Today is Tuesday, March 6th, 2012. This is Katherine Chilcoat interviewing George Kiefer at his home 55 Selleck Hill in Salisbury, Ct. This tape is a continuation of one recently done by George’s daughter Kitty. (See Kiefer memoir).
KC: OK George when were you born?
GK:I was born in Hamden, Ct. at home on Cherry Hill in Hamden, Ct.
KC:Are you willing to tell me the date?
GK:Dec. 15th, 1921.
KC: Your parents’ names?
GK:My mother’s name was Hazel Nesbit Kiefer. She was from around the New Haven area. My father was George Cluney Kiefer. He was born in Baltimore, as best we know. We’re not sure, and he wasn’t sure, but he thinks so. He came up into Connecticut finally working for American Seal and Wire Company as a salesman selling wires traveling by railroads and going up into New England and going to various places. They were married about 1911/12 thereabouts. They had a daughter named Jean who was born in 1914; then I was born in 1921. There were two children.
KC:Just the two children. Where were you raised? Where did you spend your childhood?
GK:My dad worked for the American Seal & Wire Co. Then when World War I came along, he joined the Navy, and he was stationed out at Great Lakes Naval Training Base. He contracted the flu that was running through the United States at that time, dropping people in their tracks. He survived that and came back from the war. Then he got mixed up with typhoid fever somehow, and it took him a while to get back on his feet. I guess at that point he was no longer with the wire company, and he opened up a shoe store in New Haven. He sold shoes retail and so on, and that went along OK. Tom McCann and some other larger shoe people coming along the line; he could see that they might have their own stores, and a little guy like him would probably get squeezed out of it. About 1921 or 22 my mother decided that many of the children in New Haven, the youngster weren’t dressed properly, so she started making and selling children’s clothes. In about three years that developed into a pretty good little business. She was very talented, knew how to sew, and had a good business sense. The clothing business, children’s clothes and what all, was doing a little bit better than the shoe company, so my dad decided he would sell the shoe business which he did. He managed to work along with my mother; she did all the design and the sewing and gradually it built into a business where all the old dowagers in New Haven were getting their clothes from my mom. My dad took care of the business end, going to the bank and borrowing money, going back to the bank and paying it off when he could. She had taken care of the accounts, so they worked along. They were a team and it worked. We lived in the country. My mother’s father had a big dairy farm in Hamden called Rosert’s Farm. He had produce, dairy cows, there was a boarding house, 2 or 3 big silos. They had a milk route and they delivered milk around. My mother had a sister who was married to a man who managed the Taft Hotel which was a big spot in New
Haven in those days. My grandfather’s farm was supplying all the vegetables and stuff to the Taft Hotel. Probably they went to the farmer’s market or the New Haven market. I am not sure where that all ended up. When my grandfather died, the farm had to be liquidated; it wasn’t a real money maker, it was behind like many farmers were with their mortgages, so the farm was done for. My mother and father first lived down on Willow Street in New Haven. He wanted to go to the country, she would but she said there was only one place in the country she would live and that was the house where I was born. She decided that this is where she would go, so my folks rented this house, and we were there from 1919-20 until my dad died of a stroke in 1950. So we were there for a spell of years. After he died my mother kept” Katinka” ,which was the name of her business, “Katinka Incorporated”, going on until finally she got cancer in the middle of 1960’s and had to close up. In the country where we lived in a house that was on an estate; I don’t know the history of the estate at all, but I know the man who owned the whole estate where we were born, his house was up on a hill and our house was down at the bottom of the hill. He was President of Whitney Blake which was a big wire company on Bristol Avenue in Hamden. Anyway I have taken my kids down to where I was born; there is no house there it has all been taken away and cleaned up. The whole estate was bought by the Roman Catholic Church now so that the land is protected that way. I could show my kids the stump of the hemlock tree under which hung over the room where I was born.
KC:How did all of that lead you to Salisbury?
GK:My dad lived in a place called the Quinnipiac Club when he was a bachelor down there, and my mother was younger than he by 6 or 8 years. There were some people from the Salisbury area who went down to Yale College, and she met some of them. My dad met some of them. They set up a good arrangement, just good friends, and they seemed to hit it off. When I was a little type about 6 years old or something, we would sometimes come up here and stay with some of our good friends at New Year’s time or Easter time. Some of the people that we knew were the D. J. Warners, who lived down on the corner where Taylor lives.
KC:Who lived where?
GK:Arthur Taylor’s, down on Main Street, the old Bushnell Tavern. We knew the Rands well. We used to stay up at Hamlin Hill Farm up at the end of Prospect Road where Peter Findlay now has a farm.
