ROBERT H. ESTABROOKTranscript of a taped interview
Narrator: Robert H. Estabrook Tape #:76 A & B
Date: December 18, 1989
Place of interview: Robert Steck’s home, Furnace Rd., Lime Rock Interviewer: Robert Steck
Also present: Jo Steck
Mr. Estabrook, formerly editor and publisher of the Lakevi1le Journal, recounts the history of the railroads in this area. Among other topics which he discusses are – the iron industry in Lime Rock, Lakeville, and Amesville; the history of the Journal: the surveillance of the town’s boundaries in his capacity as Perambulator; the situation concerning’ Bridgeport Hydraulic and the Lakeville reservoir. Since coming here in 1970, he has become well versed in the history, traditions and institutions of this northwest corner and is most interested in their preservation. He speaks of the present conditions of the town and expresses his hopes for its future and for the continuation of its traditions.
N.B. In the text of the transcription, BS – Rob’t Steck; BE – Rob’t Estabrook.
Property of the
Oral History Project,
December 18, 1989, Bob Steck interviewing Bob Estabrook.
BS: Firstly, if I might, I would ask you to state your full, formal name.
BE: All right. My name is Robert Harley Estabrook.
BS: Okay. Let’s start then by getting right into the railroads, and covering that material in depth.
BE: I think it should be understood that railroads happen to be a hobby of mine, but all of this took place before I came to Lakeville and the Northwest Corner, so all of the little I know about it is derived from reading or from talking with people who were here.
The first railroad to hit the Northwest Corner was, of course, the Housatonic Railroad which came through Canaan as early as 1841, very early in the history of American railroads. It went north from Bridgeport and Hawleyville and ultimately went to South Lee, Mass., and then to Pittsfield and finally to North Adams. It was a very important carrier in the early days ultimately absorbed by the New Haven Rail Road and finally into Conrail. It was the Penn Central first and then Conrail. The Housatonic Railroad lasted as a passenger line until April 1971. I remember when they had the last Budd car come through Canaan, and then the freight service lasted another four or five years, and then was gradually suspended. There was an effort to abandon the line, but the State of Connecticut under Governor Grasso in a really forethoughted piece of action bought the right of way and railbanked it, and this meant that it was available for whatever future use the public need might dictate, but the right of way was there. Well, in point of fact, the track was in relatively good condition, and the Housatonic Rail Road, four or five years ago, started to rehabilitate it for a scenic line with the idea always, I think, of establishing a bridge freight service, of building up bridge traffic from New Milford north to South Lee or the main east/west line of the old Boston and Albany.
The Harlem Valley line of the New York Central, later Penn Central, came north somewhat later, but not very much later, in the middle of the Harlem Valley, and it existed in the 1850’s. One occasion on which it was used was to bring spectators up for a prize fight at Boston Corners when Boston Corners was in no man’s land. This was in the 1850’s after the State of Massachusetts had concluded that it could not exercise law and order west of the main range of the mountains here, so it ceded the little portion extending into the Harlem Valley to New York State, but New York didn’t get around to accepting it for six or seven years, and so this was literally a no man’s land, and there was a prize fight in the mid-1850’s that featured a 35-round bare knuckle fight with one contender being Yankee Sullivan. I forget who the other one was. All of this is covered in a book, I believe, Hell’s Half Acre, but in any event the miners from the top of Mt. Riga came down to view the fight.
And then the next railroad and the one of particular interest to this area was the Central New England which started as the Hartford and Connecticut Western, and thereby gave the name to Connecticut Western. You see it in other things. But it came west from Hartford and passed through
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Lakeville, Salisbury in 1871 and at the same time the glorious Canaan Union Station was built. It went on west ultimately to Poughkeepsie and first there was, of course, a ferry across the Hudson, but ultimately the Poughkeepsie bridge was built. It went over to a place called Campbell Hall, New York, where it joined the ill-fated New York, Ontario, and Western. No one knows of the New York, Ontario, and Western these days, but it once was an important bridge carrier and traffic through Lakeville ultimately ended in Chicago. What was the Hartford and Connecticut Western subsequently became known as the Central New England. For a period in the 1890’s, the Philadelphia and Reading bought it, and so it was part of the Reading System. It was a sort of unlucky railroad in a lot of ways. It took 64 1/2 miles to go the 50-odd miles between Hartford and Lakeville because of all the curves in the mountains, and it got over the summit in Norfolk, southeast of Norfolk, at about fourteen hundred feet, and this required helper locomotives in each direction coming from Winsted west or from East Canaan going east. I don’t suppose the Central New England ever owned a piece of vestibuled steel passenger equipment in its life. They were all old unvestibu1ed, open platform cars hauled by steam locomotives. While the railroad prospered as a carrier, particularly of anthracite coal from Pennsylvania, it came over to Campbell Hall and then went through to Hartford, and then on east on other lines of the New Haven to industries in New England. This began to die out with the increasing use of oil. In 1905 – I saw the statistic – there were 200 freight cars coming through Lakeville every day, and in World War I it was common to have 100-car freight trains pulled by double headers, and most of that was anthracite coal in hopper cars groaning over the summit to Hartford.
The railroad in the ‘teens from 1910 on ran six and, I think at one time, eight passenger trains each way a day of various sorts. They weren’t all through trains. At one point you could get on a parlor car in Norfolk and ride through to Grand Central Station in New York without change. I’ve seen promotion brochures from the 1890’s that advertised the pure air and water of the Taconic Mountains reachable through the Central New England with the implication at least that there might have been sleeping car service here. I’ve not found any direct reference to it. I do have a friend who went to Maine one time and remembers waking up in a sleeping car in Lakeville and seeing the station before the Hellgate Bridge was built in New York, and this obviously had to be a train that was detoured for some reason over the Central New England, but it did happen.
