Richard Paull was interviewed by Mary Giles on October 14, 1976. He spoke of his life in Westport and his time spent by the water.
Mr. Paull’s love of Westport is quite will known, and, his creative efforts toward Westport’s development are recognized by all. Although he was not born here, Westport has been his whole life.
I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on September 5, 1916. My family home was in Barre, Massachusetts, where my father was a physician from 1912 to 1968. My mother’s family had one branch of their forbearers who came from these parts, and in 1915 my parents, along with my mother’s parents, spent a couple of weeks in a cottage on West Beach. We’d had other relations to Westport previous to that time. Then I was a minus one year old.
I first came down to Westport about 1922. I remember clearly going to Westport Point with my grandfather Leonard, my brother Peter, and another man. We got a boat from the wharf, which was then Whelan’s Wharf, and we rowed to where the Yacht Club and Tripp’s boatyard are now. At the time, no buildings were visible on the shore of the Horseneck. The little red house was still in existence, and was known as the ‘Charlie Ross-Gifford House.’ It was there, but not visible. We went fishing. We anchored and went fishing, and I was the only one who caught anything, and I caught an eel. I was six or seven then. I remember John Kenny, whom I came to know very well. He was the old sailor working at Whelan’s Wharf cleaning fish and other work of that kind. On that, or another similar day, we purchased a ten or twelve-pound Tataug, carried it home in a box, and it hadn’t given up the ghost until we got well up towards Taunton. I also remember coming down to go swimming. Sometimes we would go to a pavilion well down towards Bridge Street, east of where Baker and Earle’s (beach) now is, and other times, we’d go to Allen’s Pavillion, which is now Chandy’s Gooseberry Neck Bar. The Howes were at the very end of West Beach. This (Allen’s) is up at Gooseberry Neck Causeway, between East Beach and West Beach. This bathhouse was where Chandy’s skin diving rental place is now, and I preferred to go to Allen’s Pavillion, because there was such a fine sandy beach. It was attractive. The new causeway had just been put in at that time, and it was not long thereafter that the accumulation of rocks completely changed the nature of the beach in that section. The accumulation of rocks built out 200 or 300 feet by 1927. This accumulation grew probably because the sand, which had been held by beach grass, was no longer held this way, because people built cottages and the beach grass disappeared. The sand was blown inland and was never blown back. It was a combination of erosion and some difference because of the causeway.
The principal reason for coming in the early 20’s was the swimming, and in 1924, I got polio, and in 1925 I came down with my mother and my sister and spent a couple of weeks at the Emma Manchester House, which now belongs to Dr. Holt. She took in boarders and we had very delicious food, swordfish and lobster and clams and Johnny Cakes. We would walk from the boarding house to the Horseneck over the old bridge, come back in the noon and have dinner, walk over again in the afternoon and back. We had plenty of walking, a very fine appetite and greatly enjoyed life with Mrs. Manchester and the other boarders. On one occasion, it was with Bernadetta Carter and her family. I was nine at this time. I don’t remember any of the other families, probably not seen them since. Of course, Mrs. Manchester’s husband was around, and Ethel (Cabral). It was about the time that Ethel built the bungalow just south of what was Emma Manchester’s house. Her husband, George, was a very taciturn individual, who reputedly had retired from fishing after having caught the largest Tautog anyone had record of, a sixteen-pound Tautog.
I went to the Barre public schools for grammar school and high school, and then I went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and have been practicing law since that time. My father went to Boston University and my mother went to Bridgewater State Teacher’s College. She taught for three or four years in the early days of her marriage.
