Monday, March 28, 2011

Chauncey Griswold Bevin

Known as Belltown since the mid 1800s, East Hampton was the epicenter of an international market of talented bell makers and manufacturers in an industry that produced and shipped millions upon millions of bells and related products. The premier manufacturer was, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co., which continues is operation today, 179 years after its founding. Started in 1832 by brothers Abner, William, Chauncey and Philo, the company grew from the roots and apprenticeship with William Barton and his sons, founders and first bell makers of this fabled industry. Barton was noted for his generosity and willingness to train young apprentices is his trade, production methods and secrets and encouraged those who worked with him to venture out and ply their trade in their own enterprises. In 1946, Bevin Bros. President, Chauncey Griswold Bevin, was honored at the 55th Annual Congress of the National Association of Manufacturers as being one of the oldest active business leaders in the world. At 95, Bevin had overseen the transformation from the 35 or so small foundry shops that sprang from the Barton first foundry just south of their family home at 25 Barton Hill, to modern large scale production and worldwide clientele. Known to all in the community, his employees and his extensive family as “Uncle Chan,” Bevin was also a founder of the Gong Bell Mfg. Co., a worldwide maker of children’s toys incorporating bells. These toys were the first to use the Walt Disney characters in their designs - endearing cartoon personalities such as Mickey Mouse. And ironically, when honored, two other local businessmen and company Presidents, N. N. Hill of the N. N. Hill Brass Co., age 84, and Clifford M. Watrous, of the Gong Bell Mfg. Co., age 74, remained active in their respective companies. Maybe it was something in our local water, but Bevin stated in an interview, “I’ve never had to go to a hospital in my life. Of course I don’t work like I used to. I try to be temperate in all things. Always was. Don’t drink. I cut out cigarettes a few years ago. I felt better.” Chauncey built his home on Bevin Court on a piece of land purchased from his father Abner, overlooking the family manufacturing plants. This spectacular circa 1880 Queen Anne style country home in the middle Victorian Period presented, in a tasteful manner, the wealth and success befitting the successor to the founders of the Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. The Bevin family, among the early settlers of Chatham and the East Hampton society were strict Congregationalists. Moderation and hard work were ingrained in their demeanor and lifestyle, thus the exterior of the home did not present some of the more decorative embellishments of other Victorian architecture. Those features were showcased within the four walls.

If a bank robber invades your Town - What would you do?

The 1955 bank robbery turned out to be a call to arms - at least to several young men in the Town. My friend Richard McKinney stopped me the other day to reminisce about the CBT bank robbery (see posting on January 24, 2011) and his recollection of the event. It prompted me to seek out from others around then to find out their reaction, what they were doing at the time or any other information they might remember. Although by today’s standards the heist which yielded the robber a little over $3,000 might seem insignificant, it was a big even. That kind of money could have purchased two new Chevrolets Belairs. Remember, the robbery occurred before the days of security cameras and instant imaging. The FBI and State Police (we had no local police department) took up residence, headquartering over Hitchcock’s Drug Store while gathering clues. Hitchcock's was located at the corner of Main Street and Barton Hill and has operated as a summer ice cream shop in recent years. For the newspaper accounts at the time, scores of state troopers and agents gathered in the Village Center as they pursued all leads. Some of our local young men decided to join the search. “Richie” told me that he and several of his friends including Frank “Frankie” DiStefano and Paul “Paulie” Royce went home, got their hunting rifles and converged on the downtown. One can only envision the four 16 year olds with their rifles marching through the Village Center with State Troopers everywhere, yet with not so much as “who are you, what are you doing and why do you have a rifle?” They walked the railroad tracks and across the trestle in the center of town shouldering their guns and then worked their way into the woods in back of the bank on Barton Hill just in case the robber was hiding - waiting for dark to make his get away. No robber was ever found, but certainly an exciting afternoon and an event that still brings back memories of a time when a community rallied to protect its own.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Volunteer Firefighters - What would do without them?

In the latter part of 1915, fire raged through the toy shop destroying the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company. The fire was fought with a “bucket parade” as no fire department then existed. The final demise of Gong Bell occurred nearly 60 years later with a fire that destroyed a huge section of the manufacturing facility off of Main and Walnut Streets. In 1916, townspeople formed the first Fire Company which has expanded to include Co. 2 in Cobalt and Co. 3 on White Birch Road.

Through the years, volunteers, our neighbors and friends, have served us all with little fanfare, just doing a tremendous job helping protect our community . Today I acknowledging the past, but am grateful for the dedication and abilities of those who currently serve.

Early Monday morning, my wife awoke to the smell of smoke coming from our basement. Rousting the dog (and me) from sound sleep, we evacuated the house telephoning 911. Cell phones have become a very handy and necessary tool. Within minutes, one of our fine EH Police Officers arrived followed by a score of volunteer firefighters. Lead by Chief Marty Voelker, they fully checked the house for fire and determined, as I had suspected that the boiler was the culprit. Using a portable exhaust fan, they proceeded to clear the basement and upper levels of the house of smoke, allowing us re-entry as soon as the CO had subsided to safe levels.

So I say thanks to all who serve in this noble endeavor. I also suggest that each and everyone check the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Doing this twice a year when you change the clocks for daylight saving time would be wise– it could save your life and your property. Again, thanks to these wonderful gentlemen who respond so selflessly.