Charles Vail Interview:
This is file # 14, cycle 2. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is Jan. 21, 2016. I am interviewing Charles \Vail, Esq. on Mt Riga, personalities on Mt. Riga and anything else that I can think of to ask him. We’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
CV:My name is Charles Vail.
JM:What is your birthdate?
CV:My birthdate is June 27, 1943.
CV:In Boston, Mass. at the Boston Lying in Hospital.
JM:Your parents’ names?
JV:My father was named Alfred Thorvurn Vail and my mother was Frances Dockery Hudson Vail.
JM:Do you have siblings?
JV:I do Maryanne Vail Lanahan and my younger sister as I am the oldest Is Elizabeth Dockery Vail Knight. She is known as Betsy.
JM:What is you educational background after high school?
CV:After I graduated from high school I went off to Boston College and earned an AB degree in Political Science, then a JD from the American University in Washington, DC. I graduated from there in 1969.
JM:You said that you came to the area because you met Margie.
CV:I did. I met my wife Margaret who is known as Margie and always has been. Margie O’Brien actually it was Margaret Claire O’Brien. The Claire is for the county in Ireland.
JM:That is what she told me when I did her interview. I am going to ask you first of all to give me some background, psychical description and business description of Judge Donald J. Warner, please.
CV:Judge Donald Judson Warner was, well there were two of them.
JM:I know but we want the one who was connected with Mt. Riga.
CV:Well they were both sort of connected to Mt. Riga.
JM:I want the older one.
CV:The first one who Margie’s uncle used to call “Old old Judge Warner”.
JM:That is the one I want.
CV:Well of course I never met him because he died long ago but he apparently the tradition is that he was a local attorney here in Salisbury. He practiced at the time when the iron industry was sliding downhill and much of his interest was in Mt. Riga because somehow he had acquired a hunting lodge up on the Upper Lake. He also was very active in trading properties and lendingmoney to colliers who had come through, buying a few acres of land, say 10 acres with the purpose of harvesting all of the trees on that land over a year or so time. They turned it into charcoal and selling it to the iron industry which was operating up there. I believe it was known as the Millerton Iron Company (?) at that time. So that old Judge Warner would not only lend the money for the purchase, but he would then buy back the land which had been stripped of its trees and had greatly diminished in value without the trees. He purchased those lots and gave the departing collier a little grub stake for the next purchase. The collier would have sold a year’s worth of timber to the iron company and should have made some money. This process was repeated to the effect that old Judge Warner had acquired quite a lot of land on Mt. Riga in the Mt. Riga range on the environs. He was in a position to acquire the main piece when the Millerton Iron Company went broke and declared bankruptcy and eventually the Warner’s acquired title to most of what we now know as Mt. Riga including the lakes and the Wochocastinook stream by a tag sale.
JM:How much property did that include?
CV:I don’t know how much it was, but it has got to be 2 or 3 thousand acres.
JM:I had heard somewhere between 3 and 5 thousand.
CV:It could be. My first knowledge about it; the holding of Mt. Riga was 5,000 acres. Whether all of that related to the Millerton Iron Company I don’t know.
JM;Perhaps not but I think he added pieces.
JM:The Millerton iron Company may have been one of the biggest pieces.
CV:The Warners actively controlled the 5,000 acres one way or another.
JM:When they formed the corporation, there were 4 families that were…
CV:Three or four depending on who you talk to. Mt. Riga Incorporated was formally incorporated in 1923. (See File #104 Mike McCabe) It may have been after the death of Donald T. Warner or shortly before his death. Donald T. was the grandson of old Donald J. Donald T. Warner was the
prominent lawyer and jurist. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention that rewrote the state constitution in 1902, I believe it was. He was one of a very few number of the Superior Court judges at the time.
JM:Would you tell the 3 or 4 families that were initially involved.
