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An interview that was done in 1979 with Hazel Clarissa Randall Wells


 

PASSING IT ON

  

A Collection of Memories

By Riverheaders, Past & Present

 Edited by Justine W. Wells

1993
Ridge, Richmond Hill, And the Randalls

 

The following taped interview with Hazel Clarissa Randall Wells was conducted on December 9, 1979 in her mobile home in Glenwood, Riverhead, by her son and daughter-in-law Kenneth and Justine Wells.  The first part dealing mainly with her recollections of Ridge and Shoreham was recorded for a Stony Brook University student, but the remainder was done for her descendants and any others interested in late 19th and early 20th century life on Long Island.  She was 84 years old.

 How far back do you want me to go? My father of course was born and brought up in the neighborhood (Ridge).  When he married he went to New York and I was born in Queens County.  After I had graduated from grade school, he had trouble with his eyes.  He was an architect and he came back to the farm at the Ridge, the Randall farm, the ancestral farm.  He used to raise cows in the summer to sell milk in Shoreham.  And he probably sold vegetables over there too, but I don’t remember that part of it.

 In 1908, it must have been that we moved back to Ridge, and we lived on Uncle Charlie’s farm on the north side of Whiskey Road.  Not too far west of what they call Randall Road.  Yes, it’s where Leisure Village is now, in that corner.  We lived there for, I don’t know, maybe two years.  I’ve forgotten just how long we were there.  But the house was in terrible condition; nobody had lived in it for some time.  The roof leaked and everything, so after awhile we went to live in part of Uncle John’s house, which was east of Randall Road on that corner where there’s a jag in Whiskey Road.

 I think it was while we were on Uncle Charlie’s place that we carted milk to Shoreham.  And my sister and I did it.  She was seven years younger than I.  We had a donkey and we had a cart and the donkey would go right along, as long as we’d sing.  When we quite singing, he’d stop.  So we sang all the way to Shoreham and back again.  Sometime before daylight we’d start, because it was light by the time we got to Shoreham.  There was one particular spot on that road I remember, and I think it’s still there.  Two huge oak trees on the left side of Randall Road half-way to Shoreham.  We though that was the ideal location and when we got old we were going to build and live in that spot. (chuckle)

 But we had a song we used to sing (she sings this): We are both the Randall girls you’ve heard so much about/ People stop and stare at us whenever we’re about/ Oh we’re noted for our winsomeness and _?_things we do/ Most everybody likes us, we hope you’ll like us too. (big chuckle)  And we sang that to the donkey.  And I remember when we got into the village of Shoreham, it was mostly uphill and down dale.  It was just tremendous hills some of it.  And the donkey refused to go up those hills, so we got out and pushed, the cart and the donkey and the milk up the hills. (chuckle)  When we delivered at the houses, I don’t remember who any of them were.  Summer houses?  Well, they were pretty good size, owned by rich people from New York.  They had a lot of caretakers there the year round.  Maybe their husbands worked in New York and they came out weekends, I don’t know.  Oh no, no farms, no farms, just hills and woods.

 Then the station.  We had to pass the station to get into Shoreham of course, because that was on the main highway.  Yes, Shoreham actually had a railroad station; I’ve got a picture of it here.  And Sadie Randall was the station mistress for years.  And she married a Robinson who was also a station agent somewhere else.  The railroad ended at Wading River, Shoreham was next to the last stop.  And I used to come home once in a great while when I was in high school.  See I went back to Richmond Hill to high school, and I went on the train when I went.  And Uncle Asa always met me at Jamaica and took me home from there on the trolley car.  Didn’t have such a thing as a car.  I stayed with Uncle Asa, my father’s brother, all the time I was in high school, four years.  And my grandmother lived with him, and Aunt Hannah.  Aunt Hannah was a hand-down from the farm, no relation at all.  Her name was Woodhull and she lived with Grandma Randall to take care of her.  Did I come home to Ridge every weekend? Oh mercy, I came home maybe for Thanksgiving and Christmas like the kids do for college now.  And for Easter when there was a long vacation.  But otherwise I just stayed right here.  Oh, my milk-carrying days, they were in the summer.  I did it through high school.

