Almira Davis Gifford Lauterbach (1911-2002)  2037 Main Road, Westport Point 


Almira Davis Gifford Lauterbach (1911-2002) 

2037 Main Road, Westport Point 



By Betty Slade 

Last fall, a lady named Almira Davis Gifford stopped Doris Magovern (who lived at 2038 Main Road) in front of our house at 2037 Main Road and told her she “was born in this house 90 years ago.“ And then she disappeared.  After much searching, and with help from Susan Pineau and her mother Marion Pineau (2042 Main) we finally found her.  My husband, David, and I visited Almira on the Cape and found a delightful and fascinating lady.  We recorded a couple of hours of conversation at the Cape and agreed that Almira would come that spring to visit her birthplace.  This article is a composite of the two meetings. 

On Memorial Day weekend, Almira Davis Gifford Lauterbach, born April 7, 1911 came back to Westport Point.  Because Almira was weakened by bouts of anemia this winter, we could not do all the things she had hoped.  But at different points in the day, she was visited by the immediate neighbors (2039 Main) Ruth Gloria and Owen Dexter and by Susan Pineau, and Russell and Jean Hart.  Susan and Russell are her cousins.  Almira knew the two Cory ladies from Rhode Island, Mary & Helen Cory, aunts of Owen, who lived next door in the summer.  She told Owen that her mother always told her to be quiet when they were there so they could not be disturbed. 

Almira brought a special gift for Susan Pineau.  Susan and Almira were both descended from George Borden Gifford and his wife Almira David Gifford, the present Almira’s namesake. Susan had a painting of George Gifford and had been told that there was a painting of her grandmother but no one could recall what had happened to it.  It turned out that Lafayette Gifford had given it to Almira, as she was her namesake.  It was a lovely moment.  And to make it better, Susan shared with us some wonderful, well-preserved pictures of their mutual ancestors – with names written on the back – which she had discovered in her newly-inspired search for family mementos.  As a bridge, Almira’s mother had lived with her husband’s family at Susan Pineau’s present house and Almira’s brother, Edgar Borden Gifford was born there in 1906.  Several generations of Almira’s Gifford ancestors had lived in that house and the men were mostly sea captains. 

Almira was born at 2037 Main Road in the “birthing room”, a room used for births which was close to the fireplace.  Her sister, Ina May had died there 2 years earlier in the same room when she was only 3 months old.  Almira recounted what it was like when she was a small girl and the only girl on the Point – quite lonesome.  There was only one other boy, their cousin, Henry Palmer, about her only brother’s age.  When she was little, her mother put a rope on her to stop her from running away, so she does not remember much of what was in back of the house and on the river, but she does remember almost everything else! 

Almira noted that her grandfather, Captain Giles Gifford, had a boat at Whalon’s Wharf named the “Flight.” He would go fishing at Georges Bank for 3-4 days at a time.  When Almira’s grandmother was pregnant for the first time, she stayed with Cora Head, wife of William Head.  Her grandmother asked Cora, “Where does the baby come out?”  Every year they got a barrel of flour and had a baby.  So the children in the family would knock on the barrel thinking that the babies came in the barrel. 

Her father, Edgar Foster Gifford, was a fisherman.  He often came home late at night from a fishing trip with a tub full of cooked lobsters.  They ate a lot of lobsters, quahogs, scallops and smoked eels.  Swordfish were very valuable and when one came in, everyone in town would be excited.  Almira saw the fishing boats, but “I never saw a sailboat on the river.  My father had an iceboat that he used in the winter for fun.  There was duck hunting but we never ate ducks.” 

Her mother, Clara Elna Lawton Allen, came from Fall River to Westport for the summers.  She was a city girl and vowed never to marry a fisherman, which she of course did.  Her mother was precise and determined.  She worked hard.  There was no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing.  Their heat came from a big wrought iron stove in the back room downstairs.  Her mom would iron sheets at night in the winter, using an iron heated on the wood-burning stove, so that they could have warm sheets upstairs where they slept.  Her mother was a great cook and attributed her learning to cook to the barrel of flour, which Capt. George Gifford gave her to practice with.  There were no direct controls for the heat, so her mother would put newspaper in the oven and according to how brown it got, she would know it was ready for bread or pies.  Her mother was not very good at sewing, so she would ask Almira’s grandmother to make things for them, but each year she would make a doll out of rags for Almira.  Almira recalled fondly her mother and the family, accompanied by Harry Brownell’s banjo sitting in the parlor and singing in the evenings.  Her mother took in washing and ironing in the summer from the seasonal people, petticoats and shirts and other things and the whole basket made her a dollar.  She washed outside (near the well) and made her own soap.  In 1919 her mother arranged by herself to move the family lock, stock and barrel to New Bedford and left a note on the door for her husband where he could find her.  “My mother was a pioneer woman, if there ever was one!” 

