MEMOIRofCHARLOTTE HALL REID
Transcript of a taped interview
Narrator: Charlotte Hall Reid
Tape: # 89 A&B
Date: April 2, 1992
Place of interview: Mrs. Reid’s home in Lakeville, CT.
Interviewer: Robert Estabrook.
In this interview Mrs. Reid gives an account of her life and family, a family which had roots in the community. Her early years were spent in Lakeville. After college she lived in New York and Washington and later returned to Salisbury where she raised her family and began her career. Her interest in education and in public service culminated in many years spent as First Selectman of the Town of Salisbury.
Property of the Oral History Project
Salisbury Association at Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, CT 06068.
An interview of Charlotte Reid by Bob Estabrook
RHE: For a record, this is an interview with Charlotte Hall Reid Thursday April 2, 1992. I’m Robert Estabrook. Let’s start Charlotte, with just a few facts about you. Tell us where and when you were born.
CHR: I was born June 8, 1918 at Charter Oak Hospital in Hartford, a hospital which is now defunct. I gather that my mother went to Hartford rather than having me born here or at Sharon Hospital because she had some complications. It has kept me from being a “born at home” member.
RHE: You’re not truly a native of Salisbury!
CHR: I’m not truly a native. So, that is what happened.
RHE: You remind me of the first week we were here, when I saw an obit in our favorite newspaper, and it said, “Although not a native he came to Salisbury at the age of three weeks”
CHR: Oh that’s pretty funny! I hadn’t heard that.
RHE: Now, tell me a bit about your parents.
CHR: My father was the son of a minister born I think down in Chester or Essex, Conn. Went to Yale, class of 99, came to Hotchkiss the year after to teach. Taught here from 1900 to 1935. He married my mother, my mother always said to get out of dormitory duty, and lived their married life on Elm Street in Lakeville. My grandfather had been in the lumber business, he was E. W. Spurr, and he started the E. W. Spurr Company which is now in 1992 called Community Lumber. E. W. Spurr Company started actually in Falls Village, that was the main store. My grandfather used to drive his horses and carriage over Falls Mountain every day back and forth, as of 1992 no longer does the road exist in any passable form. I’ve often said that my grandfather had delusions of grandeur and he built a rather enormous house in which my family was born and raised on Elm Street. Then I remember that labor was a dollar a day, because we found some old records, and so I guess he was obviously able to afford it.
RHE: Now, the E. W. Spurr Company became Community Service.
CHR: Became Community Service. My family sold it in the late 1920’s to Sid Cowles and Gus Hotchkiss, and that’s when it became Community Service.
RHE: Now, do you remember your grandfather?
CHR: No. My family was a strange one. My mother, actually, my grandmother on my mother’s side was a Hall, and my grandmother married a Spurr and then her daughter, my mother, married a Hall.
RHE: There were previous Halls in the family, then .
CHR: In the family, no relation. My grandmother was 16 when my aunt was born, and then there was a gap of 22 years before my mother was born. So that the mother and the older sister were closer in age than the two sisters. I think the reason my grandfather built such a big house on Elm Street was because my aunt, as I’ve heard the story, was engaged to Senator Barnum at one point. The house was built, if you’re ever in it, so that part of it can be shut off with sliding doors, and the thought was that the Senator and his wife would maintain an apartment there and be there in the summer. And my mother and her family would occupy the house in the winter. My father had started Keywaden (sp?) camps, which was a chain of boys’ camps and my side of the family would have been off in the summer. So I think that is the reason the House is built as it is .
RHE: For the record, this was Senator William Barnum of the Barnum Richardson Co., who lived in Lime Rock. And he died in 1889, am I right ? Or thereabouts? Grover Cleveland came to the funeral.
CHR: Yes, that’s right. But my aunt and my mother were so far apart in age, I guess this was possible.
RHE: Now, what did your father teach?
CHR: He taught American history to mainly juniors and seniors.
RHE: And he retired in late 1935?
CHR: He died in 1935.
RHE: He was still teaching?
CHR: He was still teaching.
