WALTER H. FENN
Transcript of a taped interview
Narrator: Walter H. Fenn
Tape #: 45A
Date: April 16, 1986
Place of interview: Mr. Fenn’s home, Catamount Ski Slope, near South Egremont, Massachusetts
Interviewer: Jodie Stone
Mr. Fenn was born in Lakeville and lived there until 1940 when he left to work in the Hartford area. Because he remembers so clearly many people, places and events of his boyhood, this memoir presents an interesting vignette of a young boy’s life in the 1920’s and ‘30’s.
Property of the Oral History Project.Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library.
Salisbury, Connecticut 06068.
This is Jodie Stone on April 16, 1986, interviewing Walter H. Fenn.
JS: Walter, where were you born?
WH: I was born in Lakeville in what was known as the Pepper house, and that house is still standing. It’s on the road going up toward Hotchkiss School, just after you go by where there used to be the old railroad trestle, and I wasn’t too aware of the event but I was told later that I was born on the kitchen table. Our family doctor, who was Dr. Peterson, lived at the other end of town, and I think he must have been in the hospital or something that day, for one reason or another, but he never got there in time, but I arrived on the kitchen table.
My mother’s name was Beatrice; my father’s name was Merrill. My mother was born in Lakeville and lived there her entire life. Her family came over from England, from Sheffield, England, and my Dad was born somewhere in the New Milford/Washington, Connecticut area, and he worked for the Southern New England Telephone Company and retired after 48 years, but he also had some side jobs because, of course, during the middle of the Depression, he worked at other things. He practically ran the projector at the Stuart movie theater in Lakeville.
My sister, Gertrude, and my brother, Merrill, and another brother, Allan, were all born in Lakeville and went to school in Lakeville. I can remember some of the teachers that we had. There was a man by the name of Teague, who was school superintendent, and later on a Mr. Loring was high school principal. I can remember that I went to first grade in the building which was known as the Friendly Club. I believe the other building up on that same side of the street was a Catholic school, and I used to ride my tricycle up and down the sidewalk there by the Jigger Shop and so on.
JS: Who was in your class?
WF: Well, I can remember Martha Fowlkes, Fayette Card, Garwood Belter, Nina Beebe, Constance Mantas (sp.?) her sister Rita, [?] McDonald, Herbie Atkins, Mary Hayde and Myron Millis. There were only seventeen in my high school class. I don’t recall many of the people that were in my lower classes. We moved from, that is, the school was moved from that building, called the Friendly Club, down to the building in Lakeville, down near the area where the Post Office is now, and I went through grammar school there and my first year of high school. My second year of high school was in the school which is now up on the Lincoln City Road, and graduated from there in 1934.
I used to know most of the masters at Hotchkiss School in later days when I was living and working in Lakeville. I remember Dr. Buehler and George Milmine, Mr.Coolidge, Mr. Parsons, Bill Fowle and, of course, Mr. Monohan and all of those people that were associated with Hotchkiss. (See Wm. Fowle’s interview)
We used to play baseball and hockey with the Hotchkiss School people as well as some of the other ones around town. Hockey was one of my favorite games in those days because the skiing wasn’t anywhere near started the way it turned out to be when the Satre people came to town. The Satre family, you know, started the ski business in the Salisbury/Lakeville area. They were a
Norwegian family, and there were four or five brothers, I think. There was Magnus, Johann, Ottar, Olaf and Sverre, and there was a sister. They were great skiers. In fact, they made their own skis. I had a pair of Satre skis, one of the first pair of skis I ever had that had steel edges on them.
I’m getting ahead of my life here because we didn’t really start skiing seriously until 1935-36. Up until that time, we used to play hockey, and it would bother us if it snowed. We had to clean off the ice.
JS: Where’d you play?
