Salisbury Oral History Project
Narrator: William B. Stuart
Tape #: 23 A
Date: May 18, 1983
Location of Interview: Mr. Stuart’s home on Undermountain Road, Salisbury, Ct.
Interviewer: Lila Nash
Summary: Birth and sibling history; work experience as butcher’s delivery boy, worked for Charlie Perkins, worked for David Doty cutting ice on Lake Wonoscopomuc, became a plumber and worked for R.C. Miller and later Cecil Dryer in Millerton, N.Y., some painting jobs; Lakeville changes; and retirement.
Property of the Salisbury Oral History Project
Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068
LN:May 18, 1983 I am at the home of William Stuart, spelled S-T-U-A-R-T, on Undermountain road.
My name is Lila Nash. I am interviewing Bill, a native and lifelong resident. We will begin in Lakeville when Bill was a young boy. Now, I would like to begin when you were growing up in Lakeville, where you lived, your parents, and when you were born.
WS: I was born in Lakeville, 1905, July 5th in Ethan Allen house. My father ran a livery stable. He was an automobile, carriage, and sleigh painter. My sister was a school teacher.
LN:Who was that? Miss Anna Stuart?
WS: Yes, Miss Anna Stuart was a school teacher. She taught at Long Pond for several years. Then she went from Long Pond to Oregon, and she taught school in Oregon. Then she came to Lakeville. She started a private school in Lakeville. She was there, I would say, roughly ten years, as a private school teacher.
LN:How many students did she have?
WS:How many pupils?
LN:Yeah. Who were some of them? John Rand and Charlotte Reid, Charlotte Hall Reid, and her
WS: Yeah, there were a lot of kids but I didn’t know who they were. I mean, they used to come from France or from England. Their chauffeurs would bring them….They must have been important kids. She had that school until…I think she went away in 1931, sometime around that, to St. Paul, Minnesota.
LN:Where did you go to school?
WS:Where I went to school? I went to St. Mary’s School in Lakeville.
LN:Oh, St. Mary’s where the Masonic Hall…
WS: I went to school as a …I went up to grade three. I was taken out and put to work. I never did get a degree at the high school.
LN:When did you first start in your first job, when you were a young boy?
WS: My first job? Louis Goderis ran a butcher store in Lakeville, and I used to run my legs off in the morning to deliver meat.
LN:Where did you deliver meat?
WS: All over the town of Lakeville to wealthy people, hotels, and everything.
LN:How did you deliver it? By what means?
WS: Sometimes I’d…Ernie Goderis, the son, would drive the car, and I would run…They’d tell me…give me the package and say, “You gotta go in here.” When that was done in the mornings, then I went to work…They put me to work chopping wood all afternoon. I worked six days a week, for seven dollars a week.
LN:How many hours a day?
WS: Well, eight hours. Just like everybody else, eight hours.
LN:And that was your first job?
WS: That was my first job.
LN:And what happened after that?
WS: Then I went to a second job. I went to Mr. Charlie Perkins in Lakeville. I worked with him, and I got twenty-one dollars a week. I asked him one day if I could have a raise, and I didn’t want to work Saturday afternoons. He said, “How much do you want?” I said, “I want twenty-four dollars a week and only work ’til noon time.” He said, “No, I can only give you that. No” So I went home. I didn’t say nothing ’til my mother said,” You’re wanted on the phone.” It was John Perkins. That was Charlie Perkins’ father. He said,” I want you to come over to see me today.” So I went over to his house to see him; this was a Saturday afternoon. He said,” You’re gonna work for me.” He said, “I am going to pay you twenty-four dollars a week, and you’re going to get afternoon time on Thursdays. But you got to take orders from my son.” Good enough. So I worked for them for a few years only in the summertime. In the wintertime I didn’t work. Finally I went to work for Mr. Doty and worked for him for five years, the year round, on the icing.
LN:On the icing, on the ice cutting business.
WS:That’s the ice cutting business.
LN:For David Doty.
WS: Dave Doty.
LN:Can you tell us about the ice cutting business?
WS: Yes, I can tell you some about it. When I first went to work for him, they used to mark the ice out with a horse. That was before they had machinery. They would mark it out. They’d lead this horse, just like a plow behind it, but it wasn’t a plow. It wasn’t one of them things either. I never saw one of them things ’til one dayAnyway, you would mark it out, then you had to lose a cake of ice, and chop it out in order to get it started. Then you sawed it all up by hand. I never could saw one straight.
Finally he bought a machine. He gave me the job along with the big machine. The machine weighted eight hundred. They run on runners. On good clear ice you had to hold it back. On ice that had snow on, then rain, and froze, you had to pull it. When you was out there, when it was ten to fifteen below zero,
you was on that pond ’cause you like to wish you didn’t. I said sometimes I’d eat my dinner, it’d be frozen. I got twenty-four dollars a week. That’s what we got.