In thinking of Westport people, Dr. Percy Brown and his wife, Mary Hix Brown, of Barre were among early acquaintances in Westport, because of our knowing them in Barre. Mary Hix Brown is still living in the Hix homestead on Main Road. Her son, Durant, was in school with me in Barre, a year behind, and we were in the same home room, and knew each other well over the years. I remember going for rides with Mary Brown and my mother. At that time, and she continued to be later, she was very much imbued with Westport history. She would have a very hard time deciding which line of conversation to continue. She’d try to go three directions at once. It was between 1925 and 1925 that we would come down from Taunton where my grandparents lived. We’d come down the Main Road where the Santos lived, which then had a very old gambrel roofed home before the barn and silo were built. At that point, we could first see the ocean, and there was great excitement as to who could see the ocean first. As we approached the Point, we became more excited, and we were particularly excited by the Baker Cottage, which is at the corner of Cape Bial Lane and Main Road. My parents were tempted to buy that cottage, and were a bit confused as to which Bakers owned it. At first, we thought it was Marcietta Baker, and in due time, I realized it was Bradley Baker. It has beautiful proportions and it was built at least by 1775, or it may have been earlier as I later found out. To duplicate that pretty much, my parents succeeded in buying in 1927, the small lot that is now 2043 Main Road. They built a small house following the Cape Cod style, and in keeping with the rest of the Point as much as they could. The Baker house has a very appropriate and attractive small fireplace. The fireplace in my parents’ house was built the way it was to utilize pine paneling that my parents had found in Central Massachusetts. My mother and father also accumulated a considerable amount of Early American antiques. They were a little bit hard for my family to sit on. The house was built for two purposes, as a simple summer house, and for room to have certain antiques that would be appropriate here. They had considerable enjoyment in the construction of the house. The workers were, in large part, Italian patients of my father in Barre. My father had taken care of a family that had a sawmill. They managed to lose a number of fingers in their work over the course of several generations, and we became concerned that this family might begin to be born without fingers! I remember that when the house was being built, I stayed in the Prescilla Curry house that is now owned by the Harrers. I stayed in a little second floor bedroom there. At this time, very interesting families lived to the south and north of where we built. To the south, Mr. Frank Brown was 85 or so. In the house to the north, was the Howland family, who were the owners of the house for 100 years, close to it. Of the children of William Potter Howland, who was locally known as William Potter, Sam, 93; Alec, 88; Lydia, 83; Becky, 78; Charlie and William and Mark. One of them had died, and the others were all living. Their father had died at 93. His brother had died at 98 because he fell off a horse. The father and uncle of these Howland boys had been a cooper, and had a cooper shop behind what is now the Pacquachuck Inn. Harold Howland had the job, as a boy, of getting inside the whale oil casks when they were completed to look for worm holes, which he could see the light through, and also picking up chips, which would be used to fire the steam device that would bend the staves.
An early memory of Becky and Lydia Howland, it was Lydia Angel and Becky Howland, concerned with looking after us when we’d been at the beach, who, looking over the fence, asked, ‘Have you seen the boys anywhere?’ I’d say, ‘No, we haven’t seen the boys,’ and they would say, ‘Oh, here they come now.’ And up the street would come Sam at 93 with the others following.
Frank Brown and Lydia, were to me, very interesting. Frank had a very distinctive little workshop, in which he made small rowboats. He’d hold an iron weight on one side, while he set the nail on the other. I was about 11 or 12 years old at that time. He had all kinds of tools in this little shop down on the wharf, grommets and runners and oyster bongs, screws, nails, miscellaneous tools, anchors, and he would talk readily about his experiences. He told of helping build the mansard roofed house and barn that had been the Valentine Estate, later the LeValleys, then the Reads, and now the Read Bragg’s property. The cabinet work in the upstairs of the carriage shed was work from houses in Assonet, which is a very lovely village near Freetown.
Lydia had a son, Bert Brownell, who was a rather rough and tough 65. He had spent his life close to the water. He had actually sailed on the ‘Columbia,’ America’s Cup Defender, in 1901. He was telling how exciting it was when they jibed around the buoy and the huge boom came across the deck, and all the crew would fall to the ground to keep from having their heads knocked off. He told of catching swordfish inside of the ‘Spindle’ here in Westport. (He didn’t speak of dolphins, but I’ve seen porpoise right close to Westport Harbor in considerable numbers on a few occasions.
