Star Island Chef 1952-75
When working at a summer job on the ground service at Wellesley College in the summer of 1952 I was called to the personnel office about a job as a replacement chef on Star Island. I went for an interview with the Hotel Manager Mr. Ed Pray at his home in Newton, MA. I was to replace Charles Hilt, a schoolteacher from Presque Isle, who discovered that, to keep his accreditation as a schoolteacher, he had to attend a seminar that summer.
During the interview I was shown a picture of the hotel (circa 1914 – all painted with red shutters). Doubts entered my mind that I could handle the job of such an elegant place, but I decided I would give it a try. (Please note that anything I put down on paper was not meant to be detrimental to any one person or persons on Star, but describes the situation as I saw it at the time – they were doing the best they could under the circumstances that existed then.)
The conferences had been running for two weeks when I arrived at the dock in Portsmouth. I boarded the Kiboko and was off for Star on the evening boat. The picture I had seen of the hotel in 1914 quickly faded as I saw the hotel in 1952. The hotel had been abandoned for the five years of the Second World War and was much in need of repairs. (To say the least I was astonished at the difference of what I saw now and what I had conceived it to be at the interview with Mr. Pray.)
I was taken to the Dining Room for the evening meal then assigned to a room on the second floor of Cottage A, a small room with hardly room for the bed and my footlocker. After the meal I was taken to the kitchen and met Charles Hilt, the Cook, and some of the kitchen staff and given a tour of the kitchen. The equipment was antique (which I will describe later); the back room of the kitchen was full of boxes, milk cans and assorted junk. The truck driver, Dick Murch, with one truck that did not always work, didn’t take out the trash every day. At this point if I could have left the island that night I would have!
Later that evening Charley Hilt took me down to the Pelican rec. room for a rehearsal of the entertainment that the Pelicans put on for the conferences each week. I met the Pelicans including Chuck Russell, the Baker, Bob Wharem, the Engineer, and Dick Murch, the Truck Driver. The Pelicans, as a group, were a very nice bunch of young people. As the evening wore on I warmed up to the place and started to see what Star was all about, so I decided to unpack and see what the next day would bring. Everything worked out OK – I stayed and ran the food service for twenty-three years.
You will come back!!! At the 1997 Pelican Reunion six of us from 1952 attended. Chuck Russell, Dick Murch, Meg Clarkson, Judy and Fred McGill and myself.
POSTSCRIPT: In 1952, the capacity for guests was around 200 plus (no outside cottages had been built at that time). The Pelicans, staff and families were around 80. As I remember it, the cost for the week’s conference was around $35.00 for adults. The electric power for the island was from a large, three calendar Farbank-Morse diesel, 40 K.W. that was put together from spare parts after World War I. It was housed in what is now the Art Center. (There was also a small 5 K.V.A. Diesel for auxiliary power.) Back to the kitchen equipment – there were two large coal ranges, each with double ovens (I used only one). The tops of the ovens were rusted out and could not be used. There was also a gas range with one oven, two burners and a grill on top. A 30 qt. Hobart mixer was placed so the Bake Shop and the kitchen could use it. The Bake Shop had a three tier Blodgett gas-fired pizza oven (the Bake Shop was where the Steward’s Pantry is now). A room in back of the kitchen had a 60-gallon copper tin lined. The walk-in refrigerator was originally ice-cooled and was converted to electric. There was also one small deep freezer. The dish machine room had a one rack at a time washer (rinse cistern hot water, hot drinking water from a small gas fired tank under the kitchen). The dish room was where the present Bake Shop is now. The dishwasher is now in the old glass room. The steward’s Pantry was in back of what is now the snack bar. Two six-gallon steam heated coffee urns were to the left of the dining room door (The snack bar was smaller then). The coffee urns, two ten gallon with a twenty gallon hot water tank, was later moved to the right of the dining door. That part has been taken out and is now part of the dining room. The pantry was moved to where the milk machines are now. It was later moved to the old Bake Shop where it is now. Milk came in ten-gallon metal containers, was poured into a container with a spigot, then into pitchers for the dining room. In later years, new and used equipment was added. The coal stoves were taken out in 1956 and a new gas range was put in, also a 60-gallon steam jacket kettle, new steam table, new convection ovens were installed. When I left Star in 1975 a well-equipped kitchen was there to use.
Leonard Reed – February 1999