The passenger service, although it prevailed during World War I very heavily, began to decline shortly thereafter because of the highway system, the advent of the automobile and buses and so on, and for a little while the Central New England experimented with running gas cars which was a four-wheeled bus with a gasoline engine and radiator on front. I’ve seen pictures of them, and it was an ungainly device, but it didn’t last very long, and in 1927 the last through passenger service on the railroad ended, and that was the last passenger service to Lakeville. Curiously, the stub end of Salisbury and Lakeville lasted as a freight line until
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1965. The New Haven had by that time long since acquired the Central New England. It was a part of the New Haven, and the New Haven continued freight service as long as this was considered viable. The road bed was not in very good condition, but I’ve read the story of the last train to Lakeville. Portions of it over in New York State lingered on because of various state transportation requirements, and there was a mixed train that went from Copake to Stissing Junction after that, and that sort of thing. 1 also read in the Lakeville Journal of a steam train, steam locomotive, that tried to make it from Lakeville west to Millerton. This was on the freight track. This was in the mid or late 1930’s, and the grass was so high that the engine got stalled, and the grass was slippery under the drive wheels, and they had to go back and get some sand in order to complete the trip. But the Central New England had its afficianados. It would be a wonderful walkway, but most of it has reverted to private property. Imagine being able to walk this line up over the summit in Norfolk. I should add that it went under Norfolk Green in a tunnel. The tunnel still exists there. You can see the portal right by the Norfolk Library. It’s been blocked shut so kids won’t get lost in it and so forth, but it’s there.
BS: That’s a fascinating story. Do you think the railroad will come back?
BE: Oh, I wish I thought so, but one of the really monumental pieces of foolishness was to let the Harlem Valley Line go in the mid-1970’s and afterward. When we first came to Lakeville you could ride to New York on a four-car train pulled by diesel locomotives from Millerton, and it was comfortable and very convenient. In the spring of 1972 the Penn Central with its great flair for public relations took the down train down from Millerton, abandoned all passenger service at noon and stranded everyone in New York. In fairness, I have to say they’d been making noises about doing this, but nobody thought it was actually going to happen. Lettie Gay Carson did a yeoman job with the Harlem Valley Transportation Association of trying to revive the passenger service or keep the freight service going, but she could not prevail against a) a Penn Central management determined to get out of the short line, branch line freight business. It was moved by bigger high finance considerations, and b) the shortsightedness of some county and state officials at that time who simply couldn’t see any use for the railroad. Now they wish they had found it.
BS: Railroad transportation actually would be cheaper, wouldn’t it?
BE: Be enormously cheaper for long haul stuff. Of course, this is what does go by very heavy loads now, and many of the lines that are making money have doubled the size of their rail, and they still pound it to pieces because they use much heavier roads than the highways will tolerate, but we, the taxpayers, have picked up the cost of the trucks pounding the pavement to pieces on the highways. This is a result of the Interstate Highway Act which Eisenhower signed in the early 1950’s, and then the end of the railway mail service which no one thought was going to have the side effect of ending all branch line passenger service. As long
Estabrook – page 4 as railroads had a mail contract it at least broke even for them to attach a combination passenger coach onto the mail car and haul it to Copake Falls or wherever they were going, and when that incentive ceased, the branch lines just went out of business one after the other.
BS: I remember reading in Los Angeles that the tire companies and the bus or big truck companies and so on had a hand in helping to get rid of that, to get rid of the streetcars.and that kind of thing. Is there any evidence . ..?
BE: I don’t know of any direct evidence. It wouldn’t surprise me if the lobbies worked for that in Washington. You can get a lobby for almost anything. I doubt there was a sinister plan to do away with the streetcars, except streetcars generally were looked upon as inefficient, and here they are, cumbersome, they’re out in the middle of the street, they’re in your way, they go slow, and they have this track that gets clogged and collects ice, and all of that. Nobody thought of the other effects. The Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco/Oak1 and is an example. There was a really marvelous system with tunnels and so forth. The Key System that existed right into World War II, and it was abandoned during World War II. Within the last eight or ten years they’ve had to rebuild a much, much less extensive, less efficient system for the Bay Area Rapid Transit for billions of dollars. You can see that in almost any major city.
BS: I was interested in following up on how you got involved with this railroad hobby.
BE: Well, my paternal grandfather was president of the Barney and Smith Car Company in Dayton, Ohio, which made railroad cars and then some very good ones, both passenger and freight cars, in the latter half of the 19th century into the 20th century, and I sort of grew up in the lore of this, and I remember my grandfather talking about it, and my father was able to fuss around the yards in a small steam switch engine, and he told me about it, and that sort of thing, so I absorbed this as a hobby.
Then I have done a bit of research on the Central New England and the lines around here. Going through the files of the Lakeville Journal, it’s amazing how much you do pick up from these things. I mention the change in the quality of news that came about as the result of the demise of the railroad. For example, it’s obvious that news traveled east and west through this area while the Central New England was thriving, and Jack Jones shot a wildcat in Norfolk this morning. The conductor on the train would tell the station agent in Lakeville, and the station agent would tell B.D. Jones, the editor of the Journal, and there’d be an item about a wildcat in Norfolk. We don’t get that anymore, because truck drivers are perfectly social beings, but they don’t stop, they go on through. So you don’t hear the little tidbits.
BS: There was a railroad station here in Lime Rock, too, wasn’t there?
BE: Lime Rock Station is actually across the river in Falls Village.
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It’s right near where Ed Fales lives now, and it’s off Warren Turnpike Road, but it was called Lime Rock Station. There was a Borden creamery right near there that furnished some traffic for it.
