MEMOIRofMAGDALENA QUINBYTranscript of a taped interview
Narrator: Magdalena Quinby
Tape*: 96 A
Date: July 28, 1992
Place of interview: Mrs. Quinby’s home, Lakeville, CT
Interviewer: Jodie Stone
Mrs. Quinby first carne to Lakeville in the 1920’s when her parents visited the Interlaken Inn. Her parents were friends of Mr. & Mrs. John Percy who had just purchased the Inn. She worked there as a secretary during the summers. This interview she relates her memories of the Inn during the years that the Percys owned and managed it. .
Property of the Oral History Project,Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library.
Magdalena Quinby Oral History
JS: This is Jodie Stone on the 28th of July 1992 interviewing Magdalena Quinby at her home on Interlaken Road. Bobby, how did Bobby come from Magdalena?
MQ: Bobby came because I acquired a stepfather when I was twelve years old, who started calling me Maggie and my mother would have no part of Maggie. At that point Maggie was a cook, or a washwoman, not Maggie fancy as it is now. So he said, “AlI right, I’ll call her,” – and it could have been Mike or Joe or anything. It turned out to be Bob which just stuck and because Magdalena is a hard name for many people, it’s much easier for them to say Bobby.
JS: Were you born here?
MQ: No, No, I was born in New Paltz, New York and my father died when I was seven. Mother was remarried when I was twelve and we went to St. Petersburg, Florida to live. It was in St. Petersburg my mother went to Quaker meetings, because my family had been Quakers. My grandmother was a birthright Quaker. fit Quaker meetings she found relatives, among them Elizabeth Percy. When John and Elizabeth bought the Inn, they wanted Mother and Dad, my stepfather, to come and see it, which they did, They said as soon as it was ready they would come and stay. Subsequently, they would come and stay for the entire summer. Then, Mother bought the house next door, which now belongs to the Inn. It had been built for Mrs. Percy’s aunt and Mother was able to get it, so we stayed there many summers.
JS: That’s the house that at one point had a gift shop in it?
MQ: Yes, that’s right and it’s now… They’ve made it over and, I hope the Inn people wiII excuse me, have ruined it. They’ve made it all offices and rooms. They’ve divided it so that you can’t get from the rooming section to the administration section, or vice versa, which I would think was not very smart. In the renovating they removed the kitchen, so there is no kitchen in that house. They didn’t want food being
served over there, I guess. I don’t know. It may be something to do with the zoning. That I don’t know. But it’s certainly an adjunct to the Inn now.
JS: You came as a visitor and then you moved.
MQ: That’s right. Later Mother had that house. I’m trying to get the dates straightened out. The Percys bought the Inn in 1924 and I think my family probably came to stay the summer of ‘26, maybe ‘27. Something like that. I came to work after I’d been to college and gotten six months of secretarial school. I came up to work. They, at that time, had the Inn closed in the winter because – this all ties in -Van Santvoord was headmaster of Hotchkiss and he didn’t want the parents visiting except on visiting day. That was their biggest clientele, of course, the Hotchkiss parents in the winter. So this Inn eventually closed up in the winter and would open about in May, probably Decoration Day. So, when I came first, I came in April to help them get out the notices that the Inn was going to open, how much the fees were, etc. So that’s how we happened to come to Lakeville.
JS: So, you’re not related to the Percys.
MQ: Yes, we are, distantly.
MQ: Well, Jack Rogers and I try periodically to say that somebody and I were related. I think we were third cousins, once removed, with their mother, that level.
JS: So, your mother’s maiden name was what?
JS: Really? and who did she marry?
MQ: Mell, she married first Joseph Vandeler, who was my father.
JS: Okay. And then?
