A former resident shares personal tales from “A Town Time Passed By”

  • In his last chapter of the book, Harold Wolfson shares some of his understanding of the Brotherhood of Spirit, a commune that was based in Warwick in the 1960s and ’70s, peaking at roughly 300 members. Contributed Photo

  • An illustrated map of Warwick shown in “A Town Time Passed By.” Harold Wolfson’s son-in-law, Ed Jenne, helped with the book’s design.  Contributed Photo

  • In his latest book, author Harold Wolfson takes readers through his 40 years spent in Warwick, capturing the natural, magical feel that comes from living in “A Town Time Passed By.” Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Warwick in the winter, pictured from the bottom of Mount Grace. Contributed Photo

  • Tyler Wolfson, pictured here at 8 years old, helped his grandfather edit the book, and added a preface, which he said served as an opportunity to selfishly sneak in a few of his own memories. Contributed Photo

  •  “A Town Time Passed By: Warwick Massachusetts” is a reflection of the 40 years Marian and Harold Wolfson (pictured) spent living in the rural community. Contributed Photo

  • Marian Wolfson pictured in her garden circa 2003. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2021 9:01:54 AM

In his latest book, author Harold Wolfson takes readers through his 40 years spent in Warwick, capturing the natural, magical feeling that comes from living in “A Town Time Passed By.”

Published in late-spring 2020, “A Town Time Passed By: Warwick, Massachusetts” is only 31 pages long, but it paints a strong picture of the quaint Western Massachusetts town. At 94 years old, Wolfson fondly looks back, saying there have been two recreational interests that permeated a bulk of his life.

One was small boat sailing. Born in Pawtucket Rhode Island, Wolfson said his parents had a vacation home on Narragansett Bay, where he had purchased an 11-foot sailing dinghy as a young man, leading to half a life on the water.

“I spent a summer working at the Quonset Naval Air Station during World War II to get the money to pay for it,” he recalled.

The other recreational interest is the love and appreciation he holds for the outdoors. Wolfson said he owes this to his late wife, Marian, and the 40 years they spent wandering through Warwick’s forests.

“My wife had been a loyal and accomplished crew mate sailing for many years,” Wolfson said. “One day, she said she wanted to see what the country, rural life would be like. I couldn’t refuse her.”

So, the couple moth-balled their 19-foot sailboat and began hunting for a home further inland. This is where Wolfson’s book begins: in early autumn, when the “trees were just beginning to show their fall colors,” he writes, he and Marian purchased a house on Chase Hill Road from Cyril “Cy” and Jean Rochon.

Cy was a high school teacher of math and arts in Orange and Jean taught at the Warwick Center School. The Rochons explained that this was the second house he and Jean had rebuilt or conserved.

“She (Marian) really wanted that place,” Wolfson recalled, speaking over the phone.

They were able to move in during the spring of 1978 and, “in time, of course, I warmed up to being a countryman, but even at the first spring season in the residence, I was impressed with how much beauty was everywhere,” Wolfson writes. He and Marian both loved the access to outdoor recreation that Warwick permitted.

He wanted to write “A Town Time Passed By,” in part, as a way to give back to the community and share his love for the “little rural town that was so peaceful.” Wolfson said their time in Warwick was a period when “back to the land” and “small world” philosophies and sentiments were accepted and prevalent.

“Marian and I bought in,” he said.

They built a vegetable garden which saw modest plantings in its first year before becoming “successful.” Unfortunately, the garden would eventually be the target of attacks by groundhogs, so the couple switched their efforts to flowers, which they could more easily protect. However, the Wolfsons were later visited by a moose, who began munching the flowers in Marian’s garden.

“Noticing what was happening from inside the kitchen, Marian grabbed two pots, ran out to the moose and chased it away with wild clanging,” he recalls in the book.

The Wolfsons’ wildlife interactions consist of many more stories, including a family of porcupines who lived across from their house and a visit from a racing pigeon blown off course, who they named Penelope.

Over the years, their home in Warwick proved to be a place where their extended family could come and enjoy the natural wonder of Western Mass. Their grandson, Tyler, would visit and share many hikes with them.

“Once, I wanted to show him that his grandfather was in just as good condition as he and started speedwalking, thinking I could best him,” Wolfson writes. “He went by and finished the hiking trail 15 minutes ahead of me.”

Tyler helped Wolfson edit the book and added a preface, which he said “serves as a brief opportunity for me to selfishly sneak in a few of my own memories. He said he developed his own love for the rural outdoors and the richness of nature through his visits to his grandparent’s house growing up.

He recalls kayaking at Sheomet Pond (pronounced “Shawmut”) and the stunning crystal clarity of the constellations at night. While his grandfather’s writing creates an impression of peaceful isolation, he said he also remembers times when the house was bustling with guests. Across three generations, Tyler writes, various friends, cousins and other loved ones passed through the one-story, shingle-sided cottage on Chase Hill.

