ALICE LUCHS GUSTAFSON
Transcript of a taped interview.
Narrator: Alice Gustafson
Tape#: 103 A
Date: April 22, 1996
Place of interview: Mrs. Gustafson’s home on Belgo Road, Lakeville, CT
Interviewer: Marion Haeberle
Alice Gustafson lived in Lime Rock from 1927 to the late 1930’s. In later years, she continued to live in her Lime Rock home as a summer resident. As a child, she attended the one-room school in Lime Rock and the high school in Lakeville. She describes the town, houses, farms, the school. She mentions her friends and playmates. We have a picture of life in the small town she knew as she was growing up.
Property of the Oral History Project
Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library
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MH: This is Marion Haeberle. I am interviewing Alice Gustafson at her home on Belgo Road in Lakeville. Today is April 22, 1996. Alice, your full name
AG: Alice Louise Luchs Gustafson.
MH: We are interested in interviewing you because of your knowledge of Lime Rock, where you lived for a time.
AG: Lived there since 1927, in the summers on what used to be Norton Hill Road, now called Wells Hill Road.
MH: You lived down at the junction of 112 and Norton Hill?
AG:Yes, the first two houses on Norton Hill, and all those houses in
Lime Rock, as you probably know were bought by Alfred Stone, as a whole group and he promoted Lime Rock as an artists’ and writers’ colony. And he sold a lot of the places to people who came up from New York, some of whom were artists, some of whom were writers and some of whom were just ordinary people. But it was an older group at that time. I can remember the only children I had to play with were children of the natives. I went to the little schoolhouse down there, a so-called one room schoolhouse. But it was really three rooms.
MH: Is that the schoolhouse that is just off of 112, the brown one?
AG: Yes. It’s now a house. After the school it was a dress shop.
MH: Oh, really.
AG: Yes, run by a woman by the name of Cloe Eldred and when she got too old to run it, they sold it. I don’t know who lives there now.
MH: About the houses first. I’d like to ask you about the school too. These were the group of houses that are down there at that junction?
AG: The group of houses along the main street, where the old hotel was. The old hotel used to be a boarding house for the men who worked in the mill.
AG: That was before we moved up there, while the mill was still going. All those houses along the main street where Bob Sheldon lives… The first bigger house was where Alfred Stone and his wife lived. And then further up the hill, not all the houses, but a great many of them were company owned or, at least, they were bought by Mr. Stone. And the casino, the big red building, was still being used as an entertainment place. They used to have plays.
MH: Is that where the man had movies? He had a movie house in Lakeville and there was a place where he showed movies in Lime Rock.
AG: Well, that could very well have been, but when I was a child, eleven or twelve, they were stage productions. There were quite a few people who used to come there. Then there was a big house next to it, coming toward Lakeville, the Richardson estate. That
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Richardson house was still there at that time, completely furnished – it was a great big house – completely furnished according to Mrs. Richardson, the daughter-in-law. It was left exactly the way it was when old lady Richardson died, her mother-in-law, – dishes on the table, everything.
MH: Oh, really.
AG: Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, the son and daughter-in-law, used to open their grounds every summer for a church social. The Lakeville band used to come down there and play. I can remember that very well. They had picnics etc. The big house was torn down, furniture sold. The lumber from the big house was used to make two or three houses on Route 7 going into Canaan. There’s a thrift shop and then there are a couple of little houses… Well, at least two of those houses, 1 know, were made from lumber from the old Richardson house. There was another house built after that. The Richardsons lived right on that complex after the big house was torn down.
MH: While you were there, living in Lime Rock, were any of the mills running?
AG: No, they were all closed, but on the Lime Rock village side of the river, there were still several buildings that had the old broken- down machinery. It had been abandoned when they went out of business. The Lakeville side of the river had some lovely old buildings and that was where, for a time, Dard Hunter had a handmade paper mill. He brought people from England to work there. He maintained that hand-made paper mill for several years, but there wasn’t enough business. Then it was turned into a restaurant fora short time. Then the flood came… When was that -‘57?
MH: I was going to ask you about the flood.
AG: and that just washed everything away. That was in the fifties. As a matter of fact, I came up from New York at that point and I took Mrs. Richardson back to her home and got across the bridge just before…. 1 was about one of the last cars to go across the old bridge.