 Shoreham was all dirt roads.  I don’t think Route 25 was anything but dirt.  Oh there were probably fifty on our milk route.  We put the milk in bottles.  Of course it wasn’t pasteurized, it was just raw milk.  And how we kept it cool, I don’t even remember.  It was quite a ways to Shoreham, two or three miles, but it was always fresh, we always got it there by daylight.  My father used to get up two o’clock in the morning to milk, so’s to get it all ready to go.

 Cousins had the post office.  It was in the village that’s all I remember.  It was on the level stretch before you began the hilly part and down the hollow.  And Mealie Overton, Amelia her name was, Mealie and her sister Mabel ran the post office and I can remember going there lots of times.  That was on the west side of that main street.  I don’t know whether it’s still there.  I’m sure they were related to me, just how close I don’t know.  They were own cousins to Sadie, and I’m sure they were Randalls because they went to the Randall picnic, but how I can’t say.  But they are the only ones that I actually knew that lived right in Shoreham.  It was about like Aquebogue Post Office used to be, a few letter boxes.  I doubt very much that the village was incorporated yet.  1913?  That would have been after I was there.

 Of course you know that Shoreham has changed its name several times.  It used to be Woodcliff at one time.  It was Warden Cliff, and it was Woodville at one time, because they used to cut cordwood and that’s the winter job that they had.  They cut cordwood and took it up the beach and had boats come in there on one tide and out on the next.  I guess they came in at high tide and loaded it at low and the next high tide they went out.  And took firewood in New York City.  That was at Shoreham, Woodcliff!

 Tesla’s Tower?  You know where there’s a photo shop, yes Peerless Photo, it was about in there.  They call it Tesla Street or something, and that’s where it was.  That’s why it’s called that.  It was for communication to Europe, it was the first intercontinental station…radio.  Yes, before RCA (Radio Corporation of America).  Tesla was the maker.  I’ve got a picture of it.  It was a big thing, 150 feet high and 150 feet deep.  You could go down winding stairs with a flashlight to the depths if you wanted to.  I don’t know as there was anybody around or not.  We went on our own I guess. (chuckle)  I think it was prior to Marconi.  That was what I was brought up to believe, that Tesla was first.  Of course, there could have been someone ahead of him, I don’t know.

 No I don’t know when or why they quit having a train out to Shoreham.  I tell you who would know all this if he was still here…Thomas Bayles.  Oh yes, absolutely, Thomas Bayles was an old beau.  You didn’t know that? Yes, he was killed up here near the County Center.  The railroad station was north and east of Old Country Road, after you come up Randall Road.  When the train stopped coming to Wading River, the last stop then was at Port Jefferson.  It used to stop at Rocky Point and Shoreham and Wading River.  I don’t remember Mount Sinai being a stop.

 I went to high school in Richmond Hill because Uncle Asa lived near there I suppose.  Well I had no way of getting to Riverhead or Port Jefferson (high school), either one.  My father never had anything but a horse.  I had to go where I could get to one, and then I was two miles from high school, two miles from it.  I walked it every day.  It cost five cents to go on the trolley and I didn’t have five cents!  Unless the weather was awful awful bad, I did ever ride the trolley, but not very often.  It was five cents to go on Jamaica Avenue to Richmond Hill, and that was a lot, yes it was.