RHE: And your mother
CHR: Excuse me, there’s my phoebe returned. I’ve wondered how the phoebe could find it’s way, all the way back. It’s the first time I’ve seen it this spring. Any way, It comes and catches flies.
RHE: Your mother lived for some years after your father’s death?
CHR: Yes, she lived into the late 1950’s. When she died, we were just the point of making a, Gordon, my husband was at the point of making a career change, somewhat of a long story which I won’t go into.
RHE: I want to ask you about Gordon in a minute, but
CHR: Anyway, we did at that point, when she left us the house, we moved up here , and have been here ever since, pretty much.
RHE: Now, have you brothers or sisters?
CHR: I have an older brother, or had, an older brother. He died last year. He was nine years older than I. And I had a brother who died as an infant in between the two of us.
RHE: So, you were the youngest.
CHR: I was the youngest.
RHE: Now, tell us a bit about your own education .
CHR: Heavens! I went to school in what was the predecessor of Town Hill School. It, well actually mother taught me at home, so I went in to school
RHE: Was she an educator herself?
CHR: Well, she just enjoyed teaching. But I never went to school until the fourth grade and then went to the predecessor of Town Hill School which was in what I guess is still called Bissell Hall up at Hotchkiss. A very small group, and in fact when we graduated there were only two of us in the graduating class. Mary Helen Hawley Hotchkiss and myself. Then I guess at that point my family for whatever reason felt it best if I went to boarding school , and I went to the school in Great Barrington in that castle which is off the Main Street , Searles Castle . Barrington School for Girls. And, really a rather strange head mistress who believed that parents should not bring the children to school, so three of us from this town who went there as boarders had to go to Canaan and ride up on the train, so we wouldn’t have to the Berkshire line . Actually , my first train ride years before that, when I was about seven or eight, was from Lakeville to Salisbury, and I walked home.
RHE: On the Central New England.
CHR: Yes on the Central New England.
RHE: You had recollections of when it still had passenger trains.
CHR: Yes, absolutely.
CHR: So, anyway after Barrington school , because of having been taught at home, I was very young , I was only 12 when I graduated and so they decided to try to fill in, I guess I was almost 13, they filled in a year by sending me to Washington to Mt. Vernon Seminary and then
RHE: Washington D.C.
CHR: Yes, Washington D.C. then I went to Barnard for four years, and graduated from there in 1939. Went to Bank Street College for a year and got my teaching certificate in New York State. Now they give an M.A., but then they gave only a teaching certificate. Then when I graduated from Barnard, I guess when I was still at Bank Street, Ralph Ingersoll decided to start his newspaper , an experimental newspaper without advertising in New York , called PM and because he lived in Lakeville part time, I did know him and he saw fit to hire me to supposedly write an education column . I never ended up writing anything of the sort.
RHE: What did you write?
CHR: I was mostly writing features for the Sunday section. I remember vividly that we ran a contest to pick what they called ” New York’s average girl” and we picked a Child’s waitress who was very photogenic but practically speechless, and so I had to take her on major adventures like going to meet Gary Cooper, going to sit with Mayor LaGuardia for a while, and then we’d go back to the office and I would write these impressions that she had in my own words.
RHE: What was Mayor LaGuardia like?
CHR: Oh he was charming. This was the era when he was reading the comics over the radio because of the newspaper strike and so he was quite relaxed actually, and seemed to enjoy this little episode in his busy day.
RHE: Well he was much more urbane than you might think from his background there, because he’d been a member of Congress for quite a few years.
CHR: That’s right. He was, I thought, quite charming. Anyway then, let’s see, after PM I worked for the Office of War Information during the Second World War.
RHE: Did you go to the Nation directly from PM, or was that later
CHR: No that was later. I worked at the New York office of the Office of War Information, and then we were married: Gordon was working for the State Department, so we moved to Washington.
RHE: This is a good time to break in and ask you to tell us about Gordon. What was his background, where did you meet?
