Monday, December 24, 2007

A Century Apart: Photographs of a Building and a Statue, Springfield, Massachusetts

While I was out tromping around Maple Street yesterday morning, I took the opportunity to head down to Main Street and Court Square to snap a few photographs. I'm probably one of the few folks with a camera that picks rainy days to go out looking for things to capture on my memory card. Steady drizzle sure lightens the crowds.

The first photograph below was scanned from the book Springfield Present and Prospective, which was printed and engraved by the local company, F. A. Bassette, and published in 1905 by Pond & Campbell Publishers, also of Springfield. Taken by A. D. Copeland, the photograph shows the Masonic Hall on the corner of State and Main streets. The subsequent two photographs were taken yesterday morning by a soggy guy with more camera-batteries than common-sense. It's kind of fun to hunt for the differences in the photographs taken more than a century apart, and interesting to see the transformation the building at 115 State Street has undergone over the years.

I like the old-photo version myself. Back when the clock kept time.

Masonic Building, A. D. Copeland photo (c1905 or before)

December 23, 2007

December 23, 2007

Jeepers, you turn your back for a century and they're building something new...

Miles Morgan Statue, Court Square, in 1908

...and in 2007

Thanks for stopping by and have a great Christmas Eve!

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Photos: Time and Water Flow, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1905 - 1920

There's never a good time for a water main to break, but there can be worse times than others, as Springfield found out this past Tuesday, when a late-afternoon underground pipe-burst at Court Square snarled evening rush-hour traffic and set city crews to working around the clock to repair the break in frigid temperatures just one week ahead of Christmas. Every so often, our aging infrastructure reminds us that nothing lasts forever, sometimes with a gentle nudge, but more often with a slap upside the head that wakes us from our neglectful reverie. Steam pipes failing in Boston and New York, collapsing bridges...colonial-era levees giving their final groan against the encroaching sea: Despite the comfort of the modern age, man fights the perils of the laws of nature every day. That we have been successful thus far is evident in our common blissful unawareness of the machinations that stave off those forces that would have us dust. Unaware, that is, until we turn the tap on and no water comes out.

According to news accounts, the ruptured pipe was laid three years shy of a century ago, around the time the photographs below were taken. This is the city the ditch-diggers and pipe-fitters saw when they hopped on a streetcar for home at the end of the day. Part of the Library of Congress Detroit Publishing Company collection, the photo captions in quotes are from the LOC web site.

"Court Square and Municipal Group, Springfield, Mass." (c1910-20)

Eighty-two different designs were submitted to the 20 member Municipal Building Commission (appointed by Mayor Francke W. Dickinson in 1906) by architects far and near, competing to put their name on the plans for Springfield's new city offices, and their mark on the prosperous and growing municipality. Consisting of twin neoclassical-style buildings, one housing municipal offices and the other Symphony Hall and set apart by a 300-foot tall campanile, the handsome trio, designed by F. Livingston Pell and Harvey Corbett, and finally settled upon by the commission, remains one of the city's finest assets to this day and a wonderful example of art in architecture that modern structures so often sorely lack. Contracts for the construction of the municipal group were awarded in December of 1909 and by October, 1913, Springfield was home to one of the most distinctive civic centers in the nation, and indeed, the world. The municipal group was dedicated with much fanfare on December 8-9, 1913. The water pipe that recently burst was installed simultaneously with the construction of the municipal group.

"Maple St., Springfield, Mass." (c1905-15)

Springfield's population has more than doubled in the past 100 years, with about 72,000 residents in 1905, compared to the over 152,000 recorded in 2006. Two centuries ago, the picture was quite different, the town of West Springfield just across the Connecticut River boasting a larger population by nearly 350 souls, 3,109 residents in 1810 to Springfield's 2,767.

"Smith and Wesson factory, Springfield, Mass." (c1908)

Established by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson in 1856, Smith & Wesson enjoyed nearly immediate marketplace success due to the incorporation of the two men's innovative designs into the manufacture of their signature handguns. Expanding in 1860 to the four-story factory on Stockbridge Street pictured above, with a complement ranging between 500 to 600 employees, from the humble beginnings of a 25-person workforce housed on Market Street a mere four years earlier, the Smith & Wesson company was producing 10,000 handguns a month by 1905. A slowdown in sales after the U.S. Civil War caused the company to look for sales globally and resulted in Smith & Wesson becoming known worldwide for its fine craftsmanship and consistent quality. This marketing push in 1867 opened the door to contracts with Japan, China and Russia, along with several European and South American countries, ensuring Horace Smith & Daniel B. Wesson's place in the collective memory of the modern world.

"Main Street, Springfield, Mass." (c1910-20)

Visionary Charles Stearns was probably the first to propose a generalized waterworks system for Springfield to lessen the city's dependence on wells and the river for its water needs. In August of 1843, unable to convince other investors to join him in his scheme, Stearns alone began construction of a network of wooden pipes from Van Horn reservoir to Main Street, to provide a steady supply of water to the residences and businesses throughout the heavily populated and growing downtown area. In 1848, the same year the turtle fountain on Boston Common came alive with water piped from Long Pond (Lake Cochituate) in Natick, Stearns was joined by Festus Stebbins and George Hastings in the incorporation of the Springfield Aqueduct Company. The city took over the management of the public water supply in 1860.

"Court House, Springfield, Mass." (c1910-20)

Springfield's third county courthouse since the first was erected in 1722-23, this Henry Hobson Richardson-designed building was met with not a few grumbles upon its completion in 1874, with claims of inadequate thought given to the structure's intended purpose during its drafting and subsequent construction. A major remodeling of the building took place in 1906. Despite its alleged drawbacks, including a 'high' initial cost of $304,543, the 'Richardsonian Romanesque' building has served the public for about 134 years now and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since February 1, 1972.

"Union Station, Springfield, Mass." (c1905)

The first train rolled westward into Springfield in October of 1839, when the tracks of the Boston & Worcester railroad were linked to the Western railroad's on their planned journey to Albany and beyond. With a favorable study completed and entered on January 25, 1829, "on the practicability and expediency of a railroad from Boston to the Hudson river," enthusiasm for a gateway to the west ne'er waned, and by 1842, Boston and Albany were connected via steel rail, the average trip between the two points achievable in less than 11 hours, including stops. In 1844, the north-south Hartford & Springfield railroad began hauling freight and passengers, linking to the Western railroad in 1849 and opening the way for unfettered train travel between Boston and New York City via Springfield.

"Miles Morgan statue, Springfield, Mass." (c1908)

Miles Morgan (1616-1699), an important early settler of Springfield and ancestor of Justin Morgan, the breeder of the Morgan horse, and financier J. P. Morgan, founder of U.S. Steel, stands watch over Court Square, originally known as "meeting-house square." What is unusual about this photograph is the empty lot behind the statue of Morgan, which, until January 6, 1905, was the site of the city hall, which met its fate by fire on that date due to a monkey's carelessness with a kerosene lamp. Today, the Municipal Group (top photo) graces the lot.