KC:That must be Blanchard Rand.
GK:Yes, William Blanchard Rand. Then we were good friends with the Lansings who are up here where… The Lansings were the people who sold to the Hewetts and the Lansings had bought from the Sellecks. We stayed at these other places. We also stayed at the apartment building across the Main Street in Salisbury on the hill where there are 3 or 4 apartments, the Chittendon House. Dorothy Haydon owned that and I can remember that we stayed there a couple of times.
KC:is that where Dick Boyle lives now? (Yes Ed.)
GK: I don’t know Dick Boyle, so I can’t confirm that.One summer I guess after I was born it must have to been or just before I was born, my family rented on Main Street, I don’t know if it was for 2 weeks or a month, the Warner house which would be, we have the library, then Factory Brook as you are going toward Lakeville, we have the house that was called One Acre. When I was a kid it belonged to Kent Fulton, then the next house was where D. T. Warner was born: it was the Warner House and my folks rented there. It was after the old Warner girls, maiden sisters, had died.
KC:In Donald Warner’s Journal that we just published, he speaks of the three houses coming down from the library with the middle one being the Warner House.
KC:The middle one, that would be One Acre.
GK:No, One Acre, the house next to the brook was owned by Kent Fulton. The next house was the Warner’s.
KC: The third house was…
GK:I don’t know. I don’t remember. So we got to know the Warners. Then I was in grammar school at home, we used to have a big garden, we had a lot of chickens. We put up food from the garden; we had eggs in a crock in the cellar. We had material called water glass which you put in with your eggs, you probably know but most people don’t. The freshest eggs we’d eat right from the hens; the cooking eggs were put down in water glass when the chickens were laying well. My dad liked to hunt and he liked to fish and somehow many times in the afternoon he’d finish his book work and his responsibilities at Katinka Inc. and he’d disappear to a short stream or he’d disappear into the woods somewhere with a shotgun. It all worked out. I went to grammar school in New Haven; my study regiment was not good. I wasn’t getting along as well academically as my folks hoped I might so they knew about Salisbury School up here. They must have known the Quailles with all their association up here, so I was sent to Salisbury School in 1936 and graduated from there in 1940 and learned how to study somewhat.
KC:And then you went…
GK:From there I went to forestry school down at Duke University in North Carolina. Then Pearl Harbor happened, and I enlisted in the Navy. I was able to finish another semester or so at Duke. Then I went into the Navy, and eventually got commissioned and was in an amphibious branch of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Ocean. I was a Wave leader going into beachheads there in combat positions. I did that four times. Then after the war was over, the Japanese folded up in 1945 in August. I stayed on in the navy, and we were sent to Korea, North China for a spell, and finally I was mustered out of the Navy in 1946. I went back to college on the GI Bill. I didn’t want to work in the South, so came back to Northwestern Connecticut eventually. I worked down in Guildford, Ct. for a spell on a farm, the old man
on a pitchfork there. Luckily I got a job with Great Mountain Forest for E. C. Childs in Norfolk, Ct. I worked there for four years. In that period of time I met Mary Louise Quaille, who was the daughter of Emerson B. Quaille who was the Headmaster of Salisbury School when I was a student there. When I was a student, she was a tiny little kid running around. Any way we were married. Oh I know when I first came back to Salisbury, getting the job for Childs; I had to find a place to live. Lucky enough Miss Emmett, Miss Leslie Emmett who was the sister of the Rand family, Ellen Emmett Rand was her older sister who was the artist and so on, Blanchard Rand’s wife and Chris’s grandmother, and Curtis’s great grandmother, she had a room to rent at this house where we are sitting right now (55 Selleck Hill). So I rented a room here which eventually after we bought the house from her in 1955 became the master bedroom.
KC:So Leslie Emmett lived here.
GK:Leslie Emmett bought this house from the Selleck-Hollister chain in 1921.
KC:Do you know when this house was built?