CV:It was the Warners who held the land. They may have needed some money partners to help with the expenses or help with the acquisition or to provide funds for buy outs to the family and convert the land into cash. The other two parties were the Frank Wells McCabe who was a Civil War veteran and was related by marriage to the Warners. The Warners lived in Salisbury and the Wellses lived in Litchfield and somehow or other the Warners and Wellses got together through marriage and they were cousins. That may have provided the entry into the financial relationship. Major Frank Wells, as he was known, was a banker. The other family was the Schwabs who actually are descendants of the Wheeler family in Sharon. The wheeler sisters built the clock tower among other things. They were benefactors of Sharon. Somehow they are all related and I believe their money came out of Chicago in some sort of industrial concern. They may have been plumbing. I don’t know how that relationship was cultivated, but those were the three families: the Warners, the Wellses and the Schwabs.
JM:Now we are going to go on to Major Frank McCabe (error Wells). Tell me about him.
CV:Major Frank Wells was the original. He had two children. Frank and his wife had two children: one was Harry Wells. I remember meeting Harry Wells; he was in his 90’s when I met him and I went to his 100th birthday party which was celebrated in Brewster, New York. I had graduated from law school so it was sometime in 1970 or 1980, but in the early ‘70’s. Uncle Harry had a family of several children. One of them was Crosby Wells who is still alive today. The other child of that marriage was Margie’s grandmother. She married Ambrose Farrell McCabe (See file #2, cycl2 2 Margie Vail).
JM:This is where Frank McCabe comes in.
CV:This is Frank Wells McCabe; that was his name. F.W. McCabe and he was the first born of that marriage. Then the second child was my mother-in-law Louise Crosby O’Brien. Of course that was her maiden name. It was Louise Crosby McCabe O’Brien. She married Robert O’Brien later. There were two other children Ambrose Church McCabe, the church is because of Samuel Church here in Salisbury. The last child was Lyman Austin Spalding McCabe Sr. as there is a junior. (Mike McCabe was the son of him: he ran Lion’s Head Bookshop here in Salisbury until 2000. Ed.) The senior Lyman Austin Spalding was Mr. McCabe’s law partner, so he named his last born son after his law partner.
JM:That son is Mike McCabe that is what he goes by, Junior.
CV:L. A. S. McCabe Jr. is known everywhere here as Mike or sometimes to some of his friends as Spalding. His father was known as Spaulding. That is roughly the genealogy.
JM:What was the Mt. Riga Educational and Historical Society?
CV:I believe it was Educational and Historical Foundation Incorporated. It was a foundation established by Frank Wells McCabe. By that time he had pursued a career in banking. So we are talking about the 1950’s. Frank was President and Chairman of the National Commercial Bank and Trust company in Albany, New York. He had joined that organization early in the 1920’s or 1930’s and rose from whatever position he was hired at to lead the bank. Then he went on to engineer the emerging of that bank with other banks which eventually became the Key Corporation pf Banks which are today traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.
JM:Did the foundation actually come to fruition and what did it do?
CV:It had two main interests: one was the historical interests which were focused on Mt. Riga issues. The principal legacy was the rebuilding of the furnace on top of the mountain. There is a plaque up there and it was done in the 1960’s (in conjunction with the Salisbury Association who erected the plaque to the Salisbury Iron Company. The reconstructed Ball Forge was dedicated in 1961. Ed.). I have seen the photos of it which it looks a little bit like a pile of rocks and by the time they finished, it had 4 square sides and a top.
JM;I have seen that same photograph.
CV:Curiously the foundation was dissolved and disbanded in the 1980 perhaps because it was it became disused. First there was the fact that Frank had died so the principal contributor was not long available to help fund the activities. Some of which were to provide scholarships for children who needed financial help to get into college. They were local kids. Some of them were even related to Frank. I served as a trustee at that time when I was practicing law in Sharon with Donald Warner. I remember one of the other trustees was Jeffrey Walker from Salisbury School. He served on that board of directors of that foundation. So we closed it. It had at one time an interest in a wildlife pond it was called. It was an eddy of water near the stump bridge on the Mt. Riga Road as it goes up to Mt. Riga. It is part of the Wochocastinook water system ecosystem for frogs and local species. Frank protected it and about 3 acres so no one could build around it. Eventually that land that pond had swapped with the National Park Service when they acquired the Appalachian Trail for some other land that Frank had that went into the Park Service deal.