"Massasoit House and R.R. Arch, Springfield, Mass. " (c1908)

The Massasoit House, operated by the Chapin family since its opening in 1843, was a favorite stop for weary travelers through and to the western Massachusetts hub of Springfield. Looking north, the building just beyond the railroad arch is the headquarters of the Boston & Albany railroad. Peter Pan Bus Terminal occupies the spot now. A Springfield Street Railway car can be seen making its way down Main Street. With its lines completely electrified by 1893, the Springfield Street Railway boasted 94 miles of track by 1904, with a ridership that year of 19,000,000.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care.

Photo 1 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 2 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 3 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 4 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 5 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 6 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 7 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:
Photo 8 source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Digital ID:

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Photos: The Great River Bridge, Westfield, Massachusetts

Crossed by nearly 34,000 vehicles daily, the Great River Bridge is a vital link between the North and South sides of the city of Westfield, Mass. The truss-style bridge was built over the years 1938-39 by the well-respected construction firm Daniel O'Connell's Sons, which in 1939 was celebrating it's 60th anniversary, having been established in 1879. Fay, Spofford & Thorndike was the engineering outfit entrusted as architect of the project. In business since 1914, Fay, Spofford & Thorndike also designed the magnificent Hampden County Memorial Bridge, opened on August 3, 1922, which spans the Connecticut river between West Springfield and Springfield. The two companies worked together again on the reconstruction of the Memorial Bridge, undertaken in 1996.

Here are some photographs of the Great River Bridge, taken over the past few months.

Bethlehem Steel was the 'superstructure subcontractor' for the bridge. In 1937, the year before construction was begun on the Great River Bridge, Bethlehem Steel had completed one of the most famous and easily-recognized bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco, California. It is fair to say that both bridges, despite their vast differences, serve equal needs. (Photo taken August 5, 2007)

The Westfield river was a magnet for kids growing up in close proximity. We fished in it, waded in it and (shudder) even skated on it. While taking photos from the riverbed and poking around along her banks, I have to admit, a bit of that kid came back to me, a twinge of exploratory adventure triggered, perhaps, by the smell of the water or vegetation, or the music of smooth stones shifting underfoot. (Photo taken October 6, 2007)

Flower baskets on either side of the bridge brighten travelers' commutes. Although the city was going to forgo the plantings during construction of the new companion bridge just downstream, private citizen Martha Sienkiewicz and another volunteer wouldn't stand for it, taking it upon themselves to fill the planters through their own efforts, with donations and assistance from the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and local firms, including the Tea Pot Gallery, Rudy's greenhouse and Home Depot. It's folks like Martha and her friend that make the world a cool place to be. (Photo taken October 6, 2007)

Just beyond the Great River Bridge is the temporary bridge being built as a platform to work off of during the construction of the new bridge down river, an integral part of the Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project, which will be a twin sister of the existing span. The new bridge will occupy the footprint of the original wooden bridge crossing the Westfield river, built in 1743. (Photo taken November 6, 2007)

Washed away during the flood of September, 1938, and never rebuilt, remnants of the dam that captured the power of the Westfield river for the use of the mills lining her banks show in uniform lines beneath the water's flow. (Photo taken November 6, 2007)

My son Nathaniel and grandson Ryan head back across the bridge after getting a closer look at the ongoing bridge construction. The work has become somewhat of a draw for spectators, industrial performance art at its finest. (Photo by Romola Alamed, taken November 13, 2007)

Over the river and through the fog... Christmas decorations and fancy lamps do little to add cheer to this lonely scene captured the morning of Thanksgiving just passed. (Photo taken November 22, 2007)

Raymond H. Cowing was in his sixth year as mayor of Westfield when the Great River Bridge was dedicated in 1939, having wrested the position away from Louis L. Keefe in 1933 in an election that broke voter turnout records for the city. Cowing's early years found him presiding over a city with the highest tax rate in the state, set at $43 per $1,000. Cowing's stretch as mayor came to an end in 1939 when he was replaced by Alice D. Burke, who beat him by 127 votes in her third attempt to unseat him. (Photo taken December 9, 2007)

Winter has come to Westfield, freezing rain falling as I write this. The steeple of Holy Trinity church is prominent in the background of this photo. Built in 1909 to accommodate the many Polish immigrants to Westfield, the church was redecorated in 1939, a new pipe organ keying its first hymn the same year the Great River Bridge carried its first traveler. 'Tis a warm sound on a cold day to a wandering soul. (Photo taken December 15, 2007)

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Photos: Snow Falling, Pedals Underfoot

It's a pretty easy guess which method of transportation most folks would prefer at the onset of a heavy winter storm here in Western Massachusetts, given the above two options. Of course, the best place to be when the weather outside turns frightful is snug as a bug in your own cozy home, as I was when I snapped these photos last Thursday afternoon.

In case you're wondering, the plow was a mere minute behind the cyclist. Hope the guy's okay.

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The Federal Writers' Project: Ms. Cora Lovell, Hinsdale, Massachusetts

While looking for old photos of Northampton for last Saturday's post, I came across this lively and interesting interview of Hinsdale Town Clerk, Cora Lovell, entered on January 4, 1939, as part of the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Federal Writers' Project. Recorded by writer and Peru, Mass., resident Rosalie Smith, this snippet of life in the Berkshires just prior to World War II captures a time in America when innocence and ignorance were sometimes inseparable facets of perception. A sure sign of the times is the easy use of the terms, "negro" or "negroes," which appear embarrassingly frequently in Lovell's recollections. The words, of course, remain, for one in the nonce can alter the past with no more success than they can accurately predict the future.

Indeed, no faction is spared Lovell's easy revelations, her eager exuberance to share her story a path of exposure for those whose lives intertwined with hers. I imagine if one wanted to find out the latest in the town of Hinsdale in 1939, Cora Lovell would be the person to see. As long as you didn't tell her anything you wouldn't want your neighbors to know.

* * *

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

STATE: Massachusetts

NAME OF WORKER: Rosalie Smith

ADDRESS: Peru, Massachusetts

DATE: January 4, 1939

SUBJECT: Living Lore


ADDRESS: Hinsdale, Massachusetts

The following interview took place in Mrs Cora Lovell's neat cottage in Hinsdale Center. Mrs Lovell's duties as Town Clerk, Justice of the Peace, newspaper reporter town Librarian combined with her hobbies -- cooking, golfing, fancy work and visiting, keep this sixty-seven year old lady busy. It is never easy to get a chance to talk with her -- she's on the move all day. [We?] were fortunate in catching her at home and undisturbed by official cares.

Mrs Lovell's house is as neat and tidy as the proverbial pin. There is a comfortable combination of old-fashioned furniture and modern decorations that give the rooms charm, and a certain distinction. But the neat rooms are only a setting for as dynamic and "peppy" elderly lady as is to be found anywhere.