 Yes I came back to the homeplace after I graduated from Richmond Hill, though I went back for an extra half year.  I didn’t pass, the weather report, oh what do you call it?  The study of weather.  I failed it, so for that extra half year I went back and lived with Uncle Charlie, who had in the meantime moved from the Ridge to the corner of Benedict Avenue and Jamaica Avenue, which was a block and a half from Uncle Asa’s.  Uncle Charlie was my father’s Uncle Charlie; he was my grandmother’s younger brother.  He had two daughters living home with him and part of the time Charles Davis from Coram was there too.  He was studying law; I don’t know where he went to law school but of course it was his grandfather that he was with.  And once in awhile I’d read law books to him, the most monotonous stuff you’d ever read in your life.  But one time I really got interested telling a story of a case all the way through.  And I finished and he said, “You understood that, didn’t you?”  And I said, “Yes that made sense.” (chuckle)  Oh yes, he became a lawyer, very famous, in New York City.  His mother was another of Charlie Randall’s daughters, Nellie Randall Davis.  And Nellie was my mother’s (Althea Buckalew Randall) college roommate.  That’s how my father (Orlando “Bert” Randall) and mother met.  She came out for a vacation with her roommate to Coram and met my father, and then later she came out to Ridge and taught.  And that Ridge school is still there.  Yes, that’s the same one your grandmother (Alice Hammond Warner) taught in, Jus.  On 25 right near Randall Road across from the game farm.  (The school was moved to Longwood Estate in 1980.)

 When I got out of high school I taught school right away in West Yaphank.  And that was when I went with Thomas Bayles.  He used to take me back and forth, and he had a Maxwell car.  Boy did we have a…Was it the car or Thomas I liked?  Well I liked Thomas’ mother more than him.  She really was a wonderful woman, I liked her ever so much.  I remember his father saying one time when I had called him Tom for some reason or other, “His name is not Tom, his name is Thomas!”  So he was always Thomas after that.  I notice the next generation called him Tom.  (chuckle)  Well he came over quite faithfully every weekend and took me back and forth.  (After teaching about two years, Hazel attended Geneseo for several months and received her teaching certificate.)

 My father’s father and mother were both Randalls.  His father’s father John and his mother’s grandfather Jeffrey were brothers! (making them second cousins, once removed)  Same with the Wellses.  We’re related no matter; anybody who’s a Wells is a relative.  My father was Orlando Albertus Randall and his father was John Orlando Randall.  My father’s mother was Jemima Randall and her middle name was Benjamin and where she got the Benjamin I don’t know.

 How did some of the family get to Queens?  Uncle Charlie Randall kind of dabbled in real estate.  Uncle Asa lived in there because he worked for railway mail service.  How he got into it, I don’t know but that was what he worked at for years.  And he lived in Woodhaven so he could get to his job.  And he knew this place was for sale, just a couple of blocks from where he lived.  It was a big place, corner lot and big house.  And so Uncle Charlie and two of his daughters lived there for quite awhile.  He was really retired; he had money enough so he didn’t have to do anything.  Of these daughters, the youngest one was Blanche.  She never married and she was a wonderful girl.  I liked her very much.  Some man wanted to marry her when she was about thirty but she thought she was too old.  To me she was an old lady but I look back on it now, and she might better have gotten married.  And her older sister who got married was named Cora.  She married Sidney Conklin and they went to Australia to live.  Then they got divorced, never had any children.  I can remember I used to tease her, I don’t know why, just kiddish.  She liked evaporated milk in her coffee and I used to say, “Cousin Cora Conklin likes canned cow.”  (chuckle)  She was back home living with her father.

 I lived on the third floor.  I did at Uncle Asa’s too.  He had a third floor and it was wonderful, ‘cause I was all alone and quiet so I could study (much more than I did!).  I had a room there.  It really was fixed up so you could have an apartment, with a kitchen and everything, but I didn’t use anything but the one bedroom.  Had a south window.  It was very nice, right in the treetops.  No bathroom on the third floor, had to go down to the second floor.  Was the Jamaica Avenue elevated at that time?  Not as far out as that, I don’t remember it’s being elevated.

 I was born in Union Course, a part of Woodhaven.  And there used to be a racetrack, that’s why it was called Course.  My father was an architect and builder and I can remember my sister Mildred and I taking our husbands back there to see the house that we used to live in in Union Course.  We recognized it.  After we turned off Jamaica Avenue, we turned down and it was Third Street.  We turned right and somebody yelled, “You’re going the wrong way on a one-way street!”  When we lived there it was all open farmland; we never thought about it being a one-way street.  All around us had been farmland.  It wasn’t city then.

