WEST TREMONT – Wooden boatbuilder Richard Stanley, his wife Lorraine, and I are sitting in the cockpit of the 1902 Friendship sloop Westwind, a multi-year restoration project that is up on jackstands in his shop.
The scent of sawdust is in the air. I ask Richard about his influences as a youngster, how he learned the art and craft of boatbuilding. Richard comes across as a taciturn person at first, but reminiscences get him going. There was his father, of course, the Southwest Harbor builder Ralph Stanley, who persisted in wood as most other shops took up fiberglass. But Richard says he learned mainly by watching, by taking apart old boats, and just by working on the old wooden boats produced by all the various builders in the areas. There were the brothers Ronald Rich and Roger Rich and Bobby Rich, who learned to build boat from their father, Clifton Rich. When Ronald retired, he would come into the Stanley shop maybe once a week, when Richard was younger, and hang out and watch, never saying much.
There was Father Power, who had a boatyard and a machine shop that was stacked with tools and metal, just a little footpath through the heaps, but Father Power could put his hands on anything you asked for. Down the road was, and is, the Southwest Boat Corporation, where they’d be tearing the bows and sterns and decks off the sardine carriers and rebuilding them to like-new.
Bunker and Ellis worked close by, producing high-end yachts and fishing boats alike. There was Jimmy Rich and his yard at the head of Duck Cove. There were the Richtown rollers, made by old Uly and Frank Rich at their shop.
I interrupt. All the others were familiar names. But who were Uly and Frank Rich? What were the Richtown rollers?
Ooooh, he says, they were brothers up on the Richtown Road.
“When I was young there were a fair amount of Richtown boats still around, but most of them were on their last legs,” he says. “They were mostly iron-fastened and pine planks, and the iron just rotted the pine out. But they were well-built boats and not a bad-looking boat.”
So it was a while ago. No doubt they were related to the other deeply rooted generations of boatbuilding Riches in Tremont and Southwest Harbor, somehow back in misty time. Their boats, like others of the type, had a tendency to roll side to side.
Stanley recalls, “When we were kids my father stored one for Bart Coffin, who was a lobster bait dealer and they used it just as a play boat. It was very old and tired. After that I don’t know what happened to it.”
Note to self: Find out more about old Uly and Frank Rich.
Half a mile away from Richtown and a century ago, Clifton Rich sprang from a different branch of the family and began building boats. He was followed in the craft by his son and grandson, Bobby and Chummy. One day, I ask Chummy what he knows about his relatives over on Richtown Road, a semi-circular village byway, today mainly residential, that swoops around to Duck Cove and is sometimes just referred to as Richtown.
“Somewhere back along the line, we’re all related,” he says. “There’s that bunch of Riches, there’s our bunch of Riches, there’s the Riches that own the lobster wharf in Bass Harbor, and then there’s Jimmy Rich, all related back somewhere. But you’d have to go back and find it. My mother married a Rich, her sister married a Rich, but two different branches of Riches. So it just kind of got confusing.”
That’s helpful to know, but not much. So I give Ralph Stanley a call. In addition to being a retired boatbuilder, he’s also spent a lot of time researching the area’s maritime history. Frank and Uly Rich, he tells me, worked back in the 1930s, ‘40s, maybe the ‘50s.
“Their model was quite sharp,” says Stanley, who is in his 80s and is given to deliberative pauses his listener best not interrupt, if more information is forth to come. “I think the sharpness goes back to when they were building double-enders. And when they built a square stern, they had to make the bow fuller to compensate.”
Stanley recalls several of the Richtown boats, those for Frenchboro and Swan’s Island fishermen, one for Wesley Bracy on Cranberry Island, a 35-footer for Oscar Krantz. They built a pleasure boat for one family who hired Tud Bunker to sail it for them; afterward, it became the Northeast Harbor Fleet’s committee boat.
“They built quite a few years without power tools,” he says. “They sawed out the planks by hand.”
The brothers were Jehovah’s witnesses. “If they built you a boat, they’d give you a bible, too.”
