This is Jean McMillen interviewing Mike Fitting at the Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury, Ct. on Feb. 28, 2013.
JM:What is your name?
MF:Michael George Fitting.
JM:Your birth place?
MF:I was born in Sharon at Sharon Hospital,
MF:April 14, 1950
JM:Your parents’ names?
MF:My father was George Edwin Fitting and my mother’s name was Polly Martin Fitting.
JM:Do you have siblings?
MF:Yes, I have an older brother Peter Martin Fitting, and a younger brother Jeffrey Thomas Fitting.
JM:What was your education?
MF:I went to Salisbury Central School and then I went to Oliver Wolcott Technical School for high school.
JM:What did your mother do after your father died in June of 1957?
MF:She became the librarian in North Canaan for a long time, probably about 40 years; I never did keep track.
JM:How about your father, what did he do?
MF:My father was a carpenter, contractor. He always did carpentry work. I always understood from my grandfather Jake Fitting that he was already thinking about retiring and letting my father take over when my father was killed in a car accident.
JM:I think you told me he was killed in a car accident.
MF:He was killed on the Undermountain Road in Sheffield. He had spent the day at Lime rock Race track to see Walter Cronkite who was there for the opening of the track. Sometime that evening he was riding with another guy and they had a bad accident. He was killed because he had his seat belt on.
JM:I think you said that your mother never wore a seat belt after that.
MF:That’s right; my mother would never wear a seat belt. I do as I have been witness to numerous accidents and been involved in accident myself where we didn’t get hurt because we did have them on.
(According to his older brother Peter their father went for a ride in a new sports car that a friend of his wanted to show off and they had a bad accident. Ed)
JM:I am going to ask you something about growing up in Salisbury. Where did you play?
MF:There were a few of us around town who would get together and rally in a field off the Protestant cemetery. We used to play football and baseball.
JM:We’re talking about the big cemetery, not the one behind the Town Hall, between 41 and 44.
MF:That is correct. The one that is off the Cobble Road is actually the Catholic Cemetery. They sort of almost connect now because the big cemetery has expanded. There were actually some grave sites in the field where we used to play ball at that time. We also gathered together and it was a custom to meet at the drugstore. The Salisbury Pharmacy had a big concrete stoop in the front. After school or whenever we would get ice cream or candy bar and all hang out there. Numerous Anna would come running out and say” Come on you kids get out of here. You are keeping people from coming into the store.” We’d just hang out in front of the drugstore.
JM:You have a relation with somebody who worked in the Salisbury Pharmacy.
MF:That someone would be Lois Whitbeck; she was my mother’s sister. (She was Sam Whitbeck’s second wife. ED.)
JM:You told me about root beer floats. You said they were pretty good.
MF:Oh yeah, they were the best root beer floats around. We used to get them at the drugstore. Anna would make them up, Anna or Walt. They were in frosted mugs for root beer so they were renowned. We always looked forward to that.
JM:Do you remember how much they cost?
MF:I’m thinking of 25 cents, but I don’t really remember.
JM:Did you ever play in a band?
MF:Yes, in high school a few friends of mine and myself got together and created a rock & roll band. We started out with the four of us and then we added some, and some were dropped. We played in quite a few gigs around here and we expanded and played at the high school in Gt. Barrington (Searles High School Ed.) We played down in Kent; we also ended going to Yale University because I had some good friends down there so we got to play in a couple of gigs down there. We did a few up in Pownal, Vermont, or Bennington, Vt. because of a relationship that my mom had with a guy Dick Cleaveland whom she went out with.
JM:That’s our Richard Cleaveland, isn’t it?
MF:That’s our Richard Cleaveland from Salisbury. He took my mom out before she married my father so there was a connection. So we traveled around quite a bit playing in different places.
JM:Who were the four original members?
MF:Originally it was my brother Peter, Garry Smith, Allen Jones and myself. Then we brought in Dale Palmer and then Mel Brickman. As the band changed its venue, some dropped. Both Garry smith and my brother Peter left. It ended up being Dale, Mel, Allen and myself.
JM:Was Mel Brickman the son of Morris Brickman?
MF:Yes he was.
