Transcript of a taped interview
Narrator: Mary Schmaling.
Tape #: 25 A.
Date: June 22, I983.
Place of interview: Mrs. Schmaling’s home in Lakeville, Connecticut.
Interviewer: Ethel Thrall.
Also present: Marjorie Davis, Mrs. Schmaling’s daughter.
Mrs. Schmaling, born at Hamlet Hill Farm, Salisbury, Connecticut, grew up in Taconic, Connecticut. After her marriage, she lived at Wishbone Farm and shared in the operation of the farm as a summer guest house. She has an unusual hobby – that of buying pianos and, after they are reconditioned by her, selling them.
1983Property of the Oral History ProjectSalisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial LibrarySalisbury, Connecticut 06068
ET: This is Mary Schmaling at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut on June 22, 1983. Now, let’s have a little bit about your life, Mary.
/Narrator is reading from prepared notes/
MS: My parents were Louis Richard and Frances Wheeler Holmes. I was born on June I896, at Hamlet Hill Farm which my father rented from Alex Suydam. Dr. Sellew delivered me. My mother had the measles and me all at once.
We lived at Hamlet Hill until I was seven, when we moved to the Fairchild place in what was called Chapinville at that time. We moved around a lot. Falls Village, East Canaan, Salisbury and then finally to Chapinville when I was eighteen. Its name had been changed to laconic.
My father had been killed in an accident while he was working as a teamster during those years away from Taconic. One of his jobs was to collect the cream from the farmers for the East Canaan Creamery. The creamery building still stands by Route kb, just south of Madow’s farm.
My three brothers, Emil, David and Charlie, and I supported the family after his death. I went to work carrying the mail from the Taconic Post Office to the railroad station, four times a day on my horse, Belle. When I was nineteen, I ‘bought a brand new Ford from Abe Martin for five hundred dollars. Twenty dollars was the down payment and I managed to pay for it in one year. By then, I was not only carrying mail, I was also carrying passengers. My jitney service was also from the Taconic Post Office to the railroad station in Taconic and the fare was twenty-five cents.’ I would also take people coming in on the train to their various destinations at Twin Lakes’ local inns and boarding houses.
There was a time when I missed getting the mail on the train. I saw it pulling away from the station and decided to try to meet it in Canaan. But I missed it again in Canaan, so I raced it to East Canaan. I got the mail there just in time. I had to throw it on the train and the next day, the man on the mail car said, “Mary, Paul Revere has nothing on you.”
When I was very young I attended Chapinville School which is now Melanie Barber’s home. Bessie Argali, later Mrs. Charles Dann, was my teacher.
Shopping was quite different in those days. Ed Williams and Harry Van Deusen stopped by once or twice a week and took orders for whatever our needs were. The big event was to go to Salisbury once a week. George Clark had a grocery store where the Connecticut Yankee is now. He also had a dry goods, clothing, shoes, corsets and the like. A man named Dickinson owned the drug store at that time.
ET: Didn’t Mr. Clark’s store burn down? I remember reading records of a big fire.
MS: We did have a store in Chapinville, which was run by Fred Gorden, in the building that is Mae Pickert’s home. This was a typical old-fashioned general store where folks could congregate around the potbellied stove in the evening, checking out what might have slipped into the cracks between those very wide floor boards that are now worth a mint. I expect Charlie Fish, Jule Rebillard or my brothers, Charlie and Dave, could tell us what they talked about, but they have carried their secrets with them. Mike Seitz has purchased the Gordon house, which was next door to the store. He invited me to see what he is doing to it. It was very exciting to see how beautifully he is restoring it. The house must be two hundred years old.
Girls today start dating much younger than I was allowed to. My brother used to escort me to dances and made very sure that I came home with him. There was usually a dance somewhere every week. Sometimes they were held in people’s houses or over Robert’s store in Lakeville.
Emil married my friend, Marie Thevenet, a very beautiful city girl who used to pose for Ellen Emmet Rand…
MD: Lois Martin Whitbeck also posed for Mrs. Rand. Do you remember that? I know that her daughter has one of the pictures and Lois is the model.
MS: …She and I were best friends. We used to swim down by Scoville’s boat house. One day we heard some snickering in the
bushes while we were swimming. I suppose we were overheard talking about the boys. When we came out we found out that the audience had been Paul Rebillard and Berk Kelsey. We left but we came back and hid their clothes.
ET: Paul would like to hear you say that. He’ll have to read this. MS: We sometimes used to go to the movies that were shown in the hall over Robert’s store. They were silent films and another of my friends, Margaret Spurr, played the piano for the background. We were as faithful to the “Perils of Pauline” as most folks are to “Dallas”.
ET: The “Perils of Pauline”, I remember those.
MS: It seems to me that the old stone house in Taconic has become some sort of historical spot. When I was a young girl it was also another place to go to dances or to the movies. That’s where I met Frank Schmaling. ’We were married in the Episcopal parsonage in Salisbury on March 2, 1921. We went to live with his parents on ‘Wishbone Farm. My daughter, Marjorie, was born on October 8, 1923.