Soon enough, I learn that Chummy’s cousin, Meredith Rich Hutchins, is the genealogy guru for the family. She lives in Southwest Harbor, and I make the first of what would be several visits to her home (followed up over many months with lots of emails and phone calls, as I take advantage of her wealth of knowledge).
An author and former librarian, Hutchins is a font of energy who stores neatly filed masses of documents in the cabinets and drawers of her home office.
She tells me: “Regarding the different branches and their boatbuilding, the boatbuilding Riches of Richtown should include Frank and Ulysses’s brothers, Roy and Chauncey.”
Aha, four brothers! Valuable information! She also tells me that, genealogically speaking, she and Chummy descended from a sea captain who came to be known as Elias “Heavenly Crown” Rich (1779-1867), while the Richtown Riches descended from Elias’s older brother, Jonathan Rich (1772 to 1854). Elias had a lot of children, including Elias Junior, and Elias Junior married his cousin, Emily Peters Rich, Jonathan’s daughter. I have trouble keeping track, but I guess that’s just a taste of Chummy’s confusion over the different branches that eventually produced him.
Before continuing, it’s worth a moment to dwell on Elias pere, in tribute to his charming place in local lore. The 1820 and 1830 censuses place his home on Placentia Island, but he is buried in a private family cemetery near Bernard, having expired at age 88. According to Nell Thornton’s Traditions and Records of Southwest Harbor and Somesville, an exhaustive litany, published in 1938, of people’s homes and businesses in the locality at that time, Elias – who was sometimes called Crowny – used to express the hope of “being privileged to wear a crown of glory in the world to come” when he gave testimony at the weekly prayer meeting he faithfully attended. A discoloration of his gravestone assumed the outline of a crowned head, prompting Holman Day, a Maine journalist and poet of the early 20th century, to write a poem “without strict adherence to the truth,” as Thornton says. For one thing, she notes, instead of being “on the town,” as the poem states, Captain Rich amassed considerable property, which was inherited by his heirs.
“Elias Rich would kneel at night by the wooden kitchen chair,
He would clutch the rungs and bow his head and pray his bedtime prayer.
And his prayer was ever the same old plea, repeated for two score years:
“Oh, Lord Most High, please hear my cry from this vale of sin and tears.
I haint no ‘count and I haint done much thats worthy in Thy sight,
But I’ve done the best that I could, dear Lord, accordin’ to my light.
I’ve done as much for my feller man as really, Lord, I could,
Consid’rn’ my Pay is a dollar a day and I’ve earnt it choppin’ wood.
I’ve never hankered no great on earth for more’n my food and roof.
And all of the meat that I’ve had to eat was cut near horn or hoof;
But I thank Thee, Lord, that I’ve earnt my way and I haint got ‘on the town’
And when I die I know that I shall sartin wear a crown.”
The poem goes on quite a while, with lots of backstabbing at Elias’s wife, who “always scoffed” his faith and tried to scrub the ghostly image of the crown from the marble. But now, “strangers passing by/Turn in and stand above the mound to gaze with awe-struck eye/And wonder if Elias came from Heaven stealing down/To mutely say in this quaint way that now he wears his crown.”
Anyway, an old Elias Rich wharf was on the shore of Richtown, looking at Blue Hill Bay. It’s unclear whether the wharf was built by Elias Senior or Elias Junior, but some of the stones are still there, and can be seen at low tide. Meredith mentions she heard of this from Elizabeth “Dibbie” Parsons, who is a relation of the Richtown Riches, and I should go and talk with Parsons’ sons, Jeff, who works at the local hardware store, or Allen, who runs a landscaping business in the heart of Richtown.
In fact, Meredith says, she also has an old Maine Sunday Telegram article, dated February 15, 1933, that discusses the Richtown branch. She’s going to dig it out for me.