JM:Do you remember a Recreation Director by the name of Mr. Hemmerly?
JM:What can you tell me about him?
MF:Wilber Hemmerly. I remember when we played Midget League baseball and Midget League basketball so of course we got involved with him. He was around all the time. He was older, probably like I am now.
JM:That’s not old. Was he good at what he did?
MF:I am really too young to remember that.
JM:Now I am going to switch to the Congregational Church. What ministers do you remember?
MF:I remember Larry Stone; he was the minister when I was going through Sunday school. When we went to Sunday school we used to have to come out of the back of the church building. That’s where the assembly hall is now. There used to be a house back there and we had Sunday school on the second floor of that house. Larry Stone was the first one that I remember. After Sunday school I sort of separated from the church for a while through the teenage years and young adulthood. I really didn’t become active until I got married and my kids started going to Sunday school. Then I got involved in the church more.
JM:When would that be?
MF:Probably 26-28 years ago. My eldest daughter is 28 so maybe 25 years ago.
JM:I think you said that Helen Stone was the organist when her husband was the minister.
JM:Who followed Mr. Stone, do you remember?
MF:I don’t, but there is a whole list. There are also pictures of all the ministers of the church. I could get them mixed up.
JM:I only remember Dick Tabor, and of course you would remember Dick Tabor. Al Sly is the organist now.
JM:You have had a couple of interims and now you have a lady minister.
MF:Yes, I think Al Sly took over after Helen Stone. I don’t think there was another organist in between. (Yes, for 2 years Edward Hill was organist from whom Al Sly took over. Ed)
JM:He’s been there a long time.
MF:He just joined the church recently because he used to belong to the Episcopal Church.
JM:Yes, he was a member of St. Johns. What are some of the positions that you have held in the church when you came back?
MF:When I came back I first got active with the Ushers Committee and so I served on that. Part of the commitment of that committee is that you serve 2 three year terms. I served for 6 years. I was then asked to fill in to complete a term on the Board of Deacons; that was for 2 years. Then I was on for another 6 years after that. Then I served on the Christian Action Committee for a term of three years. Then I went back of the Board of Deacons for another 6 years.
JM:You’ve been busy; but it is a very active church.
MF:Yes, it is. I feel we are blessed now because of our new pastor, Diane Monti-Catania. She is real active with the kids and the youth is what is going to keep the church alive. We have to be able to be with them, and hopefully guide them down the right path. I am fortunate; I wandered away from the church not in a bad way, just life got in the way.
JM:You had good background and good training. You had very good training, and you don’t lose that. It may be in abeyance for a while, but it is always there. Are you involved at all in the Fall Festival specifically or just connected with the church?
MF:Yes, I am active with it as I am the coordinator. I am not in charge but I am fortunate that I have a position where I can take time off and run around and get stuff just put in place so that the thing is pulled off right. Getting proper signs up, making connections with disposal of garbage and arranging all the behind the scenes stuff of any function.
JM:There’s a lot more to that then people realize. Now I am going to switch to the Masonic Lodge. Tell me about the history of the lodge as much as you know. When did it start and who signed the charter?
MF:We are Montgomery Lodge #13 accepting mason is Lakeville Ct. Montgomery Lodge was founded by the Grand Lodge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Our charter was signed by Paul Revere who was Senior Grand Warden in Massachusetts at the time 1783. The way the charter reads is that we would operate under the rules and regulations of the Grand Lodge of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts until some Grand master would form his own Grand Lodge. I was fortunate to be Master, the first time I was Master, for our 200th anniversary. (1983) we had a procession down Main Street in Lakeville. We had a lot of the lodges who attended with a wide range of people, as well as the Melhi Temple Motor Patrol- the little cars that run around. We had permission to congregate at the Bicentennial Park. We had permission to put a copy of our charter in a time capsule. So we had somebody, the Deputy Grand Master from Massachusetts, was there, and we had somebody representing Paul Revere. He gave a copy of the charter to the Deputy Grand Master of Massachusetts. He in turn handed it over to the Grand Master of Connecticut who presented it to me and I placed into the time capsule.
JM:Oh that is wonderful!