* * *

In every small moribund town there are a few outstanding individuals who, it seems, would never become victims of depressions and decadence. Like strong, hardy plants that grow in rocky, barren soil, these people manage to prosper in towns that offer few opportunities. Such a person is Mrs. Cora Lovell of Hinsdale, town clerk, justice of the peace, marrying justice, librarian, news reporter, society woman (she mingles with wealthy summer residents and the four hundred of Hinsdale), ardent golfer (a charter member of the Hinsdale Country Club), excellent card player and member of the American Missionary Society.

About twenty-five years ago, after her husband's death, Mrs. Lovell, New York born and a former school teacher, found herself thrown on her own resources. She ran a boarding house, she "took in" sewing, she substituted as school teacher "It was rather difficult at first," she said, "teaching all eight grades. I wasn't trained for it. I had only one grade in New York." She sat on delinquent taxpayer's doorsteps on pay night to collect meager sums, and made the startling record of collecting every penny of town taxes during her two years of office; she climbed the lonely slopes of Warner Mountain at two o'clock in the morning in hopes of getting a newspaper scoop and in 1920 she took the Hinsdale census on foot. She is the feminine analogy of the small town "Jack-of-all-trades".

Mrs. Lovell is sixty-seven years old. Last year she went to Europe. "I climbed Gibraltar without any trouble," she said, "Do you know why? The Hinsdale Golf Course. Gibraltar would never faze anyone who had played on the Hinsdale course."

Mrs. Lovell was born on Staten Island, New York but when she was eight years old her family moved to New York city. She was graduated from Hunter College, then taught school until she was twenty-seven years old, when she married. She and her husband traveled widely in the United States, both were disciples of Isaac Walton. "I've kept house in Florida, California, Maine, New York and Massachusetts," she said, "and I've fished in the Pacific Ocean, the St. John River, and the Rangely Lakes in Maine."

After her husband's health failed they moved to Hinsdale, where they bought a farm. Mrs. Lovell became a farmerette, making butter and helping with the heavy outdoor work. "My husband had a theory that if we raised all of our grain instead of buying it, we would be able to make money," she said, "of course, we had to have help in some of the busy seasons, but we both almost worked ourselves to death. I didn't mind it, because I was young and strong and I liked farm work, but my husband wasn't very well.

"We had horses for the first time in our lives, and we enjoyed them so much. We had bicycles that we brought with us from New York, but it wasn't much fun riding them on these bumpy roads.

"We stayed on the big farm for about two years and then we came to the conclusion that we had bitten off more than we could chew, so we bought a smaller one, but we had to sell that after a while. Then, because of my husband's health, we spent five or six winters in the South, but kept a house in Hinsdale for the summer," continued Mrs. Lovell.

Although Mrs. Lovell lives alone she doesn't resort to the slack housekeeping methods, characteristic of many country one-person-homes. Her house is always neat, and she frequently mentions trying out new recipes, merely for her own gustatory satisfaction.

She is a firm believer in accuracy -- her news can usually be relied upon; and she keeps well posted on the bundles and bundles of State laws, relating to the town clerkship. Slackness on the part of other town officials irritates her extremely.

Despite her sixty-seven years, Mrs. Lovell never gives one the impression of being an "elderly" or an "old lady"; she is seldom referred to as such. Her energy, her ambition, her vitality, her activities, and her plump look of health belie her age. She has a hearty, vigorous personality that reflects courage, and aplomb. An indefatigable conversationalist, she can talk rapidly and constantly for hours. You notice a slight New York accent in such words as firm (foim), heard (hoid), et cetera. When the vulgar might swear she exclaims "Mercy me" ("Moicey me"); and when she becomes excited she frequently addresses her listeners with a "My dear." You can't fully appreciate her stories second hand; you have to talk with her yourself -- listen to her forceful emphasis on certain words -- watch her inimitable facial expressions -- and if you've never actually seen a person "double up with laughter" you should see Mes. Lovell, with hearty girlish laughter, or a loud guffaw, throw her hands up over her face, wrinkle up her nose, bend forward, raise her feet slightly in the air, and rock back and forth.

Mrs. Lovell was the first woman town clerk in Massachusetts, she was one of the first women tax collectors (served in 1922 and 1923) and she is one of the few women marrying justices in the state. It might be inferred from these and her various other occupations that she is a typical career woman or another Susan B. Anthony, trying to establish women's rights, but apparently not, for she said, "I didn't look for any of the work. It all came to me. Some of it was just forced upon me. I was perfectly content to let the men take care of the town affairs. After my husband died I was sewing for other people, substituting in the schools, taking in boarders and doing just about anything I could to make a living, you know. Augustus Frissell (Hinsdale merchant) was town clerk at that time; and he said it was dreadfully hard for him to take care of the work. Sometimes he would have five or six customers waiting in his store, and someone would come in and ask for a fishing license, or a hunting license, or a marriage license, or want something looked up in the town records. So he asked me if I would take it over. I told him I didn't know a thing about the town clerk's work, but he said, 'You can learn. Just hang around me at town meetings, I'll show you all I can.'

"Well, my sakes at the next town meeting both the Democrats and Republicans nominated me for town clerk. I was elected and became the first woman town clerk in Massachusetts. That was in 1921 and I've been elected every year since. Only once did I have any opposition - Mercy, I don't blame my opponents at all for trying to beat me that year.."

The story of the opposition is one of those small town political "inside tales" which seldom appear in print. A Democrat had been elected to the school committee but he was called to another town before the expiration of his term. The Republicans who were in the majority that year, appointed a Republican to fill the vacancy. "It wasn't a fair thing to do," says Mrs. Lovell, "it was outrageous. A Democrat had been elected and a Democrat should have been appointed to fill the vacancy. I don't blame them for being mad. Of course, I didn't have anything to do with the appointment, but the Democrats vowed they would put every Republican out of office at the next election. The woman who opposed me was very well liked; and I thought I didn't have a chance. I even collected my books and papers together and tied some of them up with string; but when the votes were counted I won by a large majority. That was the first and only time I have ever had any opposition.

"I didn't ask for the job as librarian either," continues Mrs. Lovell, who by now was getting warmed up, "One night the librarian who had been here for years and years, went crazy. He tore his hair and tore the skin off his face something awful, and went screaming through the streets. The end of it was he had to be taken to the Northampton Insane Asylum. They didn't know what to do for a librarian. Some of the trustees came and asked me if I would take the job. I told them I didn't know a thing about a library, although I did know quite a little about books. They said they needed someone right away and asked me if I wouldn't try it for a while. Well I said I'd come in for a while to help out - and I've been librarian ever since. That was in 1917."

