Ronald D. Jones Interview:
This is file #22, cycle 2. Today’s date is March 16, 2016. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Ron Jones on a number of things; probably Beckley Furnace, and his book Ethan & John, the Salisbury Association, the library board and anything else he wants to talk about. But first we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
RJ:I was born on January 2, 1930, in Oneida, New York. I was the first baby of the year.
RJ:I don’t remember much about it.
JM:Your parents’ names?
RJ:They were Keith W. Jones and Winnie T. Jones. Winnie was short for Gwendolyn.
RJ:I have an older brother Howard 18 years older that I am, two sisters one 16 years older Genevieve and one 10 years older Rosalie. I sort grew up as an only child.
JM:What is you educational background after high school?
RJ:After high school I went to Yale University graduated with a BS in 1951. In the fall of that year I attended Navy OCS in Newport and was commissioned an ensign and after serving 3 ½ years I went to Harvard Law School and received my JD, or LLB as it was in those days in 1958.
JM:How did you come to this area?
RJ:Several things brought me into this area. Actually I grew up in central New York and going back and forth between New Haven and central New York I went through this area, so I had some early baptism. I had friends who were living here. We visited friends up here and decided that it was a very nice place to come and possibly settle down. That was way back in 1980.
JM:Yes, I remember well because you were my neighbor then out on Route 41, or Tory Hill as it was called at that time. When did you develop an interest in local history and the iron industry?
RJ:It came about because I attended a meeting of local people involved with history, specifically in the iron industry, but more specifically the construction of the blast furnace in Lakeville in 1762. This was to become last the arsenal of the revolution, making cannons for the army. I was told that it was built by Ethan Allen, known to everyone and the Forbes brothers over in Canaan. They also were quite
well known in the iron world. They had forges. But what nobody knew anything about was a man named John Hazeltine of Massachusetts. As it turned out when I checked back, Hazeltine was my 5th great-grandfather. He had been very important in the iron industry over in eastern Massachusetts. He was the one who actually do all my understanding built the 1762 furnace, he and his son.
That sparked my interest in the iron industry and part of all that developing was the Tri Corner History Council. The Tri Corner History Council was a group formed within the Salisbury Association to try to coordinate all the history in the different towns. I was asked to develop some educational markers for the Beckley Furnace in this area. I did so and as I finished the marker I went over to the Beckley Furnace. I was standing there with Fred Hall and Tony Cantelli of the State Environment Protection people. The state owns the property. The furnace was crumbling; it was ready to fall down. We decided that it would not be much good to have an educational marker when there only a bunch of stones. So with that we formed the committee to preserve the Beckley Furnace. We started pressuring and do all we could do to get the state to act. That involved getting people more interested in the area about the old iron industry. We had a number of events; the culminating one was a Valentine’s Day pancake breakfast, held out of doors in Dr. Adam’s fields over by the furnace. The temperature was 9 degrees above zero. 125 people came to that event, including our legislators. The next Friday the state authorized $250,000 to preserve the furnace.
JM:Those must have been wonderful pancakes!
RJ:They were great pancakes. We always felt that the legislators went back to Hartford and said, “These people are not going to stop for anything, so we might as well give them the money.” In the next 2 years the furnace was refurbished. Our committee to give it more lasting structure incorporated as the “Friends of the Beckley Furnace”: that group continues today. We provide signage, events, and all sorts of things, brochures, and a lot of materials all involving the Beckley Furnace and the whole iron industry in this entire region.(See File #17, cycle2 Richard Paddock)
JM:When did the state give you the $250.000?
RJ:I think it was 1998.
JM:How about the Beckley Furnace Heritage Trail? When did that come into being?
RJ:First of all we worked with the furnace, but then Ed Kirby was involved with this and others developed an iron heritage trail, looking around at different iron sites. There is the site of an old furnace in Sharon, one in Cornwall.
JM:Was it like a drive yourself brochure?
RJ:Yeah, I prepared the first of several brochures about the iron heritage trail. Since then there have been far better ones.