MF:So we had it written that it won’t be opened until the next 100 years. We’ll see if that goes on or not.
JM:Neither one of us will be around to see that.
MF:I plan to be!
JM:If you’re there, I’ll be there.
MF:That was our 200th anniversary. When Montgomery Lodge held its 100th anniversary in 1883, they actually ran special trains into Lakeville to bring mason to the ceremony. They set up place setting to serve 2500 people, and they changed it three times. So there is history; they served over 7500 people. Of course things are different nowadays and there are other events to draw people away, but we were fortunate at our 200th as we probably had a couple of hundred people for our ceremony which was a good turnout, too.
JM:You were also Grand Mason for the 225th anniversary.
MF:No not Grand Mason I was actually Grand Master. I have been Grand Master 6 times; the last time was our 225th anniversary. It wasn’t as much of a public event as the 200th. One of the past Grand Masters came and put on a program for the masons in lodge and we had a dinner. He went through a history of all the different places where Montgomery Lodge met in the town of Salisbury.
JM:Where were the various places?
MF:They met at Town Hall once upon a time. They also met in what used to be the Lime Rock Lodge which used to be an apartment house down in Lime Rock. There’s the Bushnell Tavern which is adjacent
to the Salisbury Town Hall now. They used to have a tap room back there. They also met where the Boathouse restaurant is now; that used to be a three story building (Robert’s Hall Ed.) we used to meet there. Bicentennial Park is basically the foundation phase of a building. The lodge met in upstairs in that building too (Holley Block Ed.) There are probably 9 or 10 other places, but I can’t recall all of them.
JM:Did they ever meet in the Methodist Church?
MF:I don’t think so.
JM:How many members do you have now?
MF:Right now there are about 56 members in lodge.
JM:Now you told me that the lodges had to consolidate; can you go through the merges?
MF:In 1996 the lodge in Sharon which was Hamilton Lodge was losing members and really wasn’t being active. They sort of folded up and the Grand Master of Hamilton Lodge #54 and the brothers decided to merge with Montgomery Lodge. The Blazing Star #74 from Cornwall voted to surrender their charter, and they voted to merge with Montgomery Lodge #13 in Lakeville. So basically when I first got into the lodge, each lodge had its own area that people living in that area were supposed to join into that lodge, but they could get release of jurisdiction to join another lodge. When I got in to Montgomery Lodge, you had to live either in Salisbury or Lakeville or Falls Village. Since then the Grand Lodge has passed a rule that as long as you live in Connecticut, you can join any lodge in Connecticut.
JM;Then you can join wherever you want; it is not area specific.
MF:It is state specific. So we have had quite a few add ins in recent year and a half or so from Gt. Barrington, Mass. who want to join with us. We have to get release of jurisdiction through our Grand Lodge Secretary and Grand Master. They send a letter to the Grand Lodge in Massachusetts to grant them release of jurisdiction to permit them to join with us. We are having a special meeting called special communications this coming Saturday and there are two men from Massachusetts who are going to take their first degree this coming Saturday. Any mason has to be a third degree mason.
JM:How many degrees are there?
MF:There are three degrees; a third degree mason is considered to be a Master Mason. The three degrees are Entered Apprentice Degree, Fellowcraft Degree and Master Mason Degree. All masons are master masons. You can go on and go for more degrees, but all masons are considered equal and they all meet on a level. They can go on to Grand Lodge and become what they call the Most Worshipful Grand Master. You are still a brother first. Everybody is introduced as brother, and then you say their title, but everybody is equal.
JM:I like that. No women allowed.
JM:The women are in the Order of the Eastern Star.
MF:That is the female branch of the Masonic Fraternity.
JM:Like it used to be in Rotary; the wives weren’t part of it. Then they loosened up I guess. Tell me about Dwight Cowles; he had a position in the Masons.
