Kiefer. George #2

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: 55 Selleck Hill
Date of Interview:
File No: 9 Cycle: 2
Summary: Salisbury School, Grenwald Farm, Hollister House, Cock Robin, SWSA, Tree Warden, selectman, 1955 flood, Christmas Tree Farm

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

George Kiefer Cover Sheet:

Interviewee:George C. Kiefer

Narrator:Jean McMillen

File #:#9, cycle 2

Place of Interview:55 Selleck Hill, Salisbury, Ct.

Date:Nov. 11, 2015

Summary of talk: Family background, Salisbury School, Grenwald Farm, Hollister House, his Christmas tree farm, 1955 flood, tobacco poles, real name of Cock Robin, Neighborhood, skiing and SWSA, farms, Civic duties, and additions.


George C. Kiefer Interview:

This is file #9, cycle 2.  This is jean McMillen.  I am interviewing George Kiefer for his fourth oral history, but the first with me.  He is going to talk about his family background, his businesses and anything else he wants to talk about and we are just going to have a good time.  Today’s date is Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2015.

JM:       What is your name?

GK:       George Kiefer.

JM:       What is your middle name?

GK:       Croney

JM:       Your birthdate?

GK:       December 15, 1921

JM:       Where were you born?

GK:       Hamden, Ct. at home.

JM:       Your parents’ names?

GK:       George C. Kiefer, I am a junior, and Hazel Nesbit Kiefer.

JM:       did you have brothers or sisters?

GK:       I have a sister who is 7 years older than I am and her name is Jean.

JM:       Love the name!

GK:       You don’t find it very often.

JM:       No, they gussy it up with a couple of extra letters.

GK:       Yeah

JM:       Where did you go to school after high school?

GK:       for high school I went to Salisbury School here from 1936 to 1940 when I graduated.  Then I went to Duke University to study Forestry.  World War II came along and I enlisted in the Navy.  I served in the Navy.  After the war I went back to college on the GI Bill and finished my education.

JM:       You first came to the area to go to Salisbury School?

GK:       Yeah

JM:       Tell me about what you remember about Salisbury School when you were a student.

GK:       When I was a student, my first year there was in the fall of 1936.  There were 32 boys in the school.  Not in my class but in the entire school.  The school was going through hard times.  The founder of it was Mr. George Emerson Quaile.  He brought it up from Staten Island, I believe.

JM:       Yes he did, it was St. Austin’s School.

GK:       When the Depression came along and his health got weaker and the enrollment dropped right down.  The year before I got there, there were only 28 students.  Previous to that there must have been 75 or 80 when it was a full complement based on the number of buildings that were there.  Emerson Quaile, his son, who was teaching at Hotchkiss School, took over Salisbury School.  He was Headmaster for the 4 years that I was there.  When I graduated there were 60 students in the school.  There were 13 in my class.

JM:       What extracurricular activities did you participate in at Salisbury?

GK:       I played football for a couple of years, and then I had something that went crazy with my kidney or something so I didn’t do any more of that. I skied, and mostly rowing, crew, and a little bit of hockey.

JM:       You have a son that is an Olympic rower,

GK:       Tom

JM:       He is the one I had in school.

GK:       Mat and Tom both went to Salisbury; they are both excellent rowers.

JM:       Mat showed me pictures of you at Salisbury and the succeeding generations.

JM:       Are there any other connections with Salisbury School other than your attending there?

GK:       The only connection is that I married Mary Louise Quaile who was Emerson Quaile’s daughter, and she was the mother of my kids.

For more information about Salisbury School see also Roger McKee a 35 year teacher there tape #78/90, and Chiz Chandler, Headmaster of Salisbury School tape #90/102.

JM:       When you actually came to Salisbury to live, did you buy a house or did you rent a house with you Uncle Joe.