WF: Oh, we skated on Factory Pond, and we skated on Lakeville Lake, of course. We used to play hockey over on the Hotchkiss hockey pond. I can remember some of those fellows we used to play with – Hoppy Rudd, for one – of course, was a great hockey player. Did you know that Hoppy Rudd was a hockey player, a baseball player and a football player, and he was on the varsity at Yale on all three of those teams when he was a freshman the first year at Yale? And there was Jack Hawley and Martin Johnson, Eddy Kipp [sp.?], Jack Fisher, Bill Hallahan, Kemmy Bauman. I remember one time we took our hockey team down to Yale and played in the Yale arena. We played a preliminary game. I think Columbia and Yale were playing a game that night, and we played the preliminary game. One of the funny things that happened was Kemmy Bauman, who was skating with us, took a slide into the goalie net and got his skates all tangled up. Somebody up in the crowed said, “You should’ve had your snowshoes on.” Well, from then on, of course, we called him Snowshoe Bauman.
Well, getting back to my school days in Lakeville, I remember particularly a couple of teachers. We had a French teacher by the name of Symington, Miss Symington. I took French for two years. I had a choice of courses, and I passed up typing in place of French. Can you imagine that? And there was another lovely school teacher who taught history – Miss Dodge, and oh, I gotta go back to my first grade. We had a teacher by the name of Miss Hority. I’ll never forget her because she ran a real stern class. I remember getting rapped on the back of my knuckles for misbehaving, something they don’t do today. She used to rap us on the knuckles with a wooden ruler when we didn’t behave!
We moved from the Pepper house down to a house on Cleaveland Street which was just off what we used to call Muck Alley in those days. Muck Alley, of course, is now Farnam Road. We lived in the Ethan Allan house which was next to the theater, and later on in years when my family moved away to first, Willimantic and then to Hartford, my brother, Merrill, and I stayed at the Holley Block which was up across from the Margaret Williams house. [Holley- Williams house. Ed.] It’s not there any longer, you know. It burned a couple of times and then was torn down. Perhaps you remember Leverty’s drugstore? and Benjamin’s store. That was sort of a department store, a grocery store. Then there was Roberts store down across from Dufour’s garage. A.H. Heaton’s and Rudman’s market. Most of those buildings are gone now. I remember Roberts store burned two or three times. Up on the top floor there was a basketball court, and we used to play basketball up there. The fire destroyed the top floor of that at one time, and then later on it burned some
of the other portions of the building, and finally, of course, it was all torn down. Then there was a market on the lower floor. I think it was First National. That’s all gone now. One time when beer and wine were legal, and I belonged to the fire department and so did my Dad, and the bottom floor was on fire and the little beer store was in one corner. They were throwing a lot of water on it, and we were down in the basement lifting out some cases of beer, out through an open window, and as fast as we lifted them out, somebody was taking them away and putting them over on the back porch across the street. Well, when we went to look for the beer we thought was there, somebody had taken it and put it up in Bauman’s tin shop. Well, it took us about three days to find it, but we did.
Now, let me see. What else can I say?
JS: Well, what’ I’d love to know about is, you told me once about where you worked, what that whole area of Wells Hill looked like.
WF: Well, I worked at Vaill’s farm at one time during the summer. Maybe you know Jimmy Vaill. Jimmy Vaill’s still alive, but his father, Frank, and Mimi Vaill, his mother, they had a dairy farm and also raised potatoes. In fact, they had a large potato field along the Race Track Road and harvested potatoes for Hotchkiss School and, I guess, Salisbury School. I can remember on a rainy day prior to planting, we would sit in the barn and cut up potatoes for seed. I always liked raw potatoes, and we used to sit there with a chunk of cattle salt and eat raw potatoes.
JS: Where was it?
WF: The farm? Well, you know where the road goes as you go up Wells Hill Road, there’s a road goes in, used to be going to a family by the name of Jerome.
JS: Is that Woodland Drive?
WF: Yes, I think so. Well, opposite that there’s a house that’s been restored now, but that was the Vaill farmhouse.
JS: That’s where the Routs live.
(The entrance to the Jerome place is before Woodland Drive and opposite Petsche-Dunham. Routs are farther down on same side. Ed.](117 Wells Hill Road)
WF: I’m not sure who lives there. But the farm was down over the hill and all along both sides of the road. The fields went way back to the north. But we used to play up there, and I remember we used to milk cows, bottle the milk, deliver the milk. A fellow by the name of Bill Schlott worked for Frank Vaill, and I’d ride with him in the morning. We’d deliver milk all around town. One place we used to stop and deliver milk was the Farnam Tavern when Bill Perry ran that as sort of a, well it wasn’t a drinking place, it was a tavern where people stayed, and it had rooms, and you know, that building is still there. I guess it’s an apartment building now. But, I remember sitting
in the kitchen in the morning and having a cup of coffee or something when we delivered the milk. Kids used to play up around the farm there. We used to hunt woodchucks. Young Jimmy, at that time, was out playing in the hayfield one day when, at that time, they used to load the hay with a pitchfork, a pile of hay at a time. Jimmy was playing games with his brother, I think, and jumped under one of these haycocks, and his father went to pick it up with a pitchfork and stuck it into little Jimmy. Well, it wasn’t too serious, but it pretty well shook up his father, needless to say.
JS: What else was up on Race Track Road?
were a kid?
Was there a race track when you
WF: Oh, yes, the race track was there. I don’t know who used it in those days. I understand it’s been restored now, and Dr. Noble takes his trotting horses there. Does he still do that?
JS: I don’t know. He did at one time. Was there a skeet shoot up there?
WF: On, yes. That was something Jack Fisher instigated. He and I built the skeet field up there. We formed a little club, and we used to go and shoot skeet on a Sunday morning or whatever. I don’t know how long that lasted, but I moved away sometime after that. But we had a neat way of retrieving the clay pigeons because they cost a penny apiece. Today I don’t know what they cost. We would buy our shotgun shells and clay pigeons and, for a dollar, we could shoot a round of skeet which was 25 birds. But in order to conserve any that didn’t break, we put a net up on each side and a barrel of water, a fifty-five gallon barrel of water down at the bottom of the net so that if you missed a bird and it didn’t break, it would hit the net and slide down into the water, and then we’d tip the barrel.
JS: Pretty smart. Something else I’d love to have you talk about is the theater group.
WF: Oh. Well. Having been in the theatrical business, you might say, in high school, Gertrude Drummond and Margot Street got together and formed what they called the Salisbury Players. Margot, who was of course married to Julian Street and lived on Wells Hill Road, she had formerly been the director of the Lighthouse Players in New York which is a blind group. She got started with us and we did several plays, some of which I don’t remember, but I remember one play we did was the Royal Family. I played the part of John Barrymore. Gertrude Drummond was in that. She was Ethel Barrymore, and let’s see, who else was in that play? Anyway, the group of the Salisbury Players consisted of people like Gertrude Drummond, John Drummond, Jack Fisher, Bob Osborn I think was in two plays we had, and myself, and we used to put on shows in the Salisbury Town Hall. But Margot was a wonderful woman. She did all the directing. In fact, she directed and acted in some of the plays. It was through the influence of Julian Street that I finally left Lakeville and went to work for Pratt and Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford. That was when the war in Europe was heating up. I remember Julian saying to me one time that if I didn’t expect to get into the service, into the military, I ought to get into something that was essential to the war. So, Jim Cutting, who was
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at Hotchkiss School (I used to play baseball with Jim Cutting, too. He played with this group in Lakeville.) and he happened to have a brother name of John Cutting who was working with Pratt and Whitney and arranged an interview with me through him, and I went to work for Pratt and Whitney in 1940, I guess, or late *39. I spent the entire war with them, worked in the factory and then finally was put out on the road as a tech rep.
JS: And never moved back to Lakeville.
WF: Ah, no. At that time, my father and mother lived in Hartford, so I went and lived with them, and lo and behold that’s where I met Betty who lived just a few blocks down the street from where I lived which is …. that’s another story.
JS: Tell me, when you were growing up, do you remember anything about town events – parades – was theTownGrove functioning?
WF: Oh, yes, yes. That’swhenDave Timmons, well theTownGrovethen was,
he, I guess leased it fromMrs.Cantine [sp.?], and hehad a boatlivery
there. Of course, we usedto swim there, and in the summerI canremember
spending a good part of my day at Lakeville Lake either fishing or swimming. Used to buy a bag of peanuts for a nickel. Dave was quite a guy. He was a very frugal man. He would put out all the boats and the raft and that sort of thing. Dave used to keep all the nails he pulled out in the fall and straighten ’em out and use them all over again the next year.
The first parade I can remember, Jodie, and I was four years old at the time, was at the end of the war in 1918, and my Dad belonged to the Home Guard, and I can visualize today the parade that they had coming up the street in front of, the Main Street, up toward what was the Salisbury Bank and Trust Company. That was one of the things that stuck in my mind even at that early age. My Dad carrying a gun ….
JS: How about Fourth of July celebrations?
WF: Oh yeah, yeah. We had Fourth of July celebrations. The ball field, of course, in later years was there and Jack Fisher and I, we were pretty good pals. He went to Miss Stuart’s school, which was across the road from, oh a little bit down from where the Lincoln City Road is. He used to go to school from nine o’clock in the morning until noon or something like that, and I had to go until 3:30. I didn’t care much for that guy. But we got together, and I grew up with Jack from about the age of fourteen, I guess. Jack traveled in a circle of people I was very fortunate to meet, different people than I probably would have met if it hadn’t been for Jack. We palled around a lot. Of course, he had a car. Oh, one thing I forgot to say about the hockey, the hockey episodes at Hotchkiss. Henry Ford was there at the time, and he didn’t play hockey but it was his job to pick up the equipment and take care of it and stuff like that. He was the first man I ever knew that had a car at Hotchkiss. He was allowed to have a car, and that sort of set the precedent and the other….
J S: Why?
WF: Well, of course, his father, Edsel, owned the White Hart Inn, and Henry was a choice student, I guess. His father came and stayed at the White Hart often when Hank was going to school, and he finally bought the place.
WF: That changed hands, of course. Willy Russell owned the White Hart Inn at that time. I don’tknow whetheryou everknew him or not.He’s quite a guy.
JS: Speaking of the White Hart, what wastheWake Robin when you were grow
WF: It was an inn.They had a beautifuloldplace there.I didn’t have
much opportunity toassociate orfrequenttheplace, but Iremember that’s one
of the places we used to stop and deliver milk from the farm, from Vaill’s farm, and I think probably vegetables and what not they grew on the farm. But it was pretty much the way it was when I moved away. I think it’s about the same as it is today. I haven’t been there in a long while. I know they had a beautiful area down on the lake shore. I remember Dr. Knight’s school.
JS: You do! Tell me about that.
WF: My grandfather kept a rowboat down on, they called it Norton Shore. Norton Shore and just this side, or, the Lakeville side, of that big building across from the church. That was Dr. Knight’s home, and we lived down over the hill on Muck Alley. My brother, Merrill, and I used to walk up and go down over the field, Dr. Knight’s field, and take my father’s rowboat and go fishing, but the school, of course was there, and some of the students, the patients I guess you’d call them, would go down and swim and play around down on the beach, down on the shore.
JS: Why was it called Norton Shore? Who was he?
WF: Norton lived in a house, the driveway goes in before you get to Dr. Knight’s house, and that was the Norton home. And Rambler’s Inn? Remember the Rambler’s Inn? It was on the road before you get to that driveway. That was run by a couple of women. It was sort of a little restaurant and place where people could stay. It was across the road from Bert Roberts’ house, and he owned Roberts Store. I don’t know who owns that house today.
JS: Who were the people who lived around you when you were a kid? Do you remember who your neighbors were?
WF: Oh, yes. On one side of our house was the Patchen home, Lester Patchen, and he had three sons: Lester, Frank, no Frank, Erwin and Chet, and Chet, I believe is still alive today and in the radio business, as he was in those days. He had a shop down in back of the house. Then on the other side was Mike Sweeney and his family, and John Shaffer, and up the road was Tom Sweeney, Mike’s brother, and the Elin family, and Silvernail and Whalen. Oh,
it’s all changed down there now. Way on down the road, of course, was the Town Farm which was later bought by Dormer Cannon’s family.
JS: I didn’t know that was the town farm. I often wondered where it was.