This brings up another part that we may want to talk about, which is the remnants of the iron industry, but the Barnum and Richardson Company in Lime Rock made railroad car wheels and made them until 1916, that relatively recently. It was the biggest operator in these parts, and I have never really had it explained to me why it was cheaper to load railroad car wheels on huge wagons and haul them on many-horse teams over to the spur at Lime Rock Station than to build a spur into Lime Rock proper. I suppose it had to do with the grade. I think that probably it would’ve required too much power to get out of the Salmon Kill Valley, or something like that. Anyhow, Barnum and Richardson made a lot of the armor for battleships and other vessels in the Spanish American War. It operated, as I say, until 1916. It owned a lot of the forest lands in this area for charcoal, and an interesting by-product, it owned most of the top of Canaan Mountain. Ted Childs, the forester, the present owner of Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk and Falls Village, has told me that his father was able to acquire this land from Barnum and Richardson, or from the executors, for a dollar an acre. This was in the late ‘teens or early twenties, and we have this magnificent wilderness tract up there, which is glorious. It’s the largest forest in Connecticut. We have to thank the iron industry and Barnum and Richardson for this.
BS: In relation to the issue of acid rain, to what extent did the making of charcoal, the taking down of the trees, and so on, would that contribute to the smoke pollution and so on.
BE: I’m sure the smoke was something horrendous a hundred years ago or more. I’ve read of how all the hillsides glowed with furnace fires and so forth at night, and I’m sure there was a tremendous amount of particular matter in the atmosphere. We didn’t measure it in those days. This was accepted as normal, and I suppose if we had been environmentally conscious, we never would have had an iron industry in this area, because it’s a dirty industry, and charcoal, I guess, is a dirty industry. The forest in the immediate vicinity had been long since denuded, and by 1910 or 1920 they were going out fifty miles or more for the wood. This was a major factor in the decline of the iron industry, apart from the fact that there were more efficient methods of smelting, and that they were going to have to go deeper and farther for their ore, and that sort of thing.
BS: How far did they have to go for wood once they started?
BE: Well, I understand that 50 or 55 miles out to get some of this, and of course, the Ore Hill mine west of Lakeville was known for producing some of the richest ore this side of Sweden, in that it had natural manganese in it, but they were going way down. One of those tunnels, or so I’m told, is 275 feet deep. That’s pretty deep. Along in the late ‘teens they began running into water problems. They had pumps going all the time, but they couldn’t keep the water-out. This is what ultimately killed the operation in the early 1920’s. The hydrostatic pressure was so
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high that they just kept filling with water. The last iron operation in the area was at the East Canaan furnace, the Beckley Furnace in East Canaan, which lasted actually until 1924. The Ore Hill mine was not at all used up in terms of the iron ore, and during World War II there was an effort to revive the mine, but they got pumps working, and they never got the water level down more than about three feet, as I understand it. Then a few years ago, George Bushnell was telling me that when there was an effort to lower the level of Lake Wononscopomuc, the level of the ore mine also dropped, so it’s obvious there’s an underground connection between the two.
BS: There are five or six furnaces in this area. This one behind us here, is that one of the early ones?
BE: This is, I think, quite an early one, but I think it was also active during the Barnum and Richardson days. This is the one in Lime Rock. The Salisbury Association, back in the early 1 9 6 0 ‘ s, restored the furnace up on top of Mt. Riga, and this is visible up there, and those two and the Beckley Furnace are the only ones that are well preserved. Not long after we moved here, the old Maltby Furnace in Millerton, just across the state line on Belgo Road, fell down almost overnight. Vegetation had gotten into it, and one day it was standing and the next day it was a heap of r ubb1e.
BS: What about the people, the workers, who got involved? You mentioned miners on Mt. Reega, Mt. Riga.
BE: You can pronounce it anyway you want. Lila Nash used to say Mt. Reega, but most of those I know with some direct connection say Mt. Riga, and it is the Mt. Riga Association.
BS: Those workers up there, did they come in or is there any truth in the story about Hessian soldiers, which you must have heard.
BE: I’ve heard the story about Hessian soldiers. I’ve never seen any evidence of it at all. You may remember, we were talking about Paul Rebillard’s father the other day. He came from France, and he worked actually as a charcoal cutter on the mountain. There were some immigrants. I have never seen any evidence of anybody coming from Latvia that would give the Riga or Reega name. I just don’t believe that story. I know that there were some Cornishmen imported. They had had experience with mines in Cornwall, and some of them came as actual furnace operators or technical advisors. Bill Barnett’s grandfather, I think, was one such person. I think one of the Bartles came as a technician here. There’s no real indication I’ve seen that there was any large group of immigrants who came to work in the charcoal industry. There may have been, but I just haven’t read about it.
BS: In this area, I remember Marcello told me in an interview, and also Hezekiah, that there were French and Italian workers.
BE: Yes, although a lot of Italians came to the Canaan area, of course, and we know that there was some ethnic rivalry that figured in the
Estabrook – page 7
secession of North Canaan from the town of Canaan in 1858. Not wholly that. It was just difficult for people in North Canaan to get to the churches, and so forth, in Falls Village, which was then the center. The village of Canaan grew up in what is now the town of North Canaan, and as you know, we have the confusion of Canaans that is very hard for outsiders to understand.[some background noise and voices]
BS: Let’s talk a little bit about your own background. Let’s start with what brought you to Salisbury? How did you first hear about Salisbury?
BE: Well, I had spent 25 years on the Washington Post, and Mary Lou and I wanted something we could do together. Our children were grown: the last children were in college. I was at this point covering the United Nations in Canada, having previously been a foreign correspondent and editor of the editorial page in Washington. I saw the United Nations through its 25th anniversary, and as I said, completed 25 years with the Post, and this seemed a good time to leave. We had been looking through New England for, at first, a small daily newspaper, and we rapidly concluded that any small daily we could afford to buy wasn’t the sort we wanted to own. We had looked at some weeklies, and a colleague of mine, Russel] Wiggins, former editor of the Washington Post. who now publishes the El1sworth American up in Maine, had been looking for me. We looked up there without really seeing anything that seemed to strike a chord. I answered an advertisement for two southern New England weeklies, and it turned out that one of them was the Connecticut Western News in Canaan, and the other one was the Thomaston Express, and they were both owned by a man named Dolbaglio, who was in Litchfield. They had a printing plant in Litchfield. We went up to talk to him and became rapidly convinced that I didn’t want anything to do with either of those, but he dropped, in passing, that Mr. Hoskins in Lakeville might want to sell. So we drove through Canaan and Lakeville, and I picked up a copy of the Journal and looked at it. We had driven through the area, but were not in any way really familiar with it, but we looked at the paper, we looked at the area, we both looked at each other and said, “This looks nice,” and I wrote a letter that the Hoskins happened to like, and that struck up a correspondence, and I made a visit. This was in the summer of 1970, and things proceeded from there. We actually announced just before Christmas 1970 that the paper had been sold, and we were the new purchasers, and we took over in ’71.
