When an old friend who had spent most of his career in radio and TV sent me a brief newspaper account of a country inn which featured nightly broadcasts of shows from the 30's and 40's, I was intrigued. Fortunately the inn was in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, just a "core's throw " from where my wife and I planned to pick MacIntosh apples in September. I contacted a Hillsborough native (she was my favorite teacher in junior high school more than 50 years ago) and asked her to do some "scouting" for me. She sent me brochures of the Inn at Maplewood Farm which served to arrouse my curiosity even further.
So on a glorious September day -- which was also my wife Kathryn's birthday -- we took to the hills, picked more apples than we could possibly eat in this millenium, and then drove on to Hillsborough. Maplewood Farm is situated on one of those curvy country roads which requires complete sobriety and total consentration to maneuver. We passed some very prosperous-looking farms en route until we saw an imposing white "manse" at the top of the next hill. It looked like the picture on the brochure. We had arrived!
The man of the house, Jayme Simoes met us at the front door, and in no time we had toted luggage to our suite on the second floor. The main bedroom/sitting room was sun-drenched and sported an imposing queen-sized bed, collectibles furniture, and many subtle touches which set the rooms acres apart from the typical hotel/motel decor. I spotted a small pair of steel-rimmed glasses on the massive highboy, school books held together with a leather strap on the desk, a 1948 Farnsworth table-model radio on a wrought iron night stand next to the bed. No TV set! A second bedroom led Pullman-style to a bath in the back. Our private quarters had obviously been decorated with both skill and ingenuity as well as taste. However, one must be candid. The ancient floor-boards were warped and painted a deep blue, posing a constant visual hazard for Kathryn. Nor is the inn "accessible to the handicapped" unless one chooses a room on the ground floor. The stairs are steep! I left my "better half" to rest from apple picking while I ventured outside with my camera.
The grounds were straight out of illustrations from Currier & Ives prints, giant maple trees, split-rail fences, a rusty old wagon wheel, pasture land within a few hundred feet of the house complete with lowing cattle sporting tinkling cowbells. It should be noted that when the wind was right, the atmosphere was pleasantly -- but unmistakably -- country.
Our genial host, age twenty-seven, had a few moments to spare, so we talked about beginnings. His interest in oldtime radio began at thirteen, he said. After Saturday afternoon classes at the Chicago Art Institute he came home to listen to his grand-mother's kitchen radio. Not a fan of rock 'n roll, he discovered a local Chicago program which featured Duffy's Tavern and The Great Gildersleeve. Fred Allen soon became a favorite, and Jayne (his name rhymes with "chime") credits Fred Allen's book Much Ado About Me with luring him to "Beantown" to study at Boston University's School of Communications where he earned a degree in Public Relations and Mass Communication. He met his future wife Laura at B.U. After graduation Jayme worked in public relations for a time, but both he and Laura had their hearts set on a "bed and breakfast" establishment. They ruled out Laura's native haunts on toney Martha's Vineyard as being prohibitively expensive. In October of 1992 -- soon after their marriage -- they disovered Maplewood Farm, and in January of 1993 they bought the house with 14 acres.
The land was originally settled by Fisher Gay of Attleboro, Massachusetts, in 1793. He was a tanner by trade and was given the land to establish a tannery on the 200 acres. When Gay married in 1794 he built a home where the current house stands. A tavern was set up in what is now the gift shop. The main part of the present house wasn't built until 1820. Generations of Gays owned and worked Maplewood Farm until the 1940's. Besides serving as a tavern, Maplewood Farm was also a boarding house and the site of a famous apple orchard. Maple syrup was also a home industry. A 1928 book written by Lisabel Gay about Maplewood Farm was called Legends Of Center Folk. Jayme and Laura are only the 5th owners in more than 200 years!
Laura Simoes is also a B.U. graduate in Public Relations, but her favorite occupation is cooking. I met her just as she returned from doing a guest appearance on a nearby television station. Her cooking demonstration was scheduled to be aired during the nightly newscast. Laura teaches cooking classes at Hillsborough Community Center. Her breakfasts at the inn are justifiably famous. However, if you are at all concerned about lapsing into a coma from sugar shock, I would suggest you exercise more restraint then I did when the various courses arriv! I was served orange juice, a hot pear compote, followed by French toast made from a huge croissant -- covered with fresh blueberries and homemade maple syrup. Two kinds of muffins with rasberry jam were available to fill any empty crevasses. The decaf coffee was served with fresh cream. All this -- when I had warned my host and hostess in advance that I was diabetic. Oh well, only four pounds gained, and the warning symptoms only lasted for 24 hours! But I digress...
