Mr. Doolittle is a graduate of The Salisbury School and taught there for a short period. He was headmaster of Indian Mountain School from 1939 to 1970. He has been active in town politics and in the Salisbury Winter Sports Association.
D.D. This is an interview on October 1, I98I. My name is Dave Daboll and I am interviewing Bill Doolittle. Bill has lived here or been in the town for a good many years and it will be interesting to hear his story, both as a student and as a teacher in this area. Bill, what was your first connection with the Salisbury-Lakeville area?
W.D. Well, while my ancestors came from Connecticut and Massachusetts on both sides, I never had any real connection with the town until my family decided to send me here to boarding school at Salisbury School. I entered in the fall of 1922 and was there for two years, graduating in June, 1924. At that time, Dr. George Quaile was headmaster of the school and he had been also the founder of the school. An interesting story about that is that he had been head of a school on Staten Island and he decided to pick out a place in the country for a new boarding school. He told the story that he took a compass and marked a hundred mile circle from New York City and started – out around the edge of that circle to find the ideal location for a boarding school. When he came to Salisbury, he thought he had it made and he bought the old Frink farm at the top of the hill going east from Salisbury and that’s where the school still is.
D.D. After you graduated from Salisbury School, I gather you then went on to college, higher education some place. Where was that?
J.D. Well, I’ll skip through that very quickly. Then come back a little bit more to the first time I was at school.
I went to Princeton University, then my first year after Princeton, came back to teach at Salisbury. I taught there just one year. Then I was home in Pittsburgh for ten years. Then I decided I liked education best and went back to both Harvard and Columbia for graduate work and finally ended up at Indian Mountain School in Lakeville.
But to go back to my student days at Salisbury. In those days our parents thought we were a little young to be going to New York City and changing from the Pennsylvania Railroad to the New York Central across that big town, so they decided to send us the other way around. Of course, it was by rail. We went all the way on the New York Central system, going up to Buffalo, across to Albany, down to Chatham where we changed to Millerton: then we changed at Millerton and took the train over to the Salisbury station. One thing I remember about that trip, one time, I’m not sure which year, it was very cold, there was lots of snow and the roads were in such bad condition that Dr. Quaile sent a sleigh, a big farm sledge drawn by horses, to pick us up and take us back to the school.
D.D. I gather that the Salisbury School had not been operating too long. What kind of buildings did they have in the early twenties as compared to the beautiful brick buildings they have now?
N.D. The main building which is the center of the school as you look at it now from the west was really the whole thing. There were three – it was just as it is now, a beautiful big white building with the pillars in front, dormitories on the second floor of the main building and both wings, and also a dormitory on the third floor. Nowadays, of course, that’s not considered safe and they don’t have boys on the top of the building although all the rest of it is still in use. We also had a small gym which has now been rebuilt as the school library. Dr. Quaile’s house was there, the headmaster’s house, and that constituted all the buildings of the school. The farm building, down near the main road, was more complete than it is now. Of course, it had a fire a few years ago and the farm – was more actively operated in those days.
As far as the general program of the school, the education program was very similar to that of all schools of the same type in those days. The main difference was that almost everything we took was dictated by the college board. We took tests every year and we all had math, American history, Latin, usually French too, and science and English. Those were the main courses and everybody took pretty much the same. There was a little bit of choice, but not nearly as much as there is in schools nowadays.
The athletic program was not nearly as expansive as now. Every boy, unless he had some physical reason against it, had to play football in the fall. In the winter term, Dr. Quaile wouldn’t allow us to have any games with outside schools. So we had club basketball and club hockey to choose from, and you could ski on days when the hockey wasn’t available or there was a free day for some other reason. In the spring, we had baseball for everybody, except a few were allowed to take tennis. Then about a week before school stopped the baseball season was concluded and we had one week of track with a track meet between the two school clubs the day before graduation.
One incident I remember that amused me was at a game between, a football game, between Salisbury and Kent. In those days the two schools were more nearly the same size and we played them in quite a few sports. Dr. Quaile was an Irish Episcopal minister and Father Sill was a member of an Episcopal – correction – Father Sill of Kent was a member of an Episcopalian order. Dr. Quaile believed in the English approach to supporting athletic teams and told us to clap and was rather disconcerted when we shouted anyhow. So, on one side of the school Dr. Quaile was trying to quiet us down and told us to behave like young gentlemen. On the other side of the school, the other side of the field, Father Sill with his white robes covered up to his knees in mud was pacing up and down the field screaming at his boys and exerting the Kent supporters to yell their heads off and help out the teams. But they were both very good friends and the schools had a lot of close relations in those days.