JM:You told me when we talked before that you learned two valuable lessons from Frank McCabe.
CV:Frank was a masterful commander at a meeting. He had a terrific presence at a business meeting. He was always well prepared. He frequently drafted the agenda by itself. He knew
the direction where the meeting was going to go. He was very skilled at bringing people along, building a consensus. Sometimes it was with a soft arm around the shoulders and other times it was a bit more forceful sort of way of persuading people, but he was very effective. I learned a great deal from him as a young man how to be effective at a meeting. It is a skill that has served me well my entire career.
JM:It is a skill that serves many different purposes whether you are a lawyer or a teacher.
CV:If you are dealing with a group of people and you are asking the group to do something that skill is absolutely important.
JM:Not always making it obvious that you are leading the group.
CV:Right, the best way to do it is to convince somebody that your idea is theirs and then they fall in love with it.
JM:Tell me a little bit about Margie’s mother, Louise. (Louise Crosby McCabe O’Brien Ed.)
CV:Margie’s mother Louise was a very… I remember the first time I met her she had a hammer in one hand and was fixing something in an apartment she was redoing in Washington, D.C. in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Louise became involved in redoing, rehabbing and rehabilitating these old 2 or 3 story townhouses in the Capitol Hill District in Washington D.C. She was a hand- on person; she was a very intelligent woman and she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Smith College in Economics. She worked for Senator Wagner here in New York. She didn’t marry until late in life; she was 3o I think. That was late at that time. She had traveled extensively in Europe, spoke German and French. I had never met anybody who had so many skills; one who could strike a nail with a hammer and hit it squarely. I remember coming home and remarking to my mother and father that this was really an unusual lady. She drove a standard shift car; it was a Peugeot with Michelin tires which were sort of new to the American taste anyway. They threw away the mold when they made Louise. She had been one of those people who were very progressive in supporting Franklin Roosevelt with his New Deal. After the war she soured on the whole experience and became very conservative. That was the story of a lot of people of that era. That was my introduction to my mother-in-law, to see her with a hammer in her hand. She was a very cultured person; she loved food and liked wine. She was devoted to Mt. Riga; she spent every year or some part of the year or long weekends up there until she died in 1983. She always spent a great deal of time at Mt. Riga and it always involved either herself, earlier in her life, or through her children and me as her son-in-law with the affairs of Mt. Riga as the next generation became involved with the activities.
JM:What is the connection with the Litchfield house?
CV:Louise became a widow in the middle 1950’s. Prior to that I think when her husband was sick, Margie’s father, they had acquired a country house. Louise’s family had come from Litchfield.
That was the Wells family. Her great uncle had been brought up in the house in Litchfield and then after the Civil War, he moved to Brewster, New York which was a railroad town which later became important because east and west railroads sort of crossed there. It was on the Harlem division and not too far from Danbury, Ct. so those were railroads that came across. He built a business career in Brewster. Various cousins and then friends of cousins occupied the Litchfield house. By the time of the 1950’s rolling around, it was in fractional ownership. The Wells family owned at least half of it; the McCabe family wanted to acquire the other half so it was a matter of their going around and getting 1/16th and 1/8th together. They did it and Louise’s husband who was a lawyer so he understood the process. Uncle Frank McCabe and Great Uncle Harry Wells, (Louise’s Uncle Harry and Margie’s Great Uncle Harry) all helped in getting the title to Louise. She then set about rebuilding the house and modernizing it. She lived there for some time. She sort of lived between Washington D.C. and Litchfield and Mt. Riga.