MQ: And then after he died, five years afterward, she married Ed Haviland and it was he and Mother who came to stay at the Inn first. Then they stayed at the house after Mother bought it. Ed, my stepfather – I always called him Ed, so you’ll have to get used to it – and John Percy were great buddies. They were not alike at all except that they were both men who had seen better days. One of the best stories that we have and I should
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probably not tell you this now, but Ed used to… Hewas quite lame and he sat…. The Inn in those days, Ishould tell you, was like the big old inn, the Saratoga.,with the long porch in the front and rocking chairs andchairs out on the green. People came for the wholesummer or they came for a month. People did that. Doyou know Mary Wadsworth?
Well, she married Dick Wadsworth who came with hisparents. They were guests when I worked there. Andthere were others. When I first began..,. I’ve gottenoff the story about John but I’ll get back to it. SarahPercy, who was Jack Rogers’ mother, used to come fromcollege and bring friends from Swarthmore who waited ontable. Then the boys were, of course, porters etc.That was when I was obviously in college also. Sarahwas perhaps four or five years older than I. That wasone phase that it went through and I suspect that waswhen it was open year round, but I’m not sure.
Then afterwards when Mr. Van Santvoord came in andhad his way with parents, they opened only for thesummer. Hr. and Hrs. Percy had a room right next to theoffice, so that they could be on hand. There were nophones in the rooms. This is a little country hotel.Now, whether Jack would have toId you this, I don’tknow, because he was too young to realize that there wasany great difference. I’ve always said that if youwant a liberal education, be the help in the officebecause you got to do everything. You knew when thewater stopped running because at eight o’clock in themorning everybody in the hotel flushed the toilets andwhen somebody had to telephone.
There were fairly fancy people from Hotchkiss comingat Commencement time or when there was a Parents Day.The fact that Elizabeth and John were right next to theoffice meant that they could be called to the telephoneanytime. Each afternoon at three o’clock Mr. Percy wentfor a swim. It was well-known and recognized that hewas there. Mrs. Percy went for a nap, usually, and mystepfather was sitting out on the lawn. John came down
and he wore a bathrobe which was known by everybody atthe Inn, a long., flannel, Indian type bathrobe. Hewalked down and said “Hi” to Ed when he went by. Ed hadscarcely spoken to anybody or done anything when he sawJohn coming back. He wondered what was the trouble? Sohe asked and John, the idiot, told him that he had beencalled to the telephone when he was getting dressed andhe had forgotten to put on his bathing suit, so when hegot down there, there he was! So he came back and bynight everybody knew it because Ed couldn’t wait totell.
I’m talking and you’re not asking questions.
I don’t need to. I love hearing what you’re saying.That’s a wonderful story. I can see him now.
Well, some of the funniest things happened with Jack andhis brother, Bill. I thought they were probably fourand six when I first went there to work. They wereawfully good kids, really, and it was not easy to be achild, especially the grandson of the owner, and, oh,funny things happened, Billy, who was two years olderthan Jack, was more slap-dash than Jack ever was. Jack was a little quieter.
The Inn was really a beautiful place then. Whenyou went up the front steps, you went into a large,large living room, a reception room. It’s too bad theycan’t see me on the tape, especially in the living room.There was a fire place in the middle that went bothways. I don’t know what you call them. There was asitting room at the back with the fireplace and also atthe front, where people came in, which made a verycheerful place to walk into. On the right were stairs,which led upstairs and a long hall. To the left therewere dining rooms. There were two, a little room firstwhich was called the Colonial Room which had antiquefurniture, and then the big dining room after that. Onemorning I had just come into the office and Billy,probably six, maybe seven. I could hear him, justdashing down the hall for some unknown reason on his wayinto the dining room and he collided with one of ourolder guests. She was fine: she understood what it was,
but unfortunately Grandmother was right there. She said, “Billy, what dost thee say?” Bill, bright and shining face, looked up and said, “Good morning!” Oh, there are innumerable stories about those kids and, of course, Jack does remember a lot of it. One winter Billy was sick, you know, a childhood disease of some kind.
JS: Excuse me. Where did they live in the winter?
MQ: Jersey, in New Jersey. Sarah, at that time she was not divorced. She was, subsequently, but at that point she was not and they came up. I can remember Jack saying, “Bobby, have you seen my new red sweater?” What he was talking about was a dog, a red setter.
