The Tucker Twins

Small towns usually have their share of interesting characters, and Easton is certainly no exception. Take the Tucker twins for example.

Arthur Jelliff Tucker and Henry Burdett Tucker were identical twins born on September 2, 1896 to Floyd Tucker Jr. and his wife Helene Stiles Tucker. They were the grandsons of Floyd Tucker Sr., a successful farmer who had moved to Easton from his native Redding and had the distinction of serving each town as a member of the Connecticut State Legislature during his residency in both towns. Tucker’s 185-acre farm was on Rock House Road just west of its intersection with Valley Road. The house at 480 Rock House Road is one of the oldest homes in town and still stands proudly on the knoll above the sweeping curve in the road.

The Tucker twins grew up in Bridgeport where their father was the publisher and editor of the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, a newspaper he had inherited from his father-in-law, Henry Burdett Stiles upon the latter’s death in 1904. The twins’ father had also inherited and maintained his own parent’s Easton farm upon his mother’s death in 1891. Both boys were attending Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy, New York when the United States entered World War I in 1918, and together, they enlisted in the Navy, both serving until the end of the war, both stationed at the same NY naval base, and both being discharged the very same day.

Inseparable, the young men returned to Bridgeport after the war, and lived with their parents on Brooklawn Avenue, where they eventually took jobs as electricians, working for the same employer. On April 20, 1927, the twins incorporated the Tucker Machine Company in Easton. The Tuckers, in conjunction with one of the Gillette boys from Easton, sold, assembled, and then installed Fairbanks-Morse engines from their facility at today’s 387 Center Road. Prior to most of rural Easton’s complete electrification by the mid-1930’s, farmers relied heavily on gasoline powered engines such as the ones made by Fairbanks-Morse for sawing wood, filling silos, threshing grain or pressing their hay. They were also used to operate water pumps, cream separators, milking machines, butter churns, washing machines, and even for powering electric light plants. When electricity became available to even the most remote farms in the 1930’s, these engines lost their luster and sales fell by the wayside. Businesses like the one run by the Tucker twins failed and their owners needed to seek a way to survive elsewhere.

Gasoline engines such as the Fairbanks – Morse brand replaced traditional water and wind power in many operations during the early part of the 20th century. Gillette Tucker & Company from Easton represented the brand in the late 1920’s through the middle 1930’s.

It was in the mid-1930’s, after the death of their father, that the Tuckers, along with their mother Helen with whom they still resided, moved to the farm the family still owned on Rock House Road in Easton. When Helen passed away around the start of WW II, the twins built a smaller house to the east of the large farmhouse and moved in. Just as they always had, after they shuttered their business on Center Road, they went to work for the same employer, Forsell Electric in Westport.

After the war, Easton began to grow. While there was still no paid fire company, the town decided to hire paid firemen who could roll with the volunteer company’s two trucks at a moment’s notice during the day while a rotation of volunteers would man the firehouse each evening. The $42 per week jobs went to Arthur and Henry Tucker. Again, twin brothers, twin jobs, same employer. Added to the paid fireman’s position, both brothers drove school buses for Skip Toth during the school year.

This 1931 Sanford Cub 2.5 Ton fire truck was the volunteer fire company’s first “real” fire truck. It was still in use when the Tucker twins worked as paid firemen in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Pictured behind the wheel is former Chief Bush.

By 1953, the Tuckers were in a bitter feud with the unpaid volunteers at the firehouse. They refused to allow the volunteers to play cards during the evening in the upstairs room that held the TV and pool table. There were complaints that the twins failed in their duty to run each engine at least once a day and that the firehouse was unkempt and dirty due to their neglect. Meetings with the fire company president failed to produce results and the Tucker brothers were fired. The resulting firestorm threatened to tear the fire company apart. The League of Women Voters even initiated a study to determine if the volunteer fire company needed more supervision by the town. Unfavorable news articles in the Bridgeport papers were fueled by the Tucker brothers’ other employer, Skip Toth, who sided with the twins. The League finally sided with the fire company and in early June the Bridgeport Post reported that, “nobody will be making a pitch tomorrow night for the Tucker twins, Henry and Arthur, at the town meeting on their dismissal by the volunteer firemen.”

The brothers left, but soon opened a television and radio repair shop at their home on Rock House Road while they continued to drive for Toth. Again, inseparable as they lived and worked together twenty-four hours a day. Neither man ever married and neither man ever lived in a separate house from his brother. The only time this writer could find the boys apart was for the five years between Henry’s death in April of 1976 and Arthur’s demise in May of 1981. Interesting characters indeed!

House Detective

Easton HSE Birdsey Beers House187 Moved From after BHC from botom of Flat Rock

 

Sometimes my position as the Director of Research at the Historical Society of Easton has some odd perks that come with the tedious work of tracing property records and family histories back in time. One of those is the opportunity to literally stumble onto some additional family history of my own.

