Late in the nineteenth century, other families moved into the area, playing a role, withthe Scovilles and Alvords, in shaping the history of the Twin Lakes.
In 1849, Alberto T. Roraback purchased 600 acres of land on the east shore of LakeWashining for $600. The terms of the contract permitted the seller to continue cuttingtimber on the land, but, in the interim, the trees have grown back.
The families of John O’Hara and William Miles were also responsible for providing the access to the lake by greater numbers of people.
John O’Hara, who had migrated to Massachusetts after serving in the British Army,purchased land in March, 1888, along the north section of the east shore of LakeWashining, extending northward and encompassing fields and pastures which wereideal for farming. O’Hara travelled from New York to inspect his new property only tobe thwarted by the blizzard of March 11, which left deep drifts on the hillsides untilJune of that year. Part of his purchase is now the Institute of World Affairs, and thefarmhouse on the Institute was the home of John O’Hara.
Upon establishing his farm, John O’Hara built a complex of villas and lodges on hislake property where visitors could get food and lodging and enjoy the recreation of thelake area. In the early 1900’s, the O’Hara’s operated the only boarding house at TwinLakes. The clientele, generally vacationing for an entire month each year, consisted offamilies of congressman, noted surgeons, and the head chef of the old Waldorf Hotel inNew York City. To accommodate his guests and the general public, John O’Haraopened a beach for public swimming, rented boats, and rented horses for those whowished to explore the primitive roads and trails.
One day, John O’Hara was sawing lumber on a big saw which was driven by a horse on a treadmill. Suddenly something caught in the saw. O’Hara shouted at the mantending the horses to pull the brake, but, in the din of the saw mill, the man did not hear. O’Hara leaned into the saw, and his hand was cut off.
Another tragedy befell the O’Hara family in 1936 when James O’Hara, educated at Hotchkiss School and Yale University, returned to the family farm to help his sisters. He ventured into a pasture where a bull charged, gored, and killed him.
When the railroads opened the lakes for recreation, it was inevitable that more cottages would be built, for a great many people were not content with picnicking for one day or camping for a few days. Something more substantial and more lasting was desired. So, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, a few cottages and rustic summer homes began to appear.
Between 1900 and 1909, William Miles began acquiring property along the south shore and part of the east and west shores of Lake Washining and a major portion of the shore of Lake Washinee. Although approached by a number of prospective buyers,Miles stubbornly refused to part with his land. He was willing, however, to grant leasesto land on which cottages could be built. Miles felt strongly that the natural beauty of the lakes should be maintained, with the shore front uncut of trees and brush. Withsuch protection, the cottages along the shore could not be seen from the lake. When Mr.Miles’ daughter Helen inherited the property, she carried on the tradition of discouraging the cutting of trees or the clearing of brush. It was not until 1910 that William Miles finally agreed to sell some land to the Pechin and Milford families.Before the sale, however, the buyer had to promise not to cut trees or brush.By 1911, there were almost sixty cottages or camps on or near the lakes. There were twenty along the east shore of Lake Washining, eighteen on the south shore, and twenty on the west. There were six dwellings on Lake Washinee, including the impressive Miles farmhouse.
Prior to 1920, there was no road along the south shore. Access to the camps was by water only. During the summer, when families were in residence, milk from Grasslands Farm was delivered by a power launch called the Washining Cow.Residents traditionally left a milk can at the end of the dock with a note telling how much milk was needed. If the rich Guernsey milk was allowed to stand for day, the cream that rose to the top was so rich it could be whipped.
Until electrical power lines were installed in the mid-1920’s, kerosene lamps were theonly source of illumination after sunset.
Although the lake water was probably safe for drinking at the turn of the century,many residents preferred well or spring water. There was a well with hand pump onthe Loder property which served some of the south shore camps. The pump, which isstill in place, could not be used before 9:00 a.m. because of the noise.