GK:I don’t know. I know that in 1756 this parcel of land of 34 /36 acres was owned by 2 or 3 other people, but there is no mention of any dwelling here. In 1756 David Everest bought the property; in 1760 he sold the property to Mr. Pierce with house, orcharding, fencing and improvements so in 4 years something was built here. I am puzzled about whether this house or whether out in the barn, in one section of the barn right here next to the house, carriage barn and shop, store my truck and whatnot, there is some plaster on some of the walls out there in the barn and whether that was what they called a house at that point, or did some hired person live there or what? I don’t know. I know this house has a central chimney with three fireplaces; on one side of the central chimney is a beehive oven where they did their cooking. So it is a reasonably old house. The Pierces bought this in 1795/96 and the Pierces lived here, and one of the Pierce’s daughters married a Hollister, so it was a Pierce-Hollister chain until close to 1900. Then some shirt-tailed relative of the Pierces, and she also might have been a shirt-tail relative of the Sellecks because one of the Pierces daughters married a Selleck, Jim Selleck who lived up here on the top of the hill where Hewitts live. Mrs. Bird, whose husband was a minister in Gt. Barrington, lived here for ten to twenty years; I am not sure how long she lived here. The second house up the road from me, the little house that is right next to the brook at the bottom of the hill before you go up Selleck Hill, that was the Scribner house. Mrs. Scribner was a Hollister, a granddaughter of Grampa Pierce, James Pierce. She was born in this house. It gets complicated. You’ve got to stop me. It gets to be a can of worms.
KC: Alright, when you became a full time resident of Salisbury, much of Salisbury was in agriculture. There were a lot of farms as I can to town in about the same time, and I remember. Thinking back on some of the farmers, what can you remember about people like the Belters who were big farmers, the Ericksons, Jake Rand, Grassland Farm, and Deep Lake? There are just a ton of them. Do you have any particular farm memories?
GK:Not any particular farm memories, they were all active farms. When the Sellecks had farms up on the hill here, Jim Selleck who sold to the Lansings about 1920-21, he was in his 90’s when he sold the farm. He was born in 1830/31and had seen a lot of the world go by in his time. He had been a selectman and there were many other Sellecks before him on Selleck Hill. In fact all the farms up there at one point from Hewitts up to the top of Lincoln City Road and starting down Lincoln City there were all various Selleck brothers or cousins. The Lansings had a dairy herd. They called it Brook Hill Farm and they sold milk. The war came along and the Lansings sold, they didn’t sell out but Frank Twing leased the farm and raised 5 or 6 or 7 kids up there in that little house. He made milk up there on Selleck Hill. When Hewitt bought Lansing’s, Don Hewitt and Deanne had a herd of Holsteins and they made milk there and sold milk wholesale.
Ericksons had the farm up on Clark Hill (Bunker Hill). The Erickson farm was bought by the Erickson boys. There was Harold, Frank, Walt, and Herman; Herman being the only one who is still alive. Their father was John Erickson who came up from Brooklyn, New York. John was a Swede; his mother and wife were Swedish. They came from New York City. He got a job as a painter, house painter, at Hotchkiss School, as the resident house painter to touch up the dormitories. John toured Long Pond on Hotchkiss property, there was some open land, and I guess there was a barn. I think it is gone now. There were the remains of a house there. Harold Erickson, the oldest of the Erickson boys, was born New York City. Walt Erickson, the next oldest, was born in Brooklyn. Frank the next one was born in Salisbury, and Herman was born in Salisbury.
KC:Were they dairy farmers, George?
GK:The Ericksons had their own cows over when they were at Hotchkiss School. Then John Erickson bought the Clark Farm, Bunker Hill, the Erickson farm; Harold drove the cows from Hotchkiss School up to where the Erickson farm is now. They were in the milk business: they made milk, they raised lots of hogs. They had a Purina feed business. They had the agency for that, and they had a truck with checkerboard squares on it which was the logo of the company. They farmed it, and then they sort of eased out of the farm business when they found out there was a lot of gravel up there. They opened up the gravel pit and went into the contracting business.
Hamlin Hill Farm, when I was at Salisbury School, was owned by the Rands. They had a Guernsey herd. Bill Johnston, who had a sweet corn business for a number of years, worked for Bowers over on the road from Hotchkiss School to Lime Rock. Bill Johnston came down from Canada as a herdsman for the Rands over on Hamlin Hill. He worked there, and then when the Rands sold out to Graham Thompson during World War II, because the Rand boys went to college and Mrs. Rand had died and W.B. Rand didn’t want to hold on to the farm, Bill Johnston then went over to work for Bower who had a beef farm where he lived until he died 3 or 4years ago there on the Hotchkiss School-Lime Rock Road. Rand’s farm had a contract, I guess they sold milk down at, this is before Salisbury Farms, and I am
sure they sold milk wholesale. I am not sure whether they had a retail milk delivery business or not, but a lot of their milk went to Hotchkiss School, for the 600 kids at Hotchkiss School. When I was at Salisbury School in 1936-1940, we had our own dairy herd.
KC:I didn’t know that. Where were they kept?