LN:What time did you go to work?
WS: Seven o’clock in the morning. Got through, sometimes it’d be five, most times, summertime, it’d be six. On the holidays we would start off at six o’clock ’cause we want to get through early. We got through same time as we did any other day of the week. We worked hard. I don’t know what it was, we never did get through.
LN:How many cakes of ice did you cut a day?
WS: Well, somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand a day we’d cut.
LN:Then you would take them to the various ice houses.
WS: To the different ice houses.
LN:How many ice houses were there?
WS: Well, Mr. Doty had eighty-five thousand cakes. He had three ice houses. There was one ice house used to be the gas house, used to furnish gas in Lakeville for street lights, years ago. A lot of people had light run by gas in their homes, and that was the old gas house. Mr. Doty bought that, and he turned it into an ice house. Then he’d get two big wing jobs, one on each side. Your ice at the platform was one dollar a hundred; on the road, a dollar and a half. Howard, his son, and I, were the same height, and about the same age. We used to have a load of ice on the truck, twenty-one, twenty-two cakes of ice.
LN:You had practically everybody as an ice customer in those days.
WS: Oh yes, we sold a lot of ice to the big chain stores. That was hard work. The big ice boxes were up in the air. They were up there five, six feet high. You had to swing those cakes up in there. Two men swung them up in that.
LN:This was all taken from Lake Wononscopomuc?
LN:Did he cut ice on any other pond?
WS: No. Lake Wononscopomuc.We would go in there…Our ice season was about the last week in December, and we cut ice up until the middle of February. Then we got off the pond. Then they started hunting on it, and you had to get off. We cut a lot of ice. You can figure it out. Well, it sometimes was forty thousand cakes of ice a day. You had to have a good sail there to cut a lot of ice because you had a lot of storms.
They had one storm, started in on a Friday night. It snowed and snowed, and snowed so we never did
get on the pond ’til the next morning at four o’clock. We got on, but it didn’t do us any good because we didn’t know what we were doing. Hard work that was. It’s no wonder I had rheumatism and arthritis in my arms and back, carrying that ice….
LN:How about the machine that nearly got away from you?
WSL: Oh, yeah. The machine went down into eighty-five feet of water, black bottom. We went down accidently because the man on the field wanted to cut it his way, and I wanted to cut it my way. I cut myself off in the pond by doing it his way. We hooked onto that machine about two hours later with a big grappling hook. At three o’clock that afternoon that machine was up in our Lakeville Lake. I said we had a rope that we borrowed off Steve Kimmell in Millerton. It was three hundred fifty feet long, one rope, one piece. We had all Lakeville men besides all of his own men, and all the harness drivers out there. Davey said,” Now when I say ‘one, two, three, go’ you go and don’t stop ’til I tell you to.” So when that machine come up out of that water, it had to make a complete somersault and land on a runner. Why he wanted to keep going was because with the weight of eight hundred pounds up in the air like that, the …would open again, and he didn’t want to lose it again. We got it out that afternoon, but I never run that machine again after that.
LN:You nearly went down with it, or did you say….How did it get down there in the first place?
WS:The reason why I got down was on account of cutting yourself off into the water instead of
starting up at the open water. ‘Cause that field had been open the day before, that afternoon, and we got a northwest wind. She blew that water in on that field so she froze in, oh about five rows of ice. What I wanted to do is come up to the open water and two rows is now three rows of ice, and out on back towards my good field, but the boss on the field said, “No. Cut my good field towards us.” That’s what happened. I’m cutting in toward open water. When I got up there between this machine and…Don’t forget, when I’m cutting ice, I am cutting two inches from the water. That’s how far down I was with my big saw, and with the weight of the machine and the ice that had already been cut, she couldn’t carry the load. That is the reason why I was going to lose thatThat is the reason she went down. I tried to hold the machine, but my boss said, “Let her go, let her go. “She went down all of a sudden. Risky business.
LN:He told you that he would rather lose the machine then…
WS: Mr. Doty, the boss, said he’d rather lose a machine. He said you can buy a new machine, but you can’t buy a new life. We’d never gotunder that ice you wouldn’t know where you were.
LN:Were you with Mr. Doty when Lawrence Travis went down?
WS: Yes. I remember Lawrence Travis.
LN:You remember that. Were you there?
WS: Well, I played hokey from school that time. That was a risky business taking ice out in March. That ice was honey combed, and old John Garrity, who was Dolan Garrity’s father, built that pontoon to go out there to hold it up and get the.. . Another fellow I went to school with and I played hooky watching they saw. I didn’t go out on the lake. Saddest thing that ever hit this town.
LN:When Lawrence Travis went down.
WS: Lawrence Travis went down in that lake.
