Here’s a bit of Monterey history as it concerns two men who summered there years ago. My great-grandfather Arthur Sylvester Somers came to Monterey on the recommendations of two of his friends — Dr. Henry Groehl and Dr. John Horn — both of whom had homes in Monterey at the time. He purchased a large piece of property on Lake Garfield and decided to build a house at the top on Route 23, which he called Somerset (more commonly known as The Big House).
It was a magnificent house, both inside and out. The property itself was beautiful, thickly wooded with pine trees and white birches, and it ran from the top of the hill on Route 23 down to Lake Garfield. There was a house with lake frontage at the bottom of the hill
with plenty of room for a beach, a boat house and a lakeside cottage.
View from Lake Garfield
In 1920, Arthur also purchased an estate at the other end of the lake that was called Rock Ridge, for his son Andrew and daughter-in-law Ruth Edna McCormick. It had a beautiful view of the “ass end” of Lake Garfield.
The house sat high on a hill overlooking the lake, and Ruth Edna felt it would be difficult to supervise children playing by the water, so they sold it without ever moving in, and instead took the house on Arthur’s property, which had first been a fishing shack, then a dance hall, then finally, with a bit of renovation, became Glen Fern (more commonly called The Cottage). Today it is Lakeside Terrace Bed and Breakfast.
Years later their eldest son Arthur (my father) bought back Rock Ridge, and he and my mother Alice lived there for many years, loving it and sharing it as “a place to celebrate life”. They had by the way, several other homes in town prior to this one. Before Rock Ridge we lived down the road at Hupi Farm for many years. If you look closely at this picture you can see Arthur and Alice standing on the porch under the icicles!
Hupi Farm – Peggy’s Folly
My father loved Monterey with a passion, and his only criterion for a house was that it had to be located in the Village of Monterey. I understood that because I shared his love for Monterey. I recall its strong hold on me when I was a child. It was a “magic kingdom” from the moment I entered until I left at summer’s end – the lake, the birch trees, the lupin field, the old orchard behind the Big House, the polliwog pond by the dump, the orange newts, the mushrooms, the “indian pipes”(found out later they were horsetail rush), the ferns, the rocks, the roads, the waterfall behind the general store — everything around me held the curious magic of Monterey. It was a place like no other.
When my great-grandfather first arrived in Monterey, the only church was the Congregational Church in the village, and Arthur decided to build Our Lady of the Hills Chapel, so the town’s Catholics wouldn’t have to make the long trip into Great Barrington each Sunday for Mass. It remains open to this day during the summer months.
Our Lady of the Hills
A bit more about these Somers men who came to Monterey so long ago: Arthur Somers Sr. was a self-made Brooklyn businessman who started working in a tin factory when he was 12 years of age, and made his fortune at the firm Pfeiffer and Lavanburg (Atlantic Colorworks of Brooklyn), which was first bought out by Lavanburg and later by Somers. Fred L. Lavanburg was a businessman and philanthropist who pioneered the idea of subsidized low-income housing
at a time when such a thing did not exist. He conceived the idea of endowing a large-scale low-rent model housing project in NYC, hoping that his action would stimulate similar projects by private individuals as well as by municipal authorities. Although the job proved to be ultimately too enormous for private endowments, his experiment set the stage for the development of the great public housing programs in the thirties. He formed the Lavanburg Foundation (which still exists today) and acquired a site for the Lavanburg Homes on Goerck Street on the Lower East Side, one of the most notorious slum neighborhoods in the city. Arthur Somers, who was a member of the foundation’s board of directors, helped oversee the running of The Homes after Fred’s untimely death soon after the opening in 1927. There is a fascinating book called Diary of a Housing Manager by Abraham Goldfeld, which gives a detailed and delightful account of the first four years of the unique experiment. The buildings were later donated to the City in 1956, and they are now the home of The Urban Family Center for the accommodation and rehabilitation of temporarily homeless families.