GK:       I first went to work for Childs in Norfolk in 1948.  I rented a room in the house that Leslie Emmett owned.  My folks knew and had connections up here and had made friends in Salisbury well before I was born.  Leslie had a room upstairs so I rented it.  Then eventually when Mary Louise got married a couple of years later, I lived on Canaan Mountain in a house that belonged to the Great Mountain Forest which was the Childs’ enterprise.  We left there because I decided after 4 years working for Childs which I enjoyed and enjoyed the work and liked to work there.  He was a good guy to


work for. I decided I wanted to work for myself if I could.  I would give it a go as a forester.  So we moved down and settled with my mother-in-law in Mrs. Quaile’s house.  Then Uncle Joe her uncle who was my wife’s great uncle who lived across from Indian Mountain School, Joe Parsons.  He had a little shanty out in the field; it was up on stilts as it was used for summer help who worked there when he had a farm or horses or whatever he had over there.  We lived in that for a couple of years; I did some work on it a little insulating and put some aluminum around the base of it because it sat up on pilings so the pipes would not freeze.  Then I put in a floor furnace in that little house to heat it.  We lived there for 2 or 3 years and then in 1955 this house came up for sale, and here we are. (This was a Hollister House See tape #83 A-D Robert Scribner)

JM:       Full circle.  How much land did Uncle Joe Parsons own?  Do you remember?

GK:       Gosh he owned a lot.  It had been somebody named Clark owned the farm.  He went almost all the way down close to… I think Camp Sloane came out of that farm.

JM:       Yes, it did (See file #44 John Hedbavny on Camp Sloane)

GK:       So he had from the road down Long Pond Road all the way down to Long Pond itself and he also had one big field on the opposite side of the road abutting where the Cedars Country Club was.

JM:       The Cedars?

GK:       Not the Cedars but his land abutted their golf course.

JM:       What did Joe Parson look like?

GK:       He was a nice old guy.

JM:       Like you!

GK:      He was shorter than I, but he was active.  When I lived there and self-employed, I had a room upstairs in the barn which was my office, and I can remember in the spring and summer when the grass was growing, Uncle Joe would come out and swing a scythe to cut the grass.

JM:       Oh that is work; I have done that.

GK:       If it is a sharp scythe it is not that much work.

JM:       Now but you have to know how to sharpen it.

GK:       Yes you do, especially don’t fight it.

JM:       How about Rose Parsons, what did she look like?

GK:       Aunt Rose was a very nice old lady.  She had a good sense of humor.

JM:       She started some organization in town, didn’t she?                                                        4.

GK:       The nurses (Salisbury visiting Nurses)

JM:       That started about 1904?

GK:       Thereabouts, more or less.

For more information about the Salisbury Visiting Nurses see tape #30 Molly Milmine, and file #56 Kathy Shortelle.

JM:       Do you know when this house was built?

GK;       The best I can tell by doing some research a man bought this property in 1756, four years later he sold the property with house, orchard, fencing and improvements, 32 acres.

JM:       Have you added any rooms to the house or is it the same footprint?

GK:       I have not messed with it at all.  I have improved the inside a little bit here in the kitchen.  I had to put in a new chimney.  The chimney that you see here is new because the old one fell right down into the basement.  Under the basement where we are sitting here now in the kitchen it was just a crawl space, you could barely crawl.  So this kitchen room was added on to the original house.  The next room in has a big fireplace and Dutch oven in that chimney.  The chimney that was out here on the addition stopped on the floor upstairs.  We had a stove down here which had a flue into the chimney upstairs.  When we went to clean the chimney, I had been told that old timers used to take a cedar tree and push it down the chimney and so on. I dropped a rope down and Weezie was on the other end of the rope. We tied the cedar tree: “You pull it down and I shall pull it back up again and we’ll clean it out.”  She started to pull and as she pulled, brick started falling off the chimney. I said, “STOP! We had better not do any more of this.” So we thought we had better get a safer chimney in here.

JM:       That makes sense, but they were using the cedar tree as a brush to get the creosote off.

GK:       Yeah

JM:       That is clever, I never heard of that one.

GK:       You are not old enough!

JM:       Oh but I will be!  Why did you start a Christmas tree farm?

GK:       Why did I start here?  First of all Christmas trees got to be sort of a talking point for a lot of people thinking they could make quick money with their land so they would grow Christmas trees.  As a forester the research on that I began helping them. I would order trees for them, plant trees, shear the trees, mow the trees, and help sell the trees wholesale for various clients.  I did a lot of that in November and December and planting in the springtime.  I did the shearing and shaping the trees in the summertime and I got quite involved with it with several clients.  By the time harvesting time came when the trees were 7 or 9 years old and big enough to sell, then I was making contact with chambers of


commerce or guys who had nurseries or wanted to sell trees and part of their income.  I would be busy with the selling of them in the fall and supervising the cutting. I ran around like a nut from one plantation to the next.

