Suzanne (Vincent) Murray, an Interview

This is one of a series of interviews conducted by Tom Murray. He is especially interested in talking with people who became “year-round people” after having spent time in Nelson as “summer people.”

Suzanne (Vincent) Murray Recollections – From Summer to Settler
Interviewed and enhanced by her son, Tom Murray
June 22, 2010
Compiled from the transcription by Tom Murray 

The Vincent Girls, 4th of July at Tolman Pond, 1950s

Family History
George Vincent grew up in the Wyomia Square section of Lynn, MA which even as late as 1950 was one of the 60 largest cities in the United States. His father Frank was a successful merchant in Lynn. George went to Dartmouth College, and was an ensign in the Navy. His wife Margaret Read or Peggy, or Nana to us grandkids, lived in one of two family houses about a half mile from the ocean in Swampscott, MA. The Reads were in leather and shoe manufacturing and Peggy was a Smith College graduate. George and Peggy (Read) Vincent had three girls: Joan, Margot and Suzanne (Sue).

The Nelson Connection
The Vincent family connection to Tolman Pond and Nelson began in 1930 even though at that time the stock market crash saw unsettling times.

Peggy liked the pond and the children liked the animals at the farm. Peggy told Pop Tolman that if he built them a cabin they would rent it. She picked out the spot about thirty yards west along the pond from the boat house, roughed out the design, and it was built and our connection to the pond was established. Probably wood from Wilmer Tolman’s sawmill, and labor from Pop, Newt, and Fran Tolman built the camp. Sue Vincent was four that year, Margot older and Joan the oldest.

“La Club Vincent,” on Tolman Pond, 1930s

Early or Vivid Recollections, “La Club Vincent”
The cabin was truly roughed out. The one sturdy feature was a fireplace on the street side of the living room. The cabin was up on stilts with no real foundation. The living room was the core, a large room centered with the fireplace on one side and the pond on the other side. The cabin’s greatest feature would eventually be its demise, and that was its proximity to the pond. Opening to the pond were two large Dutch doors that could be opened individually or half way. Two or three steps down from the cabin a dirt path ran off to the boathouse and beach thirty yards to the left. Off to the right on the path were our small wooden dock, the outdoor grill rocks, the outhouse (one seater), the woodshed, and a little further along the path was the big communal dock. Across the path was the bank to the pond and then the pond, not more than six feet from our front steps.

Back then there were far more water animals than there are now. Early in the season the tadpoles were often three or four deep over an area twenty to thirty yard’s square. They didn’t all mature but enough did so that evenings were a cacophony of frog calls. There were no quiet nights. Catching crawfish was easy and the fishing for smallmouth bass was good.

Another audio stimulation was the sound of the rain and the thunderstorms. The lack of insulation led to maximum effect when the storms seemed to leap from above the hill beyond the clay tennis court without warning. The rain would sheet and pound and pour through the openings in the roof. It was always an adventure scurrying for the pots and pans to catch it. The thunder would boom and the walls would shake. Flash. Count: one, two, three…

“La Club Vincent,” at Tolman Pond, built in the 1930s

On the side toward the boat house and beach there were two bedrooms and an added toilet and sink. On the other side, there were a kitchen and a back bedroom. The cabin had a frame and wood siding, but no insulation or inside finishing. If it was cold outside it was cold inside, often down to the 40s in the mornings. You could see through to the outside in numerous places. The mosquitoes and bugs could find their way in. If you weren’t up early fishing, sleeping in, tucked under the blankets, seemed a good idea, until you could smell the Pepperidge Farm raisin toast cooking.

The living room had a seating group arranged around the fireplace. To the right was a record player. On the pond side to the right was the dining table and its funky art deco toaster with the pull-down sides. In each of the corners were guest beds. On the living room doorframe toward the kitchen was our marking board, where every year we’d get our height marked.