JM:Where was the house located in Litchfield?
CV:It is located on East Street. The business of the Wells family (who were the ones who built it) was millers so it was located on the Bantam River. There are several little mill sites there. They were wool millers and also some sort of flour mill. It is opposite what a lot of people call the Food Locker. That was the old homestead.
JM:We are going to switch from personalities to the property. Would you tell me about the time in the 1950’s when the state of Connecticut wanted to take the Mt. Riga property and form a state park?
CV:I was not involved with that but I recently read a newspaper articles from the New York Herald Tribune about this development. It was a proposal to develop a Tri State park which would involve both an expansion of the newly formed Taconic Park commission which Robert Moses had influenced in either its founding or its expansion. The Taconic Parkway was all part of this vision, creating greenways for city people to escape the city and come up to the country and enjoy a day or a week or whatever it took to enjoy public owned and public access to parkland. The idea was that New York State would through the Taconic Park commission acquire 100s or 1,000s of acres on the New York State side. Massachusetts had a state forest, no they didn’t have a state forest, but there was land available for purchase or it could have been condemned in the very south west corner of the state of Massachusetts in the town of Mt. Washington. No body lived there; I mean there are only 140 people who live there now.
CV:They are trying to get internet service, but back in the 1950’s it was even more sparely populated. Interestingly enough there are the remnants of a few guest houses like small hotels where people would come and spend a couple of weeks. You would not call it second home
ownership but it was a place where people came and sojourned for a little while to enjoy the mountain air. No particularly area to swim in or…
JM:They had Bash Bish falls and they had hunting and fishing.
CV:That’s true: they had hiking and fishing and blueberry picking.
CV:So it was a way to get away. Then Mt. Riga had settled through the Warners, through the corporation 5,000 acres, was in the crosshairs of the planners, thinking of this park commission. The local people of Salisbury including their representative Jake Rand heavily mobilized at that time every town had an equal number of representatives. This was before one man one vote decision.in 1963 I think that was. The locals organized a very strong objection to spending state money for land way out in the sticks that was not developed anyone would be able to get to it. The vision was that it didn’t have the sizzle of beachfront property on the shore or things like Bear Mountain in New York; it was beautiful but it was quite remote from population centers, think about Hartford and Albany and perhaps Poughkeepsie being the largest centers of population. It died of its own weight, but it certainly was a wake-up call for the Mt. Riga community which could hardly afford to mount a defense on its own. It just didn’t have the money to do that. The Mt. Riga folks were grateful to the political leadership of the town of Salisbury and the local community to fight for the mountain.
JM:Is this where the story comes in about Dan Brazee taking his pet deer to Hartford?
CV:It could have been.
JM:According to Mike McCabe (see file #104 Mike McCabe)the locals were really upset about this so Dan Brazee put his pet deer Bambi in his truck and they drove to Hartford.
CV:That might have been; Dan would have been that age and he would have been and Bambi would have been 7 or 8 or 9 years old. That could have been exactly what happened. I never heard that story.
JM:You haven’t? Dan said that if you make this into park wildlife like Bambi will lose her home; he told a real sob story and it worked!
CV:I worked. I suspect the real reason it worked was there wasn’t the heart to spend the money.
JM:With all probability that is the hard truth, but the other story about the deer is pretty good too.
CV:The story about the deer is wonderful and heart tugging, but also trying to get three states to work together; we still suffer from it, trying to get cooperation on any kind of regional project with three towns or three states is a monumental task.
JM:Let’s go on to the next “land grab” with the Appalachian Trail which happened in the 1980’s. Tell me about that please.
