This is Jean McMillen interviewing Steven Griggs at his home on Mt. Riga. The date is Sept 21, 2012. He is going to talk about his family background and the home he lives in presently on Mt. Riga.
SG:We are sitting in the living room of my cabin that I built beginning in 1970. We are looking at the log walls which were originally at a one room 16’ x 18’ chestnut log cabin built in 1912, so 100 years ago by a Virginia gentleman who was up here and built several cabins at that time. It was behind Castinook the original home that was built for the ironmaster back in the 1840’s I believe. This log cabin was built behind Castinook for my father and his brother to play in when he was 6 in 1912, and later to use as a sleeping cabin.
JM:What was your father’s name?
SG:My father was known as Van Griggs, his name was John van Benschoten Griggs.
JM:Was his wife Barbara?
SG:Barbara Griggs. Yes, my mother who died this last year.
SG:These logs I hauled over here and rebuilt the cabin, using these logs and of course the fact that they are chestnut makes them special because as we all know the chestnut blight hit in the 1930’s and even logs this size which are small chestnut trees don’t grow this big anymore. They all die out when they get to be about 6 inches in diameter. We still do have chestnut here, but they die. I started to build this cabin in 1970, built it during the summers when I had time and we first lived in it in 1974. We have lived here every summer since.
JM:How are you connected with the Pettee family?
SG:No connection to the Pettees, if you mean a connection with the old iron forging business?
JM:Yes, I do.
SG:Most of the people up here on Riga now have no connection, no family connections to the iron forging industry.
JM:Do you have any connection with people who lived here previously?
SG:No, none of the people here now have any family connections. It is an interesting piece of history. In the iron forging days all of this mountain top was bustling with activity; there were I believe almost 2,000 full time residents. There was a general store, there was a school, there were farms and there were people here who were colliers, cutting hard wood to produce charcoal for the forge. There were also all the people who worked the forge, there were the people who brought the ore up from below.
JM:But they all have left, so all the people now that own cabins or camps had not connection.
SG:No family connections to the old iron forging era. 2.
JM:Do you own the land that this building sits on?
SG:Yes, this cabin and my other cabin that was built by my father are on land that we own. Some of the houses are not. Again but really quickly the history is this. When the furnace died caused by 2 things: the Bessemer process into the world which was to make better metal, steel, instead of iron and the Civil War. All of the people who lived up here had no real purpose. It is a very hard winter up here. So little by little they drifted off the top of the mountain, until it became, in one book called “Great American Ghost Towns” Mt. Riga is listed in that. That would have been in the period right after the Civil War. About 20 years later the people who are up here now bought up the top of the mountain; that was the Warners, the Schwabs, and the Wells. They bought all the plots of land that nobody needed any more; all those families that had little plots of land up here. They had just drifted away to fight in the Civil War or because there were other things they could do down in the valley and there was no more iron industry. So that is the reason that none of us have any real connection to the iron industry.
JM:How many camps or cabins are up here now?
SG:I haven’t counted them but it is just under 40, I believe. A camp is defined by having a kitchen because there are all kinds of cabins around here. If you look around my cabin you’ll see sleeping cabins.
JM:But you have a kitchen, so this is a camp.
SG:And my father’s cabin about 100 yards from here is also a camp because it has a kitchen. That’s the definition a residence in effect up here.
SG:Castinook was the last grand original house built up here because nobody thought the iron industry would die; nobody thought the Civil War would break out, and the industry was going strong so they built that as the iron Master’s lodge. It sits up on the hill overlooking the furnace near the lake. I have always heard stories of grand parties that took place there where people would come from as far away as Lenox and other places for these great parties, to buy silks and things like that in the general store. So this was really quite a place much different than it is now. It is hard to even imagine. My family took over Castinook in 1902. My great grandfather was the greengrocer in Lakeville.
JM:His name was?
SG:My grandfather was John Stillwell Griggs. I am not sure I have the answer to my great grandfather’s name. He became friendly with at least one of the old guys that started buying up this place.
JM:Where was his place of business in Lakeville?
SG:I don’t know. This is all back in the 1800’s.
JM:It doesn’t hurt to ask.3,
SG:No, it doesn’t; I wish I did know. So he was invited up here and became friends with these guys. Finally they said, “Why don’t you take over the old Iron Master’s lodge?” Actually it was his son by that time, my grandfather.
JM:And your grandfather’s name?
SG:John Stillwell Griggs. So in 1902 we became, that was the first year that we became other than visitors to our friends; we became real residents here and it is now honored here. It’s been 110 years that our family has been up here.
JM:With Castinook Camp when your grandfather took it over, did he own the land as well as the building?
SG:No, that was never the case, and never has been the case. That is one of the ones where the land is owned by the Corporation of Mt. Riga. The house has been owned by, I could almost give you a line of ownership; my family, then during the war my grandmother died and my parents were living in California. My father was teaching out there. He couldn’t come across the country because of the gas rationing. So in 1942 they gave it up, and the O’Briens took it over. After the O’Briens, it was the Schlesingers. Mary DePasquale is a Lakeville resident and is the daughter of Dr. Schlesinger who lived there. We all knew them growing up; they were there. I can’t actually think who would have been next, but I know in the late 1960’s it was owned by Sis Harris who was Reese Harris (wife) and their son Billie. Bill Harris lived in town still. Now it is owned by the Heinemanns who live there now. They bought it from Harris. They own it now. It is a fine old place. We’ll walk over there and take a look at it. It has a fine history and it goes back. I’m not sure when it was built; I’m saying 1840. At a time when the iron industry was going strong and they had not reason to think it wouldn’t continue.