MH: Evelyn Bellini, in her interview, said that somebody… I’d have to listen to her tape again. But there was a man in Lime Rock who had made a diorama.
AG: Shark. Wasn’t it Shark?
MH: That sounds familiar. Evidently there was some… Was it destroyed or did they manage to save it during the flood?
AG: I thought they saved it.
MH: Yes, maybe that’s what she said, that they had saved it.
AG: I wonder where that is now. I don’t know, but that was a very interesting piece of work, a big piece of work. I don’t remember but I thought it was saved. What else would you like to talk about?
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MH: Well, one thing I did want to comment on… Those houses in the area where you lived, some of them look as if they go back many, many years. How about those houses at the end of Wells Hill?
AG: Well, ours, I think, was built about 1810. I’m not absolutely positive about that, but it seems to me that the maps before that time show no little houses there. But the maps in 1815 or 1820, something like that, do show those little houses. And the upper one, according to people who lived there at that time in Lime Rock, used to be a house of ill repute.
MH: Ha, ha. Well, I wanted to ask you about what it was like going to a very small school.
AG: It was quite a change.
MH: Where had you been living before?
AG: Forest Hills in Long Island.
MH: Oh, then it was a change. Had your parents any connection with Lime Rock or this area?
AG: No, none whatsoever. My mother and father were separated and my mother came up here and bought the house from Mr. Stone and I started to school practically right away. We came up in April and I started school right away. Because I had come from Forest Hills, we were a little ahead in some things, so I didn’t find any trouble. But it was strange because the school was a three-room schoolhouse although they only used the one room for classes. And every row began at one and ended at six. There were six grades. Then a few years after I went there, they cut down to four so everybody who was in the fifth and sixth grades went up to Lakeville to school behind where the post office is now. There were two teachers there in my lifetime. I went to the second grade there, skipped the third grade, went to the fourth grade and then skipped fifth grade. So I was there really two years and I had two different teachers. The first was Miss Blanchard. The second was Mrs. Beers and they integrated the classes. I remember all this long time the integration of the classes. It was really interesting because they would put things on the board – a big long word – and then have each class try to make words out of that one long word. I had never done that at school and I thought it was very interesting. Everybody, even the little children, used to get all kinds of words.
Mr. Hemmerly, who was the recreational director, came to our school on of (he first days he was in the job. We used to play out in the yard, not very sophisticated sports, baseball, Rover, Red Rover I dare you come over, baseball etc. Mrs. Frink, the home economics lady for this area, used to come down…. I think she only came down maybe once every two weeks. She used to teach sewing and canning, in the summer, in one of the other rooms. She would bring jars and all kinds of things and she
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taught the kids to can. I won several prizes at the Town Hall for my tomatoes, beets. . I don’t know what they were.
MH:It was just the upper grades who did this – sewing and canning?
AG: No, I got in there the first time – all ages. I got in there for the first time in second grade. I went in and she handed me a tea towel and some thread and a needle. I managed to thread the needle and I thought this is easy and I was all done, my design and everything. I had done a sloppy design. She tore it all out. I was furious at her! I had no idea about sewing, never have and never will. I can remember how mad I was at her because she made me take it out. But she was a wonderful teacher and she got all these children in all these schools to do this canning etc. and sewing. I suppose some people took to it but I didn’t.
We had a visiting nurse come. I don’t remember how often she came, but she came one time and she would look down our throats and look in our ears and do things like that. And one time she came and I had a rash and she sent me home. I got mad at her too.
We used to have two outhouses in the back at school.
MH: You had to bring your lunch, too, I guess.
AG: A lot of children did but we lived so close that I could go home. I had a little dog, a little bull dog and he used to go to school with me. He would sit in one of the empty desks. He would sit there and when the kids got out for recess, he’d go, too. Sometimes, he’d get bored, I guess, and he’d go home. There was no leashing law or anything like that.
MH: Was it very noisy in this room, with all of these classes going on?
AG: No, it wasn’t so noisy. You don’t know those teachers. In those days there was no…. Oh, once in a while a spit ball or something. I can remember Miss Blanchard, who was a great big woman, an old woman of about forty, I imagine. She told Bobby Patterson to be quiet one day and he didn’t mind her, didn’t pay any attention. She marched down the aisle, grabbed him by the hand and gave him a whack with the ruler and cut his hand open. She grabbed him, didn’t faze her in the least. Then she took him out to the hall, where there was a water pump. She rinsed it off and put his handkerchief around it and made him sit there until noontime. And his mother didn’t sue!
