Janice Lawton Field
Janice Lawton Field was interviewed by Mary Giles on October 4, 1976. She spoke about her ancestors and her role in forming the Historical Society.
My family has been here in Westport and this area for a long time. It was John Cook who was here first; he is one of my ancestors. His family came over on the Mayflower. He is the John Cook who came here, son of Francis. He married Sarah, daughter of Richard Warren, and he had three daughters. I think this was in Dartmouth, I’m not really too sure.
What really brought him here in the beginning was his religion. He wasn’t happy in Plymouth. It was too restricted and too narrow, and he came down into what was Dartmouth and Westport.
Of course, my grandfather, Albert B. Briggs, was pretty proud of this because it really was history. Esther Cook married John Tabor – that would be Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ancestor. I don’t really know whether there is any connection with the Tabors who are here now.
Then Elizabeth Cook married Daniel Wilcox, who was probably Westport’s first settler. The green saltbox up by the high school is said to have been his house. And then, we follow the line down and that brings us down to Winston Churchill.
The next daughter, Sarah Cook, married Arthur Hathaway and that brings us down the line to Albert B. Briggs, which would be my line. He was my grandfather and he lived here in Westport and his father was Christopher Briggs, who was the boat builder. He built the whaleboats – not the big, big boats. I could look up the dates when they came and lived here. In fact, Briggs Road – they lived, a ways down Briggs Road – and that was why it was named Briggs Road. Then I think one of the sons came down to where Christopher Briggs lived and built his boats.
My father was Lester Lawton and my mother was Viola Briggs. I’ll ask my mother whether she would be willing to be taped, I don’t really know. Some things she can remember and some things she – well, if she knew the questions you were going to ask, she would have a while to think about them. Sometimes you’ll ask her something and she’ll say, ‘I really don’t know – I’ll have to think about it.’
I went to school at the Head School on Reed Road. From there I went to the Westport Factory, and then I went to the High School, which is now the Milton E. Earle School. I liked school. I liked the Head School. I had a very nice teacher, Mrs. Aborn, and she just loved children, and we didn’t have as many studies as we did later, and I walked to school and we used to go the back way – in fact, most of us did – from Old County Road we used to go up the back way through the woods. It didn’t seem hard in winter. I enjoyed it. I think the winters were more severe than they are now. It seemed so at Thanksgiving we’d have snow.
Of the subjects, I liked history very much. My friends were Grace Potter and Ruth Potter, who lived across the street from me, and we’ve always been friends. She (Grace) lives in New Jersey now. We went through school together and I was trying to think, she was my special friend. We lived right side by side and we were together constantly. Most of them that I was friendly with have moved away.
I always liked living in Westport. For fun, we’d go ice-skating. Oh! I guess there was one girl I grew up with, we used to go for walks together and we were just happy. We played with dolls and we played games, and I remember one time when we played marbles.
I don’t remember too much about sports until we got to high school, and I remember we had a basketball team. I enjoyed the basketball. There was also softball. Norman Gifford was principal of the High School when I went there. Jim Pierce was in school when I was there and also Bill (Pierce). In fact, Bill was in my grade. Oh! He was a great sportsman – both of them were. I remember – I think it was my last year in High School we won the trophy. We played Dartmouth and they were quite a hard team to beat, and I think that it was after the game we took the goal posts apart – you know, like they do in High School. And, I think that ended the football. They decided that we just shouldn’t have it, that’s all.
I trained to be a nurse and then decided that I’d rather be married. I’ve had a family and children – I always said that I would go back – but there was always something to do, and I just never did.
My husband and I went to school together. That’s how I knew him. We were in the same grade. Well, I knew him, let’s say, when I entered high school. We went together when we were in high school – those were the ‘good old days.’ We had dances and then there were the football games we used to go to. We were married about two years after we got out of high school – that goes way back, so I have to stop and think. I graduated from high school in 1940 – I was married in 1942. I have three boys – I would have liked to have a girl, but it didn’t work out that way.
My oldest boy, Bradford, has a fishing boat; the middle boy, Bryan works with my husband (as a plumber) and the youngest boy is Derwyn, and he has been away to school in Maine, and he came back, he likes the plumbing – so.
It seems that my husband has worked for most everyone in Westport, doesn’t it? Yes, he does have time for himself. We do like to say that we escape to New Hampshire – we use that as an excuse lots of times. We’ve had two places up there at different times. We’ve been going up there for 20 years – when the children were small. The first place we had, my husband built and with three boys – of course, we had friends that would go up too. It was fine, but when the boys grew up, they sort of – well they liked to go their own way – and the place got too large for us, so we sold it. Then we bought a smaller place; the boys and their families go up too. There are lots of things to do when we’re up there. We hike in the woods and go antiquing, and to auctions especially. Of course, my husband’s a great hunter. They go deer hunting mostly and hare hunting. There are not as many foxes as there are down here. We have quite a few – when we drive in our lane at night, we always see them. We live at 195 American Legion Highway (Route 177) but I still consider it Old County Road.
I’ll try to think back as to when my interest in antiques started. I don’t know. I grew up with them and just learned to like them. My grandmother had several pieces of furniture that she would point out to me as being in the family and handed down, and I just like them, that’s all. I like country furniture and early pieces. My shop at home is just one large room really, but there isn’t much there right now. I bring things down to this shop (Main Road, Central Village) and it’s sort of hard to keep two shops going. I’m here all winter. If I’m not open in the shop, people can call my home. My mother lives with me and she does help me, so having two shops isn’t so difficult. I do all the cooking. There are four of us at home now – one of the boys isn’t married. It isn’t difficult because I like to cook. I don’t like cake mixes – I start from scratch.
I’m happy the way my business is. I don’t think I’d want to enlarge it or change it in any way. Things are very hard to find right now. If I had a bigger place, it would be hard to fill it up.
My grandmother Briggs went to school at the little old Wolf Pit School.
It was a wonderful thing that the lagoon was defeated; it just proves that if people work together, what can happen.
I was interested in forming a historical society in the town, and a group of us got together and we had talked this over, and we were very much in favor of the Town Farm, and also the Bell School – and the church at South Westport, and I think the Town Farm is the place, it really could be a marvelous museum. I think we need to have people working like they did for the lagoon – I really do. And, I also think the Bell School is just wonderful, but we need, and also the South Westport Church would be great for exhibits, even for meetings.
At the church at South Westport, we had a ‘Country Kitchen Exhibit’ about five years ago, and we had a lot of fun doing it. We worked hard, but it was really fun. There were Barbara Erickson, Jean Parsons, Eleanor Tripp, Charolotte Cooke, Martha Kirby, (she cooked the Johnny Cakes for us) – I don’t want to leave anyone out – it was just a great day – just wonderful. My husband slept there and he almost froze to death. It was in August, but cold toward morning. Then we had our ‘Whaling Days’ the following year and that was just great. This was the Historical Society. In fact, I have slides that we took. Mrs. Kirby served Johnny Cakes again and the Atkinson girls (Ruth and Hope) helped us quite a bit. It was really wonderful – a large turnout. We made money – it was by donation.