s Office.
MLG: I don’t remember that house being there. I did notice it today, but I remember Robinson Leech/Dr. Brewer. Where the electric company building is now was all evergreens. Now we are at Walton Street.
JM: There is a house there because Dick and Doris Alexander lived there when I knew it.
MLG: Across Walton Street is the Harvey House (See Judith and Vergne Harvey’s interview) then Dr. Gott took it over.
JM: That was the Professional Building. There was a small addition added to the left side of the house where Tom O’Loughlin had a card and stationery shop. When the Litchfield Bank first came to town they were located in that small addition. Later the business moved to Dr. Bissell Sr.’s house. The Professional Building is now an antique shop called the Black Squirrel.
MLG: Then we have Burton Brook on the other side of the brook was Bill & Mary Raysford’s house. That became Stan Szczieul’s house. He was our first Resident Trooper. Next to that was the Thompkins’ house the brothers Eddie and I forget what his brother’s name was. They had a sister who lived in New Jersey. The brothers lived there and they were at the state hospital in Wingdale. I am assuming after they passed, it became a private house again. Coming up the hill was Dr. Leverty’s house, and then on the corner of Lakeview Street there was a couple that had a daughter who was the same age as my son. I can’t remember their name.
JM: Charlie Kane built that house. When I was teaching the Ellis Laitala’s lived there.
MLG: Finally is the Geer house just before Prospect Street. (The Chris Poulers live there now. Ed.)
JM: We are going to stop there. Now we are going to go back and do the right side of Main Street. We are going to start with the Gateway Inn. (It no longer exists. Ed)
MLG: It was such an incredible place. I remember living in the Holley Block and looking out at the people playing shuffleboard, or bingo, rocking in the rocking chairs on the porch. It was sad when it was destroyed and nothing was put up there.
JM: There is just some foundation wall left.
MLG: You would think that somebody would have built a private house or something.
JM: There is now, in the back a yellow private house.
MLG: The house next to it going toward Millerton…
JM: I want to come this way toward Lakeville so the Holley-Williams house comes next.
MLG: The Holley -Williams House was my favorite place to play. When we lived in the Holley Block I would go across the street. Miss Williams had a chestnut tree right on the lawn. They used to have these beautiful flowers. I used to make different designs of the flowers on the lawn so that my mother could see them if she looked out the kitchen window.
JM: That is sweet.
MLG: I walked the porch with Margaret Williams every day from the time I was about 4 years old. She would come to the end of her property and my mother would walk me across the street. Then we would walk back and forth across the porch. We would do it at 10 o’clock in the morning and 2 o’clock in the afternoon. When I finished, I would get a cookie. As I got a little older, before we moved, I was about 8 or 9 she would walk me around to where the stables were and behind the house. That is where I realized that the house went up behind a far distance. Then was the Farnam Tavern which was a tavern.
JM: Oh yes.
MLG: For years and years people that were traveling horse and buggy through town would stop there. Then it became an apartment house. Down below Dick McCue had a restaurant. Behind this were the garages where they used to put the horses and carriages.
JM: But it was a bowling alley at one time I think, later.
MLG: It might have been later. It is still in existence.
JM: Oh yes.
MLG: Down we are down to the Mansfield Apartments. Next was the First National which is now the Boathouse. Next to the First National was the Reid’s Dry Cleaner from Gt. Barrington. Ada Emily Miller’s house came next. The house went front to back there was a porch that faced the dry cleaners. She was the former wife of Harry Miller who owned the Holley Block.
JM: Then we come to the most important business on the street 343 Main Street…
MLG: The Apothecary Shop: it really was the center of the town. Everybody went to Tony and it was known as Gentile’s.
JM: When I came to town in 1967, I knew it as Gentile’s. Then we have the Post Office, Porter Street,
MLG: Then was The Blue Room and a restaurant. Leo LeMoine owned the Blue Room: it was known as a place where the drinkers went. (Col Joshua Porter’s house originally Ed.) But it was a nice little restaurant that he had next door. That actually became Mrs. Brewer’s Dress Shop. She only had half of the building and the other half of the building I am not sure what it was. (Now it is all Pet Pourri Ed.) Then there was Dick McCue’s house.
JM: There is a private house after the dress shop that we don’t know about. Next is another house once private which became a dress shop Agapanthus. Then there is Dick McCue’s house which became Auntie Em’s restaurant and is now Klemm Real Estate.
MLG: After Dick McCue’s house there was another house before the Parsonage.
JM: Yes that was the Hodges house. Mrs. Arthur Hodges donated it in 1958 to the Methodist property.
MLG: Right OK Then that is part of the Methodist church.
