Gloria Miller Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Gloria Miller. She is going to talk about the Salisbury Association Land, the Salisbury Beautification Program, Friends of the Scoville Memorial Library and the Aglet Theater. Today’s date is Feb. 22, 2022. This is file 4, cycle 5.
JM: What is your name?
GM: My name is Gloria J. Miller
JM: What is your birthdate?
GM: Bay Shore, Long Island, Southside Hospital
JM: You told me that you came into the area as a teen to go to Tanglewood.
JM: Is that when you fell in love with the area?
GM: Yes I did and I promised myself, I don’t know where this came from, but I would eventually live here. It was stored in the back of my mind. I was sure that was going to happen.
JM: Youi and your husband had a mutual “ahah” moment about that.
GM: Because we both loved the area. He was from Boston and we were traveling back and forth. This was the alternate route because I hated I95. So we came up the back route. I can remember coming to Salisbury, it was so weird, and there was a big antique’s fair on the White Hart lawn. I had totally forgotten about that. We went to the antique’s fair, we went to the White Hart, and it did not dawn on me that I would ever live here. It was just another really beautiful place to stop on one of our treks north. We loved Kent, Stroble’s Bakery; they had the best soup in the world. It was just remarkable. We loved that place. We had friend who were in Otis and other friends in the area. On one very fortunate day driving home, I said to him, I had been thinking it but not verbalized it, “If we could live anywhere, where would you like to live?” He said, “Right in this area.” “Me too” That started the whole thing. That began our way of getting here.
JM: When did you buy the house in Taconic?
GM: We bought it in 1996, though we didn’t live in it until 1997.
JM: Were you weekenders first?
GM: We rented for 2 years prior to buying the house we rented a condo at Lion’s Head. After 2 years of living here, I said, “I am not leaving here.” We became very good friends with Frances Hayes who was a real estate agent for the Leech family (See Robin Leech interview). She also lived at Lion’s Head. She was the one who found the house for us. Another silly story because just prior to that friends of ours from Long Island had a house on Twin Lakes. When we said we were coming up to this area, they said, “Why didn’t you tell us years ago? Our family had built one of the original cottages in the1920s on the large lake when nobody was here.” She said you could look out from the house and never see a light. They took us around in a little boat. You should try to find a wreck of a house that you can afford and fix it up which we did.
JM: Because you were in the area you got to know Mary Alice White. She asked you to join the Salisbury Association Land Trust in 1995/6.
GM: Right As soon as we were coming up on weekends, I got involved in things. There was the Audubon, workshops at Audubon, tours. We started right away just to enjoy everything that the community had to offer which was a lot. On one of my trips searching for fresh water Iris, Mary Alice White and Doris Walker were on the trip with me, I told them my story about why we needed to leave Long Island because it was becoming over developed. At the time I was growing up there were no bridges; you had to take a boat. We have the entire ocean to ourselves.
JM: When you were asked to join the Land Trust, why did you join it?
GM: Because I believed in what they were doing. That is trying to preserve, no every piece of property, but a lot of people misunderstand our aims. We want to preserve the ridge lines so that when you are driving you don’t see a million houses up there. We want to preserve scenic roads. Again when you drive from Salisbury to Sharon there are houses, well- spaced, and then there is huge pieces of open land. The Land Trust along with the Sharon Land Trust was instrumental in saving Tory Hill (top of route 41 overlooking Mudge Pond Ed.) These are things I believed in which on Long Island had never been planned for. Development overtook the open land. That appealed to me.
JM: Of course, what did you actually do when you joined the Land Trust?
GM: Everyone was assigned monitoring properties that had been either purchased and/or placed under easement. The job of the Land Trust was to make sure that that land stays pristine or conforms to the rules that were decided when the land was put under conservation easement. Every year Barbara Niles (who has since passed away) and I used to go on our little mission every fall. We would drive to all the properties that we were involved with. We would walk them, take pictures, and write up a report. Then we would go out for lunch, a girl’s day out. We had a great time together. I really loved her; she was a wonderful person and very devoted to the town. She left money to the Salisbury Association after her death. She was on many committees.
JM: How many properties did you have to monitor?
GM: It had changed over time, but at that time I think we had 3 and she had probably 3. That was plenty.