MF:Dwight Cowles was a past Master. He was really good friends with my grandfather, Jake Fitting. Dwight had a cottage up on Twin Lakes, and I can remember going up to his house a number of times. We’d go fishing and be on the boat with Dwight. When we had our 200th anniversary, I tried to contact Dwight Cowles who had moved to Georgia. I tried to contact him because what I wanted to do for our special meeting that we had for the anniversary was to have all the living past Masters sit in the principal chairs of the lodge which I was able to do except Dwight wasn’t able to make it up. We had Ken Athoe and a few of the older ones. I made an effort to get as many as possible to sit in the principal chairs.
JM:That’s wonderful; they were honored even though they had done other things and gone on. I am now going to ask you about the Fire District. What is the Fire District? It is no longer extant.
MF:The Lakeville Fire District was a tax authority in the center of Lakeville, and it had boundaries. The Fire Company was owned by the Fire District, but they also maintained the sewers, the water lines and the sidewalks in the center of Lakeville. They were their own taxing authority; they had their own charter. As progress happened the sewers were expanded. There is now a water pollution control authority which manages the sewers for the whole town of Salisbury. It has expanded into the village of Salisbury instead of just the center of Lakeville. The Lakeville Water Company was acquired by Aquarian Water Company. Then the Fire District only owned the fire house and the fire equipment and took care of the sidewalks. That got to be an extra tax; there were a few people who were adamant about dissolving it for a long time. It finally happened when there was the creation of the Salisbury fire Commission, and the Fire district dissolved. The fire equipment was turned over to the Lakeville Hose Company which has its own charter, too.
JM:This all happened with the new fire house being built.
MF:Yes, the new fire house was built in 2009.
JM:Now we’re going to talk about the Lakeville Hose Company. Do you know when it was founded?
MF:There was a large fire in the center of Salisbury. It burned down the whole center of Salisbury; it went from the Academy Building which still stands now all the way down to the Episcopal Church. There is a story that they called in the fire brigade from Millerton and the horses ran so fast that then the brigade got there, one of the horses had to be put down.
JM: I had a little bit of that from Lila Nash who was born across the street and her mother said that the fire was so hot that she couldn’t put her hand on the windows. (See Lila Nash #57 Ed.) That is why I was asking you about that. Now the Lakeville Hose Company owns the fire equipment; they didn’t used to but now they do.
MF:Yes that is for title purposes with the Motor Vehicles Department. The fire company has its own charter and they own their own equipment. The new fire house is owned by the town of Salisbury. The fire department has a lease on it.
JM:The old fire house is where?
MF:That one is on 41 (across from Patco Ed.). The little white building adjacent to the brick building which is #9 Sharon Road that used to be #9 Montgomery Street…
JM:That used to be Bill Raynsford’s carpentry shop. So that is where the old fire house building is. Where is the new fire house?
MF:The new fire house location is 4 Brook Street.
JM:That’s off Rt. 44/41.
MF:That used to be a plastics factory (LPM. Lakeville Precision Molding Ed.) That was changed to ITW.
JM:Yes, it was changed to ITW and then it became what we now know as the new fire house.
JM:The reason I am being so specific if someone is reading this 20 years from now they need to know the location. You know and I know, but others may not. You are also Fire Marshal?
JM:What’s that job?
MF:As Fire Marshal, the duties of a Fire Marshal by Connecticut General Statues are to inspect all buildings with the exception of one or two family dwellings. It used to be once a year, but they have put a time schedule on to find out the use of the building. You inspect public buildings to make sure that they are safe for people to be in. That there are safe ways out and a proper alarm system and/or fire protection systems if needed. That is required by the code. The Fire Marshal also issues blasting
permits, and fireworks permits. Any building with a liquor license needs the Fire Marshal’s approval for use as an annual inspection. You also have to investigate the cause and origin of all fires, and write a report if necessary to satisfy the needs of insurance companies. We are fortunate in the State of Connecticut to have a very active source called the State Fire Marshal’s Office. So if there is a major fire you can call them which is a division of the Connecticut State police. If it is an arson fire or fires of questionable reason you have access to people with authority and power to arrest and more technology for investigation purposes.
JM:Did they come in when the Salisbury Town Hall burned?
MF:Yes. The Town Hall burned in 1985. That was before I was Fire Marshal. My wife and I had my youngest child’s first birthday on August 1st that year; we were in Nantucket when that happened.
