Thursday, May 28, 2015

Longing For Home

Speech given by Lisa Lansing Simont on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015.

Two thousand fifteen is a year for anniversaries: It’s the 70th of the end of WWII; the 60th of the end of the Korean Conflict; the 150th of the end of the Civil War; and the 40th of the end of the Vietnam Conflict.

It’s even the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, although it’s safe to say Cornwall, Connecticut, didn’t have a dog in that fight!

But we did in the other wars both far away and here at home. After the servicemen and women had gone away to take up their duties, the families they left behind lived their version of the war, out of harm’s way, but often lonely and worried. Every family has its stories and its memories. Here are some of mine.

Here in Cornwall during World War Two we were a community mostly made up of women. My mother and I moved in with my grandmother Martha Hubbard for the duration. Three of her five children were away in the war – Gordon and Tom in the Navy and Lydia in the International Red Cross. It was a quiet life. My mother and grandmother planted a large garden and kept chickens to supplement wartime rationing. Milk was delivered several times a week from the Calhoun barn.

We all waited for the mail, the telegrams and sometimes the telephone. I was three years old by the end of the war, but even as a toddler I could sense the tension in the waiting.

Once in a while my father came home on leave from his ship, tall and handsome in his uniform. I thought he was terrific! Once or twice my mother and I went down to New York on the train from West Cornwall, summoned by my father calling from a pay phone at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He had a few hours ashore and was dying to see us. It was very exciting but after my father returned to his ship -- and we were back home in Cornwall -- my mother cried and hugged me very hard. I remember that.

Between these rare leaves my parents wrote hundreds of letters to each other, letters full of affection and funny stories which masked the loneliness my mother felt and the danger my father was often near. Letters found their way from Cornwall to the South Atlantic traveling finally to my father over a rope line between ships, the mailbag bouncing up and down, skimming the water. Letters went back over the same route to Cornwall where they were read and reread again and again. These letters -- hundreds of them tied up in bundles and sorted by date -- fill two large cartons at our house. I haven’t the heart to throw them away.

By this time 70 years ago service personnel were coming home and picking up where their lives had stopped. This was what they had longed for – to get back on the tractor, bring in the hay and have supper with the family. Just the ordinary events of living, precious to them because they could have lost it all far away in some place whose name you couldn’t pronounce. Still, being home took getting used to, especially with a family that had learned to get along by itself during the long years of deployment. Everyone had to adjust to peacetime life.

Who were they? Their names are on the memorial stones behind me. Some of these men didn’t make it home and those are the ones we honor today. The lucky ones came home to the place where they longed to be and helped build this community into the Cornwall we love. Many of them are gone now too, some are buried in the North Cornwall Cemetery where Virginia Gold told some of their stories this morning.

We all have our stories. Remember them. Tell them. Keep on telling them to the children and the grandchildren so they can carry these memories into the future.

Thank you!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hardscrabble Road

Photo essay by CHS Executive Director/Curator Raechel Guest.

Unlike many other Connecticut towns, Cornwall never saw a construction boom during the 20th century. In fact, as Cornwall's population diminished from a peak of 2,041 in 1850 to a low of 834 in 1920, entire areas of Cornwall were abandoned and allowed to return to woodland. As such, Cornwall is almost like a giant playground for archaeologists, with ruins glimpsed under layers of leaves in numerous locations throughout town.

The Hardscrabble Road area of East Cornwall is one of those abandoned areas. During the 1700s and 1800s, Hardscrabble Road ran from Flat Rocks Road all the way to Woodbury. In 1854, Hardscrabble Road had a saw mill, a grist mill, a clothing factory, and two houses. There was a high road and a low road: the high road ran along the top of a hill, while the low road ran along the West Branch of the Shepaug River. The mills and factory were built along the low road, while the houses were located up the hill, where it was warmer and drier.

The road closest to the West Branch of the Shepaug, looking back toward Flat Rocks Road. Hawkins Pond is in the distance to the left.

The entrance to the upper Hardscrabble Road, as seen from Flat Rocks Road.

Hardscrabble Road has been used in recent decades, as the wheel ruts testify.

There were two houses on the Hardscrabble high road. The first, which was long gone by 1973, was the home of J. Avery in 1854 and Buel Avery in 1860.

The second house collapsed relatively recently. A portion of one wall remained standing when I visited in 2012.

The ruins of the last house on Hardscrabble Road.

Residents of the house:

1854  E. Barber
1874  D. Parmalee
1900  Charles Jacus
1906  Mrs. Earle Phelps
          Benjamin D. Bailey (tenant house)
          Henry R. Ashton

The high road is clearly visible to the right. Less visible is the low road to the left, which runs along the side of the West Branch of the Shepaug River.

The lower road can be difficult to see at times, but the stone wall is a good guide.

Ruins of one of the mills or the factory.

Ruins of one of the mills or the factory.

Ruins of one of the mills or the factory.

Ruins of one of the mills or the factory.

West Branch of the Shepaug River which once fueled a small industrial hub.

Remnants of a dam?

I would love to consult with an archaeologist on this formation. In this view, it looks like it could be a well, but as you'll see in the next two photos, it's more of an oblong, definitely not a circle.

Another view of the mysterious structure.

And a third view, from the far end. The stones line the sides of a depression.

The ruins of a retaining wall or building foundation overlooking the water.

Another view of the wall or foundation.

The Hardscrabble Road section of Cornwall is now part of Wyantenock State Forest. There are no officially marked trails to follow, only the remnants of roads used in centuries past.