I usually “don’t do the past” but I did for a sad occasion — a friend I have known since before kindergarten passed away in July 2020, in North Carolina, and her memorial gathering and internment (due to COVID) was not held in our hometown of Wilton, until Saturday, 15 October. About a three hour drive, but more than five decades away in my past. I describe my now “hometown” as my original “hometown” of Wilton was when I was growing up in the 1950s. It is not even close today. But I wanted to re-explore some of my past to see changes – and boy did I. The plan was to travel down on Friday and start those explorations where I used to play in the 1950s – what is now Weir Farm National Park.
I stopped first in “downtown” Ridgefield, CT, had lunch, and then headed up to Silver Spring Country Club. In the late 50s, early 60s I rode my bicycle five miles to spend all day caddying, often carrying bags for 45 holes. When I started driving, I cruised up in my 1929 Model A Ford roadster. After wondering around there, I followed my route back home, crossed into Wilton, and turned on Pelham Lane (a fantastic road, still not big enough for two cars to pass – almost spent a night there once in a ditch where our school bus slid off in the snow). When Pelham Lane dead ends on Nod Hill Road in Wilton – there is the park.
From the NPS website – “Weir Farm National Historical Park is a National Park for Art that preserves the life and work of Julian (J.) Alden Weir, a leading figure in the American Impressionist movement. The home, studios, and a significant portion of the landscape remain largely intact as one of the nation’s finest remaining landscapes of American art.” I would visit a friend, Roger, who lived in the house just south of the above, and we would come here to play with the caretaker kids who lived in the house above. Two things happened to me here that I will relate as we go along. But first, below is the corner of Pelham Lane to the left, and the Weir home with studios and barns to the rear.
Below is the Burlingham House Visitor Center, which bears the name of Julian Alden Weir’s youngest daughter, Cora Weir Burlingham, who lived in this house from 1931 to 1986. As a child, walking about five miles around a big circle of roads Halloween trick or treating, she would invite me into the dining room to make my selection of treats. Trick or Treating back then was not grab and go. People would invite you in, and spend lots of time trying to guess what you were and who you really were – even though they usually knew.
I told the park rangers that everything was just as I remembered it EXCEPT for one thing. I had never seen grass before around the caretaker’s house. You see, the Gullys had seven or nine children in their family always playing around the house.
I had time before a ranger’s talk to get to Weir Pond, built about 1890 and one of the reasons Weir bought this property – for the scenery. Roger and I used to traipse through the woods from his house to the pond to catch (or try to catch) sunfish.
well, below is the spot I distinctly remember. I was sitting here (1957 or 1958) and what did I catch? The second finger of my left hand – hook right through. Yells, tears, running through the woods back to my bicycle, home to my uncle’s next door to our house. He was a doctor, and got out some pliers to remove the hook. I got a tetanus shot that Monday.
and some more views around the pond
then back the path to the road for this view of the 1835 barns behind the house.
you could see exhibits through the doors, but again for COVID the actual barn spaces were not open. Thus I could not re-experience an almost tragedy I had in the barn. The Gully kids were sort of rough and tumble. I was on ground level below the hayloft where they were playing with a pitchfork. Yes, you know what’s coming – that fork came down towards me, landing with tines in the dirt between my legs. Aren’t you glad I can simply tell you about it? Then it was close to 3PM, and my lecture and tour of only the front room of the Weir house. I was Tom’s only guest – he was great, I learned much from him, and he enjoyed my history on the property.
Tom was great. After we looked at the front room, we walked around back to Weir’s studio. Essentially as it was when he last walked out (he died in 1919). From the park’s website – “After Weir’s death, the studio was primarily used for storage. The Weir Studio has been restored to circa-1915 and is historically furnished. Weir’s paintbrushes, pallets, pigments, and paint boxes have been preserved and are on view inside the studio.” The painting is a reproduction of the original hanging at the Smithsonian.