BS: So, you moved up here in 1970.
BE: Yes. We actually rented a cottage; we rented one of Don Hewat’s cottages up on Selleck Hill for the first year we were here, while we were building our present house.
BS: One of the impressions I have is that you are a Renaissance man. A newspaper man, a hiker, a lecturer, and I just learned that you’re the president of the Rotary Club, and the other day that you played in a band. Have I left anything out?
BE: Well, if you really want my life history – no, you don’t. My primary interest has been in newspapers. I am one of three living founders of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which is a flourishing organization that grew out of a seminar at Columbia University in 1947, so it’s well established. I worked for newspaper groups in Connecticut a good bit, and with the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, particularly.
You mention my interest in hiking and perambulating. In a fit of whimsy, knowing my love for walking in the mountains, the Board of Selectmen, under then First Selectman Bill Barnett, in the summer of 1973, revived the ancient colonial office of Perambulator, with the stated duties of walking the bounds of the town every five years, presumably to make sure there had been no aggression from Massachusetts or New York, but actually saying to walk these on my own time. It was really part-way a gag, but this was all done very seriously, I believe it was in a town meeting. At any event, the late Don Knowlton dug up a cut from a dictionary of an old pram type perambulator, and he sent it in. This was sort of the logo of the perambulator was this pram, and we printed it in the paper. This was all done in good fun, so I changed the name of my column to “Perambulating” then, with the idea that I could perambulate on any subject anywhere in the world, really. And this is what I’ve done. At one time, when Charlotte Reid was First Selectman, the other perambulator and I joked about not getting any recompense for arduous services, and so very ostentatiously the First Selectman presented each of us with a bottle of rum at a town meeting. We did do some actual stuff for the town. We gave reports on the boundary markers, and it fell to me to try to determine whether the eastern boundary of Salisbury was in the middle of the river or on the west bank, and I was able to establish through some records that the original boundary marker was a pile of stones by an apple tree, but on the west bank at the southeast corner, and that conformed to what state records then showed also, but this was in connection with the responsbi1ity for paying for the reconstruction of the bridge at Falls Village. Who had the legal responsibility for it? As it happened, 1 think the costs were shared, but actually the bridge is in Falls Village.
BS:I think Bill Doolittle mentioned that you did some research on a sign
where New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut
BE: Oh, the tri-state corner. It’s not a sign. I had done some hiking up there before I was a perambulator, and I read about this, and George Kiefer helped me, because he had hiked up in there, but nobody really knew very much about what it was, and we discovered what we thought was the tri-state corner, but it didn’t say anything about Connecticut on it. It just said New York and Massachusetts. The border at that point is sort of a T junction, because the border of Massachusetts actually extends out into New York about half a mile or so beyond the Connecticut boundary, so that Connecticut is on one side of the T, New York on the other, and Massachusetts is on the top all the way across. It developed that Connecticut was too chintzy to pay for its quarter of marking that boundary marker, I think in 1898, whenever it was set out there.
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Some of them are 1898, some are as late at 1908 in this area, but yes, I did do quite a lot of work trying to run that one down. Julia Pettee, in her book about Salisbury, has a photograph that shows an earlier boundary marker in there, which is from the 1860’s and that is in disrepair now. I wrote Governor Grasso about this and tried to agitate people into doing something about it, and of course nothing ever happened. The State highway department, now the Department of Transportation, has the legal responsibility for perambulating the boundaries of the state, but they never tell you when they’re coming out here. But Bart ??? and I did go along a lot of the boundary markers in Sage’s Ravine and also along the western boundary of the town of Northeast to locate them. There is one boundary on the corner of Indian Lake. You don’t realize that Salisbury extends all the way over to Indian Lake, but it does. Most of them are identifiable. Bill Morrill and I one time were bushwhacking up on top of Round Mountain, and we found what we thought, well we found a cairn, a large pile of stones with no reason for being there, and we concluded that this must have been the original 1725 boundary marker or possibly the 1731 readjustment that shows on the map, but it isn’t a regular boundary marker. It’s just a pile of stones. Curiously we’ve never been able to find it again. We’ve been up there numerous times, and we can only conclude that this was cannibalized unwittingly by people who cut the Red Trail up there and put little cairns along it.
BS: Does the name Connecticut now appear on the sign?
BE: No, it still isn’t there. You have to take this one on faith. There is, of course, the highest point in Connecticut is on the south shoulder of Mt. Frissell, and there is a pipe up there. It’s been marked at various times with signs, but I don’t think there’s anything at the moment. You just have to know where it is.
Jo Steck: So you have found all these places I’ve been reading about.
BE: Well, only by a lot of trial and error. It was an interesting bit of history about the tower on Bear Mountain. When we first came here, there was about a 20 or 22-foot tower up on top there, which was in various states of disrepair. A couple of years after we were here, it started to crumble, and the Salisbury Association restored it through a gift from George Gillette actually, and it was put back in good order. Peter Brazzale made a glass lightening rod that went on the thing.In four or
five years it crumbled again, and this time the Darien or New Canaan Boy Scouts rebuilt it as a project, and helicopters came in with building materials and all of this, and it was quite a project. Then it just very badly deteriorated, and I did quite a bit of writing about it. Finally, we were instrumental in getting the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to come out and look at it. He got some state funds, and they stabilized it at about half its height, but it’s now a place where hikers can climb on it without fear of breaking a leg or something like that.