Well, I’ll tell you a story about the dining room while I’m in the story department. There are lots of things that are interesting about the Inn itself. There was a waitress whose name, I think, was Helen Walsh. I think she has just died this winter. She was married and lived up here and she was typically Irish, gorgeous blue-black hair and those brilliant blue eyes and a bit of the Irish brogue still. She was coming in from the pantry, which separated the kitchen from the main dining room. There were, you know, push doors and as she came through with a full tray, it was in the middle of a thunder storm, lightning struck in the pantry. The lightning apparently followed the pipe down so she could see it as she was coming in. She didn’t drop the tray. She hurIed it toward the ceiling, at the same time shouting, “Holy Mary, Mother of God” to the delight of all the people who were eating, but not to Mrs. Percy.She was a little horrified, but it all got over with.
,It was just one of the funny things.
Another funny thing…. I don’t know why I somehow remember this dining room more than anything else. I don’t know why this happened and it would take somebody like Bob Hawkins to straighten it out. Hotchkiss had eight boys there in the summer school, only apparently there was no summer school and certainly no dining room because they ate their meals at Interlaken. These boys were fourteen, fifteen and they had a master. I think they called him Stolp. So his name must have been Mr.
Murphy. I would guess. Again; Bob Hawkins would straighten it out. They were remarkably good; I guess. But I guess Mr. Murphy was quite a disciplinarian and especially when he was in the dining room. Of course; they ordered everything in the book and the poor girl who took care of them had the patience of Job. She was reaIIy awfully good and not a sign of a tip. They were probably here for six weeks. The morning they left; they said good bye. Everybody was peering around the edges to see them go. It just so happened I was in the dining room with my family. The waitress let out really a shrill scream. What she had done was starting to clear places and under every plate was a twenty dollar bill. Now, this is the late twenties; no, probably in the thirties; maybe even after the panic and stuff. Anyway, twenty dollars; that was an awful lot of money and so she had it from eight of them. That was really a windfalI to her. We were alI so pleased because she had been so patient with these kids.
So, in the story which Mrs. Percy has written; which you will read; you will hear about the fire. I don’t know. Do you want me to say?
JS: I’d love to hear about it, yes.
MQ: Well, this is the fire when they first bought the Inn. This is in the twenties. What had happened, they had put a new roof on and there was…. Apparently the place was in an awful condition when they moved here. This may not have been right then. It may have been a few years later. Anyway, the workmen were burning the old shingles and stuff in this double fireplace. Unfortunately; the new roof caught on fire and it was in the daytime; it wasn’t at night. Hrs. Percy called Hotchkiss and said, “We’re in trouble. Can you send somebody to help?” They dismissed the school and let them come down and with great enthusiasm they removed all the furniture which they could get hold of. They even moved out bathtubs, sinks, anything they could move. But they did save a lot and I think the Percy* were always grateful to Hotchkiss for having done that. I
think she describes it much better in the book than I. I haven’t read that in quite a while.
JS: Well, there was a second fire.
MQ: Yes. Then they put fireproof shingles on the next time they did it. At that same time, Mr. Percy added a funny wing down way at this end. It had bedrooms down in the barn for the help to sleep. But it was made out of concrete.
He wasn’t going totake any more chances.
And that fire was after the Inn hadbeen sold to the Tony Peters.
They were doing an awful lot to it. They were carpeting inside. They were putting TV in every room, but a lot of telephones and things like that. The fire started under the front porch. There was always some feeling that it might have been arson. Nobody ever knows. I don’t think that at that point…. Mr. Peters had imported his labor. He didn’t get it up here and there was definitely a feeling about it. I think though, Tony earned his way into the community. He wanted to be helpful and he was when he had it which was much much later. I worked there, I suppose, two summers before I got a job for all year around in New York.
Maybe it would be interesting for you to know that I was married in the garden.
JS: I’d wondered how you got back here.