Mrs. Lovell recalls her experiences as the first woman town clerk of Massachusetts, not as a series of multifarious, uninteresting duties, but rather as a new experience, from which she derived as much pleasure and amusement, as she did hard work. "After I was first elected," she says with a wide grin, "almost every letter I received was addressed 'dear Sir'. I didn't think so much of this because I knew I was the only woman clerk, but one day I received a letter from a certain firm, asking me to suggest the names of men in the town who might make good salesmen for their products. 'If you will do this for us', the letter read, 'we will give you your choice of a safety razor or a sweet briar pipe'." Mrs. Lovell "doubles up with laughter" her feet flung up, her shoulders down until you might think she was about to take a somersault.

"I remember one time Judge Warner came out to my house to look up something in the town record books. I don't remember now just what he was looking for, but it was something way back in 1850 or 1860. He was terribly pleased that he found it and he said, 'mrs. Lovell you have kept these records beautifully.' The record had been recorded long before I was born but I didn't say anything."

I asked Mrs. Lovell how she happened to become a marrying justice. "Well, after I was elected town clerk," she said, "I thought it would be a good thing to have a justice of the peace in the town, because there were so many papers to be sworn to, you know; and we always had to go out of town for it. I suggested that one of the town officers become a justice of the peace; and some of them thought I should be the one, so in 1922 I became a justice of peace. The combination of town clerk and J. P. gives you the power of a marrying justice you know. I've been told that years ago there were a good many of them in Berkshire County, but for some reason or another there's only two left. It keeps us kind of busy. During 1938 I performed twenty marriage ceremonies.

"The first time I was ever asked to marry anyone, was a few years ago. You remember old Mr. Micheals, who lived in the South part of Hinsdale, don't you? Well, he inserted an advertisement for a housekeeper in some newspaper, and a girl from New York answered. She was a German girl -- handsome and very well dressed, but you only had to look at her once to know what kind of a girl she was. After she had been there about two weeks she and Mr. Michaels came to me and said they wanted to get married. He was Catholic and really preferred to be married in the Catholic Church, but the girl insisted upon having a civil marriage. She said that in Germany a civil marriage was the most binding. At last they decided to be married by me on Sunday afternoon and at the Catholic Church Monday morning. I tried to convince her that a church marriage was the very best thing we had in this country; and I told her that if they were married by me I would have to take the license and they wouldn't have any license to give to the priest. But she insisted on having me marry them. Sunday afternoon Bill Dornety came over with his camera and hid behind the door. He wanted to get a picture of me performing my first marriage ceremony. Just as the couple got here the priest called up and asked me if they were going to be married here. I told him 'Yes' and I told him that I had tried to convince the girl that the church was the best place in this country to be married. I talked and I talked and I talked to the girl and finally I persuaded her to wait and be married in the church the next morning - so I was cheated out of the first ceremony I expected to perform. She turned out to be Just the kind of a girl everyone thought she was. After the wedding she took his gun and wouldn't let him near her. He had quite a little money, and somehow she got hold of that and went to Germany on her honeymoon - "Well, that wasn't the end of her and her old chump. About a year after their marriage the telephone operator called me one day and told me I'd better hustle right over to their farm. There'd been telephone calls for help, doctors, the state police etc. Mr. Michaels had hung himself in the barn. The constable and I searched the house from top to toe, trying to find her. Later they found she'd gone off to the city.

"The first time I ever did perform a marriage ceremony, the telephone rang, and a man's voice said, 'Can you marry people?' 'Have you the proper license?' I asked. 'We got our license in Pittsfield', the voice said. I was all excited. I straightened up the house and hunted around until I found a prayer book, with a marriage service in it. I crossed out the prayers, because I thought mebbe if they wanted to be married later I heard a car drive in the yard and I went to the window. Glory Be - they were blacker than ink. Five black ones. The bride was one of the blackest negroes I ever saw and she had on a white chiffon hat. The best man said, 'don't you know me, Mrs. Lovell? I used to live in Hinsdale?' I found out later that he was one of the L--- boys. So the first couple I ever married were negroes, blacker than coal.

"Last summer I was asleep on the sun porch for some cousins of mine were sleeping in my bedroom, when I heard the awfullest pounding on the door. It was about twelve o'clock at night, and I thought it must be some drunks. They pounded as if they were perfectly mad. Then a woman called 'Mrs. Lovell'. By that time my cousins woke up and one of them came downstairs and said, 'Cora, don't you hear that pounding?' 'I'd be dead if I didn't', I said. The people outside heard us talking so I had to go speak to them. I was pretty cross to be awakened at that time of night, and I said, 'What do you people want?'. 'We're from up on top of Washington Mountain,'the voice said, 'We've been living together ever since my husband died, but some of the folks over there doesn't seem to like it. They made a lota fuss about it, and we had to go out to court in Pittsfield today and they told us out there that we had to get married right away. We thought we'd celebrate a little so we had supper after we got through at that court, and then we went to a movie, but we thought maybe we'd better come and get married right away, because they told us to and we're afraid the people in Washington won't like it if we don't.' They were negroes, too. The prospective groom had been the best man at the first wedding I performed. I told them they would have to go back to Washington and get a license and then wait five days. They didn't want to. They kept saying that the man at court told them to get married at once but I finally got rid of them. The next Thursday night they came here to be married, but I wasn't home, so they went to a minister. Can't say I was sorry.

"I've never seen,such queer people as some of those who come to get married. Another time I heard someone rapping on the door. I went out and there stood a tiny crippled man with two crutches. He told me that he wanted to get married, and pointed to the car, where his bride sat. He spoke to her and she got out of the car. She was an enormous woman, absolutely enormous. Some of the other men in the party were crippled too, but the groom couldn't get up the steps alone. The bride and another man hoisted him up and when they left they had to lift him down. When they were leaving one of the crippled men said to me, 'We're relics of the war'. The groom had given his age as thirty-three, so I wondered what war they could mean. I stood there in the doorway and said, 'War, war, what war?'. He winked and said, 'the Civil War'.

"Then there was a high school teacher and a girl who said she was a craftsman whatever that may be, from one of the Jewish summer camps on the lake, who asked me if they could come here and get married at ten o'clock at night. I guess they brought the whole camp with them. I never saw such a gang. I guess they'd been celebrating before they got here for most of them were -- well, I guess you'd say, lit up. There wasn't a chair left in the living room - some of them sat two on one chair. I didn't know what my furniture would look like when they got through. I asked the couple who were getting married if they would please stand, but the girl said, 'I'm not going to stand. I've been working all day and I'm tired and I'm not going to stand.' Then the groom said, 'Well, if you're not going to stand then I'm not either.' That was the only sit down wedding I ever had. They both sat there smoking cigarettes while I read the ceremony.

"Sometimes," continued Mrs. Lovell, settling back in her roomy chair, "people come to get married and don't bring any witnesses, but I can usually get some of the neighbors to oblige. A short time ago this happened, so I called up Mr. and Mrs. Brown and they came over. While I was reading the ceremony the bride kept wiggling and squirming and jumping around. I couldn't make out what on earth was the matter with the girl. I thought perhaps she had Saint Vitus dance or something. I gave them their certificate, and after they went Mr. Brown said to me, 'do you know what was the matter with the bride? The groom was pinching her all the time they were being married.' Can you imagine!

