This is Jean McMillen interviewing Betty Oshman Stratton and Marilyn Oshman Yarnell at their home on 71 Long Pond Road, Lakeville, Ct. 06039. They are going to talk exclusively about the Cedars and what a wonderful background it had. (The date is August 24, 2012.)
JM:May I have your full name, please?
MOY:Marilyn Oshman Yarnell
JM:Where were you born?
MOY:I was born in New York City.
JM;When, if you don’t mind?
JM:Your parents’ names?
MOY:Ruth and Lewis Oshman.
JM:What was your educational background?
MOY:I attended school in Mt. Vernon, New York. When I was one year old, the family moved to Mt. Vernon. I attended A. B. Davis High School in Mt. Vernon. I have a BA degree from NYU, and I have a MA from Fairfield University.
JM:How did you come to this area?
MOY:I was brought here when I was a few months old, and that was 84 summers ago.
JM: Now Betty would you give me your full name?
BOS:Betty Oshman Stratton.
BOS:July 21, 1934.
BOS:Mount Vernon, New York.
JM:And your parents’ names?
BOS:Ruth and Lewis Oshman.
JM:What is your educational background?
BOS:I attended Mt. Vernon schools, A. B. Davis High school, and a bachelor degree from Cornell University.
JM:How did you come to this area?
BOS:I was bought here. My mother always said I should have been born in Sharon Hospital but I wasn’t.
JM:Marilyn would you read your introduction to “The Cedars” for us, please?
MOY:It all began 95 years ago in 1917 along the southwestern shore of Lake Wononpakook, Long Pond. Louis Oshman, a recent Brown graduate, purchased Joseph and Catherine Ledwith’ farm. (land records: purchase of 190 acres on Dec. 22, 1920. Ed.) His dream was to create a camp where young adults could enjoy sports and relax away from the cares of city life. He called it “Camp Winoka”. It embodied simplicity in both philosophy and structure with primitive tents, rustic buildings and simple pleasures.
Gradually after World War 1 when Mr. Oshman returned from the Marines, the tents were replaced with cottages. The plumbing moved indoors, and the facilities were greatly advanced. In 1927 Camp Winoka was renamed “The Cedar Hills Country Club”. A large social hall with two stages and an indoor basketball court was built on the hill. A capacious dining room, a charming lounge, a covered walkway, the pagoda, and a large lawn sitting area were constructed along the lake. The sport facilities increased to include 7 high tennis courts, handball courts, out of door basketball and volleyball courts, softball diamond, a riding stable and an 18 hole golf course. The lake provided swimming, water sports, boating, fishing, and a gathering place on the beach.
During the 1930’s the Cedars grew to be the largest summer resort in Connecticut, accommodating over 600 guests with a staff of more than 100. Together with the sports its reputation was based on fine food and first class entertainment. Two orchestras provided music for continuous after show dancing. Nightly entertainment included Broadway Reviews, weekly stock company dramas, movies, and all-star basketball games. After dinner on Saturday nights, women in evening gowns and men in white jackets could be seen parading on the lawn and pagoda. Celebrities such as Eddie Cantor, Molly Picon, and Henny Youngman performed. Tennis stars Bill Tilden, Bobbie Riggs, and Poncho Segura gave exhibitions. Boxers Jake LaMotta and Maxie Rosenbloom played exhibition softball games, and regale guest with comic routines. The Cedars flourished throughout the 1950’s; unfortunately the unprecedented flooding inflicted severe damage to almost all building and facilities during Hurricane Diane in August, 1955. The hurricane’s devastation coupled with changing life styles caused the Cedars to close its gates at season’s end.
JM:What a shame! Now would you read your personal recollections, please?
MOY:The Cedars was our very own Brigadoon, sadly there is not a trace of what was once a large and beautiful resort, except in our hearts and in our memories. It was an idyllic childhood; the freedom, the facilities, the ponds, we spent our summer days going from one sport to another. I remember
spending my 11th summer playing ping pong, but golf was my favorite, believe it or not from the age of 2; our old farmhouse was just a few feet from the 11th tee.
As teenagers sports continued to be a big draw, but boys became almost equally important. We were now allowed to stay up for the nightly entertainment shows, movies, basketball games, and stock company plays. Through the years we were surrounded by a large and caring family and friendly guests, many of whom returned summer after summer. Betty and I worked in the front office, checking people in, fielding questions, and taking reservations. One morning at the lake in late July of 1949, I met a handsome guest; Jules and I were married in the lounge the following September. Just one of the things I wanted to add is that his ashes are in the lake. He was a fisherman, and that’s where he wanted his ashes to be.
As in “Our town” I would like to go back for one nostalgic day; being young again, canoeing on the lake, playing a round of golf, enjoying Pasquale’s delicious soups, Martin’s great salads, Otto’s sumptuous desserts, and standing on the shore watching Bob Chevalier in his sea plane flying in Maine lobsters for Sunday dinner.
JM:Betty, would you read what you have written, please?
BOS:Some of my earliest recollections are of the waterfront. As a very young child, I went swimming in what we now know as Long Pond, but as we called it Wononkapook. I had swimming lessons in the crib where the children were; I enjoyed that and later on canoeing and rowing on the lake, and the entertainment every night. The basketball games were my favorite; players from the staff played on college and semi-pro teams during the year. During World War II we played a team stationed at West Point that came over every Friday night. On Thursday night a stock company troupe, the Stanley Wolfe Players brought Broadway to the Cedars in Lakeville. On weekends we had vaudeville acts performing in the social hall. In the 1940’s we hosted an American Legion Convention. My first introduction to security was the advance team for Governor Baldwin; they would not let him sit with his back to the window which was on the lake. Sports were a main part of the Cedars; there was a softball game most days, golf and tennis, horseback riding and ping pong. There was a handball court.