My husband and father-in-law were dairy farmers. Back then in winter the snow was so deep the horses pulled the sled loaded with cans full of milk walking on top of the snow.
After the depression, it became necessary to put our heads together and come up with a way to earn more money. Abe Martin had already discovered that a few of the local men would hire out to my husband as farmhands. They would spend the winter and come spring planting or haying time they would leave. I guess Abe thought it would be better if I took care of the folks dependent on town assistance and in this way get paid for my efforts. This gave me the idea of turning our farm into a summer vacation spot for city folks. It was the fad than to spend a couple of weeks on a farm. We had a pow-wow and put the idea in motion.
Grandma Schmaling made pies, pickles, jams and preserves. Grandpa planted the garden and took care of the fruit trees
and with Frank they raised the beef, pork, chickens and eggs that, furnished three large meals a day to what was always a full house. They also grew enough for Grandma and I to fill the cellar with jars and barrels of food for the coming winter. It was my job to take care of the house and do the cooking. The rate in those days was fourteen dollars a week.
ND: Today it would be about a hundred.
ET: They wouldn’t get all those goodies, either.
MS: Entertaining in those days, for the guests and the family and the local people, was the Stewart Theater in Lakeville, boating and bathing at O’Hara’s shore on Twin Lakes. We had badminton and croquet and horseshoes. The general store in Taconic was then owned by the O’Nells and was located across from the school. The summer people used to love to walk that mile to the store – exercise, souvenirs and their mail. O’Nells also had a dance floor with a nickelodeon and some pinball machines. That made it a very popular spot.
I guess one doesn’t talk about Taconic without mentioning the Scoville family. A lot of Taconic was there, worked and thrived because of those two brothers. Many people in Taconic were employed to maintain the two mansions and estate buildings, as well as the vast gardens and grounds. Grassland Farm, which at that time was run by Edward G. Woodward for the Scovilles, was another of their holdings that meant security for a good many farm workers. They cared about the folks in that village. At Christmas, every year, Mrs. Herbert Scoville gave a Christmas party for all of the children of the town. Christmas goodies and gifts included.
I always felt badly that the church in Taconic had to be torn down. It seems to me that every place deserves one place of worship, but the popularity of the automobile took people to Salisbury and Lakeville to church. Just as the school is no longer there. I don’t know if there is a way for the young folks to get to Diving Rock at the end of the channel anymore. The train doesn’t go to Taconic anymore, that’s sad.
ET: Mary, I know you’ve always been interested in pianos. Nov/ tell me how you got started. Was it up at the Wishbone Farm or in Lakeville?
MS: At the Wishbone Farm. I had two pianos. Then I went to an auction and bought another one and everybody said, “Mary, what are you going to do with all those pianos?” I said, “Well, I’m going to have music whereever I go.” not realizing what I was going to do with it.
ET: And did you give lessons ever?
MS: No. I….
ET: You tuned ’em?
MS: I got a hold of a piano tuner and was taught to take several of them apart and learned how to recondition ’em.
ET: Then, did you help other people fix their pianos up there, too? MS: I would buy every piano that I could find….
ET: And then sell it?
MS: ….and that I could afford, and recondition it and sell it.
ET: That’s good.
MS: Until, I think, I must have altogether done a hundred and fifty pianos. I wish I had kept track of them now.- As Dr. Peterson said to me, “I wish I had kept track of all the babies I had delivered.”
ET: I know. Two thousand of them, weren’t there, in that book?
ET: Now, I understand there were some pretty famous people came up to your ‘Wishbone Farm.
MS: Oh, yes. One day this man came to the door and he was looking for a place to stay, and as he looked in the living room, I had two pianos sitting in there. Couldn’t believe his eyes. And he happened to be a composer. So he stayed all summer.
ET: What was his name?
MS: Alexander Lazlow.
ET: Anybody else famous?
MS: Phil Scheib was there for a week. He made those pianos jump.
ET: I’ll bet he did. Then when did you come to Lakeville?
How many years ago?
MS: I think long after that in forty-five.
ET: You came to this house, here?
MS:- I came to this house, here, yes, and had lots of room to store pianos in this big garage. One time I had a dozen pianos in it. /Laughter/ I’d go from one to the other until I’d got one perfect and sell it.
ET: Great. And this is the old Hallowell estate?
MD: The house is gone. It was on the corner. I remember there used to be a stone wall, didn’t there?
MD: You’ve got it all fixed up beautiful now.
ET: Are you still fixing pianos?
MS: Oh, I could.
ET: I see you fell for your hobby. You bought a new piano,
MS: I just bought a new Steinway,
ET: I know. I think it’s wonderful.
MS: A small Steinway grand. Now, I want to sell it.
ET: That’s great,
MS: I also had a grand piano.
ET: Now, you’ve got two again.
MS: But, it’ll sell.
MD: Sure it will.