Oral History Cover Sheet
Interviewee: Lila May Senior Nash
Place of Interview: Lila’s home at 63 Bostwick Street
Date:Feb. 10, 1987
Summary of talk: family background, the Great fire of 1903,1781 beginning of Mt. Riga Iron industry, Mt. Riga village, Raggie name, family names, Mt. Riga School, superstitions & home remedies, Amos Bonhotel, mountain fire of 1930’s, Washinee/Factory Street, Phil Warner, Salisbury Artisans, lady & snake, rainbow tree, iron frogs and anchors, cannon balls, chain, Civil War & Iron Guard, Mt. Riga Corporation, Charlie Ball & Civil War & Lincoln and Grant, children of Charlie Ball, Dave Brazee, 1955 TriState Park issue, Clayton Heizer- Oogie Hoystrad’s father, the Front brothers, “Jakey” Holder, the Lock Up, and Moses Datus Ensign Titus.
Property of the Oral History Project
The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068
This is Jodi Stone on the 10th of February, 1987, interviewing Lila Senior Nash at her home on Bostwick Hill in Lakeville.
JS:Lila, when were you born?
LN:On Dec. 7, 1903, up in Salisbury
JS:What about your parents were they born here?
LN:No, I was born up there in Salisbury right across from the main drugstore on the other side.
There was a little cottage there where we lived. My mother’s name was Mary Knickerbocker and my father’s name was Ernest Senior. My mother was the New York state Dutch and my father was Amish. My father worked and my grandfather, his father, worked at the Holley Manufacturing Company with the knives.
JS:So he was one of the ones who came from England.
LN:Well, my grandfather but my father was born in Beacon Falls, Connecticut. My grandfather who
was one of the ones who came from England to work with the Holley knives; the English people were cutlers and shapers and all that kind of work.
JS:What’s in Salisbury now where your cottage was where you were born? What’s there now?
LN:That’s gone now. I think there’s a cottage across from the drugstore. That was on that side, but
that’s gone now. Stores and other things have been put in there. I remember that my parent lived there the year of the Great Fire.
JS:What was that?
LN:Well, they had on the opposite side the Great Fire. It was in April of 1903, and of course I was
born in December, but my mother said that the fire was so hot and so great that the window panes across the road were hot. The fire started in a tailor’s shop, and it took everything from St. John’s church down to the Academy.
JS:You told me that your mother was a school teacher on Mt. Riga?
LN:Yes, she taught school. She was the last teacher up on the mountain.
JS:Where was the school?
LN:The school was up there. The mountain came into being in 1781. That’s when the mountain
arrived. They had the first Ball forge erected up there. This was the year that the iron industry started. They had a thriving village up there; they had all the stores and a post office, a school and department stores. It was a real thriving village for about 100 years.
JS:Was this the Lower Lake?
LN:Yes, this was down on what they called the North Pond.
JS:Yes, where the dam is, the new dam.
LN:Yes down though there and of course it was pretty rugged country all up there. It was just great;
the nature up there was something to see with the flowers and all that. Then when the iron industry,the iron mining came in, all these people came in to work up there.
LN:Nobody seems to know. They came over from the Millerton, New York side. There was a road
up that way, and then they came over from the Massachusetts side from Mt. Washington. Theyimported a lot of these people to work in the mines and the charcoal pits. You know this was a ruggedjob. I suppose they were all looking for the work. Some of them came in from Russia, Latvia, and theSwiss people came in too. But it’s funny there are no foreign names up on the mountain in thecemetery, in the original cemetery. They are all Salisbury names. So where these people went we don’tknow after the mines closed and the iron ore was discontinued.
JS:Which was when? When did it finally end?
