John E. Silliman Interview:
This is File #60, cycle 2. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is July 25, 2017. I am interviewing John Silliman who is going to talk about the Twin Lakes Association, his commitment to the herbicide through permits with the DEEP. He is also going to talk about the Twin Lakes Beach Club. He was President of the Association from 1996-2000 and knows quite a lot of information. First we’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JS:John E. Silliman
JM:What is your birthdate?
JS:March 9, 1934.
JS:Bronxville Hospital in Bronxville, New York
JM:Your parents’ names?
JS:My father was Sherwood E. and my mother was Lois M. Boynton. Her family came from West Stockbridge, Mass.
JM:Do you have brothers and sisters?
JS:One brother Daniel
JM:How did you come to the area?
JS:My grandfather bought what is now the Options Institute in Sheffield, Mass. along with several other houses which came with the extended property. My father had bought one of them so we used to come up yearly since I was 5 years old to the house north of Taconic that was across the street from the old air field. (It was once a tavern on Barnum Street, Sheffield. Ed.)
JM:When did you buy the property that we are at now? (182 South Shore Road Ed)
JM: YHave you been here ever since?
JM:How did you get involved with the Twin Lakes Association?
JS:By default. I was asked to join I can’t remember who but probably Mike Haupt. (See file 51, Mike Haupt) It has been an interesting experience.
JM:According to the list I have here, you were President from 1996-2000.2.
JS:Yes, I guess so. Mike’s heart is in this area. His grandmother and grandfather had a house here. His father and mother had a house here. His heart is here.
JM:There was a time when the Twin Lakes Association was connected with the DEEP in order to clean out the milfoil in the lake. I would like you to tell me about that. How did you fellows go about getting the herbicide permits?
JS:You start with an invasion of milfoil which because a real p0est for everyone on the lake so it was an easy sell to get people involved in getting rid of the milfoil because everybody’s property was impacted. We didn’t know what to do or how to do it. We knew that there was a Rube Goldberg machine that would cut the milfoil and that had been going on for a while, but the problem was that all that did was spread the milfoil further and create a mess on everyone whose home fronted on the lake. It then required pitchforks to remove the pieces that the weed harvester didn’t harvest. One time when I was President we were meeting over at the Institute of World Affairs, it came to our attention I don’t know how that there was an outfit that was selling and installing little bugs that would eat the stems of the milfoil and cause it to die. At the Annual Meeting of the Association they all got very excited and voted some money to further this idea. We had the company come in and they seeded these bugs amongst the heavier infestation of milfoil. It didn’t work either because it was a hoax or because the milfoil was too thick and the bugs were inadequate.
The next president was Louis Fox and under the rules of the association the former president becomes a member of the executive committee. Louis Fox, and I and the First Selectman, Val Bernadon, went to Hartford. Val was as concerned as we were about it. We met with a bunch of people from the DEEP on Elm Street in Hartford. There must have been 10 or 12 people around a table. Louis and I just discussed the problem and Val chipped in and was very helpful. As meetings go there was a lot of idle talk and we weren’t going anywhere. After about 45 minutes this young man piped up from the back and said, “What about Diquat?” otherwise known as Reward. Val and Lou and I perked up our ears and found out more about it. It is used in reservoirs and it works on filigreed weeds, but not pond weed which is stronger and more resistant. It was the perfect solution. Louis took over in 2000-2004. So starting in 2001 or 2002 we started putting in Diquat in the lake through an expert at the places designated by the DEEP. It was magic! We have been doing this for 15 years. Each year we put in less and less because the milfoil gets thinner and thinner and less populated. One down side apparently, although we haven’t been able to connect it, was when the milfoil dies, it creates an algae bloom later in the summer. But that goes away. It hasn’t happened in the last 2 years so it may not be connected. I am not a scientist obviously and the people we have who advise us can’t tell us. The Diquat works; we now have a two year permit for this year and next. We are going to continue to use it. It has absolutely no adverse effects after the last 15 years of using it. It works. We have done away with the weed harvester which I believe that is has saved the town money because the cost of Diquat is less that the cost of operating and maintaining the weed harvester.
JM:At a town meeting a couple of years ago, they had to buy a new weed harvester. It was very expensive $150,00o or something like that. I was appalled but what do I know. I am so glad that you found something that works in both lakes
JS:Yes, we do both lakes. There are certain areas of the lake that according to the DEEP has plants that are protected and we have to stay away from them. It is a bit frustrating because one of the plants called magathodicia is in certain areas of the lakes. Apparently ii is a protected species in Connecticut but not Massachusetts. It is a little weird but we are not complaining about it. The major part of the lake and the places where it is most populated has been clear. There is no milfoil out in front of my house and I used to have difficulty getting my Sunfish through the milfoil.
Lakeville Lake, Wononscopomuc Lake, should be using Diquat as it is the same water and the same problem.
JM:Some of their membership is opposed.