JM:       Did you even help the Westsmiths down in Sharon?

GK:       Yes I did indeed. I was in partnership with a man who owned the property then, Ed Church was a lawyer and a man I had known as a youngster who went to a summer camp when we were kids up in New Hampshire.  Somehow we made contact He knew I was here; he was a counselor when I was a kid at this camp. I was talking with him and he said, “Let’s go into the Christmas tree business”. KC Farms there is an old sign upstairs in the barn here. We have had Christmas trees; he didn’t do any of the work.

JM:       You did the work and he got the money.

GK:       By the time the trees were big enough to sell, he sold out to somebody else.  Then Dr. Westsmith bought the property. (See tape 82/94 Lynne Westsmith) and I continued on with the Christmas trees there.

JM:       When did you start your own Christmas tree farm?

GK:       Somewhere along the line, I don’t know when probably didn’t get going on my own until the 1970’s or 1980’s.  Somewhere in there, maybe the sixties, I don’t know.  It was just a small operation; we are not wholesale, we are just retail.  You come and cut your own.

JM:       Is it still going? You are still doing the trees?

GK:       We are. We sell about 100-125 trees a year; we plant 200 each year.  Some get snipped off by the mower, or they do not shape up right so they don’t live to begin with.  We keep about the same size inventory, but we replace the lost ones.  It is right here by the hay field. There are stones connected to that hayfield.  I did not want to plow it again.

JM:       New England is known for their rock.

GK:       They grow them here; they come up out of the ground.

JM:       My father came from Vermont and he had my mother convinced that if you plant a pebble; it grows into a rock, and eventually it becomes a boulder.

GK:       That is about the way it was.

JM:       Do you remember anything about the 1955 flood?

GK:       I know that in 1955 when the flood came, I think we had rainfall from Monday all the way through to the end of the week.  We bought this house in September, October of that year.  We had gravity water feed for the house.  The little brook that runs on the other side of the trap hutch jumped


its bank and came down through the yard and flooded down cellar.  I remember that.  We didn’t own it during the flood; they had emptied out the water by the time we got here.

As a forester I was educated in forestry people didn’t know what a forester was hardly in 1955.  I had to educate them.  They thought I went to school to man a fire tower out west, but there was more to it than that.  There weren’t many consultants or self-employed foresters in the whole USA at that point.  I managed wood lots and lined up two or three clients a water company and a fishing club and a few other ones who had some land and did appreciate what a forester could do, managing the land and getting some income and not hurting the wood lot.  I also like to work with my hands, my back and my arms.  I also got into buying woodlots or selling them for some reason and trees to mark after dealing with the land owner’s wishes.  If there were cedar trees on the land with the understory of a pine forest, the fact that the pines were there indicated that the land had been farmed before.  When you abandon a pasture, one of the firs things to come in hereabouts would be red cedar.  The red cedars came in first. The pines would come a little bit later and over the top of the cedar.  Finally the cedar would get shaded out gradually.  If it got shaded, it would always grow toward the light, which made more heart wood.  Red cedar heart wood is the inner growth and then the cambium layer which is the outer growth of the sap wood.  There would be more heartwood and it would be big. If it was in good shape, built right, tall and slender, it was used on tobacco farms for tobacco poles.  They used to buy cedars standing and then myself and a couple of guys would cut the cedar down, skid it out with a tractor, buck it 12 feet long with a 4 inch top, load it on my truck.  I had an old Army vehicle and take it up to Connecticut River Valley as far as Northampton or above to tobacco farms. I had a contract with them to supply them with cedar poles.  I did quite a lot of that.

For more about forestry see tape # 38 Curtis Rand.

JM:       That I did not know. You used to come in when I was teaching 6th grade botany, you would come in and you would teach the kids about the different kinds of trees and how it identify them.  So we learned about heartwood, sapwood, cambium, understory and that sort of thing from you.  So you were a teacher as well as all these other things.

GK:       That’s good.  I am glad somebody was listening.