This was during Prohibition, and he told of, rum running was the principal occupation of a good many Westporters, including some otherwise very respectable citizens. There was money in it. In 1927, there was a long gray boat up alongside the huge Coast Guard vessel. It had two Libertine motors, which were World War I motors, and I could not understand how this long gray boat could continue in the business and not be hauled away somewhere. There wasn’t any question that it was in rum running activities, and it was hard to realize how anything illegal was tolerated. Over the years, I’ve come to realize more and more what did take place, and without passing any particular judgment on it, I’ve….I can remember well when Prohibition was erased in 1933. A great many of those who had been in the rum running, were working on the WPA, building the sidewalk up and down the street. Their means of support had been suddenly taken away from them.
In the 50’s, when my son was ten or fifteen, which would be in the early 50’s, Milton Early and Andrew Lees and others in the town, formed a group to sponsor the troop, and I served for about five or six years as scout master. I never had a boy freeze to death, but I had some that were quite well smoked from the cabin at Camp Noquochoke. One boy stuffed his friend’s sweater up the stovepipe, and then there were thundershowers and some tents blew down at Quicksand Pond. I’ve had boys up in the middle of the night to chop wood to keep warm, and they cleared a section of the land through which the new highway (Route 88) goes.
We took trips up to the north part of the state and to the New Hampshire boarder. We’d go for two or three days at a time, and we had wonderful times and got well bitten by black flies and caught a few trout and enjoyed the activities there.
We had a good time where the road was being put through, because it was accessible and remote. You didn’t have to go very far to get into wildness. I sometimes had the boys, as part of their scout tests, follow the stone walls through the woods and to see where one came out on Drift Road, beginning on Main Road. It was in that time that I saw enough of the walls to be interested in, as a sort of mental exercise, figuring out the puzzle of seeing how they did run and why.
We reflect the enthusiasm of the family about the herring run. My father’s family lived on the Weir of the Taunton River. Herring were caught in considerable numbers, and it was sort of traditional to catch some herring when they were running. After I was an adult, I’d enjoy going out from time to time. The matter of pickling them was never really solved. It was important to keep them in brine and weight them down with boards, because if they came up, their glassy eyes would put the hex on you. They should be fried in milk (or boiled). The roe was particularly good. You probably shouldn’t cook them in your own home, or you’ll small them for a long time.
The young in my family go over near the Harbor to catch the herring. There’s a certain fun and exciting thing, it’s not a restful way to spend an evening, and even the next morning after you’ve caught them… It was great fun to go trawling for mackerel. I’ve caught a considerable number of mackerel throwing lines out from the Nubble, ten or twelve good-sized mackerel at one time when the pepole in boats were going as close to the rocks as they felt they could. I’ve sailed a 13-foot sailboat, gaff rig, and filled the boat up with ____ mackerel myself and sailed home, put them in a wheelbarrow and wheeled them up to the store that is now Raposa’s, and gone back and brought part of a second load, fourteen or so. When the fish were plentiful, it was great sport when you’d go through a school and have one or two on the lines, small bluefish, Tautaug, Scup and sometimes Flounder.
It was after I was married and was living with my wife down at my mother’s little house, that we really got into the oystering. We frequently, in the middle of winter or other times, using small boats, we’d go out with long tongs, handles so long that we called the Chinaman catchers. The object was to get out into the river to the vicinity of Lake’s Island in an area known as ‘Poverty Point,’ where at the very lowest tide, near the edge of the channel, where the Cinaman catchers would still be out of the water, and catch with the tongs what oysters we could. I’d frequently get a bushel or two, sometimes more, and then turn and row back all the way to Westport Point with the oysters, the tongs and the rowboat. Lucia and I would often have a dozen or more oysters on the half shell and then oyster stew.
We were married in San Diego, California, on April 24, 1941.
In this house (Richard Paull’s on Main Road), the interior trim Lucia designed and I did most of the work.