About two years ago, I came across a photograph of an old saltbox house that was labeled on the back: “c.1910 Birdsey Beers – house moved to northern Easton.” That wouldn’t mean much to most people, but I knew that name, if not the house. Birdsey Beers was my 3-times great grandfather. He was born in 1811 and died in 1893. And the more I looked at that photograph, the more I thought I had seen it before. It turns out, I had. It was used in Dan Cruson’s Images of America – Redding and Easton. The caption read in part, “This mid-18th century, one-and-a-half-story house was once located on Park Avenue, just south of Flat Rock Road. It was moved to the northern part of town when the Easton Reservoir was built in 1927.”  There had been no mention of Birdsey Beers. Well, that was a start, but who bought it and who moved it, and more importantly, where did it end up?

The Bridgeport Hydraulic Company and its predecessor, the Citizen’s Water Company, began taking property in Easton by the eminent domain powers granted each of them by the state legislature as early as the 1880’s. There were two dams and two smaller reservoirs built in the section of Easton known as the Narrows long before the present reservoir was constructed. Much of the land that had been taken had once been farmland. Many of the houses and barns were razed, but many were also spared – their purchases having been made for the land, not the structures. The house I was concerned with was likely taken for the construction of the present reservoir. That reservoir had been planned as early as 1910, but WWI ended up delaying the start of its construction until 1925. I wasn’t so much interested in knowing when the company acquired the property as I was in knowing when they sold the house and to whom.

Many of the houses not lying in the basin that would eventually be flooded by the new, larger reservoir were used as housing for some of the workers and engineers during the construction of what the BHC often referred to as Number Three – the third and final dam built in the Narrows. It’s my guess that is what happened with the old Beers house.

It was another chance finding about six months later that I came across an old newspaper article that showed the house being moved. Unfortunately, the article had been cut from the paper and the masthead with the newspaper’s name and date was missing. But the most valuable piece of information was the name of the new owner – Minnie Edwards. This would turn out to be the most crucial piece of information in the eventual solving of the puzzle. Not knowing who bought the old house would have meant an absolute dead-end. Since the BHC retained the land on which the house once sat, there would be no land recordings for the sale of the structure. There was no deed needed because the sale involved no transfer of land. There would have only been a simple bill of sale issued to the new owner.

Minnie Edwards was one of Easton’s premier entrepreneurs – perhaps the best female entrepreneur in Easton during the mid-twentieth century. She bought and sold houses and farms, held mortgages, and developed large parcels by dividing land into smaller building lots. Her family still owns and operates Maple Row Farm. Knowing that Minnie had purchased the old Beers house would go a long way in discovering where it went and if it was still standing.

Much of the land north of Route 59 was owned by the Edwards family in the early and mid-twentieth century – a lot of it still is. Moving the old Beers house to a new location likely meant placing it somewhere on property that Minnie and her husband Irwin already owned. By my best estimation, the most likely location should have been on Sherwood Road. But this is where it got tricky.

Dan Cruson had mentioned the move coming when the reservoir was built in 1927. Without the masthead on that old newspaper article, and with certain years of the local papers not yet digitized and in a searchable database, I mistakenly assumed the house had been moved sometime close to the 1927 date. That would have meant it should have appeared on the 1931 map of Fairfield County, and certainly in the 1934 aerial survey of Connecticut. It didn’t. And that’s because as it turns out it wasn’t moved until the mid-1930’s.

I spent more than few hours driving around northern Easton hoping to catch a glimpse of a house that appeared similar to the one in the 1910 photo. No luck. I searched property cards looking for construction dates – perhaps from the 1920’s or 30’s when the house would have been moved, perhaps from the late 1700’s when I know for a fact that the house was originally built (I had all the land records back as far as 1797 when Ephriam Beers first purchased that property and the house was listed as part of that transaction). Again, no luck.

And then, about three weeks ago I got lucky. I was talking to Adrienne Burke, the owner of the new Grieser’s, and she mentioned an old home she had recently visited on Sherwood Road. We talked a little, and I began to get the feeling that the house we were talking about might have been the one I had long been looking for. It wasn’t visible from the road, so that meant I wouldn’t have seen it while driving. The address was number Twenty.

Easton HSE 20 Sherwood Birdsey Beers

I pulled the house card from the town records. A 1820 build date. That was wrong. The house I was looking for was much older, at least by 30 years. But then I began looking at the small photo attached to the record – there were now dormers, but the rest of the side view sure looked correct. I then managed to find the last property listing on Realtor.com and those photos confirmed beyond any doubt that I had finally located my ancestor’s house. The windows on the first floor were a perfect match, correct location, correct numbers, exact number of window-lites top and bottom. Owners of the property date back to Minnie Edwards.

It took a while, but the mystery of the fate of Birdsey Beers’ house has finally been solved and I can now get on with the more pressing endeavors of the historical society.