CV:The negotiations opened in the 1970’s with Mt. Riga because the National Park Service had worked with a quasi-government organization that was formed after something called “The National Trails Act” which was passed by Congress. That could have been as early as Lyndon Johnson but it might have been with the Richard Nixon administration. It provided that they had the funding to form a commitment; the federal government was the only governmental agency capable of organizing the acquisition of the Pacific Coast trails, and the Appalachian trails being the two most prominent long range trail systems. Both of which were built during the Depression with the Civilian conservation Corps. Then they were sort of was taken up under the wing of a variety of various hiking organizations the principal one being the Appalachian Mountain Club (see file #44 Norman Sills) here in the east. There again they were a volunteer organization with a lot of people but many of them were financially well fixed, but the idea of acquiring thousands or millions of acres of land from Maine to Georgia was too prodigious a task even for the well- funded organization.
The national legislation came on the scene and then it was only a matter of when would the funding happen so that the acquisitions could actually begin. When would the political commitment go forward from the Park Service to actually hook up all of the various parts of the trail? There were many parts of it that went through state forests and had been dedicated to trail use, but then there were lots of other parts that connected these two pieces and they needed to be protected. Some were subject to degradation from hiking because of development. Low and behold as far as we were concerned by the late 1970’s the Park Service had built up a bureaucracy and staff to go out and get the job done. They started working their way in the New York and Connecticut area and eventually in Massachusetts. There was a simultaneous bunch of negotiations with land owners in all three states to put together the trail.
Because we owned 5,000 acres over 3 miles of trail, we were obvious target for negotiations. Again Frank McCabe was then leading the company, Mt. Riga. When we first were approached there were many people, former leaders and members of the board of directors who remembering the 1953 fight were resistant to any sort of government intrusion into Mt. Riga. They thought that we would lose control and simply become a part of people from elsewhere who would overrun the mountain and spoil the wonderful experience that many of them had had as children and adults. Frank was more forward thinking, than simply reacting that way and even though he had been involved in the resistance to the 1953 take-over, he led the company and the board of directors with a little bit of help from me into thinking about having an instructive dialogue to fully understand what the position was of the acquisition team from the Park Service.
It turned out that when they spread out the maps and the surveys that they had done that they weren’t interested in acquiring the whole place; they really wanted perhaps one hundred feet on each side as a corridor a couple of hundred feet wide the length of the trail. That would involve several hundred acres, but it would have sliced our land holdings on the east side of the mountain Washington Road into 2 halves. We then made the bold step of saying, “Why don’t you acquire everything to the east of the trail? That would give you the ultimate protection against the future intrusion of housing and other things.” They jumped on it. We very quickly came to an agreement including a price which was $1,000 an acre which at the time we thought was extremely generous. (Lakeville Journal article of 10/23/1980 states 1,175 acres for $1,293,000 Ed.) It was certainly a higher price than we thought we could get so we wound up with over a million dollars as a result of the sale. That solved the financial problems of the corporation which had been severe. Prior to that I think the company has less than $25,000 in assets. All of a sudden we had more than a million. That enabled the corporation to from 1984 to now which is 35 years to manage its holdings in a way that is appropriate to pay taxes, and keep the place up including making major dam repair. All this has been possible because of the negotiations with the Appalachian Trail. It was a win-win.
JM:Now I am going to move on to some personal things. You have a wonderful story about going to Tanglewood in 1969. I want both parts of the story, please.
CV:I remember that because Frank McCabe had been very generous to Margie and to me. Margie was his niece. If fact when Margie’s father died, Frank took Margie in along with his daughter who was a bit younger into his home. The girls went to school to an academy in Albany. This allowed Margie’s mother to go get an education certificate and to enable her to get a job as a teacher. Margie and Uncle Frank had a longstanding niece-uncle relationship. Uncle Frank seemed to take to me as her young husband. I enjoyed my relationship with Uncle Frank. Many people my age had difficulty with him, but I think I understood him a little bit more about what made him tick and his ambition and his skill. He was not a person without faults, but…
JM:You appreciated what he could do for you as a tutor.
