Hartley Howe was interviewed by Mary Giles on August 6, 1975. He spoke of his childhood and his father Louie’s prominent position under F.D.R.
(Hartley Howe grew up in Fall River and Westport. His Westport life in his early years was in a cottage at the West end of Horseneck Beach.)
The cottage stood almost due North of the Spindle. It’s roughly due South of Tripp’s Boat Yard on the West side of the boulder, which forms the end of the beach down there. It’s about one-half mile from the end of the road where Baker’s Beach is now, and just one-half mile from where the end of the river comes out.
There wasn’t any road. You walked the beach to get there. If it was high tide, that was pretty tough luck. There were originally three cottages. They were all, we were told, cranberry pickers’ cottages. There was a sort of bog in the dunes behind them. It was largely overgrown, and why they would build a cottage there just for the two weeks they picked they picked the cranberries, I don’t know. That doesn’t seem very likely, but I accepted it when I was a child, that these were cranberry pickers’ cottages. They must have been built some time in the latter part of the 19th century, when, I don’t know, perhaps 1870 – ’80, sometime in there.
The house was originally fairly close to the water, but the beach had built out there and it was perhaps 75 feet between us and the edge of the dunes – the bank – and 25 or 50 feet more from there to high tide, because it built out more and more every year. The high tide line now is somewhere behind where the cottage was then. It must have gone in at least 150 to 200 feet. I don’t know why it scored so, but it has ever since the hurricane, more or less.
To get supplies, Charlie Hammond had a horse and buggy. That was Hammond’s Store, originally it was at the same place that Tony Raposa’s is now, and then it moved across the street to what is now a private home (Mead’s). I don’t know what happened. The store was built right out to the sidewalk. (Mead’s present garage was built out near the street and later moved back to its present location. That was Hammond’s store and post office.)
The other store was Gifford’s, and it was across the street (from where Raposa’s is now) and it burned down. It was on the West side of the Main Road and they were great rivals. I was never in Gifford’s store in my life. If you went to Hammond’s, you didn’t go to Gifford’s.
The post office was in Hammond’s at that time. The store was divided into two sections, male and mixed. The South half of it, I can remember, was fitted up with benches and big chromo lithographs of Fall River Line steamers, and all the men of the village, obviously the ones that didn’t have anything better to do, sat around I there chewing tobacco. I suspect, at some point there must have been a liquor department, but I have no recollection of it, and Westport was a dry town. This was long before Prohibition. This was 1915-16.
My family went to Horseneck Beach in 1920 or 1911 before I was born. My father had been told he only had about six months to live and they sort of looked around for a quiet place for him to die, I suppose, at least where he could be as healthy as he could. My mother had grown up in Fall River, so they’d always known about Westport. They looked around and found this cottage out there. At that time, it belonged, I believe to a man named Sheldon, who lived on the Main Road. His home is still there; it’s the house that Dr. Hadfield has, and he (Sheldon) owned the whole point there, and he lost it in some kind of mortgage foreclosure, and that was a big disappointment. There was some feeling that he had been done out of it, I don’t know why. He promised to sell a big chunk of the land to my family, but he never did because he lost all the land before he could sell it.
This year, (1975) there is a drought. People are lined up at the town pump. I can’t see why people need the water. We had a driven well that went down not very far, 10 or 15 feet into the sand, and we had an unfailing supply of fresh, clear water. In the house, a pipe linked the well to a hand pump, only one pump in the house, in the kitchen, and a lead sink, three or four feet long, a big open sink.
It was quite a problem if you wanted to take a bath, if you didn’t, just go in the ocean for it. We’d put the water on the stove and then fill a tin tub, which wasn’t very extensively used I’m sure. The water was heated on kerosene stove. We had kerosene, and it had to be carried out there, five-gallon cans at a time. Everything was heated and lit by kerosene. Maybe the kerosene lasted ten days or two weeks, something like that. I suppose we were careful about our use of kerosene; I never though about it in those days.
Of course, when Charlie Hammond gave up the horse, it became harder (to get supplies) because he’d got a Ford truck and could only come out at low tide. A horse could come anytime. He’d come out every couple of weeks. The rest of the time, we’d have to walk in and get whatever we wanted. We’d stock up on canned goods at the beginning of the summer and we largely ate out of cans. There weren’t many places where you could buy vegetables anyway in those days. The farmers weren’t raising vegetables very much in those days. Perrys started their little stand sometime in the ‘20s, that was Andrew Perry’s grandmother that started that, and I can remember shopping there. I guess his father must have been a young man, but she was always the one that tended the stand. She was a woman in her 60s maybe at that time. I can’t remember his grandfather at all. He may have already died by that time. He was a harpooner from the whaling days, either his grandfather or his great grandfather.
We only moved to Fall River after we’d been in the house on the beach for 15 years or so (summers). Before that, we were in Washington, nowhere near Fall River. In fact, we never went down very much until after the road was built, or very close to that period. I can’t remember exactly.
The Cherry and Webb road has already been built out to there, and those were the two houses that had been built separately further down. They were built after we moved there.
There wasn’t anybody much to play with. There were very few other children. I swam quite a little, or rather went surf bathing really. It was too rough to swim. There were two Stevens boys, but they were my sister’s age, Winston and Ned Stevens. Well, I read a lot and collected firewood. We came there in late April and stayed until October. We were there practically six months of the year, partly because Washington was so hot. It was a long, hot summer there.
