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"Rowing on Waramaug," by Christine Adams BeckettA group of four individuals row together several times a week during the warmer months on Lake Waramaug. They take to their sculls early in the morning, when the surface of the lake is still like a pane of glass, with mists rising from the warmer waters to the cooler air. They are a private group of people and yet socially minded, greeting several other rowers each morning. A few can boast an Olympic pedigree. Together in love of the cerebral sport, these athletes scull across the surface, graceful as aquatic birds, yet exerting great effort unbeknownst to appreciative onlookers. One describes the experience as a privilege, zen-like, quiet and reflective. With a limited line of sight, propelling his boat backwards with even strokes, reflection is a natural byproduct, working in the present yet blind to what is ahead.
Presently, the Lake is home to more than just recreational rowers and retired Olympians. The Gunnery School crews are largely seen as a signal of the arrival of Spring, described by one West Shore resident as appearing as an army of ants across the lake, effortlessly carrying what appears to be sleek blades of long grass, their Pocock and Vespoli sculls, from the Beebe Boathouse adjacent to the Washington Club beach. Ice still dominates all basins of our Lake, but as soon as the water is clear, safe and passable, the boys and girls of The Gunnery will displace a modest, chilly wake with their 24" wide hulls in preparation for Spring competition, including the eagerly anticipated Founders' Day Regatta, which has been held on Waramaug since 1959.
Yet our Lake's sculling and rowing history extends further back in Waramaug's past than 1959. Presumably, the Wyantenock people wielded oars to propel their canoes, for more practical purposes: transportation and fishing. But sculling for sport was first regarded by columnist Pen Dragon. In a June, 1875 edition of the Litchfield Enquirer, he reported "The Oars Club, composed of the elite of Bridgeport's young men quartered at the Cheere Point House, held a regatta last Thursday. The Club hired the steamer Flirt for the day and carried many loads of pleasure seekers. Among the goodly crowd were the judges Charles E. Beeman and George F. Brown, with members of the Oars Club and your worthy correspondent... Waramaug has not been the scene of such festivity for many a day, and the occasion will be remembered by the assembled multitude as a choice moment of pleasant bygones." (From A History of Lake Waramaug, by Mary Harwood, The Lake Waramaug Association, c 1996). At that time, the course was a mile and three quarters long, extending from what is now the Lake Waramaug Country Club beach, to the East Shore near Pinnacle Valley, known as the New Preston Basin.
Just four short years after our locally-flavored competition, Waramaug was discovered by The New York Crew, which according to Pen Dragon, was using the lake as training waters for the International Professional Regatta on one of the more famous courses on the East Coast, the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania. A more formal history, however, can be drawn from 1947, when Gunnery School football coach Rod Beebe, for whom the boathouse adjacent to the Washington Club beach gets its name, began a rowing program for his young, male scholar athletes.
Beebe proceeded to develop a powerhouse program that would produce a crew of Olympic caliber. "In 1956, for example, the Gunnery's varsity crew rowed in the Olympic trials at Lake Onondaga, New York, and made it to the semi-finals. Unfortunately, they lost in the finals to Princeton and Cornell." (Harwood, ibid). In 1959, with the generous support of Katherine Conroy, Coach Beebe began the annual Founders' Day Regatta on Lake Waramaug, a tradition that continues, held this year on Sunday, May 3, 2015. This year's Founders' Day hosted 25 different scholastic teams and rowing clubs; the endeavor is a huge one, requiring more than 100 volunteers, many of them local residents. Since 1978, the same year girls were invited to participate, the Founders' Day races have taken place in the Kent basin, along the shore of the State Park. It is notable to include that women had competed in the sport for only six years at the time, making Waramaug one of the first locales of women's competition in American history.
Since 2000, the Connecticut Public Schools Regatta has been held on the same course, in cooperation with the Founders' Day organization. Shortly following the Founders' Day Regatta, May 17th of this year, thirteen crews throughout the State compete in ten events at the CPSRA Championships. Two trophies awarded at the races are named in honor of W. Hart Perry and Chris Combs, commemorating their tireless work: promoting rowing in the State.
