The Singing Brook Inn: The Beginning – 1945

The Singing Brook Inn

The war was over!

I remember going out with my sister, Pattie-Anne, and banging the lids from our metal garbage cans to celebrate. We were living, at the time, in a small “Cape Cod” style home in Malverne, Long Island, New York. I was 9 years old. Little did I know that this same year my father would give up his job at Sperry Gyroscope Company and pack us all up to move to Vermont. Our parents’ dream was to own a small inn.

I remember them taking trips to Vermont to find the right place––eventually they did, in the small town of Pittsford. We moved sometime in the winter. I was in the middle of 4th grade.

Moving didn’t just involve the four of us. My grandmother and Aunt Olive lived upstairs from us; they were to come also. Olive, a graduate of Smith College (class of ’07) left her job as an editor at the Nassau Daily Review Star. My parents packed both households and off we went, including our pet, George Thomas Cat. They moved us all in. My sister and I shared a bedroom upstairs across the hall from my grandmother and Aunt Olive. My parents had a bedroom downstairs.

Denise, Kathryn, Pattie-Anne, and Frederick Hillman with Duke in front of the inn – 1947-ish

I look back on the first winter we were there, and today I stand amazed at what my parents did to get their inn ready by Memorial Day Weekend.

Layers upon layers of wallpaper had to be scraped off the living room and dining room walls. I remember helping them although doubt my efforts made a dent in the endless task of soaking the walls and scraping and peeling. And then new wall paper had to be put up––they did it all themselves. My father built book shelves in the living room, frustrated at the slanted floors which made his plumb line askew. My father was a perfectionist. Adjustments were made. The book shelves got finished and painted. Next, the window frames and trim got painted and also the old wide board wood floors.

The living room all fixed up

The stair case was enclosed and dark. He ripped out one wall and put in a banister which opened out into the dining area. He built cabinets at the top of the stairs (which were still there when I visited the inn 20 years ago). He built kitchen counters and racks for cooking utensils. When my mother wasn’t working with him, she, with my grandmother’s help, made curtains and bedspreads for all of the bedrooms. Her old treadle Singer Sewing Machine was at the top of the stairs and I can still see her sitting there, surrounded by material.

Although guests would have to share common bathrooms my father felt that each room should have a sink, so sinks were installed. All bedrooms had to be painted including the floors. They did it themselves.

Family furniture was used as far as we had it, but extra dining tables had to be purchased along with chairs, and I assume beds and dressers and rugs had to be purchased also. Bedding, linens, dishes, eating utensils, linen napkins, table cloths, glassware–everything had to be thought of.  I think they used a commercial service for some of these items, although I do remember a mangle being purchased so my mother or some hired help could press the sheets, table cloths and napkins. No automatic washers and dryers and no “perma-press” materials back then.

Sign by my Uncle Charles E. Burger

What should we call the inn? I remember discussions on that. The previous owners had named it “Twin Maples”, obviously for the two maple trees out front. However, a beautiful brook ran through a ravine by the house. It wasn’t a small brook but almost like a river splashing over and through rocks.

I thought the name “The Roaring River Inn” would be good. My parents named it “The Singing Brook Inn”, much more refined and lovely.

My Uncle Charles [my grandfather Hillman’s sister’s (Effie’s) husband] was a sign painter and he made the beautiful sign which hung on a pole out front.

My father made up a brochure with pictures of the rooms. He laboriously drew a map showing where we were in relation to the main city of Rutland. He advertised in the New York City papers. He located meat suppliers and grocers who would supply him with “restaurant quality” food. He collected menus and recipes which were used as guide for his own menus. (There were three choices of meals on each dinner menu.)

My parents had to hire and train waitresses, dish washers, a chamber maid, someone to clean, and even someone to do the family laundry. My father would do the large lawn himself with a regular push mower (with no motor). Once again, the perfectionist, each strip was mowed straight and on the next trip back he’d overlap the first––and he raked it all up after. Perfection it was, and beautiful.

Map hand drawn by Frederick Hillman

My mother, somehow, would do all the cooking, with help (at least in the beginning) from my grandmother with pies, desserts, and rolls. She worked all day in an overheated kitchen – her meals were also perfection.

Meanwhile, as all these preparations went on, they had a family to care for––meals to prepare, helping with homework, attending children’s needs, going to school productions, a grandmother who wasn’t always well, winter walkways to shovel, a coal furnace to fill and ashes to empty, finding someone to plow the driveway (horse and plow, I might add), bills to pay, taxes to file––I can’t even dream of how full their days were. I also can’t even dream of their expenses and how they managed with these months of no paid work.

Pattie-Anne and Denise with Duke – 1946-ish

As Memorial Day weekend approached none of us was able to occupy the bedrooms we were in. They were for guests. An apartment was found for my grandmother and Aunt Olive across the street, over Thomas and White’s General Store. My parents had to stop work on the inn to move them and settle them in.

Aunt Olive was now working in Rutland for the Rutland Herald, and also had a small antique store, “The Little Shop”, in our garage. My sister and I had beds in an old “chicken coop cabin” out back. I’m not sure chickens were ever in it––it had probably been used for storage. We slept there until Columbus Day Weekend when the last of the summer guests left.

My parents were ready to open Memorial Day. I don’t remember the day. I’m sure they had guests who had made reservations after reading the advertisements in the New York papers. I do know they told of sitting out on the front porch watching the cars coming down the hill, hoping one would slow down, see the sign, and pull into the driveway. I hope one did.

 

My father, Frederick James Hillman, was 33, and my mother, Kathryn Rice Hillman, was 31 that Memorial Day. They operated the Singing Brook Inn from 1945-1948. The family lived in Pittsford until 1950. My father would have been 100 years old this July 21st, 2012.

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Comments

Denny this is marvelous! You’ve remembered so many things in wonderful detail. I have other odds and ends I might remember now that you’ve primed the pump. It’s really great to have it all down and done so well. Thanks for taking the time to write up and illustrate all this good stuff! Love you, Anne

Mom, this is a beautiful write up. I’m sure there are many more memories about that time in your life we would all love to hear. Anne, I hope you can add your own anecdotes. It is truly amazing what GGM and GGF pulled off in a short amount of time!

What a fantastic post Denny! I loved the story and also can’t imagine the sheer amount of work they had to tackle in a short amount of time — and how they did almost everything themselves! Life was very different back then.

This is great Mom, thanks so much for writing this up! I will print it and put it in the back of the painting, along with the menus, and other photographs I have.

This was beautiful to read. I really admire GGM and GGF for following their dreams. What a wonderful experience!

Wow…is all I can say….Thank you so much for all this family history that I never knew….I really enjoyed reading this and now have a much better picture of the family than I have had all these years…I wish I had known this earlier in my life but I cherish knowing it now….I am proud that I carry the Hillman name and that I have such a great family….We haven’t done a very good job of staying in touch with all of you but we think of you often and as we were taught groing up with only a telephone back then was no news is good news…or put another way is if we don’t hear bad then everything is ok….Well I guess that was ok but I think I missed out on a lot goings on with that theory…. Well We can’t change the past but we can try and due better in the future….I have tried to keep you all updated as to what is going on here and I probably could have done better but as you know that you have to find time to sit down in front of this machine to do it…well anyway Thank you again for this…and love to all the family…Vance

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