MQ: Well, between the Inn and Sunnyside, which is the cottage way in the back, there was a path and it had flowers on either side of it. Hrs. Percy took great care of her garden. It was lovely. I was married there the first time. It was in 1936, a long time ago, also in a thunderstorm. We seem to have had more thunderstorms then than we do now and we often lost the electricity.
My husband died: it was after he died that I came up here and stayed with my mother and step-father in the summers in that house. There was a tennis court between the Inn and mother’s house where we used to play all day long. People came to the Inn in order to play tennis. It was an excellent clay court. They now have
tennis courts in the bock, not in the same place and not the same, composition, but we would..,.
Oh, we could spot this if I had any idea when the Social Security first started. Well, nobody knows. I don’t know. Robb would know. They wanted help getting set up with the Social Security. I can’t even remember who was in the office, but I came over with some others. I was glad to have something to do. They were glad to have somebody to help them get started on that, so I did do the books.Mr. and Mrs. Percy were very
different employers. Mrs. Percy would be in and out and tell me one more thing every time she came in, to do. Mr. Percy would lay out the whole works in the beginning and say, “Do it. Write the letters.” Then he’d go off to play golf., and you’d see him maybe when he got back. Jack probably told you this. It was an off and on deal with Mr. and Mrs. But he was a good boss, there’s no doubt about it. The only thing he did, he taught me every game in the world that you could play two-handed because, you see, in the spring, before anything opened, we had nothing to do in the evenings except…. The only game he did not teach me was chess. He said that no woman was smart enough to play chess, when I told his daughter this, she said, “That’s a fine thing, because it was his mother who taught him.” His mother or somebody. Anyway, it was a woman who taught him. So, now ask me anything you’d like to know.
JS: OK. I’m just going to ask you when you got here and then you went back to New York and remarried. Or back to New Jersey and remarried and then came up….?
MQ: No. Let’s see. Mother and Ed still had the house after Dick died. He died eighteen months after we were married. He was a medical student and he graduated from Cornell Medical School. I was a secretary, so I typed him through his last year and he died in early December. Then I was working in New York, I stopped for a while, but went back to my same job at the Women’s City Club of New York, which was when I went through the LaGuardia regime, which was wonderful, I would come up weekends and stay with my parents. Robb and I were married….
Let’s see, Dick died in ‘36. Robb and I were married in ’43, so it was quite a long time. But, we did come up. They still came to that same house in the summer. So we came up to stay with them. We wanted to buy land on the lake, but we didn’t have any money. I’m trying to think exactly how it happened. The Whites, now do you know the Whites? That’s if they’re still alive in Noble Horizons. We bought this property from Mrs. White, Senior, but we bought a rectangle on the road and a right of way to the lake. Then she sold us another piece and another piece so that we have, in effect, two rectangles. We have only one hundred feet on the lake. When Mary Stewart was born, we brought her up and Mother had her father, my grandfather, so that she had four generations in that house. How she kept her sanity, I do not know. But, you know, Jodie, I didn’t realize how hard it was for her. We had bought this land and Robb had a garden on it.
JS: And no house. Just the garden?
MQ: Just the garden and we had decided that what we had to build first was some place to keep his tools. Eventually my mother said, “If you don’t build that house pretty soon, I’m going to build it for you.” So then we weren’t going to be hurting her feelings to get out. Hah! I can’t imagine how she put up with us that long. It’s a funny thing.
Well, anyway, we did get it and Mrs. White was delighted to sell it to us. At that time, the Browns lived next door. Greek or Latin, I think he was, a professor. Mrs. Brown stayed on there for quite a while. We moved from Hew York City after the baby was born, we moved out to Westchester, and we lived in Tuckahoe or Bronxville until we moved up here. We stayed in Tuckahoe until the schools got impossible, moved to Bronxville. Robb worked for Brooklyn Union Gas Co. and he retired and we moved up here.