JM: It was. It was used for the Pastor’s study and the Sunday school rooms, but now it is 3 apartments. The Methodist Parsonage is next.
MLG: That was moved.
JM: Oh yes I know. Then we have the Methodist church.
MLG: Right, then you have the Day house and that became the Housatonic Mental Health Center.
JM: Right and now it is a private house owned by Bob Douglas.
MLG: Next comes Bissell Street, and it used to be the Savage house. He was the pastor of the Methodist church. That house was moved down where the Lakeville Journal is.
JM: Yes but I am focusing in on the area where the Salisbury Bank & Trust is now. Dr. Bill Bissell (the son’s house) was there. That one was moved back. It became apartments and later the Trust Department for the Salisbury Bank and Trust.
MLG: In the back now should be the Bissell house, the Lakeville Journal and ….
JM: The Lakeville Journal building which was built in 1982 is gone and that is now bank property.
MLG: What happened to the Salisbury Jewelers? Didn’t they move that down there?
JM: They moved it down there Judi Gott was the force behind that?
MLG: I remember the day they moved that building (Aug. 1985 Ed.).
JM: So do I.
MLG: It was the biggest that that had happened in town.
JM: Now we have the Salisbury Bank & Trust.
MLG: Then is the Garrity house, He had the pluming business. Then you‘ve got Burton Brook. Then you’ve got Dr. Noble’s house.
JM: That is the big yellow house which is now apartments.
MLG: Next to that was Dr. Peterson’s house on the corner of Orchard Street
JM: That is the stucco house shaped like an E. Kate Ryder lived there now.
MLG: On the other side of Orchard Street was Evelyn Dann’s house, coming up the hill (Dodge Hill) was Dick Walsh’s house then at the top of the hill was Nancy Peck’s house. It has changed hands many times. Next to her was Newkirk’s Funeral home, which later was home to Pat & Fran Gomez and now is the Ryan Funeral Home. That house was built in the 1930’s or40’s specifically as a funeral with resident quarters.
JM: Now we are at Lincoln City Road.
MLG: Lincoln City Road and Salisbury Central School
JM: I know about that one OK we’ve done it.
MLG: It was interesting because I graduated from the upper school even though I only attended the lower school because the upper school was being built.
JM: It was built in the 1950s. (The architect was Eliot Noyes. Ed.)
MLG: Yes, I graduated from elementary school in 1954. Now the next house…
JM: That is as far as we need to go.
MLG: OK great
JM: Do you want to describe the Holley Block?
MLG: The Holley Block? Sure! The Holley Block had three floors. The main floor as you are facing the building to the left was Dr. Leverty’s drugstore. It had a huge soda fountain but it was dark. But it still was a happy place. Next to it was Katherine’s Dress Shop. She was the second wife of Harry Miller who owned the building. Then there were double doors entering the building, with a big flight of stairs going up to the first floor of apartments. To the right of the main doors was Harry’s plumbing business, his office and then there was a thrift shop on the far corner. Down behind it was an apartment between the Holley Block and Mrs. Fish’s Real Estate office. On the first floor of the apartments there was Mrs. Charlton, Danny LaFredo, next I think their name was Smith, if I am not mistaken.
JM: What happened to Gramma Rudd?
MLG: She is on the other side, the front side of the building. The apartment next to her was empty for most of my time in the Holley Block. Next to her was Miss Roberts. Miss Roberts was actually underneath our apartment. On the top floor in the front of the building was Mom and Dad, the refuse room (the garbage room), Elizabeth Hobbs was at the opposite end of our apartment. Across from her was Mrs. Bell who was quite eccentric. She was very good friends with Wando Landowska. They dressed similarly with their big capes. Then Ada Thompkins had the middle apartment. She had 2 children a daughter and a son that were adults and they actually married when I was growing up. Ester Marks had the next apartment who was the housekeeper and cook for Miss Williams. She had a daughter Helen who was the nutritionist at Edgewood Park Junior College. That is the Holley Block. Behind it was the Beehive.
JM: I meant to ask you about that. What was the Beehive?
MLG: It was apartments.
JM: How many do you know?
MLG: I think there were 6, but it was destroyed by a fire. It was a horrible fire. It was just destroyed. A lot of people for some reason moved to Falls Village. I remember the Boyles lived there one of the Dennis families who actually rerouted themselves to Ore Hill. Those were the only two families I know.
JM: That’s fine. I am going to stop you there. I am going to thank you very much for your wonderful memory. You have done a beautiful job.
MLG: I am so glad that I still have it.
JM; Oh I am too.
Property of the Oral History Project: The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068