Text Box: The Boarders
The Bethel Journals
An excerpt from the book “I Was a Summer Boarder” by Ruth Crosby
April 30, 2008
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


In this chapter, The Boarders, Ruth Crosby introduces the people who made up the group of “summer boarders” staying at the Locke Mountain House in the summer of about 1907.

 

THE BOARDERS

 

Upon entering the dining room, we saw two long tables, each seating at least fourteen people, placed at right angles to each other. One was parallel to the wall separating the dining room from the sitting room; the other was in the alcove at the far end, parallel to the north wall. In the southwest corner, to our left as we came in from the entry off the porch, was a round table where our family some­times sat. Now, however, I was happy to see that we were placed at the first long table with some of our oldest friends. After we were all seated, I took a quick look around the table and saw that I knew everyone.

 

At one end, with her back to the door, and start­ing to serve from a large platter of eggs baked in cream, was Mrs. Henry T. Finck, Aunt Abbie to all of us children. Around the corner to her right was her husband, quite a famous man, a music critic on the New York Post. Although it seemed natural to call her Aunt Abbie, it was much harder to call him Uncle Henry. He didn't seem like an uncle. The Fincks came early to Miss Locke's every year and stayed late. They always had the big front south­east bedroom of the farmhouse. Either between the cottage and the orchard, or sometimes out behind the farmhouse, they had a garden with a high chicken wire fence around it to keep out the cows if they strayed from the pasture. Mr. Finck used to work in the garden early every morning and in dry weather water it late in the afternoon. 

 

The rest of the time, unless a mountain climb or a picnic had been arranged, he wrote up in his room. He couldn't stand any noise, especially whistling. Every boy on the place knew of his prejudice, but sometimes one would forget. If Andrew Smith, who liked to whis­tle, started in near the farmhouse, Aunt Abbie would say, "Andrew!" and he would remember and stop. When Mr. Finck was working up in his room, he used to stuff cotton in his ears. His face was round with red cheeks, his thin brown hair was untidy, and his clothes were rumpled.   In one old jacket which he wore most of the time Aunt Abbie had lined the pockets with leather or rubber.   Every morning after breakfast he would go around from table to table and pick up all the chop bones or other meat scraps that might be left and stuff them in his pockets  for  Laddie.   The collie Laddie was the Fincks' dog. They had bought him as a puppy after Miss Locke's old Shep had to be put to sleep when he was eighteen. But when the Fincks went back to New York in the fall, they left him with Miss Locke for the winter.  Then he was her dog.

 

One summer when I had an upset stomach, it was so hot up in my room in the afternoon that Mr. Finck offered to carry me downstairs to a hammock in front of the farmhouse in the shade. As he stepped out the front door with me, Laddie and a dog going by began to fight. I thought Mr. Finck was going to drop me when he ran to separate them, but he did dump me into the hammock first. Aunt Abbie was one of my dearest friends. She had glossy black hair, soft brown eyes, and a keen sense of humor.   She and Miss Locke both under­stood a good joke.   Once when it was a long time since we had had baked eggs, a favorite supper dish, Aunt Abbie and three other ladies made large cardboard signs and printed one of the words: WE WANT BAKED EGGS on each.   Then when they saw Miss Locke coming up from her vegetable gar­den, down near the river where the fog protected it from early frosts, they went to meet her, each car­rying one of the words. When Miss Locke saw them, she set down the two heavy pails of peas she was carrying and laughed until she cried.  We soon had baked eggs.  I think it was Aunt Abbie, too, when she saw Miss Locke with Alfred one morning when the chops for breakfast had been very small, who said, "Oh, I'm glad to see Alfred. I was afraid we might have had his chops for breakfast this morn­ing."  Miss Locke enjoyed that joke just as much. The breakfast lamb chops and other meats except chicken came from Chauncey Bryant's meat cart, which called at Miss Locke's twice a week.* Coming early in the season as she did, Aunt Abbie often helped Miss Locke decide which rooms should be given to the boarders, especially to those who were coming for the first time.

 

I loved to go with Aunt Abbie after breakfast when she cut the flowers, pink and white and red poppies and many colored sweet peas, and then help her arrange them in the dining room afterwards.

