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Remembrances of Leavitt Crowell, Part 1

By Kaethe Maguire

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Leavitt Crowell working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

The material I am about to present to you was kindly gifted to me some years ago by Carolyn Crowell of Charles Street, now residing at the Cape Heritage nursing home at age 96. Carolyn grew up in Sandwich on the Crow Farm property. It was her brother, Howard who ran Crow Farm for years having picked up those reins from His father David, who with Lincoln Crowell, his brother settled in Sandwich.

Carolyn grew up in Sandwich on the Crow Farm property. It was her brother, Howard who ran Crow Farm for years having picked up those reins from His father David, who with Lincoln Crowell, his brother settled in Sandwich.

 

In the late 1990s at Carolyn’s Crowell’s request, her cousin Leavitt Crowell, wrote a series of remembrances of life growing up in Sandwich in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Here is a bit of family history of the Crowell family. Carolyn, Howard and Eleanor are the children and David Crowell, who was the brother of Lincoln Crowell, father of Leavitt Crowell.  The Shawme Crowell Forest is named for Lincoln Crowell who sadly lost his life prematurely when he was killed instantly at age 54 when his car was hit in Brewster by the Provincetown bound train. (Yarmouth Register, April 8, 1938)

People often speak of the huge April 1946 fire caused from previously unexploded armaments on the base, but there were plenty of fires in the 20s and 30s.

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Young Leavitt Crowell with his father, Lincoln Crowell

Lincoln Crowell

Inserted beginning here are some of Leavitt’s childhood memories of growing up with his firefighter father. But first I would like to insert a bit of an introduction that Leavitt wrote up for Carolyn before he began typing his remembrances.

 

“I essentially left Sandwich, except for short stays, in 1940/41 but my memories go back into the 20s. Sandwich, prior to WWII was a very small town. The entire township had a population of about 1,200 people including East Sandwich, Forestdale and South Sandwich. The Village itself had a population of around 800.”

Now, let us continue with Leavitt’s letter to his cousin, Carolyn dated 12/31/98.

 

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“In your Christmas card you asked of my remembrances of the fires that wracked the Cape in the twenties and thirties. As you remember my father was the State District Forest Warden as well as the State District Forest Fire Warden so that I had a lot of contact with the forest fires during that period. My mother was not well at the time and I spent many of my days riding with him when I was not in school. I went to my first fire when I was three. My father left me with the pump-man at the nearest pond and went to take charge of the fire. He forgot all about me until he got home and mother asked where I was.”

“Radios were first used by the Cape fire departments about 1934. Dad had one in the State car that look up nearly the entire trunk and had a range of about fifty miles from the top of a hill and fifteen miles when in a valley. One had to pass a Federal Radio Operator’s exam to legally operate it. I took the exam along with my father and passed the exam but was not given a license as I was not quite twelve. However, I still operated the radio whenever I was with him at a fire taking messages and passing on orders.”

 

1934 Fire Telephone System to FCC

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Thoreau in his book “Cape Cod” speaks of the Upper Cape as being denuded of trees. This was due to two causes: first the establishment of the Glass Works in 1820 which was located in Sandwich for its close proximity to available fuels for the furnaces, not, as many suppose because of the local sand which was unsuitable for good glass.

The second cause was the sheep industry, which followed the deforestation of the land for the glass furnace. Their grazing prevented re-growth of the forest. The closing of the glass factory and the decline of the wool industry led to the abandonment of the lands in the interior of the Cape which then reverted to scrub oak and pitch pine with a dense biomass close to the ground

 

. While the interior of the Cape was crisscrossed by a myriad of old farm roads that had serviced the timber industry and sheep farming, they were single track wagon roads which were ineffective as firebreaks and for the most part of the 1920s had been abandoned and overgrown.  There was very little land occupancy of the interior of the Cape with the majority of the population concentrated in the villages along the shoreline. Therefore, there were large inaccessible areas with good fuel supply that were a near perfect conditions for forest fires.

1940s fire in Sandwich, MA

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