Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Southampton C1887

--> Jesse Halsey

Memory prompts me to go down the village street as it was some 50 years ago. Following the old Indian trail, likely the early settlers placed their houses along the winding way that they called the main street. All the early houses, salt-box style, faced the south. The next generation built their house close to the street, many of the porches coming out even with the sidewalk. The street was wide and line on both sides by massive trees, many of them spreading elms. The trail was deep with dust in the summer, almost impassable with mud in the springtime, and in the winter rough with ruts.

The railroad came through about the time I was born, linking the villages with New York, about ninety miles to the west. Before that, most commercial and cultural connections were with New England; trading vessels plying between Boston and New London, Stonington, and our Island. At the north end of our Main Street there was a Scotch immigrant familiarly called Josh Ellison; he had four boys and six girls. Five of the latter, as I remember, succumbed in a diphtheria epidemic that swept through the village long before the time of anti-toxins. The oldest boy became a very skilled cabinet maker and wood carver. The second boy, John, went to work for the village painter. My older sisters were painting their bedroom and wanted some cream colored paint for wood work. They sent me, a boy of five or six, to the other end of the village where the paint-shop was located. I delivered my order and came home with a quart of the paint that John had mixed. When the girls applied it they found it was a brilliant colonial yellow. My older brother commented at the supper table that night, “The cream from John Ellison’s cows must be a deeper color than from ours.” (I told this story to John Ellison last summer. He still owns the paint business and half the local bank, but he did not seem to appreciate my story.)

Next down the street came “Uncle” Sam Bishop. I remember one day as a boy coming home from Camp’s Pond with a big load of wood. Mud was deep; the horses had all they could pull. As we came by Uncle Sam’s house he called out to me, “Choose a good rut, boy, you’ll be in it for a long time.” Back of the present circumstances there may have been a subtle philosophy.

Next door lived Walter Jagger whose buildings were always freshly painted, his whole farmstead meticulously kept and his farm work was always a week ahead of anyone else’s. He took the latest agriculture journals and was in many ways the most progressive man in the community. Naturally at the time when the little red school houses gave place to a union school and later added a high school, Mr. Walter was the president of the school board. The first graduating class of the new high school put on a “banquet” at the one hotel that catered to the summer visitors. The first course was bouillon served in double-handled cups. Mr. Walter, who presided led off by adding cream and sugar to his cup and saying so all could hear, “The sailors always start the day with coffee, but I suppose New Yorkers who don’t get up until noon have it for dinner. Just why they have to have two handles on the cup I do not know, but here goes.” “Strange tasting coffee,” he remarked, “but one has to keep up with the times.”

His brother [Charles A. Jagger (1862-1914)], living nextdoor, was the editor of the local paper. He had a Ph.D. from a Germanuniversity and had real literary skill. Having some financial resources (his father had been a 49-er in California) it is doubtful if he ever made his newspaper pay. In cold weather it was scarcely legible because the ink stayed sticky in the cold pressroom. Dr. Jay had political opinions and maybe ambitions. He was always in controversy with someone in the village, the President, or the Congressman. He could lay it on thick and his editorials were the talk of the village, and I imagine of the whole county. He was killed when his primitive automobile, likely . . .

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