 

The stems of the poppies she always dipped in hot water for a few seconds because she said they kept better that way. Then she arranged vases for the dining tables, usually two on the long ones, and other vases for the rooms of new arrivals expected that day. When I was very small, Aunt Abbie used to play with me after supper before I went to bed. As we sat on the porch, I in a little rocking-chair be­side or in front of her larger one, we would play I was her husband Robin who was driving her through woods filled with wolves and other wild beasts, which I shot at and saved us from cruel deaths night after night. I think we girls loved best the nights Aunt Abbie dressed up for us in her beautiful red dress with a gold chain over her hair. Always if we found bright red bunchberries on our walks or pic­nics, we took them back to Aunt Abbie to arrange with a gold chain in her black hair.*

 

While Aunt Abbie was serving the baked eggs from one platter at her end of the table, Uncle Carl Hansmann was doing the same thing from another platter at his end. Around the corner to his right sat Aunt Bessie, who was Aunt Abbie's sister. I sometimes used to wish that Aunt Abbie had mar­ried Uncle Carl. I loved them both and accepted Aunt Bessie and Uncle Henry chiefly because I loved the others. Uncle Carl was a lawyer in New York. The Hansmanns and Fincks lived together with Aunt Abbie's and Aunt Bessie's mother, Mrs. Cushman. Sometimes she came to Miss Locke's with them. She was a nice old lady, who always had the downstairs room in the farmhouse. Aunt Bessie and Uncle Carl had the room over it, next to mine.

 

My earliest memories of Miss Locke’s (summer boarding farm) centered around Uncle Carl. He was a fine-looking man with brown hair, graying at the temples, and a neatly trimmed gray mustache. He used to carry me on his shoulder the summer I was two and would lift me up to see the spiders under the eaves of the porch roof. I remember well that the summer I was three I had a little red sweater that went on over my head, buttoned on the shoulder, and turned up around the bottom. Uncle Carl sometimes let me play with his compass, which I pretended was a watch, but he al­ways wanted me to stay by him when I had it. One day as I was playing with it, I put it in the turned up fold of my sweater and promptly forgot all about it. Sometime later I remembered it, felt for it, and found it gone. I was ashamed and frightened. I had lost Uncle Carl's compass!  How would he find his way in the woods! He might be lost, and I would be to blame.   Slowly and sadly I went to find Uncle Carl. When he saw me coming, he called out, "Have you lost something, Little Boy?"   I didn't like to have him call me Little Boy as he did that summer because my hair was cut short like a boy's.   But when I saw the precious compass in the hand he held out to me, I didn't care what he called me. He had taken it out of my sweater pocket when I wasn't noticing, and it was safe.

 

Uncle Carl was the leader on all our long walks and mountain climbs. He often drove the pair of horses in the mountain wagon on picnics. He could swing us higher than anyone else, and he used to pick us up and toss us back and forth to air out the barny smell when we came down to dinner after a rainy morning spent in the barn. It was Uncle Carl who took most of the pictures, which he developed and printed himself in the dark room at the back of the bath house. I often went with him to watch. Once when Father came unexpectedly, as he often did, I was there in the dark room with Uncle Carl. One of the girls called through the door, "Papa is here." But I had to wait until Uncle Carl finished the print he was making before I could go out.

 

Aunt Bessie had weak ankles and couldn't take long walks. We didn't think she was as pretty as Aunt Abbie, but she had a very nice voice and some­times used to sing to us in the cottage parlor. Helen, who sat next to her now across the table from me, was her favorite among us. Aunt Bessie told her so. I don't think that made Helen like her any better. Helen was invited to visit them all in New York one winter. She went to the opera seven times in one week. Afterwards she confided to Mother that she didn't enjoy it all as much as she pretended to, but she had to be polite.

 

Boarders_stranded_logs.png

 

 

 

The Locke Farm boarders in their exploring clothes pose for a group picture at Sunday River where logs being driven from much further upstream became stranded due to low water.

Front row: L to R – Bessie Hansmann, Daisy Crosby, Ellie Crosby, and Gracie Wyeth.

Rear: L to R, J. Howell Crosby, an unknown boarder, Evelyn Pierce, Miss Wyeth, Ruth Crosby, Abbie Finck, and Mr. Pierce.