MH: It was a different time.
AG: It was absolutely. One of the great things about the school was, if you hurried up and asked the teacher first, you could ring the bell. School started at nine o’clock.
MH: Very interesting. This school, then, probably continued into the thirties.
AG: Oh, yes I’m sure it did. Yes, it must have because then I went to the sixth grade and I sort of lost track. We used to get the bus
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every morning. I can remember the first morning that Cynthia Johnson (Cynthia De Prodicini) ever got on the bus. Pretty little girl.
MH: She still is very pretty.
AG: That was to go to Lakeville to school.
MH: Yes, and you were taken up there and brought back?
AG: Nobody had to stop for a school bus, if they didn’t want to. Nobody had cars. Everybody in that area used to go down across, right in front of the school to wait for the bus.
MH: Did you go on to high school here or had you moved away?
AG: No, I went to high school here, graduated in the class of 1937. I would go here from September to November. Then we went to Florida and came back in April. Went here from April until June, a very peculiar schooling. But that’s the way it was. I still graduated.
MH: You still graduated. That was the high school that was in Lakeville?
AG: No, this was the high school up here in Salisbury.
MH: Oh, I see.
AG: The school that was in Lakeville only went to the sixth grade then. The new school had been built, so it was seventh through twelfth.
MH: Is that the one that is still there?
AG: The lower part, yes.
MH: That’s the one that is part of Salisbury Central.
AG: That’s right. Now, there’s another thing about Lime Rock. The church, that little church down there. Everybody used to go to it, everybody but the Catholics, because it was the only one.
MH: Trinity Church.
AG: That’s right. And all the kids used to go to Sunday school, even, I shall not name who they were, but two little Jewish kids used to go. The teachers were two or three of the old families, Mrs. Goodwin, Miss ____ and Mrs. Richardson. They were both Sunday school teachers.
My dog used to go with me down there, too. The congregation at the church was not very large. The kids all went to Sunday school but you couldn’t say the same for their parents.
MH: That hasn’t changed.
AG: That hasn’t changed. We used to have a little choir that would sing, but it wasn’t a very active church. For years it wasn’t very active.
MH: That’s the only church in Lime Rock, isn’t it?
MH: Tell me, were there many stores? At the present time in Lime Rock there’s nothing, not even a post office.
AG: That’s right. Next to the store, I mean, next to the hotel, that big building, that was a Borden’s store and they used to come around and deliver things in Lime Rock. They had all kinds of things –
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staples, cheese – that sort of thing. Then up at the place at the top of the hill there was a gas station and that was where the post office was and Philo Lyons used to sell candy, bread and things like that, not very much.
MH: At the top of the hill?
AG: You know, next to that automobile place.
MH: Oh, there, yes.
AG: That was Philo Lyons’ store and post office. We used to have to walk down every day from our house to Lime Rock to get the mail. And I used to go from the age of seven on. Can you imagine anybody sending their child now?
MH: No, and there were no sidewalks.
AG: Well, there was a little one from where the hotel is. You know there’s still a little path. There was that but that was the only place.
MH: So you were able to get supplies and things.
AG: Yes, but there was a little shop over in Falls Village, run by the Hamzys, and they used to come twice a week. They’d come on Monday, deliver on Tuesday. Come on Thursday, deliver on Friday. They would come in a funny little old… I guess it was a Ford. I remember the Hamzy boys would write down your order and deliver it the next day. And they would come again on Thursday. Also, Bates from Cornwall, near the old covered bridge, had a butcher shop and he used to come around twice a week. In the beginning he came with a horse-drawn van. But then within a year, I guess they had another one. He used to come around, had wonderful meat and always a bone for the dog. He did that for years. It was Bob Graham who used to do this.
He just died recently, lived in Falls Village for a long time.
MH: It’s much less commercial now. But then people have cars so they can get….
AG: That’s right. And of course, the race track has killed Lime Rock.
MH: Tell me, were you still living there when the race track started? It was in the fifties, wasn’t it?
AG: My mother was.
