I was still tying my shoes at State Line Car Wash this morning when two guys from Lakeville pulled up in separate cars.
Rick DelPrete, retired history teacher and athletic director from the Hotchkiss School, was on hand to show me the remains of the Salisbury Foundry and the Holley Manufacturing Co., makers of pocket knives in the 19th century through the post World War I era. And Digby Brown, a local real estate man, had read about the trek and was nice enough to hand me an American flag leftover from the weekend festivities.
People out here are aware of the recent poll showing that half of Connecticut residents want to leave the state but rest assured, DelPrete retorts, that's not the case in Salisbury. And I didn't have to walk more than a quarter-mile to see why. The town is full of history set in the picturesque hills of the lower Berkshires, with Bird Peak on my left, past a painting of an old silo -- no, in fact it was an actual silo masquerading as a painting.
Babe Ruth used to come up to the gently sloping Bird Peak to hunt, and the cabin is still there, but I won't have time to look for it. I am, however, on a quest of another sort -- trying to find the link between the great foundries of Salisbury, where forges turned out 880 cannons for the Revolutionary War, and the great gunmakers of the Connecticut River Valley in the era of Samuel Colt.
Here's a hint: The Holley company, makers of pocket knives, also produced a knife-pistol, bringing a new definition to the old adage, don't show up at a gunfight with a knife.
Alexander Hamilton Holley, who founded the knife business in 1844 after encountering some English cutlery merchants on the road to Waterbury, as legend has it, knew a thing or two about fights – he was later Connecticut’s governor.
The town has a cannon that raises more questions than it answers. It’s unknown if the iron giant was authentically forged in Salisbury and debates continue about where it should be stored – in Lakeville, where the first blast furnace was built by Ethan Allenin 1762, or in the history center at the Salisbury Academy.
An editor and intern from the venerable and still respected Lakeville Journal, which launched in 1897, met me for a photo and interview as I marched down the Millerton Road hill into the village. The thriving chain of three weeklies -- in Lakeville, Millerton and Winsted – serves as a linchpin in an argument that pervades the region.
Some locals in what was once called the “14th Colony” -- the corner of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York -- worry that wealthy outsiders might come in and erode the character of the area. About half the residents are part-timers, many with vacation homes here. Some don't like that, but it brings prosperity.
And more to the point in this newsroom, it advances the local culture. The Journal's ownership group was founded by outstanding retired journalists including Robert Estabrook, former chief of the Washington Post editorial page.”I was in Rotary with him,” DelPrete said. “Good guy. He carried himself well.”
Janet Manko, publisher and editor-in-chief of the three newspapers, lived through the crisis of the industry these last few years and, with a news staff of about 20, she well knows that it takes people to keep the flow of information and democracy going, especially in communities not well served by city papers.
We quickly recognized each other as allies in that modern battle.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun