Jane Fitting Interview:
This is Jean McMillen. This is file 71. Today’s date is February 23, 2014. I am interviewing Jane burgess fitting at her home 4 Salmon Kill Road, Salisbury, Ct. She is going to talk about the White Hart, Harney tea, the Ragamont, the Holley-Williams House, the Holley Williams summer camp, the Historic District Commission and anything she wants to add.
JM:What is your full name?
JF:Jane Burgess Fitting
JF:May 6, 1958
JM:Your parents’ names?
JF:Henry Whitfield Burgess and Lou Voorhees Burgess
JM:Do you have siblings?
JF:I have three sisters.
JM:And their names?
JF:Sarah, Margaret, and Carol.
JM:Is Carol spelled with an E?
JM: I didn’t think so. Educational background?
JF:How far back?
JM:Well, we’ll start with one year at Salisbury Central.
JF:I didn’t go to Salisbury Central. I went one year at Housatonic Valley Regional High School; then I had 2 years at Hotchkiss when they first took girls. I went to Wellesley College; I went to the Hotel School at Cornell. My most recent education is in the Library School at the University at Albany.
JM:Well done, very well done. How did you come to this area?
JF:My family moved here in 1973.
JM:Your father had his own business?2.
JF:Yes, he was a lawyer.
JM: What was his field of expertise in the lawyer trade?
JF:Taxes and estates; he did some other things too, depending on what his clients needed, but that was his forte.
JM:Tell me about the White Hart. When did you start there?
JF:I started working at the White Hart when I was between my sophomore and junior years at college.
JF: Or 9, 1978, my sister Sarah and I applied for jobs there. We both were hired to work in the Country Store and to be breakfast waitresses.
JM: This must have been when the Country Store was, as you face the White Hart, on the left as you came in.
JF:Yes, that Country Store was really interesting because it was the country store that had been on exhibit at the World’s Fair in New York in the early 1960’s.
JM:It was noted.
JF:Yeah, the owners of the White Hart bought that and put it in in the Inn.
JM:Who were the owners of the White Hart at the time that you were working there?
JF:I believe it was Reese Harris, Don Warner, and I think the Harneys had a small share also. I don’t know if there were any others.
JM:Did John Harney run as a manager of the hotel at that time?
JF:Yes, it was a wild and crazy place.
JM;I’ll bet. Because I think you told me that there was a 24 hour desk at the White Hart, it was used as dispatch for the ambulance?
JF:And the fire, and there were burglar alarms that went off there, so we had to call the police, the security company. That didn’t happen very often, but the ambulance and the fire did.
JM:You and your husband managed the White Hart for a while?
JF:We did in the 1980’s, 1986 and 1987.
JM:How had it changed between the time you were working there as a breakfast waitress and when you and Peter were managing it?
JF:Well, it had gone through hard times. It was sold to a pair of brothers who it turned out were part of the Bank of America scandal. They changed it a lot; they got rid of the Country Store, tried to turn it into an elite club house atmosphere which didn’t fly. Although they went bankrupt, and then the White Hart was empty for a while. Then a racer from Puerto Rico and his attorney bought it. Basil, I can’t remember his last name. Basil was the racer. Herb Wolfert was the attorney. We worked for them, and the day after they hired us, they declared bankruptcy.
JM;Oh great! When you and peter were running it, was Danny Lee the chef?
JF:No, he was prior. He came with the Harneys. He left with the Harneys. When the Harneys were there, when I was there, it was the center of town, the hub. That was the first place where the Lakeville journal was delivered on Wednesday night. There would be a line at the desk. The ambulance ran out of there, dispatching and if there was a snowstorm, people would go to the Tap Room to see who else got out. People would ski over there.
JM:So it really was a community center of the town.
JF:Yes, it was. If you needed a wedding present, you would get it at the Country Store.
JM:I remember that. Wedding receptions were done there.
JF:Lots of them.
JM:How many rooms did it have for overnight guests?
JF:I think it had about 22. It had the main building, and the motel that was built in the back, and the House next door- the Gideon Smith House. That had 4 rooms. We actually stayed in there when my parents were looking in the area. Part of the downstairs was rented as a dress shop-Dorothy’s Place. The cellar was rented to Pauline Belter; she had vintage clothes and antiques-Polly’s Closet.
JM: I do remember that vaguely. Do you have any memories that you want to share about either working at the White Hart or running the White Hart?
JF:Working at the White Hart was what made me decide to go to Hotel School because it was so much fun and such a variety of things to do. I worked at the desk with Olive Dubois who had that job from right out of high school and when I knew her she was in her sixties working there. It was amazing.
JM:She pretty much ran it.
JF:She did run one side of it yes. I met lots of interesting people. I remember being at the desk when Lauren Bacall asked if she could make a phone call because she had come up to see her son in a
play at Salisbury School. It was the center of town, and it worked. We had regionally famous Chinese menu, and we had a fabulous Viennese baker, and the waitress outfits were dirndls.
JM:At the White Hart?
JF:Yes, Swiss dirndls in the dining room and in the Tap Room they were cowboy shirts, red checked cowboy shirts. It was really a Hodge Podge. But it just seemed to work for the community. The Tap Room had a buffet lunch.
JM:The Rotary used to go there for the buffet lunch and that would have been early 1980’s.
JF:Well, the buffet lunch…Lila Nash was the town clerk and she would go there every day for lunch and hold court in the Tap Room.
JM:You have some wonderful memories.
JF:Yes, I do. At the buffet lunch there was a variety of salads that Bobby Day made.
JM:I know Bobby.
JF:There was always some sort of roast, and some sort of fascinating Chinese dish.
JM:I have in my notes Ray Primo?
JF:Ray Simo, he was the baker.
JM:The Viennese baker?
JF:He trained in Vienna. He was the inventor of the famous ”Scottie Burns” cake.
JM:What’s a “Scottie Burns” cake?
JF:A “Scottie Burns” cake is a chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream and marzipan. It was named for the owner of the Stage Coach at that time. (a restaurant on Undermountain Road in Massachusetts Ed.) He made the cake and people would drive for miles to eat that. It was amazing.
JM:Is there anything else you want to add about the White Hart before we go on to early Harney tea?
JF:Well that sort of goes with the White Hart.
JM:Alright, tell me about early Harney tea. Where did he train? Where did he learn his trade?
JF:He learned from Stanley Mason, the master tea blender who lived in the Twin Lakes area. At that time it was called Sarum Tea. (Mr. Mason lived at 58 North Beaver Dam Road, the place now owned by Meryl Steep gummer. Ed.)
JM:It was located behind what is now the health food store but was at that time Herrick Travel Agency. It was in the back, wasn’t it? (Some of the investors moved Sarum Tea mail order business to a space at the back of Herrick’s. This business closed in early 2000. After the split with some of the other investors, John Harney started his own tea company in his home. Ed)
JF:No, it was in the cellar of the White Hart. Sometimes if things were slow in the store or in the dining room, Mr. Harney would call somebody to come downstairs to pack boxes of tea bags or weigh tea from the loose tea boxes, or glue labels on boxes.
JM:Was he getting chests of tea at the White Hart or was he just packaging at the White Hart?
JF:My guess is that he was packaging there, but I don’t know for sure. I had nothing to do with that end of it.
JM:How many tea bags in a box?
JM:Where were they being sold to?
JF:Mr. Harney went to Cornell and had a number of classmates who did very well so he had an account at the Ritz, the Beekman Arms-another classmate. I know he sold it at Bloomingdale’, so he had some contacts.
JM:He had contacts and he used them. Did he put out a catalogue at that time?
JF:I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
JM:Because it has developed over the years.
JF:Right. He wasn’t the owner at that time. As I say Stanley Mason was the tea blender, and I think Reese Harris kind of owned that along with the White Hart.
JM:He had his finger in a lot of pies.
JM:Alright we move on to the Ragamont.
JF:The Ragamont was a lovely place.
JM:Yes, it was. When did you start there?
JF:Working there, when I got married.
JM:When was that?6.
JM:How long did you stay there?
JF:They were a seasonal business. So I worked there that year, then when we moved back to Salisbury in the early 1990’s, I worked there for a few summers.
JM:They were open like from May to October?
JM:Who owned it when you were there?
JF:The Schenkels, Rolf and Barbara and their daughter Renee who also worked there. She became the bookkeeper, and she also did the ordering for the bar. It was a real family affair. Alice Stephanesco, Barbara’s sister, Barbara was one of ten children. Alice and her husband had moved up to the area with their two daughters around the same time as my parents. Alice’s husband died immediately which was awful. So she started waiting tables there and then she got interested in the cooking and she eventually became Rolf’s sous chef.
JM:What kind of food did the Ragamont do?
JF:Swiss-German, it was so good…
JM:Did Rolf do the baking?
JF:He did everything. Although he did tell me one time that I guess in the 1990’s he gave the recipe for his rolls to the baker at Shagroy’s. so they could make the rolls for him. He didn’t have time. They were really good rolls.
JM:Yes, I remember.
JF:The salad dressing was to die for. It was such good food, and such a pleasant atmosphere. When they first got, when I first went there when my family moved to the area, the inside was very 1950’s mustard colored wallpaper with cars on it. I think Rolf worked through the winter every year to upgrade it until it finally became really attractive and fresh looking.
JM:It was pleasant to dine, they had sort of an open air area between the two sections, and it was a lovely spot because you could be outside and watch what was going on across the street.
JM:Was there any rivalry or competition between the Ragamont and the White Hart at that time?
JF:I would say no.
JM:Because there had been years past.7.
JF:I don’t think it was ever acrimonious; I think that the White Hart when I worked there under Mr. Harney viewed the Interlaken as more of a rival than the Ragamont. The Ragamont was small and seasonal. They used lots of relatives who worked there.
JM:They didn’t rent rooms at the Ragamont, did they?
JF:Yeah, they did.
JM:How many rooms did they have there?
JF:they didn’t have that many rooms; Barbara & Rolf lived in the barn in the back. They had 2 or 3 rooms there and a hot tub. They were more like motel rooms. In the house they had 5 or 6; they probably had 10 rooms all together.
JM:It was small. Do you have any memories of people, famous people who came there, or stayed there?
JF:Mick Jaeger came there, and local celebrities. I think I waited on Jane Curtain, Sandra Boynton, people like that.
JM:Anything else you want to add about the Ragamont?
JF:I miss it.
JM:Oh yes, so do I.
JF:I really miss it. We could walk up there.
JM:It was nice for special occasions.
JF:It was. We had mom’s 60 and 65th birthdays there.
JM:Now I am going on to the Holley-Williams House. I am going to ask you first about how your mother got involved with the Holley-Williams House.
JF:She was asked to be on the committee because she was the only one who was young and spry enough to go up the attic stairs. That is the story she told. So Em Rudd and Faith Campbell, Grace Reed, and those people were all in their 70’s at that point. She was only in her forties.
JM:What year would this be?
JM:She gradually worked her way up to Chairman because I worked under her as a docent. Didn’t she go off to museum school?
JF:Yes, she did a lot of… she really did a good job running it. She took museum classes at Cooperstown. She also did some classes at Sturbridge. She had a very supportive President of the Salisbury Association.
JM:Who was President then?
JM:Oh he would be.
JF:They were supportive, doing the best they could do. It was hard. She also was on a lot of tours. She went to the Tri State Tourism Council, the Chamber of Commerce; she went to meetings in Hartford, run by the State Historical Society. She really tried to promote it as much as possible. She also wanted to see what other people were doing so that they could combine other things. At that time the Holley Place Restaurant, the Knife Factory and so for a few years there were bus tours where they would come to do the museum and then have lunch. It worked really well. She got people in there.
JM:I think I remember some of that. I have heard of the bus tours.
JF:She also had a really good program with Salisbury Central School.
JM:Yes, she did.
JF:with the house.
JM:The fourth grade teachers … local history was part of their curriculum. We did an 1860 lunch where the children had to prepare for themselves a lunch with not plastic lunchboxes and so forth. That was extremely successful. We also did an evening at the Holley-Williams where the children entertained their parents and passed out refreshments. We mad ribbon sandwiches. It was a wonderful experience both for the teachers to learn more about the house itself and the children were able to go back in time where they were in a different era and behaved themselves correctly, shall we say?
JM:It was great fun, it really was.
JF:I remember talking about when they studied the local history, there were some children who came from families in difficult circumstances and they found out that their ancestors had been generals or something that really made them feel good.
JM:Yes because some of the people that are the old timers in town came into town in positions of authority and great respect. Things have changed over the time period, but the children were impressed with the fact that they had really important ancestors. This made them feel good.
JM:This was very good. Lou had a great rapport with children and she enjoyed coming in with her slide shows. She enjoyed working with children and on my own little soapbox here if you don’t get the children involved, you don’t go anywhere.
JM:is that how the Holley-Williams summer camp developed through her work with children?
JF:I would say yes. When my dad died, Mom went back to school full time so she stopped being the chairman of the Holley-Williams House.
JM:When was that?
JF:1989. But she still wanted it to be a going concern and she was still on the committee. Actually I think when Nancy Rudd and then Nancy Bushnell took over; they asked her to be on the committee. She had this idea of doing a summer camp there.
JM:What was her focus with the summer camp because it was rather unusual?
JF:Her focus was what she called 19th century kids’ stuff, and it did a lot of things. First of all the price, we did not, I did it with her, we did not charge for our time so that the fee for the camp was minimal. We also wanted to make it available to anyone who wanted to go. We also had a student employee from the town, a 14 or 15 year old from the summer Youth Program. That was good too. Every day we did some sort of craft, some crafts took several days like we made a checker board, and the kids plan out the squares and paint them. We also did cooking project every day, and a reading aloud period every day.
JM:The thing that I liked because I worked a couple of summers with you and your mom is that there was no gender discrimination. If the boys wanted to cook, they could cook. If they wanted to sew, they could sew. It was no big deal. It was whatever you wanted to do. This is what we’ve got out there, just go do it. I think that the children perhaps for the first time were allowed to do things that were not gender specific; they really enjoyed that. One of my memories is we had at that time 4 or 5 boys and…
JF:It often was boy heavy.
JM: My husband came in and taught them sailor knots.
JF:I remember that.
JM:Which the boys really enjoyed learning something that was useful and practical and different. Foster got a big kick out of it; the boys got a big kick out of it. When you son and his best friends were win the Eagle Scout Ceremony, I went over and introduced myself to one of the boys, not George, but
one of the other boys, and he said, “Oh I remember your husband! He taught me knots.” This had a perpetual carry-over which really pleased me a great deal that Foster was remembered for the knots and that it was something that came from the Holley-Williams Summer Camp. About how many children would you have in the summer?
JF: It varied a lot. We limited to 12, occasionally we had 12 and sometimes we had 5 or 6.
JM:How long did the camp run?
JF:You signed up by the week and depending on the sign up I think a couple summers we did it for a long time, 6 or 7 weeks and then other summers when we didn’t have lots of people signing up, we did it for three weeks.
JM:How many summers did it go on?
JF: Seven years
JM:Really, that is a long time. What were the hours from 9 to what?
JM:So there was no lunch or anything like that. There would be a snack?
JF:Yeah and we used to make… I remember Nick Sosin whipping cream because we had made shortcakes and he had never done that before. He couldn’t believe it. “Oh look it’s whipping!” We made butter one time.
JM:Yeah, I remember that one.
JF:They really had fun discovering things that used to be commonplace; they just didn’t have any idea.
JM:No, way back when I was first teaching I made candles, and we did butter, and we did corn pudding which surprised the children that these things would actually work. They had read about them, maybe but it actually worked! Anything else you would like to tell me about Holley-Williams House, your mother, or the camp.
JF:Well, I miss the Holley-Williams House, too. Hotchkiss is now doing a local history unit which is called the Cemetery Project. The students are supposed to pick a stone in the town Hill Cemetery and create a story around the name of the person because most of them you can’t really research, to read a diary or whatever. But it would be so helpful if they could just go to a place like that and see how people lived, the kind of tools they used.
JM:A primary resource but they don’t have it any more which is unfortunate.11.
JM:I worked as a docent there for several years. I enjoyed the people that I was working with because there were always 2 of us, and I enjoyed the people who came because they would have different interests, some would be interested in furniture, and some would be interested in paintings and some would be interested in the families themselves. It was a wonderful experience for everybody I thing. We really enjoyed it.
JF:Mom was a great tour guide; she was the one who would open the bureau drawers and show people what was in there, let they go behind the velvet cord and things like that.
JM:That is important because that is what stands out; it is not just the rote tour, it is more than that.
JM:The Holley-Williams also had a couple of flower shows that the Garden Club did.
JF:Yes, they did.
JM:They were beautiful, well done. Let’s go on to the Historic District Commission. What’s that? You’re on that committee.
JF:Yes, the Historic District Commission had been in existence since about 1970. That’s when the State of Connecticut decided that towns should have one. They set up guidelines as to what type of properties should be in a Historic District and what that actually means. Mom was the head of that also for many years.
JM:You’re on it now. What does it actually do?
JF:What it does is look for buildings or neighborhoods that have historical significance. We try to get the owners on board by being designated as a historic district. What that means is if you are in a historic district to make changes to the outside of your building, you need to go through an approval process above and beyond the P&Z, the building inspector.
JM:So you couldn’t take the Dr. Noble House and paint it pink.
JF:You could paint it pink, as long as you didn’t change any on the outside structure. It doesn’t have anything to do with paint, but if you wanted to for example, replace all the windows and maybe you just love picture windows and your house was built in the 1840 when they didn’t have that.
JM: If you wanted to take out the Palladian window in the front and put in a picture window that would be a no no.
JF:Well, you would have to apply, and the Historic District Commissioners who have experience in the field. We have had architects, we’ve had builders, and people who have renovated buildings; people who have had experience with the harmonious esthetics in keeping the feel of the buildings and the area. They work with the person applying to do this. They come up with some sort of good compromise so that the building will still have the feel about it. It’s not that you can’t do anything; it’s just that you work with other.
JM:You want to keep the flavor and the ambience.
JM:How many are on the commission now?
JF:I think we have, we just got a new person, seven people. I don’t know what the official number is supposed to be.
JM:What is the make-up, are there real estate agents and architects or are they just all laypeople or people that are connected with building? (Current members: Candace Cuniberti, Elyse Harney Sr. Thomas Callahan, Digby Brown, Jane Fitting, Leon McLain, and Arthur Taylor who just died.)
JF:There are 2 realtors, a man who has a lot of experience with development, developing real estate, builders, the new person has renovated buildings; he was involved with the Holley-Williams House. Now he is doing the one at the end of Cobble Road.
JM:Yes, Heather Schaufele’s house
JF:Yes, and then there is me. I have a lot of historical knowledge because of my parents and I am interested.
JM:Did you do the research? I know that your mother did a walking tour of Lakeville. Did you do the research on those buildings?
JF:Some of it.
JM:I keep still trying to get that going again.
JF:I know. We’re trying to get the Hotchkiss class to do the walking tour to show how the village was.
JM:That segues beautifully into Hotchkiss. Tell me about Hotchkiss as far as connected with your job as librarian and what Hotchkiss is doing to promote local history. You mentioned the Cemetery Project, you mentioned the Lakeville Walking tour, tell me some more about Hotchkiss. What do you do at Hotchkiss now?
JF:I am a librarian at Hotchkiss and I work with the English Department and the Humanities for freshmen, prep humanities they call it. I also work with the Cemetery Project with Joan Baldwin.
JM:How long has that been going on?13.
JF:I think this year is the fourth year of that. But each year it gets better. It has more, a better handle on what the students need to do their project, and the students get very excited about it. They initially don’t really know how to approach it, but the more they discover about what was going on in the town, the better it gets. This year we had an exhibit in the Main Hall of Hotchkiss of things from the Salisbury Association-photographs for example of the Knife Factory, the workers there. There were some portraits and the big map of Salisbury with all the vignettes, the 1853 map. The time period they are studying with that was the heyday of Salisbury 1800-1870. I tell them about the Robert’s Store, I show them the picture of the sale that is happening; there is a big line of people. Can you imagine this now?
JM;I remember when you father was head of the Board of Education and we had a discussion at dinner one night that he thought the teachers should rotate every year or two, and I said,” No, Henry, they have got to have at least three years to know your material.” It takes about 3 years to get where you know where you are going, you know your material, and as you say with the Cemetery Project, it gets better every year because you know what works and what doesn’t work. It takes a while to come to that point, and it is not a one year situation. It takes longer than that, it really does. The people at the Holley-Williams House that were docents; those of us that were there for more than one or two years, we got hopefully better because we would add to our knowledge from the people in the tour who would say, “OH I remember this when it used to be here or whatever.” You got better because you got more experience and you got more knowledge. That is so important in any kind of project that you are working with children because they need guidance and if you aren’t sure where you are going, they don’t either.
JM:Tell me about how you are trying to get the Lakeville Walking Tour going. Is this something that is…?
JF:That would be part of this Cemetery Project where in order to see how the village worked; it’s kind of interesting because Lakeville has gone from the place to go on weekends to not really having a lot of things that appeal to high school kids so they all go to Millerton. When we try to talk about the layout of Lakeville, they don’t know what we are talking about because they don’t go there.
JM:of course not, but they used to.
JF:Yes, that is my point. There is nothing there for them now.
JM:But they used to go to the Holley Block, they used to go to the Jigger Shop, they used to go to what used to be the Borden’s…
JF:Yes, Myron Holley’s bookshop and ice cream parlor. That was the bookstore for Hotchkiss, but there’s nothing. When the drugstore was where the China Inn is you could go in and get an ice cream cone and buy a comic book.
JM:Yeah but you can’t do that anymore.14.
JF:But there is nothing there.
JM:Anything else that Hotchkiss is doing to promote local?
JF:Well, we’re also in the prep humanities doing the American Revolution unit at the end of the year. It is segues into the next year. We try to make at least this region the center of what they are doing, but still working with primary source. They are learning about forges, cannons.
JM:Do you teach about the Iron Guard flag or Shay’s Rebellion?
JF:We don’t get to Shay’s Rebellion.
JM:Do you get to the Iron Guard flag and explain about that?
JF:No, but there are other things like soldiers that went from here, what the town did for them, the Hessians were marched through the area.
JM:There’s a lot here if you can dig it out.
JF:Actually we’re as important to the Revolution as anybody.
JM:Well, the Salisbury Daughters of the American Revolution was called the Arsenal of the Revolution, and the Gt. Barrington, Massachusetts chapter that I belong to is called the First Resistance because we were the first resistance to the American Revolution; so we are an important area.
JF:Yes and General Knox brought the cannon through Egremont. We sort of…
JM:Regionalize it because there’s a lot here to interest students. Is there something else you would like to add or shall we bring this to a close?
JF:We can close it, if you want.
JM:Thank you so much; it has been very entertaining.