CHR: He was born in Brooklyn, went to Brooklyn Polytechnic and then to Amherst. He worked for the Foreign Policy Council and for the office of the Inter-American Affairs under Nelson Rockefeller.
RHE: He was always interested in Latin America and Inter-American Affairs.
CHR: Then we were married, at that point he’d had amebic dysentery quite badly in Latin America so we took a job which kept us in Washington and
RHE: Had he been in the Foreign Service or was he a State Department employee?
CHR: Actually when he was in Latin America, he was working for the Foreign Policy Council, with some government sponsorship because he was supposedly tracking down Japanese spies in Latin American countries , but he did get quite sick and had to be brought home on a stretcher to the Leahy clinic, and so on . So anyway we had a very happy, I guess it was about 12 or 13 years in Washington. He was very musical and so in addition to working for the State Department in the Latin American section, he was head of the Board of the National Symphony so that we got to meet a lot of the Washingtonians as well as government people, and it was fun. I loved it.
RHE: This was when Howard Mitchell was conductor, or was it before then?
CHR: No it was…. Gordon and a man named Lloyd Symington were instrumental in getting the previous conductor out and getting Howard Mitchell in, so it was during Howard Mitchell’s time, Howard was good at first, but deteriorated over the years.
RHE: The situation outgrew him.
CHR: Yeah I think so.
RHE: Now, Gordon continued to work in Central American affairs, or Latin American affairs until about when?
CHR: I think we moved back in about 1956, I’m awful on dates, but Congress had passed something called the Risten Act which meant he would have had to go back into the field. They did not any longer tolerate the division between department people, such as Gordon and Foreign Service: he didn’t want to go back into the field. So we moved back, and at that point we had three sons and a fourth one was born after we got back here. For two years, Gordon taught at Amherst and came home on weekends. We had one year of being down at the University of Connecticut where he was acting dean of men for a year.
RHE: At Storrs?
CHR: At Storrs.
RHE: Oh my goodness, were you living at Storrs?
CHR: We lived at Storrs, moved the whole family down, and then we came back here and settled in, and he took a job at Salisbury School teaching Spanish and doing admissions.
RHE: Well, that’s an interesting background to your own career here at Salisbury. Now, did you do some teaching here yourself?
CHR: I taught in Washington and also1 one point worked not for the Nation but for the New Republic and then came back here and worked teaching remedial reading, and in the meantime did graduate work at both Fairfield University and the University of Hartford to get my degrees in what was then known as a psychological tester and that has now become a school psychologist. But, I worked at the Mental Health Center and I worked in Winsted at the Shared Services office there. Then I came back here and I guess, I’m trying to think how it went. Well, in 1973 I ran for first selectman….
RHE: You had already been Chairman of the School Board for quite some years.
RHE: Did your teaching make you gravitate toward this?
CHR: I think having young children makes many candidates for the school board gravitate
RHE: Let’s break in here and ask you about each of your children, and then we’ll come back to your career.
CHR: David Reed is one of the managing editors at the Providence Bulletin, the Journal Bulletin in Providence. Dwight does the computer, he is I guess in charge of the computers at Crane paper in Dalton, the other side of Pittsfield. Douglas and Daniel who live here on either side of me are both carpenters. Each of my four sons now has two children, so I am happily a grandmother of eight!
RHE: You’re an “octuple” grandmother not an octogenarian!
RHE: Very good. Now you served on the school board for how many years?
RHE: Really, and you were chairman for 12, or 8.
RHE: And then in 1973, you ran for First Selectman to succeed Bill Barnett and you yourself were First Selectman for 16 years, so this makes 32 years of public service in Salisbury.
CHR: Meetings, evening meetings.
RHE: You must have a very considerable tolerance for sitting through endless discussions.
CHR: Well, I think that may be why in these later years I’ve gone to work part-time for the Lakeville Journal, the only thing I stipulated with Bob Hatch when he hired me was that I would not cover meetings.
RHE: Well you must have found a lot of stimulus and exhilaration as well as tedium during your 16 years as First Selectmen. What was your greatest satisfaction in this.?
