Growing Up in Roxbury, Connecticut 1946 to 1955
The Worthington family (father: Elmer, age 35, mother: Billie, age 34, Bob, 9, June, 7, and Diane, 5) moved to Roxbury in the summer of 1946. Billie and Elmer rented a large, three-story, wood-sided, colonial home (actually two-stories in the front but three-stories from the rear) at 66 South Street. Elmer was born and raised in New Milford, a town 7 miles west of Roxbury. After graduating from high school in 1928, he became a bank teller, eventually working his way to senior vice president and manager of a large bank in NYC. Billie, born and raised in Winter Haven, Florida, moved to live with her married half-sister, Mae Roberts, in New Milford after graduating from nursing school. Billie, a nurse in New Milford, met Elmer, they married in 1934. Bob started life at 18 South Main Street in New Milford, but the family moved to a house in Bridgewater in 1945. Then Roxbury a year later.
During WW II the federal government gave Elmer a choice; a commission as a captain in the Army Finance Corps or to attend Harvard Business School and then be appointed a manager at a defense plant in Bridgeport. Elmer chose Harvard. In 1945 he began work at Banker’s Trust on Wall Street in NYC, until he retired in 1976. Billie worked until 1936, when pregnant with Bob. In the 1970s, the owners of the Roxbury house, living in Hawaii, placed the home for sale, so the Worthingtons bought it. Elmer and Billie, in 1998 sold their Roxbury house and moved into the Southbury retirement community of East Hill Woods (today the Watermark at East Hill). Billie and Elmer loved Roxbury and each devoted much of their lives to volunteer work for the town.
Roxbury, without a doubt, was the greatest place a kid like me could grow up. I became an outdoors junkie and Roxbury was an outdoors paradise. In 1946 Roxbury had a population of slightly over 600 people, with plenty of wide-open spaces. Most residents were farmers, with dairy cattle and farm produce. Many were families who came from original settlers. Next were residents who lived in Roxbury but commuted elsewhere to work such as New Milford, Waterbury, or Danbury with some spending 5 hours a day in a car, then a train traveling to New York City and back. Then were the creative people, men and women, working as writers, artists, sculptors, actors, actresses, or TV people. Many commuted to NYC (65 miles away) while others worked in their studios at home or lived in Roxbury until doing a play on Broadway or filming in some remote location.
The town consisted of twenty-six and a half square miles, mostly forests, pastures, hay fields, or crops, one river (the Shepaug), numerous brooks and streams, some ponds, and swamps. As I said, an outdoors paradise.
The town had four distinct parts. Roxbury Center was where four main roads crossed at Revolutionary War hero Colonel Seth Warner’s monument (and burial site). Roxbury in the late 1940s had a general store, Hodge’s Market, an automobile service station, and did not sell alcoholic beverages. Roxbury Station was a collection of storage buildings, a few miles west of the town center. This used to be a station for a railroad that once paralleled the river, running north and south through Roxbury. In 1946 it had one hardware store. A short distance, up hill from the station is Mine Hill. In the mid-1700s, iron ore was found, and deep mines dug. Rumor has it that some of the iron links which crossed the Hudson River at West Point in the late 1770s to prevent British ships from moving up stream, came from the Roxbury mines. When I was around, the mines were open and accessible to the brave, today they are barred. Last is Roxbury Falls. A few miles southwest of the center, it was where an old steel bridge crossed the Shepaug and its claim to fame was swimming. I do not recall any great falls at all, just rushing water over rocks and some deep pools to swim in. Some of us (we thought we were brave while others called us fools) would dive off the center of the bridge, into the water. The bridge was over 20 feet above the river and the water depth was about five feet. I was never injured.