This was commissioned by Robert Battell of Norfolk, and was completed in 1884. A Salisbury mason named Olin Travis did the construction on it.
It’s not at the highest point on Bear Mountain. The actual high point is about four feet higher – 300 feet northwest – and I’ve seen this as speculation, and I don’t know whether it’s true, but the thought is that it was put where it is so that Robert Battell could see it from his window in Norfolk. He commissioned another tower in Norfolk on top of Haystack Mountain, which is quite a little sort of pergola up there, and it’s very attractive.
He was an important guy, because his daughter, Ellen Battell Stoeckel, married Carl Stoeckel. She was the person who willed her estate to the Yale School of Music, which is still the Yale Summer School of Music, and Karl Stoeckel founded the Litchfield County University Club. On one occasion he brought the New York Philharmonic up by train to play at a dinner at the University Club. Things were done in grand style in those days.
BS: Where is that University Club?
BE: There’s no physical facility. It just exists. It comprises people all over the county. It’s dedicated to good conversation and meets twice a year and funds about $50,000 in scholarships.
BS: Bob, relate your hiking to when I saw you taking those kids out on a hike.
BE: Well, that’s another project that the Rotary Club has done for a number of years. The Salisbury Rotary Club is part of District 789. Incidentally, let me make clear I’m president-elect. I don’t become president until next July. Bob Slagel is president this year. (See Bob Slagel’s interview)
One Rotary project is to sponsor international student exchange. The Rotary Foundation gives fellowships for study abroad to teachers and people in various walks of life, and these are extremely generous fellowships. They pay for a year’s good living and travel. One thing we sponsor is students spending an academic year in high school abroad. We send Americans to any one of twenty-odd countries or so, the cooperating countries, and students from those countries come here. As part of that project, the Salisbury Rotary Club has sponsored a weekend for all the foreign exchange students in the Rotary District 789, which is the northern half of Connecticut and the western half of Massachusetts, and 23 or 24 of them descend on Salisbury and stay with families here, usually Rotary families, for a weekend. We organize a bebop session and dinners and so forth. As part of it I have, for ten or twelve years, led them on a hike, usually up Bear Mountain here on Saturday morning to work some of their energy off. They certainly work some of mine off. This year, it being a nice day, I changed the route. Bill Morrill has helped me with this for a long time, and we took them up over Round Mountain and Mt. Frissell, and then over the Brace Mountain in New York and back, so we give them a fair amount of exercise.
BS: How old is this scholarship program? How many years has the Rotary Club done this?
BE: Well, as long- as I’ve known anything about the Rotary. I suppose it’s 30 or 40 years old anyhow. And they work closely with the American Field Service, and it’s quite similar to that, in point of fact, but a nicer group of kids you would never meet, and it’s so interesting to see how language may be a little barrier, but not much.
BS: I want to get back to the Lakevi11e Journa1 in relation to one question. Can you trace where the Lakevi11e Journa1 was before its present location?
BE: Certainly can. Let me say that the Lakevi11e Journal was started by a man by the name of Carl Card of Millerton, of Northeast. I think he came from Boston Corners originally. He started this paper in 1897. He already owned the Millerton Telegram. The first editor was Irving J. Keyes. They published in a building near where the barbershop now is on Main Street in Lakeville. Keyes only stayed, I think he stayed for less than year, and shortly therefore B. D. Jones, Ben Jones, came, and Ben Jones was the longtime editor and publisher later. B.D. Jones bought out Carl Card about 1905 or thereabouts, and then himself remained as editor and publisher until the very late thirties; I should guess ’36 or ’37. Ben Jones died and a Mrs. Dorothy Belcher took over, ran it for a couple of years, and Ann and Stewart Hoskins bought it from Mrs. Belcher, and they came in 1940, and had a very colorful career here.
So, to answer your question, the Journal. I believe, was in two separate buildings adjacent to one another right on Main Street there. If you remember where, the Mayland Chime Company was, well, that was the old Lakeville Journal building. (See Mayland interview)
BS: That’s where Community Fuel is now.
BE: That’s correct. And is it? No, I think that’s where Nelson Slater has his office now.
Unknown: It’s just going up the hill.
BS: Community Fuel is right next to the barbershop.
BE: But on the other side of that. And then in 1958 Fred Leubuscher had now already acquired what is now Pocket Knife Square, and he and he Hoskins came to an agreement whereby the Lakeville Journa1 took over the major building in the Pocket Knife Square complex. This has been known as the Lakevi11e Journal building, although the Journal never owned it. The Journal had the first floor and the basement of the pocket knife factory. Then after we came, we persuaded Fred Leubuscher to build us a press building between two existing buildings and the pressroom was where the main dining room in Holley Place is. We built that as a press room, and it had a Webb press in it for a long time. We used two existing outside walls you see, and all we had to do was build the interior and the roof,
END OF SIDE A
and then we took over the other building, where I think there are several shops now, with our advertising department for a while. There were various configurations, but the building was occupied by the Journal for 25 years until 1983. At that point we had known that Rob Schwaikert was buying the building. He had other plans for it, and he wanted the Journal out.
Finally, the opportunity came up to buy the present tract, which was then owned by Metz in Sharon, and he had been unwilling to break it up, but we were able to get this, and then we sort of shepherded it through various zoning requirements, and finally were able to build the building in 1982, and we occupied it at the beginning of 1983 and have been there since.
BS: That was six years there.
BE: Yes, well, it was a matter of lifting yourself by your boot straps, and you don’t think you can, but you somehow manage it.
BS: Here is something that we run across from time to time. We spoke about Hessian soldiers and Mt. Riga, but there’s another one that we’ve heard about a couple of times: the Ancram Screams. Do you know anything about that?