JM:       The kids enjoyed being outside, listening to somebody else besides me, and learning something that was practical.  It was always a big event when you came to school.

GK:       Really?

JM:       Oh yeah.  I am assuming that tobacco poles would be what they would hang the tobacco leaves on to dry?

GK:       No, tobacco poles would be set up and string wires between them put cheesecloth on top on them.  It was all shade grown tobacco.  The sunlight and the climate were similar to that of Sumitra.


They grew tobacco, harvested from there and then stored it on racks hanging in a big tobacco barn that you used to see throughout the Connecticut Valley.

JM:       This was all in the Connecticut Valley?

GK:       Yeah on Lincoln City Road where the grade school is now at one point tobacco grew there.  On Route 7 2 or 3 miles before you get to New Milford on the left hand side down near the Housatonic River, there is an old tobacco barn there.  They weren’t growing shade tobacco here; it was just tobacco for chewing tobacco or cigars or whatever.

JM:       When I talked with you on the phone, you told me you knew the real name of Cock Robin.

GK:       Edward Melius he was born somewhere in New York State.  He was named Cock Robin because he called square dances.  He worked as a laborer at Salisbury School when I was there, mowing lawn and rolling the tennis court. After I came back up here after the war, he was working at Hotchkiss School on the golf course.  George Quaile’s uncle was George Milmine who lived on the road to Hotchkiss School had a barn on his land.  Cock Robin died Nov. 20, 1951.  George and I had a square dance and we got Dan Gary from Norfolk; Mr. Gary was a blacksmith and his wife played the piano, somebody was a fiddler and Ed Melius or Cock Robin called the dance.

JM:       That is fun.  I used to square dance. That is fun.  I could do that because I could follow directions.

GK:       Usually they are the kind of people who square dance like it; they aren’t so darn dead serious that if you make a mistake they’ll …

JM:       Oh everybody will laugh.

GK:       They’ll laugh and keep going.

JM:       Do you know why the Jigger shop was called the Jigger Shop?

GK:       No I don’t.  I remember the Jigger shop, but I don’t know why it was called that.

JM:       Nobody knows; I though you would know.

GK:       I don’t know.

JM:       Oh dear, you disappointed me.

GK:       Once again!

JM:       What was the neighborhood like here when you moved here?  Were any of the businesses running, either the grist mill, or the Salisbury Artisans or any of that?

GK:       Salisbury Artisans was still going; the grist mill was going when I was at Salisbury School in the 1930’s, but it was not going when the Kastendiecks bought the mill from George Selleck.  We bought


here in 1955. They bought the mill in 1953 I think.  I have done David Bowen on Salisbury Artisans as well as George Parsons (See tape #72/84 George Parsons) and Barbara Roraback (See file # 42 Barbara Roraback).  So I think I have that one covered.

GK:       Yes, you do.

JM:       How about the Whitbecks, didn’t they live somewhere around here?

GK:       The previous generation of Whitbecks, the house in front of where David Bowen lives that colonial house. {76 Factory Street once owned by Digby Brown} (See file # 7, cycle 2 Digby Brown). It was John and Janet Swing lived there, but that was originally a Whitbeck house.  The Whitbecks, a lot of their bloodline originally came from Mt. Washington, Massachusetts.  There were Whitbecks on Mt. Washington in 1680 or 1690 and Spoors.  Spoor was the previous name of Spurr.  Charlotte Reid was a Spurr.  That Spurr family owned and had a farm on the land where Berkshire School is now. That is neither here nor there.

JM:       But it gives a texture and a depth to the land and how it has changed.

GK:       It is all tied together.

JM:       That is the fascinating part; as I drive from Lakeville to Salisbury now and I look at the houses so and so built that for his daughter for a wedding present or so and so built that for such and such or this used to be. I get such pleasure out of that that I am learning a little bit of the history.  That is what I enjoy.  Now I know that you used to ski at Salisbury School, and Mat told me that the original ski swaps used to be here in the kitchen. (See file # 3, cycle 2 Mathias Kiefer)

GK:       Oh yeah

JM:      When did you get involved in the Salisbury Winter Sports Association at the beginning?