LN:Well the mountain was started in 1781 when the first forge was erected. It was called the Ball
forge. (The first forge on Mt. Riga was built by Abner & Peter Woodin in 1781. There was a succession ofowners, but the one who operated it the longest was Daniel Ball. Hence the name- Ball forge. He soldthe property to Seth King and John Kelsey who started construction on it in 1803 but never completed it.The property was idle until 1808 when Joseph and Seneca Pettee started work to complete it. (It becameoperational in 1810. – Dick Paddock) Of course the iron industry was the big industry during that time atthat time because of the Revolutionary War. It went over one hundred years. I’ve got a little book herethat I had written. In 1863, Alexander Lyman Holley, who was a young engineer and inventor, and son ofthe Governor Holley, sounded the death knell for the local iron industry with his Bessemer Steel Processso that’s when it sort of petered out at that Time. That’s what happened and why it was no longer amining industry here. They were put out of business by one of our own.
JS:Tell me, you know the term “Raggie”? Some people say it nastily in a nasty tone of voice. They
say, “Oh he’s a Raggie! or there goes a Raggie.”
LN:Back in 1781 when all these workmen came in, some of them were very rough and very tough.
They were, and I’ve seen pictures of some of them, and they were really something to look at. That’swhen the Raggie name started. As the years went by and the descendants and everything came downinto the valley, then the Raggie name became a privileged name. The Raggie name was not verydignified. To give you an idea of what these people were like, they were sometimes called theunwashed and the unkempt. Some historians say that they only washed when it rained, but there wasplenty of water up there. But the descendants of the Raggies as the years went by got better and betterpeople. The people who lived up there not only worked in the iron industry but there were farmers upthere too. One old lady told me by word of mouth we get the history and that will tell you what
happened up there. She said she used to watch the workmen go down in the morning, and she said there was at least one thousand or more.
LN:Well there would have to be because there were the charcoal burners, and then there were the
wood cutters. That’s why they had the furnace up there because that’s where the wood was. It was easier to take the iron ore up to the wood and cut it down for the charcoal burners than it was to bring the wood down below so this is what she said. They were rough-looking at first; of course they would have to be because you wouldn’t find any refined lawyers of businessmen working in the iron industry. This is why they were called Raggies. It’s funny; every time you’d go anywhere out of town like Hartford and they would ask where you live and you’d say,” Salisbury”. They would say, “Oh you’re a Raggie.”
JS:It was that well known.
LN:it was that well known, and Salisbury was the Raggies’ home. That’s how it got its name and it’s
kind of too bad but now it is a privilege to be called a Raggie because there are very few of them left. ‘
JS:There are some people still living, as I would put it, on the way up.
LN:Well, the people I could give you, I’ve written down some of the names of the people who were
on the mountain at that time that were living up there, the mountain people. Let’s see. There were some people by the name of Flint, and Holder, and Bonhotel.
JS:Oh they’re still here.
LN:They’re still here, right, and Surdam and Thurston and Brazee and Rossiters. The Rossiters lived
up there; they were the last people to come down off the mountain.
JS:Were they? Which would have been when, Lila?
LN:Well, they started coming down about 1890 I guess. Still there were farmers up there. They still
had farms. They farmed quite a bit; they all lived off the land in those days. My mother said when she taught, she was the last teacher there (Mt. Riga school Ed.) just before 1890. They closed the school because the teacher and the kids all got the measles. It was never reopened. She said that when she taught there were about thirty students, but in the earlier time about 1781 when it first started there were about seventy students in that one room school house.
JS:Did she live up there while she was teaching?
LN:No she didn’t. They lived down in the valley. She used to, her father Ernest Knickerbocker, my
grandfather, would drive her up Sunday night; she would stay during the week, and he would go after her with the horse and wagon or sleigh or whatever it and bring her back on Friday so she was home.
During the week Samuel Rossiter who use to farm up there boarded the teachers. She didn’t tell me how much money she earned. All they taught up there was about reading and writing and some arithmetic, maybe multiplication and addition or something. Then she told me about the time the children used to go out to eat their lunch on the north side of the school where it was sunny. They would eat their lunch there and they were bound to drop food on the ground. One time they looked out and saw a wildcat out there picking up the crumbs. One of the boys, I think his name was McLain went out the back window and went home and got a gun. He came back and shot the wildcat. It weighed 80 pounds; it was the biggest one they had ever seen.
JS:That’s like Chuck McLain, same name.