There was a spring near the Woodford camp on the south shore of Lake Washining and another on the shore of Lake Washinee on what is now Salisbury School property.Residents paddled canoes from Lake Washining to the Lake Washinee spring to fill jugs. After automobiles reached the lake community, it was a common practice to fill bottles at the fountain which fed the watering trough in Salisbury.
By 1920 the first primitive automobiles were traveling the dirt roads in the area. One such road extended along the south shore of East Twin Lake, paralleling the railroad, and was accessed by driving up the Miles’ farmhouse driveway to their barn, then travelling toward the lake and across the railroad tracks. There were four gates on theMiles’ farm that had to be opened and closed to gain access to the south shore road.Because parts of the road were swampy, the saw mill provided slabs of wood, still visible today at the easterly part of the road, which served as a base. The main road into the Twin Lakes from Canaan came over the Roraback property into the O’Hara area.
During the 1920’s, William Miles sold more shorefront lots on Lake Washining. However, he retained a right of way from his farm property to the shoreline of Lake Washining. On the right of way were a well and a windmill which pumped water to the farm buildings. Cows would be herded down the right of way to the lake where they would wade out into the water to cool off in the heat of summer and to quench their thirst. The right of way was located on what is now the May property, next to theHamber property line.
In the early 1920’s George Mather became an institution in the area. He was associated with the Parsons Grocery in Canaan, and each Thursday he would go from house to house at the lakes taking orders for groceries and kerosene for illumination and cooking. The orders would be delivered on Friday, along with laundry and mail.The Parson’s Grocery later became Mather and O’Neil.
By the 1920’s the style of living for many of the summer residents had changed from camping in tents or living in primitive cottages to having more comfortable summer homes. A number of the families arriving for the summer season brought along a maid to help with the cooking and cleaning. The Barnum family, which stayed in the substantial white house on the west hill, came from New Haven with Walter, the chauffeur; Alice, the cook; and Marie, the French maid. They also had a pony named Sweetheart, five Cocker Spaniels, and three Marmon cars.
At the end of the season, many of the servants employed by families around the lakes were given a week of vacation, and the families themselves promptly moved toO’Hara’s boarding house.
1907 marked the first Twin Lakes Day. It was originally held on the west shore near the Miles farmhouse, today owned by the Peterson family. The activities were organized by Albert Roraback, and J. Clinton Roraback, an All-American center in football for Yale, was the official starter, sporting a white sweater with a large blue “Y.”A Mr. Riecks provided the prizes, handsome bronze loving cups, which later proved to be too elaborate. It was decided to omit the celebration of Twin Lake Day for the next two years, but, in 1910, the celebration was resumed and was held at the sandy beach owned by the Pechins and presently owned by the Atmores. Twin Lakes Day has been an annual event ever since, except for 1955, when a hurricane caused major flooding and the lakes were closed, and 1979, following a tornado. During the second WorldWar, with so many younger men away, Twin Lakes Day floundered. However, theReverend Mr. Albert Roraback stepped in, took control, and ran the entire event almost s ingle–handedly. Some of the early Twin Lakes celebrations included boat illumination contests in the evening. One year, one of the south shore residents employed a professional decorator to illuminate his boat, but, to his great chagrin, his entry did not even place in the winning of the coveted prizes.
In 1925, a corn roast for people from the west shore was held at the Rorabacks’ tennis courts by the ladies of the east and the south shores. The event was considered so successful that it was decided to form a club, and, after it was agreed to meet Mr.Miles’ condition that there be no intoxicating liquor on the premises, a house near theTwin Lakes station was converted to a club house. Almost everyone on the lake belonged to the new organization. There were two tennis courts and tournaments were arranged. During the summer season, there was supper and dancing every Saturday night. On Sunday mornings, there were softball games. The club became a gathering place for teenagers who could buy ice cream and soft drinks and listen to the records of the big bands of the era. There was also an annual hayride for the younger people.During the second World War, the ladies met at the club house for Red Cross work.Finally, with so many young men in the service, the club was disbanded, and the house became the Roberts Grocery Store; later the Satre property. After the war, a group of residents banded together and formed a new club, the Twin Lakes Beach Club. The members purchased land and a boarding house next to the O’Hara marina, converting it to a club house. The water front was improved with a beach for swimming, and later tennis courts were built.