JM;How did you get the job of Fire Marshal? Do you have to apply for it?
MF:The only way to become a Fire Marshal is to take a 120 hour course. You have to have a letter of appointment which said that if you successfully complete the course you will be appointed fire marshal. At that time the appointed authority for the town of Salisbury was the Board of Selectmen. When I started the course, there were 40 in the class and there were only 30 that graduated. Some just didn’t make it. That’s the way you become Fire Marshal through a letter of appointment.
JM:When did you become Fire Marshal?
MF:I completed the course in 1988 and I was appointed January 6, 1989. From the date of your appointment your time calendar starts.
JM:Who was the Fire Marshal before you?
MF:Immediately before me was David Hall. He was there for a couple of years. He took over right after George Bushnell, who was my uncle. He was Fire Marshal for quite a few years. Before George it was Henry Rossire. I think before Henry it was George Cleaveland. That’s when it started; I think George was the first one.
JM:Building Inspector, let’s talk about that one.
MF:When I became Fire Marshall I worked for the town as a part time position. Then I worked somewhat with Peter Oliver who was the Building Inspector. He wondered if I wanted to go full time for the town and become Assistant Building Inspector and Fire Marshal. Prior to those positions I worked for myself as a contractor. Times were getting tight, and I thought working for the town was a source of steady income especially trying to raise a young family so I took that on. I worked full time for the town as Assistant Building Inspector and Fire Marshal. That would have been in 1991 when I started full time for the town. In 1994 the Selectmen at that time asked if I wanted to become Building Inspector full time. I said not really. They said why don’t you? I had to take and pass an exam because to be Building
Inspector there isn’t a class to take; you just have to pass an exam. Peter Oliver and Buddy Trotta had differences and didn’t see eye to eye to that is where I came in. I took the exam and passed it. Then I was appointed as Building Inspector and Fire Marshal.
JM:You had some on-the-job training, too.
JM:This makes a great deal of difference when you are taking an exam.
MF:The other part is experience in construction. I did a lot of it and that helped a lot, too.
JM:Sure because you would have knowledge which is different from book learning.
MF:That’s it exactly.
JM:How have the codes changed over the years because I know they have changed quite a lot?
MF:The codes are developed because of accidents and incidents; in some instances the codes have been relaxed because they realized that they were too stringent but for the most part we get more and more onerous, if you will. The big thing we are going through right now and it is a learning experience for everybody, inspectors as well as the trades’ people, the state has adopted a new energy code. So there is a lot of learning about interpretation of what it is saying and how to apply it to make sense out in the field. Another big thing is that is happening and I feel comfortable with it is that the attitude toward the building inspector has changed from “I don’t want to see him” to all working together to make a safe environment and to protect the homeowner’s and the contractor’s life. It is as much about liability as safety.
JM:it is a win-win situation if everybody works together and that is important. You have a lot of responsibility with those 2 jobs, a tremendous amount of responsibility.
MF:You do and sometimes it makes it difficult to try to enjoy life as well. I tend to go into places and if it is too crowded, I get nervous and especially if I know that it shouldn’t be. For the most part people understand. For example one thing that happened right over here in the Congregational Church with our new pastor was that they had an assembly program in the back hall set up. They had piano moved right up in front of an exit door. I told them that they couldn’t do that. They just don’t pay attention. She jumped right on board and put a sign right on the door. Oh and they also had the curtains pulled across the door. She understood what I was saying and now it is posted. It is also educating people.
JM:That makes a lot of difference because if people understand where you are coming from, they are not going to argue about it. That helps because then people are far more cooperative.
Fitting Interview Part #211.
MF:What makes it difficult in a small town is that you know everybody. I was at a gathering after a fund raising dinner and someone said to me, “Come on down to a certain place and have a beer?” I said, OK, I’ll come for one beer.” I walked in there had a beer, and the place was packed! There was a law in effect now that a fire marshal can have someone arrested. I said, ”OK thank you” and the guy said have a lot more. I said,” No I said I’d have one beer.” And I walked out because one of the things I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it; it was a small business in town and everybody needs as much money as they can make.
JM:So you instead of getting into a confrontational situation just chose to withdraw yourself from it.