My other passions were reading and drawing (I wanted to become a cartoonist drawing comics, my undergrad degree is art). Roxbury in the 1940s and 50s had a small stone library at the center of town. I would spend hours there and arrive home with many books. My favorites were Zane Grey western novels and books on the outdoors, how to survive in the wilderness. Grey’s novels ingrained in me visions of the west with log cabins on a mountain stream, Colt 1873 Peacemaker .45 single-action revolvers, and Winchester lever-action rifles. By age 60, I had built a log-sided cabin on a small cattle ranch beside a trout stream in the Sacramento Mountains in southern New Mexico. I had also acquired a dozen of the Colt revolvers and several lever-action Winchesters. My Zane Grey dreams came true. Today I have a single bookcase, containing all Grey’s western novels.
I do not know if the outdoors of Roxbury molded me into the man I became or the man I was destined to become was nurtured by the outdoors of Roxbury. Whatever, maybe you can tell from my stories. Growing up, in my early to mid-teens, girls and cars held no interest for me. I loved the outdoors; camping, fishing, hunting, shooting, and hiking became my world. While my friends were chomping at the bit at 15 and 16 to get their driver’s license and start dating, I didn’t know girls existed until I was a junior in high school. My friends’ parents prohibited their owning firearms (too dangerous) but allowed them old (1920s and 30s) cars. I had rifles and shotguns but no car. I would take them shooting and they provided my transportation.
My love of firearms perhaps began because of Zane Grey. I persuaded my parents to get me a Daisey Red Ryder BB gun around age 10. I read everything I could on shooting and with constant practice, became an expert shot. At 11, I received a model 37 Winchester single-shot 20-gauge shotgun. A year later I received a Remington model 514 bolt-action single shot .22 rifle. I would hunt pheasants and grouse as well as woodchucks (groundhogs). Single shot firearms meant that, to be successful, one had to hit what they aimed at. No second chance. I became very good. Because my father was not a hunter, he did not know firearms. Artist Bob Kuhn and dog trainer Chet Cummings became my mentors and instructors. By the time I was a high school senior my firearms collection included three shotguns, an old Remington revolver, and several rifles from .22s to .30 calibers, and a Marlin lever action .45-70 rifle.
I would load a knapsack with food and sleeping equipment, grab a rifle and head out for the woods and spend a day or two by myself (my parents trusted my judgement and let me go). If I did not shoot a small animal for food, I could always fire a round into a small pool of water in a stream, concussing trout, to be plucked for a meal. I never went hungry. A favorite time to camp was winter. I really liked to hike to the Falls, where the banks were lined with evergreen trees. In a foot or two of snow I would construct a lean-to of pine boughs, line the bottom with more pine boughs to sleep on and set up a fire in the front. In the winter I packed all my food as many animals and birds would also be bedded down during the snowfall. At an early age I learned how to survive in the wilderness (which proved useful later as a combat infantryman and a pilot).
But as I approached 17, a funny thing happened, I discovered girls. I fell in love with a 15-year-old brunette, Cal Adams from New Milford. Dating required cars so I quickly obtained my license. Cal’s parents were Ivy Leaguers, she was a Dartmouth College grad. We dated until the end of the summer of 1954; she went away to a girl’s prep school near Boston. She looked forward to her new life and I was devastated. For a couple of weeks, I moped and cried, my life was snatched away, and I did not know how to cope.
As a senior I met and dated a good looking blonde, Barbara Meinig, a high school sophomore, in my sister, June’s, class. Later in my senior year I met another pretty blonde, from Litchfield, Mary Virtue. We dated until I left for college in the fall of 1955, and she went away to an all-girl’s prep school. Parties were a frequent pastime many of us enjoyed. Often several of my classmates and girls in my sister, June’s class, would meet at one’s home on a Saturday evening mostly for dancing. Alcohol and cigarettes were never present. June graduated from Washington High School in 1957 and left for college that fall and Diane graduated in 1959 and departed for college that fall.
I attended Booth Free School from 4th grade through 8th grade. The 1951 8th grade class consisted of Phyllis Hodge (her parents owned the Roxbury general store), Barbara Uihlein, Barbara Allen, Gene Baslow, Peter Izzard, John Yeager, and me. Most of us moved on to Washington High School, a regional high school in Washington Depot, serving several small towns. Peter went to a private prep school and John went to Woodbury as an ag student. Gene soon dropped out of high school as he turned 17 to enlist in the military. I became the only boy in my high school class from Roxbury.
