My memories of Topsmead include the many people who played a variety of roles on the estate. Because my father, John Orintas, had the longest tenure of any of the Topsmead employees – our family had the opportunity to get to know most of the other people who worked there over the years. My dad started working for Miss Edith on May 25, 1925, as a handyman and later as a chauffeur. He was given every other Sunday off, and his duties included working for Miss Edith in Waterbury and at Topsmead. Dad drove and maintained the cars as well as all the farm equipment. He mowed the lawn around the houses in both locations and ran errands daily, picking up the newspaper, any needed groceries, and the mail.
George Wilson was the first chauffeur my father told me about. He preceded my father. In addition to driving, George also helped in the garden, especially in the early days when there was just a cabin at Topsmead and relatively few employees. George’s wife Agnes worked for the Chase’s as both a cook and maid. Mr. Wilson passed away in 1927, and after an absence of a few months, Mrs. Wilson returned and stayed on until December 1941.
Typically, however, there were both a cook and a maid who handled the household activities. The domestic workers routinely got the 4th weekend of the month off. If they were at Topsmead, Dad would drive them back to Waterbury if they didn’t have other arrangements. One of several maids I remember was Eva Champagne. She started working for the Chases late in 1925 at their home at 42 Church Street. After Miss Edith’s mother passed away in 1933, she worked directly for Miss Edith. Eva became great friends with my mother and after Eva married and moved to Long Island, she would occasionally return to Topsmead to visit with our family and others. Another maid was Bridget Harrick, a sweet, kind, and loving person. She was sincerely interested in other people and all the families at Topsmead loved her. She was also a talented seamstress. (A fun fact is FTSF board member Jani Golding, a good seamstress in her own right, I believe might still have Bridget’s sewing machine.) Towards the end of her life, Miss Edith paid for Bridget to return to Ireland to live with her brother, something Bridget requested versus being in a nursing home in Waterbury. I had the opportunity to have a nice visit with Bridget in Ireland in 1967 – about a year before she passed away.
Other maids who worked for a shorter time (a couple of years each) were Mae Kyle, Molly Carmody, and Sarah Doyle. As you can see it appears the Chase’s gravitated to hiring Irish women for domestic duties. The Burrall’s maid, Grace Smith also served at Topsmead.
There were also several married couples that worked as cooks and butlers. Mr. & Mrs. John McDonald, Mr. & Mrs. Dudley, and Roy and Irma Lockhart in the early 70’s - whom I knew the best.
Next month I’ll share some memories of the farm managers and others who worked outdoors.
These conversations were conducted between Bob Orintas and Jenny Riggs.