GK:       Well it was about 1950 I was still working for Childs, either 50 or 51 when the hill was dedicated to John Satre.  There was a ski jump that weekend, ribbon cutting and so on.  They needed volunteers down there; they were chopping ice that came in from I don’t know where, but the chopper came from the Economy Ice Company in New Haven, CT.  They had an ice chopper that chopped ice and blew it on the hill.  Then we had to rig up ways to get it on the landing hill.

JM:       So you were using ice to begin with?

GK:       Yeah

JM:       This is not summer skiing, this is was for the winter.

GK:       We had the summer skiing with ice, but we also used ice before that.

JM:       You got involved really early.

GK:       Somehow Kiefer knows how to work.                                                                            9.

JM:       Yeah well the good workers are hard to find.

GK:       It was a good association with the club and I made a lot of good friends and a lot of good people.  Most of the people who come through this door say hello to me are from the winter sports.

JM:       It is still going on and expanded; the town supports it thoroughly which is a wonderful thing for something that has been going on this long.

GK;       Well we are real, at least.

JM:       Very definitely, institutions like that continue with town support are now rare so it is a wonderful organization.  I’ll bet you know about the farms on Salmon Kill Road.  What can you tell me about the Belter Farm?

GK:       The Belter farm was Rocky Dale Farm, I guess.  I was thinking about some of these things.

JM:       Good because I always ask about things you want to talk about when I get through.

GK:       Rocky Dale

JM:       Was Rocky Dale Farm a dairy farm?

GK:       Oh yes definitely these were all dairy farms.  You say farms now they are dairy farms.

JM:       There were about 35 oi them at one time; now we are down to what 2 or 3?

GK:       Nobody in Salisbury is making milk to sell, nobody.

JM:       I did Tommy Paine yesterday on Grasslands Farm and it is now cattle.  It used to be a dairy farm.

GK:       Whippoorwill Farm was where Allan Cockerline is now that was the Miner farm.

JM:       Which Miner?

GK:       Bob and Harold Miner.

JM:       Now Whippoorwill is vegetables and …

GK:       Grass fed beef, eggs, and pork.  Those two farms are primarily it. No, where Greenberg lives now was the Overbrook Farm,  a dairy farm, Greenberg bought it from Tilt, tilt bought from Piel, Piel bought from …

I think I have that from Dan Dwyer because he rented property from the Piel family (See file 76/88 Dan Dwyer)

GK:       He rented property for Piel.  Tilt’s wife’s sister was in an iron lung in the house where Dan Dwyer lives.  Smithers!

JM:       I knew you would come up with it!                                                                                10.

GK:      Before Smithers I don’t know.

JM:       That is far enough back.  Because I have done enough of these, I can sort of dovetail if you don’t remember, I think I have it someplace else. That is the beauty of doing this because my own self do not have the knowledge but I have pulled it from other people.  Some of it I remember and some of it I don’t.

GK:       You are picking a brain that has been pulled from everybody else.

JM:       Just like Swiss cheese.

GK:       A lot of nothing is filling up the holes.

JM:       I don’t know; you have more in the hole that other people have in the whole cheese.  You were selectman from about 1984 to 1988, you have been Tree Warden for about 23 years; you always have been in Salisbury Winter Sports Association.  Are there other civic things…?

GK:       I was selectman for 12 years altogether, but there was a gap in the middle. When ___first started I was on that board. I was on the board of Tax Review, Housatonic River Commission.

JM:       What is the Housatonic River Commission?

GK:       Protecting the river. From the Massachusetts line to Boardman’s Bridge which is on the north of the village of New Milford there are 7 towns and each town had two members on the Housatonic River Commission.  We are there to assess the zoning boards in each of those towns.  If anyone wants to build on the inner corridor which is a flood plain and right next to the river or within the outer corridor which is where the flood plain or the inner corridor ends to the ridge lines on either side of the river, any operations that go on in the way of building, clearing and so forth, we advise the Planning and Zoning Commission with input to make sure that erosion doesn’t occur or whatever or pollution.

JM:       Now we get to the good part.  What do you want to talk about?

GK:       You have covered it. I am good.

JM:       Is there anything particular that you would like to add?

GK:       Not really, you know more about me than I do now.

JM:       Thank you so much for your time and your information.







Property of the Oral History Project: The Salisbury Association at the Scoville memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068