BE: Well, the Ancram Screams, if they’re the same thing, this is a bit of lore, I think Harris Rossiter gave an interview to the Journal oh, a couple years before we got here, this must be ten years ago anyhow, but he mentioned the Ancram Screams or Screamers, as I think they were called. But I never knew exactly what they were. They were sounds that you would hear on the mountain, but it was never clear to me why Ancram was associated with them. I think this is probably mountain lore and little people and all sorts of things like that.
Harris Rossiter was the last man born on the mountain. Of course, there were farms up there. You can still see the stone walls and the orchards and this sort of thing.
BS: What about the term “Raggies?”
BE: Well, I’ve heard various origins, and I have to believe that it’s a corruption of Riga, the mountain Riga, Raggies. Who knows? Lila Nash was always very proud of her Riga origin, but I don’t think she had an explanation of the origin of the word.
BS: We haven’t found anybody who knows it. One of the things I ran across and have looked for is the fact that some of the Shay’s Rebellion people were in this area. Did you ever run across that in any way?
Estabrook – page 13
BE: Well, of course there’s the monument to Shay’s Rebellion in the town of Sheffield on Bow Wow Road. It’s a corruption of Pow Wow Road. It’s the road between the railroad crossing just north of Sheffield village as you’re going up Route 7 toward Gt. Barrington. You’ve been through Sheffield village, and you make a swing a bit to the left, and then straighten up again at the crossing on the left. That’s Bow Wow Road, and that goes up to South Egremont near the Egremont Inn, and about halfway up on the right you’ll see a marker in a field there, the last battle of Shay’s Rebellion was fought there.
BS: There’s a new book at Hotchkiss School library this last year on Shay’s Rebellion, the name of the author doesn’t come to mind at the moment, but he mentions recruiting and training taking place on Sharon Green.
BE: That doesn’t strike a bell, but I’ll tell you who would know, a man by the name of Roger Wunderlich. He wrote a lot of historical pieces for the Journal in the 1970’s. Roger left here to complete a degree at SUNY down in Smithtown, Long Island, and I think he was going to teach.
BS: Is he still living in Smithtown?
BE: I think so. He’s a guy older than I am, and he’s just starting a teaching career, so more power to him. Roger did a lot of research on Shay’s Rebellion, and he wrote a number of pieces about this.
BS: In the Lakevil1e Journal?
BE: They’re on the Viewpoint page.
BS: I’ll have to look that up. Approximately which year?
BE: Well, if I had to guess, I’d say 1977, ’78. He helped Mary Lou market her Connecticut calendar which was Connecticut 1978, and I remember working with him about that time, and it may have been a year before this, but it was in that general period.
BS: Another thing that we’re looking for is Native American history. We learned a little bit about, well what we learned is one statement that there was a Weatogue settlement on Weatogue Road.
BE:I’ve heard that. I’ve heard that there was a settlement quite near
where the present Fair Acres farm is. I tell you who would know that, very readily, is the president of the American Indian Association, Ned Swigart.
BS: I’m not going to be very clear about this, but someone asked this morning about the hydraulic power company changes around the reservoir property. Are you acquainted with that?
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BE: Remind me, I want to talk about the Horatio Ames Ironworks. Well, yeah, I’m familiar in a general way because I’m on the Land Trust, and we were the people who originally dug up this thing and saw the danger coming. The Bridgeport Hydraulic had been wanting to sell off excess land for a while. It had a problem here in Salisbury in that it needed more capacity and there’s a Federal EPA regulation that surface water supplies are supposed to be phased out unless they have a filtration system. Bridgeport Hydraulic was faced with the problem of either putting in a filtration system for the Lakeville reservoir or finding an alternate source. It would be cheaper, so they thought, to find an alternative source, so they started exploring in the Moore Brook watershed. Well, that set the Land Trust on edge, because much of this is Trust land because of the particular water course. In other words, it’s a unique, very fragile ecosystem down there, and doing a lot of drilling or damming or whatever, would upset the balance. And some of the land is owned by the Nature Conservancy, so we got the Nature Conservancy into the act, and made it clear to Bridgeport Hydraulic that if it proceeded there it was going to face some very expensive law suits. And so it then began considering the possibility of the Lakeville reservoir as a filtration system. Well, it appeared at that point that Bridgeport Hydraulic was going to get a fantastic amount of money for that land. They own 460 acres up there, and it’s quite choice land and magnificent views and all that, but then we agreed on having an appraisal and it developed that land without frontage – much of it is in five-acre mountain zoning, I guess some of it’s in two- acre zoning, but it would be enormously expensive to develop, and so the appraisal came in at less than a quarter, probably a fifth or a sixth of what they had hoped and expected of the thing. So suddenly their interest in selling it rather disappeared. We had undertaken and worked closely with the town to work with them, and we presented a proposition when
I saw we, 1 don’t mean to speak for the town, but we had talked this out with the selectmen and so forth. We presented an alternative proposition whereby the town would, if necessary, pay for the filtration system, if they would guarantee to continue to use the reservoir and not threaten Moore Brook and this sort of thing. And we had sort of a tacit understanding that that would be the case, and I believe that is still what is guiding now, but meanwhile their interest in selling the reservoir is diminished perceptibly.
Oh, I wanted to talk about the Horatio Ames Ironworks. Before Barnum and Richardson, of course the big operator in the mid-nineteenth century was the Horatio Ames Ironworks which was on the Salisbury side of Falls Village in what is now Amesville, and you will note such nice little antique references such as Puddlers Lane as a result of the Horatio Ames Ironworks. Anyhow, a spur of the Housatonic Railroad was built across the river on a bridge.
BS: Is there a place actually called Puddlers Lane?