AG: Yes, they just sort of pushed it through. People weren’t as much aware of it as they could have been. I remember Bill Barnett saying, “That race track is going to be fine. Those people are wonderful people. You should see the big expensive cars they have.”
MH: Do you remember the names of the people who started the race track?
AG: Gosh, I don’t. I remember Hezekiah Goodwin sold the land to Jim Vaill and Jim Vaill sold it to the racetrack people.
MH: What had it been? Just open fields before?
AG: Yes, and a gravel pit. It was a gravel pit. I don’t think it was an extensive gravel pit like Segalla’s or anything, but it was sort of
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pushed on to people. There weren’t, of course, as many weekends as there are now and they were kind of a naive bunch. They must have been. Somehow, it was pushed through and everybody said, “Oh, my goodness.” Too bad.
But there were very interesting people there. In that big building next to the old hotel, old Lime Rock Lodge, after it was no longer used as a store, the summer people used to have art exhibits every summer for about three or four years, 1 guess. There were art exhibits and very nice ones. They weren’t silly things. They were very nice and they used to have a big opening with punch and, you know, that kind of thing. The artists around here were really interesting people. There were two women who were not artists but they were educators. Their name was Lynch, Virginia and something or other Lynch, and they lived in that house….You know, where the Otteys used to live, up on the hill?
MH: No, I don’t.
AG: As you’re coming from the schoolhouse into Lime Rock, before you get to the bridge, up on the hill there’s a white house.
AG: The Otteys lived there. I think they bought it from the estate of…. They were educators and she was a university something or other,very well educated. Then in the house that is no more, but used to be there down by the bridge an etcher and his wife lived.
MH: Bernard Wall.
AG: You know about them. They then moved to a house next to the old Surrey.
MH: Oh, yes. I know where that is.
AG: And he used to do his etchings there. But he was a very well- known person. There were so many interesting people up there.
MH: I never realized that it was such an art colony, or had attracted artists.
AG: Yes, yes it had. Another little building across from the lodge, a little tiny building, was the library: Mrs. Richardson and Mrs. Athoe used to go there on, I think it was Friday afternoons or maybe it was Saturday. They would open the library. I can’t imagine there were more than two hundred books in the whole place, but there was an attempt anyway.
MH: Better than nothing.
AG: Better than nothing, that’s right. And they would sit there. It must have been Saturday afternoon. They wouldn’t have had much business on Friday. I remember the kids and I used to go down there. Next to them, that big building, not next to them but the one after that near them must have been an old mill office building of some kind. There was a little gift shop there for a while, as there was in that office that Bob Sheldon has.
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MH: Wasn’t there, in a house I guess Mr. Kuhns owns how… Wasn’t that a special institute?
AG: General Semantics. I really never knew much about that because I had moved away by that time and came up only on weekends.
MH: People speak of it but I’ve never had a real explanation as to what they did.
AG: I don’t really know either but those houses down there…There was another one that burned similar to that one right down there. They were owned by the Barnum-Richardson group. Then, the great big red house somewhere near the church, was owned by the McNeil Insurance Company.
MH: Oh, really. Before they moved to Lakeville?
AG: Yes, the girls, I guess, had lived in that one with their father for many years. After he died they bought this one on the lake. They were all friends of my mother. We knew them very well.
MH: Well, I imagine when you finished school and went to work and then were married, you were no longer in Lime Rock.
AG: That’s right, only on weekends.
MH: How long did your mother stay here?
AG: Until she died, in 1955.
MH: Oh, really.
AG: And after she died, we came up weekends and we spent summers up here with the children. We sold that in 1979 and built this house.
MH: I see.
AG: I remember Wells Hill Road was unpaved most of my childhood and very few people used it because it was such a rocky road. I remember I used to play out there with Cilio Berti’s sister, Rena. They used to have three or four cows and she’d mind the cows, as they used to say. They’d go wandering up the road. We’d play hopscotch in the road there. Nobody ever came up and down there.
MH: Well, it was so steep, still is.
AG: Yes, and so rocky. It was a safe place to play. Well, the Dugway Road, too. That road was terrible. In fact, I remember Elizabeth Goodwin saying that in the winter they couldn’t get out, in the mud time. They couldn’t get out to go to school. They had to come all the way to the little school in Lime Rock to get the bus for school.