JS:They are totally misinformed. They think it is part of Agent Orange which it is not. This misinformation has led them to live on a lake that in 50 years will be dead. That is not my opinion, but a scientific one.
JM:Yes I have had this discussion with Bill Littauer who is President of the Lake Wononscopomuc Association. (See file #34, cycle 2 William Littauer)
JS:Yes, I know him.
JM:Tell me a little bit about the Twin Lakes Beach club.
JS:As I said our family has been coming up here since 1929 and we live off the lake. When I was a kid my parents would bounce from friend to friend to get on the water including several friends on the south shore and also the north shore. My father decided that it would be nice to have a place on the lake. They were scarce as hen’s teeth trying to find one. He and a bunch of other families got together and bought the old Twin Lakes Hotel. (This property once belonged to Rhonda Rinnisland’s grandmother’s brother. Ed.) I have forgotten the name of the women who owned the property.
JS:No it is next door to the Smith’s. Mabel somebody I think. She had an old multistory wood hotel and a small house on the property. I was only 10 so I don’t know why it came on the market but it did. My father and several other man & families got together and purchased the hotel by forming the Twin Lakes Beach Club as a stock Corporation, a Connecticut stock corporation. I think Cam Becket was the incorporator. Lots of people subscribed to the stock at $100 per share, including the butcher in Canaan. I have forgotten his name, but he bought 5 shares. Everybody was ecstatic about that. We took over lock, stock and barrel and did not do many changes to it. The hotel became the clubhouse.
JM:What did it look like?`4.
JS: It was a brown multistory building. There is probably a picture of it in the current building. I don’t think I have one. It had a kitchen and an area on the side that was turned into a bar where you could bring your own booze because we couldn’t get a liquor license. People who had young children could put them to sleep in the upper rooms of the hotel. It worked out very well. When I was able to drive I drove over there in the summer every single day to go swimming. That was all that was there. We used to hire a caretaker who lived in the small house on the property and cooked the food and took care of the place. There were some pretty wild parties! Everybody brought their own and some had too much to drink.
JM:Did you have dances?
JM:Was it live music or records?
JS:Both. Live at the beginning because it was 1948. It was incorporated in 1948. That was before all this electronic gizmos.
JM:You told me a story about something that happened at the beach club when you were 14 about the kitchen fire.
JS:I think I was older than 14 because I was able to drive. Oh I was a great deal older than 14. I think that happened in 1996. (August 29, 1990 Ed.) What happened was we had a contractor on site. I think he was working on the septic system. He and the President were talking specs and prices and all that stuff. The fellow in the kitchen called out that the fryer, the French fry fryer, had caught on fire. It was kind of a surface fire on top of the grease. Before anybody could do anything the contractor caught up one of the ice chests full of ice and water and threw it on the fire. There was an explosion and little fire balls went up to the ceiling. The President of the Beach Club Craig Metz was burned, not seriously but burned. The place burned down. Craig owned the white house at the top of Cooper Hill.
JM:Then the building burned totally?
JS:It was September, late August or early September. At the annual Meeting of the Beach Club was that weekend so we brought this to the membership. They all said, “Let’s rebuild.” There was no reserve, no way of getting money. There was a mortgage on the property. One way we could get some money was to bring a lawsuit against the contractor for negligence for throwing water on a grease fire. We were covered by Travelers who was the insurer, a few bucks not a lot. We settled for less that it should have been in my opinion. We had in the club a very talented architect (Donald Blair Ed.) who is still a club member. He has a house on Cooper Hill Road. He designed the plans, not 4 stories, no bedrooms and all that because the money was not there. A friend of mine who was a CEO of a company and I put together a financial package selling bonds to the membership, convertible into stock. That together with our mortgage provided the funds to rebuild the place. Our traditional opening
cocktail party was in late June. We had it the following year. The place was built by then. That was somewhat of a miracle.
JM:Miracles do happen.
JS:It is the same building now that you would see, although it has been improved and well maintained. At one point back in history of the Beach Club, Fred Miles, who was a tennis player among other things, was the spark plug to put in the tennis courts. I was not here at the time. I was either in law school or in the service. Fred and some others put together the tennis court which has been a great attraction. John O’Hara, who owns all the surrounding land and including the land over which the driveway goes to the Beach club, is very generous in allowing the club to park on some of his property. (See tape 130, John O’Hara)
JM:He is a nice man. We have an interview that I did not do with him.
JS:Well he knows more than I do of the history. The property that my grandfather bought was bounded on the south by the O’Hara sisters.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add to this before we close either about the Beach club or the Association?
JS:I really can’t think of anything. I have told you about my own personal genealogy which I found very interesting having a parent whose ancestors lived here and were members of the Congregational Church in 1745 or around there.
JM:It is wonderful to have the background of the family.
JS:Apparently it is in our blood unbeknown to us.
JM:Thank you so very much.
JS:You are very welcome.