Carlton and Elizabeth Lees
Carlton Lees was interviewed by Mary Giles on November 12, 1976. He spoke of his life in Westport and his mother, Elizabeth, loved by many in Westport.
Carlton Lees is Attorney for the Town of Westport. As such, he performs much time-consuming and valuable service. His mother, Elizabeth Lees, is also the mother of Albert E. Lees, proprietor of Lees’ Supermarket in Westport. The Lees family has been large landowners here in Westport since the early 20th century. Elizabeth Lees has had a long career here as worker, wife, mother and craftsman. The fact that she is not well now (November 1976), is much regretted by many here in town who have known her for so long.
Carl – I’m the second of three children of Mrs. Lees. I was born February 17, 1931. I have an older brother, Albert, who was born two years before me, and a younger brother, Robert, who was born two years after me.
I decided, after I got out of the Service, to be a lawyer, but I think I had always wanted to become a lawyer. When I got out of high school, I went to Boston University for four years and graduated majoring in statistics. Then I went into the Korean War for a couple of years. I didn’t have to go. Then, when I got out, I worked for two years for an insurance company in Providence, and then I went back to Boston University to law school. I got my first degree in 1953, and my law degree in 1963. That ten years was used up, two or three working for the insurance company, two in the army, another one working down at the wharf, and then three additional years of college.
We all worked on the farm when we were growing up. ‘Course that was depression times and being so young (born in ’31), I don’t recall that too well. I don’t remember much about the depression except that we were growing up on the farm and we didn’t have any of the luxuries of life. The farm that I’m referring to in the 30’s would be right where John Santos’ barn is today (Main Road). Right where the barn is was the house, the old farmhouse. It was a very old house, no heat, no water, just simple electricity, and the single bulb in the middle of the room. We carried water from a well and that meant no plumbing.
My father did own the wharf at Westport Point. He bought it in 1929, but we were living on this farm, farming it with a team of horses. As a boy, my father has oxen. My grandfather was a farmer, who lived here. He (Grandfather Lees) came over from England and my aunt, Maggie Bowman, was actually born in England. My father is basically Scotch and English. My mother’s maiden name was Bowers and she’s related to the Whites, the Pierces and the Cummings from over at the South Westport area. Of course, that side of the family goes back to the Mayflower.
My father bought that farm sometime around the early 30’s. I don’t really know when; he was only about 20 years old at the time, and my grandfather got the farm about 20 years before that, so it would have been just after the turn of the century. I don’t know who owned it before. There’s a family cemetery that sits right behind the barn. There was a name ‘Sherman’ on the gate. It’s one of those little walled-in cemeteries with quite a few graves there. I believe it was a Sherman.
A fellow by the name of Bill Whelan owned the wharf before my father bought it in 1929. He was a typical old time businessman. My father worked for him a few years before he bought it. The wharf, in those days, handled everything like a country store. When I was growing up, we used to sell everything – rubber boots, shoes, clothing, hats, coats, paints, hardware, and we also sold boats. We had rope and boating supplies also. That was what the business was, outfitting boats. It was only in later years that it was a fish market, and lobsters and clams.
As a child, I had a lot of sickness. I had rheumatic fever and a lot of ear trouble with mastoid operations and things like that. We all worked hard though. We just raised truck garden crops, not cattle farm. We’d have a team, and we sold wood from the woods. We probably just had, at a guess, 40 to 50 acres. The cows were for our own use.
I’ve been appointed as Town Counsel or Attorney for the Town for the last five years. It’s becoming more and more time consuming. I also represent the Town of Freetown, and, of course, I have my own law practice. When I was 27, I ran for Selectman, and I won. I was Selectman for nine years; then I ran for Moderator and was elected and served for five years as Moderator. John Smith, who had been Moderator for 35 years, retired. I resigned as Moderator to take the position of Town Counsel. It’s a time consuming thing in this day and age, with all the new laws.
Let’s talk about your mother.
The Cummings came from Ireland. I think the Cummings were here way back, back to Mayflower times. I don’t know too much about my mother’s father, Josiah Bowers. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Bowers, and she was born in September 1909. I guess she was born in Fall River, growing up on Raymond Street there. My grandfather Bowers, and even my grandmother, were mill workers. My mother may have worked in the mills too. She got married when she was 18, and after that, she moved out here to Westport and was living on this farm. Her mother and father also owned this farm on Horseneck Road where she lives today. My father and mother bought that farm from my grandfather. That house is one of the oldest houses on Horseneck Road. I know it belonged in the Almy family at one time. The house, the family lived in on Raymond Street, was just a typical little, almost a mill type, house in the Flint area of Fall River. I don’t know how my grandfather happened to buy over on Horseneck Road, other than that my mother’s family, the Cummings, all had farms over on Horseneck Road. Mrs. White was a Cummings, I guess. The Whites were direct descendents of this Peregrin White of the Mayflower, and my mother was related to the Whites, who have always owned land over on that side of Westport.
My mother went to school in Fall River. She was Catholic, but she didn’t go to a church school. My father was a Protestant and we, the children, weren’t brought up as either. We didn’t become affiliated with any church. I know my mother likes to read, and we had radio. They worked so hard; they didn’t have much time for enjoyment. They went to local things, at the Grange, a clambake or a fair. I can recall the various fairs over in Rhode Island, at Kingston, and at Brockton. There used to be an old Westport Fair that is not around any more. The Grange Hall used to have a small fair each year. The Granges in those days were much more active.
In 1942 and 1943, we were living down at the wharf for a couple of years, and then in 1943 and 1944, we were living over on Horseneck Road at my Grandfather’s farm, the Bowers farm. During that period of time, she was working at the wharf as bookkeeper for the wharf. There wasn’t much time for play, and her leisure time activity was just to sit down with a good book and relax that way.
Later on, around 20 years ago, she became more interested in art, and joined the Westport Art Group. She loves antiques, and she did a few pictures and painted trays. Then, the antiques took over as her first interest for the last 15 or 20 years. The little antique shop she had on the Main Road was part of the old Lees farm. The barn that went with the farm on Main Road is where that antique shop is. That was an old barn building that blew down in the 1944 hurricane, and it was then rebuilt on the same foundation, just after the Second World War. We ran a hardware store there for a while, and then for the last 10 years or so, she’s been running it as an antique shop. That was for enjoyment, not profit. I’m sure, even George Considine, and other people like that, get into it for their liking for antiques and for the fun of hunting around and finding.
I felt that when she took over the lobster business, she shouldn’t. It’s really a man’s work. She ran the wharf business on her own for six, seven or nine years, until actually her health made it too difficult. She hasn’t run the place now for seven years. The fall that she ended up running that place, she ended up in the hospital.
She got the antiques for her shop by running all over the place. She’d go to all the auctions. She’d hop in her car with a friend, and go off for the day, and the fun was to find something that would go in your area and people would just buy and sell. She used to have certain people, who would come up from New Jersey, and she knew what they would buy, certain things and pay certain prices. She always knew about what she could sell. You have to know what you’re doing, what’s antique and what’s collectible. I guess she had Yankee ingenuity, no formal education.
Now, she’s not well, and visitors tire her quickly. When she feels up to it, I take her down to her shop on a Saturday and Sunday, and people stop there and visit her there. Usually, we put stuff out so people know when she’s there. Some day come and see her.
You ask me what I would change in Westport if I could. I’d rather not have change. I’d rather have it stay as it is, so I’d not be apt to want to change a lot.