Before tapping into the Parsons family, I stop in on Eugene Walls, who lives in Seawall, used to work for Bobby Rich, and was Chummy’s mentor in the business. Mainly, I’m there to learn about Walls’s experience at the Bobby Rich shop. But on memory lane, he detours to the Richtown boat shop, which he reckons might have been in operation 30 or 40 years until maybe the late 1940s.
“I’ve got a joiner out here that I bought off those guys when they went out of business,” Walls says. “Bought it in 1948. It’s quite old.”
Why is it so hard to find out about the Richtown Riches? I ask him. Well, they
don’t have much in the way of offspring left in the area. He thinks the son of one had a bunch of daughters, and one of the daughters might work in a crabmeat shop in Richtown. There might be a great-granddaughter, too. And a fisherman in Bernard had one of the Richtown lobsterboats for years and years.
“Last I saw, it wasn’t in very good shape,” Walls says.
On a separate mission, I visit Jarvis Newman, the fiberglass boatbuilder in Southwest Harbor who was prolific in the late 1960s through the ‘70s. In the midst of his own lively story, he takes a moment to recall how his father, Laurence, arrived in Southwest Harbor from Connecticut to fish. But his boat wasn’t balanced right. So Laurence bought a good lobsterboat from the Rich Brothers in Richtown
One day at the post office, I find Meredith has mailed me a copy of the 1933 Maine Sunday Telegram article. This is massively exciting. Nowadays, all kinds of historical newspaper writing can be found; a search turns up almost any topic of choice. Maybe their boat launches didn’t attract reporters of the day, but for whatever reason, I find nothing about the Richtown boatbuilders except scant cemetery records and two more siblings. The parents were Maurice Peters Rich Junior, born in 1841, and Lois Helen Thurston, born in 1843. They had six children, it turns out, not four. Ruthven, who was called by his middle name Pearl, was born in 1871. Roy was born in 1873. Chauncey was born in 1875. Ulysses was born in 1877. Mae (her middle name; her first name was actually Nadia) was born in 1879. Frank was born in 1881.
The Maine Sunday Telegram rightly extols Richtown as a beautiful location where nice people live, most are self-supporting, and all are “rigidly” honest.
“No one has ever lived there but Riches and the men and women who have married into the family, and although the young people go away from there to go to sea and to work for a while in the city, usually Boston or thereabouts, most of them eventually come home.”
The text notes that the first Rich arrived in the area, by boat, necessarily, from Marblehead, Massachusetts.
“His name was Jonathan” – it’s unclear where that puts Jonathan’s younger brother Elias Senior – “and his equipment consisted of his young wife, a pair of oxen and one very strong hand, the other hand having been lost in some accident or battle forgotten in the shades of history.”
Jonathan selected a location where there was good soil for planting near a fresh water stream; and a shelving beach suitable for shipways to launch vessels into the waters of beautiful Blue Hill Bay. He made a log cabin and later a house, cleared land, and made the family burying ground where he had to place his wife, who died not many years after arrival.
That was the start of generations of Riches building clipper ships, coasters, fishing boats, and yachts. For the time, Jonathan’s son, Maurice Peters Rich Senior (1805-1879), was the most famous builder of the family, probably because his activities coincided with the clipper ship era of American history. Some of his better-known vessels were the Seabird, the Tangent and the 150-foot, 300-ton half-brig M.P. Rich. The last, launched in 1857, became a citation in at least one lawsuit about liens.
In the course of his research, Ralph Stanley found another blurb about Maurice, from August 12, 1853 in the Ellsworth Herald: “Launched in Tremont on the 8th from the yard of Capt. Maurice Rich of Bass Harbor a fine schooner of 144 tons called the New Zealand and is to be commanded by Capt. C. Mullen.”
Maurice was a source of anecdotes commemorating his individualism. One day, he was sailing a sloop offshore in a gale, with a bit too much sail. His craft capsized. He crawled up and straddled the keel, but was in danger of being swept off to death in the heavy seas. A rescue boat arrived.
“Can you tow in the sloop?” yelled Maurice.
“No,” came the reply. “I can save you, but I can’t tow your boat.”