Next door is Young’s studio. “Sculptor Mahonri Mackintosh Young married Dorothy Weir Young in 1931, and moved to the Weir’s family farm, building his own studio built in 1932. Here Young worked on several masterpieces, including his largest commission, a monument entitled “This Is the Place.“ Young died on November 2, 1957. As an auto mechanic at the Gulf station down the hill in Branchville, my Dad would pick up Mahonri’s car for repairs. I vaguely remember looking into the studio once. For COVID they put up Plexiglas so you could at least peer in.
Then it was nine tenths of a mile south to my home on 15 Partrick Lane that my Dad built in 1949. Well, it is the small left hand side he built. Our garage that housed over the years 100s of antique autos was recently replaced with the two story addition on the right.
turning to the opposite side of the little street is the Weinberg’s house (well until the late 50s). Trees gone, changes made, but why show you this? The next owner’s sons kept their new TR3As in this barn. I was hooked when given my first ride in 1958. Thus, BLACK BEAUTY is now in one of my stalls.
To put it all into perspective – I have made some changes on the Weir Farm map below. Note the Boas land outlined and crosshatched, my house, my bus stops, etc. Also of importance is Boas Lane built by my grandmother. When my grandfather was buying the property in about 1927 for a weekend and summer retreat from the city he found the house and barn with 120 acres. Even as a doctor he did not want to spend the $3,000 the farmer wanted for the house, barn and property. Asking what the price was for just the house and barn, the farmer replied, “but, doctor, that is the price for the house and barn, I am giving you the land.” Thus building lots for my Dad, Uncle, and lots of development in the 50s and 60s. I will send my revised map to the National Park Service asking them to make the corrections on theirs highlighting my historical additions. Make sure to click, enlarge and study – there will be a test.
above the roads have been widened, but here are my bus stops – when I rode the school bus that is, instead of walking the five miles to school, each way uphill in the snow and rain. Left, the end of Partrick Lane, and right the corner of Nod Hill Road and Indian Hill Road, about a half mile from home.
and, below, Boas Lane last weekend on the left, and in 2012 on the right.
then I headed off the hill, north a tad on my favorite US Route 7 into Ridgefield, and checked into a motel I remember from the 50s. Half the price of anything else in the area, and I now know why. But onto exploring, and West Redding to find the country store that may have been the start of my fascination with the old emporiums. About the only change is that the train station is now a tad south with a raised platform, and not at the old general store in the left image.
But below is the emporium that I remember, and probably got me hooked on early county stores. It was a big deal when it opened, and I remember Gypse Rose Lee promoted the store, and its shelves on TV to the world. Here is an amazing article you may wish to read – I recommend it. I remember visiting and being amazed at the interior.
SATURDAY — 16 OCTOBER
I left my lodging to make some stops along US Route 7 before I arrived at Hillside Cemetery in Wilton. The train tracks almost parallel Route 7, and I had some focused railroad stops to make. First stop the Branchville station. The Norwalk River separates the station from the former Gulf Service Station where my Dad worked in the early 1950s. My grandparents would come to visit, take the train from Grand Central Station here. Now the stations I visited have all changed, and there are raised platforms a short distance from the stations for easier passage onto the trains. And, most stations now seem to serve other purposes. Here is the Branchville station (from the “new” raised platform) where I flattened many a penny on the tracks. This view is looking north – the service station would be out of view on the left.
Heading south on Route 7 I next turned into Cannondale which is a section of Wilton. Many, many years ago I stayed in the area with a family watching my brother and me while my mother worked. I remember exploring the area, and playing with other kids. With the train station were a few stores, still there, but not busy as in days past. Note the new raised platform almost atop the tracks.
Here are a few views of this historic unchanged spot. The last image bottom right is looking south on the train tracks. As my Dad and I were exploring after the Flood of 1957, I headed south along the tracks to see the washout. My Dad found me, and this eleven year old spent the rest of the day in the car.
and, next the Wilton station – again now with a raised platform (right). I fondly remember catching the train by myself from the platform, and also riding to NYC on a few school trips.
and, time to get to Hillside Cemetery for the service. First I visited my Dad and his parents.