JM:Mr. Dresser said that Mr. Pettee came from Boston?
SG:I believe so to run the furnace. You have seen the old cemetery.
SG:I don’t know if you noticed but most of the stones are back in the 1800’s and there are a few in the early 1900’s, and you may have seen two more recent ones. If not I’ll show you. My parents are the last two people to be buried there: my father in 1954 and my mother in 2011.
JM:And your father’s name is?
SG:John van Benschoten Griggs.
JM:Your mother’s name?
SG:Barbara Hansl Griggs and the van Benschoten is my middle name and also Jim Dresser’s middle name. Our grandmothers were sisters.
JM:So you are second cousins?4.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add while we are here in your interesting camp?
SG:No, I think it is just the fact that we have the chestnut logs from 1912 that I brought over here and rebuilt. I don’t know if you are going to take pictures, but you’ll see that it is not. I’ll describe it to you before this is done. The original cabin was a one room log cabin exactly the size of this living room, but instead of returning it to its original rectangular shape, I made it L shaped so you see when you walk up to the cabin is the four log walls. So if you take a picture from out front, you’ll see that the log walls are in an L shape. (I did. Ed.)
JM:I want an outside picture; we came up a goat trail.
SG:Other than the fact that I built this place myself.
JM:How did you chink the logs or caulk them?
SG:With mortar and extra doses of lime to help it bond a little better.
SG:No, and I heat with wood. We have a good wood stove.
JM:How about water?
SG:I’ll show you the water tank; we pump from a well into a big tank and gravity feed.
JM:I asked because I saw the black line.
SG:Right, that runs along the, and we have to drain that very carefully in the winter or they burst.
JM:How about sewage?
SG:We have an outhouse at each cabin, and in my mother’s house is a flush toilet and here we have a composting toilet. I’ll show you those. I guess the other thing is that I built this place all with hand tools without using a generator. I only bought a generator about 4 years ago.
JM;When you took that cabin apart, were the logs mortise and tendoned or were they notched?
SG:No, they were notched; there was never a spike or a nail. It took me just a couple of hours to tear the whole thing apart, once I had the roof off. It was literally like Lincoln logs. I just picked them up and threw them off. I marked them all so I knew which ones were on top of which ones. I kept all 4 walls separate so I knew exactly what was supposed to go in which order. But I didn’t rebuild it in a rectangle; I built it as you can see it L shaped. That’s that.
This is file #26 a continuation of Mr. Griggs talk. We are now at Castinook Cabin which was the iron master Joseph Pettee’s home. He is going to talk about his family’s cabin that was on this property and Castinook.
SG Beside the cabin I tore down to build into my cabin. There was another cabin which is still standing alongside of the road which we just saw. That chimney is from a cabin that was where my grandmother lived or used as an extra cabin when they lived here back in the early part of the 1900’s. After she died and when my family had to give up Castinook because they were in California during the war, the Second World War, and they couldn’t afford to come out here. So they gave up Castinook so that cabin was moved in toto minus the chimney over to the area right behind where my cabin is now. It was rebuilt there and that was going to be my mother’s and father’s cabin. This was before they even had children; I and my sister were not born yet. It was taken over there during the end of the war and finally when my parents were getting ready to come back to Mt. Riga, it burned down so they never ever actually lived in it. That is why ultimately we ended up having the house that my father built in the 1950, and now the one that I built.
Castinook was the big house, sort of the central place where a lot of stuff happened. Where I am standing on the lawn right now below me is where the spring was. There was a spring that brought water down to the bottom of the hill where everybody going by could get fresh water, beautiful fresh water. In the old days they used to come across the lawn here and get their water from a kettle which the spring fed into. That kettle was created from the iron in the forge a couple of hundred years ago. That kettle now sits instead of here just down at the bottom of the hill. Water is piped from the spring down there, and we’ll take a look at it in a minute. There’s a plaque next to the kettle which is in honor of my father. (See picture of plaque to his father near that spring. Ed.) That is spring water from Castinook which is available to anybody driving by on the road that goes from Salisbury to the Massachusetts side and Mt. Washington.
JM:It is very sweet water; I’ve had it.
SG:Wonderful water; we all fill our containers with fresh water even though we have very clear lake water which is also drinkable. There is nothing quite like spring water. More?
JM:Yes, if you’ve got more.
SG:There is also the coincidence that luckily in 1972 that was the summer that I got to live in Castinook because obviously the family had given up Castinook before I was born. In 1972 I was building my cabin and the owners of Castinook, the Harris’s weren’t really using it. They allowed me to live here while I was building my cabin. I and my first wife and my children lived here all that summer so I had the experience of living in this wonderful old building that goes back to the early 1800’s.