Eleanor Simmons was interviewed by Mary Giles on November 29, 1976. She spoke about the late Oscar Palmer, who had died earlier that same year.
Oscar Palmer started to school at Macomber’s Corner. There was a school there then, about one-quarter mile, right here, yes. He started in the first grade there and walked up with a lot of other children from the neighborhood. They would come from Central Village and walk down, and he would walk with them.
Before he was six years old and started to school, he wore dresses. All children wore dresses ‘til they were six years old, and then the boys got pants or trousers, they used to call them pants in those days. I have some photographs of little boys and girls of that age, and there’s a photograph of Mr. Palmer when he wore dresses. They were short and longer wasted, and had ruffles. (In a talk with Mr. Palmer, he confirmed this.)
He was a very good writer; I think he did very well (in school). Some of the teachers in the school boarded here. They came out from the city, and of course; they couldn’t travel back and forth, so they boarded here. One or two teachers that he had, boarded here. When I came to live here about 1930, one of his former teachers came in and visited him.
Mr. Palmer was born here in Westport in this house, on October 30, 1883. He passed away May 18, 1976. He was 93. His parents came here in 1851. His mother lived on Crandall Road. She was a Cornell and Cornell Road was named after her family. His father came from Westport Harbor; he was born there and lived there ‘til he was about six year old. His grandfather came here in 1851; they bought this place from Edna Brownell.
When his father (Oscar Palmer’s father) was 13 years old, he went over to Little Compton and he lived there and learned to be a journeyman carpenter. It was on Maple Avenue in Little Compton, and I believe the name of the man that ran the place was Benjamin Pierce. He boarded there. There might have been five, six or seven of these young men (boys), and they would have to go across the road to a boarding house and have their meals, breakfast, dinner and supper. They’d go in a hurray; I suppose if they didn’t get there in time, the food would be gone. I suppose they were hungry, and if any of them didn’t get there in time, they’d go hungry ‘til the next meal.
Mr. Palmer’s father was always a carpenter, and a good one. After he ‘graduated’ from a ‘journeyman,’ he was working as a carpenter. Then he met and married his wife and lived in Little Compton and worked for different, for what we call carpentering contractors. Then he went to Fall River and worked there and built two houses, one he sold and one he lived in. His father, Henry Palmer (Oscar’s grandfather), decided he didn’t want to live here, he wanted to go back to Adamsville where his family lived, you know, so he sold the place here to Oscar’s father and that was in 1870.
Oscar’s father came back from Fall River and he lived here and started farming and helped build houses around here. He lived here until he died in 1932, and then the farm went to Oscar, and he became the owner of this place.
When Oscar went to school, he always had chores to do in the morning, and when he got back form school, he had chores to do because his father was carpentering and they ran the poultry farm. There was always someone living here, a hired man, you know, so Oscar had the chores to do, so he had no time for sports when he was growing up. Sunday it was taboo for sports around here. (Oscar told a funny story about that, about being so near the straight-laced Quakers). After he got through at the Macomber Corner School, he went to the Head of Westport to the Bell School, to high school there.
He was quite an ice skater. He used to go across the road here and skate every winter at the Kirby pond up the hill here ‘til he was about 70 years old, because I used to go up skating with him. The children used to come down from the Village, and sometimes we used to go down there evenings and light a bonfire to keep warm, and we’d be skating around and having a lot of fun. He always fit in with the younger people. He never got old; he always had young ideas. His father used to say his head was full of nonsense. He was quite a storyteller too.
He used to go swimming summers and he’d go down to Hix’s Bridge and go swimming there. He used to swim across many times, from one side to the other, and I used to go swimming there too, not too many times, but I used to go swimming there too.
When his grandparents came I the 1800’s, they had a horse and buggy and a horse and wagon, what was called a ‘Democrat Wagon’ – I think that’s what it was, and they used to go to market wintertime. Franklin, that was Mr. Palmer’s father, worked carpentry summertime, but wintertime it was too cold, so they, the father, a hired man or Oscar, would go to market many times when he didn’t work. They’d take vegetables and cheese; of course, they made cheese here. There was a cheese room upstairs. They cured cheese upstairs and they would sell that.
They kept cows and raised hogs for food for the house, you know, and maybe sheep or lambs. They’d get up early in the morning, get ready early in the morning, get the wagon ready and take vegetables to Fall River and they would go down to what they’d call Broadway in Fall River and they would have cabbage and turnips and all these things, and all these women would come and they would buy out the whole wagon lots of times. ‘Course things were very cheep, and coming back, they would bring grain. They’d never come back with an empty wagon.
We had oxen here from 1930 to 1953 when we got through farming. We used to have little oxen here. There are, oh, half a dozen ox yokes right here on the place now. They used to work them. They used to pick up stones. They made a little cart and they used to pick up stones. They weren’t those huge oxen; they were small. He’d raise them and train them, and then he’d sell them. He’d hitch them up to a cart and we’d go around picking up those little pebble stones after plowing. We’d have a lot of fun with them, demonstrating them. The children would come and then they’d ride. We had a lot of fun. We still got some pictures around here that shows children and oxen and everybody.