The Kent and South Kent Schools also utilized Waramaug's excellent watercourses for practice and competition. Chris Combs, son of the Inn on Lake Waramaug's former proprietor Richard, remembers fondly being a filler for absent rowers at the request of then South Kent coach, Chuck Willing. The school used the Inn's beach as a launching site for practices from 1967, and soon thereafter recognized the Kent Basin as an ideal locale for the course, being protected from wind and more than 1500 meters in length, the high school regatta standard. Combs developed a life-long love of the sport, later rowing for Washington College in Maryland, and currently serves as a Director of the Eastern Association of Women's Rowing Colleges (EAWRC).
Hart Perry, who was head coach of the Kent School crew, utilized Waramaug for practices as well. He said that he "always thought that [Waramaug] would make a great competitive course. This was proved in 1971, when the National Junior Regatta was first held at the Lake with junior teams from all over the country competing. [He] then put in a bid for the Olympic Trials Regatta." Perry's bid was accepted, and the US Olympic small boat rowing trials for qualification in the 1972 Munich games were held on Lake Waramaug. At this time, only men competed nation-wide, while the sport for women was still in its developing stages. Jay Combs, another of Richard's sons raised at the Inn, recalls a competitor arriving in a Volkswagon beetle with a scull strapped to the roof, which he drove all the way from Los Angeles to try to qualify. Jay was remorseful never to have learned if he had.
Jay also recalls several families housing competitors in August of 1972, including the Weidlich family. Kirby Mullen, daughter of the late Peter Mullen, former Association president, remembers selling refreshments to spectators at stands set up along the State Park.
Mark Sptiz took top medal honors at the Munich games in swimming that year, earning seven golds and breaking as many world records, but the men's rowing team also had a very respectable showing. Of the athletes who tried at Waramaug that summer, Jim Dietz was the most successful, making it to the finals and placing fifth overall. The American eight-man shell in the 2000 meter sweeps ("sweeps" refer to rowers who use a single oar rather than two), consisting mostly of Harvard and Union Boat Club of Boston men, won the pre-Olympic regatta, setting a course record. In the finals, where tickets went for more than $100 apiece reflecting Europe's love for rowing, the Americans won a silver behind New Zealand, and just eking by the East German team by six one-hundredths of a second.
South Kent's Chuck Willing is also known for bringing the Women's Eastern Sprints to Waramaug in 1979, as mentioned, a groundbreaking time for women in the Sport. Willing was responsible for building the course, which consisted of an impressive laundry list of materials. "The 680 acre lake in New Preston had a protected water basin that was excellent for racing. The EAWRC and its members also found the Lake Waramaug community to be very supportive of the event. A trio of private high schools were involved (Kent, South Kent and Gunnery), especially South Kent School, which set up the buoyed course, a job that required seven miles of cable and 1500 buoys." (From "The First Strokes," by, Erica Hurtt, Ivy League Public Information Assistant).
Members of our community housed women competitors in their homes, both for overnight stays and rest stops for the Brown crew, in the case of the New Preston based Combs family, or as a "respite site" for the Princeton Crew, who sought sustenance and rest at the West Shore home of Grenville and Sally Paynter. Oarswomen were shuttled via bus between their Danbury hotels, the race site at Sutters' Cove and the Paynters' stately summer home. The well-bonded crew swept the event in 1996, much to the delight of their hosts.
The sprints were held in the Kent basin until 2000, at which time Willing had retired, the race length at the women's collegiate level increased to 2000 meters, and Title IX involved the NCAA in regulation of competition. The Kent basin, measured in at 1950 meters in the 6th lane, and therefore 50 meters short. It remains an ideal locale for high school competition, however, which is 1500 meters.
The EAWRC moved to a course in Camden, New Jersey in 2001, on the Cooper River within site of Philadelphia, offering a much less bucolic scene for rowers, but the advantages of a more urban setting, including accommodations within minutes of the course. According to a regular Waramaug rower and former Sprints spectator, Harvard coach Harry Parker expressed great remorse to leave our "special, perfect course."