JM: Oh yeah for what you were doing. Were you involved with the Rail Trail at all?
GM: Yes Margaret Hoag who I believe still lives in Amesville, was on the Land Trust at the time. She and I were involved with the Rail Trail. She had written a grant and we had received money I believe from the state, to remove the invasive species such as frag mighty and a few other things. We hired this company, they were divers and they came in and they were actually diving in the pond by the Rail Trail and pulling out the frag mighty by hand.
JM: What is frag mighty?
GM: It is an invasive that should not be here, but has taken over many of our pond. In fact it has forced out cattails. You see it everywhere. It has brownish plumes. It looks pretty, but where ever you see disturbed wetlands there are frag mighty. The bog by my house is still pristine.
JM: That sort of leads us into the Salisbury Association Community Events and the liaison for the Beautification Committee. The Beautification Committee started with the Salisbury Garden Club .
GM: Its demise. (See Jill Scott and Kay Key interviews) It was part of the Salisbury Garden Club, I was not part of it then, but the garden club had people who planted pansies every spring, greenery every winter, and chrysanthemums every fall. When I was on the Garden Club for about a year, prior to its ending, I think it was the oldest garden club in Ct. By that time I knew Chany Wells, and Barbara Nicholls. (See their interviews.) Barbara invited a select few of us (I think she thought we were workers.) We met at her house and she decided that we would be an independent beautification society. We raised money; we sent out our letters every year describing what we did and asking for donations. We had a little war chest. Every spring we would drive around to go to different nurseries looking for the plants we wanted. We would work. We would put them in, change the soil, amend the soil, and put in fertilizer. We had to rebuild several planters as they were always rotting. The merchants would help, this one would support us that one would support us and then somebody would decide to do their own work. Elaine La Roche decided that she wanted something fancier. Fine, we were just trying to help out the merchants and make everything look pretty. At that time we did both Salisbury and Lakeville, now we are not doing that (in 2019 they stopped doing Lakeville Ed.)
JM: When it got to be a bit more than you wanted to handle, you went to the Salisbury Association.
GM: Barbara Nicholls died unexpectedly so Chany and I were left. Barbara was a very energetic person. We tried to continue with this on our own. We still had money. Janet Kaufman, who had been an original member, had been in the south caring for a relative, returned and joined us. Then other people come on board. People would appear to help and then disappear for a while. We three Chany, Janet and I were the stalwarts. We had a few new members like Betsy Sprague from Amesville, and Kathy Volsted who lived in the old Ragamont Inn building next to St. John’s Church. If others want to show up and help us, we are always happy.
As we were aging out, we asked the Salisbury Association to take us on as a sub- committee. We said, “Look we are not going to be here forever and then who will fill the mantle of planning or caring for anything that we might have established. How is that going to be passed on?” When we went to the Association, they had a very big discussion about it. But we had money! We don’t have to take money away from you; we are capable of earning money for our project. We have our own little bank account, so we still send out letters in our name. We don’t ask the association for money, but they are handling our money which is great. They are the caretakers. I have to hope that after we age out, younger people will come on the Association board or whatever and they will be interested in carrying out our purpose. We have big plans.
JM: Do you have some projects that you are working on now?
GM: Yes the Vincent property (the open land just before #84 Main Street in Salisbury going north Ed.) As I am on the Land Trust with George Massey (see his interview). We are the oldest members of the Land Trust. Lou and Elaine Hecht are not on it anymore, but they may be coming back. They are still very active in the Salisbury Association. Their fingers have been in the pie everywhere.
JM: Who works with you on this project?
GM: Chany and I are working with George Massey. Sarah Morrison is in charge of the Community Events Committee. We are under her umbrella. She and George have arranged for the Housatonic Valley Regional High School Vo-Ag students to help out. That way we can promote our vision.
JM: And you are going to get young kids involved.
GM: They have already been there to help us plant.
JM: What are you planting?
GN: We planted about 10 native trees, a Red Oak, Buckeye and others. We are looking at trees that are native to the area, pest resistant and are not invasive. They provide food for animals. We want to make it beautiful. In the meantime our other goal is to remove invasives. We hope to start that this spring with the kids. We want to get in there to start clearing small areas, get them under control, and replant it and move on to another area. So we have plans.
