Herbert Hadfield March 21, 1977
Rev. Basil Hall was interviewed by Mary Giles on August 19, 1975. He spoke of his childhood in Westport and the changes that had taken place.
I was born in Fall River, but I’ve always felt that I was a Westporter in my origin. Evidently, when I was born I was very sickly and weak; I had pneumonia and things like that. The first summer of my life, my father, who was a pediatrician, felt that I needed fresh air and sunshine and the best, so, we spent that first summer on Cadmans Neck. So I regained my health and I guess Westport gave me my life, so I’ve always felt that I’ve owed Westport something and live here. I didn’t move here to live permanently ‘til I was about 18, but we spent every summer here. I used to spend summers on East Beach, Horseneck, ‘til the 1938 hurricane, and then after that, it was at Westport Point. It was about 1950 – 1948, I guess, that I moved into Bob Baker’s house. Grace Hartley Howe was his grandmother, you know; she was Postmaster in Fall River. I rented the house for the winter, sort of a housesitting job. The total rent for the month was that I would go up to the Post Office in Fall River and take the electric light bill in. That was my rent. It was usually about $5.00 a month, believe it or not, but that was my total rent, and I spent a couple of winters there.
That was down on Cape Bial Lane. I stayed there until 1950, when my family bought the property down at Westport Point at 1990 Main Road, and I built the little house down in back. The river was down there then. They put the highway (Route 88) through about the time I finished my first little house, and it’s lucky it didn’t go through the house.
I’m a ‘Jack of all Trades, Master of None.’ I went to the Swain School of Design, when I came out of the Army, and I did four – no five years at Swain. I went back later. At the time I went there, we had a commercial art course, and then I went back for one year of oil painting with Frank Raposa. Then, later on, sometime later, I went to Bradford Durfee College in Fall River to get my degree. Swain School didn’t give a degree; it just gave diplomas and, at that time I was thinking about teaching. So I got my degree at Bradford Durfee College, and then I went to Boston University, but then I got married at the same time and – so – no Master’s degree.
I like oil painting. I think that’s my favorite. I’ve gotten away from it into scrimshaw, but now that scrimshaw has grown so commercial and so cheep – what I do is ‘whale ivory carving’ rather than scrimshaw, which has been used and abused. True, scrimshaw such as the whalers did was primitive, but it was beautiful and sincere. It was very sincere. I guess that’s the only way you can describe it. It had its own beauty, regardless of how crude it was, it had that beauty of sincerity. Today, it isn’t; there’s no more of that. It’s all so commercial and they’re trying to make it very colorful and they’re painting on it, and –
I’d like to get back to painting now – that’s my dream.
You asked about my animals. Ever since I was a child, if I found a wounded bird or something like that, I had empathy for it; it seemed to want to heal it, and my father, being a doctor, he would prescribe the medicines and he had a salve that he had concocted – he and a druggist friend. It was a white salve that seemed to cure anything, and I saved a lot of little animals that had been caught in traps, that had cuts or been mauled by cats or dogs. It just became natural for me. It’s very difficult to put them back to the wild, because sometimes they just won’t make it – they don’t want to go back. Right at present, I have a crow and a great horned owl that are residing with me. I think of it that way; they’re not pets – they’re just guests. Both have had their chance for freedom, but they come back. The owl was gone for three days once, but one night there was a bump on the door, and when I opened the door, there he was, and very hungry. And the crow has had his freedom, but he comes back – so I assume they like it. I’ve had foxes, snakes, birds of all kinds, hawks and always cats and dogs. I don’t know. Someone finds an injured animal and brings it to me, and I’m very grateful for that. The thing is that children have this great empathy for animals, and I guess I did, and it carried on. There’ll be a knock on the door and a little child will be standing there with a sparrow on its hand and say, “Can you help this?’ But it’s so beautiful to see the children do this.
When I was a child, I always wanted to go to the woods – to be in the woods or in the fields. I hated the city. That’s why I liked Westport Point so much – it was everything. I love the ocean; I love to go lobstering, the first summer I was down here, I worked on a fishing boat. I love the sea, and the river.
I was never much of an athlete. I like to play cribbage and chess and things like that. With athletics, I get bored. I remember playing baseball, and I’d be standing out in the field, and it was so boring, I thought there were better things to do. I hate to do anything twice; I want to do it differently next time.