For those new to the sport of rowing, the propulsion of the boat appears to be a graceful glide over the water, powered effortlessly by able-bodied young men and women. Yet in actuality, the athletic feat is unparalleled in mechanics, teamwork, and athletic and intellectual abilities. George Yeoman Pocock, the legendary scull builder, said "To see a winning crew in action is to witness a perfect harmony in which everything is right... That is the formula for endurance and success: rowing with the heart and head as well as physical strength." Most impressive is the Herculean task the human body must perform in order to compete at rowing's highest echelons.
"When you row, the major muscles in your arms, legs and back particularly the quadriceps, triceps, biceps, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, abdominals, hamstrings and gluteal muscles do most of the grunt work, propelling the boat forward against the unrelenting resistance of water and wind. At the same time, scores of smaller muscles in the neck, wrist, hands and even feet continually fine-tune your efforts, holding the body in constant equipoise in order to maintain the exquisite balance necessary to keep a twenty-four inch-wide vessel roughly the width of a man's waist on an even keel. The result of all this muscular effort, on both the larger scale and the smaller, is that your body burns calories and consumes oxygen at a rate that is unmatched in almost any other human endeavor. Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race the Olympic standard takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes." (From The Boys in the Boat, Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown. Viking Penguin, 2013).
Those interviewed for this article speak with affection of so many other regular rowers that come to Waramaug to train: masters from New Milford's GMS rowing center, a gentleman who comes each August from England and spends almost every day of his American holiday rowing. Most are lakeside neighbors.
With the strength required both physical, psychological and intellectual many of Waramaug's rowers found the wherewithal to overcome other adversities. Pocock said that "it is hard to make the boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them."
A resulting, inevitable camaraderie derives from Waramaug's rowing competitions, whether through formal or friendly competition. In oarsmen vernacular language, the synchronized rhythm achieved at peak, when the 8 men in a sweep are rowing in perfect time, is referred to as a "swing;" crews have been known to cry out in delight once it is achieved. The sport requires as much teamwork as any other quality, in order for a boat to move at the fastest possible speed. So it's no wonder that those coming together in love of the sport find similar qualities in each other, which naturally extend to other areas of their lives. Many of the rowers on Waramaug are also tireless volunteers for her preservation and protection, pulling their own weight and then some in the much more deliberate task of loving the waters upon which they scull.
For further reading, please see www.usrowing.org and www.row2k.com. Also, please note that The Gunnery School will host a summer camp for young people entering grades 7 through 11 focusing on teaching the fundamentals of rowing. All activities will take place at and around The Beebe Boathouse adjacent to the Washington Club beach.
"Back to One," by Christine Adams Beckettan essay about the bygone nature of Lake Waramaug inns
During the 1970s, anyone traveling Northbound on Route 25 - now Route 202 - in New Milford would be enticed to come vacation on Lake Waramaug; there stood a weather-worn wooden billboard, decades old, advertising twelve comfortable inns on our beautiful Lake. At that time there were several still in operation, welcoming guests mostly from NewYork City and the tri-state area.
With the recent sale of The Boulders Inn, which is to go the same way as all of the others by becoming a private residence, there remains one inn on the lake with its shingle still swaying in the summer breezes. The Hopkins Inn, interestingly, was also the first to accept vacationing guests. Thanks to Mary Harwood's A History of Lake Waramaug, we know that a visitor from Brooklyn, Edward R. Squibb, was traveling along the shores of Waramaug in 1864 when he stopped to ask William Hopkins for the opportunity to lodge in his home. Presumably igniting an entrepreneurial spark, Hopkins constructed an addition to his home and hung that still-swaying shingle, making it official: Lake Waramaug, once a fishing spot for the Wyantenock, then farmlands and home to a colonial era village, was finally ensconced as a summer community of the Industrial Age.
During the Victorian era, train travel opened new opportunities to city dwellers looking to broaden their horizons, and Waramaug offered a respite to those yearning to breathe restorative fresh air in a beautiful locale. According to Mary Harwood, out-of-town visitors began to flock its shores in 1840, just after the Housatonic Rail Road opened their New Milford Station. Those numbers only increased when in 1873 New Preston Station opened on Bee Brook Road, now Route 47.