 I was born on February 23, 1895 but not in that house.  Let me see, the next one after me was born there, one of my little brothers.  All six of us were born in Woodhaven, except for Theron the last.  Well, he wasn’t called Malcom until the next generation.  We called him Theron and he had long curls way down to his shoulders.  My mother curled his hair just like she did mine ‘til he went to school.  He had them ‘til he was six I’m sure.  Yes it was normal for the times, it was natural.

 I was the second child in our family.  I had one brother older and another brother just younger than I.  They died within a week of each other when I was five years old.  Just after Christmas they died, of diphtheria.  Clarence (d. 12-27-1899) and Percy (d. 1-8-1900) and there are pictures of them in the attic, the two of them together.  I was the only one left.  (Hazel also had diphtheria)  Then Mildred was born (1901) and Kenneth (1904) and then Theron (1910).

 When we were in Ridge my sister Mildred was the only pupil in the Ridge school district.  So rather than hire a teacher for the one pupil they hired my father to take her to Shoreham to school.  So she went to Shoreham, I don’t know for how long.  Until they got more pupils in Ridge I guess.  When you look at the Ridge district now compared to that, you can’t believe it!

 And we used to have Sunday School in the schoolhouse every Sunday afternoon.  We walked from the farm through the woods to the schoolhouse.  My mother played the organ, taught the Sunday School class, around 1908-14, I think.  All the hired helped used to come, as well as all the men and women who lived in the town, their kids like Mildred.  Your grandmother, Jus, taught my father in that school.  He said he went to school to her days, and took her out nights.  He dated your grandmother while he was still in school; I don’t know when she taught there, must be that my mother came to teach later.

 When we lived in Woodhaven, Union Course, we drove out to visit the Long Island relatives with a horse and wagon.  I don’t know how often we did it.  I remember we stopped at cousin Nellie Davis’ ‘cause that was my mother’s roommate and also cousins of my father.  And we stayed there, oh, four or five days I guess.  But then every day some relatives would stop and we’d have a meal or they’d stay all night or something or other.  And I don’t know how far east we came, I don’t remember, but I know we had plenty of nice trips with a horse and wagon.  And there must have been three children at least.  So you think that sounds like early pioneer days?!  (chuckle)

 When we lived at Uncle Charlie’s farm I was going to ride horseback and we had nothing but mules.  So I got on muleback and the mule started off at high speed, with me yelling I’ll tell you.  And I had long hair at that time, and hairpins and my hair went in every direction.  My father came after me and finally stopped the mule and I didn’t try it again.  Yes, it sounds like me on a bicycle seventy years later.  I have to try everything!  I can remember it anyway!

 My brother Kenneth and sister Mildred walked, as they had done several times, from our place to Uncle John’s and back which was probably a mile or so.  They were about four and seven.  Halfway there they found some of the cutest little kitties to play with.  And they came home and my mother wanted to bury them!  They’d been playing with skunks, and they thought they were kittens.  (chuckle)

 My father was a Presbyterian and my mother Dutch Reform and when they moved into Union Course there was neither church there.  So they helped establish a new church and it was a Baptist church and my father built the church.  As far as I know the old church is still there; there’s a new church on the corner now, but the old, I think is still there.  Or was for a long time.  So that’s how I got Baptist, I was brought up a Baptist, I was baptized as one.  My mother’s father was a Dutch Reform minister and my father’s family went to the Middle Island Presbyterian Church.  It was five miles they had to drive to church from the Ridge to Middle Island every morning.  With a horse, but they did it every Sunday.

 My grandfather Rev. William Dey Buckelew was the Dutch Reform minister and my grandmother (Clarissa Ann Wampler Leaman Buckelew) became an invalid.  The only time I remember them living on the Island was when my folks lived in Union Course, and she was an invalid then, and lived with my mother and father.  She was in a wheelchair for then years and then she was in bed for ten more years.  And my mother took care of her.  And my grandfather died while she was in the wheelchair.  I don’t remember what year it was.  Yes I can just remember him.