BE: Yes. Puddlers Lane is in Amesville, part of Salisbury, off Sugar Mountain Road. And there’re some other little reminders. Anyhow, the Housatonic Railroad built a spur on a bridge across to serve the Horatio Ames Ironworks, and this was a big operation. You can see all the woodcuts of it with the locomotives puffing back and forth and smokestacks
Estabrook – page 15
and this sort of thing. It had the responsibility for developing a field piece for the army in the Civil War, and it did develop one that would shoot a projectile five miles, and they tested it at various points around this area, and all was going well until the Civil War suddenly came to an end and the War Department canceled the contract, with Horatio Ames having spent all the money to develop this thing, and within a very few months they went bankrupt, and the whole thing just passed out of existence. This was part of the complex that was supposed to make Falls Village the new Chicago back in the 1850’s. There was even a canal built around the falls up there, and you can still see some of the stonework, but down behind the present power house, down toward the high school from it, if you walk on those paths in the woods you’ll see all sorts of breastworks and foundations in there that were supposed to be the industrial heart of the operation.
In my perambulating around, I wondered why I never could find any of the ironworks buildings, the foundations, and suddenly the idea came to me that when the power dam was put in in 1913 it, of course, flooded all of these out, so I’ve done some fooling around on the Salisbury side in there, and if you look down in some places you can see brick abutments down under water.
Subsequently the New Haven Railroad built a roundhouse on the Salisbury side of the river and used the same bridge, and that was still in existence in 1898 because you can see it on the 1898 map of Salisbury that is sold around. We have one. I’m sure you’ve seen the one in the Town Hall.
BS: The Horatio Ames outfit, then, was out completely.
BE: Nothing left. I guess Barnum and Richardson really took it over, but it wasn’t in the same place. Barnum and Richardson was a big operation. William Barnum was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut appointed by the General Assembly, and when he died Grover Cleaveland came to his funeral.
Charlotte Reid was telling me that some room in her family’s house, the house built by her grandfather over on Elm Street fronting on Lake Wononscopomuc, had a room built for the Barnums.
BS: One of the things, I think, that strikes many of us is your citizenship responsibility and how involved you have been in the community, which, of course, is marvelous. What about projecting? What is going to happen to this town with some of the new realities that are here, and also at the same time would you give any advice to the young people growing up here?
BE: Well, I’m a great believer in reading history because 1 think you have to know where you’ve been before you know where you’re going. This is the thing I miss the most in certain of our current attitudes and obsessions. We don’t make much use of history, and it’s very important in Salisbury because we do have some traditions that are worth preserving.
We have a tradition of civility in our town which is very rare in my experience, and we find that except on very partisan biennial elections, we rather like each other here. And that’s a nice thing to have, and I think it can fail.
New England has some interesting things to teach us. I think it’s interesting that of all the New England states Connecticut and Massachusetts probably share the most institutions in common. They are really very similar, so if you are reading Massachusetts history you can read in Connecticut history and vice versa. Obviously the tradition of the volunteer society is much larger than these two states, but it flourishes here, and I think something terribly precious that is very much endangered not merely by what’s happened in the percentage of homes that now are occupied as second homes and not full-time residents, but in the exodus of young people which is happening all over the country and the draw of the cities, the depopulation of the countryside during the working day is really what we are talking about. It is progressively more difficult to staff the volunteer fire company, the ambulance service. It’s hard to find volunteers to work with the organizations such as Mental Health and the public health nursing, and like that. These, are to me, what make the vitality of a small town. It’s a cooperative endeavor and it’s a cooperative endeavor in which Mrs. Got Rocks and Mr. Got Nothing work side by side and nobody asks what your background is. It’s a rather nice thing.
We also have depended in this town – we’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in that people of money have taken an interest in the town and loved the town, have given, many of them in ways that are very little appreciated today. We have benefited – well, take what the Belchers did with the Town Grove. I’ll bet you not one person in ten using the Town Grove realizes how the town acquired it, and that sort of thing. Or take the library. The Scovilles gave the library. And there’re all sorts of things like that. Arnold Whitridge did an enormous amount for Noble Horizons that people don’t realize. We don’t have that kind of money or that kind of person today, at least visibly. They may exist and they may surprise us. I’m working with the library on its capital campaign, and it’s a little frightening to realize how heavily you’ve depended on a few big gifts in the past and they ain’t there. We’ve got to find other ways of getting popular participation, and people are really going to probably have to pay a good bit more to keep the things they value. I feel that we have had not a free ride certainly, and the people who find the tax burden onerous 1 empathize with, but by comparison with other towns this size or other towns in the area, we’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in Salisbury, and that little rooster is coming in to roost very quickly, because there are just lots of deferred needs we have to meet, and it’s going to be very expensive.
How do you project the future? I would hope that the traditions I m talking about, the New Eng1and-sty1e democracy, the town meeting where anyone can get up and speak his piece, and isn’t inhibited and does do it .
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There’s something very precious, and I think it’s good to be suspicious of too much government at all levels, and this is not part of it. 1 think it’s something that you need to be aware of. There’s a sort of fierce determination to be individual in these places, and 1 think that’s marvelous. I also want a place where you can get lost. Not too many people get lost because I think you have to pull your weight, but I do sympathize with the people from New York who want to be up here where nobody can see them. There ought to be someplace where you can do that.
BS: How many of the, how big is, or what proportion of the population are weekenders?
BE: I’ve seen figures that between 57 and 60% of the properties are now being occupied by people who are not full time residents, and I believe that to be about right. The number of homes dark during the week have certainly, by my lights, at least doubled during the time we’ve been here.
BS: How about the older age population in relation to younger?