 

 

Phyllis sat next to Helen across the table, and on her other side was Mr. Spaulding. He was a quiet man with a bushy beard, who used to worry some of the boarders because he would go off on long moun­tain rambles all alone without telling anyone where he was going. He didn't seem to take much interest in us children, although he once carried Phyllis nearly all the way up Mt. Will when she was only seven and got tired. I knew him best for his queer notion of taking pictures to illustrate a story. The summer before, he had asked Frank and me to go down to the river with him to pose in a picture to represent Narcissus and the nymph Echo. Frank had to get down on his knees at a quiet pool in the river and look at his reflection while I came out of the bushes above and behind him. It all struck us very funny. Frank with his red hair, dancing brown eyes, and freckled face was supposed to be falling in love with his own image in the water, and I, rather pudgy, wearing glasses, my hair tied up in bobs, was trying to attract his attention but had sup­posedly lost my voice except to echo what he said. We got the giggles over it. Mr. Spaulding later sent each of us a copy of the picture, printed in brown and mounted on gray pasteboard. Uncle Carl once took a pic­ture of her and me. She was dressed like an Irish woman in an old skirt and a shawl and had her dark hair down in two braids over her shoulders. She had her arm around me. I had on the dark red and black wool plaid dress that I almost sat through in school the winter before. We always took some warm clothes with us to Miss Locke's because the August early mornings and evenings were often chilly. Sally was one of the chief leaders when we played charades in the evening. She had wonderful ideas for them. Her mother had been with her the year before, a pleasant old lady who had taught me to do netting. I had made several Christmas pres­ents by putting edges of netting on round doilies.

 

Finally at our table was Miss Jessie Smith, a New York school teacher and good friend of Aunt Abbie’s. She had pretty white hair and a face that looked too young to go with it. She liked to walk and climb. Sometimes her father was at Miss Locke's with her. Once a group was all ready to start out on a mountain climb when Miss Jessie couldn't find her father. She wouldn't go unless she knew where he was. He might have wandered off somewhere and been hurt. Just then Phyllis joined the group, heard the conversation, and said, "Oh, Mr. Smith is asleep up in the orchard." "That's all right, then," Miss Jessie said. The mountain party could start.

 

The baked eggs and hot baking powder biscuits and butter had disappeared now, and Aunt Abbie and Uncle Carl were serving big dark wild rasp­berries into glass sauce dishes. Plates of chocolate frosted cake were on the table and glass pitchers of cream and glass sugar bowls. The grown-ups were having tea or coffee. We children had milk. I glanced at Pauline beside me. She was eat­ing her raspberries the way she always did since she once found a tiny spider inside one. She picked each one up separately with her spoon and looked it all over carefully before putting it into her mouth. She wouldn't use any cream because that would make it harder to see any little bug that might have been overlooked.

 

As I reached for the cream pitcher in front of me, I felt the embarrassment I had felt at breakfast one morning a year or two before. I had sat beside Mrs. Dyke, rather an old lady, who was talking and talk­ing to her neighbor on the other side.  Mother had taught me not to interrupt when others were talking. My oatmeal was growing cold, and the cream in front of Mrs.  Dyke was just beyond my reach. Should I interrupt and ask her to pass it, or should I try to reach it?  I decided to try.   Instantly she turned on me as my cheeks burned and said, "If you wish for the cream, you should ask me to pass it to you.   You should not reach for it."   I was glad I couldn't see Mrs. Dyke in the dining room now. She evidently was not here this year. I think it was Mrs. Dyke who was responsible for an expression often quoted in our family.  One day down at the river a little girl, I've forgotten who, was beating with a stick a leaf at the edge of the water. "Don't be rude to the leaf, dear," she was told by Mrs. Dyke, who wanted to improve her manners, too.

Over at the round table in the corner sat the Deane family from New York: Mr. and Mrs. Deane, Miss Bertha, Miss Edith, and Alphonse, who was about my sister Helen's age. Mr. Deane wore very thick glasses. His eyes were bad. He had the strang­est watch I had ever seen. Sometimes he would show it to me. If he pressed a little knob on the outside, the watch would strike the nearest hour. Miss Edith Deane was a great walker and always joined whatever activities were going on. We often teased Phyllis about what she had said when it was suggested that Miss Edith might stop over to see us one year when she was going home later than we were. "You'd better be sure to let us know when you are coming," Phyllis said, "so we won't have warmed up hash." Miss Bertha was my favorite of the family. She wasn't very strong and couldn't do all that Miss Edith and Alphonse could. But she could take short walks as far as the river and used to help me build sand houses there.

 

The boarders 1.jpg

 

Some young boarders:  Front row left to right: Phyllis Crosby, Ellie Crosby, and Ruth Crosby.

Rear left to right: Winifred and Nelson Ogden, Helen Crosby and Alphonse Deane.