"Another time a divorced woman, who was only twenty-two years old came to get married. After the ceremony, instead of waiting for her husband to kiss her, she made a dash for him, then for the two other men in the party. Moicy me, she descended on those men like a mountain of brick. I've never seen anyone go at the men the way that girl did. Good Heavens! I don't know what ails some folks.

"One night a couple from Lanesboro came to me and said they wanted to get married but they didn't have a license because the man's divorce wasn't final. I told them I was sorry but I couldn't marry them. They'd have to get a license first. 'But why won't they let us get married?' the woman insisted, 'If people only understood I think they would.' 'I guess people understand all right,' I said, kinda sharp, 'but you ought to have thought of that long ago.'

"One December a couple came to get married and as they were leaving the bride said, 'We wouldn't have known anything about you, Mrs. Lovell, only my girl friend told us about you.' (and she mentioned the name) 'You married them last November and you ought to see what a nice little boy they have now.' Yes, I told her I remembered her girl friend all right. I was afraid I would have to turn my house into a maternity ward.

"Land sakes, I mustn't talk on like this. You'll be thinking all my marriages are terrible. They aren't at all. I've had some real nice ones - the brides dressed up real pretty and the grooms nervous and all-a-flutter. Moicy. I must admit I like being town clerk. Its not near as much work as when I was Tax Collector and it's more interesting. I served as Tax Collector for two years - 1922 and 1923 - you know and what a time I had.

"Both years I collected every cent of taxes in the town. Of course, it was easier in those days than it would be now. Everyone was working, but people didn't know how to save. They spent every cent they earned. But I found out when pay day was at the mill, or wherever they worked and they I'd go to their house that day. Sometimes I went a few minutes before I thought they would be home and sat on their doorsteps, so they wouldn't have a chance to spend-all of their money before I got some of it. It may not have been lawful but I did it just the same. On the back of some tax bills I'd have several columns of figures, because often all I could get would be a dollar, or a dollar and a half. Of course, now that I've been in politics so long I would know better than I did then, but after I was first elected I thought I had to reform everyone else; and if they couldn't save, I thought I had a right to try to save for them. No collector since has ever collected every cent. Of course, they don't have the time that I did. Most of them have other jobs and can just work on the tax collecting at night or in spare moments. They can't go around sitting on people's doorsteps, waiting for them to come home as I did. It was queer too, I didn't have any trouble collecting taxes from the summer residents although today the summer residents are the worst backsliders in town. I wrote nice letters to all of them, and every one responded with a check. At the end of the first year people thought I was too thorough. Guess I pested folks too much. I was opposed at the next election, but I was elected. The next year I was opposed again, and that time I was defeated by seven votes. Now almost every year both Democrats and Republicans come to me before election and ask me if I won't run for tax collector. There are thousands of dollars outstanding, but I don't want the job.

"The worst experience I ever had was when I was Tax Collector. It was right after I was elected. The assessors gave me a commitment book, but no warrant. Of course, it's illegal to collect without a warrant; and according to the laws then there was some terrible fine or imprisonment -- I can't remember just what it was-imposed upon anyone who did collect without a warrant, so I didn't dare. I kept after those assessors and kept asking and asking them for a warrant, but they kept putting me off. They said I didn't need it, none of the other collectors had ever bothered about it. I went to the former tax collector but he told me he never bothered about a warrant, he said it wouldn't do me any good to have it anyway because the assessors kept making so many mistakes they'd have to keep changing the warrant. Then the selectmen got after me. They said I'd have to start collecting, because the town needed the money badly, and people who wanted to pay their taxes began to complain that I wouldn't take their money. I didn't know what to do, so I wrote to Boston. I told them the selectmen were pressing me, but that I just couldn't get a warrant from the assessors. In a few days an investigation was started. It was held in the town hall, and I got up and told the men from Boston that our assessors didn't do a thing but draw their salary. After the meeting the investigators said they wanted to see the assessors alone. A few days later I got the warrant. That was an awful embarrassing time but I couldn't help it."

Knowing that Mrs. Lovell had had an experience or two while acting as local reporter for the Springfield Republican I tried to shift the conversation into that channel.

"Well, most of my work for the Republican is just ordinary stuff but I did have one experience a year or so ago that was kinda exciting.

"One night about two o'clock the phone rang. Someone from the Republican in Springfield was calling and wanted to know if I had heard anything about an airplane falling on Warner Hill. I told them 'No' I hadn't heard anything about it, but they said they had the rumor and they would like to have me verify it if possible.

There is only one house -- occupied by negroes -- in the near vicinity of Warner Hill. The road beyond that house is impassable by car). I put a coat on over my nightgown and started out. I had an old Ford at that time so I drove up as far as Mrs. Washington's. (the negro family mother). I thought I would stop there and see if she had heard anything about the airplane. I pounded and pounded on the door, but no one answered. Finally I went around to one of the bedroom windows and roused Mrs. Washington, but she hadn't heard anything that sounded like an airplane. I left the car and walked all around the hill. I coo-hooed every few minutes, hoping that if an airplane had dropped some of the survivors might answer, but no one did. After I had searched for about an hour I went home and called the Republican. The next day I discovered that it was nothing but a motor boat on Plunkett Lake, which someone had mistaken for an airplane and me trotting all over Warner Hill in the middle of the night in my nightgown. Can you imagine."

Mrs. Lovell was warmed up and going, strong. Her multitudinous cares were laid aside for the time being, and the afternoon was still young. Just about then as Mrs. Lovell expressed it, "Business came rapping at the door" in the form of a town official who wanted a record checked. He lingered asking for more information so we departed, not however before Mrs. Lovell had commanded. "Come back again soon and bring your mother. Always glad to see you. Tell your mother I got a new pattern for those aprons I was telling her about." With a smart shake of her head and hand she bustled back to her official duties.

More local stories from the Federal Writers' Project on EWM.

(Above photo: Hinsdale Public Library, Built 1866)

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Of Icemen and Presidents: Photos of Northampton at the Dawn of the 20th Century

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1910, my great-grandfather, Robert Grant, was living at 61 Main Street in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wife of six-years, my great-grandmother, Mary, and his three children: Martha, the oldest at 6 years old (and the little girl who was destined to become my grandmother), Helen, 3, and son Robert, 2. In a somewhat-chilling sign of the times, the Census Bureau in 1910 included on its form the queries, under the heading, "Mother of how many children": "Number born" and "Number now living." My great-grandparents, Robert and Mary, were three for three.

Robert's mother-in-law, the widower Mary Waldron, also resided with the young family at the time of the 1910 federal census. Apparently, there was some confusion on the matter of Mary's age on the census-taker's part - perhaps a reflection of Mary's eagerness to impress her vigor upon the clip-board wielding gentleman at the door? - we'll never know. But it is a bit odd that her age is listed as 58 in the year 1910, considering the same census page also notes that she emigrated from Ireland in 1850. Had she traveled as a twinkle in her mother's eye?