CHR: Oh heaven’s. Certainly, let’s tackle it- the other way first. The greatest sorrow was obviously the burning of the town hall and all the turmoil that followed therefrom. As far as satisfaction, I think I enjoyed a feeling of, because of my background of being born and brought up here, of being able to move into various circles, be it talking to the road crew or to some of the older people I’ve known for
most of my life, as well as to the newcomers who perhaps didn’t find me too unsophisticated.
RHE: You considered yourself a “bridge” between both cultures, if you will.
CHR: I think so. And perhaps when I came into office, Bill Barnett, of whom I was very fond, were still very much of an era when the First Selectmen was the road foreman and did much more of a working day by day job. I think I was able to make the town grow from that to something a little more of today, in that we had to deal with the state a great deal more. I didn’t mind that too much.
RHE: You had training for it.
CHR: Yeah I guess. Who’s to say whether it’s good or bad? That we now have to be so enmeshed with the state, but we do: In a way, I jumped in and tried to make Salisbury a factor in state commissions and boards, and worked at it.
RHE: Well, it would be overdrawing it to say that you brought Salisbury from the horse and buggy age into the computer age, but in a sense you brought it to the time of professional management.
CHR: Yeah, that’s better put I think than I could. I think we also enjoyed the good years, in that my working relationships with the Board of Finance were really very good throughout. There wasn’t the question that there now is of tremendous economies and people fighting for their own special interests in town governments and so I was lucky.
RHE: It was happier. Well now, you talked about some of your satisfactions, and I hope you’ll talk a minute about solid-waste and what you did about it, because I particularly look upon this as a monument to Charlotte Reid’s foresight. We were really a leader in the whole state.
CHR: Well, it was a difficult problem because when I came into office in 1973, it was almost at the end of a contract which Bill Barnett, my predecessor had worked out, and which was working very well with a family, the Harold Erickson family and I had been in office only a couple of weeks when Harold Erickson came in and said ” We’re not going to renew the contract– you have no place to take your garbage ” and it immediately became important to try to find a solution: there had been a study committee because I think Bill had anticipated this might happen. I’m not sure but you were on that study committee, were you?
CHR: They had picked, I think it may be seven sites in town which might be possible for a new dump and there was something wrong with every one of them. And also the neighbors were already getting into the mood that is so prevalent now that they didn’t want anything like that near them.
CHR: Yeah, NIMBY. So we cast around, there was actually one other transfer station operating in the state at that time in Plymouth, Terryville we went and visited that, and thought that it might be possible for here. It took a lot of negotiating with Hotchkiss to get the land, to get the state to approve it, and eventually, I think it was 1975, May 1st that we opened and it’s worked quite well to have a central place where the garbage can go and then be transported to a bigger place.
RHE: Did you solicit the site from Hotchkiss, or was it offered?
CHR: We solicited it.
RHE: It was really a very happy solution to the whole thing wasn’t it.
CHR: I hope so. But we’d like to have had it a little bit bigger, but there it is.
RHE: It serves.
CHR: It serves, yes.
RHE: Was it your idea to merge with Sharon?
RHE: Which really made it viable. It gives you twice the clout.
CHR: The clout I think yeah and the volume.
RHE: Talk a little bit about the currents in town that brought about the tragedy like the Town Hall fire.
CHR: Well , I think for many/years Salisbury has had a split personality long before I came on the scene between some of the people who maybe could trace their ancestry back to the iron days, people whose fathers and grandfathers were probably very hard-working citizens, but maybe as the generations went on these people felt that the town wasn’t doing right by them, and were quite resentful. It wasn’t a large group, people numbered probably in the 20’s and 30’s, but one
family in particular named the Duntzs as we all know. In that family there were three young men who were particularly resentful of anything which they thought was a slight. They may even, many people have speculated, that they had genes which predisposed them to violence. Anyway one of those people, Roy, worked for the town road crew. He had a history of problems with alcohol as many of the group did, but he could be charming and hard -working when he was sober, but once under the influence, he could get very violent. I had had to fire him after several reprieves for drunkenness. I particularly remember one night when I was down at the garage at 10 in the evening because we had had a bad snowstorm, and he came in to work, and was drunk, and so when the time came to fire him he went away quite sullen and obviously harbored a deep resentment against me whenever he was drunk. The night of August 5, 1985, he apparently decided to set fire to the Town Hall. He had previously set fire to the town garage we now know, but the town hall was even more devastating to the community.