JM: Then you have another property (just after 15 Main Street is Salisbury and before Chaiwalla Ed.)
GM: Right about 8 years ago I started making noise about that property because we were doing a wonderful exhibition on local invasives at the Salisbury Association. We had samples of them in big urns, by their pictures with descriptions. I said, “Why don’t we start working on property where there are invasives and changing them.” It is hard to get people to move. It is a major job. I kept making this noise about that property. Every time we would have a meeting, I would mention it again. It went on and on. Finally when Chany and I came of age, we started making a lot more noise. Why are we putting all these planters in town when that eyesore of dying and dead hemlocks still exists? One fell last winter and took down electricity in town for hours, over 200 people were affected. This is going to continue. It is like giving a 100 year old a face lift, to what purpose? Those hemlocks are filled with invasives and are dying, they too big, nor have they been taken care of and they are just going to fall down like dominoes. They are going to continue to pay for outages here as they fall. When Jeanette Weber came on board the trustees, she heard us, and she makes things happen. She, Curtis and Sarah Morrison had a discussion about who owned the property. Did it belong to Rosalyn Leech, how much belonged to DOT, how much of it belonged to the town, how much was supervised by Eversource? Who was responsible for this piece of property? We went around and around. We had hours of discussion. Finally somehow or another Curtis, Jeanette, and Sarah managed to get Roz to agree so the trees did comedown. Who paid for it ultimately, I can’t tell you.
The plan is Curtis has promised that he will get the trunks ground which we are hoping to do now. We still have invasives on the property that must be removed prior to planting anything else. I am busy drawing a list of plants: I have a whole list of native plants that I think would be very lovely there. Our plan is to make it a very small park in the middle of town. It is 70 feet by 11-12 feet. We might put a bench, or a resting stone, something nice3 that people can sit and enjoy the greenery, butterflies, bugs, and birds. We want the plants to be native and useful on a lot of levels. We are trying to encourage people to think about doing this on their property. We want to put little signs on the plants. We hope to have a brochure at the Salisbury Association so that people who want to know what is growing there, or what a particular plant is. We also started to talk to the local nurseries about buying plants by giving them a list. By ordering from them people in town will be able to go: they will be motivated to go locally and get plants for their gardens.
JM: You have been getting plants from the Salisbury Garden Center.
GM: Yes many of them and also Freunds in North Canaan. We like to keep it local.
JM: Do you go to Old Farms?
GM: We haven’t because I love Old Farms, but they are a little more expensive.
GM: We might though when we finally get to planting, we are going to try to pinpoint different people to help with donations. Go locally and give people credit. This is our plan to begin working on this project and start raising money for specific things on the project. We feel that that works best. Somebody might want to donate some trees. On the scarlet oak we planted we put a little plaque in her name from the people who wanted to honor Barbara Niles. It is not funereal; it is just a pretty little plaque that acknowledges her as our friend.
JM: You are sending out letters of appeal for private money for this.
GM: We will as soon as we get things more under control. That is our focus. I am very happy about that.
JM: It sounds wonderful.
GM: I have to say that the people on the committee have really come on board in support. I wrote our mission statement, about what our plans are for the future. Not only will it be attractive to the eye, but it will attract animals and a source of beauty, but also in the future we’ll have to trim the trees. We can use them to put into our planters.
JM: As the plants propagate, you can take the small plants and put them into the planters.
GM: Exactly. We are also thinking about ground cover. We want to show people how put in beautiful ground cover that will keep out the weeds and provide nectar for bees. It is layers and layers of planning. It is a lot of work.
JM: But well worth it when it comes to fulfilment.
GM: It has started the ball rolling. I am leaving a list of the original plans are. Then whatever happens, I can keep my fingers crossed.
JM: That is wonderful. Not only do you get involved with plants and trees, animals and birds, but you also get involved with books. Tell me about the Friends of the Scoville Memorial Library. (See Inge Heckel’s interview) When did you join?
GM: I think a year after it had started. This year it is 20 years. Can you believe that? How can that be when I am only 17? Judy Linscott was involved; she was the beginning, the mover and shaker.
JM: So we are going to say about 2002? (2003 according to Inge heckle Ed.)