Arthur was at the same time deeply involved in politics and local community affairs. He was a candidate for a congressional seat in 1893 and a candidate for Sheriff of King’s County in 1897. He was appointed to the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn in 1892, where he served consecutively for 26 years, holding office under nine mayors. Needless to say, he knew everybody. In 1924, Arthur became president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and in 1926, he became the first president of the newly formed Long Island Chamber of Commerce. For a time he served on both boards simultaneously! His great love was for education, something that he had missed in his own life, and he was always stressing the importance of a good education for children. Today there is a school and a park playground in Brooklyn named after him (Arthur S. Somers I.S.252 and the Arthur S. Somers Playground section of Lincoln Terrace Park).
Arthur married Virginia Lawrence, of the Lawrences of Long Island and Queens, and they had three sons: Andrew Lawrence, Fred Lavanburg and Arthur Alexander.
Arthur Somers and his sons Fred, Arthur and Andrew
Arthur and his political friends decided that his oldest son Andrew, who was only 29 at the time, should run for Congress in order to beat a rival. They did not really expect a win, but to the surprise of all, he did win! The newspapers called him “the baby Congressman”. Andrew Lawrence remained in Congress for 25 years until his death in 1949. 2009 is the 60th anniversary of his death, and so we are celebrating his life this year.
As a Representative from Brooklyn, Somers had a large Jewish constituency. During World War II, the U.S. was tending to ignore Hitler’s persecution of Jews abroad. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was doing nothing at the time, the policy being “Let’s worry about conquering Hitler first, then we can worry about the Jews”. Sadly, the Jewish establishment was also turning a deaf ear to the wakeup calls of a few, with their stories about Jews being exterminated in large numbers by the Nazis.
But Representative Andrew L. Somers was one who did listen, and not only listened, but had the courage to go against the tide of current opinion and speak out against the ongoing atrocities in order to raise consciousness. He sponsored a “Resolution Calling for Recognition of the Hebrew Nation”, a proposal “to convert the sympathy of the American people into concrete action”, that sought to achieve four points: “Recognition for the Hebrew nation; establishment of its rights in international law; specific action in repatriating all Hebrews who desire to end their long exile and to return to their national territory in Palestine; and ultimate freedom and autonomy for that country, guaranteeing to all its citizens full civic political and legal rights and liberties”. This Resolution paved the way for the formation of the State of Israel.
Representative Andrew Lawrence Somers
It must have been quite difficult for a democratic congressman to go up against his party’s popular president, FDR, and for this he was honored last September at the Wyman Institute’s 2008 Conference They Spoke Out. As a commentator at the time said: He [Somers] took upon himself the burden of the fight for freedom for the Hebrew people, with all its unpleasant concomitants: being perpetually subject to pressure, being harassed by skeptics, antisemites and professional Jews.
Congressman Somers would also later confront President Truman on this same issue. When asked why he became involved, Somers explained: “This is not a problem of this or that Jewish group in this country; this is a problem of all of us.
The upcoming Wyman Institute’s 2009 Conference in September centers around a similar theme: The Failure to Bomb Auschwitz: History, Politics, Controversy. This will be a landmark event, the first ever to focus in depth on the history and implications of the Allies failure to bomb Auschwitz or the railways leading to it. They will also be discussing a refutation by leading Holocaust scholars of a new books claim that there is new evidence that President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to help Jewish refugees from Nazism in the 1930’s.
My grandfather Andrew died a premature death in 1949 due to stomach ulcers that had plagued him since childhood, which could easily have been cured with antibiotics had they known enough about it back then. If he had lived, with his integrity, his vision and his likability, who knows where his political career might have gone? Perhaps my grandmother would have ended up in the U.S. White House instead of the U.S. Customs House! As for the Israeli-Palestine question, Im confident that if he were alive today, Andrew Somers would be an outspoken advocate of peace through a two-state solution, because above all he was concerned about human rights and justice for ALL — which would include the Palestinians as well as the Jews.
I’ll always remember Monterey, and I hope Monterey remembers my family.