1904

 

 

I had finished my supper now, folded my napkin, rolled it up, and put it in its birch bark ring, all ready for breakfast. While the grownups were still eating and talking, I looked down at the other long table in the alcove. I couldn't tell who all the peo­ple were sitting back to me. Two of them, though, I was pretty sure were Mr. and Mrs. Strong, who lived in Riverbank Court, a hotel by the Charles River in Cambridge. Mr. Strong had once heard Mother asking Phyllis if she had her rubbers on one wet morning, and he always liked to tease her if he saw her out early by calling, "Phyllis, have you got your rubbers on?" Once when we three older girls went home early, we invited the Strongs to come out to have supper with us. We knew they liked salt fish, which they said they could never get in a hotel. So we gave it to them with all the fixings: drawn butter sauce, beets, pork scraps, and baked potatoes. When Grandma Crosby heard of our plan, she was horrified. "Salt fish for a company supper! I never heard of such a thing."

 

At the end of the table, with his back towards the kitchen, sat Dr. Rider in his usual place, with Mrs. Rider around the corner from him facing me. The Riders were long and regular occupants of the cot­tage every year, as the Fincks were of the farm­house. Dr. Rider was a dentist from Danbury, Con­necticut. He had a dark, pointed beard and often brought his own fruit, a ripe pear or peach, over to breakfast when he came. Before he badly injured his back, he used to do a lot of carpenter work for the benefit of the other boarders as well as for him­self. He had built the footbridge over the Sunday River, which we all used, and the three two-chaired swings, one in front of the farmhouse, one on the cottage lawn beside the driveway, and a third hung from the roof of the side porch of the cottage. We children loved to play trolley car in them and make them go as high and fast as we could. Dr. Rider had also built two canvas-covered swings on the cottage lawn, which he and Mrs. Rider used for themselves. It was a fall from one of those swings that hurt his back. The biggest thing Dr. Rider built was the bath house behind the cottage. He and Mrs. Rider used it and some others of those who lived in the cottage. Mr. Finck used the water from a faucet out­side the bath house for watering his garden in the late afternoon. I have heard Mother say that on one occasion there was a pretty hot dispute between Mr. Finck and Alphonse Deane, who wanted to take a bath at the time Mr. Finck was accustomed to water his garden. There wasn't water enough for both. Several of the boarders took sides in the dispute. Some hard feelings between farmhouse and cottage boarders broke out now and then, but we children were friends of both.

 

 

The Boarders SR Bridge(C).jpg

 

This is the footbridge over Sunday River built by Dr. Rider, a regular boarder from Danbury, Connecticut. Although the bridge is long gone, in 2007, it was an easy matter to walk from the Swan’s Corner bend in the river upstream to the spot where the bridge once stood.

1905

 

 

Dr. Rider liked chicken livers. One summer when we sat at his table, he always took the livers for himself. Mother liked them, too, but he never offered her any. One day Aunt Abbie thought of a good joke. She asked Miss Locke for that day to put all the chicken livers on her table. Then she called over to Mother, "Oh, Mrs. Crosby, wouldn't you like some livers? We have more than enough at our table, and I know you like them." I don't remember whether or not Dr. Rider took the hint.

 

We all loved Mrs. Rider, whose sparkling black eyes and friendly smile made her a general favorite. I remember especially a beautiful string of amber beads and amber earrings she used to wear when she was dressed up for supper. Sometimes I sat with her in Dr. Rider's swing when he was in the house. We always found many things to talk about. Be­side her sat her sister, Mrs. Smith, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, with her daughter Edna and her son Andrew. They were about Helen's and Phyllis's ages. And their grandfather and great uncle were the two men with long beards whose pictures were on the box of those good Smith Brothers' cough drops I liked. Dr. Rider's sister, Mrs. Joy, was at that table, too, and her daughter Ella. They also came from Danbury. Mrs. Joy was a pretty woman with a high, clear voice. One day several of the boarders had tried for some reason, without success, to call back a man who was walking up the hillside to the Birches. Someone said, "Get Mrs. Joy. Her voice will reach him." When she called, the man heard at once and turned around. Ella was a little younger than I, but we used to play together at the brook and up in the Pines. She often had her supper early when Ellie did.

 

Another family from Danbury that my mother and father knew well - and had climbed Old Speck with - was the Merritts, but I did not see them here this year. I would miss Mr. Merritt most, a gray-bearded man in his sixties who used to dance with me in the cottage parlor before I was sent to bed and called himself my "pardner."

