“They kept the wood around the mirrors. The wainscoting is still there. But they took all the memories out. I wanted it to stay like it was.”
Several months after the Porches Inn opened in the summer of 2001, 69-year-old Mary (Cardinal) Gaudreau went over with her son to take a look. It was an emotional journey for her. As a little girl, she used to visit her aunt and uncle, Ceil and Alfred (Chick) Cardinal, at 225 River Street, which was next door to the apartment where her longtime friend Annette Duprat grew up.
“There’s a garage that’s still over there. My son said, ‘I bought my first car in 1962, and it was in that garage. I paid Uncle Chick $300 for it.’ I told my story to the receptionist. He showed me the place. I don’t know what I expected. I guess maybe I expected to see the dining room and the kitchen. They’ve done a wonderful job. They kept the wood around the mirrors. The wainscoting is still there. But they took all the memories out. I wanted it to stay like it was.”
“Aunt Ceil always made a lot of Christmas cookies. She used to have the most gorgeous, perfect trees. When I got older, I found out that my uncle would drill a hole where there was a branch missing, and Aunt Ceil would insert a new branch that she had just cut.”
“I visited them about once a week. In those days, you didn’t stay in the room while the adults were talking. At that time, my aunt would often talk to my mother about what kind of ration stamps she had gotten: meat, butter, sugar, cheese. I remember the china closet that was set in the wall. They had wicker furniture in the dining room. You never sat in the living room. That was the parlor. That was for company. Their daughter, my cousin Phyllis, had this beautiful dollhouse that her uncle had made for her.”
“Aunt Ceil passed away in 1970, and Uncle Chick died shortly after. They took pride in their home. They would take turns with the Roberts and clean the hall and wash down the stairs every week. I can recall going by there after they were gone, and things had changed a lot. It was messy. I looked at my aunt’s windows and said, ‘My goodness, it’s a good thing she can’t see those windows now.’ She was just immaculate. It was hard. To me, it was still my aunt and uncle’s house.”
“It’s a lot fancier than it was when I lived there.”
William P. (Bill) Strange, married and living in Williamstown, also returned to see his former home on River Street. His parents, Paul and Virginia, moved into the apartment upstairs from the Robert family at 223 River Street in 1950, when Bill was a year old. They moved out in 1977. His late father worked at General Electric in Pittsfield. Bill attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School on Eagle Street and graduated from North Adams State College in 1972. After serving 18 years as a merchandise manager for F.W. Woolworth, he works at home as a book editor.
“The grand opening of the Porches was quite an experience. It was really weird seeing what they’d done. There’s a railing where my bedroom window looked out in the alley. It looks down into the reception area now. It’s a lot fancier than it was when I lived there.”
“We had a stove in the kitchen and a stove in the dining room. I used to have to carry these 10-gallon oil drums down to the cellar to fill ‘em up, and then I had to carry ‘em back upstairs. I had to do that every 12 hours in the winter. My classmates from St. Joe’s couldn’t believe it. Most of them lived in better neighborhoods, and they had never heard of anything like that. I remember being somewhere, and I would say, ‘I gotta get home and fill those drums, or the fire will go out and my dad will have my butt.’ ”
I have nothing but good memories about living on River Street. There were a lot of kids around. We used to have that parking lot behind Riverside Auto Body where we played baseball. At Mausert’s Ice Cream Company, we’d go to the back door on our way home from school, and whatever flavor they were making that day, they had some leftover, and they’d always give it to us kids. It was right near where the pool store is now.”
“I remember the first person I met when we moved in there. I think she was Mrs. Cardinal’s mother. Her name was Maude. She was an old woman with white hair. She used to sit on the porch. She loved when the kids would come out and talk to her. She was there one day, and then she wasn’t. We were small, and they didn’t want to tell us that she had died. Finally, my mother said, ‘She’s gone away.’ I think she was 98.”
“I think it’s great what they’ve done. The city might’ve torn down those houses otherwise.”
John Flaherty also went to the grand opening of the Porches Inn.
“I didn’t recognize anything. The only part of my mother’s apartment that was the same was the parlor. A long time ago, my mother had two beautiful rocking chairs on the porch. She used to leave them out at night. Finally someone stole them. It was the police chief’s home, but they still took them. Those fancy rocking chairs they have on the porch now are almost identical.”
“I think it’s great what they’ve done. The city might’ve torn down those houses otherwise. When they had the contest for a free room, I put down that my family was one of the longest tenants there. I thought it might make a difference, but I didn’t win.”
“When the houses were being renovated, the contractor took the house number off the door and gave it to me. I’ve got it on my desk. It says 231. It’s a nice little souvenir. Growing up on River Street was a good experience. It made me appreciate the nicer things in life I was able to acquire later.”
*A version of this three-part article (also written by Joe Manning) appeared in Porches: Art and Renewal on River Street, copyright 2002, MASS MoCA Publications. Used by permission.