Around the Pond
Sue remembers her dad George Vincent bringing up lumber to help build the raft in the deeper and divable waters beyond the old farm dock and its shallows. You’d wade out, feet cringing over the sharp edges of freshwater mussels, until it was deep enough to swim to the raft – in water deep enough to dive into. She remembers her mom Peggy blowing a whistle to call them all in.

Sue also remembers a gift shop down by the farmhouse, between the volleyball court and the pond, which was manned by Beth Tolman, Renn’s mother and Newt’s first wife.

The ice house, functional, was on the left as you headed up the hill toward what became Fran and Floppy’s house. She also remembers Uncle Bill, who was Ma Tolman’s brother, and Win French’s father.

The Crary Camp at Tolman Pond

She remembers a series of cabins (one main cabin and three sleeping cabins) on the site where Barry and Karen Tolman built their house. It was then rented by the Crary’s and later by Mildred and Bill Moore, and later again by Mildred and Geoff Brown, after Bill Moore died and Mildred married Geoff.

Current Connections
Over the years the Vincent’s made the cabin available to their now married children, each of the three girls getting it for two or three weeks a summer. The eldest daughter Joan would eventually marry Ben Smith, whose family had even longer Nelson connections, and they would share the Smith family cabin up the hill in Rodger Tolman’s Mowing. They more recently purchased that same rental property in The Mowing after having rented it for over 90 years. Margot, who married John Conn, arranged a long-term lease with Fran and Floppy Tolman to rent a cottage on the pond that their daughter Jorja (Conn) and Dan Bishop and family continue today. (This same property had been rented occasionally in the 1940s by Ralph and Beth Murray, the parents of Sue’s husband, Dick Murray.) Sue and Dick Murray also arranged a long-term lease with Fran and Floppy for another cottage on the pond which they held for many years.

Sue Murray dressing up for the 4th of July at Tolman Pond, Photo by Alfred Moeller, 1972

Neighborhood Remembrances
Sue remembers the farmhouse as being an active bed and breakfast, with Ma Tolman cooking for the guests staying there. Mabel Curtis helped in the kitchen. She remembers her sister Joan tutoring there as well.

She also remembers the Ralph Page Saturday night square dances, and says that Ralph often danced with Nana. The dances were usually in squares, not lines, and the fiddle and piano were typical with Fran on the piano and Albert Quigley “Quig” on the fiddler. And then Newt joined in on the flute.

A Circuit Around the Pond in 2010, by Tom Murray
An old ad for the pond claims it is roughly 40 acres. About a third of that seems less than three to four feet deep. It’s probably a glacial ice melt hole. Several streams run into it, and you can swim into some cold springs as you move about in the water. The shallowness means it heats up in the summer. There used to be smallmouth bass, perch, horned pout and pickerel. The horned pout are gone, but now there are largemouth bass, suckers and small shiners as well. Box turtles can be seen, and every year or so we’ll catch a glimpse of an enormous snapping turtle. Its head is bigger than my fist, its neck is wider than my forearm, and its shell might be a bit less than a foot and a half long. Occasionally beavers move in, then out. From the water, you can see mostly conifers 60 feet tall or more. There are no motors on the pond save for electric trolling motors. It takes about 40 minutes to circumnavigate by canoe. Roads surround the pond like the almond outline of an eye surrounding the pupil, but covering way more distance, so walking around can take well over an hour and is a surprise to many who assume that the road will hew close to the pond.

Not many houses are visible from the pond and over the last forty years or so they have decreased through deconstruction (of three cabins) and relocation of the old Spaulding place. The Tolman farmhouse is the most visible as it is long, near the road, and the area is mostly cleared between it and the pond. Behind it and up the hill are several houses: Fran and Floppy’s house and stable, The Moeller’s cabin, the Sanchez cabin; and to the right the Skillen House, then rented year-round to Mary Brewster. Sidney and Claire Partridge’s garage and home are next. Sid had imported a few pink water lilies which he tended, and posted not to be picked. All the rest of the lily pads in the pond flowered yellow. Now the pink have the upper hand. Not visible but overlooking the pond are the Giffin homes: Pru (Smith) and Jack’s, and Jay and Sienna’s. Then there’s a beach referred to as Sandy or Leechy depending on whether you’re trying to entice people or scare them off. It has an excellent drop off for swimming.