And, then it was “good-bye Mimsy”
followed by a lovely reception at the original Wilton Town Hall circa 1835. Of our class of about 135, below are eleven classmates and two spouses who attended. Yes, me back row third from left.
When we all departed I drove to see New Canaan not having been there in probably 60 years. Chic, still busy and active, just about every spot on the sidewalks with restaurant seating. Then I headed back roads to the Norwalk / Wilton line to travel north on Route 7 to see my four schools, which are below. I skipped showing you Junior High for grades seven and eight. The last image is my high school, and the section on the right is the theater where I was extremely involved. Mimsy and I played opposite each other in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The top images are the former Center School – my kindergarten class in the left image, the corner room. The top right image is the back of the school On the right my first grade classroom, now a Subway sandwich shop – go figure. The mirroring wing to the left with my second grade classroom is gone, and I served third and fourth grades in the same basement room. My mother was school secretary at Center School, and Comstock School (lower left and now a community center) where I was in fifth and sixth grades. It need not be said that I did behave.
Then I headed back up Nod Hill Road to my old home area. I wanted to see first this Glacial Erratic that is opposite the southern part of the former Boas land. I am still fascinated by Glacial Erratics, and seek them out. Don’t think I ever made it atop while stopping on my bike.
I then wanted to hike around the Town Forest and old Boy Scout property. I had to find the “Indian Rock House” – a ledge I used to play on – probably almost 65 years ago. My Dad and my Uncle purchased property from my neighbors the Weinbergs to protect my Uncle’s property across from the pond he dug. They then convinced the Town of Wilton to purchase the property and preserve it as a forest. So, now my Walpole friends, you know the genesis for my desire to preserve land. Successful on one Connecticut River front property here, I still have a ways to go. Here are views at the beginning of the trail, the old road, and a couple spots that could have been where I played – but much smaller than I remember.
Down off the hill to Georgetown, and I wanted to find the old post office building near the now abandoned Gilbert and Bennett Wire Mill. Chain link fences, signs advising prosecution for entry, but the gate was open. Hey, you live once – I found the post office that I remember stopping at, and thought it was immortalized by Norman Rockwell on a Saturday Evening Post cover. I found it – trucks parked near by, and I pulled up to chat with a fellow. “You know you should not be here,” he said. “I know, but I had to see this old post office.” He told me he was working on the property cleaning up, trying to preserve the post office. I said once I took a picture I would be gone. And, all was good.
What I learned later that evening ,when Googling, was the post office was published as “Rural Post Office at Christmas,” Saturday Evening Post Cover, December 13, 1947. And, not by Rockwell, but by Stevan Dohanos – (May 18, 1907, Lorain, Ohio – July 4, 1994). He was an artist and illustrator of the social realism school, best known for his Saturday Evening Post covers. He also helped found the Famous Artists School in Westport, CT. I sure do hope this building is preserved along with the old factory buildings.
I then went over to downtown Geoergetown found a spot to eat that was opposite the former lumber yard where I purchased wood to build sets for my high school theater group. As I ate I looked over at the former general store. My Dad knew the owners, and facilitated my purchase from them of my first Chandler and Price printing press, that they used for printing things in the store. You should know old letterpresses are “in my blood” and have contributed to all that I do with books and publishing still today.
Then, back to the motel for Saturday evening, reading, working with my images, and ready for an exciting trip back home on Sunday, which I already published, but in case you did not read about another “first for me,” check out this story – DIFFERENT ADVENTURE — “RIDING OFF THE RAILS” – 17 OCTOBER 2021
Thanks for traveling back with me – stay safe and stay well, yours, RAY
Lovely area to grow up in, Ray. Nice touch, throwing in a picture of an “erratic”!
I am catching up on your blog posts. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to enjoy the read so I waited until I had appropriate down time to start!
I look forward to the NPS updating their map of Weir Farm to include the Boas additons!
I enjoyed learning a little more about a young Ray with this post! As always, the pictures are amazing. I can sense your feelings as you revisited so many sites from your childhood. It is interesting how things may look different, yet the same, from our childhood when viewed from the adult perspective so many years later.