In 1886 the Norris family of Warren added to their Lakeview Farm house to accept seasonal guests and diners. This establishment changed hands only one more time before it became The Inn on Lake Waramaug, under the hospitable patronage of the Combs Family.
Jay Combs, who is one of the current proprietors at The Washington Supply Company, lived at the Inn on Lake Waramaug from his birth through adulthood. His father, the amiable and community-minded Richard, owned the Inn from 1951 to 1986 and operated his business with the idea in mind that all should have the opportunity to enjoy our lake. Events meant to draw in the community filled the Combs' schedule year-round with crowd-pleasers, including horse carriage rallies, clam bakes, and farmers' markets during the summer, witches' spelling bees, pumpkin carving, antique car rallies and turkey Olympics in the fall, a bell choir performance and New Year's Eve dancing to a three piece orchestra during the winter.
In the 1970s, The Inn on Lake Waramaug was a popular spot for local and out-of-town visitors. Their vessel, the Showboat, was outfitted with two twin outboard engines and decorative paddlewheels, and gave tours of the shoreline. During their late afternoon cruises there were sometimes bagpipers aboard, and on a few occasions a Dixieland jazz band, also entertaining those observing from shore. A ride on the Showboat was open to anyone, making stops at the other Inns on the lake, setting sight-seeing passengers back a steep $2.50. There were hot dogs and hamburgers served at the Beachcomber (yes, the family looked for ways to cleverly insert their name), and Labor Day Huckleberry Finn raft races, the rules for which required that entrants make their own watercraft and forego flotation devices of any kind in their design.
Richard Combs organized an association of "Eight Friendly Inns" along the lake and near-by, including The Sachem, The Hopkins, Pinnacle Valley, The Boulders, The LaGrotta Inn, The Loomarwick and The Tinker Hill Inn (most recently the Birches). They shared advertising costs and maintained that Route 25 billboard, organized the July 4 flare display we still enjoy today and hired a seasonal resident and artist, Edd Ash, to design a logo of those friendly Inns. The design offered a nod to Waramaug's original residents by featuring a Native American within a triangle.
According to Jay Combs, The Loomarwick was the largest of the inns on the lake, and offered a variety of activities to their guests. Its name is not a Native American one as is widely believed, but an amalgamation of its three founders' names, financial tycoons out of Bridgeport: Loomis, Marsh and Bostwick. The property was subdivided and sold in the late 1960s, about one hundred years after its founding, and although many of the original buildings were torn down, two became private residences. One of the residences, belonging to the Franks, can boast the suggestion of room numbers, albeit now just faded outlines, on a few of their bedroom doors.
Jack Adams, a West Shore Road seasonal resident, describes his summer as a bus boy at The Loomarwick as an almost camp-like experience for people of all ages. Being a resident of New Milford, it was necessary that he take a cot at what the proprietors called the manery (defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a mansion or a manor deriving from a 16th century term for a men's parsonage of a holy church). The Loomarwick Manery was one of two barns consisting of several rooms of two beds each reserved for the young men employed by the Inn. Mr. Adams bunked with a boy from Waterbury who was the son of the Largay Brewing Company proprietor, famous for their Red Fox Ale, samples of which were available to Mr. Adams and his bunkmate during that summer, circa 1940.
The Loomarwick served three meals to their guests daily and entertained them with dances in the evening in their lakeside Pavillion ,which burned down in the 1970s, was replaced by the next owner with a box-like structure, and is now a beautifully vernacular private cottage. There, the bus boys and wait staff were required to ask the guests' daughters to dance, if the young ladies lacked any names on their card.
Christine Wilkinson recalls the women's accommodations at the Loomarwick, housed in a glorified barn-like structure on the hillside that resembled a chicken coop. During the summer of 1961, she was employed by the Inn as a waitress. As one of the more recent hires, Ms. Wilkinson was assigned to cater to the more difficult guests in the dining room; menial tasks were assigned to those with little tenure. Many of the summer employees hailed from the New York City area, and made great efforts to spruce up their no-frills living arrangements with flowers and brightly colored bedspreads. They stayed for the summer and had living expenses deducted from their salary.