LN:Yes, that’s right. You can see it there, lots of descendants around. The children who came to
school had lots of superstitions, and they had their home remedies.
JS:What were their superstitions?
LN:They had a lot of superstitions about what happened up there. I thought it was a lot of
moonshine. They thought they saw angels up there in the hills, and a wailing rock where a young boy was crying and wailing after he was killed by falling off a cliff. Their home remedies, she said that some of the children used to come to school with camphor bags around their necks.
LN:That was to chase away the germs, so they wouldn’t catch anything. She said some of them
used to use mustard plasters for congested lungs, things like that, and pneumonia. Different home remedies that they used. That’s about all she told me about the children. Of course it was a rugged country with wildcats, snakes and bears once in a while. They had to be alerted to all this danger. She said that the children were trained to do this to take care of themselves. There was a little Bonhotel boy who lived up there, the Bonhotel family and I think it was in 1889 they had the first Memorial Day parade and he got lost. He wandered away from his home and he was only 2 34 years old. He was lost for 70 some hours, and they had a big manhunt up there. They had 200 people or more trying to find him, and of course they were worried about him because in a rugged country like that you could run up against a lot of animals and things. But Sam Rossiter found him.
LN:Yeah. He heard, he was going around with his horse and wagon up there, going to different
places, and he got down across the water of a river or a pond or something that wasn’t very big. So he drove in and on the other side he saw some bushes moving and out stepped this little boy. Mr. Rossiter said that all the money in the world he wouldn’t take for that moment. He was scratched and had probably been eating berries and things like that, but Mr. Rossiter said it was a great thrill to see that child after all those hours in the rugged mountain. Amos, his name was Amos Bonhotel, and I know him
very well, lived to be an old man about 80 years old. He worked for a plumber in Salisbury and he died in a nursing home in Torrington.
JS:That’s fascinating. You know that’s a long trip up there by car. Well, it’s not a long trip, but it’s a
rugged trip on that road by car. I wonder…
LN:Well, in the early days when the mountain was thriving there were three ways to over there.
You could go up on the Millerton, New York side, and then there was the Middle Road up here in Salisbury which was discontinued and there was the regular mountain road, and then there was the road from Mount Washington (Massachusetts… Ed.)
JS:Where’s that Middle Road?
LN:it’s the road up beyond Lincoln City. The Middle road, they don’t use it anymore, but they did
have to use it, I think in the 1930’s. We had a fierce mountain fire up there.
JS:I’ve heard about that. If you went up Lincoln City and just keep going, not turning right or left…
LN:Just keep going, but they discontinued it. They went up that road when they had that fire
because they had to get up there. I remember the fire; it was really bad. All the people went up, some of them had jeeps; they had brooms and all kinds of equipment to fight it. It was a fierce mountain fire.
JS:What started it, lightning?
LN:Well, they didn’t seem to know how it got started. It could have been that or campers up there.
JS:The camps, as we call them, were up there then; did they all go?
LN:No, they didn’t. I don’t remember that any of the camps or buildings that were up there were
burned, but anyway it was in the mountains and the trees and all this stuff that grew up there. It was this brush and everything that was burning, but they got it under control. It came down what was then called Factory Street quite a ways.
LN:Yes, they were worried that it would come down Washinee Street as we call it now. By the way
I never knew why they changed it from Factory Street to Washinee Street. That’s where all the factories were because of the water power on the Wochocastinook Brook.
JS:when was it changed?
LN:Well, it was changed and I found out why. I was checking on what the factories were up there,
and there was a Washinee Woolen Mill.
JS:Was this in the early 1900’s that they changed it?
LN:Yes, I never knew why they changed to Washinee Street. Later on I found out that among the
factories was the Washinee Woolen Mill. That was it.
JS:There’s not much left there except the Warners’ Salisbury Artisans. I don’t remember which
Warner. Which Warner ran Salisbury Artisans?
LN:Philip Warner and he was quite a character. He was very compassionate and he didn’t like to
see people go without. They were kind of poor people. Phil would never wear an overcoat because the other folks on the street couldn’t wear one. He was a nice fellow. Upon the mountain there was this story about this lady and the snake.