“All right,” said Maurice, “I’ll ride my wooden horse until somebody comes along who can tow her.”
Rich-built boats, the writer says, are solid and long-lasting. At the dawn of the 20th century, the clan was able to accommodate the coming of the gasoline engine by designing a new type of craft suitable for fishing offshore in the open ocean throughout the year, and capable of fair speed.
“They and their cousin, Clifton Rich, who has a boat shop only about a mile from Richtown, have worked out a model which dominates fishing boat design along this particular section of the Maine coast, and which is radically different from the boats used even no farther away than Portland. They don’t build their boats much differently; and a little finer in line, and a little faster, but just as strong. No Rich has ever built a boat that couldn’t work off this shore all winter, and probably couldn’t be hired to do so.”
By then, Ulysses, Roy, Chauncey, and Frank, averaging 30 years of age, had developed a compound of about eight houses. They were building a boat that particular winter for a local fisherman, but their work was in demand by recreational boaters, too. Among those who commissioned Richtown yachts were the wealthy and prominent, such as Richard C. Paine, of Paine and Webber in Boston; Robert Winsor of Boston, perhaps referring to another leading financier of the time; and Ernest Martin Hopkins, who grew up in New Hampshire and served as Dartmouth College’s president from 1916 to 1945. Interviewed in old age by a Dartmouth alum, Hopkins tells an amusing tale of how he came to have a summer home on Mount Desert Island. This is worth another digression. He first went to Bar Harbor, in 1906, to meet British ambassador Lord Bryce and invite him to the re-dedication of the campus’ oldest building, which was built in 1784 but destroyed by fire in 1904, and then reconstructed. Back at Dartmouth, with summer coming on, Hopkins and the missus thought it would be nice to go to the shore. But he disliked getting sand in his shoes and the “unsavory entrepreneurs working selling bananas and pots and one thing and another.”
Another Dartmouth graduate, Henry Teague, suggested the couple stay at the Teague family house in Manset. Teague was a failed hotelier and the successful owner of the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Teague’s mother was a southerner brought to Manset by her husband, who then went off to sea and drowned, possibly in a storm or possibly when his rebellious crew threw him overboard.
Manset seemed to be a place where Hopkins wouldn’t get sand in his shoes, so he skeptically agreed, his sentiment affirmed by a dearth of pavement on the road through Maine, as he “plowed through mud and sand” in their old, top-heavy Reo. He was afraid of what he’d find.
“And we came over the top of the hill there and all my fears and apprehensions and dislikes were confirmed because as near as I could figure out, we would probably run into the ocean before I could brake the car,” he said.
First, he hated the old, musty house by the shore. Two days later, he loved it. Teague later said, “Well, why in hell don’t you buy it?” So they did.
Hopkins moved the house back from the water, and added rooms and a verandah. He made an early and long-lasting friendship with Charles Eliot, by then retired as president of Harvard and spending long summers in Northeast Harbor. John D. and Abby Rockefeller sometimes drove over, and Yale president James Angell became a golfing companion. They were all members of the Pot and Kettle Club, “which presumably encompasses the distinguished men of the island,” said Hopkins, who was the first member from the west side of the island. The conductor Walter Damrosch would tell about his experiences with famous names in the opera, and every session began with God Save the Queen, at the finale of which Damrosch would rise and sit down on the keyboard with a bang. Hopkins died in Manset in 1964.
By this time, it’s spring, and the trucks from the Parsons landscaping firm on Richtown Road are making their appearance around town, which reminds me to go to the hardware store to buy grass seed, which puts me within aisle space of Jeff Parsons. I ask him how his mother, Elizabeth “Dibbie” Parsons, is doing, and did she know the Richtown Riches? Oh my goodness, yes. Jeff himself remembers Uncle Frank. I should give his mother a call.
At the seaward bulge of the Richtown peninsula, greenswards roll down to the shore, dotted by homes and rental cottages. Dibbie Parsons’ house is at the center of this neighborly cluster. She meets me outside to show off what mainly keeps her busy nowadays, upkeep of the cottages where, accompanied by birdsong, her daughter is painting picnic tables and chairs in preparation for the season.