A sister of her mother, Etta Jane, married to Frederick Palmer, lived just west and north of them (2031 Main.)  Another sister, Doris Elizabeth, now 99, married George Hart and they lived on Cornell Road.  They are the parents of Russell Hart.  Myra Tripp, who had the ice cream shop later, lived just north of them in the house she had inherited from her mother, Caroline Allen Tripp (2035 Main.)  Myra was known to have everything she ever owned in that house – “hoarding” as Almira calls it. 

There was a fence in front of her house and her father put a sandbox for her to play in and located it under “the Snowball tree.”  There was a hen house in back, and Almira had a pet rooster – very mean who would attack everyone but her.  She used to put the rooster on her sled and take him up Main Road.  But one day her father discovered she had hen lice, so he turned the hen house into a dollhouse, which suited Almira very well.  She looked at the present guesthouse (Bertha Johnson’s Antique Shop between 1936-1966) and “saw” her dollhouse of many years ago. 

Her brother, Edgar Borden Gifford, five years older than Almira, and some of his classmates had the job of lighting the fire in the local Schoolhouse, the one that was formerly behind the house next to the present post office (back of 1972 Main.)  “If they wanted a day off they would put newspaper in the chimney and filled up the school with smoke.”  “I used to squeal on my brother.”  He and Henry Palmer, his cousin, were smoking corn silk in the privy behind the house and she told her mother.  Her brother was quite artistic and “very smart.”  He went into the radio and television business in New Bedford. 



Groceries were brought once a week in a wagon pulled by a horse.  “They had a week in a wagon pulled by a horse.”  They had good meat; if you bought corned beef, they would give you cabbage.”  You raised your own vegetables and preserved them, smoking herring and eels, and stored them in the basement.  Eggs were put in ‘whiting’ and could keep all winter. “The people in those days were very smart.”  She did not remember having fruit very often.  “We got an orange and a few nuts at Christmas.  That is all I remember about fruit.” Families often raised their own chickens or pigs.  Almira recalled that her grandfather, Giles Gifford would take a horse and wagon to shop in Fall River.  He complained that everyone wanted him to buy things for them, and he got tired of it.  So he told them “that he needed something to carry them in” which was an indirect way to say he wanted the money.  “They had funny ways of getting things across in those days.” 

Only the mail was delivered in a motorized vehicle and this vehicle served as transportation for the Pointers to get up Main Road to get transportation to Fall River or New Bedford.  People mostly walked everywhere, delivering fish and quahogs and whatever else was needed.  Otherwise, horses pulled carts or transported people.  Almira says she doesn’t remember walking much on the Point “because there was no place to go.  But she went up Drift Road to Hix Bridge Road where they went to Remingtons for clambakes.  There was always a line of people waiting to enter.”   

She recalled the beautiful days of summer, going to Horseneck Beach where they had a bathhouse (Allen family) and digging for quahogs with her brother in the river.  She swam off the dock at the end of her house.  “We swam good in those days.  We wore long outfits with stockings.  A doctor from St. Louis would come in the summers with a little girl a bit older than Almira and stay in what is now the Connors’ house.  They would send fashionable clothes bought in Best & Co. that the child outgrew, so “I was a fashion plate.”  She remembered winter and sledding on the property next to the present post office (1978-80 Main). 

The family would attend church at the Point Methodist Church where her mother “would play the organ situated in the little room at the entrance of the church.”  She had a beautiful voice and was called the nightingale.”  She and her brother would attend Sunday school.  She especially remembers the Hall family, “…the Halls… The did a lot for the church.  They were lovely people.  Katherine Hall was one good religious woman.”   [This was Rev. Charles Cuthbert Hall and Jeannie Boyd Hall whose several descendants remained in Westport. They built Synton.] Almira proudly states that she was the first native born child to be baptized at the Point Church in 1914 when she and Reverend Horatio Crawford’s own children (born elsewhere) were baptized.  She and the Crawford girls were invited to the 100th anniversary of the church in 1983, an event in which everyone dressed up in era clothes. 

She remembered foxhunts off Horseneck Road and occasionally a participant would ride down Main Road and cross the (old) bridge in his finery.  There was lots of horse and buggy traffic to Horseneck Beach, and there were lockers there, but not much else.  East Beach on the other hand had fine houses, which faced the street, and were located on the water.  There was an Allen’s Pavilion at the corner of the bridge to Gooseberry. 

Almira remembered the occupants of each of the houses on the Point.  We showed her a map and she would tell us more stories.  Susan gave us a picture which reflected one of her stories of the wharf house (next to Leach’s Marina at the site of the Shellfish Warden).  “The old captains, when they weren’t fishing, would sit at the old wharf house on old wooden chairs facing the boats…I think it’s gone now.  I used to see my father cutting up swordfish there – a stone’s throw from the water.  A 700-pound swordfish brought in a lot of money.  Everyone was thrilled when they brought them in. 

Wonderful memories and stories of Westport as it was many years ago were shared ending an unforgettable spring visit.  Almira had asked us: “Weren’t you glad I went to Westport?”  Of course we were, and she added: “So was I.”