The house labeled Sheldon is there, across the road but not easily visible nor frequently used. The dilapidated red shed remains, but without plumbing it also doesn’t get much use.  Spaulding’s old yellow wood house was shipped off to Maine piece by piece to be recycled elsewhere. It was one of the oldest houses in Nelson, sold by indirect inheritors with obviously different values. The cabin the Luoma’s used to rent was torn down, so now it’s a house free south side. Our house, Twinfires, is visible only from a narrow slice and is set back over 700 feet from the pond. The Robinson/Shonk two houses on the north side are bordered by two feeder streams. Next is Barry and Karen’s new house on the old site of the Crary/Moore cabins. Our old cabin was next – gone now. Then across the street is another cabin, and beyond that still another: the Grey Ghost, named after a fishing fly tied by Fran Tolman. This is also where the old road and Practice Hill ski trail used to come down. Next is the Patek’s boat house and the common beach area. Then one more cabin, that of cousin Jorja (Conn) Bishop and family, completes the circuit.

The Vincent Cabin was Dismantled
One year in the 1960s we heard the news that our cabin was no longer standing. Its proximity to the pond was causing sewerage problems, so it was dismantled, separated into three pieces and recycled by Ethan Tolman into three rental cabins on his property down toward Nubanusit. Many belongings went missing, and our multi-generational measuring board was lost to us. The family was relocated to two cabins nearby. We could understand the necessity of dealing with the problem, but the loss of the cabin of over 30-year’s usage was a disturbing occurrence.

Author Tom Murray, once summer person and now “settler”

Tom Murray’s Conversion to Property Owner
Suzanne’s son Tom Murray and his wife Linda Cates purchased Twinfires, a property off Cabot Road and set well back from the pond where there used to be a float, a diving board and a boathouse. Wayland Tolman sold the land in 1933 to Jessica Bell. The William’s from Newton, MA acquired it in 1936. Margot (Vincent) Conn used to play golf and bridge with Mrs. Williams and secured a verbal right of first refusal if it were ever to be sold.

After the Williams died, their son Christopher used it a bit but no longer maintained it. In 1993 Chris wanted to establish a trust fund for his daughter, so he remembered his mother’s verbal agreement and contacted Margot about buying the property. Margot’s daughters were not looking for this type of commitment at that time, so Margot passed the opportunity along to Tom and Linda, who were living in Bahrain, in the Middle East, at the time. They had never seen the house but they knew the pond. There are not many houses on the pond, and they don’t turn over frequently, so based on the descriptions given to them by relatives, and the assurances from the realtor that the land alone was worth much of the purchase price, they forwarded a down payment, and voluntarily sent the entire purchase price to the seller’s attorney to hold in escrow. While there had been considerable interest in the house by others who’d heard it was on the market, the combination of his mother’s earlier verbal commitment to Margot, and the certainty of a closing with cash on hand seemed to satisfy Chris Williams.

Since that time, Tom and Linda have purchased a two-acre house lot across Cabot Road as protection from development and noise so close to their patio. The paperwork for that sale got them in touch with Vernon Ward of Ohio, the widower of Parke Struther’s daughter Jane. His kid’s hesitation prevented him from selling them 30 plus acres of this former Merriconn land, but once Vernon had died they needed to clear it off to close the estate. Now they were ready to sell and Tom and Linda were happy to buy it.

Additional Vincent Connections to Property Owners
From this Vincent connection now flows some additional ownership: Tom (Vincent) Murray and Linda Cates as mentioned above; Judy (Conn/Vincent) and Bill Waterston with property on the Old Stoddard Road; Gretchen (Smith/Vincent) and Mike Ezell, and Marcia (Smith/Vincent) and Rich Ragin with property off Brickyard Road; and continued long term renters, Jorja (Conn/Vincent) and Dan Bishop on Tolman Pond.