For hundreds of years, the lakes provided an abundance of fish, first to the Native Americans, and later to the settlers. During the last one hundred years, fishing became the major sport on the lakes both in the summer and, through the ice, in the winter. The native species include largemouth bass, pickerel, perch, catfish, sunfish, and rock bass. The pickerel is not a native, having been introduced into the lakes from Bantam Pond in Litchfield in 1812. One fisherman, enjoying the confidence of the community, reported in 1890 having three lines out and being kept busy pulling in bass and pickerel weighing five and six pounds. Fifty years ago, with the number of fisherman increasing, the schools of fish began to decline.
In the 1960’s, the state determined that the water and depth of Lake Washining were ideal for trout. Since that time, trout have been stocked annually. Landlocked salmon have also been stocked annually. In the fall, the salmon go up the channel between the lakes, turn red, and die, but it is doubtful that they have spawned here.
In the late fall each year, the Fish and Game Department of Connecticut sends a team to set out nets between the O’Hara marina and the island to catch red salmon and milk them of eggs and sperm for the state’s fish hatchery.
For many years, vesper services were held on Sunday evenings, usually at a cottage or camp where a piano could be found. The Reverend Mr. Roraback presided at the services, which were sponsored by the Twin Lakes Association. During these years, motor boats were not allowed on the lakes after 4:00 p.m. on Sundays.
The Twin Lakes Association was established shortly after the turn of the century originally as an informal group of men from the lakes area concerned mainly with organizing events for the benefit of the property owners. For many years, a major topic at the annual meeting, besides Twin Lakes Day planning, was the water level in the lakes; some thought it was too high and was eroding the shoreline, while others felt it was too low and was spoiling the swimming. More recently, the Association has begun to take an active role in protecting the purity of the lake water, assisting Town officials in the regulation of boating and fishing practices, recommending zoning regulations, and improving the general area. Its most recent efforts have concentrated on the control and balance of red, green and blue algae in the lake water. In addition to Twin Lakes Day, the Association sponsors sailboat races during the summer. The Association membership represents more than 150 families and was incorporated in 1977 as the Twin Lakes Association of Salisbury.
The Institute of World Affairs, located to the northeast of Lake Washining, was established by Alexander and Maude Hadden in 1924 to educate foreign students in the ways of American democracy. Originally, the Institute was affiliated with the League of Nations in Geneva, but, as the danger of a second World War increased, the Institute was moved to Taconic. Through Mrs. Hadden’s efforts, considerable property and financial support, especially from the prosperous cigar manufacturing Schulte family, were donated to the Institute. After Mrs. Hadden’s death, a portion of the property was sold to meet expenses, and the Institute fell on hard times. In recent years, a number of changes in administrative and fiscal policy has resulted in the restoration of financial health to the Institute.
While the image of the Twin Lakes is one of recreation and good times, there have also been tragedies: drownings, fires, and fierce storms. In June, 1946, a family in two canoes paddled out onto Lake Washining only to be surprised by a sudden, vicious storm. Before they could reach shore, both canoes capsized, downing all five membersof the family. Only three bodies were recovered.
In August, 1955, a powerful hurricane swept through New England, bringing torrential rains. On the east shore, above the Twin Lakes Road, the persistent rains softened the ground on the steep hillside. An early morning muddiest flowed over the road and struck a cottage on the lake shore. The cottage disintegrated, and the wreckage was thrown into the lake. A young lady, who had been asleep in the cottage, suffered a broken back. The hurricane caused the lakes to flood, raising the water level almost four feet. The Between-the-Lakes Road was impassable. The water became contaminated, and the lakes were closed to swimming for the reminder of the season.