As a teenager I remember sitting on the porch of the lounge after lunch; it was called siesta hour where a DJ, a cute boy, played classical music. In August 1945 on VJ night the guest formed a parade, snaking in and out of the dining room banging silverware on the metal serving trays. I was 21 when the Cedars closed. The last couple of years I worked in the office. The most memorable day was in August 1955, the great flood in the northwest corner. Many of the paths washed away, Long Pond Road was cut in half by the brook, the canoes and the rowboats were on the lawn in front of our house.
JM:Oh, my word.
MOY:The house was here, the old farmhouse.
BOS:The canoes all came over the dam.
JM:And wound up in the front yard. How did your guests come to the Cedars, by train?
BOs:Mostly by train.
MOY:Especially during the war years when people couldn’t get gas to drive their cars; the train came to Millerton. The taxi would pick the guests up in Millerton and take them over to the Cedars.
JM:How much property in acreage did your parents own?
MOY:About 150 acres.
JM:They had bought it from as you said the Ledwith farm, right?
JM:Anything more that you would like to add to this fascinating interview? Either one, you’ve done a wonderful job, but are there any other little details you’d like to add? Did you Betty find your husband at the Cedars?
BOS:No, I’m the only one who didn’t. I found him at Cornell.
JM:That was a good place. How many children in your family?
JM:And was the other sister involved with the Cedars at all?
BOS:She met her husband on the waterfront in the summer of 1943.
JM:How did your parents get all of these fabulous entertainers and sports people? What connections did they have?
MOY:They had an office in New York City on 42nd Street, and that is where everyone was hired. We used to work in that office. When the boys came up for a job for the summer, I would give them a grade about how cute they were.
JM:Good, I was hoping we’d get something like that! You had mentioned cute boys too; I am glad you had your priorities straight.
MOY:He had advertising people, he had public relations people; all different kinds of people finding the entertainment people that would get the entertainment. Occasionally we would go around in the spring and listen to the bands.
JM:Oh great. You had dancing; you had bands come up for dancing and singing as well.
BOS:We had a band that was resident.
MOY:We had two.
BOS: One played American music and the other played Latin music. So when one set was over, the other played.
JM:Mr. Stratton is showing me a hand painted picture of one the cottages that used to be at the Cedars. How many cottages were there?
BOS:I don’t even know. There were many, but this was one of the bigger ones. They had some that were 2 room cottages; some were one room, some with a ballroom.
JM:Do you know how many cottages there were?
MOY:There were 90 buildings altogether: they went up to the cottages that had bedrooms in them. It went up to 72 cottages. Some of them were 4 room cottages, some of them were one room cottages, some of them were 2 room cottages, and then there were two big buildings. We called them Men’s Main and Ladies Main. These were for single men and single ladies. The Men’s Main had 38 rooms, and the women’s may have had 17 rooms.
JM:I like those odds, by the way.
MOY:There was a night watchman that stayed in between so that the men would not go over to the women’s side in the middle of the night. This was not your…
MOY:No, not your dorm rooms today all coed.
JM:I am being shown a picture of the other sister; a very handsome lady. This must have been a very expensive operation to run?
BOS &MOY:Oh yes, oh absolutely.
JM:Did the cottages get rented by the week, by the month?
BOS:By the day or the week. People would come for weekends; many people came for the whole summer. It was before air conditioning. They wanted to leave the city, and it was hot. The women were at home.
JM:I used to work in a summer hotel in Gt. Barrington where they would come up from the city for the summer or for a month. You were assigned a table and you got to know your guests at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and whether they liked their eggs hard boiled or soft boiled.
BOS:Was it the Berkshire Inn?
JM:Oh no. This was the Oakwood Inn. It was up Taconic Avenue sort of up way behind St. James Church. Your kitchen help and your chef were they from the South or were they from New York?
BOS:They were from New York although I know of one chef I think the big chef would go to the south and work in Florida during the winter. The kitchen was the most expensive part. They were paid more than anybody else.
JM:But they were very important because if your food isn’t good, it destroys the whole atmosphere.
MOY:The kitchen was very large. They had one very large room; one of the rooms was a large bakery and that went 24-7. The bread baker would work all night and the pastry chef for the desserts would work all day. There was another large room which was the salads room where they just made the salads. There were primitive dishwashers in those days, but not the kind they have today.
JM:The kitchen I worked in, the staff was from Alabama; they were all black. We had one black waitress, one older waitress and me. When the kitchen staff got going with telling stories, I didn’t know what they were saying, but they were having a good time. They were wonderful to me; they were so sweet to me. I learned a little bit about making salads, and I learned a little bit about short order cook. It was a marvelous experience. I would imagine that the two of you had a marvelous experience being so involved in this.
BOS:Yes, the major chefs, the head chefs were mostly European. Not all of them, but most of them were, and they brought all of their European expertise to Lakeville, Connecticut.
JM:What a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved. Is there something else that you would like to add? No, No? Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure to interview you ladies, and I am just sorry that I didn’t get a chance to be at the Cedars.