My mother had one sister and her name was Anna Louise.  She married Louis Denteman who was the high school principal in Staten Island and they had one son Ernest; Anna Louise died when he was born.  And he and his father never got along too well because Uncle Louis was a brilliant scholar and Ernest was not very interested in school.  You can imagine how that would set.  But he married again.  He married Eloise something or other and she was real good to Ernest, brought him up as her own.  And the last time I saw him was when I was California; I hunted him up and met him and his wife.  He made me think of my grandfather Buckelew!  I hadn’t seen my grandfather in years but he looked like him.  He was my first cousin and I hadn’t seen him or anybody for years.  He had married, I don’t know but he’d married twice.  They’re both gone now, but I used to hear from Ernest.  I don’t have any idea what he did for a living.

 My mother had just the one sister.  She had another sister who died earlier, as a child.  I found the stone.  I’ve seen it…at Howe’s Cave, on top of the cave.  You had to go through somebody’s farm, up the farm road to get to the cemetery.  But when my mother was a child she used to play in the cave in what was down below.  This was in Schoharie.  Oh they weren’t commercialized yet.  Of course they were there, they knew the caves were there.  My grandfather was the minister in several towns around in that county.  They used to change them around once in awhile; like the Methodists they shifted them from one to another.

 In one church when I went up there (you see, I traveled all this country when I was president of the WCTU), I stayed overnight in the home of somebody who knew my mother as a child.  And she took me to the church where my grandfather used to preach, and there was a plaque on the wall with his name on it.  They’ve taken the church down since, and nobody knew anything about where the plaque went to.  There wasn’t anything left.  If I’d only taken it right then or asked for it, I’m sure I could have had it.  The church was not going even when I visited it.  But the woman knew of it because she used to go there with my mother as a child, and used to play with her.

 Another one that my mother used to say was one of her playmates in the caves was Jared Van Wagnen.  Remember he was there in Albany when we got the Century Farm award in 1940, Ken?  But he never heard of my mother in the cave, didn’t remember.  He wrote several books I think…agricultural.  Horse and Buggy Days, I think was one.

 My mother came to teach on Long Island after she met my father.  As I said, her mother was an invalid when they married.  We always had a woman in the house to help with the housework; my mother couldn’t take care of her mother and the kids besides.

 The ladder-back chair you have?  That was my Grandma Randall’s.  I remember seeing her sitting in that.  Yes it could very well be that it dates to the 1700’s (as the one you’ve seen in the East Hampton Mulford farmhouse).

 My sister Mildred died of cancer in Rome New York in February of 1954 when she was 52 years old.  My father died in June 1954.  He was 87, my mother was 78…the figures were reversed.  She died in 1945 in Florida of a stroke.  She was in a coma for eight weeks, didn’t move, having a needle in her arm giving her sustenance to keep her going.  I took care of her.  When she died, Malcolm (Theron), Sylvia and Sonja were there.  It was Sunday, just before Christmas and they were down apparently for the holidays.  I was upstairs taking care of her, and they were all down in the kitchen talking and laughing.  And I yelled down and I couldn’t make them hear, and I yelled finally at the top of my lungs to Papa and he came up.  I remember he threw back the covers and opened all the windows, and I thought what in the world is he doing?  He was just, he didn’t know what he was doing, you know.  I remember we had a time getting her out.  Do you remember how narrow those stairs were, and steep, Ken?  I didn’t know if we were going to do it.  There was no room to turn around.  Finally took her out through the bathroom.  Yes, Papa built that house there in Orlando, and he tried to make every inch count!

 Hazel Randall came to teach at the Northville School around 1914-15.  She met and married Kenneth L. Wells, a local farmer, and spent the remaining seventy-plus years of her life as a Riverhead Town resident.  She died on January 29, 1988 following a year’s illness, a month short of her ninety third birthday.

 

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