I was just talking with Paul Gay who’s building his own house. He’s built some houses, and I’ve built a house, and I said, ‘You know, it would be dreadful to have to build the same house over again.’ There’s no challenge to it, and I guess this is the artistic sense – the challenge is always in something new.
Oh! I love to watch sportsmen. It’s fantastic – the gracefulness of a baseball player. They’re all maters of their own arts. I love to read. As a child, it was a way to get lost in another world. I read a lot of nature books when I was a child. Living in the city, it was just a sort of an escape through a book. As a very young child, I read Thornton Burgess. I think I read everything he ever wrote. I owe an awful lot to Thornton Burgess for my introduction to nature and life, and appreciation of it. He was a marvelous man. I think a child today should have his books in his library.
I’ve been elected to the Landing Commission for, I think, sixteen years now. It’s sort of a minor thing. It’s just the government of the town landings. It’s a strange thing, it’s almost atavistic now – the landings have become so inadequate. Certainly our forefathers, when they laid out the landings, could never have envisioned the automobile and the landings were perfectly adequate in the past. They would come down with horse and wagon and put the seaweed on them, and for the number of people using them they were perfectly adequate. The one up at the Head of Westport is a huge landing, but they don’t have the uses now that they did then, and they’re open to the public and the onslaught of the public is just too much to handle. That one at Hix Bridge, we’ve had awful problems with it, just abuse. People come down there to use them, who don’t understand them, and they abuse the neighbors – that’s why we had to put those stones along there. There’s access to the landing technically, but not by automobiles. The automobile is the problem – it’s just too much! We can’t go back, but I think we should have paused somewhere before we did some of the things we did. I think Westport, of all the towns I know, has paused the most in time to consider the pressures of progress, which is always an evil thing it it’s uncontrolled.
Certainly we can develop land. We can have homes for people who need them, and I’d like to see it done, while we still maintain the quality of life that we have. Westport has always been unmatchable. I’ve never seen anything like it any place else. It has that wonderful combination of fields and woods and ocean and beach, and we’re giving most of it away. And, I think that’s a great loss. The natives have tried to hang on. The new people come in because it offers all those qualities, and they want it, but they say, ‘Well, you’ve got to share it,’ but you can only share it ‘til you reach the halfway mark, and then you begin to get to the point where no one has anything. Some of this over development is really a sad thing. People come in and they’re clustered all together, and they might as well be in the city.
Some of this housing that’s gone up is terrible. People are a long way from their jobs, and for a family that’s middle income or less, it’s hard to support two automobiles. It costs an awful lot of money to live in the country. You have to have the schools. Of course, I haven’t been into those too much, except verbally, hoping that people would pause to consider things before they give it away or lose it.
Cities don’t have to be the way they are. New Bedford has all been torn down and that could certainly be built into a beautiful city, and city living wouldn’t be that bad. I suppose I could accept it again if I had to. But I think I’d like to see some trees and parks and things like that, so you wouldn’t have to have all pavement. I think the underground house is a very definite thing for the future. There’s one down at Brewster on the Cape. I was in it just this last summer. I think that wherever you have a hillside, certainly a southern exposure hillside, an underground house is ideal. You can get solar lighting and certainly solar heat, and certainly this is where it’s all headed.
We have to have change. Change is natural, but I think that rapid change is cancerous, that’s the only way to describe it. A thing that grows too fast, or is uncontrolled, is destructive.
I worry about the marina coming to the east side of the East River at Hix Bridge – where Jim Vaughn had his boatyard, and the landing commissioners have control of a small area over there. It’s a very small landing with that present launching ramp, and the landing ramp has been impossible to maintain. It’s too steep there and it’s on a ledge, and the rains come down the road and wash all the pebbles onto it. The ice cuts out the bottom of it every winter, so it’s very difficult to keep it from going into the river, so the ideal place for a landing ramp would be over where the railroad tracks are – Vaughn’s launching tracks – and since Jim has passed away, that lease has been vacated. That land is under the control of the Selectmen; I proposed to the Selectmen that that land could be made into a town landing. I don’t care whether we control it or who controls it, as long as it’s restricted to townspeople only. The people of the Town of Westport don’t have a place to launch a boat. There aren’t many people in that area, and I think it could be cleaned up, and I don’t think so much in the area of a marina; I’m thinking of a place where a Westport resident can come and launch his boat and go fishing and enjoy the river, hopefully in an environmentally sound way. I think most Westporters are responsible and feel responsible to the river, and the health of it and the food possibilities of it, so I think it it’s down to natives, I don’t think we’d have too many problems. We could keep it that way, absolutely – that’s town property. It has to be policed now.