“My daughter’s a godsend,” says Dibbie, who is sweet and loves to chat about her interests.
Inside, she apologizes for a mess that doesn’t exist.
“I’m 89 and things don’t get picked up,” she says.
I don’t have a good handle yet on how Dibbie is related to the Riches. But first things first, and that’s the wealth of paintings that hang on every wall in every room. Many scenes are local – the Bass Harbor Head Light and marsh, a skiff and tumbledown shack on the shore. A boy sits on a rock by a lake under a cheery sky, looking at a mother duck and her ducklings paddling about. There are flowers in vases and a square-rigged vessel under sail.
“So you’re a painter?” I ask.
“Well, I try,” she laughs.
She showed her work once at a local library and has sold some. Doesn’t she want to have another show of her work? I ask. Well, it’s been a while since she’s picked up a paintbrush, she says. Well! I opine, I think someone ought to include her in a show.
Several model boats are displayed, but none significant to the Rich heritage. A framed photo shows Betty and her husband, Allen Parsons Senior, at a younger age. They got married in 1948, a good-looking couple. (Allen died in 2009.)
“He had nice, curly hair,” she says. “He was kind of upset when it started to recede.”
Now to the task at hand. Dibbie points out the kitchen window and across the lawn to a white house with black shutters. That was Uncle Frank’s house. Uncle Uly lived in the white house next to that. Roy had another house in back of the trees. Chauncey died before Dibbie was married to Allen. And Allen’s mother was Mae, who was the sister of the boatbuilding brothers and who had the house in which Dibbie is now standing.
Also outside the kitchen window can be seen a barn-like structure. That’s in the same spot where the boatbuilding shop was. After the brothers got done building boats, Allen and Dibbie used the building, and put up a couple of others, to raise hens for a major processor.
“We had 90,000 broilers,” she says.
After the chickens, Allen and Dibbie started the cottage rental business that continues today.
Going back again, Mae’s brother Frank was married to Goldie Corinne Thurston, and Goldie ran a summer tearoom from her house. Goldie’s sister was Georgia (whose nickname was Sally). The sisters were close and Goldie and Frank, who never had children, absorbed Georgia, her husband Charles Reed, and their seven children into their family life. Georgia’s younger daughter, Virginia Everbeck, inherited Frank and Goldie’s house. And with that, thinks Dibbie, the Everbeck family might also have inherited the old boatbuilding records. Also, Betty Wass, who lives across the street, is the granddaughter of one of the Rich brothers – although she’s not sure which one – and she might remember things.
But Dibbie does have one artifact that might be of interest. It’s a half-model of one of the Richtown brothers’ designs. Allen Senior inherited it, and it’s now mounted on the wall of a rental cottage owned by Allen Junior.
“I could show you that, because it’s not rented right now,” Dibbie says, as she dials up her son to make sure it’s okay to take me into the cottage.
We make a short drive across Richtown Road and up a dirt driveway to the cottage which, because of the elegance lent by a half-moon window, Dibbie calls the church house. There’s an adorable, separate bedroom that’s like a large dollhouse, perfect for kids. In the main cabin, high up on the wall, resides a piece of history in dark varnished wood. This is the half-model. It’s like finding a treasure hunt clue.
I should give Mrs. Everbeck and Mrs. Wass a call.
“I can remember the big doings when they would launch a boat. The lady would crack the bottle of champagne on the bow, people would appear, and we all had to be on our best behavior,” says Winifred Howie.
Virginia Everbeck, 90, has deputized her oldest daughter, Winnie, to share the family history with me. Their father, LeRoy “Roy” Everbeck, worked for Rich Brothers for several years, after serving as a radioman in the South Pacific during World War II, and Winnie remembers the boatbuilding operation as a young child in the 1940s.