CV:We also had similar interests; we both enjoyed classical music. He found that out and all of a sudden Margie and I would be getting ticket to Tanglewood because the bank that he worked for I am sure with his influence had purchased a box of 6 seats for every performance. He went as often as he wanted to with his wife, Mary Lee and their friends; I am sure business entertaining took place as well, but there were still times when the seats would go vacant. We were often offered the seats, usually with the time and energy to take advantage of it. In 1969 we had no children and we were offered seats to go to Tanglewood.
The first memory was that this was at the time of the moon launch (July 20, 1969 Ed.) and we were there with people; my mother-in-law, Louise, Margie, one of her friends from White Plains,
and two younger people, Sheila Moore who may not have been married yet and her sister Margaret Mullen. We were all seated there. It was a bit of a rainy day; the concert began as usual at 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon. I remember what was played was Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony and the 5th violin concerto was played by a young violinist Itzhak Perlman who was introduced as a new Israeli phenomenal violin player. He certainly was. What happened then was during intermission as we were seated in the box, a man with white gloves and a silver salver came with an invitation for the family to Frank McCabe. He asked if this was Frank McCabe’s box. My mother-in-law said, “Yes, we are the family of Frank McCabe.” He delivered the note which contained an invitation to a reception and small recital at the home of Mrs. Koussevitzky the wife of Serge Koussevitzky who was a long-time music director of Tanglewood. The reception was at their ”cottage” known as Saranac overlooking Stockbridge Bowl. We said, “Yes, of course we would go up.” I thought this was great; Louise had done just the right thing. Margie felt uncomfortable because she thought she was misrepresenting that we weren’t really invited. I tried to convince her that Mrs. Koussevitzky didn’t know who Frank McCabe was anyway, so she would not be disappointed if he showed up or his family showed up. This was just one of those things that organizations did to cultivate their donors. We showed up, shook hands: a very diminutive, tiny little woman welcomes us and told us that there would be a concert and hoped that we would stay to hear it and in the meantime please have wine and so forth. That is what we did. We went out and looked over the whole cottage; it was a remarkable experience because even though it was raining, you could just imagine all the famous musicians who had been there. I know that Tanglewood now owns the place; it is still as spectacular now as the. It is a wonderful site.
The other memory included the conductor Eric Leinsdorf. The concert ended about 4:00; he took his bows when the concert was over. He asked the orchestra to get up and be acknowledged; he came and went a couple of times. Then he came out and put his hands in the air which is very unusual to see a conductor do anything. He was brought a microphone and he said in his slightly German accented English that he wanted to make an announcement that men had landed on the moon and the orchestra wanted to play the National Anthem. It was a very moving thing. From there we went to see Mrs. Koussevitzky. It was a powerful day.
JM:Didn’t you when you went back up on the Mountain…?
CV:Oh yes, the next part of that story is that we left the Koussevitzkys and went home. We had learned on the radio that the astronauts were to exit the launch vehicle on the moon sometime around 9 or 10 o’clock. So Margie and I heard that the Bordens which was Mary Lee McCabe’s brother who had built the cottage through Frank’s help and influence on the upper lake and had wired the place with electricity, much to the concern of most of the other residents. It had a generator! On this night it was welcomed because he had a television and it was the only place with a television on Mt. Riga. Margie and I took a canoe and paddled across to the Borden camp. The moon was out; it was moon bright on the lake. We got over there and
there must have been 25 or 30 people there at the Borden house. The television had been moved out and put in a place of prominence next to the fireplace. We all just sat there talking and buzzing around as a bunch of people do, but watching the TV all the time. When the announcer Walter Cronkite came out and said that they are ready, it was hushed in the room, no talking. We all just sat there thinking of what was happening. Then Margie and I got into the canoe and went home. We looked up at the moon but we really couldn’t understand it in and real way. You knew it had happened, but it just didn’t figure how we are able in a place that normally had no electricity, but we had found the one outlet that did and were looking up at the moon and the United States had put a man on the moon. It was just this total contract of history and experience. There were a lot of things like that in the late 1960’s. In a way it was just so unusual that what else would you expect to happen? There was change; just so much change going on, good and bad things happened. You just began to expect that every year or almost every month something revolutionary change would happen. You had to get used to it. Our memory of that is so colored by relative lack of change. Over 30 years a great many things have happened but not at the same sort of pace that seemed to be happening in the 1960’s, or maybe it was just us. That was an incredible way to close out the summer of 1969 and sort of close out the decade. Margie and I both started college. We met in 1962 so for us it was the beginning of our relationship. By the time the decade had run out we were on the moon and that year we started having children. That was a new adventure.