People say, ‘Oh, you’re a Landing Commissioner, you have control of the landing.’ That’ not true. The policing of the landing is done by the town police. Any time there’s a problem, we always end up calling them and they’re wonderful, and we’ve been very lucky in this town in that direction. In police and fire departments, we have had the best. I think they’re perfectly capable of handling the situation there, they’re overworked probably, but here again, if it’s restricted, all you have to have is your dump sticker or your beach sticker on the car that identifies you as a town resident. The dump sticker is certainly free, and that makes you identifiable, and you don’t get a ticket.
The dump has been a problem, in my mind, for years and years. It’s in the wrong place. Unfortunately, there are chemicals, new plastics components, plus mercury and other heavy metals, that go into a landfill dump, and they leach out, and where the dump is located, there’s a brook that runs right down there, right through Eleanor Tripp’s and there’s another one that comes down and runs across the road and right through Johnny Babbitt’s property. Those are going right into the river, and I think that every time you get heavy rains, you’re carrying off all this poison from the dump into the river. I’m on the River Improvement Commission, and I know that in the past there was a study, and right by Hix Bridge was the highest mercury count in the river. I don’t know whether that’s coming off the potato fields. I know there’s mercury used in some of the pesticides, and whether it’s coming from the potato fields of Boan and Smith or from the dump, I don’t know, but there are going to be more tests.
I don’t know what we can do about the dump. Unfortunately, we’ve buried a bomb, because there’s nothing you can do to take it back, and what is there – whether it’s a 70-year half-life – how long do those chemicals take to break down. I don’t know. In breaking down, they’ll be going into the river. The effect they have on fish and shellfish, I don’t know. We can study that and find out, but it just makes us more knowledgeable, it doesn’t protect us.
If we move the dump today, it’s still going to be active, and where do we move it to? Westport is a fascinating place. It’s just one big watershed. No matter where you go, it’s either swamp or a brook emptying into the Westport Rivers, either East or West. You can go up to the Westport Auto Theatre, and all that area goes down into Bread and Cheese Brook and ends up in the Westport River, and the same thing up through Tiverton and all that area, and Westport’s problems come from Dartmouth too. The river comes from the Shingle Island area – all those bogs up in there – so, any pollution that comes along is headed for the Westport River – either Noquochoke or the Harbor. We can start to clean up our own land, but I think we have to ask our neighbors to do the same.
Every time we put in a new road, we put the drainage right into a brook, and then all the fuel chemicals go in – gasoline, oil – we compound it every day. Route 6, from the Westport Factory to the Dartmouth Auto Theatre – all of that is drained into Noquochoke, so all those automobile poisons go into the Westport River. We’re under tremendous pressure. I don’t see where the regressing point is. If you accuse one person of polluting, how can you say that, when others are allowed?
Mr. Feio used to talk about Germany, where the town composted their waste and used it for heating and lighting. That’s the coming thing. The country is just becoming aware of the use of waste and boy, we’re the most wasteful nation in the world. You know, there’s a funny thing that I see coming now. We’re developing these huge plants that break down waste. There’s one now that breaks down garbage, and for every 1,000 pounds of garbage, you get 55 gallons of oil and things like that. So we’re in the waste processing business now, and we’re developing the technology for processing the waste, but in the same time, we’re basing everything on conservation – so if we conserve, we’re going to have less waste. This is a paradox. There’re both great ideas. I don’t know – I think the conservation one is the one I go for. We waste things terribly – food, clothing, fuel, everything is wasted.
I just think – here we are at the peak of our civilization. I see signs of breakdown. I – take the cemetery situation, down on Drift Road – you know where they want to move that cemetery, the Tripp burial ground that goes back to the 1700s – some of the founders of this town. Anyway, this family that bought the land got permission, through Boston, to move this cemetery because they want to make that into a house lot and not one of the Tripp family was notified of this. This, to me, is just, well, you can tell the condition of a society by the way they treat their dead – the bottom of the barrel in my opinion. I was riding through Assonet once on a bicycle, and I saw all these trees, and it looked as though there might be a little cemetery there. Everything was disheveled and everything was falling down, and I pushed the brush apart, and there was a little tombstone and the words on it were ‘PERPETUAL CARE.’
