Elenore Orr is 95 years old and lives in Waitsfield. She was born in Marshfield, as Elenore Wells, where her parents were farmers and musicians who traveled in a horse-drawn carriage to play at dances. She met her husband, Stanley Orr, 11 years her senior, at one of those dances and they married in 1945. She says, “It didn’t take me long to figure out that being a farmer’s wife was not for me.” Together they bought a hardware store, and the Orr Plumbing and Heating business was born. As their family grew, they moved the business to Summer Street in Barre. They eventually had four children, Reggie, Brian, Debbie and Peggy -- all born in Marshfield.
“Stanley knew that Mad River Glen brought a lot of people into the Mad River Valley and that meant new homes and businesses. When he heard about Sugarbush being developed he thought The Valley would about burst with building. He drove down there and went to the Mad Bush which was in the two-by-four stage. It was there he met Tony and Betty Hyde, who hired him to do the plumbing there.
AN ARK OF A PLACE
“He saw a sign that said a large building, where the physical therapy place is now on Route 100, was for sale. He found out that Walter Gaylord was a realtor. That was probably Hadley Gaylord Sr.’s father. He made an appointment with Walter, so we could come see the inside of that place. As we walked through it I said, “What an ark of a place to take care of.’ It was huge. My four kids ran around playing hide ‘n seek. All Stanley could see was a successful lodge and lots of happy guests. Not me! All I could see was work, work and more work. But we bought it in 1958 and named it Orr’s Ark.
“We were going to move down from Marshfield in the fall, but all four of my kids came down with the measles and we couldn’t. So, the first year we hired a couple to run it -- Jean and Earl Curtis. The next year in 1959, we made the move. And Jean and Earl opened an inn called the Bagatelle in Irasville that was next to The Store.
“Somehow Stanley heard about a restaurant sale in Boston. I couldn’t go because I had to take care of the kids. He came back with a truck loaded up. An eight-burner stove with a grill and two ovens, steam table and large pots and pans, dishes and silverware. I had only ever cooked for my family and that was six people. But he was sure The Valley was going to boom. My dining room sat 50 people. The first year, it started out in November. We had deer hunters. That was an experience. I had to cook these guys three meals a day. They wanted breakfast at 5 o’clock in the morning. But they were a nice group of men. We had a little break and ski season would start. Fanny Fielder was a local that helped me in the kitchen. She was Loopy’s mother. Kay Holden and Nellie Conrad from Moretown helped at various times too. Sandy Bisbee worked as a waitress. Delbert Palmer’s sister Carol, Carol Palmer and Becky Munn.
“I bought most of my food from Mehuron’s. Case lots. But we’d go over to Stowe to buy 50-pound bags of potatoes.
VALLEY CHANGED MANY TIMES
“We saw The Valley change so many times. I remember down on Bridge Street where the old Mehuron’s was. Elmer used to let me charge for my groceries by the month. When I went to pay my bill, he would always give me a free chocolate bar. I remember his wife Aurelia too. Bisbee’s Hardware was the same way, and it was also on Bridge Street.
“Bisbee’s had two big drums that they heated the building with. It was kind of a very crude method of heating, it looked strange, but it was what they did.
“The post office was down under the library and later the bank moved in there. After the workday was over, the banker carried the money to Montpelier. That would be an unsafe trip in today’s world!
“A restaurant was under the old hotel.
“At Halloween time, the kids used to try to catch the covered bridge on fire. It was a prank just to have some mischief to do.
“The Rec Field, the Couples Club, was going full tilt. Everyone was a member, and the field was bought and paid for. Dr. Quimby and his wife Margaret were members. He could fix everything from a hangover to a broken limb. During his free time, he would mow the field as many other volunteers did too. They had all kinds of barbeques. We had what they called a Game Supper. All the hunters would save their deer meat, turkeys, and we had bear. All the women would contribute to cook the meat at home and take it down there. And I got stuck cooking the bear. My house smelled for a week afterwards. It was so strong. The state finally found out we were selling game meat, which is illegal, and they put an end to it.
“Then, a lot of people started coming in the 60s. New plazas were built where the post office is now and the one where Mehuron’s moved to. I can remember when they started calling Sugarbush, Mascara Mountain. When Sugarbush really got to going, they started building all kinds of condos up there. And those of us that had lodges, like we did with the Ark, we lost income. A lot of inn owners went out of business. The old Bagatelle? They went out.
“But we kept going until 1971. I learned a book-full about how to run a business. I’ll tell you one story, there was this family that came from New York. There were six kids. Nice people. They used to come three times during the winter. I later found out that she murdered her husband. Saw it on the news and I wrote to her in prison.
“I was born in 1927, so I was 44 when we got done. My husband 55. We had the business 13 years. Running a lodge is not always easy. We sold it and it became a restaurant. My husband was able to retire because he had worked the stock market. He was one smart cookie.
HIT THE ROAD
“Then we hit the road. My son, Reggie, worked with my husband. The plumbing and heating was in the garage on Route 100, eventually it went out. Then Reggie started his own business for fixing small engines. We had bought the building next door for extra rooms. It got sold too.
“We bought a camper and all six of us drove to Alaska. That was hard travel. Dirt roads. Very few trailer parks. Debbie was only 5 or 6 years old.
“We took our camper and spent 25 years in Arizona in the winters. Back and forth. Arizona and Vermont. It was a good life in Tucson. We loved it out there. The only trouble was it was too far away. Every other year we would head to Alaska where we had relatives. We drove it many, many times. Flew up twice. Then in ’02, was the last time we went to Alaska. We came back to Vermont. My husband was not well. He died in ’09.
“My kids are Reggie, Brian, Debbie and Peggy. Brian died in the Vietnam war, Peggy, age 31, in childbirth, and Reggie in 2017.”
Despite the tragedy of losing her husband and three children, Elenore remains quick to laugh. It’s a hearty laugh that draws you in. And though she suffers with macular degeneration and doesn’t see well, she retains a sparkle in those eyes. I can tell she is a woman who, not only has lived long, but lived well. It’s no wonder she loved to travel and did so for so long. Hearing her adventures made for a delightful afternoon and inspired me to make the most of life while I still can. Sage advice.
Mary Kathleen Mehuron lives in Waitsfield and writes most every day. In fact, she’s going to have to take a little break from writing the Take Me Back column because she has deadlines looming for three different books. But she’ll be back before you know it.