MF:Nothing happened but if something had happened there that night and I was aware of it, it would have been disastrous.
JM:it is a very iffy situation and because you do know everybody there is a lot of emotion and sensitivity: the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. Now you said that you were a contractor, who were some of the people that you worked with? Did you work for others or did you have your own business?
MF:When I was 16 I worked after school, I worked at the Connecticut Yankee which was a gift clothing shop here in Salisbury. I made up packing boxes. It is where Passports is now.
JM:Salisbury or Lakeville, because Bob Darden’s men’s shop Connecticut Yankee used to be down in Lakeville.
MF:Before that. I was going to high school and Dale Palmer said to his dad and what he wrote in the yearbook, “Come on hire Mike he’s a good worker.” So Dale Palmer the father who was a mason contractor hired me. When I was 15 I worked in the summer with my grandfather who was a carpenter. He paid me $1 per hour.
JM:That would have been Jake Fitting? That was good wages!
MF: Yes, he always paid me $1 per hour with a pay envelope. He always had the cash in the envelope. The last weekend we knocked off on Friday noon because my grandfather and my brother and I were going to Long Island, but he still paid me that $40. I thought, “How could he do that?” So later I was working at the Connecticut Yankee and Dale Palmer told his father you had better hire Mike. What he wrote in the year book was “Here I had worked in mason work all my life, I grew up on it. I just had to bust my ass to stay one step ahead of you.” My grandfather taught me how to work and how to work smart rather than all bull.
JM:You learn the tricks of the trade.
MF:After that I went to work full time for him. When we got laid off in the winter, we collected unemployment for one year. Then he merged with the McTerry Corporation so I went to work with them for a couple of years. Next Larry Hoage and I went into business together; he was a year older than I and we worked together for a few years together. We had a falling out as young guys do. Then I went to work with a gentleman named Dick Barzin who built tech-built homes, modular type home. I worked with him for a few years. He took his business and went in with Richard A. Schneider Construction which was a big company on Belgo Road in Lakeville. He had a big group; he had carpenters and plumbers, electricians and did a little bit of everything. I was with him for quite a few years. After that I just went out on my own with another guy who worked for Dick Schneider. We were both working with each other. This other gentleman Bill Hopkins lived in Millerton, NY. I worked some jobs for him and he worked some jobs for me. We each had our own business.
JM:It was basically wood construction, it wasn’t walls or fireplaces?
MF:No it was basically carpentry and a little bit of flat works, concrete floors and things like that.
JM: But nothing like mortaring chimneys.
MF:No, nothing like that, but I did do it when I worked for Dale Palmer. Actually when I worked for Dale palmer we built the building that is now MacLean’s Ford now. It was Tierney Ford then.
JM:You had something to do with SWASA, I think.
MF:Well, I never joined SWASA Salisbury Winter Sports Association, but I have been active with them and helped out in the cook shack for 35 years. I just always helped out down there; and just gave them my all just to help another local volunteer organization in town.
JM:Who were some of the people that have worked at the food shack?
MF;When I first started working in the food shack George and Martha Miner took care of that. After that it was Chris and Sue Dakin did it, and then Dave and Peggy Heck did it for a couple of years. Then Kenny Lacko did it for quite a few years and since then it has been Mary Oulette.
JM:She is the wife of the state police man, Charlie Oulette.
MF:Yes, he used to be resident state trooper here.
JM:Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would like to add?
MF:It is funny you think of stuff and you go along and then try to recall it. I guess the big this is growing up in town. It is not the small town it was; things are a lot different now. It used to be when we got a snow storm and school wasn’t called as often as it is now-a-days, I’d grab a shovel and run downtown because I had people for whom I would clear their path. I’d get 50 cents or a dollar here and
then go to buy one of those root beer float. Or we would go into the drugstore and hang out. Kids don’t do that anymore.
JM:I have a neighborhood boy who comes down and shovels my walk, but he doesn’t want money, he wants cookies. The last time he shoveled for me, he got 9 cookies because it was a big job. There are still and Chatfield Hill is one of them streets where everybody looks out for everybody else.
JM:Thank you for this excellent interview.