GK:Well down next to the highway there was an older house that was torn down 5 or 6 years ago where there are now dormitories where the entrance to the school used to be just closer to the top of Smith Hill as you are coming from Salisbury, there was a barn. I’ve got a picture of a yoke of oxen that were being used at Salisbury School when I was there as a student. I had a copy of that made by Joe Meehan, and I gave a copy of that to the Headmaster of Salisbury School and let him know where it all came from. When I was at school, there were big hay fields where the athletic fields are now as you go down to Twin Lakes on the north side of the road. On the right hand side going down that was pasture land for the cattle.
Charlie Holmes had the farm up in Weatogue at the end where John Boose now farms. Where the Whitbecks live that was the Nelson Farm.
GK:That would be Audrey Whitbeck’s mother’s husband. Audrey’s father——–Nelson and that is where Gordon is now raising vegetables (32 Locust Ave.) Stillwaters Farm (see Bredbrenner tape # 91) Where the Weatogue stables there on Weatogue Road was the Surdam Farm, either Surdam or Suydam that name bounced around like depends on which end of the family you talk to or which end of the family talks to the other, I guess. Down at the Crosby Farm, the farm that Bok owns that way back belonged to Dutchers, down toward Dutchers Bridge, there are some people that owned that back in the 1930’s named Balstell. They had a big chicken farm, lots of chicken. I don’t know what the chicken market was. That was going on while I was at Salisbury School. Whether that folded up during the war, or whatever happened to it I don’t know. Belter’s Farm which was at the corner of Lime Rock-Salisbury Road, what’s called Belter’s Corner where Farnam Road comes through and hits Salisbury-Lime Rock Road, now Salmon Kill Road and just above that where Whippoorwill Farm is now was the Miner’s Farm. That was Bob Miner and Harold Miner; they had that partnership. Where Matt and Alison Kiefer live (116 Salmon Kill Road) that was known as Windfall Farm, Baldwin Reed was there. His children had a tractor accident. Then someone named O’Brien had that farm; he had Guernsey cattle there. The O’Briens sold to Pomeroy. Pomeroy had a beef farm there. Pomeroy sold to Walkers because Mrs. Pomeroy had been Mrs. Walker or whatever. That’s some of it.
KC:Oh my Goodness, that’s some of it. You could go on and on. Before we run out of time on this side of the tape, I want to ask you to tell me what a Tree Warden does. You have been Tree Warden in Salisbury for a long time. No body’s fighting for the job. Who appoints you and what your responsibilities are.
GK:I’ve been Tree Warden for 23 years. The selectmen appoint a Tree Warden for a 2 year term. My responsibilities are to keep an eye on the trees that are in the right of way of all the town roads. Each fall, latter part of August first part of September drags on until probably October, I drive up and down each of the town roads once or twice in both directions, looking at all the trees and seeing which ones are a hazard to traffic or a hazard to people on the road or a hazard to the wires. Then I mark those trees to be repaired, or cut down sometime before the next year. When I mark these trees, if they are near electric wires if they are on the same side of the road as the telephone wire, then I make a special note of that. When I get through with all my tree marking, I contact the arborist of CL&P and we go over the list of trees. We ride the roads to check and see if I have made a good decision or not. I can’t always sell them all the trees that I want down, but most of them, a fairish amount. They are good people to work with. Sometimes they will take half of the tree that leans toward the road, but they won’t take the other half of the tree. So then we have to deal with that in another manner.
KC:Does the power company take the trees down? Do they do the work?
GK:The power company takes those trees down; they may leave the wood, and they may chip the brush. More people are burning wood, they ought to get stocked up by summer, or sometimes the individual who owns the property abutting that particular piece of roadway, and they’ll request the wood. If they are quick enough, they’ll get the wood. If they are not quick enough, somebody else will get it. Other trees which are not necessarily near the wires, they might be, but not close enough to the wires to worry the power company but they are still a hazard or trees on the other side of the road that are too big and too dangerous for the town road crew to take down, I have to put them on another list. I give that list to the Board of Selectmen with the specifications on these trees and their location by telephone pole number, house number whatever. They will send out the tree contractors who bid on those trees, and they will take those trees down to a point maybe in conjunction with the town crew to where the town crew can finish the job. Then there are other trees which are a no-brainer in that the town, not to knock the town road crew by calling them a no-brainer but it is just simple and could be felled into an open lot and cleaned up. You don’t need a private contractor to take them down. So there are three tree lists each year. During the course of the year the Tree Warden gets calls because they call the Town Clerk or Selectman’s office complaining about some tree. They think it is the town’s responsibility and it may well be the town’s responsibility or it may not be. I answer these calls and go and talk to the people who initiated the call: well, we can do this or that’s your tree, it is way up on your lawn over behind your house; it doesn’t seem something the Tree Warden should worry about. We get that sort of thing.