 

But my best friend at Dr. Eider's table was Mrs. Seaver. She and her daughter, Miss Linda, came from Newton. Mrs. Seaver was rather short and stout, had gray hair, and often dressed in gray. She taught me to play two-handed whist and was my partner in it on many a rainy day. When there were peas to be shelled for dinner, she could always be found on the back porch with Miss Locke.

 

 Per­haps it was she who heard Miss Locke explain the secret of what attracted so many of us to that spot every summer. A new boarder once said to her frankly, "Miss Locke, I can't understand it. Some of these people tell me they come here year after year. What do they see in the place? It seems very ordinary to me." They were standing on the porch by the kitchen door. At that moment a wandering chicken hopped up on the porch and through the screen door, which stood partly open, into the kit­chen. “Shoo!'' said Miss Locke, as she flapped her apron at him with no effect. Then she added, "I guess that must be the reason. Folks come here because they can do as they like."

 

Supper was over now, and as the boarders trooped out of the dining room, I went with a group of them across the road into the field to see the sun set over the Mahoosic Range. Mother had taken Ellie right up to bed. Over the mountains with Speck at one end and Saddleback at the other, the sun had left streaks of crimson and gold, and the whole sky even over to Farwell Mountain in the east was covered with soft pale pink clouds. Then as the color faded, Pauline and I, too, went up to bed. It had been a long day.

 

Ellie was already asleep. We didn't bother to light the lamp. The bracket lamp in the hall gave us light enough since we left our door open until we were ready to get into bed. Sally Sawyer didn't come up to tell us stories that night. We didn't entertain ourselves by breaking Necco wafers to see the flash of light they made in the dark or by tap­ping out popular tunes on the wall or the headboard of the bed to see if the other could identify them. We were too sleepy.

 

 From the serving room came the clatter of dishes and an occasional burst of song from the table girls as they worked: "For the moon shines bright on pretty Bed Wing."

 

Then all was quiet except for the tinkle of a cow­bell, the ripple of the brook, or the "talking" of Godwins' lambs on the mountain side. Ellie had said when she was three years old and couldn't go to sleep one night, "Those yams (lambs) talk-a-me, talk-a-me all the time." That was all we heard, for we were soon asleep on our first night at Miss Locke's.

 

 

Epilog

 

Mary Ellen Locke died in 1913 ending the final chapter in one of Bethel’s best known summer boarding houses.  She is buried with her sister, Phila, and others of her family in the Mt. Will Cemetery in North Bethel.

 

In 1916, Ruth Crosby’s parents, J. Howell and Daisy A. Crosby, purchased a farm about one and one-half miles further up the Sunday River Road in Newry.  The owners of the farm were Louise Lowe and Paulus Lowe. Mrs. Lowe had been employed at the Locke Farm to do washing for the boarders. The Crosby’s continued to spend summers in Newry at their home called the Red House.  J. Howell Crosby died in 1936 and his wife Daisy died in 1969.

 

Ruth Crosby went on to a long successful career in English literature as a professor at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine. When not traveling or studying, she spent her summers at the Red House and spent much time writing about and discussing her family’s experiences at the Locke Farm. She retired in 1962, inherited the Red House in 1969 and passed away in 1981. Her last summer, as were all the others, was spent at the Red House in Sunday River.

 

Ruth’s sisters, Phyllis and Helen, also both died in 1981. Her younger sister Ellie (Evelyn) moved to Bethel with her family in 1945 from Arlington, Massachusetts. Ellie and Harold Bennett bought the dairy farm and milk business from Edward and Minnie Bennett, Harold’s parents.  Harold died in 1961 and Ellie ran the business until 1967. She died in 1977.

 

Henry and Abbie Finck along with Carl and Bessie Hansmann were able to continue spending their summers in Bethel until their deaths. They acquired a large former boarding home in the Mayville part of Bethel known in 1913 as the Chamberlain place. Henry Finck died in 1926 and his wife Abbie died in 1940. Carl Hansmann died in 1916 and his wife Bessie died in 1926.

 

All of the old Locke Mountain House boarders except Mary Ellen Locke and Helen Crosby that are named in this epilog are buried in Riverside Cemetery in Bethel. 

 

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The Bethel Journals

Donald G. Bennett

PO Box 763

Bethel, Maine 04217

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