“Memories are mysterious. We don’t deliberately choose the ones that last the longest, and what sticks out in our minds can be fragmented or jumbled in time, rather than perfectly whole and chronological. Modest recollections sometimes outlive the more dramatic ones,” Tyler writes in the preface. “My grandfather’s writing captures this paradox, along with that sense of timelessness set in a rustic community that felt timeless to us. Warwick seemed far removed from the fast-paced, technology-packed world we otherwise inhabited. It developed in us an appreciation of simple stories and simple pleasures. I think, above all, that appreciation shines through.”

Warwick resident Tom Wyatt said he met the Wolfsons when they lived in town, but didn’t know them all that well. He said Wolfson reached out to him for help gathering photographs to help capture elements of his story, and connect him with residents who would verify his memories of the town. The two spoke on and off for a few months getting to know each other before the book was published.

“He really captured the feeling of the town,” Wyatt said. “He talks about Old Home Days, and dinner theaters that Michael Humphries emceed.”

Wolfson memorializes the spirit of Warwick through his stories and the gathered photographs, providing a slice-of-life look into the rural town. While collecting information for his story, Wolfson said he combed through notes he and Marian kept in a memoir book, as a collection of the things that had interested them over the years. He also interviewed many fellow “Warwickians” to gain their perspectives and confirm his own recollections.

In the last chapter of his book, Wolfson discusses two local spiritual movements, including the Small Church movement located in Warwick’s nearly 200-year-old Trinitarian Congregational Church. He also discusses the Renaissance Community, a commune that began in Warwick and was originally named the Brotherhood of the Spirit. This group was founded by “a late-teenaged mystic,” Michael Metelica.

Wolfson discusses the history of the commune, its changes over time and its eventual disbanding. He writes that Metelica lived in a nearby treehouse and attracted followers because of his interest in meditation and his views on the future of humankind. The group purchased about 25 acres on Shepardson Road in Warwick and, soon, a large dormitory was built to house about 150 members. Additional members lived in a second facility in Northfield. The commune peaked at roughly 300 members.

In his research, Wolfson spoke to former commune members and Warwick residents. He interviewed Bruce Geisler, an instructor at the University of Massachusetts and former commune member who produced a 2007 documentary, “Free Spirits — The Birth, Life and Loss of a Utopian Dream.”

“It was fun to make the rounds and relive my early days as a reporter,” Wolfson said. “I knew this was sensitive, yet important to tell. I didn’t want to be inaccurate or unfair, and wanted to relate what members of the movement really felt.”

Wyatt said he moved to town in 1984, but by this time the commune had disbanded and the original house was unoccupied. He said where the dormitory used to be was just a field at the time. Years later, a home was built on the former commune site, where Wyatt and his partner live today.

Other neighbors shared stories of the grandiose ideas that the commune put forward, which at times may have reached beyond the capability of the group. At times, residents said music from the commune on Shepardson Road could be heard all the way up in the center of town.

Life before andafter Warwick

Wolfson said he moved to New York after college and took a job in the newspaper industry with the New York Journal-American, one of the largest evening circulation papers in the country at the time. Then came TV and TV news; newspapers began to die off. After some time in journalism, he made the jump to a public relations career, which he continued in until he retired in 1989 at 62 years old.

Wolfson was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2014 and said he began to become unable to maintain his Warwick home or do all the things he loved to do in the rural area. He said his doctors prescribed a “relatively conservative approach of traditional cancer medicine,” which proved successful for his personal treatment. He said he still goes to the doctor’s every other week for infusion treatment.

His cancer, he said, has affected his nervous system and he is unable to type as well as he once could so Tyler, his grandson, helped set up a speech-to-text app that allowed Wolfson to dictate his book about Warwick. Tyler then edited the writing and added his forward message. Wolfon’s son-in-law, Ed Jenne, also assisted as an illustrator and designer.

Wolfson said Marian had Parkinson's disease and passed away in September of 2018, just a few months after they sold their Warwick home. Before retiring, Marian worked as an editor with a publishing firm that produced magazines related to the medical industry. Wolfson said she had, at one time in her career, interviewed Dr. Fauci, who has now become a household name during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Marian was the one who first rooted them in Warwick, Wolfson said her affections for the area quickly transferred to himself. Today, living in Westchester, N.Y., Wolfson said he misses escaping from the “hustle and bustle” by sailing out on the water, or walking among the trees that made Warwick the beautiful, natural haven of Western Massachusetts.

In addition to “A Town Time Passed By: Warwick Massachusetts,” Wolfson penned a book about small boat sailing, which is also available at the Warwick Free Public Library. In his second publication, Wolfson said he captured the second half of his legacy and honored Warwick for the experiences it gave him.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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