Ms. Wilkinson recalls her employment as a rustic experience, one which reflected the transitional nature of the American summer. By then, the Victorian Ages's month-long stays in the country were long gone but certainly remembered by many. The Loomarwick by that time was old, dated, a "rattle trap of a dilapidated Victorian structure." There were simply more choices available to the average New Yorker: air travel was more widely utilized, automobiles were becoming more comfortable, those who loved the Lake were beginning to buy their own homes along its shores. Economic changes seemed to coincide with the shift in the nature of the summer holiday.
During the 1980s, the inns were entertaining a dining crowd as much as appealing to overnight guests. Restaurant staff consisted of a cohesive mix of summer residents and locals. Saturday nights drew in hundreds of diners to the Boulders Inn. The kitchen crew worked late hours to wrap up a shift in stained, sweaty white cotton aprons to free the once-gleaming stainless steel countertops of flying parsley leaves and stacks of dirty dinner plates. Sometimes Jim Woolen, proprietor, would chip in by scrubbing pots and pans with his dress shirt rolled up to his elbows, his tie flung over his shoulder with his hands plunged into the greasy water of a deep stainless steel sink. Mr. Woolen was a former Midwestern banker who grew tired of administering foreclosures on farms, and chose to run a lakeside country inn instead with his wife, a former ballerina, and three children.
The Boulders was closed to diners on Mondays, but open, of course, to houseguests, who were required to stay a minimum of two nights. Sophisticated picnic fare was served, and always featured clever and artistic watermelon carvings by sous chef Dan Cornish, in which fresh fruit salad was served. Particularly memorable were a delectable Volkswagen beetle, a curlicue-tailed pig, a dinghy with oars. One of the more notable houseguests one summer was Robert DeNiro, seeking solace while shooting the film Stanley and Iris in nearby Waterbury with Jane Fonda.
Our summer community has most certainly changed as have our accommodations. It is decidedly more private, quieter, calmer. In many ways these changes have brought us closer to the lake's origins, when the first holiday seekers arrived: there were no cars to choke the lake road, the train was still a four mile buggy ride away keeping it exclusively open to those who could afford the trip and to the locals. The Combs family is no longer receiving complaints, some deserved and others misdirected, about the noise of their lively parties and receptions. Our sense of community comes from other sources, clubs, associations, restaurants, chance meetings on the road or water.
Sam Beckett, a teenaged summer resident of Loomarwick Road, recently took part in a summer excavation project with the Litchfield Hills Archaeology Club. On the slopes of the Hopkins Vineyard, he was thrilled to be able to aid in the discovery of artifacts dating back more than five thousand years. Most frequently discovered were tightly packed clumps of charcoal marking the spot of a summering Wyantenock's hearth, where he or she likely cooked fish pulled from our waters. They came here during the summers for sustenance then, both physical and spiritual.
The same was true for Sam. He celebrated a wonderful summer dig with his archaeological cohorts that Autumn, when the leaves were in full fiery brilliance, igniting the waters. He took advantage of the seasonal opportunity to freely pursue a passion without the pull of scholastic responsibilities. The fire they lit was lakeside, where club members roasted marshmallows instead of bass at The Hopkins Inn beach. There the suggestion of a squeak from that swinging shingle could be heard in between discussions of erosion, the ease of digs on a hillside, and that singular arrow head found. The shingle read "The Hopkins Inn, established 1847", and serves as a relic of the nature of a Victorian summer holiday on Lake Waramaug.
*Author's Note: the discrepancy of dates of the establishment of the Hopkins Inn is due to conflicting reports from Mary Harwood's The History of Lake Waramaug and The Hopkins Inn website, http://www.thehopkinsinn.com/general.html, which claim 1864 and 1847 respectively.