RHE: Now, that was a trauma for everybody who lived here without any question. Did you ever feel threatened by him or his brothers?
CHR: Not at the time. I was given police protection for a couple of weeks afterwards, when no one really knew who had done it. But, no, not particularly.
RHE: Now, unfortunately it wasn’t just the one because the other brothers got into the act as a result of this one. Did you have much dealing with either of them?
CHR: Richie had worked at the transfer station for a while.
RHE: He’s the one who was convicted of the murder of Earl Morey.
CHR: Right. Richard left the transfer station, as I remember of his own volition. There was no feeling that he had any resentment against me.
RHE: Another factor in this was the teen center which operated by, or was this a suggestion of the Mental Health Center in the first place to set it up, or was it your initiative?
CHR: Well, I think it was the Mental Health Center that suggested it. We felt it would be a good idea at the time. Certainly it never worked.
RHE: This was located above the jewelry store at the corner of Routes 41 and 44 in Lakeville.
CHR: Right. I think the reason a teen center has worked in Sharon and didn’t work here may be partly that Salisbury has always prided itself on a recreation program
which to the group which included the Duntz’s always appeared to be a goody goody enterprise and didn’t touch them in any significant way. And so, when the teen center was set up, it became an us and them situation, as you well know.
RHE: It was Asa Flint who really-wrecked the place, and made it impossible to continue.
CHR: I wonder where he is. I have no idea!
RHE: I don’t know either. Talk a little bit about your vision for Salisbury 10, 20, 50 years from now. What you think it will be, what should it be?
CHR: I don’t have any particular insight that those have been working on planning committees about that future haven’t hit on already. I think they see a trend which bothers me at the moment in that I hear a lot of our young couples , including one of my sons, including a local plumber and his wife plus some of our retirees saying “ we’re going to move to North Carolina or South Carolina, the opportunities are more there. Connecticut is stagnating, we want to get out ” I find that a disturbing trend . I don’t know whether it’s going to become bigger or whether it’s just that I know perhaps four or five couples now who are talking in this vein.
RHE: This is not for reasons of winter climate or things like that.
CHR: No, several of them are good golfers and golf’s become such a hot item in the United States and this is something they’d like to do more of the year. But at the same time, I think it’s more of the economic opportunities seem rosier to them down there .
RHE: Well, do you see Connecticut on the decline?
CHR: I do, even though the New York Times yesterday said the state had the highest income of any .
RHE: What do you think could be done to arrest that?
CHR: Encouragement of business certainly, of small business.
RHE: Which means a different tax climate of course.
CHR: Yes North Canaan is talking in these terms. North Canaan I think has a slightly different approach than we do. I hear them talking about outlets such as you find in Manchester, Vermont, or Fall River. I don’t think that’s for Salisbury, but I do think
small businesses like Dotty Smith’s or whatever would be wonderful if we could find ways to attract them.
RHE: What would be one way we might attract them here?
CHR: I think you’re right,-the tax climate. A more vigorous Chamber of Commerce, more efforts by the town government to contact some of the state agencies that are encouraging small businesses.
RHE: Is zoning too tight to effectuate this?
CHR: May be
RHE: Without any criticism, because I’m sure people have done what they thought was right. I hear this complaint and I don’t know how much validity there is.
CHR: I think it may be. I think zoning isn’t listening to people, I think they’ve gotten so wrapped up in their regulations, in rewriting the regulations that they don’t really listen. They don’t call in the Michael Flints or the young business people in a way that’s constructive.
RHE: Should the town acquire some land that it might lease for purposes of non-polluting light industry, or something like that?