GM: Yeah she gathered various other people in the town: they started raising money to buy books for the library, and sponsor extra programs. We were the people who earned money for goodies. Meanwhile we sponsored a writing program, and well-known teachers or authors. We will pay for that person. We will pay for lectures by someone like Mark Scarborough, or somebody who is going to run a course on something worthwhile, like Charles Dickens. People are interested in taking those classes. We pay for children’s programs, like story tellers, acting, whatever the children’s librarian believes will be beneficial to the local children. It is really hard for the library to pay for all these programs plus run the library. Their budget doesn’t include everything. For years we have been paying for the New York Times.
JM: That is expensive!
GM: Tell me about it! We pay for the Hoopla so that people can get so many free programs on their television or computers. We are interested in giving people extras. Whatever they need that is intellectually stimulating.
JM: Who is the Chairman right now?
GM: Lisa White
JM: And you are the Vice President.
GM: I am
JM: You worked your way up.
GM: You know through attrition, what I can tell you.
JM: How do you fund all of these programs?
GM: We sort books every Monday morning. People bring us donations. We sort the books. I sit at the computer and price the books to see what these books are selling for on line. We put a reasonable price on because we are the middlemen. We don’t want to be stuck with books.
JM: There are a lot of them downstairs.
GM: We sell books. We also pre Covid did a yearly fundraiser.
JM: I remember that. (I was on the FSL board for a single term c 2006-8.)
GM: We can’t raise money independently by going to the community with an appeal letter. We can do fundraiser the Gala that we used to have. We will go back to doing that. They were wonderful; people loved it.
JM: People loved it.
GM: We would have a book buying session, a wonderful cocktail party. We also tried to provide entertainment. I had Vince Cannon playing music. One year we hired a magician. Another year we hired a tarot card reader. Each year we tried to have a little something exciting, a signature drink, nice food and we were very successful. Every year we raised a good chunk, however we have had to work really hard since Covid to keep our funds safe and still pay for all the things that are valuable to the library. Believe it or not we have! We have sold books outside this summer, during the Farmer’s Markets, on every Saturday. We set up our tent: we sold books. We open up the stacks. The library has permitted us once in a while to do this. People come in as long as they are masked and socially distance. If it is nice weather in October, we are hoping if we had the Fall Festival again, we will open the stacks, and wheel books outside. We will have a huge sale. Sometimes we have dealers come who will come in and they will just buy several hundred dollars- worth of books. We are very happy to have them.
We have free libraries: one at the Grove, at La Bonne’s, in the elementary school and one in that I created at the Taconic Post Office. We are constantly distributing books throughout the community. If people want to bring a book back, that is up to them. If they want to bring in books that they have we sort them out. We love doing that because it is the idea that there are always books available to our community. There is always something to read for every age. We have a ton of paperbacks that come in, if they are in good condition, we recycle them back into the community. This week we are having a sale on jigsaw puzzles. We have them all over the desk in the reading room: we price them at $1 or maybe $2. People actually have been coming in to buy 5 at a time. We are raising money, during Covid dollar by dollar.
JM: But that is good and it all mounts up.
GM: That is the way we work. It may be small change, but we are effective. Next week I am taking a course on how to sell books on line because I said to Lisa, “This is interesting we sometimes get books that I don’t think anybody here would buy, but somebody might or they are out of print.” If I put a decent price on it, we may be able to move some of these books.
JM: Joanne Elliot use to do that.
GM: She is not doing it any more. Because of Covid I think we have had one meeting in 2 years. I think we will have a zoom meeting eventually, but I don’t know. We want to attract new volunteers.
JM: I want to go one to the Aglet Theater. Who started it?
GM: Macey and I have had theater in common. (They both had written theater review for local papers and websites. Ed.) He ran and then I joined him small theaters on Long Island while we were both teaching. We must have been nuts or young. He always directed. I learned to direct, made costumes, and did stage managing. We had a small group of people who met once a month and read plays together and had dinner together at someone’s house. Many of our friends wrote and directed plays. Everybody knew we were involved in theater.