LN:You know the ladies used to wear those long big black skirts and a cape or a big hat because
they were always picking huckleberries and bringing them down to sell. One day she was out and she had been picking huckleberries. A big rattlesnake came up behind her and struck out at her. She didn’t know what had happened so she started to run. She was so frightened that she kept running. She ran and she ran over the rough rocks. She ran so far she finally got tired out, and she fell down. She looked around and the rattle snake was in back of her and was dead. When it struck, the fangs went into the black skirt, and when she ran, she killed the snake over the rocks and things. So that is the lady and the snake.
LN:There was a rainbow tree up there, what they called a rainbow tree. The Raggies hung a Tory on
the rainbow tree out over the gully. So these are all the stories I remember. There was an old farmer down by where Shagroy’s Market is, (LaBonne’s Ed.) all that down by that field and all those houses. He had a farm there. His name was Burt Clark. He used to hire some of those mountain people. They were good farmers. He told about this farmer who found a sheep killed; the farmer wondered what killed it so he took the rest of that sheep and poisoned it. He went out a little later to see what happened; he found an eagle, a skunk and a wildcat dead up there. They had eaten the rest of the sheep that he had poisoned, and he said that eagles used to kill sheep in those days which is something new to me.
LN:There are a lot of stories that go on up there. There were a lot of people raised up there and a
breed of people we will never see again I’m sure. Salisbury always was…I remember we used to have a basketball team. They used to play a team from Winsted called “The Golden Rods.” We had our special train to take us to Winsted, and we’d get up there, another girl and I, and all these people were yelling at us “Raggies”; so anybody who came from Salisbury was labeled a Raggie. But now it’s a privilege to be called that because the people have changed, they would over the years.
JS:Now who was Calvin Senior? Was he related?
LN:Calvin Senior was not related to me, but he tried to make believe he was. His father was George
Senior who was a carpenter. He worked on early houses around. No, he was not related to me. His mother’s name was Brazee, Emma Brazee. They were definitely pinpointed as Raggies, too. He had a sister Mary Senior. They are not related to me because the Seniors were from England, and George Senior was a native here.
JS:You could be a native here, but not a Raggie.
LN:Oh, if you are a native, you are a Raggie, definitely. You have to be a native to be a Raggie.
That’s about all the stories I know about the mountain.
JS:Let me ask you about the iron. The iron ore weighed so much, how did they get it up there by
LN:They took the iron ore; it was smelted into iron then. It was the ore from ore Hill.
JS:And they took it by wagon?
LN:Yes, they took it by wagon and dragged it up to the top of the mountain to be forged.
JS:Oh that trip up there must have been terrible.
LN:Weil, I don’t think it was; the roads were a little different then and they didn’t have cars going
up. You can get over lots of roads with wagons. They used to make frogs up there. I’ve got one on the mantle. If you lift that up you can see how it works.
JS:Tell me about the anchors.
LN:Oh, the anchors, they were made up there in the forge on the mountain. The Navy brass used
to come up to test them before they…
LN:bought them. They would take them to the highest point on the mountain and drop them on
the rocks below. If they stood up, they were tested and were sold to the Navy. The cannon balls were made down in Lakeville at that furnace. So we were actually the arsenal of the revolution.
JS:And the chain?
LN:The chain that went across the Hudson River some of that was our iron. After the American
Revolution we came into the Civil War. Lincoln sent out the call for volunteers and the mountain people were the first to come down and enlist. They enlisted in what was called “The Iron Guard”. (See Judge Warner’s Journal for more information.) They called it the Iron Guard and we have the Iron Guard flag up in the Town Hall that was carried through the civil War. When the Town Hall was on fire (summer of 1985), they rescued it.
I was going to ask you about that.
LN:They got it out for which I was very pleased. They were farming up there at the time of the Civil
War on the mountain. So they came down and enlisted and went to Civil War. When they came home, they couldn’t pay their taxes so the town had to foreclose. This is where the Riga Corporation came into being. Judge Warner was the one who bought the property that was put up by the town at auction. That’s how the Mt. Riga Corporation came into being.