CHR: It would be nice. There’s not a lot of available land.
RHE: Should the Salisbury Association earmark something like this?
CHR: It would be better than renovating the Academy building which they’re trying to call the meeting house, which is annoying several people because the church is the meeting house and always has been.
RHE: This is the way it is, isn’t it?
RHE: Let me just pay attention to this thing (the tape recorder) a little bit here. What do you see in this town? Start with the special quality that you see in Salisbury.
CHR: The physical setting is just stupendous. I think so many people that do go away do miss the green of the hills, when they go to Arizona . Certainly, the special quality can be pretty much summed up in the word volunteerism– up until now. The very fact that you’re sitting here being interested in doing hey, come on, excuse
me-— my dog. I hope that the spirit that you and I know in the Ben Belchers and others will continue, and I’m confident that it will.
RHE: You don’t see any diminution of it do you?
CHR: No, I don’t.
RHE: We have a good flow of newcomers and weekend people who are interested in associating with the town.
CHR: Yeah. I think this is a very special quality in Salisbury. It’s again, I’ve used this word before today, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the volunteerism in some of the surrounding towns. It’s different.
RHE: Because there are people from every background here, maybe it’s just an accident of scenic circumstances brought them together. It’s more than that.
CHR: It’s something I think we have to foster, and I think we are doing it now, which is great. I don’t think it will happen all by itself always. I was saying to someone on the school board the other day, I mean they’re saying ” no, we’re going to have to cut programs because of the budget, and so on and so forth” and I was mentioning that when we were building the town hall, one of the things I did which I thought really perhaps was good, was that I made out a wish list of things that we needed and then specifically asked people if they would be willing to contribute this particular item. I tried to the item with the people, and we got the weather vane because that artist was interested, the paint from Benjamin Moore. But it, so many people got involved from the banks to the Wagner McNeil Insurance, you know it was just. I think you could do that with the schools saying ” we need a volunteer in such and such a classroom for such and such hours every week, and kind of matching the people to the jobs. And if it’s done right, I think they’ll welcome it.
RHE: That’s wonderful. In the sense, despite the tragedy of the Town Hall, I suppose you could say that it brought us closer together or something like that.
CHR: It did. It did, I think, but I’m not sure that part of it was worth the, well, and the splitting that occurred at several points during the reconstruction.
RHE: Talk a bit about some of the notable old-timers you remember, who perhaps the little men of the mountain or the iron era.
CHR: Well certainly Bill Raynsford was one. I don’t know, do you remember him?
RHE: He was before my time: I think he had died when we came.
CHR: Well, Bill was a great big heavy set man who really ruled the town in many ways. He more than anybody else in the early days bridged the gap between the then newcomers and the townspeople. He was justice of the peace and I think many of us can still remember the court that he would hold in the court house building, actually upstairs.
RHE: This was before the circuit court.
CHR: Before the circuit court and he knew all those young miscreants who were coming up before him. He would lecture them and he was tough on them, but boy they listened, and it was fun to go hear him in court.
RHE: Yes I’ve heard tales about how he would see to it that the punishment was administered by whitewashing the fence or whatever right then.
CHR: Right then he would see that it was done. He ran a contracting business, it wasn’t very big. He had three employees, but he was also a legislator in Hartford. Charming, good sense of humor. I always remember Lila Nash, our town clerk, commenting the week he died. “Three people had died that week of lung cancer, not one of them smoked.” Which was an interesting little sidelight. Lila Nash of course was another old timer whom you and I both knew. She was not always easy to deal with as I found out when I became First Selectman. She was looked upon as the source of all information about the iron industry and the early days, but it was not always accurate.
RHE: Some of which was wrong!
CHR: But, I think as we look back on it, look back on Lila with her funny hats and her hairdo and all that, she was quite a character.
RHE: She was colorful.
CHR: Very colorful
RHE: She was very dedicated
RHE: Do you think the J.P. system, looking back, was better than what we get now in some respects.