LN:Who was he? The grandson of Owen Travis?
WS: Well, I would say, yes.
LN:who built the Bear Mountain Monument? You remember that on the lake?
WS: Yes. Lawrence was a nice boy. They never knew where he was. At that time there were a lot of trucks out on the lake. You would have a man walk down on a Sunday afternoon, cut a hole through it (for ice) fishing. I think that guy knew where that car was to begin with. Of course, there was no way to prove it.
LN:Did they get it out?
WS: They got it out, but when they got it out, they said the back hooks were all torn to pieces when the truck got out. But Lawrence never wanted to work for Abe martin. He wouldn’t go ice fishing. He didn’t like the water. He was afraid to go on the lake.
LN:Is that so?
WS: That’s right. He said he’d sooner be tarred that do that. That is why they never thought he was in the lake of all places, and it came across, I think it was the first radio station, up in Hartford somewhere, even broadcast it. Too bad, nice young man.
LN:When did you get into the plumbing business?
WS: Well, I went into the plumbing business which is the worst business you can get into—hard work in that too. I said the guys today get good money. The most I ever got was four dollars around three fifty an hour.
LN:How many hours a day did you work?
WS: Eight hours.
LN:Eight hours a day. Who did you work for first in the company?
WS: I worked for R.C. Miller in Lakeville. R.C. Miller had his plumbing shop….His father… I remember his father…but I don’t…His father wasn’t alive when I went to work for R.C. Miller. I think he was down there at the apothecary there, the package store.
LN:Is that where he…
WS: That’s where R.C. Miller started off. There used to be a little house out the front there where R.C. Miller’s mother and father lived out in front there.
LN:That’s the wine shop now.
WS: Yeah. Well, anyway, that’s where they started. When I went to work for Miller, my first job was with Bill Stanton. That’s Bill Stanton Jr.’s father-senior. R.C. Miller said to me, “Can you climb?” “Yeah,” I said, “Sure, I can climb.” Of course, I’d need a ladder. Where do you suppose they put us? Up on top the Catholic Church taking down the cement chimney.
LN:Was that your first job?
WS: That was my first job up on top the Catholic Church taking down the cement chimney. Boy,that was sixty feet high. I didn’t mind it. But that was my first job.
LN:What were some other interesting jobs that you did when you were with R.C. Miller? Where
else did you do…
WS: Well, I’ll tell you. I used to be pretty good pipe coverer in those days. We were over the Kent Field House. They had a hot water tank, fifteen hundred gallon hot water tank. I covered that big tank alone. I done such a beautiful job on that tank, any other tank we had to put in anywhere, R.C. Miller wanted me to cover it. He wouldn’t let nobody else cover that tank, only me.
LN:So that was your job, covering the big water tanks.
WS: Yeah. They took about eight to nine hundred pounds of asbestos and then on the last—I had a big strap going around it. Put white porcelain cement, so when it dries, it’s just as hard as could be. Beautiful job. I worked…I used to be a good pipe cutter for R.C. Miller. Bill Stanton and I had a lot of heat jobs. We cut all our pipe by hand. He had a power—.he didn’t—.
LN:You cut all your pipe by hand.
WS: By hand, that’s hard work. Today they don’t want to do that, but I cut my pipe by hand.
LN:Did you work for any other firms?
WS: Yeah. After R.C. Miller I went to work for Cecil Dryer in Millerton. I worked for him for two years. After that I went up to….By that time the war was on, I joined the
I done a little painting on the side. I painted a big two family house in Lakeville. We painted Lakeville Manor.
LN:that’s down at the apartments, down on Montgomery Street.
WS:Yeah. I painted that with two coats of paint. Then I painted John Garrity’s big house on Bostwick
LN:Do you remember what one of the biggest plumbing jobs in town was?
WS: Well, biggest one…I couldn’t tell you. Maybe one hundred…Things like that…They had a good sized job up to Wake Robin. Down at the Wake Robin when Mrs…
WS:When Mrs. Hunter….The east wing was nothing but just one big roof. That was a good sized job.
We put the plumbing and heat in there. That was all pipe cut by hand.
LN:All cut by hand.
WS: All cut by hand; every bit of it. Big pipe on the heat line, big four inch main. Hard work to cut that.
LN:What are the changes in the village that you have seen?
WS; Well, I’ve seen the railroad trestle down. I’ve seen the Holley Block torn down. I’ve seen the Gateway torn down. I’ve seen the whole block torn down all the way from Charlie Williams’ house, you remember Charlie Williams, now do you? He lived…by that house where Paul Argali was born.
LN:Yes, that’s torn down now, where the Shell station is. Charlie Williams was the laundry man.