MQ: Well, we had built this in the meantime, part of it, and we had bunk beds and lived very simply. Then we added on a wing with bedrooms because I said to Robb, “If
we’re going to stay up there at all, I’m not going to make bunk beds. They’re too hard to make. He put the bedroom window on first and we were going to go back in the winter. Robb was on the board of Lawrence Hospital and he was able to do a lot of work for them and he didn’t really want to leave. So, we didn’t move up as soon as we might have – to stay. But he retired in 1971 and we came up here most of the summer. But he didn’t want to go home so we looked for a house to buy. At that time, it’s amazing: there were very few houses that were built on one floor. We were still in the older houses with two floors and as long as this was going to be for retirement, we wanted only one. But Robb said he didn’t want to go through building another house. Actually what we did was, Orpha Robinson took us to see houses all over and each time she’d come back, she would say, “You should stay right where you are. It’s a beautiful place.” So, eventually we did find somebody to add on. This was the last part we added on. He moved up here in 1975 to stay and we figured we had ten years, probably. Here we are, still going strong.
JS: When your mother and your stepfather died, did Interlaken buy that house?
MQ: No. Yes, excuse me.
JS: The Inn bought it?
MQ: Yes. It was when the Peters bought the Inn from the Percys and that house was really a corner of the Interlaken property. By stepfather had died by that time and Bother had no desire to stay there with strangers.They wanted to buy it to complete the property.
So, she sold it to Tony Peters and moved to Salisbury. She lived until she died, summers only, in the house which is now occupied by those nice people who run the antique shop, next to Susan Ayres. They moved from CornwaII or over that way. He’s on the Library Board.
JS: Corbin, Harold Corbin.
BQ: Corbin, that’s the one. They bought it. They didn’t buy it, I’m crazy. Another couple bought it and didn’t
stay long. That’s the one that Mother bought when she left here.
We kept it for a while after she died.
JS: Now, Miss Knickerbocker lived in the house that Hotchkiss now owns.
MQ: Not Hotchkiss. No.
JS: Hotchkiss owns the house on the other side of the Interlaken Inn, going toward the school,
MQ: That’s right.
JS: Was that originally an Interlaken Inn property?
HQ: No, I don’t think so. But across from that, I don’t think it ever belonged to the Inn. But it belonged to the woman who built the Inn.
Jack would be able to tell you her name, I don’t remember, but she had the Inn. Sunnyside, the house which Hotchkiss now owns, at the time that we were here it was owned by the CreeImans.
JS: Yes, that’s right. The first house next to Town Hill School.
MQ: Well that she owned. It went with the Interlaken property.
JS: Now, what about the house that the Hoskins used to live in? Was that Interlaken because it looks the same architecture?
MQ: I don’t think it was that I knew of. But it might have been. But the property this way, the Whites owned and they bought it from Mrs. Pray. I’m going to tell you something, but I don’t know if you’d better turn that thing off, because I don’t know whether this is true or not. It isn’t nasty or anything.
JS: Oh, well, then go ahead.
MQ; I don’t really know the circumstances or anything, but the house that belonged to the Knickerbockers went with the other, what we call the brick house, which, was the original house that the Whites bought. That was all a farm that was owned by Mrs. Pray. She married. Her name wasn’t Pray: she married a man whose name was Pray. That’s what I’m going to tell you. His first name was Neil and the middle initial was “N”.
JS: Come on.
MQ: That’s why I told you maybe you’d better turn that off, But Betsy White swears to that, her mother was so mad., she heaved them out.Mrs. Pray was very nice.
Now, it seems to me that Mrs. Pray was a sister, some relative to Knickerbocker, Elsa Knickerbocker. You know, she ran the catering business.
JS: Yes, Elsa’s Kitchen.
MQ: Yes, and the Knickerbocker who was the surveyor, who surveyed all of this property. (Howard Ed.)
JS: Well, I think..,. Do you have anything else you want to say about the Inn?
MQ: No, I don’t think so.
JS: Okay. Thank you very much.
MQ: You’re very welcome.