D.D. Then when you came back again, after taking-education courses you started to teach at Salisbury School where you had been a student.
.D. Yes, Dr. Quaile had come down to Princeton in the spring of my senior year for a Headmasters’ Convention and we got to talking then. I hadn’t really decided what I was going to do, but he asked me to dinner in New York a week later and presented such a charming picture of being a teacher at Salisbury that I was glad to accept and I showed up in the fall of 1928, where I taught some of the younger subjects and helped coach football and baseball. In those days the teachers all wore their academic gowns, so the sight of us rushing through the halls with our gowns waving in the breeze was quite a thing to see. Things were still quite formal and on Sunday nights, all the masters and the senior boys had to wear black ties, tuxedos, formal evening dress to dinner. The rest of the school, if they didn’t have that kind of dress clothes, had to wear a blue suit and stiff collar to Sunday night dinner.
That fall I was sitting down in Lakeville one day, in an old Ford that I had, and the fire engine, the fire bell, suddenly rang in the fire house and I followed the fire engine out – strangely enough to Indian Mountain School. It was on fire and it was the first time I had seen the school. I helped that afternoon throwing things out the windows and trying to save as much as we could. But the main building of the school burned to the ground. Luckily, all the masters and students had been down at Long Pond, playing in the afternoon and no one was hurt. That’s the first time I saw the school and I didn’t see it again until I came up there to be interviewed as the headmaster, potential headmaster, in the fall of 1938. (See Evelyn Dann’s interview)I was very surprised to see an entirely new building, which is still the main building of the school. Luckily, Mr. Riggs, the headmaster, had been able to raise in the winter of 1928 and the summer of 1929 $100,000 with which the new school, a very soundly built and beautiful building, was constructed. If he hadn’t raised the money that fast and had had to cope with the depression in 1929, I’m sure the school would never have been rebuilt and wouldn’t exist today.
When I came up in the fall of 1938 to be interviewed by Mr. Riggs, we got caught in a very hard snowstorm. The boys and Mr. Riggs and a team of horses and, I helping, dragged the old pump house from the main road down into the valley to be used as a shelter in the skating pond. On the way back to Harvard, where I was studying in the Graduate School of Education, we had a dreadful trip and were stuck in the snow in the hills outside of Boston several times, but finally made it.
D.D. How large was Indian Mountain School when you came, that is, how many students of what classifications?
J.D. dell, when Mr. Riggs rebuilt the school after the fire in 1929, it was built in every way for forty boarding boys. It was modeled quite a bit after Groton, where he had gone. In fact, Dr. Peabody of Groton was one of the men who influenced Dr. Quaile, er Dr., excuse me, Mr. Riggs to go into having a school for younger boys. The depression, of course, had hit all boarding schools and hit younger boys’schools probably harder than any. At that time we covered grades one through eight although most of the students were in about the last three or four years of that period. A great many of them at the beginning went to Groton after being tutored at Indian Mountain for a year or so in order to get strong enough in their languages. As a result of the fact that schools didn’t recover from the depression as fast as lots of other parts of the economy, Indian Mountain was in rather poor shape for scholars my first year. As a matter of fact, we only had seventeen in a building built in every respect for forty. Prom a financial point of view, of course, it was very worrisome and I knew I was taking a gamble to a certain extent. I think that the reason they put a man in as headmaster with so little teaching experience is that they were pleased with the fact that I had had ten years as a banker in Pittsburgh and hoped that I might use some economic magic on the school. It was rather fun, however, to have such a small group because when we made up our minds we wanted to do anything we could just stick the whole school in a bus and take off. It made things informal and a great deal of pleasure although we worried a lot about the finances. Luckily, things in the country began- to go well quickly and so did the school, so that period of worry didn’t last very long. There’s one in- teresting incident in connection with it. When I was being interviewed by the board as a final decision about headmaster, in fact the decision had been made but they were talking about how they wanted me to run the school. They said that the school had twenty-five thousand dollars left in a fund that I could spend any way 1 wanted to in trying to bring it back on its feet, but be sure to save the last three thousand dollars of this to pay the attorney’s fees when we had to fold it up. Not a very encouraging warning to give a man who is just starting out.