Robert was 32 in 1910, and he and his wife Mary, five years his junior, owned their home at 61 Main Street free and clear of a mortgage, thanks to Robert's job as superintendent of his half-brother William's ice company, Grant Ice Company. William Grant, twenty years older than Robert, had emigrated to the United States from the family homestead in Nova Scotia over 35 years prior to that Spring day in 1910 that the census-taker knocked at his younger sibling's door, and was proprietor of the well-established Northampton business by the time Robert headed south from the village of Upper Stewiacke in 1899. In 1905, Alfred Grant followed his older half-brother William and younger brother Robert to Northampton, and into the family business, and in 1910 was employed as a foreman at the ice company. The nation's future president and her 30th, Calvin Coolidge, was mayor of Northampton.

The 1920 census shows a grimmer picture of the life of the Grant-Waldron family. Robert and Mary have added two children to the tally, Mildred, 9, and Robert, 5. But two names are missing from the census page, the empty spaces heartbreak institutionalized. Mary has followed her mother into widowhood and mourning, husband Robert and son William having both passed in the past decade, the two censuses bookends of change.

Perhaps the elder Mary had given up her coy hedges on her true lifespan by the later census, for tragedy ages all, with no reverse. My great-great grandmother, Mary Waldron had lived to see 80 by 1920, the year Silent Cal was elected Vice-President.

The photographs below capture Northampton in the first decade of the 20th Century. From the the Library of Congress Detroit Publishing Company Collection, these are the streets and sights that were trod upon and spied by icemen and presidents.

Main Street, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

Draper Hotel, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

Post Office, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

High School, Northampton, Mass. (between 1900 and 1906)

Forbes Library, Northampton, Mass. (between 1900 and 1906)
(Home of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum)

Public Library (Memorial Hall), Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

Court House, Northampton, Mass. (c1904)

Court House, Northampton, Mass. (c1904?)

Main Street and Court House, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

For more on Northampton and the Grant-Waldron clan, and a look at the folks who were my forebears, check out the earlier EWM post, 'My Paternal Pedigree.'

As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Westfield's Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project Unfolds

Stand in the same spot long enough and life is bound to change around you. Keep moving forward with determination and one will make progress. Or at least hope to.

The Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project in Westfield is indeed making progress despite the looming threat of the frozen season just around the corner, like an approaching cold wind that triumphantly announces its arrival with a howl before releasing its frigid arctic blast to gnaw at vulnerable ears and tips of noses, frozen and red. Jeepers, it was frosty out yesterday morning! The wind was blowing the dusting of snow that fell overnight and a bit into the morning into tiny frozen-needle tornadoes of torture.

You may have guessed by now that I am prone to embellishment. Maybe even a hint of melodrama.

As I was saying...

An old-timer I used to work with once said to me "They told me, 'Cheer up, things could be worse.' Sure enough, I cheered up and things got worse." That seems to sum up Westfield's worsening traffic woes. The light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a new crossing of the Westfield River is a long way off and very dim indeed looking at it from this side of a 3+ year distance. In the meantime, Westfield's Elm Street/North Elm Street unique traffic bottleneck has only gotten worse, with long lines and waits that would try the patience of a saint. The same old-timer used to claim his nationality was, "Half Russian, half taking my time." Westfield drivers idling in line waiting to traverse the Great River Bridge know that feeling.

Folks I've spoken with about the new bridge under construction linking the North and South sides seem to be evenly divided on the usefulness of such a venture. I come down on the side of the "for it" crowd, for many reasons. One is a simple bare scary fact: Out of the 100 most well-traveled bridges in the commonwealth, the Great River Bridge in Westfield is tied for 11th place with a bridge crossing the Merrimack river out east. 11th most structurally-deficient bridge in the state, that is. Ranking a 9.5 out of a possible score of 100 is enough to convince me that another bridge is needed, followed by a refurb on the existing 1939-built structure, as planned. But that's not all. I have somewhat of a vested interest in the project, just as any employee of a local business that reaps the benefits of the influx of construction funds from Boston does. It's no Big Dig, with its free-for-all grab for cash, but as a truck suspension mechanic, I appreciate the fact that heavy equipment and trucks are out there moving around, because they don't break if they're not working. And I don't work if they aren't breaking. A new bridge is good for the local economy.

I'm going out on a limb here, but I think the new bridge will increase the efficiency of traffic flow across the two sides of the city, but only when the whole 10 & 202 corridor improvement project is complete, which could be upwards of a 10 year total wait to see if my prophecy is correct (Somewhere out there, someone is marking their calendar). According to the project description: "Under the preferred alternative there will be a coordinated traffic signal system interconnected with adjacent signals along the Elm Street corridor. Additionally there will be geometric improvements to the project area intersections and adjacent streets to better accommodate peak hour traffic demands." Let's keep our fingers crossed.

As part of the over-all project, the Pochassic Street Bridge over the railroad tracks is slated to be widened to three lanes, with a dedicated right turn lane from Pochassic onto North Elm, which will be three lanes of traffic flowing one-way in a southerly direction toward downtown. The intersection of Notre Dame and North Elm streets, at the bottom of Clay Hill, will also see some needed changes, with a third lane to be added in each direction for turns onto Notre Dame, freeing up the other two lanes for 10 & 202 through-traffic. On the South-side, all on-street parking will be discontinued on Elm Street from the Great River Bridge to Franklin Street (Rte. 20), allowing for two unobstructed lanes each of north and south-bound traffic. The new bridge will draw motorists north along the Elm Street Spur in front of Holy Trinity church, emptying out onto the North-side's Union Avenue in three lanes with ample space for dedicated turning lanes and through-traffic both. Green space for folks to enjoy will take up the area between the twin bridges, which will be roughly about 150 feet apart.

Looks good on paper anyway.

Another major plus will be the reconstruction of the CSX railroad viaduct parallel to Railroad Avenue and crossing North Elm Street, raising it from its currently varied height of 11'5" at the west end to 13'6" at its east, to a respectable 14'5". This will eliminate the problem of tractor-trailers getting stuffed under the bridge, which was kind of interesting when I was a kid (a long time ago), but is merely annoying now. Someday the stories will turn legends. Ah, progress.

Now if we can eliminate all of the ugly billboards littering North Elm Street on and by the viaduct...That would be a step ahead. Aesthetically speaking, of course.

Here are some photographs looking north-east, taken from the south-east corner of the Great River Bridge. The structure the crane is working from is a temporary work platform built to accommodate construction of the new bridge. In the last few photos, the forms are being built along the north bank and in the center of the river for the pouring of the concrete that will make up two of the three buttresses the new bridge will rest on.

August 8, 2007 - 9:43 a.m.

October 6, 2007 - 8:35 a.m.

