By Donald Ketzler
Why do you think a mother and father with two young boys would move from a comfortable mansion in New York to an old dilapidated farm house in East Eliot? Well, you can blame it on the Great Depression of the ’30’s.
My mother’s parents were prosperous wheat farmers in Oklahoma. It was a large farm family with four daughters and four sons. After WW I they sold the farm and moved to the ‘big city’ All the children were married by then and collectively decided (with some pressure from the matriarch, mother Janzen) to buy the Scribner mansion overlooking the Hudson River in Yonkers. (Yonkers was then a bedroom community to NYC) So this whole family moved in to the mansion that I recall having a huge foyer with a marble floor, a grand stone fireplace with a suit of armor standing nearby, a wide spiral staircase going up three floors, stained glass windows and many, many rooms.
My dad took the trolley to the city where he worked for the Postal Telegraph Co., a competitor to Western Union. Everything was wonderful until, due to the depression, some of my mother’s brothers and sisters lost their jobs. Then my dad’s employer went bankrupt. Who was going to pay the mortgage? How were they to pay for the daily essentials?
My mother came up with an idea. Why not move back to being farmers so you could be self-sufficient and at least be able to put some food on the table. Her brother John and his wife had already moved to York where they worked for the Philbricks who owned among other things Philbricks Lobster House on Route 1 in the area that is now the Kittery shopping malls.
Why not pool and borrow some money in order to buy a small farm in Maine? My dad was dubious as he was a city boy. Having grown up in a large industrial city in Germany he knew absolutely nothing about farming. My older brother, Walter, was ecstatic. He was an outdoor kind of guy who had dreams about hunting, fishing etc. in the great woods of Maine. I think I was too young to comprehend the whole thing. All I knew was that I was going to leave my kindergarten friends, my fun home where I could slide down a long banister, hide in the suit of armor, go up to the pigeon tower and all that neat stuff.
The time came to move. It was the fall of 1938. Mom, Walter and I started off in our old Chevrolet packed with bags. Dad stayed behind since he had found some part time job and we needed the money.
Little did we know that we were heading out into the great hurricane of 1938. When we reached Connecticut there was a steady downpour and the roads were starting to flood. We plowed on and finally reached Kittery where we rented an overnight cabin at Chesley’s Cabins which was almost directly across from the Kittery Trading Post. Bad mistake! They were located near a body of water (Spruce Creek). The wind grew stronger and stronger. The cabin owner tried to assure us that everything would be alright and this was just a blow that would subside. He didn’t know, as today’s forecasting would have told him days before, that this was going to be one of the strongest storms of the century, that was going to do huge damage throughout New England.
We were in our little cabin and the wind howled and screamed. The electricity went off and we waited. I was afraid. I could feel the cabin shake and tremble. I was sure we were going to be blown off the foundation and we would blow away into the woods of Maine never to be seen again. The Philbrick’s referred mom to a real estate agent to help find “the farm”. One within our means was eventually found.
It was on Brixham Road in East Eliot — the old Frost farm.
Continue to Part 2