D.D. Were there any local boys and girls attending the school then?
W.D. No, there were only two or three who were boarders and in general there were very few students who ever went to Indian Mountain from this area before I came. The reason was that Mr. Riggs thought that day scholars had germs and he wanted the school to be isolated from a boarding point of view and keep healthy, he thought. Very soon after I came there we began to take a few day scholar boys from the town and shortly after that, a few girls. The first year it was just my own daughter and I think two girls who were daughters of faculty members. As I said before, the local boys had to board if they wanted to be at the school.
D.D. When did the local young people start to come as day students only?
W.D. I’m not sure of the exact year, but I think we had one or two day boys my second year and a year or two later, just before the war, we had the first of the girls
D.D. That would have been 1941?
J.D. Yes, I asked for a leave of absence from the board to take my reserve commission and go back in the army and so I was away for four years starting in 1942.
We did have one interesting thing about the early day boys. I found that the Hotchkiss School charter included the fact that they should take a certain number of day scholars free at Hotchkiss if the boys met their admissions requirements. I talked to them over there and said what if Indian Mountain gives some full scholarships to help these boys get ready for your requirements which included Latin and that sort of thing in those days. It was a good idea and, working with Mrs. Eggleston, we went over the list in the local public school and picked out the top boy each year for a few years at the end of seventh grade. He then came to Indian Mountain for seventh and eighth which gave us a chance to get him strong in his languages and a little bit ahead for the Hotchkiss exams. These boys made a tremendously good record with us and have made very fine records in life since. Phis early scholarship program was something that I looked on with a great deal of pride. I’d have to look it up to remember them all but the names of Ronnie Storms and Paul O’Neil and Mike Erickson and Maynard Bartram come to mind right away as boys who were in this program at the very beginning.
Town Hill School in those days had been founded largely for faculty children of Hotchkiss but they took a few boys and girls from all over the area. They covered the same years as Indian Mountain, first through eighth grade, but their upper grades were small. As a result, they asked us to take a few of their boys over every afternoon for sports, football and so forth so several of the boys from the seventh and eighth grades at Town Hill were, you might say, ringers on our team for a while. Right after the war, I had a talk with Mrs. Garrity and we decided, despite the federal laws, that we would make a private agreement in restraint of trade and Town Hill agreed that they wouldn’t carry any day students beyond fourth grade and we agreed that we wouldn’t take any below fourth grade, which settled the day scholar thing and from then on a great many students each year, day students, came over from Town Hill to Indian Mountain. It’s been a very fine relationship ever since.
As I said, I was away in the army artillery for four years and during that time the school was very ably run. We were extremely lucky to be able to get Mr. Lewis Schutte who had been headmaster in Rumsey Hall which was then in Cornwall. Rumsey Hall had been sold and Mr. Schutte was just about reaching the age of retirement. I persuaded him to come up and run Indian Mountain while I was away, which he did. It was a very lucky thing for the school because we came through the war in solid shape and were ready to go again. I came back as headmaster in June, 1946, and from that time on ran the school until I retired in the summer of 1970.
D.D. What other town boys do you remember that might still be around?
W.D. Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to duck that one because it would be dozens and dozens and dozens of boys. But I do want to talk about the years after I got back from the army more in terms of town affairs. I was more confident in running the school and had enough time to get interested in things around town. I was active for quite a while in the American Legion and was Commander for a while. Also I was one of the ones who helped in the revival of the Salisbury Winter Sports Association.
Of course, it revolved largely around the great skiers and the Satre family and the jumpers and the cross-country runners and of course in the early days the Association had a very fine downhill racing team as well. I wasn’t in that class, but I was very, very interested in skiing and so I helped on the management end of it, and had tremendous pleasure out of the fact that for many years I was vice-president of the Association and ran the junior program. The boys are outstanding from those years who did very well in eastern competition and even national competition. In the case of the first two I’ll mention Harold Jones, Mark Ottey, Jimmy Becket, Paul Satre and my son, Bill Doolittle. There were many others, of course, but these were the ones who stick in my own mind as the ones who were especially outstanding in the years when my wife and I and others drove them all over the east to competitions and ran junior meets here every year with large groups coming down from Brattleboro, Lake Placid, and in fact, pretty much all over the east for our junior jumps. I was also on the Library Board at that time and enjoyed that work very much.