JS:Right after the Civil War.
LN:Right, then the (mountain) people began to come down into the village and the valley to find
work. One of them was Charlie Ball who was a descendant of the Ball Furnace on the mountain. Charlie was a little, short fellow, not very big. He enlisted; he lied about his age, he and his cousin, and got into the Civil War. Then there was that typhoid epidemic and he was hospitalized down in Washington. He was going to be mustered out; he stood in line to get his papers and be processed. As he stood in line a great big bully came along and pushed him out of line so he had to go to the back of the line. Just as that bully did that Abraham Lincoln came along and saw it. He went to the back of the line, took Charlie by the hand and led him up to the head of the line and had his papers processed. Then while Charlie was fighting, he got away from his company on the battlefield. General Grant came along in his gig and took Charlie back to his company. Charlie always said he didn’t think any other Civil War vet was favored by two Presidents of the United States. When Charlie came back he fished and sold fish. He was a rag picker.
JS:What does that mean? What is a rag picker?
LN:He used to go around and pick up rags.
JS:From different houses?
LN:Yeah, he’d pick up different rags and sell them. You’d have a lot of old rags e to get rid of and
that is the way you did it because there was no transfer station in those days. Actually I think some of our modern technology would frighten some of those people up there because they never had any modern conveniences. They used to wash with these great big wooden tubs with a wash board. I can remember them doing that. The schoolhouse burned in last summer, 1956; it had been remodeled and a gas range and a heater had been put in and all that. It just burned up. I think the ghost of the past just resented the modern technology. That’s a superstition that the mountain people had. they had something to do with that, I am sure.
JS:Now Charlie Ball is he buried here?
LN:Oh yes, he and his cousin Todd Ball lied about their age and went into the army. Charlie married
a young woman named Ethel Van Dyke, and they lived up on the mountain road for quite a while and then they moved down. They had some children: Charles, Lyman, Harvey, and Maude the daughter. Charles, Lyman, and Harvey were all in the service-the Army. There is just one the girl went to the Gilbert School and went to Washington and got a job in the Pentagon. She was a very fast typist. The
three boys were in the service. This was their aim in life to serve their country. Charlie Ball who was the last one to leave here and had lived up on Factory Street sold his house to the Whitbecks. (Nelson & Audrey) He is down in Florida now. Harvey and Maude are gone. I don’t know where Lyman is. He was the youngest. He worked up in Vermont somewhere in the town. That’s the last I’ve heard of him. Charlie is down in Florida. We used to get cards and letters from him once in a while, but we haven’t heard from him since. They were a family of Army people.
JS:Dave Brazee used to be the dog catcher, right?
LN:Yes, he was the dog catcher; he was the Dog Warden more or less. He was also the mountain
guide. He knows a lot about the mountain, too. Recently he had some poems in the Journal about “The Old man of the Mountain”. I know they used to have a lot of animals. I must tell you about how we almost lost our mountain in 1955 because they wanted to have a tri-state park up there. My husband was a representative to the legislature at that time. It was in 1955, and Edwin Paavola was the other representative. Do you remember Edwin? They were in there and somehow they got wind of what was going on. They lead the attack for the defeat of this passing through the legislature. I know my husband was able to round up a lot of the legislators to support him, and they defeated it. A lot of the people from here went into the hearing, and think what that would have meant to Salisbury, the traffic up the mountain road. They defeated it. They were going to have a tri-state park up there, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York
JS:Were they going to try to buy land from the Mt. Riga Corporation?
LN:They were going to buy land from somewhere. I don’t know. Yes, they were; they wanted to,
but it had to go through the Legislature before they could do this. My husband got wind of this and went to work against it, and a lot of the people went in. Even Dave Brazee was going to take in a deer and march it up the Capitol steps to show the protest. Anyway it was defeated and didn’t go through. Thank goodness, but think what it would have meant to the town of Salisbury-the traffic. I think there was one person from here who got up and spoke against it. It was John Percy who was proprietor of the Interlaken Inn at the time, and he thought it would bring business for the town. All the rest were against it. We won that, but it would have meant a lot of traffic in the village and the publicity.