JM: Is it adult theaters, experimental theater or…
GM: It is for adults, but it is plays that are not done excessively. We look fora play written by a playwright perhaps not done in New York, but known throughout the United States. We are always looking for unusual plays or great standards that have not been done. That was why we did dinner theater. When I retired in 2004, we have had all these wonderful years being together up here. I have no regrets because we went on to another career. We go to the Stagecoach Inn with our friends Renee and Bob Blank who used to live on the big lake. They were part of our dinner party crowd. We had met then through Deanna Huntstein; she used to have concerts in people’s homes. She was a promoter of classical concerts. We got to know a lot of people in town. They said, “Gloria what are you going to do now that you are retired?” I said, “We are going to start a theater.” Macey’s jaw dropped to the ground. I had three people staring at me. WHAT? “Yeah, that is what we are going to do.”
We took about $250 of our money, we bought wine, cheese, paid a few actors and found a great little piece that we can do and we will do theater. It would be well rehearsed, a few costumes whatever we can do. I said to Macey,” It is like having a theater seminar with wine and cheese.” We would do the play and the reading, then we would have a discussion, I would lead the discussion with the actors and the director, then we would have wine and cheese. We would socialize. We told this to Mary O’Brien of Chaiwalla. She said that she was closed on Saturday nights, so why don’t you do it here? That is a great idea. The first one Joanna Seton and Donald Sosin were in the play. We had well over thirty people there. That is how it started.
Then we did a very large show and we had 80 reservations. Mary said she could not fit all those people into her space. We called Sharon Playhouse and asked if we could rent the Bok Gallery. They said, “Sure come on over.” That is exactly how it happened. We worked at Bok Gallery for several years and we were very happy to be there. Everybody just took a cut. We paid our actors, we paid for the royalties, and we paid our rent. Bok was closed at the time: nobody was using it. It was an event. Every time we did a show it was marvelous. We had many people who became our supporters. They came to every single show: they never missed one. We were still operating on a really small budget.
Now Deann Halper was one of our actresses and told me she was very interested in what we were doing. She wanted to help us out. She asked if she could be a partner. We said sure. She came over to our house one day. We had a pajama meeting: she was in her exercise clothes and I was in my pajamas. I showed her our books. She said, “I can’t believe that you are running this whole thing on a shoestring.” “It is not a shoestring, it is an aglet.” (An aglet is the plain or ornamental tip of a shoestring. Ed.) That was our budget. We decided that would be a very cool thing to call ourselves because first of all the A would be first in the listing. If we form another company we are calling it Aardvark. That was our premise: we were small potatoes but we did big things.
We were very happy with Bok. John Simkins pulled into town. He became the artistic director at Sharon Playhouse. He called us up and asked us for a meeting. We discussed things: they upped our rent. We had paid about $200: finally we gave him a percentage of our take. That is how we paid everything. They wanted $1500 a show. We don’t make $1500 a show. That is not what we are doing. This is a lovely evening with the community. That did not suit them at all.
JM; When did this happen?
GM: It was when Michael Berkeley left. It all changed with the new director. Luckily Macey called Dewey Hall is Sheffield, Mass. They sent their board down. We had a meeting and they couldn’t have been happier to take us on. We also worked at Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, Mass. (BTF). Now it is Berkshire Festival Group. We had also worked at the Unicorn (the children’s theater in Stockbridge) because in the winter they were closed. Kate McGuire was happy to have us. We had a good reputation. We paid our actors. We did the right thing. We worked at Dewey Hall until finally Macey said that we were aging out. Our board is aging out. People do not want to do things. We were tired. Luckily it was just before Covid. We had not announced a new season. We had told people we weren’t going to close. We had already made arrangements to transfer our tax-free status to Deann Halper, Executive Director and Jim Frangione, Artistic Director. They took it over and changed it to Great Barrington Public Theater. They took on all that we had made, but they changed things.
JM: Before Covid so it would be 2019?
GM: Yes we had a good run, 15 years of theater and we did a few full productions. Macey was the leader there. We stuck to our little formula which seemed to work. People would come in early, we had snacks put out. They started socializing. My plan was that it would bring the community together. I would say to people, “If you see somebody at the Transfer Station, you can have a discussion of Chekov.” People would say that they did just that. People started to know each other. One year a couple of people who had not known each other went to Europe together. Then we would have the show and then the audience would go back to eating and drinking.
JM: It was a great experience.
GM: It was.
JM: Before we close, is there anything that you would like to add that we haven’t discusses?
GM: That I love Salisbury?
JM: That is perfect. Thank you.