I was told that in 1918, Mr. Palmer bought a Ford car. Oh, what do you call it? And then they stopped using the wagons. For that matter, they always went on horseback to school, to the Bell School on horseback ‘cause there were no buses around, so they had to find their own transportation. He’d go on horseback or peddle a bicycle to get to school. They had to work hard.
When Mr. Palmer finished at the Bell School, he was working here on the farm, and his father was still carpentering, and he was running the farm, and he would plant maybe all onions, an acre and a half of onions, you know. That’s lots, an acre and a half, and he would sell them, go to market and sell them, and people around here would come and buy. He would supply the farmers around here with vegetables and go to market and all that, and many times, at the end of the year and after all that hard labor, all his profit would be was $45.00. So they had to work very hard.
Their living (costs), of course, wasn’t so much. They owned their house, they raised their food and their tax bills weren’t so high. There’s some tax bills here now, all they paid was $18.00 taxes a year at that time. That would be in the 1880’s or ‘90’s or some time like that.
After he got out of school, when he was about 20 years old, he went to politics and he was appointed to the Registry of Voters. Edward Macomber was the Town Clerk and George Russell and maybe Frank Slocum were the Selectmen then, and they appointed him to the Registry of Voters in town and he was just 20 years old. And he kept that position for 37 years. You know how small the town was, he would get maybe $8.00 and then some years when they would have a state election, it would be $16.00, and, of course, every four years in the presidential election, it would be the same, so it was very small at that time. I’m talking about the teens and low twenties. He kept that (Register of Voters) for 37 years and then in 1943, I think an assessor in our town resigned and Mr. Palmer ran for one year, there was only one year left (on the term). And, Mr. Palmer ran and he got elected and then he was on for three years, and every three years he would run, and I think he was on for 25 years. He resigned in 1968 when he was in his eighties. They wouldn’t let him resign, they said, “You just have to run.’ He kept on farming, of course, and his father was sick, but he kept on farming ‘til 1956 when he sold out the rest of the farm. He just went down, he had a little dairy farm here, and he kept selling out ‘til he got to about two cows and he said, ‘Well, I’ll let them go now.’
When he was young, there were hen houses all over the place. He used to have them in separate hen houses. They’d keep a flock of about 25 – 30 in a house. (His father, Franklin, did.) There were farmers coming in here and they sold them wholesale to the farmers. They never sold retail. They would come on the farm here and buy all the eggs, cases of them, you know. The last of the hen houses just collapsed with Hurricane Belle we had this summer (1976).
When he went to the Service, he might have been 30 years old. He was farming and his mother and father had a dairy farm, and he kept hens. When he went into the poultry business, he borrowed $1,000 from his father and told him he would pay him at a certain time, you know. In the meantime, he got drafted and he could have stayed out, but he felt he should go, his buddies around here all went, and he felt, ‘Why should I stay?’ He was on the Draft Board, drafting all those young men, and he thought he should go too, so before he went, he had to sell out all his poultry business and he lost a lot of money. When he went, it was two days before the Armistice, no; it was the day before the Armistice. Anyway, they got to Connecticut that must have been the day of the Armistice. Of course, here in Westport, his mother and father didn’t know and they thought he was already gone, going South somewhere, and they, of course, felt terrible being left alone and they were in their late 60’s, and so this night about 12 o’clock there was a knock on the door here, and they went to the door and there was Oscar standing there, and the father said, ‘What are you doing here?’ That was his war experience.
After that, of course, his father was still in the dairy business, so he went to work. John Davis was running a repair shop and he used to sell cars, Fords, up on the Main Road. Oscar decided to go to work, but he still helped his father on the farm. And he earned enough money to pay his father back the $1,000, or so he owed him. It took about a year or so, but he paid him back.
And about 1928 his father had a stroke, and Oscar and a lot of other people had to come here and help him out. Then in 1930, I came here and I saw him through, and his father said to me, ‘If you want to stay here, you will always have a home,’ and so I stayed. I was young when I came here. I’ve always been comfortable. I’ve never had any worries here. I was 22 years old when I came here. That was Depression time. My home was in Boston, but in those days you had to go wherever you could get work, so I went to New Bedford. I had no desire to come out here. I was a nurse, and in those days, my wages were $18.00 a week. I hadn’t been well; I didn’t like it in the country, and didn’t know anyone, but when I saw the condition here, how much I was needed, Oscar had to do so much of everything for his father and do the farm work too, and he kept him so nice, I said to myself, ‘I’ll stay ‘til summer.’
Mr. Palmer seemed to like me and said to me, that if I stayed, I would always have a home here. So for five and a half years I took care of his father. Of course, after that, this was home and Oscar said, ‘If you want to stay on here the way you did, I won’t bother you and you can run the house and I’ll run the business outside,’ and so I stayed on.
I started the little antique business right away from the beginning. I would go out collecting. I would go out shopping and there was an antique store here and there, and it was a joke here. Oscar’s father would say, ‘Well, what did you buy today?’ And I’d always bring something, and I’d collected so many things and there were so many things here too, so in 1960 we converted the barn into an antique shop. I had some beautiful things, but now I’m down, I’ve sold about practically everything. There’s nothing there but old farm tools and things. I have a lot of things stored away that I will put out next spring. Those will be the real old antiques.