October 16, 2007 - 2:21 p.m.

October 23, 2007 - 2:17 p.m.

October 30, 2007 - 2:16 p.m

November 13, 2007 - 4:27 p.m. (Photo by Romola Alamed)

November 17, 2007 - 10:29 a.m.

November 22, 2007 - 10:11 a.m.

December 1, 2007 - 9:58 a.m.

For more from EWM on the city of Westfield's Great River Bridge Project go here.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Federal Writer's Project: Johann Schiller, New Marlborough, Massachusetts

I can get lost in the American Memory Collection section of the Library of Congress's web site for hours, tapping random key words into the search box and seeing where they bring me. This "Living Lore" story from the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Federal Writer's Project - undertaken from 1936 through 1940 as a way to set some fairly average American folks' experiences from pen to paper - is a gem uncovered in that fashion.

In this glimpse of an afternoon visit in the autumn of 1938 with New Marlborough resident Johann Schiller, well-recounted by WPA writer Wade Van Dore, no-nonsense Yankee spirit is quite evident (despite Mr. Schiller's early years in New York) and indeed stands of a certain charm. Folks from outside our area may consider standoffish Mr. Schiller and his to-the-point banter someone to avoid socially, New Englanders nod their heads in agreement with him. He's someone we could yak over the fence with.

* * *

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

STATE Massachusetts


ADDRESS New Marlborough, Massachusetts

DATE January 6, 1939

SUBJECT Living Lore


New Marlborough, Massachusetts

Mr. Schiller, of German descent, is about 75 years of age. He is a tall, distinguished looking, vigorous man, still capable of performing a full day's hard physical labor. There is almost a military straightness and trimness in his mein. His white hair is cut short; his complexion is as clear as a schoolboy's. He spent his early years in New York City but now lives with an elderly Yankee farmer on an isolated farm in western Massachusetts, two miles from the nearest neighbor. These two men are almost completely self-sufficient; they do all their own work and raise most of their food. Modernity has scarcely touched them. Their house has not a single modern convenience; they do not own a car. The farm now appears like a high oasis of pasture and hayfield in a desert of woods and brush. Almost every day half-tame deer come to feed on the grass in the fields. Days sometimes pass before a vehicle goes by on the gravel road in front of the house. It is a country of hawks, owls, foxes, and rabbits. "The house and farm buildings are unpainted, and in the summer their weather-worn boards appear almost black in the heavy shade of old maple trees. There is no litter about. Farming tools, wood-piles, pails and other necessaries are always seen in their given places. These men are as regular in their habits as the seasons which they know so well.

* * *

"And how are you today?" asked Mr. Schiller as I walked into his garden where he was picking ripe pole beans from a long straight row of poles. It was about three o'clock on a beautiful October afternoon. The atmosphere was mellow as a ripe pumpkin. No breath of wind stirred a ripe leaf or a blade of grass.

"I've got what might be called autumn-fever. Don't you think that this is about the finest October we've had for years? It's hard to stay inside on days like this."

"Yes - isn't it fine; but we deserve it after all the bad weather we had last summer. My garden wasn't half as good as usual. There was much too much rain. Spoiled my cucumbers, squash, onions, half my potatoes - and look at those carrots over there! they seem to have a new disease of some kind. See how rusty the leaves are? I've never seen carrots behave like that before."

"They do look rather stricken, don't they?" I agreed. "But it looks like you've had a much better garden that most folks. Being up on this hill, at least your stuff wasn't covered by water the way mine was. Many of my squash were floating like toy boats more than once last summer, and only a few of them were fit to eat. I doubt I picked a dozen good cucumbers during the season."

"That's the way it goes," returned Mr. Schiller. "If the Devil doesn't get you, the weather does. But at least we can say that the worse the weather is, the more entertaining it is. New Englanders will have their hurricane to talk about for a long spell. How was the wind down your way?"

"Not so bad. Just a few trees blown over - no houses damaged except by water. I suppose you've heard that our town lost nearly all its bridges."

"No, I didn't hear but I suspected it. I've been so busy this fall with farm work that I haven't got down to the village since the storm. Of course you noticed that the road in front of our house is still closed. Nobody has passed here for several weeks. Several times I've walked down to a neighbor's and picked up my mail, otherwise I guess I'd not even have known about the hurricane."

"You're really very much out of things, here, aren't you?"

"Yes, we are indeed! Not that it matters much, I suppose. In the summer our nearest neighbors are two miles away, but they might as well be fifty for all the communication we have with them, seeing that they're new summer people and they have no time to bother with the likes of us. Excuse my working like this picking these beans, but I'll be through soon. I'd like to fill this bushel basket before I go to the house."

"Just keep right on - nothing's more important than beans. What's the matter - don't you like city people any more?"

"It isn't a case of liking or not liking them. You know I came from New York city myself close to fifty years ago. I was only about twenty-five when I left my office position in the phonograph shop, where I became implicated in a big patent fight. The lies and hate that I saw thrown around there made me rather ill, morally ill at least. It was there that I realized a business life was not for me, so I decided to leave big cities behind and spend my remaining years where I'd have more of a chance to keep my self-respect. I came up to this country - to this very farm - and haven't been away from it for more than a few days at a time, since."

"Well," I replied, "you certainly have put in a spell here, and I guess you've seen many farming and social changes come during that period! Tell me, do you think people are happier today with all their gadgets and leisure time?"

Mr. Schiller straightened up to his full six feet and three inches or so of height, and gave me a long, searching look as if to ask, "Do you really want to know what I think?" then volunteered a forceful answer.

"Most people don't really know how to live these days, with all their chances to get enlightenment! Why, even the country people hardly know each other any more! They pass one another in cars as they go back and forth to the movies, but that is about all there is to their social relations, I can remember when a neighbor was really a neighbor - a friend indeed - but those days are gone.

"Of course this section has suffered greatly from emigration. Fifty years ago there were still many farms operating, but now there are not three real ones left in the township. Almost all the old hayfields are grown up to woods or brush. Ours looks like a farm, and we live almost exactly like old-time farmers, but we take little to market except a few eggs, honey, and firewood. Now and then I sell a picture, and occasionally Henry gets a little chair-bottoming to do down in the village. We trade eggs and honey for the few odd supplies we need, but depend almost entirely on our own farm for food. We use all our own milk; every year we can hundreds of jars of vegetables, fruits, and berries; we store cabbages, turnips, carrots - and beans, as you see."

Mr. Schiller paused for a moment to lean over and give his beans a vigorous shaking so that they would settle down in the basket, then he continued.

"And that's how we manage to get along. We do all our own work. We bother no one and we try to keep other people from bothering us, but don't succeed very well during the blueberry and the hunting seasons. We try to pay our taxes by selling wood, and it's a lucky thing for us that the farm is big with plenty of wood on it.