By April of 1995 Jayme had realized his other dream: to broadcast oldtime radio shows every evening for guests at the inn. A local electronics whiz, Chris Sieg, had custom built a broadcast transmitter made of copper and smaller than a box of kitchen matches which plugs into Jayme's stereo rig and, in turn, activates antenna wires strung throughout the basement. Thus the taped programs reach eeach individual radio at 1000 on the dial. Guests can gather in the parlor for communal listening between 8:00 PM and 10:00 PM or listen privately in their rooms. I must confess that I chose to get into bed, turn out the lights, and reach over to turn on the radio. In my honor Jayme had programmed some Amos 'n Andy shows which I didn't think I had in my collection at home. Actually it turned out that I did have those particular programs (thanks to SPERDVAC's G-149), but it was an overwhelming bit of situational nostalgia. The reproduction was that "soft" AM sound which almost eliminates the needle scratch and tape hiss I get at home on my state-of-the-art stereo. Where I grew up in New Hampshire radio reception at night was marginal at best. We heard CBS and NBC from WEEI and WBZ in Boston. They were strong stations, but neither had exclusive use of their wave lengths. Programs faded and blasted ; sometimes you heard two programs simultaneously. Consequently, listening to radio was a very ACTIVE experience. It took all of one's powers of concentration and closure to follow the dialogue or to under- stand the jokes. We forget that, with modern hi-fi, listening has become a more passive experience. When you had to fight to hear -- before the advent of FM -- crystal clear reception was a rare luxury to be savored! Jayme and Laura have created the perfect atmosphere for true nostalgia buffs!
The collection of available radio shows [in September, 1995] at Maplewood Farm is not particularly exotoc. Jayme has about a thousand shows: lots of Fred Allen, Jack Benny Lux Radio Theater, Suspense, Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, The Shadow, Orphan Annie, Captain Midnight -- everybody's favorites.
In the gift shop Jayme has a good selection of the commercially available programs on cassette. He favors suppliers such as Metacom in Minnesota and Audiophile in Chicago. He also has old radios for sale. I think some of these come from Chris Sieg's collection of more than 150 in nearby Hillsborough. Sieg's regular business is building specialized computers, but his hobby is collecting and restoring vintage radios.
Jayme has the heart of his radio collection in the front parlor. He collects mostly Philcos. Those on the bottom row right-to-left are a Philco '33, '38, '37, '36, and '37. The '38 cost him $250 at the Metro Goldwyn Memories store and was the first in his collection. The second shelf contains mostly portables from the 40's and '50's. The second from the left is the same model Philco used in the famous pool scene from the Katherine Hepburn film Philadelphia Story. The small portable made of wood at the right end is fom 1942 -- when Bakelite plastic had gone to war. Those on the top shelf are all Philco Transitones from the late '40's except the one in the middle which is a '39 Philco. Jayme has a twin pair of Zenith's on sale in his gift shop, and he told me that he uses a Zenith Transoceanic as a "monitor" in his private quarters.
The Inn at Maplewood Farm accommodates a maximum of 13 guests at any one time. Some folks come not to stay over night but to listen to the radio shows or browse the gift shop. Hillsborough Center, which we did not have time to visit, is less than a mile up the road from the Inn and is a mecca for antique auction fans. I asked our host what sort of person stays at the Inn. After all, it is -- as we say in New Hampshire -- "out in the sticks." The cows in the neighbor's pasture make a considerable racket early in the morning and the air conditioning is strictly "open a window." Granted we happened to visit on the two perfect days each year New Hampshire rations out to tourists. Winters in the Granite State -- take my word for it -- can be grim. But Jayme and Laura are young and can take it. His guests, he said, are people like us who love oldtime radio. They are also the couple we met at breakfast who were visiting old friends in the area. Still others are antique buffs, consultants to the nearby electronics plant, cross-country skiers, salesmen who are sick-to-death of the Motel 6/Holiday Inn circuit. I didn't think my wife Kathryn war particularly impressed, but as soon as we got home she promptly recommended it highly to friends who have two small children.
I suspect that many guests don't bother to turn on the radio. Too bad -- but it is their privilege. Discretely hidden behind the center panels under the radio collection in the parlor is a TV set and VCR for those who must watch The Young and the Restless or Monday Night Football. Nobody gets the least upset if you ignore the radio in your room. Remember, New Hampshire's motto is "Live Free or Die!" Jayme and Laura are the ideal innkeepers: friendly in a quiet way that makes one feel very much at home. We were given a room key when we arrived, but we felt almost guilty closing the door -- much less locking it! On the desk in our bed/sitting room was a handsome book -- the pages blank except for those paragraphs written by guests who had shared the space before us. Some people were back for a third or fourth visit and loved the place! Children were totally awed with the early morning serenade by the neighbor's cows. Still others marveled at the gourmet breakfast. I wrote something to the effect that I saw a bright future for these two most talented youngsters, Jayme and Laura Simoes. And what a pleasure it was to share a home where the lovable Amos 'n Andy and our mutual friends in Allen's Alley could be openly and enthusias- tically celebrated as superb works of American artistry without having to be con- cerned about what may be "politically correct" THIS week! I'm one of those who think we endanger our birthright when we let others dictate what we should or should not revere. If you have lost faith in your ability to recognize the validity of personal preferences, you'd better make a pilgrimage to the Inn at Maplewood Farm in the State of New Hampshire -- and find it again!