WF: That was the town farm. A friend of mine by the name of Eddy Kipp and I used to go down there woodchuck hunting and squirrel hunting and whatnot, and one day we got into the – this was right after, I think, right after the Cannon family bought it, and it was not yet being lived in by that family, but it was being restored. It’s a beautiful old home today, but there’s a barn across the driveway. I remember one time we got into that barn shooting pigeons. We put a few holes through the roof.
JS: You think that about wraps it up?
WF: Well, let’s see. I didn’t talk about the drum corps, did I?
JS: No. I wish you would.
WF: Well, we had a man by the name of Cyril Beers who lived down the road where I lived. He formed a drum corps. We had a great drum corps. We used to get in the parades on the. Fourth of July, Memorial Day and even go out of town on parade, and I remember Jimmy DuBois was a drummer; I was a drummer and a boy by the name of Markey. We were the three drummers. There were about probably ten or twelve of us in the group. Most of them played fifes…. As a matter of fact, I saw a picture in the Lakeville Journal, oh maybe a couple of years ago. The caption said, “Who knows these people? Can anyone put names on these people?” I sent in all the names except one.
JS: Who were they?
WF: Well, now, if I had the picture I could tell you. But there was Jimmy DuBois and Markey and Cyril Beers and myself. The others I really can’t recall without looking at the picture again. But we used to go to parades in others towns. Went to Waterbury one time. I remember parading down the street in Waterbury drumming away, and all of a sudden my drumstick went flying. Some little boy picked it up while I’m going along playing with one stick. He came running along, gave me the stick and kept right on going.
JS: Were you in uniform?
WF: Oh, yes. We had white pants and white shirts and caps. Cyril was a real good leader. We had a lot of fun. We used to practice in the old Academy Building which is that building across the street from where the Town Hall was the brick building.
JS: It’s now the Town Hall.
WF: That’s where we used to have our practice sessions. We had that drum
corps fox’ quite a long while. Used to have a lot of fun. You talked about town parties. The firemen used to put on clambakes every year, and that was a lot of fun. I don’t know whether you know Porter Street or not. It goes up where the old ore bed is. Well, the firemen used to put on their clambakes up there in what they called McCue’s Grove, McCue’s Glen, and everybody would be outside, and they’d cook all the stuff there on open fires and stuff like that. My mother belonged to the Methodist Church, and you know where that is in Lakeville.
JS: What was her name?
WF: Beatrice. That’s where I used to go to Sunday school. I remember my mother, she went to church very often and, of course, every Sunday we went to Sunday school, and part of our requirement, mandated by my mother, was to serve at the Methodist Church supper they used to have, and that didn’t occur that often but I can remember serving the potato salad or whatever it was.
JS: Now, your mother. Did she have brothers and sisters in town?
WF: Oh, yes. My mother had five sisters.
JS: Now, how did she spell her last name? Your mother’s maiden name. How did she spell it?
WF: Roberts. Beatrice Roberts. I don’t know whether I told you, her father worked at the knife factory, the Holley Knife Factory. Walter Roberts. Both my grandfathers’ names was Walter. Strange that I should have the name Walter. But he worked in the factory there when he came over from England, from Sheffield. His job, as far as I know, was hand-forging knife blades for the Holley Manufacturing Company. They really did hand-forge them in those days, and of course they ground them and polished them. The knife handles were made by the Warners who had a factory up on the street by the watering kettle that goes up to Mt. Riga. [Washinee Street. Ed.] They made handles out of cocobolo. Phil Warner? Yes, Phil Warner. And Don Warner’s father’s family lived in that house there across from the library. Now, let me see if I can think of something else that might be halfway interesting. Do you have some questions?
JS: I think that about does it.
JS: No, start just the way you told me.
WF: Well, you asked about Norton Shore which is adjacent to Dr. Knight’s Shore, and it was one of the fishing spots as kids we used to go to because the area around the shore there was loaded with little bluegills and fish like that. The reason for it was that the inmates used to go down on the shore and they would scale their pisspots out on the lake, and of course they would sink. They made great little homes for bluegills to raise their little families in, and whenever anyone wanted to get a load of bluegills for eating,
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we’d say, “Well, why don’t you go over to Pisspot Flats. You’ll catch a whole lot of them over there..”