‘Course after we moved to Washington, it was a long trip up here. We came up on the ‘Federal,’ leaving Washington at night and we’d arrive in Providence at the crack of dawn the next morning, and come up directly from Providence to Fall River on a little train that ran directly from Providence to Fall River.
During the 1938 hurricane, which is the one people think of as the big hurricane, my mother was in Fall River, she was the Post Master there, and my sister and her son, aged twelve, had just come back from Europe and were living down here. I was in New York working; I was twenty-seven since you asked me. We were scattered around. My sister (Mary Baker) was the only one actually living down here. She’d gone to Newport for the day with her son. Nobody was in any of those houses, just by chance, on that day, which was very fortunate, because it would have been very difficult for my mother to…. Well, the water got in behind there and cut off everything. People tried to escape backwards over the dunes. My sister was in Newport out on the Ocean Drive in a house on a rocky point with two elderly maiden cousins all through the storm. As it began to get dark, the waves were coming in over the rocks and the foundation of the house, but fortunately it came no higher and began to subside after that.
They were cut off from the telephone and my mother had no idea where they were. I think she knew that they had planned to go to Newport, but she couldn’t call Newport to find out if they were there. She listened to reports that the water was coming up over the beach, so she was greatly alarmed. She called me in New York and I thought it was just a rainy day and didn’t pay any attention to it.
When your family were there having a peaceful, lovely summer, did they entertain a great deal?
Oh, no! Nobody ever came out there. You’d have to walk half a mile. But we loved it. We had very little company out there; at least I can’t remember any, at least until after Roosevelt (Franklin D. Roosevelt). We had, perhaps, more visitors after that. I can’t tell you how many summers Franklin Roosevelt was there, say perhaps two or three times for six weeks or more, and that was before the road was built. It must have been the summer before, and I can remember that they had to bring him out in a car at low tide, up to the house.
My father was sort of, well; it’s hard to put your finger on it. He’d been his (Roosevelt’s) assistant in the Navy Department when Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary, then my father planned to go back into journalism, but at the end of the War when the Republicans came into office, these were political offices of course. First, there was the campaign when Roosevelt ran for Vice President. Yes, he ran for Vice President. Cox and Roosevelt, 1920, and they spent all summer on a campaign train. In those days, everyone campaigned by trains, all over the United States by private car. And, of course, they lost the election, which my father expected, then the next summer Roosevelt became ill, just as my father was planning what he was going to do next, and my father stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Your father, who wasn’t going to live very long, kept living and living.
I’ll never know why he was given such a gloomy forecast there. I was an infant in arms. This is all hearsay. He’d been in poor health all his life, although he lived to be sixty-four or five. His poor health didn’t bother him too much.
In a way, your father, Louis Howe….
It was ‘Louie,’ in spite of Mrs. Roosevelt, who had told Arthur Schlesinger that it was (pronounced) Louis – the ‘s’ was never sounded.
Your father, Louie Howe, was one of the most prominent citizens we’ve ever had here in Westport, don’t you think?
Well, I don’t’ know very much about the prominent citizens we’ve had here, but certainly he brought Westport a good deal of attention.
You asked me about visitors. When Roosevelt was governor and running for the presidency, we had a good many visitors then. As the political lines were forming, we had a good many people coming to ask him what was going to happen next. It was a very fluid situation, very similar to 1975, Governor Richie, Al Smith was thinking of running again; there were a couple of others, including Alfalfa Bill Murray of Oklahoma and Garner of Texas. There was a lot of maneuvering back and forth, but as Governor of New York; F.D.R. had sort of an edge. He’d won in a year in which the Republicans had a large majority. He had won in a year when he was one of the few Democratic governors elected, so he attracted a lot of attention, and that means a lot of visitors. The influx of visitors continued right through the presidential campaign, of course, although my father wasn’t there a great deal that summer. During the next summer, it was 1934; I think he was there for quite a while. And there was quite a bit of long distance telephoning and governors dropping in casually, and that sort of thing. That was really the last summer that he was able to be there.
He didn’t live very long after Roosevelt became president. I thing he died I 1935, the year before the conventions, so he was there for two, or two and a half years, something like that.
It has been said that he (Louis Hose) was the mastermind behind a great deal of the New Deal.
Well, he was most interested in the achievement of goals then in the formation of goals. He wasn’t a theoretician; he was very practical. He was interested in how you got things done, rather than I the abstract theory of what he was doing. Of course, as a Liberal Democrat, he was a Liberal in 1932 terms, but you couldn’t have called him a member of the so-called ‘Brain Trust,’ which was so widely publicized at the time. In fact, he was continually being baffled by the professors who really had no idea at all of how to achieve the practical problems, which had to be met.
As you look back, is there anything in your childhood that stands out especially in your mind?
Well, not except for the Roosevelt visits. I just took it for granted that I was very much around. I was about 11 I guess.
I’d like to add just a bit to this to say that Tripp’s Boat Yard used to have many ‘Sprites,’ a boat designed by your sister’s son, Robert H. Baker.
I don’t know whether they had many Sprites or not, I never was down there very much in those days.
I think of your sister, Mary (Baker), as contributing a good deal to the artistic life of this community.
Well, she was an enthusiastic amateur painter as my father was also. That was one of his particular recreations. In his younger days, he did quite a lot with watercolors, etching and dry point.