KC:George, let’s go back to the early part of this tape when you are talking about your early life, and getting married. Now tell me, you have three children, the oldest is …
GK:Kitty (Katherine) is the oldest child; she was 60 on the 3rd of March this year, two or three days ago. Matt is the second child; he is three years younger. Matt is Matthias Kiefer. Thomas is the youngest, and he is three years younger than Matt. Kitty went to grammar school here in Salisbury at
Salisbury Central then she went to the Regional High School for 2 years, and then she went away to McDuffie School in Springfield, Mass. for 2 years. She went to Bates College; after she finished Bates College she came here, and got a job down in Savannah, in the Savannah Historical District. She was working and somehow learned how to run a loom, so she was demonstrating loom work and doing some kind of research for them. When she was in the Regional High School, she was in the Future Farmers of America program in the agricultural department. She borrowed a heifer from Jack Seymour of Tory Hill Farm on the road to Sharon and raised this heifer named “Jackie” with a milk bottle with a nipple on it. She did well and entered her in the Goshen Fair; she always entered a cake or something down at the fair; she was busy with agriculture there. In her freshman year she won the Outstanding Agricultural Award for Kids in her freshman class; knocked us all over. She went Bates and then did various jobs; she helped run a ski area, a cross country ski area up in Massachusetts, she was there as an instructor, and apparently awakened one night when the building was on fire and got everybody out of the building before the whole thing had burned up. At one point in her life, she and her husband ran a lodge for the Sierra Club out in the Sierra Mountains at Donner Pass. Individuals from the Sierra Club would come up on weekend and they could hold two to three hundred people at the lodge. She and her husband ran the ski program, managed the lodge, and planned the meals, the works. Then she went to law school down in Sacramento and got a law degree. She practiced law in Massachusetts, and got a law degree in New York, and now she’s back here.
KC:Matt lives here.
GK:Matt lives here; Matt is a hometown boy all the way. He went to grammar school at Salisbury Central, he went to Salisbury School for four years as a day student, did well there, played football 2 years but didn’t like that, played soccer for 2 years, was on the rowing team, the crew team. They went to England with 4 oared shells. They won the British School boys Championship.
KC:Matt did this?
GK:Matt did this.
KC:I knew Tom was a rower, but I didn’t know Matt was a rower.
GK:Matt was a good rower. When he graduated from Salisbury School, he went to Paul Smith College up in Paul Smith, New York up by Lake Saranac and studied land surveying with a forestry option. He came out and was a partner with me in forestry, but he more or less leaned toward land surveying. Now he has his own land surveying business here, and his office is right here in the door yard of where we live. Tom was the youngest of the three. He went to Salisbury School and rowed for four years; he didn’t play soccer except on the second or the third squad. He did soccer in the fall and in the winter he did skiing. He was a good cross country skier. If we did have some snow back in those days when the kids were just growing up, we had lots of good snows in the latter part of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Tom turned out to be an excellent cross country skier and did well with interclub and inter town
races in Lake Placid, in Maine, and New Hampshire and Vermont and in New York State in his age group. He used to come home usually with the trophy for it. At Salisbury School he did rowing and rowed extremely well. Twice while he was at Salisbury School he was on the Junior National Squad. After he graduated from Salisbury School, he went to Northeastern, and had a partial scholarship there for rowing. He rowed there for 4 years. After he finished that he was on the National Team for five or six years for World Championships. In 1986 he ended up, 84 I guess it was, with a Silver medal in Los Angeles in rowing.
KC:Where does Tom live now?
GK:He lives in Wayland, Massachusetts. He likes to work with his hands. He always did as a kid. He would go out to the shop, and I could find lots of boards with nails driven in them. He now works for a company called ‘Gentle Giant”. It is a moving company that moved people from one apartment to another or from one house to another. He is working in the warehouse building all the crates that they need for doing their moving. Specialty crates, he had to build a specialty crate for two ends of an 8 oared shell to be sent from here to Australia. He builds crates for chandeliers, for whatever odd things, as well as regular straight crates that they use in moving. He works there; he has four children. He is at work in the morning at 5 in the morning and works until 4 in the afternoon. He then goes home and is a father and so on.
KC:Ok George, I thank you very much for doing this interview with me.
GK: You are welcome, Katherine.
KC: If I can think of another lot of questions to ask you, I’ll come back again.