MH: In other words, when they were going to the Lakeville school, they had to get the bus at….
AG: Lime Rock school.
MH: They didn’t pick you up at special places as they do now?
AG: You got there on your own or your parents had to get you there somehow. A lot of kids used to walk, but Mr. Goodwin used to bring Jim Doty and Dorothy Doty and the two Goodwins.
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MH: Up on Dugway Road, from what I can see of the old buildings, there are a lot of new houses there now. It was quite a farming area, wasn’t it? there
AG: Oh, yes. And Mr. Goodwin lost everything he had about, I don’t know the year exactly, but I would say it was 1930 or 1931. His cows were all tested and found to be tubercular, whatever it is, and it really wiped them out. Then he had a car accident and they really just went downhill from there. They had an enormous farm. I used to go there and play with Elizabeth. We’d jump in the hay in the barn. It was really a treat for me, because I didn’t know anything about farms, you know. Mrs. Goodwin used to have sometimes eight and ten hired men in the house for this period of haying or whatever. They lived in the house. She had to feed them all. She used to tell my mother that they got up in the morning, 4:30. She’d give them a quick breakfast and then they’d come in after the milking and she’d give them an enormous breakfast, of steak, eggs and potatoes, everything under the sun. Then they’d go out and do the rest of the work, come back at noon. She’d give them another meal and the same thing at dinnertime.
MH: A farmer’s wife had a lot of work to do.
AG: They had a big, big farm with chickens, all kinds of things. Mr. Goodwin’s sister, Julia Goodwin, who was an artist, had lovely little paintings. I don’t know where… I suppose some of them are around now. She lived up in a little house above theirs. She was very quiet. They were regulars at church. Then the Ensign house, where Hezekiah finally moved, just below the church, is being renovated now. It’s beautiful. They were an interesting couple.
MH: There’s another big farm, which has changed hands, the Belters, at the junction at 7. That was Lime Rock, too, wasn’t it?
AG: Yes, that was Lime Rock. The Belters lived there. They didn’t live there when I was growing up. Oddly enough, somebody we knew in Scarsdale lived there in the twenties. But I can’tLorch, that’s who owned the farm, wasn’t it?
MH: I don’t know.
AG: I think so, the Lorches. They also went to school in Lakeville. Yes, it was the Lorch farm. And then the Belters, I think, bought it from the Lorches. Now, of course, it’s Kuhns’.
MH: Is there anything else you think of? You’ve answered all the questions I had.
AG: Oh really, I’m trying to think of something intelligent. I can remember one night my mother and I were visiting the Walls, as a matter of fact, who lived down near where the bridge is now. We started to come home. It was moonlight. It was a lovely night. My mother wasn’t the least bit worried. Nobody was worried about wandering around at night. It didn’t bother us at all. We got down
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on the main road and started along the river there. Right in front of us, on the side, was the biggest bull you ever saw in your life. My mother and I hopped back of that fence along there. There used to be a fence, I don’t know if there still is. There was a telephone pole there. We stood behind there and the bull kept looking at us. I can remember that. My mother wasn’t daunted by anything. We stayed perfectly still. Believe me, I stayed stiller. Finally, he kind of shook his head and wandered away. It was such country then that these animals would get out every once in a while and wander off. Every once in a while you’d wake up in the morning and the cows were all over your yard.
AG: You’d have to call up. Usually it was the Belter cows.
MH: You mean they would come that far down.
AG: No. They’d put them for summer in that field, what used to be a field, that was across from the end of Wells Hill. We used to go up there and pick wildflowers. It was a lovely place. There’s a stream that goes down there and there was a big hole in the stream where we used to all go swimming. All the kids did. It was perfectly safe, about four and a half feet deep at it’s deepest, you know. And every afternoon we all went swimming there.
MH: I’ll look at that spot with new understanding now, new knowledge. We go down that way a lot.
AG: Oh, you do? Well, if you just keep right on, don’t mind the fence or anything, there’s where the swimming hole was. All the kids, the McDonalds, and Berti, the Tompkins kids and the Patterson kids they used to go.
MH: That’s very interesting. I think we’re just about the end of the tape.
AG: I hope I’ve added something to what has already been told.
MH: You have and I appreciate it very much. I thank you very much.