I think I may have had a most unusual career connected with politics than any one in town simply because when I came I was a Democrat although I grew up in a town, Sewickley that was almost entirely Republican. I had a chance to vote for the first time when Prohibition was an issue and I joined the Democratic Party and voted for Al Smith. At any rate, I was on the Democratic Town Committee here for a while and then was chairman after George Van Santvoord resigned. One of the things I did was run against Bill Barnett for the Legislature at one time but I was pretty well, in fact, very soundly beaten as Republicans always beat the Democrats in town in those days.
The Democrats occasionally got an individual elected and we did it by saying, “Always vote for the best man.” At any rate, I followed that advice when Eisenhower was running, thinking lie would be the best man for the needs of the country at that time, came out for him and very quickly got kicked off the Democratic Town Committee as you can imagine. I stayed an Independent until after I retired at Indian Mountain, thinking perhaps it was better for the school if the headmaster wasn’t too active on one side or the other. Later, I went on the Republican Town Committee and was secretary for quite a few years and am still on it although this will be my last year, based -on the rules of membership. I don’t imagine there have been many people in the town that have swung around quite that much.
D.D. What interesting thing stands out from the early days, say, transportation for the school children?
W.D. Well, I think there has been a tremendous change in travel to and from schools and perhaps even more so for a school like Indian Mountain where the students were fairly young. When I first came to school and for many years thereafter, the travel was entirely by train. We took the boys over to Millerton in buses and then went down to New York City, One of the masters had to go with them, and spend most of his first day of vacation putting kids on the trains at Pennsylvania Station for all parts of the country. Again at the end of vacations we sent a master down to New York and the parents brought the students to the train gate at Grand Central to be escorted back up to Millerton.
As everybody who thinks back on the old train system remembers, there’s a good deal of nostalgia about individual travel on the Friday trains up to Millerton. They were very pleasant, they had a diner on them. People were relaxed, heading for the weekend, had drinks, bridge parties that were held every week and a general club atmosphere that certainly is a missing thing nowadays.
As I mentioned before, a lot of my association with affairs in the town came through Salisbury Winter Sports Association and 1*11 mention a few of the interesting things that I remember from that time, although from the competitive end there are a great many who we’ll have to try to get on tape, who can do much better than I can. Our biggest event was in 1950• when we held the National Championships in this town and that was great work and great excitement for everybody. Leading up to that, we had built some cross-country trails which were of first class quality that had national type competitors, coming from all over for our meets each year, because the Nordic skiing was a combination then of cross-country and jumping and all the great competitors, or almost all the great competitors, competed in both events; their scores going to their standing for the weekend. The Salisbury Winter Sports cross-country trails started at the bottom of the present jump area and went down Salmon Brook past Indian Caves then it turned sharply back on itself and uphill. It was a long, tough climb up to the top of the mountain where the trail took a great big loop and finally came down again to nearly the House of Herbs, out back along the bottom and finished at the bottom of the present jumping hill. Based on present ideas of cross-country trails, this was a very narrow, rough and hazardous trail, with parts that are far steeper, both going up and coming down, than any of the present-day trails. However, they didn’t seem to mind how tough it was. They were always full of enthusiasm and thanking us for putting on the meet and everything. The jumpers, of course, were not always quite so enthusiastic, although we had good conditions, of course we had to fight very hard to get them, and the jumpers themselves were more often in the prima donna class than the poor old cross country boys, re
D.D. We’re getting near the end of the tape, Bill, and I want to say that we should go back and tell more about the Salisbury Winter Sports Association and do a whole tape on that at some time. And the other thing that you and I should do is go back and fight World War II again, as that’s always of interest to those who participated in it.
W.D. That sounds fine and perhaps we could get some sort of an organized symposium on the winter sports. Thanks very much, I’ve enjoyed the interview. It’s hard to stop because a person could go on and on.
D.D.. Thanks to you, Bill
W.D. I have a couple of P.S’s to add. I’d like to put Larry Stone in that list of junior jumpers and, of course, there were a great many others. I’d also like to mention that the scholarships I was talking about for Hotchkiss were for local boys only and I’d like to mention that the education courses I took were before I came to Indian Mountain and not before I came to teach at Salisbury.