BE:I don’t know that you could say it’s grown particularly. I saw
statistics some years ago that Salisbury I think next to Greenwich had the second largest percentage of people over 65 in the State of Connecticut. And we may have surpassed that now, but certainly the advent of such a facility as Noble Horizons makes it possible for people who might have to retire elsewhere to stay here, and that’s, I think, a great asset. We get their wisdom. We also keep their money here, if you want to be crass about it. But I think there’s a boon in that. What I do believe in very strongly, is a mix of population. I would hate to see this place become a gerontocracy, and there’s some danger of that, and I’d hate to see it be all weekenders. There’s some danger of that. I would love to see more part-time residents brought into the business of the community. Some of them play a very important and growing role, so you can’t generalize on this.
What we lack are facilities for young people to stay here. By the same token, and 1 think it was you, Bob, the other day who remarked that…no it was Norm Sills, who remarked that the kids almost have to get away and then come back, and I think that’s true in almost every community in America. Otherwise, you’re serving a life sentence. But we still very drastically lack, not merely housing. We lack moderate income housing, but we lack economic opportunity for young people. There’s just not that many jobs in our community.
BS: Wouldn’t you add social and cultural…
BE: Yeah. I think you make those to a certain degree. We do attract some young people to our private school on the faculties, but they don t always mix with the community. I’m really talking more attention to commercial activity or I will mention that horrible word, industry. I believe you have to have, I hope some acceptable, non-polluting light industry. Electronics is often mentioned, that sort of thing, but I don t envisage steel mills here. Although it’s interesting, we need to remember
We were a busy, industrial, heavy industrial area. We have roots that way. But surely we wouldn’t spoil the place if we had a Bicron in here or something- like that that would be a source of employment. Now, the next question is, do you have the skilled labor for one of them, and you probably don’t in the first instance. Becton Dickinson has to bring people all the way in from North Adams, Massachusetts, at the moment. So we may not be talking about the same people. That’s something to remember here because while we talk about no opportunities for young people, the young people who are here may not want the opportunities that are offered.
BS: Were you raised in a small town?
BE: No. I was born in Dayton, Ohio, went through first grade in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, grew up in Evanston, Illinois, which was a suburb. It wasn’t a big city, but it was a suburb. Then I worked on the Cedar Rapids Gazette before World War II and landed on the Washington Post because 1 was stationed at the Pentagon at the end of the war. I did work up in northern Michigan where my grandfather had a cottage. 1 started a little summer resort weekly and got on to several papers up there as a result of that, and they were very small towns, so I was familiar with that.
BS: You mentioned some people that we will have to try to interview in relation to specifics. Are there any other people you know, Bob, that we might add to our list?
BE: Well, let’s talk about specific subjects that we want to get. This is what I think is important. From time to time I’ve thought of them, but of course when I try to dredge them out, why I don’t.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?
BE: Well, I should flatter my hosts. 1 think you two contribute a great deal to this town, and I find it a much more stimulating place because you’re here. How long have you lived here?
BS: Twenty years. We came up in ’69. You said you sing with the…
BE:I sing with the Housatonics barbershop chorus. I’ve never been with
a group that’s so congenial. We come from every walk of life, if you will. Several of the people in there I had had some preconceptions about. I’ve come to know them and really like them, and this is very refreshing.
How long has that been in existence?
BE: It’s, I guess, about three years old. I’ve been in it two and a half years. I’ve had great fun. We practice every Thursday night, and we give half a dozen concerts or more.
BS: Where do you sing?
BE: We sing at granges, we sing at dinners, at churches of various sorts. We sang for ourselves at our annual dinner Friday night and had a whale of a time.
BS: What kind of music do you sing?
BE: We do stuff composed really largely for the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. It’s a pretty mouthful of initials, but “Auralee,” the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Now the Day is over.” Lee Collins is a fantastic leader. In fact, he’s a fantastic fellow. He’s just the man of all seasons here.
BS: Is he a doctor?
BE: No, he is a music teacher at the Cornwall and Kent schools. He’s also the leader of the Salisbury Band, and he does this as a volunteer. You ought to interview Lee. He would be a very important guy to do. He and Barbara Collins, she teaches music in the schools, came up here from New York twenty-odd years ago, saying, “We want the values of a small town for our family, and we’re willing to forego city advantages for this.” They’ve worked with it, and they’re just fantastic people. She’s very active in the Oblong Valley Players and that sort of thing. Lee, well he’s just got his hand in everything. We have something called the Salisbury Band Christmas Brass and Hot Chocolate Society, and we play Christmas carols around, and I guess we must have played ten or twelve times this December at various places. We played three times in Torrington last weekend, and then last night we played at Pocketknife Square. Lee has organized that, too. And then we have something called the Senior Hotshots. These are adults in the band who get together to play ragtime, and we give concerts around the area.
BS: What’s your instrument?
BE: Baritone horn. Mary Lou plays in this now. She plays the piccolo. She plays flute in the Torrington Symphony, but she’s in this now, too.
BS: How old is this group?
BE: The Hotshots?
BS: The Salisbury Band.
BE: The Salisbury Band was established in 1928, and if you don’t have Jimmy DuBois on this
BS:I don’t think we do.
BE: Oh, well. Now we’re talking. Jimmy DuBois has been in the Salisbury Band for 61 years. Jimmy is the retired custodian of the Salisbury Central School, and his wife, Olive, whom you may know, is the lady who used to bake the gingerbread village at the White Hart Inn. She works at Noble Horizons on weekends. She also works at the Lakeville Journal in
Estabrook – page 20
the bindery. Jimmy has two artificial knees now, and is walking without canes and is doing fine. He’s a drummer, and he’s played in the band since he was seventeen or eighteen years old. No pretensions at all, but Jimmy is an absolute gold mine of knowledge and lore about this time, and about some of the miscreants, too.
Along in early October, Olive and Jimmy gave a reenactment of their wedding at the Town Grove, and they invited 300 people to this, and the band played, the Hotshots played. But they went through the ceremony again with John Harney reading it, and it was such fun to watch. These are important people for you to have.
Ned Swigart is the American Indian Archeological group. He’s a Hotchkiss graduate who grew up on an Indian reservation in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, I believe, so he knows a lot about this.