JS:We were going to talk about Oogie Hoystradt’s father, who was a pistol, I guess.
LN:Well, he was named Clayton Heizer, and he was quite a fellow. We used to call him “Tarzan”
because he had this long beard, and he used to swing on the swing things up by roaring oaks where you could swing from one place to another.
JS:Sort of like grape vines?
LN:Yes. They had, I can’t remember now, but I had all of Mimi’s children in my Sunday school class.
There was Donny, there was Oogie who was Lester, and then there were three or four girls. Mimi sort
of brought these children up, and she was left, of course he died, with these children. She did a good job of bringing them up. But when the father was living I guess she supported him also.
JS:How do you spell Mimi?
LN:Her name was Wilhelmina.
JS:What about the Front brothers?
LN:They lived up the Undermountain Road. Their house was divided; the line went through it. Each
owned half of the house. One lived on one side and the other lived on the other side. They didn’t speak or anything. They used to come down the Undermountain road, and people said that they could set their clocks by the Front brothers coming down.
JS:They came together, but they didn’t speak.
LN:No, they didn’t speak. They would come down, and one would come down the same time every
morning so people could set their clocks by him. Then there was Jakey Holder, I don’t know if you ever knew him? He was born on the mountain, and he turned out to be a bit of a bum. I used to see him around. He used to come in and sit on the Town Hall steps. He was called “The Song and Dance Man.” If he met you he would make up a song or something for ten cents so he could buy some wine. One of his songs was “Millerton has the big feet, Ore Hill has the lily, and Lakeville has the rose, but Salisbury has the drunken man, as everybody knows.” He used to say, “I was born up on Raggie of honest and decent parents as you all know, and then I got a roaming and a drinking at the age of 23. The judge he took my honor and sent me down for 30 days on the town.” He used to make up these things as he went along. They were funny. He died. He lived through the first flu epidemic. He slept out in the cold and in barns where ever he could, but he never got the flu. I don’t know what happened. His real name was Clarence Holder. His parents lived up on the mountain, and they were really great, nice people. He used to sit around on the old Town Hall steps; he was always around. Sometimes he used to sleep up there in the horse sheds when they had the horse sheds. He’d sleep there or anywhere he could get in. Sometimes the janitor at the Town Hall would leave a little window open when the coal bin was, and Jakey would come in that window and spend the night.
JS:Now Lila about the Town Hall, I don’t remember this so I guess it wasn’t here when I came.
Somebody told me at one point there was a jail to one side of it.
LN:Well, that’s right. Jakey lived in that jail for a while. It was up by the cemetery. You go up
between the Village Store and the cemetery. The jail (the Lock-Up) was next to the cemetery.
JS:A separate building from the Town Hall.
LN:Oh yes it was a little brick jail where they used to lock up, round up the people and lock them up
for a while. It was discontinued and finally they decided that they’d let Jakey go in and live there. I have
the story about him: I have the pictures of him standing outside the jail door with an apron on and a broom. He lived there quite a while. Then the property next door was bought by a Mrs. Haven and that included the jail. So when she bought the property she torn the jail down which was unfortunate because it was a landmark. Then of course he had to get out; I think she did that to get rid of him. The town let him live there for a while; it was a good place for him and they weren’t using it.
This is a character and I had his picture up in the Town Clerk’s office and that went up in the smoke and the fire when the Town Hall burned. He had a modern haircut and a very strong looking face. His name was Moses Datus Ensign Titus. His father was a collier, and there were 14 children in the family. Moses was slightly foolish, and a bother and a nuisance in the town. We used to yell at him, “Moses Titus comes out of the woods to bite us.” They wanted to get rid of him so they bought him a one ticket to Philadelphia and he walked back. He died on the Town Farm here.
LN:Oh he was quite old. He was one of fourteen children that his father had.
JS:And he walked back.
LN:He walked back. He died on the town Farm, and that’s on record at the Town Hall. Then the
Barnum boys from Lime Rock took him and dressed him up in a Civil War uniform and sent him by express to Chicago, and they just sent him back. That’s that.