CHR: Oh I think so. Of course the town seemed smaller then, because we didn’t have the influx of weekend people so you knew everyone much more than you know now.
RHE: And this was before Supreme Court decisions made the administration of justice perhaps a lot more difficult.
CHR: Absolutely. Then we had Hugo Paavola and his wife, did you know them?
RHE: I didn’t know them.
CHR: You did know them? No? They had a little stationery store across from the post office , where the seamstress now is , and it was cluttered , full of stuff , and the Hotchkiss boys use to come down regularly, because in those days, the Hotchkiss boys were much more a part of the community. They were down in droves almost every afternoon to eat at the Jigger Shop, or shop at Hugo’s. Hotchkiss didn’t have a store of its own on campus for stationery and pencils and stuff. Mrs. Paavola was convinced that any Hotchkiss boy that came into the store was going to steal. So she would follow them around up and down, up and down. I would’ve thought they would have not come back, but they seemed to.
RHE: Now this was part of the function that Darwin Miller and his wife later…
CHR: Later, took over, that’s right. Then there was Doc Leverty who ran a drugstore, you never knew him either?
RHE: No. Well The Holley Block was gone before we came.
CHR: Well that’s true. It was in where the little Bicentennial Park now is. There was a big building, and he had a drugstore in the ground floor. He too was quite a character, he would peer at you over his glasses, and most of the kids that I knew were scared to death to go in there because he was so sharp, and critical. But I gather from some of the older people that he really had a heart of gold underneath all this.
RHE: I guess. Did he sell to Gentile?
RHE: Cause we knew them. What about the people like Harris Rossiter, did you come in contact with him very much?
CHR: George Kiefer’s going to be a better source for all of that group. He’s full of stories.
RHE: I think we’ll make an effort to interview him.
CHR: I think actually, he has recorded a few somewhere. I’m not sure with oral history or what of Harris’ Rossiter’s stories. But you better allow a long time, because George has so many stories of those days I
RHE: I hope we could get them down.
RHE: Tell me a bit about your predecessor Bill Barnett, because I’m not really sure he was gotten on tape, before he died .
CHR: I’m not sure I’m going to be very helpful to you about Bill because though we would meet at Board of Finance meetings four times a year, when he was presenting the Selectmen’s budget, I would be presenting the Board of Education budget, our paths didn’t cross that much. I was extremely busy with children and jobs and I don’t think I really thought much about town government.
RHE: I know he was always very fond of you because he told me so.
CHR: I’m glad. He was very supportive, he was an ardent Republican as you know and the fact that I was a Democrat galled him no end. He used to ask me why in heaven’s name I was not a Republican, but he put up with me. When I was elected he was not only helpful, except in one instance. The first day after I was in office, Bill was sitting with me explaining things and Charlie Ashman, who was a town character walked in and said, “I want those electric poles removed that HELCO’s put on my property ” , and Bill who had many tiffs with Charlie in the past, just smiled at me sweetly and walked out the door.
RHE: What did you tell Charlie Ashman?
CHR: I told Charlie I would look into it.
RHE: You didn’t tell him ” no”?
CHR: Actually, we did look into it and actually in the end, HELCO moved the poles. But I was always amused with Bill’s quick departure.
RHE: Well I’m sure you had situations where you wished that your successor could deal with them.
CHR: Yes, I’m sure.
RHE: Some situations are always with you such as Charlie.
RHE: Talk for a minute about the structure of state government as it relates to small towns like Salisbury and-what your conclusions are from watching this. Are we well served generally?
CHR: Be right back, (goes to let the dog out)
CHR: State government, I’m afraid is not always sensitive to small towns. They will write voluminous regulations which apply to big cities, and not think about the different circumstances of small towns. For instance, building inspectors now are required to take an elaborate training course which qualifies them to inspect 30 story buildings in Bridgeport, and has no application to Salisbury. We have a small labor pool of trained people who could do building inspections, probably two or three, and it’s ridiculous to have to do that training. Raffle permits are extremely elaborate but we know our Methodist Church or our Hose Company, and we know whether they’re going to defraud the public or the state, and it’s stupid for us to have to spend the time doing that paper work. Just two examples.