She takes me back a couple of generations. In the 1800s, a mariner named John Thurston was born in Rockport, Massachusetts. John had deep roots in Tremont, and he returned and married Nancy Gott from Gotts Island. John and Nancy had nine children, one of whom was a daughter named Lois. Lois married a young fellow from Duck Cove named Maurice Peters Rich Junior, a carpenter who was the son of Maurice P. Rich, the builder of clipper ships. This was when the Thurstons and the Riches joined forces. Lois and Maurice later moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, where he made a living as a house carpenter and the couple had six children. One of the children, Ulysses, who was called Uly, gained renown as a pitcher and first baseman who led the Lynn ball team in batting and fielding the year before Lynn went into the New England League. He was viewed a potential major league material.
But in 1892, at age 51, Maurice was killed, possibly in a timber-cutting accident. Pearl was 21, Roy 19, Chauncey, 17, Ulysses 15, Mae 13, and Frank 11. Lois’s only recourse was to move her brood back to Tremont. Her father’s family, the Thurstons, gave her a large parcel of land at the mouth of Blue Hill Bay. This might be when the area began to be called Richtown, because her married name was Rich.
Two or three of Lois’ older children stayed in Lynn. At some point, Frank, having grown to adulthood, and Chauncey started to build boats, although there’s also some thought that Ulysses was the brains behind the operation. Eventually they were joined by Roy. Pearl was born with an abnormality of his hands, so he was limited in the kind of work he did.
Frank fell in love with Goldie Thurston, who was the granddaughter of Lois’ older brother Solomon and therefore his cousin once-removed. Goldie was living in Massachusetts to help care for her invalid mother, so in 1910 Frank went down and they eloped; they later had a traditional announcement printed. But there was no place for them to live, so Goldie stayed in Massachusetts and Frank returned to Richtown to build up the business and build a tiny house for his bride.
“And this is the house we’re in now,” says Winnie, who points out cabinets built by Frank that remained when her mother had more rooms added on.
They had a commuting marriage the first year or two, Frank catching the steamboat JT Morse in Southwest Harbor to travel to Boston. When Goldie finally joined him, she was chief cook and bottle washer, helped Frank’s mother Lois, whom everyone called Aunt Lo, and helped run the office side of the boatbuilding business.
Everyone worked hard. The large, cedar-shingled shop extended perpendicular from the barn and had a two-story interior and a block-lettered sign that said Rich Bros Boat Builders. It was surrounded by hayfields and farmland. Various members of the family kept animals – cows, chickens, doves, carrier pigeons, pigs.
“I remember the bull in the yard. That was an adventure,” says Winnie.
“There was a whole self-supporting little ecosystem.”
Every fall, the brothers got out their scythes and cut the hay, loading it on a horse-drawn wagon. Winnie remembers climbing on top of the load on the last day, with her brother Richard and cousin Bobby Milne, and driving to the barn, where the men pitched hay through a window in the loft.
The brothers got their business mostly by word-of-mouth, mostly from local fishermen and summer residents, building mostly one boat per year. Frank kept and cherished the postcards sent by customers as they sailed the seas in their boats. Photos show the brothers suited up in overalls and patched cardigans layered over shirts buttoned up to the collar. In separate images, Frank and Uly, in round spectacles and newsboy caps, are cheerful-looking; Frank has a pencil stuck behind his ear.
“Frank was definitely old-school,” says Winnie, who recalls the little curls of wood that emerged as the men planed the planks, the big, soft mallet her dad used when he bunged the screw holes, the application of coat after coat of varnish on the mahogany, the “pinky peachy orange” color of the painted hulls, the finished boats rolled on logs, towed by a horse, down the hill to the shore to be launched.
The summer scene was lively. All of the Thurston and Reed family members who lived away visited as much as possible, and various relations by blood and marriage built summer camps and rental cottages. In the late 1930s, Goldie opened the summertime Lighthouse Tea Room on the grounds overlooking the water. It was lovely. Many distinguished guests jaunted in by horse-and-carriage for afternoon tea. The Arctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, who summered with his family on Tunk Lake in Sullivan, came by. Two of the summer people were intellectuals who had small, shorefront camps near where the Rich boats were launched. J. Duncan Spaeth was a professor of English at Princeton University. Phil Lyford was an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post who lived in Connecticut. They liked to swim au naturel in the ocean and debate weighty matters on the shore.