WS:Yeah. He was the laundry man. Every spring time, just about before Easter, we’d go down there,
and he’d give us these bulbs. You’d take ’em home and put them in water and stones. By the time Easter come, you had a nice big bunch of flowers up top. But he’d given you all them things. Of course in them days people wore stiff collars. I had a brother who was a chauffeur, and for seventeen years he had to wear a stiff collar. Don’t know how he stood it. He was chauffeur for
LN:Was Ed Stuart one of your relatives?
WS:He was my uncle.
LN:He was your uncle.
WS:My father’s brother.
LN:He ran the Stuart Theater.
WS: He ran the theater. You know; talking about tearing down blocks, remember that place where Western Union used to be?
WS: Well, that house there, I had an aunt, that would have been my grandfather’s sister.
LN:I remember Miss Stuart. She sold thread.
WS: Yes. She sold all kinds of little knickknacks. I used to go there to eat my dinner when I went to St. Mary’s School. I often wondered how that little woman made her rent. Anyhow, people worked hard in those days.
LN:Yes, they did. I remember her very well, and that later became Western Union and Bessie’s
WS: Paul Argall was in part of it there.
LN:In the barber shop.
WS: Before Paul got there, there was that Mr. Osborne in that harness shop there. Remember?
LN:Charles Osborne, yes. That was Mrs. Harry Bellini’s father…
WS: That’s right.
LN:What do you remember about the center of the village? There’s great changes now. Do you
remember the Hub?
WS: I remember when the firehouse was wooden…firehouse was about the same age I was, 1905. When they used to go up the hill with that two wheeled dingyeven in the summertime…
LN:By the time they got to the fire, they weren’t able to…
WS: Sure, the fire was all burned out by that time. There’s a lot of changes. You take down by the Community Service, on the right hand side where the eye man is there now. There was a whole row of buildings down through there. You ever go down to Mr. Billy wheeler, that’s Archie Wheeler’s father.
LN:He was a harness maker.
WS: There was an ice house on this end of it, there was an ice house in between, and he kept horses on the other.
Mr. Wheeler was quite a horseman.
WS: He was quite a horseman. He taught me…He worked for my grandfather years ago. He used to be working there. They used to make all their own wagons; they made all their own sleighs. I used to love to see the lovely paint job they done on it. I’ll never forget one time when I was a little boy, eight years old. I came by my father’s paint shop out back there, and I found a little cast iron engine, locomotive. I found it right in the mud. I said, “Can you paint that?” “Not like that,” he said. “You clean that all up nice. I’ll let you paint it.” So I cleaned it all up with what they gave me to clean it up. He gave me some grey paint. He said, “What color do you want on it?” I said, “I want blue, and I want a stripe.” I cleaned it up, brought it in. He gave me the grey paint. I painted it. I said,” When can I paint it some more?” He said, “Come in in a couple of days, and we’ll put a coat of paint on it.” I said,” When do I start it?” “You’ll have to wait a little while on that,” he said. “I’ll tell you when to come in.” So he told me one day, “Come on in now. Just how do you want these stripes put on?” He got it all painted, all varnished. Oh, boy, was it beautiful to look at. I got more out of that little engine than….
LN:What happened to it?
WS: It got broken. We used to have it up on the mantelpiece. It got broken moving it. It was too bad because….anything like that….my father was a great striping painter.
We did a couple of houses up…and a big garage. I mean a big garage. We done everything…big faucet, all black, had all black and had it all painted. They had everything. I went down there for a visit. I used to go in and kid the painter. They had a big buffer with big wheels on it. I’d say, “Now that’s not the way my dad does it.” He’d say, “What do you mean, that’s not the way your dad does it?” “You’re putting the chalk on the spokes to indicate the stripes and taken it off that way.” “How does your dad do it?” “He takes the stripe right now that post.” Well…
LN:Well that sounds….When did you retire?
WS: I retired here about seven years ago. I used to do a lot of things since I retired. I’ve built about thirty-two bird houses and feeders. I give ’em all away. I built them out of scrap lumber; I got some down at theLast winter I built a friend of mine a mockingbird house. Oh, he paid me. I built him two bluebird houses. I built six or seven wren houses. I built one sparrow house. I gave ’em all away. I give everything away.
LN:Well, that keeps you busy in your retirement.
WS: You know, Lila, When Helen Jones died or before she died, she had me build her a feeder. I never did give it to her. Maybe she give me five dollars. After she died,I had the feeder. This feeder was ten years old then. The feeder was out in the garage, so this guy said, “You can’t have that. I want to buy that.” She said,” I don’t want ’em. My husband built them. She…ten bucks. She said, “Darn nice of Park to offer to pay me.”
LN:Well, it’s nice to talk to you.
WS: That’s what I do in my retirement.
LN:Thank you very much, Bill, for giving me this opportunity to go back and see what was
happening in the early days of Lakeville.