JM:Different ones, but not necessarily better ones, just different ones. In about the same year 1998 did Tuesdays @ 6 begin?
RJ:Very quickly the Beckley Furnace which is in East Canaan and that fort of tied in with the Falls Village-North Canaan Historical Society. Through various circumstances I became President of the Historical Society that owned an old 1804 meeting house in south Canaan. That was in rather bad shape, but we got the meeting house fixed up. Then we thought it would be nice to bring people into the meeting house. So I had the idea that we have a summer program called Tuesdays @ 6 that finished up by 7 o’clock. We would bring people in to see it. It started in 1999 and in a different form it is still continuing today. (See File #21, cycle 2 Tom Key)
JM:They are excellent programs.
RJ:They draw from this area so much talent; there are so many people. What I did, Mary Lou Purcell took over after I started the thing. We would look around at all the people who had interesting things to talk about; some were local, some were more national, some were about ancient history. It covered a wide selection of topics. We had several Yale professors come up here and speak at our programs. The idea was to make an interesting program during the evening in the summer so the people could just think,” Gee it is Tuesday evening I had better go to the meeting house.”
JM:It is a nice place to meet because it is central. The hour is a good time because you can only sit on those hard pews for an hour.
RJ:I made sure of that. Fred Hall was one of our valuables. He was town Historian in Canaan. Fred would get into his subject and I would have to stand in the back of the audience and wave my hands to him to let him know it was time to stop and let the people out to go have dinner.
JM:You talked about the Salisbury Association Tri Corner History Council. When did that start?
RJ:I think that started around 1995 or 1996. Whitney North Seymour Jr. was the one who started it. He thought that the local historical interests in the different towns should be talking with each other. It was just a way of bringing people together to compare their plans and see how they could fit together.
JM:So it was a regional thing rather than individuals.
RJ:The combination of those two the Tri corner History council and the Salisbury Association and our Iron Heritage Trail focused at Beckley, led to the concept that maybe this area of the Upper Housatonic River Valley could be designated as a National Heritage Area. Mike Seymour went to Washington and talked with people who said yes that is a good idea and we shall support you if you can start doing it. Then he asked me if I would take it over and do everything that was required for it to become designated.
JM:You did it!
RJ:Yes, we did it. It was the year 2000 when the Congress passed the law asking the Park Service to study the area to see if we met the criteria. The Park Service did a study over the next couple of years. They came out with a report that said yes they do meet the criteria. We had very special; history, we are a beautiful area, our scenic beauty is wonderful and we have some very interesting people here. The area from Kent, Ct. to Pittsfield, Mass. all along the Housatonic is designated as a National Heritage Area in 2006. It is prospering today.
JM:Oh yes, absolutely. The Salisbury Association, when did you get involved with that?
RJ:It was through the Tri Corner History Council and then in the millennium in the year 1999/2000, Salisbury formed a number of committees to look at the future of Salisbury. One was a History Committee and I was chairman of that committee. It included Bill Morrill, and others to see what we should have here because Salisbury did not have a historic society at that point. It had several parts, the Oral History program, the Holley-Williams house and a few other things, but they were generally under the Salisbury Association. Bill and I decided we should have a historical society where the emphasis was on doing things.
JM:Yes, what is your motto?
RJ:“We are what we do.” It appeared on all or our documents. We are a group of active people. In about 2008 it came to fruition. The Holley-Williams House was sold. (The closing was June, 2010. Ed.) In 2008 the Historical Society was set up as a separate committee basically of the Salisbury Association. I headed it from that point until Jan. of 2015. It had a number of really hard workers, talented workers that lived up to our motto “We are what we do”.
JM:Are you pleased with the way it has developed?
RJ:Yes, very much so. Indeed when I gave up the chairmanship, I recognized that the society was ready to take another step to grow, become bigger and more involved, and more sophisticated. That is exactly the path it is taking under Lou Bucceri. (See File #61 Lou Bucceri)
JM:He’s done a fine job. It has expanded in a number of different areas from where it started. Like a flower from a bud it is beginning to leaf out.