“They were close friends, as witnessed by the path they wore in the meadow crossing several times a day between their cottages,” recalls Winnie, whose mother Virginia submitted to the pair’s summer evening poetry readings and discussions. “On the other hand, Uncle Frank would say things like, ‘Oh, I’ll throw a cow flap on his head before I’ll talk with them.’”
Virginia and her sister Grace – Goldie’s nieces – were drafted as teenagers to be waitresses in the tearoom.
“Aunt Goldie was quite the cook. She made homemade popovers and cakes and tea and real lemonade,” Winnie says.
Frank crafted a miniature lighthouse and little houses to decorate the grounds. He made sailboat carvings for the shutters. By 1950 or so, Goldie closed the tearoom but continued to cook big, midday meals for Mr. and Mrs. Swaybee, California professors who summered in a cottage across the way.
“They would walk over, and they would be just that one client, and she would cook biscuits and chowders and the most fantastic homemade New England meals for them,” Winnie recalls. “They were always on time. We could look out the window and see, Oh! They’re coming! They would walk slowly. He had a big bowl pipe and hat.”
Everyone kept plenty busy between the boat shop, farm work, and social activities. Goldie put on baked bean suppers every Saturday night.
“They would get together and have baked beans and tell jokes and play the banjo and sing,” Winnie says. “They were close, and they were jokesters all the time.”
One time, when Winnie was little, Frank’s brother Pearl gave her a little pigeon’s egg to put in her pocket. There was a mischievous gleam in his eye. He knew the egg was dead – but still yolky.
“I walked across the field, bent down to pick and flower, and crkkk, it cracked in my pocket,” she ruefully recalls. “He laughed.”
For children, this summer scene was happy and industrious. They might help feed the animals or grade eggs. Winnie and her cousin Marie climbed up on the roof of the boat shop to listen to the Boston disk jockey Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg on the radio. Frank, who had pretty much adopted Goldie’s sister Georgia and Georgia’s kids and grandkids, loved to go on picnics.
“He would have Aunt Goldie pack up a basket and we would go to Pretty Marsh or Seawall anytime we could.”
The clan played baseball games in the field, a carryover from Ulysses’ semi-pro years in Lynn.
“We had great family baseball games out in that field, and the cousins and the aunts and uncles and the boatbuilders would play ball,” says Winnie. “They let everybody hit, take a try, even the little kids. It was fun. I remember one time, Uncle Frank put a cow flap on the base. There’s always a dramatic one, and that was Aunt Grace, my mother’s sister. She went sliding into that cow flap – we still hear about Aunt Grace’s slide.”
Betty Wass also remembers the occasional mischief the brothers got up to.
“With Virginia and her sister Grace, they used to pull all kinds of tricks on them,” Betty recalls. “They took an oxtail or something and wrapped it up for Christmas. They used to do all kinds of things.”
Betty, it turns out, is the granddaughter of Ulysses. She was a child when her grandfather died, but she recalls his personality with amusement.
“He would disagree with you about everything, no matter what,” she says, rapping the table. “To get an argument going – that was his main thing. He was good though, Grandfather was. He wasn’t the kind who thought he knew everything.”
Ulysses and his wife had two children when they were living in Lynn; one of them was Betty’s father, Leslie. Ulysses’ wife died when the children were young. At some point, Ulysses moved to Richtown and stayed. He lived in the same house with his brothers Chauncey, who never married, and Pearl, who was divorced. Roy was married and had four children, and lived nearby.
Betty was born right in the house where she lives now. “It’s as old as I am,” she says. She recalls her father Leslie worked for the Rich Brothers some, but mostly he went lobstering and seining and other things.
“None of them seemed to like boatbuilding,” she says of the Rich brothers’ offspring.
