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Remembering the Big House

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[Yearbook] Noel Castiglia

Noel Castiglia


Here is an amazing, verbatim collection of anecdotes from Noel re the “ancestral home” (if I may call it that) at 50 Lyons Plains Road where—freshly immigrated from Italy—the Castiglia family settled.

Don’t miss a great writeup on Dan Woog’s Westport blog here—about a one-time communal home for Calabrian immigrants with the surname “Castiglia”. Home to Noel and his family for generations, it was sadly demolished not long ago to be replaced by a new home.

[Note: The email below is to “Jeff”—a cousin, I believe—employed as an instructor of some sort. Also I am not sure why there are missing paragraph no.’s. Noel confessed to me some years ago of having a lifelong difficulty with spelling. But counting…!?

I’ll run that by Noel… :-)

Dear Jeff:

Here are some modified excerpts for you to use in your discussions [attached]. I just have not had time to polish everything. You will have to pick and choose what you want. I haven’t included many Sundial Farm stories, but this is my best shot in the short time I have. Just edit to fit your needs. Where they lived in NYC comes towards the end before Westport. I probably can come up with 20 or more stories and will do if there is more interest. I just ran out of time. Best I could do.

—Noel


[Attachment]

I was born Dec. 25, 1937. As the first grandchild I had lots of attention. Following are some of my memories from the 1940s and family stories from the 1920s and 1930s. You have the photo album discs of the family at Compo Beach, the tailor shop and the boarders and I can send a copy of the disc if you would like another. These were shot from 1912 to 1930 on the Farm. Most of the people are visitors but you can probably recognize the ones who survived after 1940. You know the history of the boarders from prior interviews with the Weston Historical Society There is some good information there.

[06880danwoog.com] The "Big House" - 50 Lyons Plains RoadLiving in the Big House at 50 Lyons Plains Road in the 1940’s were our Grandparents Domenic and Virginia (Esposito) Castiglia, Great Aunt Concetta Castiglia, Uncle Leon Lachat and Aunt Laurie Castiglia Lachat, Great Grandmother Marianna Iuele Castiglia, Marion Castiglia Sorisi and Charlie Sorisi, Marcia Sorisi and Carla Sorisi, Virginia Castiglia, Frank Castiglia and Alba DeLeo Castiglia, Dennis Castiglia and Noel Castiglia.

Here are stories I have heard and remember, presented at random; you can fill in more on some of them:

1] In 1912 Domenic and Virginia stayed up with the Delarmy family in Weston and commuted to the site at 50 Lyons Plains Road. The set up small sheds to sleep in and have the laborers sleep in while the home was being built. They poured the foundation and built the home a little at a time. It must have taken at least two or three years to complete before they could completely leave NYC where they had an ostrich feather business. (From 1901 to 1906 they had lived on East 108th Street in NYC [where Domenico met Virginia] and then in 1906, or 1907, on East 115th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, I believe.)

2] They were trying to make a real farm as an oasis for vacationers. In Westport, they could use their income to build a better life for the family than existed on the streets of NYC with the crime and gangs. They knew how to plant and grow virtually everything. In the early 1940’s we still had about 100 chickens, and 6 or 8 cows. By then the horses were a thing of the past. Everyone knows the story of the horse that died out back one winter and his legs froze straight out. In order to bury him they cut off the legs. Very practical.

6] Speaking of dynamite, Domenico had used cases of it to remove tree stumps. Near 56 Lyons Plains, close to the stone wall, there had been some large stumps. One day, probably in the mid 1920’s, Domenico decided to blow them up, failing to realize some of the cows were close by. So during the time the very long fuse took to burn down, the cows wandered closer and the explosion of wood, logs and debris killed two of them.

8] A good deer story is from the early 1920’s. Domenic spotted a group of deer near the Aspetuck River and taking the 41 caliber Swiss army rifle [which I still have] from the porch of the big house shot about 300 yards and downed a deer. At least that was what he first thought but in reality he downed two deer at once with one shot.

9] The Castiglias made their own ricotta, mozzarella cheese, butter, sausage and supresod. Everything was fresh – eggs, chickens, veal, lettuce, carrots, corn, tomatoes, broccoli, swiss chard, virtually every vegetable you can think of. That also included the hundreds of jars of tomatoes we canned, the 100 or more jars of grape juice, the three or four barrels of wine and a small barrel of vinegar. These joined the root beer and apple cider and applejack as family favorites. One story was about the time Frank made root beer – many dozens of bottles of root beer – that were stored down in the wine cellar next to the coal bin. One winter night there were serious explosions in the basement. Almost all of the root beer bottles blew up at about the same time.

12] The family would kill a calf or two each year, and Mr. Arcudi would come by, take the meat and butcher it. We would often visit him and John and Joseph Arcudi at their grocery store in Saugatuck to pick up the meat that they stored there for the family.

—Noel
Annapolis, MD
February 6, 2012

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