RJ:For one thing the state of Connecticut has a number of coordinating organizations. What this is doing is bringing us into that loop to draw upon.
JM:Yes, but I don’t want to be homogenized either. We are an individual town and we are very special. I would hate to lose our individual characteristics.
RJ:I think it is fair to say that that is the feeling of many people, but it harks way back to Revolutionary times. This area was called by some “the 14th Colony” because we had a thriving iron business, farmers, and everything. The population of Litchfield County was the highest of any country in
Connecticut, other than Hartford which was slightly bigger although it was about the same size in area. The people up here had very few ties to Hartford. They had few ties with western Massachusetts and Boston. It was called “the 14th colony “because it was over here by itself. When I explained this to our legislators, Andy Roraback and Robert Willis, they said nothing has changed.
JM:That is true. Where did your book come in Ethan & John?
RJ:This goes back to my realization that John Hazeltine was the man behind the building of the furnace in Salisbury. There is no mention of it in our family records about John Hazeltine. He was active and ran several iron companies in eastern Massachusetts. He settled and incorporated the town of Upton, Mass. and he also incorporated Townsend, Vermont. That was then part of the New Hampshire Grants. There was no mention of his coming to Salisbury, but tracking through I see when he did come to Salisbury and work on the arrangements to build the 1762 furnace. He sent his oldest son because his sons were active with him in his iron works. The oldest son was sent here to supervise and run the furnace for the first several years.
JM:Where was that furnace located?
RJ:Right down on Holley Street, Pocketknife Square It was right there by Factory Pond. Nobody in all the histories of Salisbury was aware of the role of Hazeltine because they did not know anything about him. As a result we have Ethan Allen a 23 year old designing and building a blast furnace, but he (Hazeltine) did this and his son Paul my 4 great grandfather sustained it in this area for several years. He lived in Lakeville; there is a record where he lived. Then he went on to Vermont to follow his father. Ethan Allen also at a later time went on to Vermont. My book has a number of ties in Vermont history where Ethan Allen and John Hazeltine coordinated in fending off the New Yorkers who were following up on the King’s decree that what is actually is Vermont belonged to New York. All these people had their grant from New Hampshire. The history of Vermont is very interesting, but no one picked up the Vermont historians never realized that they were writing about John Hazeltine. He had been a partner of Ethan Allen. That is why he ends up in a number of Ethan Allen meetings and different things. I wrote the book with the hope that some Vermont Historian would want to take it and do some more research and come up with a real book. In the meantime my book is Ethan & John.
JM:When was it published?
RJ:It was published in 2008.
JM:You are a busy man.
RJ:It is for sale at the Salisbury Association, and at the library.
JM:What are your hopes for the future for the Historical Society?
RJ:I hope it does well and I really don’t want my thoughts as to where it should go to get mixed up too much. I am very happy to have it do as it will. All the people who are involved with it today I wish them well.
JM:We need all the help we can get. Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview of the various things that we have discussed?
RJ:One quick little thing I also served from 2006 to 2008 as President of the Scoville Memorial Library. I think in 2010 that I put together the program to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Scoville Library, an earlier version: it being the first publicly funded library in the United States. It grew out of a children’s library and also grew out of the library of the man who owned a blast furnace during the Revolutionary War and then went off to England.
RJ:Richard Smith. We had a nice program I spoke and covered the history and Tony Scoville talked about the family side of it. Jim Dresser talked a bit about old Salisbury and the funding aspect.
JM;I have a young lady from the University of Massachusetts that is doing her thesis on youth libraries of the United States; She was blown away by the fact that we still have some of the Richard Smith books.
RJ:Oh yes they are up there. The library is closed right now but they are up there in the tower
JM:Yes along with some of the Caleb Bingham books. Thank you so much for your time and your information.
RJ:It has been my pleasure. I always enjoy talking with you. I congratulate you on the success of oral histories because they really are an asset to the community.
JM:Thank you so much.