It was a rough life, but they weren’t rough men, she says. They never drank, everything was aboveboard and honest. Family was paramount.
“They all had to work hard to get by. Uncle Frank told me about when they would cut wood down to Seawall. They had to walk down every morning. They had to use a lantern to find their way down, come home after dark. You don’t see too many now that would be doing that.”
The boatbuilding operation came to an end through natural causes. (Mae died in 1935, age 56.) Chauncey died in 1939 at age 64. Roy died in 1944, at age 71.
Betty recalls her grandfather Uly’s death: “There was a well between this house and that house, and he was carrying water over the road to his grandson’s and he just dropped dead. Set down two buckets of water and just died.”
That was in 1951, at age 74.
“When my grandfather died, Uncle Frank couldn’t get anyone from the family, I think, to help him build boats, and so that was the end of it,” she says. “They all come here and they all died here. They didn’t want any changes.”
The last boat was probably the one launched for a Mr. Dunbar, on August 17, 1951.
Afterward, Frank occupied himself with wood-carving, making model boats and lighthouses. A Massachusetts restaurant on Route 1 called The Ship (which was in the shape of a big ship) commissioned him to build practically a life-size lighthouse model.
Goldie’s death, in 1966 at age 77, left him bereft. But he had a strong friendship with Goldie’s sister, Georgia, whose husband had died. The two kept each other company. It was platonic.
“Oil and water, Frank and Georgia, two very strong people,” says Winnie. “It was a very good arrangement. My grandfather was the salt of the earth and Goldie was the salt of the earth. But you have dominant people and you have peacemakers, and the two peacemakers died, leaving the two dominant people, Frank and Georgia.”
For the next decade, Frank lived with Georgia in the winter, at her home in Massachusetts. He returned to Richtown each summer, living by himself. Folks would check on him. In 1976, he was at Georgia’s house for the holidays; he always sat in the kitchen corner, telling jokes. He died there at age 92.
I make one of my last calls to Lillian Hodgdon, not quite knowing what to expect except that she’s Betty Wass’ sister and might have more material related to their grandfather Uly. Now in her 80s, she is a warm and welcoming person, at her home in the nearby village of Bernard, on the first frigid day in November.
Dressed in a fleece pullover and hat to ward off the chill as we walk from the house to the shed where she keeps some old, framed photographs, Lillian is intrigued by the idea of teasing out a sense of who people were from bits of information scattered hither and yon, in toolsheds and attics and old diaries and memories.
“I wished we’d gotten it while those people were alive, but we never did,” she says. “It’s one of the things I’ve been meaning to do, but I’ve run out of people to ask. They’ve all died, that could answer the questions.”
I ask her what she remembers about her grandfather, whom she calls Gampa.
“Oh, he was a moderate soul. I think the Riches, most of them were.” She laughs with pleasure. “He was a good gentleman, my grandfather was.”
In the shed, she shows me two vintage portraits of a young woman. This might be Uly’s wife, who died young, but she’s not sure. There’s an old photograph of a man and boy, who might or might not be her father and grandfather. Then there’s gold – Uly as a youth in his baseball uniform. He was a good-looking lad.
A cold wind rattles the windows and we head back to the house. Lillian racks her brain to see if she can remember more about the Richtown Riches. There’s so much she’d like to know herself. When did they start building boats? Who were their customers? When did Uly come from Lynn to Richtown?
“Everything from way back, people seem to be interested. I don’t think they want to look at the future.” She laughs. “So they’re going backwards.”
She remembers Uly and Chauncey lived together, Uly’s wife having died at a young age and Chauncey never married. Pearl was married but somehow separated, and came to live with them. They were all workers and had gardens, and they didn’t have women there to help with the work.
“Pearl kind of did the housework,” she recalls.
I ask her if she remembers what was wrong with Pearl’s hands.
“I don’t know what it was,” she says, looking off in the distance. “I don’t know what it was.”
She tries to grab it, then gives up.
“I can’t remember. Can’t remember. You forget this stuff. It goes for ages, then all of a sudden it just drifts away.”
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