A Canterbury Story
By Sheila Mason Gale
It’s just not Christmas in Canterbury until the Christmas decorations go up on the hill at the intersection of Route 169 and Bennett Pond Road. Alton and Eleanor Orlomoski created and continue this Canterbury tradition.
In 1908, Eleanor’s Grandparents, Truman and Maude Hart, moved from Southington, Connecticut to Canterbury and bought the colonial house just north of Quinebaug Valley Farm. As a matter of fact, Eleanor and her sister Nancy were born in that house.
Truman was a motorman on a trolley in Southington and Eleanor’s father, Charles, remembers traveling to Canterbury on a trolley when he was a child. Charles was the oldest of nine children and he grew up in that house.
As an adult, Charles worked in textile mills in the area and this is where he met his wife Hilda. The Hart’s rented the house on the west side of Ed's Garage and started a family. You may know Kenneth Hart, Arthur Hart, Marjorie Orlomoski, Eleanor Orlomoski, Nancy Allyn and William Hart.
They rented from Fremont Smith from 1936 to 1953 for $7.00/month. Fremont’s father was George Washington Smith who was the owner of a hoop shop and blacksmith shop directly across the road from the house. Hoops were made to hold the sails to the masts of a ship. Eleanor believes the machinery from the old hoop shop is now on display at Mystic Seaport. Eleanor and her sisters and brothers were allowed to play in the hoop shop, but not when they used steam to bend the hoops. That would have been too dangerous.
When Eleanor was a child, she and her siblings thought they owned the Town and walked everywhere. They were allowed to walk to the Canterbury Green from their house and enjoyed walking to the Library (next to where Calvary Chapel is today) and would walk home with an armload of books. They would get their fishing poles and head out to Kitt Brook or a fishing hole on Elmdale Road and spend the day. She remembers taking some peanut butter and crackers and hiking over to the property across the street from the house and sit under the cool pines. Her brothers would ride their bikes all over Canterbury and even ride to Plainfield. In the winter they would put the sleds in the middle of the road, start just above her house and slide all the way down to the Bacon Bridge just before Plainfield. Lovell Lane was a dirt road then and hardly any traffic in or out of Canterbury.
There were no other children in the neighborhood so the siblings were also playmates. They went to square dances at the Grange Hall (where the VFW is today) and the Volunteer Fire Company would have minstrel shows come to Canterbury as an annual fund raiser.
When she was a child, Mr. Robinson lived in the Prudence Crandall house and he had a big garden in the lot where Ed’s Garage is today.
Eleanor went to first grade at the Frost School and the Green School for second and third grade. She next attended fourth grade in the Baldwin one room schoolhouse on Route 169 (almost across the street from Gooseneck Hill Road). Fifth grade she went to Frost School and then the Dr. Helen Baldwin School was built and that is where she completed grades 6, 7 and 8. Muriel Carter was her favorite teacher. Ms. Carter played the accordion and the children would march around the green. She encouraged every child to learn to play the recorder and she created a Xylophone-type instrument made from glass tubes, which the children would play with wooden sticks.
Eleanor graduated from Griswold High School and was ranked third in her class. Unfortunately, there was no money to go to college so she looked for a job. Some of her schoolmates were Allyn Tracy Woods, Bob Romanoff, Bob Grab, Ronny Fault, Barbara Dombrowski and Emerson Reynolds.
Eleanor was involved in 4-H and, like many of us, she was taught by Elsie Hawes. For spending money she and her sisters would clean Elsie’s house and be paid $3.00 maybe up to $5.00. She was “rich” when she got $5.00. Elsie worked as a clerk in the post office. It wasn’t very busy and Elsie would allow Eleanor to come to the post office and she taught her how to knit. Elsie and Addison Davis were influential in helping her get a job at the post office.
She started as a clerk and in1962 she became a full-time rural mail carrier after Fran Vaclavik retired. Eleanor retired after 30 years of service in 1992. She worked six days a week and said it was an interesting job. When she started there was no UPS or Fed Ex, the mail was the only way to send items such as tires, baby chicks, even urns with ashes.
The Swan family owned Swan’s Filling Station (Bergeron’s Garage is located there today). In those days, Swan’s Filling Station was well known for their ice cream, which they sold for five cents a scoop. One day while Mrs. Swan was dishing out ice cream, she asked if Eleanor would pump gas for a customer who had driven in. The customer was Alton Orlomoski who has recently moved with his family to Quinebaug Valley Farm where his stepfather was the herdsman. She said he was always fun and had a story to tell. She still enjoys his company and finds him fun. The following year, 1955, she married Alton and in 1956 her sister Marjorie married Alton’s brother Kendall. Alton and Eleanor bought the property on Bennett Pond hill from the Swans and raised three children there– Steven, David and Amy. David lives in Colebrook and Steve and Amy live in Canterbury.
Her son Steve was a member of the Canterbury Historical Society and he told Eleanor and Alton he would pay for their membership the first year. She and Alton have since been very active in the Historical Society and especially the Green School restoration. Since she was born and lived in town all her life, she finds the history of the town fascinating and enjoys studying all aspects of Canterbury’s history. She said Canterbury is a more modern town now. In the early forties there was probably only about 1,000 people in town and lots of chicken farmers and some dairy farmers. She can remember cans of milk being hauled down to the railroad depot to be sent off to market.
Eleanor always loved Christmas and so when she and Alton had their own home, they decided to put up Christmas decorations on the lawn. Her son, David, made the first reindeer that appeared on the hill. The family has been doing this for a long time and Eleanor mentioned to her family that maybe it was time to stop putting up the decorations. Her daughter and granddaughters said no and they would be glad to help in any way to keep the Christmas decorations on the hill. Thanks to the Orlomoski family for this Canterbury tradition.