JM:The last formal question that I have is that I want to ask you about people’s attitude to the lifestyle of Mt. Riga. I would like to start with your mother. What was her attitude?
CV:My mother (Frances Dockery Hudson Vail) grew up in the south. She grew up on land that had been settled by her family in the 1770’s. They got a land grant from the King George. The place she came from was Richmond County named after the Duke of Richmond. She lived in a place called Rockingham which is named after another prominent English lord. They had been there through good times and bad. My mother was born in 1913 so by 1930 she was 17 years old. Her father had suffered from Rheumatic fever; by that time he had lost 2 farms and his sawmill business. There were no roads, there was no electricity yet, the whole experience there was bad. They were going down the tubes quickly. My mother was second oldest of 6 children; she had 5 brothers. She fibbed about her age. At her funeral the congregation was told that perhaps her only great fault was fibbing about her age to get into nursing school. She went on to Winston-Salem to the Baptist hospital and got a nursing degree there. She began her professional life as a nurse. That is how she met my father. So when it was time for introducing Louise O’Brien and my mother and father because Margie and I were heading toward getting married, we tried to think of a way and a place to do it. Litchfield made some sense since Louise was living there. Then we could go up and see the mountain which was something that I had talked about to my parents a great deal. We needed a venue. My father had played football for Villanova so he was a college football fan. My mother didn’t care much about sport at all, but as fate would have it, Boston College my school was playing Army at West
Point in October. It wasn’t too bad a trip for my mom and dad. It was about the same distance for Louise and Margie and I so we decided we would all go to the football game and go back to Litchfield and enjoy things. We did. The next day we went up to the mountain; it must have been a long weekend because we spent another day up there. My mother was up there at the cabin and there are no toilets, but an outhouse was available. It was a chilly night so we had a fire in the Franklin stove. Sometime later we were talking about going up to the mountain, and my mother said, “You and Margie really like it up there.” We said, “Of course, yes we love Mt. Riga and all the people up there. Don’t you mom?” My mother who was always very candid but never hurtful said, “Well it is just to me it reminds me too much of when I was a girl. I don’t think I would really enjoy it.” So we moved along from there.
JM:But it was very diplomatically stated.
CV:Very diplomatic, and when Louise heard about that she understood that completely because Louise had worked with Senator Wagner during the Depression and the whole issue of poverty and starvation. The Depression was a really bad time for them; worse than any of the financial hiccups we have had in our time. Many people who did, it changed their life and their attitudes never wavered. If they succeeded in getting through it, it was one of the formative events of that time and that whole generation.
JM:And their children.
CV: Yes including the reaction and anti-reaction to the Depression Era. It was a very fundamental thing. I always remember thinking about my mother’s attitude. It was completely understandable to me because I had grown up in opulent circumstances by comparison. I knew what she meant. I would go visit her mother, my grandmother and the outhouse was still out in the back. There was only one indoor toilet and I remember when that was put in in 1953. In my earliest recollection there was no outhouse, there were chamber pots in the room and the toilet out back. When ma said she didn’t really appreciate doing that any more, she had moved beyond that, I knew what she meant.
JM:What was Margie’s attitude to the mountain?
