Narrator: Norm Sills
Interviewee: Ginger Gilman
Place of interview: The Scoville Library
Summary of talk:
Came to Salisbury in 1949, a summer job of dipping sheep, Town Grove entrance fee, Work history, Dept. Of Agricultural, Institute of World Affairs, farming, Farms in Salisbury and surrounding areas, the Flood of 55
Date: June 16, 2003?
Property of the Oral History Project
The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, Conn. 06068
GG: Interviewing Norm Sills in the library on June 16th 2003?
GG: Where were you born, Norm?
NS: I was born in New York City. We didn’t move there at all .1 spent most of my earlier years in Westchester County, New York. We moved to Conn, when I was 10 years old and I’ve lived here ever since.
GG: When did you first come to Salisbury?
NS: I First came to Salisbury in 1949.1 had a summer job with another man dipping sheep. We had a sheep dipping tank on the back of a 4-wheel wagon we bought it with his car all around the state and our itinerary was set up by an extension service.
GG: Can you describe the town as you remember it in 1949?
NS: Well 1949 the trestle was still up on 41 named Cabana. I don’t remember much about the towns where we dipped sheep. I do remember going to what now is the Town Grove. At that time it was operated on a concession basis by a man named Timmons, and we had to pay 25 cents to go for a swim.
GG: What was your next contact with Salisbury?
NS: In 1949 after that summer I went to work for The Department of Farms and Markets which is now the Department of Agriculture. My job then was going around to dairy farms taking samples for mastitis testing. I went to a lot of local farms in Salisbury: Briscoe Farm which was Silent Meadow Farm, Grassland Farm, Deep Lake Farm, Crowley Farm, Lorenzo’s Farm many others. I had this job for about a year. After I got married, I came to Salisbury then I went to work for The Institute of Work Affairs. The director of the Institute of World Affairs. I worked for D of DI until I had to go to the hospital. After being married, we stayed at the White Hart Inn on our wedding night. It was a commuting distance on our way to Maine for our honeymoon. I never dreamed that I would come back to live here. We drank out of the fountain which I suppose indicates that when you drink out of the fountain, you’re supposed to want to always return. That’s the old tradition. At breakfast time the breakfast facilities at The White Hart in were not open, we so we went over to a restaurant over which is where the Salisbury Bank is now, had our breakfast over there. After three years on that job I left. I went to work for Bud Neely after my operation who owned the farm next door to The Institute. That’s how I got to know him. I went to work for him as a manager on his dairy farm. After three years there, I left to go farm for myself on the farm of Miss Miles on Between the Lake Road. I started with one cow and worked as a DHI tester.
GG: What do the initials stand for?
NS: DHIA is Dairy Herd Improvement Association. Farmers had to pay so much a month to have their cows tested for butter fat which is the basis for how much they were paid. That indicated which cows they had were worth keeping or worth breeding back. On this job I went to the same farms I visited while employment by the state. First year on Between the Lakes Farm was in 1955 the year of the big flood and I can tell you many stories about that.
GG: Will you?
NS: Yes I remember it was August 19, 1955 it had been very hot weather a long time and not much rain. Then it started to rain. It rained three days just as hard as you can imagine. My wife and I were up all night long trying to keep our freezer which was in the basement from flooding. We kept jacking one end up then the other. We did not realize it was a flood because, of course the radio was off, the electricity was off. We did save the freezer. However we did not have any power for three days. I had to milk my few cows that I had with a hose from the windshield wiper on my car. In those days you had vacuum windshield wipers, and I ran a hose through the window to run my machine. Between the Lakes Road was washed out at both ends because it was dirt road it was one of the last the town fixed. So I had to take my milk in a can out on South Shore Road which was still dry over to a friend of mine in Canaan where I put it in with his milk. Railroad station between Canaan and Lakeville was still in operation at that time and ran right by my barn.
GG: Can you tell us a little more about the railroads? That was quite a time when they came in.
NS: The Central New England Railroad went out of business. It became part of the New Haven Railroad, they went out of business. The last passenger train ran in 1927 into Lakeville. Then they stopped all operations at Canaan in 1938. Except they ran a the line from Canaan to Lakeville about three times a week over a ten mile section of track. It was kept up until 1965.The train ran right by my farm. At one time they had a caboose run off the track. My boys were about 8 and 10 years old at the time. I remember them playing in the caboose for a couple of days keeping a fire going in the stove until the railroad men come up with a crane and put the caboose back on the track.
GG: I understand you were worked on the farm most of the time that I knew as the Rand Farm. What was that all about?
NS: Yes Miss Ellen Miles who owned the farm Between the Lakes died in 1962.1 left that farm and moved to Hamlin Hill Farm which was known as the Rand Farm. At that time was owned by a New York stock broker named McClintock, actually it was owned by the Mitchell family which was his wife’s family. I went there as a Rent Framer. I rented the farm for cash rent. I owned all the cattle, all the machinery. I just paid him so much a month for the use of the house and the barn. He paid the insurance on it. I paid everything else myself. So I was there for seventeen years on that farm. I increased my herd up to about 80 cows plus some stock. After seventeen years there my kids were all grown up and on their own. We decided to go out of the business.
GG: I also understand that you were very much involved with the Appalachian Trail. That must have been really quite something?
NS: That’s correct. We moved to the village after we left the farm and I went to work for The Appalachian Mountain Club on the Federal Appalachian Trail Project, which is a project to relocate the trail on protected land. It started out as a three year project and ended up taking twenty five years. I worked on that job for 5 years. Afterwards I decided to retire so I could hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
GG: Which you did, I understand.
NS: Yes I did in 1984 and 85.
GG: When did you first become interested in local history because you are the Town Historian?
NS: Well gradually my interest in local history grew. I started helping Ginny Moskowitz, who was the Town Historian for about 12 years. I started helping her in 1997. She retired four years ago, and I inherited the position.
GG: What else can you tell us about your life in Salisbury?
NS: The main difference in Salisbury in the fifty years we’ve lived here is that the farms are almost all gone. Right now on June 17 there is only one farm that I know of that is shipping milk, two farms actually. The Deep Lake Farm I believe is still milking about 20 cows. John Bottas over on Weatogue Road (who has been out of business for quite a while) recently started milking cows again. That makes two farms. In 1955 when we started farming, there were about 35 commercial dairy farms in Conn. Commercial meaning they were farms selling wholesale milk. Today there’s just those two. Deep Lake Farm hardly qualifies as a commercial farm, since it’s impossible to make money off of 20 cows. That’s the biggest difference in the town. I had been going to the Congregational Church for many years, ever since we lived here. There used to be a lot of farmers in the church and now there are none. I also worked as a church deacon for many years and town committees such as the school board, and things like that.
GG: Norm you’ve really come back to a good town I think and we thank you very much