"Of course very few people would care to live like this nowadays, without having any modern conveniences in the house (as they call them), without a car and without neighbors. Times often get pretty hard for us, but when we hear about wars in foreign countries, and unemployment and labor troubles in our own, we feel content to hang on as we are. Henry does most of the heavy outside work while I do all the cooking and housework."

"Don't city people sometimes come and try to buy the farm?" I inquired.

"A few stop every summer and fish a little for it, but finding Henry cool to the idea of selling, they usually don't stay long. City people seem to have the idea that all farmers are aching to sell their farms, and I guess they're rather surprised at Henry's attitude. But most of the people who have stopped recently do not want to buy the whole farm. They want only to buy an acre or so with the privilege of using the other 400 odd acres thrown in! They don't say so, but that's the way I figure it. But of course we will not consider any such arrangement. Such people would pick our berries, trample our grass, damage the woods, and scare the deer away. We'd finally be feeling like trespassers on our own property, I expect.

"I'm not running down city folk, mind you. Once I was a city man myself. I'm just pointing out that the average person, whether of the city or the country, cannot get close to nature! Some sort of a conversion is necessary before that is possible. Did you ever know a farmer who would stop what he was doing to look at a sunset?"

"Yes, I've known one or two who would".

"Then you've traveled further than I have! My own observations have convinced me that rural folk as a whole have no deep feelings for nature. They might have, if they had some...what shall I say...perspective of comparison. That is, I think that we can appreciate one kind of living only after we've experienced a different kind of living.

"In my own case, for example, I knew exactly what I wanted from nature when I left New York city to live here. Mostly I wanted peace and quiet, honest neighbors, an opportunity to work with the soil, and enough leisure time to paint pictures.

"All those conditions I have had off and on, for fifty years! I'll not go so far as to say that all my dreams have come true, for they have not. Perhaps the important thing is that I've largely learned to hold my dreams, or my desires, in check. Perhaps my gardening has been more successful than my art, yet I'm not unhappy about it. I've made my gardening an art as I've tried to make my living an art. And in my opinion, no one occupation should be held above another. The best of anything is the thing to praise - the best statesman should be honored along with the best horticulturist, musician, painter, author, or general scientist."

"I think I agree with you there," I said, "and these days it's hard to excel in anything, competition being what it is. Have you sold any pictures recently? I'd like to see some of your summer's work, if I may."

"My basket's almost full and we'll go to the studio presently. No, I haven't sold anything lately, and I didn't have time to do much painting this summer - the weather was so frightful. I could hardly keep the weeds down, let me tell you! But the heavy rains were good for my young fruit trees and berry bushes. There! that will be enough bean-picking for today. Let me show you some of my new plantings."

Mr. Schiller led me about, pointing out the new fruit trees, berry bushes, and plants which he is experimenting with. It was such a garden as the average native-born farmer would never dream of planting, for here it was obvious that plain utility had to share the ground with experimentation and the pure delight of gardening. We came to his bee hives and noticed that the insects were still working, though nearly all flowers had been killed by recent frosts.

"I got badly stung this summer. A loud-talking stranger came in here and got the bees excited. One stung him and he started swinging his arms and running. He created such a commotion that the bees turned on me, too, and I must have got over twenty stings. That's the trouble with these Italian bees - they're great workers but very temperamental. My bees have put up a record amount of honey this year, but I almost doubt it would be worth while trying to sell it, honey is so cheap. Now cane this way, and we'll go into the studio."

We walked through high, uncut grass which glowed like gold in the mellow light of the falling sun. The whole landscape looked like a great picture of ripeness and tranquility. Only the sound of our walking and the faint song of a cricket embroidered the quietness; and when we entered the darkening studio situated under great maple trees, brilliant with autumn foliage, it seemed that we had come to the very abode of silence.

This room is high and of good size, but it contains so many accumulated treasures - pictures, old magazines, and trophies picked up in the field, such as hornets' nests, dried flowers, cat-tails and so forth, that it seems small. Doubtless some of the high hung objects have not been disturbed for many years, and everything breathes out an atmosphere of an era long gone.

On Mr. Schiller's easel was an unfinished canvas of a deer emerging from a deep wood. The animal had been painted with skill, understanding, and beauty, but the very blending of colors somehow suggested the fading lights of age. And as I looked about the room it seemed to me that age, like a grey stain, had touched and tinted everything, all the material objects, every thought and dream of the lonely artist who worked within it. Obviously, bright, shining colors were not for this man.

"It's a nice picture," I said at last, "and I can see that you haven't been influenced by any of the new schools of art. Don't you like the cubists, the impressionists or the new surrealists?"

The artist was standing slightly behind me, and there was such a long silence after I asked my question that I turned around to look into his face. His reply was written on his features, which had taken on a cold expression of contempt. His lips were firmly compressed together, and with a little embarrassment I realized that I had touched upon a topic of discussion that was taboo so far as he was concerned. So I hurried to change the subject.

"But don't you sometimes long for the companionship of other artists and educated men? Really now, wouldn't you like to live in New York once more and submerge yourself in human activities there? Don't you sometimes think that you have milked this sort of existence dry? Besides, most people have a hankering to return to the scenes of their youth."

Perhaps it was a good thing that my acquaintance with Mr. Schiller had extended over a period of seven or eight years, for no doubt it seemed to him that my questions were rather personal. However, he took them well, and after gazing for a long moment up through the studio window into the colored leaves of the maple trees, he answered:

"This is my home, now. It's true that I am getting old and that it is no longer easy to get along here. But at any rate I have something to do - at least I'm functioning like a normal creature of nature. I see enough of people, and I'd rather continue cultivating my garden than to cultivate new friends. Garden crops are more dependable. No, most of my traveling will continue to be done on foot. I still take twenty mile walks when the farm work is slack, and not only do I enjoy walking just for the sake of walking, but I find my subjects for painting while wandering in abandoned places. See, here's a painting of what is left of an old sawmill I found far back in a thick woods on the banks of Black Brook. I like to remember what other folk forget. People have the mistaken idea that the present is more important than the past, but it isn't, any more than a new gold coin is more valuable than an old one. Values are cumulative. Years are like bricks in the walls of a house that we must live in, and the old bricks serve as well as the new. As much as I understand of it, I like Einstein's theory of relativity; and if Mars is really inhabited by people, I'd be very interested to know what year it is there. Certainly it would not be nineteen hundred and thirty eight!"

Mr. Schiller paused, and I noticed that the room was rapidly growing darker. It was time for me to leave. I knew that my companion had his evening chores to do, and I did not want to keep him from them. The sun was just about to go down as I got outside, and I was looking at it when I heard my host exclaim in a low voice: "There they are!"

For an instant I wondered what he meant, but on turning my gaze to the direction in which he was looking, I saw two fine, sunlit deer standing not more than a hundred yards away in the middle of the hayfield in front of the house. For a moment they stood intently looking at us, then they began again to eat the new autumn grass of the field, as if they had as much right to it as the cows of the farm.

More Federal Writers' Project folk stories on EWM.

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