CV:She grew up there as a child and spent every summer up there. She is fond of saying that they left the day after school was out and they didn’t come back until Labor Day was over. They spent the whole summer up there. If Margie’s mom wasn’t there, there was a surrogate parent or nurse maid or somebody hired to keep herd on the kids and see that they were fed. You got the impression that it was in the 1950’s that it was just like most suburban communities that you read about with streets full of kids playing baseball in the streets and games and flashlight tag and all of that. It was just like that except you had the advantage of lakes and boats and running around at night. Margie still talks about being able to walk from the Upper Lake to the Lower Lake which is nearly a mile and knowing exactly where you are without a
Flashlight. In bare feet by knowing what you were treading on, whether you were walking over pine needles, or sand, or muck or pebbles or rocks. That was just one of those experiences that embrace the primitive that is unusual today. It is interesting to see how our wired grandchildren…
JM:I want to know about your children and grandchildren’s attitude to the mountain.
CV:Our children embrace the mountain. By that time it was not simply the absence of a luxury for example not having a toilet. In Margie’s day was a lot of people didn’t have toilets in rural communities, particularly if you were up on a mountain camp like that. It was more for camping than our style of living because the buildings were very simple and many of them were not very elegant. The idea was that you were camping; you had camp cots, like going away to camp. The reason you had a roof over your head was to keep the rain out of your bedding. Things have moved along. The Mt. Riga camps are a little more luxurious and they have more amenities. By the time our children came along the first was born in 1970, I must say Margie and her women cousins Linda McCabe and then the other McCabe cousins and other people in the Lower Lake those women were not working, generally in the summer time so they could continue to spend summers up there and spend time with their children. The husbands were working. You had packs of kids about the same age running around, playing baseball, playing flashlight tag, Monopoly and enjoying being in the lake literally for 8 hours a day, breaking for lunch, dinner and preserving some of the Mt. Riga rules like no playing baseball after 6:00 at night so the adults could have a chance to enjoy the peace and quiet of the place. The kids embrace all of that, even though they had tape players, not DVD players, but tape players that ran with batteries.
The one change I would say from my experience with Margie as a young couple we had a lot of gatherings on the mountain. Frank Collin for example with Bim Collin would play the banjo or guitar, guests would come up and they were banjo players, guitar players, there were some singers and there were piano players. Some of the older women who grew up in the 1920 and 1930 knew all the old American standard songs and play them on the piano. The trouble was you couldn’t find a piano that would stay in tune. There was a lot of live music and a lot of singing and a lot of drinking. By the time my kids’ generation arrived, it had moved from that because no one seemed to play very well, or at least not to play among their peers so all of the music was tape recorded, run by batteries. There was still drinking which they weren’t supposed to be doing. Some of them smoking weed. But the fundamental idea of getting together with your friends and enjoying music and having that kind of recreation in a place that was very primitive and had outside toilets and all of that there was not fundamental difference. It was just a difference of how it was expressed.
JM:How about the grandchildren?
CV:Well the grandchildren it is essentially the same except the toys have changed. Now it is now a matter of keeping a store of AA batteries around so that your tape player can play. If fact they were not AA batteries but powered with C and D batteries; those are hardly used anymore. Everyone had flashlights back in my day and in my children’s day, now they have flashlights with the LED things. So the technology changed and the little grandchildren all have I phones and games that can be played. But when they all get together, it is very remarkable that there is still the most popular game is not a bunch of kids sitting around in a room, each one tuned into their own games; they are actually playing Monopoly. I think it is because their parents and grandparents have encouraged them that when they are on the mountain, it is playing baseball, playing flashlight tag, and playing Monopoly. All of those things are doing pancakes and sausage on Sunday morning and all those communal things that really make the mountain a special place.
JM:Before we close, is there anything that you would like to add to this interview that I have not asked you about?
CVC:No except that in thinking and recollecting back makes me understand how privileged I am to have been affiliated with the place since 1962 so that is more than 50 years. I had no right to be up there except I married the right girl.
JM:You married the right girl and may it continue. Thank you so much.