Once Upon a Time at Journey’s End
by John Delach
Guest Blog by Helen Markey, Bill and Bob Christman
Charles and Margaret Rilling opened Journey’s End after World War II when vacations via automobiles were still a novelty. The Rillings owned a large parcel of land less than a mile south of NH Route 9, a two-lane paved road connecting Vermont to New Hampshire. A dirt road with the name, Mountain Road, ran south to their property where it dead ended. Their property was sandwiched between the river and the foot of Mt. Wantastiquet.
The family home stood at the north end of their property. It became known by guests as, “the big house.” One by one the Rillings built a string of seven wooden cabins overlooking the banks of the Connecticut and named each after birds like Robin, Cardinal, Blue Jay and Bobolink. The scenic view included the Central of Vermont Railroad that ran south from Canada to Springfield and New Haven on the opposite embankment. Two other cabins, the Whippoorwill (rightfully: Whip-poor-will) and Raven were tucked into nearby woods at the base of the mountain. A small white house stood off to itself christened, the Starling. It was their son’s home. He lived with his parents in the big house during the summer season and rented out the Starling.
Journey’s End, aka The Country, aka Rillings, aka Chucks was located in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire on the Connecticut River opposite Brattleboro, Vermont. Explaining its actual location was too complicated so people were told it was in Brattleboro, VT. When Beth was a young girl she once described it to a friend as being, “Sort of like a resort.” That description is accurate.
The Christmans began to vacation there in 1948; Uncle Bill, Aunt Helen and my three cousins, Helen, Bill and Bob. This will be the first of several blogs about Journey’s End and this one tells about the early days. I have selected Bill to narrate this story on behalf of Helen and Bob.
Our Maspeth, Queens, neighbors, Tom and Jean Mitchell discovered Journey’s End in 1947 and they must have loved their experience so much that our mom and dad signed up for a two week stay during the summer of 1948. For sure, our first experience was positive enough that we continued to vacation there for two weeks every summer until dad became too ill for us to continue this tradition in 1955. Our experiences that we are sharing are a composite over that time frame.
We were too young to remember all the logistics and preparation needed to make this 200- mile journey, how to stock the car with needed essentials to last two weeks yet leave enough room in the back seat of our 1941 Plymouth for the three of us to survive the trip. I’m sure the Mitchells gave mom and dad suggestions based on their own experience but our parents still must have made rookie mistakes especially that first year.
Dad would have the car serviced and make a final stop at Joe’s gas station on Friday night for a fill-up. Our stay was Saturday to Saturday, so mom and dad packed the car the night before except for perishables (kids included) and we started out early the next day. Helen remembers, “The car was tightly packed – including our blankets, not the cotton ones we use today, but wool, itchy wool. They were placed on the back seat meaning we sat on them in a non-air-conditioned car for eight hours in our shorts.
Our first stop after leaving home was Resurrection-Ascension R.C. Church, our home parish, one-mile away where we asked the Almighty to keep us safe and bless our journey. (One down, 199 miles to go.)
Dad made his way from the church to the Whitestone Bridge and into the Bronx. Our first task was to say the rosary so we could appeal to Mother Mary to add her seal of approval to this undertaking. Post rosary, Mom opened her treasure box, the first three of a trove of comic books she had collected over the preceding months to entertain us during the ride.
The Hutchinson River Parkway met the Merritt Parkway at the Connecticut state line and with Wilber Cross Parkway brought us to Meriden just north of New Haven where we ran out of any semblance of a divided highway for the rest of our trip.
We’d stop here at the Coffee Cottage, something so special to the three of us because we never, and I mean never, went to restaurants. The diner had table-side juke boxes and one year I remembered “Sh-Boom” by the Crewcuts that to this day takes me back to the Coffee Cottage.
Our eight-hour trip seemed to take four years to get through Connecticut alone. Dad didn’t believe in car radios so we didn’t have that distraction. We traveled over a series of two lane roads mostly along Route 15 and US Route 5. We passed through Hartford as Mom sat in the passenger seat with custody of a multi-page highlighted map to mark our progress. When she announced we were entering Massachusetts, it was like, “Yay-finally!”
Springfield, Northampton. Deerfield and Greenfield remained to be conquered, but the 55-miles through Massachusetts was nothing to compare to the dreaded Connecticut. Lunch was a picnic somewhere in route and I recall a gas stop in Springfield at a garage with a foul bathroom. Once over the Vermont line, Brattleboro was only 10-miles distant. Before reaching our finish line, our parents stopped at St. Michaels, Brattleboro’s RC Church, where we gave thanks to God the Father, Jesus and Mary to celebrate our safe arrival.
Three miles north, we made a left onto Route 9, crossed the Connecticut River and entered New Hampshire.
A roadside sign announced: Journey’s End, and so it was.