In the fall of 1955, I matriculated in Dartmouth (Cal’s father convinced me that Dartmouth was an outdoorsman’s school). In February 1957, I dropped out of Dartmouth, enlisted in the Marines, and met Anita Elliott from Washington, DC. Discharged from the Marines in 1959, I re-entered Dartmouth, got married, graduated and was commissioned in the Army. From there on my life is told in my books: Under Fire with ARVN Infantry (2018), Fighting Viet Cong in the Rung Sat (2021), The Making of an Army Psychologist (2022), and Forty Years in the Sky: A Pilots Guide to General Aviation (to be published in late 2023).
In the retirement community where I now live. There is a bi-monthly magazine published, with articles authored by the residents. I have written several about growing up in Roxbury, Connecticut, and I decided to place them on my web site. Here are my views of growing up in Roxbury.
I should point out that the Roxbury of today is, in many ways, no longer the Roxbury I knew 70-odd years ago. My last visit to Roxbury was in the fall of 2012, when my mother died.
For example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s the town dump was open to all residents who just drove in and tossed their refuse. My friends and I used to frequent the dump to shoot rats. After my first Vietnam tour, I returned to the dump, arriving with friends but in my Georgia licensed car. None of us had been there in over a decade. We pulled up, alighted with our rifles but were met by a guard. Noting the Georgia car and four scruffy-looking men in their late twenties, he challenged us.
One of us spoke up, stating that we were going to shoot rats. The guard began to lecture us on the dangers of firearms (he thought we were out-of-state city guys who knew nothing about firearms), he continued to describe the effect of bullets and treated us like we knew nothing about firearms or shooting. One friend began to laugh and suggested we leave. The guard, incensed, wanted to know why my friend was laughing. He was told that we all grew up in Roxbury and used to shoot rats here. My friend pointed out I used to be a professional competitive shooter and had just returned from a combat tour in Vietnam. We understood firearms and the guard’s lecture was funny. We returned home but I never fired another weapon in Roxbury.
As pre-teens, in the late 1940s and early 50s, we roamed the streets of Roxbury, shouldering our .22s, eyeing the fields for woodchucks (ground hogs). Neighbors seeing us knew exactly what we were doing and left us alone. After all, wood chucks dug holes in pastures where cattle roamed. Broken legs required killing a cow. That was expensive so, as hunters, we were encouraged to do away with the ground hogs. Because they ate good grasses, they were very flavorful and tasty if cooked properly. I would bake them in a mushroom casserole and serve them to my dates (without saying what they were).
Fields and pastures along lower South Street in the 40s and 50s disappeared by the twenty first century becoming forests with 40 plus feet tall hardwood trees. Farmlands I hunted were now manicured yards of mansions. Most of the small farms I used to work on are gone. Woody growth and developers had transformed the land. What I enjoyed several decades ago, no longer is possible. The way of life I knew is gone.
In the 40s and 50s, most residents were into farming or blue-collar employees. Today the town has 2260 residents, earning an average of $109,000 annually, with 89% white-collar workers. When I lived in Roxbury everyone was white, today 6% are not.
But that is progress. I sense from talking to people and perusing social media that the spirit of Roxbury I was part of is still there. At this stage of my life, looking back covers much more territory than does my future. So let me share with you my stories of growing up in Roxbury I hope you find interesting, charming, delightful, entertaining, or funny. As I said in the beginning, I know that I could never have lived in a better place than Roxbury.
In 1955 I left Roxbury for college, dropped out to enlist in the Marine Corps, then returned to college. Married Anita, worked as a police officer, graduated, and was commissioned in the Army. Visits to my parents in Roxbury were frequent, I would land my plane at the Waterbury-Oxford Airport, next to Southbury. During my Vietnam tours, our daughters (Susan, Julie, and Karen) lived part-time in Roxbury. Throughout their young lives, they visited their grandparents often. So, our daughters also share my love of Roxbury but nothing like my growing up in there.
Here are some of my remembrances of living in Roxbury.