Mabel Taylor Adams,who loved the lake, March 1908
"Towing the Line" by Christine Adams BeckettTo beat the suburban Hartford heat in the summertime, my parents would bring my siblings and me to Lake Waramaug in Connecticut. There, in a charming cottage that was once a boat club, we would pass the long, hot days with all the expected lakeside diversions: swimming, boating, water skiing. The house itself was an inherited treasure from my paternal grandmother, Mabel Taylor Adams, who spent her own girlhood summers on the lake, albeit a tad further South on West Shore Road. There her father, Henry Taylor, had his own cottage where he brought Grandmother Mabel and her siblings Kenneth and Pearl for airings as early as 1890, a relief from the more convenient hubbub that was New Milford, Connecticut.
Now that I am a parent myself, I am delighted to be able to share this treasured place with my own three children. We travel a bit further in 2013 to beat the heat of Montclair New Jersey, about one hundred miles, or two and a quarter hours door-to-door if we don't stop at Stew Leonard's or the Northville Market for sustenance on the way. The car is as packed as uncomfortably as I remember it to be in 1975: with a gaggle of children, bags, necessities, family pets. As a child myself, I forgot all the discomfort of a longish ride once the familiar landmarks passed our car windows: Grandpa Snazzy's Antikew Shop ( I didn't know how to pronounce it then), Mt Tom State Park, the turn off onto Route 45 and the features of a then rather honky-tonk New Preston village: Dowler's Garage, Krasselt's Store, The Washington Supply, the Boy's Club in the Pavilion Hall, where my father boasted he used to play a pretty mean game of basketball with his pal Harry Ericson.
Our dog Spot, gone 30 years now, used to practically convulse when his keen canine senses took in the familiarity. He would whine with excitement once we hit the foot of the lake where Ritchie's Pizza and the Washington Town Beach were. We children did, too, claiming bragging rights in advance: "I'm going to be the first one into the lake! Dad, Will you take me skiing / aquaplaning first?"
Today New Preston Village is all swank: J Seitz, New Preston Kitchen Works, several upscale antique shops peddling occasional tables that cost exponentially more than my first car. There is a lovely Mediterranean eatery, Oliva's, but no more pizza place on the foot of the lake. The feel of the place is decidedly sleepier, more sophisticated and frankly safer. Somehow the foot of the lake and the much more fashionable surroundings still elicit the same excitement in my children.
"When can we go to the bait shop, mom?"
"I hope Grandma still has that copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins in the sleeping loft."
Even the two year-old: "There's the lake, Mama!"
The hound whines when he sees the Route 45 turn-off.
Even at mid life, as the weather turns warmer in Montclair and the trees are in full bloom, I start to feel that girlhood excitement of the changing season. Memorial Day is imminent as is the summer season on the Lake. I have already made my preliminary Memorial Day plans.
We commemorated Memorial Day last year with a cocktail party at a neighbor's house, a long-time friend whose son and I were playmates decades ago. We toasted the start of summer on the same swath of green lawn at the lakeside where we once played wiffle ball with other neighborhood kids, some of whom were also in attendance this weekend. I was scolded in days of old by the hostess for being careless. I had an annoying, dangerous, but uncontrollable habit of flinging the bat in a yards-long, arc behind me after I made a hit and transitioned myself to make it to first base before anyone could tag me out. I must have flung the bat at mach speed three times, nearly decapitating poor Susie Catcher twice before the look of exasperation in many faces made it clear that I had seen my last turn at bat.
Thankfully they didn't hold a grudge and included me at Bingo night, movie night, even a photo shoot for a children's book featuring many of us summer neighbors. Sunburned, freckled, barefooted and constantly in a wet swimsuit is how I spent my childhood summers. It was sublime even without the sweet peaches, tomatoes and corn on the cob that needed neither butter nor salt from a roadside stand on Route 202. How much things have changed for a mother who still feels like playing wiffle ball, until I realized the Pitcher, visiting from New York for the long holiday weekend had a darling baby under his own arm, unable to throw a decent curveball. I hovered over my own two year-old who wanted to swim dressed in her cotton sundress. I let her. I let all of my children swim with their clothes on as the Pitcher, still standing there with his baby in a football hold, observing my happy, wet children simply said: "Their Adams is showing..."
Yes, I suppose we Adamses might have seemed impulsive from an outsider's perspective. Perhaps we were loud and too boisterous to a transitioning crowd of summer inhabitants on a lake that always had subtle style, big beauty, long-term appeal, and the ability to get under your skin and fester there like a delightful disease: an addiction of good quality.
The responsibility of its upkeep and care is slowly passing from one generation to the next. We agree that its preservation is vital to the next generation who will swim here, and to bring their children here to cool in the breezes and waters, occasionally warm on its rocks and learn to recognize one of God's natural gifts. The appreciation of that gift just illuminates another: family, both blood and extended, connected by a common body of water.
Our first article, by Sophia Schein [then 13], is a profile of Les Ernhout who, as Sophia notes, may be "the resident who has consistently lived on the lake the longest." Sophia lives with her parents and brother in the home first owned by her grandparents, Joy and Harvey Schein, who came to Lake Waramaug in the 70s.
"Les is More" by Sophia Schein
The first time I met Les was when I was two, and from what I am told, I thought it would be funny to run away from my mom and older brother on Ash Swamp Road where we had been walking. I ran off the dirt road and onto the lake road right into Les Ernhout's driveway, where he entertained me with his bird houses until my frantic mother caught up to me. Les reassured her that I was quite alright and from this short encounter we learned how truly thoughtful a man Les is. So naturally, when I decided to write a piece on someone who lives on the lake I thought of him.
Before my interview with him, I thought that I at least knew a bit about Les, but it turns out that I really didn't know anything. He truly is a legend. Les was born on the lake and grew up in a home on Arrow Point, belonging to the Holzworth family, for whom his dad worked from 1929 until the early 1950s. Les's mother was from Kent, CT and his dad was originally from Warwick, New York.
In 1956, after his two year service in the army with the combat engineers during the Korean War, Les bought the house he lives in today and worked for the Connecticut Light and Power for almost 40 years, where he was a supervisor in the line department. My grandma, Joy Schein, has told me stories about walking along the lake road early in the morning and seeing Les doing repairs way back in the late 80's. "He was always there helping us in all kinds of weather," she fondly remembered. Les has also told me stories about caring for our house in the 70s when it was owned by the Spetenagel family and driving their belongings down to Florida after each summer, spending a week in their condo and driving back to the lake.
As many know, Les takes care of many homes on the lake over the winter. However, most do not know how he took over this position. In 1962, when Les was in his 30's, Mr. Scott and his family were heading back to New York City after Labor Day and needed someone to look after their home, which was directly across from Les' home and now belongs to the Hansens. Les remembers that it was their maid, Mrs. Curtain, who suggested him. "I've been doing it for 50 years," Les proudly stated. The news of his service spread quickly by word of mouth and many grabbed up the opportunity to have a trusted member of the community caring for their homes while they were away. He now cares for over 75 houses in our community.
Over the years he has had some now funny stories. He has, on multiple occasions, been followed by police who believed he was burglarizing the homes he had been checking. "Twice I had guns drawn on me and many times I've seen the police looking in windows or hiding behind a tree trying to figure out what I was doing." Of course these stories weren't so funny at the time, but Les and his wife, Irma, now joke about it.
Like the rest of us, Les enjoys living on the lake. "I like to live around water and nature," he told me. He likes to fish and walk his dog as often as he can. He spends his time with Irma, who he met in 1970, and his family. He described that when he first moved back to the lake it was mostly people that lived here year round and would visit somewhere else on Labor Day or on weekends. Today, the lake community is made up of more families that use it as a vacation home. When describing the lake, Les remarks that the natural environment stays similar and calm from year to year, and that he knows what to expect each season. For example, some algae in August. He did note, though, that the lake is exceptionally low this year.
While there may be some other folks on the lake that are older than Les, he is the resident who has consistently lived on the lake the longest. I hope that if you didn't know it already, you can now see how vital he is to our community.
Summer sunset by Ashley Goodale
Early summer sunset by Polly Roberts
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