I think the Tripp family can handle that situation very well. They’re good hardy folks and I’m not going to worry about it yet. If I see that it’s breaking down and I have a few opinions that I’m going to express. I would – open mouth and insert foot! I feel very strongly about things like this – the way I do about nature and the environment. I feel that future generations that aren’t here yet have the right to the same quality of life that I have – the same quality of environment – and I don’t have a right to destroy that.
I think the nicest thing that can be said of anybody is that this world is a little bit better for their having been here. I think this whole country has to take a step backward. No, don’t put it that way – just say ‘Take an about face and a big step forward.’
In town meetings we say, ‘Don’t worry about this – this is federal money, state money, county money.’ Well, who in the world is the federal, state and county but us? It may be my right hand pocket that it’s coming out of instead of the left, but still – and we say this is ‘federal sharing.’ It costs us $10.00 to get $1.00 back from the federal government.
There are so many things and so many people in this town who are so beautiful and good. I’ve never met so many thinking and caring people in one place, and it’s just this environment that has attracted them all.
I’m an Indian at heart. I walk around collecting arrowheads and think of this wonderful simple being, who lived here and had a wonderful philosophy and religion. I feel a part of them – as it at one time I belonged and I reflect back and think that this must have been a Garden of Eden when they had it. They had territorial and hunting rights, but the land was God’s and everything was a gift to them. They didn’t ruin it. I see the signs of decadence.
When I go back to painting, I won’t give up my sculpture. I don’t think of them as great works of art. I do something until it satisfies me, and that’s selfish. I think posterity is the only true judge of an artist anyway. I don’t think much of modern critics in their criticism of contemporary art. Great art that has endured and is still great – that’s something. In studying art, you can understand the rise and fall of every civilization. The artist has predicted it every time through his art. I’m afraid that the artist is predicting the end of this one.
Westport is a montage of things; it’s a whole encyclopedia. It’s a wonderful collector’s item. I think Westport is. If I could change anything here, I think in many areas, I would step backward and then proceed cautiously forward. It would take the next hundred years to discuss each facet – so many directions.
Right now I’m starting a new venture in my life. I’m going to turn around 180 degrees and take a big step forward. I’m building a log cabin in the woods and I’m not going to have any electricity, no telephone. I’m going to try to do it myself, and if I succeed in some of these areas, I can say, ‘Look what can be done.’ I can sit here and say, ‘This is great.’ We should use less power, and if I can do that, maybe I can share that with some young people. I’ll say, ‘Come in and see the way it’s working.’ I’ll probably have a battery system with a wind generator so I can have music. I can’t live without music. I’m going to do it day-by-day, inch-by-inch. I’m going to be very inventive. I have many friends who want to come and help. Yeah, this is going to be an interesting project and it will be fun too. It will be educational for me, and whoever wants to share it. They started the roadway last Saturday and they’re going in about 2,000 feet – not quite half a mile. Bob Baker said that when he left the house and went down his long laneway, that by the time he got to the house, everything was alright.
I will share it with the individuals that show the most interest and that’s the best I can do. I’m going to try solar heat and I know that one of the first things will be a solar hot water system and then a wind generator, the 12-volt system. And then, I’m going to try to get into solar heat – it’s got a long way to go. This is a very exciting time. I think if I were 25 years younger, I’d be into energy, solar and wind and waterpower. Put a generator on the dam that’s spilling over at the North end of Westport, put a generator on that, and you could run the whole north end of Westport probably. You see, the water can run through a generator and come out exactly the same on the other side, and yet it’s giving you the power unpolluted. There are a couple of places on the river where there could be a generator.
We haven’t been more inventive because of the light switch. If the power is there, why look for another source? When the price gets up high enough, people will begin to say, ‘Why don’t we put a generator at Westport Factory? Why don’t we put a windmill in Westport Harbor, or over at Almy’s farm or Barney’s Joy? This is a step backward, but at the same time, it’s a step forward because we are getting something that is free. Our atomic raw materials will be used up by next year and we will be dependent on other people. This nation was an independent, self-sufficient nation. I want to do my share to prove that it can be done. When I was a little boy, I used to embarrass my parents; people would say, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I’d say, ‘A hermit.’ I think you could be a hermit and still share with the outside world, but abstemiously, not wastefully. Don’t give somebody something they don’t want. My mother was a great lady; she always said, ‘You don’t have anything until you share it.’ I have a million paintings in my head, but until I do them, they’re no good. Sharing experiences, thoughts and ideas at breakfast at the Bayside with the fishermen, I come on much richer. It’s a wonderful, honest sharing.