He remembers before they plowed the roads in Conway, when he’d pick up the 6:20 a.m. train from the A Street station en route to school at Fryeburg Academy, when he could walk down Main Street and knew everyone he met.
It’s not like that anymore, he’s sad to report, and “I’m getting awfully sick of looking at Main St. If I could see a good team of horses going down the street now and then, it would be all right, but I don't think that’s likely to happen.” Charles Wallace Whittaker should know. From his unique vantage point - the first house on the right heading north of North Conway Village - he’s watched the town grow from a small north country village around the turn of the century to a large, expanding community.
Better know as Chub to his friends, a name that better describes his spirit than his diminutive size, he spends the winter inside the rambling fourteen room farmhouse that has been his home for close to eighty of his eighty-one years. Crippled by ruptured discs, an ailment that has plagued him since his surveying days forty years ago, he finds winter travel too difficult, but he’s a familiar figure in the center of town in the summer.
It wasn’t always like that. He described how, after he graduated from Brewster Academy, he returned home to work the farm, a 100 acre tract located on River Rd. “You live on a farm, you had to have a lot of jobs - blacksmith, quarryman, horse doctor,” he said. His own parents were farmers, but his father would double as a river driver in the spring, pushing logs down the upper end of the Saco. It was a rough life, he admits, and he only stayed with it for six years. “I’ve seen a frost in June,” he mentioned. “In Jackson, one year they didn’t raise a thing. They had to depend on what they could hunt and fish.”
“By nature, I’m a hick,” he continued, explaining why he preferred to stay behind and learn surveying rather than travel to the city, like so many others, to seek his fortune. Self-employed, he hired a few helpers along the way, notably Ralph Roberts, a friend to this day, who he still continues to praise: “He was so good, he could read my notes upside down and tell me where I made a mistake.”
Never much of a skier, he did however enjoy the sport, especially cross country and jumping. He and his friends would attach cheese boxes on boards or barrel stays and head for the notorious jump on Cathedral Ledge or the down hill area on Birch Hill or the 30-40 foot jump he built himself behind his house. “I won a jump on Russell’s Hill once (in Kearsarge); I was the only one who stood up.” Another noted event in the 20’s was the annual dog sled race that drew drivers from throughout the United States and Canada. Because he was somewhat associated with the sport - he kept dogs for one of the nation’s top men - the race began and ended at the Whittaker residence. The winter affair was discontinued when the town decided to plow the roads to make way for “Henry Ford’s tin lizards.”
By the time George Morton designed the Skimobile at Mt. Cranmore (or Kramer) in 1938, Chub Whittaker had more or less finished up with skiing. “I just didn’t have the time anymore, and besides, I was getting old.”
Politically, he was one of only a handful of Democrats in an otherwise solidly Republican community. Although he added, “I was involved only to the extent that I’d walk to Center Conway to vote,” he gave the impression that he saw to it his one vote had some impact. Discussed the current Washington scene, he said, “If you want to talk politics, we may have to go outside and settle it . . . It’s the big banks, the international monetary system, that’s calling all the shots in this country. But that’s what I think, nor what I know.”
So far, he’s resisted offers to purchase the property that he owns jointly with his sister who lives in Hamilton, New York, and visits him in summer and fall. The once 30 acres of pasture land run along Route16 and stretch back to Kearsarge Road, and abut the Town of Conway-owned Whittaker Woods. (I wanted them to find an Indian name, but they wouldn’t do it, he said.)
The main section of the house, that part covered with native spruce clapboard, was once his grandfather’s store and was located across the street. “That’s where those men from Jackson would buy their rum,” he noted. The other sections of the home were added by degrees.
Although his family has been in Conway for generations, the life-long bachelor insists that the Randalls and Eastmans were here first, and, unlike the other natives . . . he believes it takes only a decade for a newcomer to earn the title. When told that a number of these new arrivals wonder about the old farmhouse and its sole occupant, he replied, “All they have to do is come in and find out.” Chub Whittaker has quite a story to tell.