RHE: Well, before 1960, I believe it was, there was at least one representative from every town in the legislature.
CHR: Two, I think there were.
RHE: Two, were there? Which made a cumbersome legislature, but it made sure that at least somebody was there to represent your point of view. Would that be a good thing to revive?
CHR: I’m not sure. I think the other extreme in those days was that the representatives of small towns could outvote the cities.
RHE: And the inner cities never got listened to.
CHR: That’s right. And they have the problems now witness the apparent problems in East Haven, that’s going bankrupt. Bridgeport and all those big cities have enormous problems. I’m not sure we should have over balanced legislatures.
RHE: Well, you raise an interesting point. We all consider ourselves citizens of Connecticut, and yet there are several Connecticut’s here. And some bear very little
relation in their vision and problems to what the rest of us consider. Is there anything more we in Salisbury ought to be doing about the problems of the inner city which ultimately affect us in the pocketbook if not otherwise?
CHR: We could spend a whole evening discussing what the future of the country is, whether one can keep these urban areas as depressed and poor as they now are without an explosion at some point. As far as Salisbury is concerned I’m not sure what more we can do except to be willing with our taxes to pay for programs that will help the inner cities.
RHE: We probably shouldn’t be paying it on our property taxes. We ought to be paying it through something fairer, the income tax or something like that. I’ve kept you a long time, is there anything in particular you would like to record for posterity?
CHR: Well, I don’t know how to convey the atmosphere of the town. When I was growing up, it was in many ways so much simpler. My own household was certainly a very comfortable one. We did have people who worked for my mother and father, but they didn’t seem to be unhappy doing it. It was all in my recollection a really happy family. People worked for you in those days years and years and years.
RHE: But they did not consider themselves to be your inferior.
CHR: No, they were part of the family. Carmilla Rossiter who lives up on Lincoln City Road still: I have a wonderful friendly relationship. She wasn’t in the house as much as some, but she would just come in part time to do some laundry. But my favorite place was the kitchen. I just adored it being out there, my parents didn’t have half the relaxed sense of humor that I found in the kitchen. I don’t think anybody that worked for my family worked for less than 15 years. It was just in some way a different feeling, my grandfather had a man who went to work for him when he was 19 and he was still working for the family when he was 75. And I’m sure you’ve run into this in other places, but
RHE: Well, and they were more than just part of the family, you really felt responsible for them in illness and other misfortunes and things like that too.
CHR: Absolutely. Certainly, you see this even today in the Belcher family. Nancy’s feeling of responsibility for all of the people on the farm, and that was very true in the early days, and that’s completely gone now .
RHE: You don’t see much of it anymore.
CHR: We had a cow which we kept down on Cleaveland St. and every morning and every evening a man that worked for us would hitch up the horse to the buggy and
drive down, and even as late as the early 1930’s we were going down to milk the cow, every night and morning.
RHE: So, if we turned you loose, you could still milk a cow?
CHR: I could still milk a cow, yes I can. It was just a different…
RHE: Well, society is more brittle, more stratified.
CHR: And we didn’t have television, we didn’t sit the way my grandchildren do for occasional hours in front of the tube.
RHE: What do you think is the antidote? How do we now, in this stage get the kids to enjoy reading?
CHR: Well, actually in fairness, my grandchildren do read. I think, I’m not sure quite as much as we did, but I think they do, I’m not sure they enjoy some of the games we played that had a reading component.
RHE: Simple non Nintendo!
CHR: Non Nintendo is exactly it ! Jackstraws, gin rummy, you know.
RHE: What are some of your own hobbies that stayed with you through the years?
CHR: Oh my. Reading, golf, knitting, outdoor exercise of many kinds, hiking, as with you
RHE: Quite of a full slate
CHR: Not really, cooking
RHE: You enjoy cooking?
CHR: Yes I love cooking
RHE: That’s wonderful. I think we ought to close up. Charlotte, thank you so much, you are most generous.