A Letter from Camp Devens, 1918

Earl Overbaugh (in uniform) and his mother, Janet Overbaugh: Waterbury, CT; 1919.

The following is a letter that my grandfather, Earl Hunter Overbaugh (1895-1983, husband of Dorothy Pearl Overbaugh), sent to his mother, Janet Hunter Overbaugh, while he was a recruit at Camp Devens near Ayer, Massachusetts, shortly before his deployment to France.  I have edited the letter for spelling and punctuation and added annotations to give some background for the people, places, and dates he mentions.

The above image is of Earl (in uniform) with his mother possibly at their home in Waterbury, CT, in 1919.  It is one of the few images we have of him with a full head of hair!  

I believe Earl preserved most of the letters that he wrote to his mother during his time as a soldier.  I saw them tied together in a bundle in the basement of Earl and Dorothy Overbaugh’s “new” home on Old Parsonage Rd in Hampton, in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.  Their location is currently unknown.  If found, I will endeavor to post some more of them here.

– Allen Vander Meulen III

Camp Devens

July 3, 1918[1]

Dear Mother[2]:

I received your letter today and was more than pleased to receive it.  I am praying and living in hope that I might be able to come home Sunday.  I seem to be rather unfortunate largely due to the fact that Waterbury is such a hard place to get in and out of.  We have had the opportunity to go, but even though the time was thirty some odd hours off it was at a time when I could not make connection to Waterbury.  Sunday that happened, it also happens for tomorrow that the same thing is true.  So you see that the fellows who live in Mass. And New Hampshire & Vermont have golden opportunities while I have none or few.  I will not let a good chance go by to see you folks however and I hope to be able to get a pass Sat. God willing.

Well Mother, I was out to the range today and had a very nice time.  The range is located on a high hill overlooking Still River Valley the view is superb and Miss Clara Sears[3] a rich Boston Society woman has a home on the road to the range which is magnificent.  The view is wonderfully beautiful.  Her estate covers a length of about 1-1/4 miles along the road running high up on the hillside.  For over ¾ of a mile she has a very old but splendid stone wall fence the top of which is formed of jagged rocks standing on end in cement.  The roadway is lined with a large number of wild flowers.  Was a state game and bird reserve here and you see almost all kinds of birds flying around.

One of the oddest things I have seen in all my travels is four blackberry trees each over 12” in dia. and about 20 ft. high.  I am not bluffing it is a fact, and they can easily be seen any day in the week.

Today we had sort of whirlwind around the barracks it picked up the dust and whirled it around in a column about 6 ft in dia. And 30 ft. high it came about 5:20p.m. and as we were still outside when it came near as we beat it until it wasted itself against the barracks.

On the way out to the range I was riding on the cannon and it fell away from the limber[4] twice and believe me I got some shaking up.  But it is all in the game and I had to go in to the work just the same.  Believe me we sweat some to when we are working at those guns.

I am pleased to hear that all the Hummels were home on Sunday.  It certainly must have been a pleasure to the Mother as well as the boys.  I would have liked to have seen them and been present at the Church[5] service.  I received Mable’s package.  It was a pleasant surprise to taste those chocolates.  Tell her I thank her very very much.  I am glad Helen[6] will (?????) of night duty soon.  I am surprised to hear that Bill Dallywater[7] has been injured.

Well Mother I will have to close now as the lights will soon go out.  With Love to all I remain just the same as ever.


[1] Camp Devens was soon to become “Ground Zero” in what was later known as The Great Influenza or the pandemic of 1918, which killed tens of millions of people around the world.  It first hit Devens in late August, just a few weeks after Earl wrote this letter.  By September 23rd over 10,000 of the nearly 50,000 recruits then at Devens were ill, and it had begun to spread into the surrounding communities.  Its spread was soon accelerated worldwide by the American soldiers deploying to Europe at a rate of 5,000 to 10,000 men per day.  Death rates at Devens exceeded 100 per day, many dying within a few hours of the onset of symptoms.

Also, the Battle of Balleau Wood (June 1-26, 1918) had just ended.  “…One of the bloodiest and most ferocious battles the U.S. would fight in the War…”  The victorious U.S. Forces suffered 1,811 deaths in the battle.

[2] Earl’s mother was Janet M. (Hunter) Overbaugh (1875-1962)

[3] Clara Endicott Sears (1863-1960) was the daughter of a wealthy Boston family.  She was an author and also wrote the lyrics for some popular WWI songs.  In 1910 she purchased a Farmhouse and land in Harvard MA that was once part of the Fruitlands Transcendentalist community (associated with the father of Louisa May Alcott).  In 1914 she opened the Fruitlands historic farmhouse to the public as a museum, as it still is.

[4] A “Limber” is a two wheeled cart designed to support one end of a military piece (such as a cannon) while in transit from one location to another.  It was generally connected to another cart or wagon, horse, or mule.

[5] Earl, and presumably his entire family, were members of what was then an American Baptist church on Piedmont St in Waterbury. It became a Congregational Church and eventually joined the United Church of Christ when that denomination was formed in the late 1950’s. It is the church my mother and her brother Bob Overbaugh grew up in, and is where my parents, Allen (Jr.) and Dorothy Vander Meulen, were married.  The church is now known as South Congregational Church, UCC.

[6] Helen Overbaugh Carder (1897-1970), Earl’s sister, buried in All Saints Cemetery, Waterbury CT.

[7] Possibly Joseph William Dalleywater (1897-1987), who is listed in “State of Connecticut Report of the Adjutant General (September 2018)” as a Private from the town of Waterbury in Company G of the 2nd Regiment of the Connecticut Infantry.  He died in Waterbury and is buried in the Prospect, CT Town Cemetery.

Letter Text and the image of Earl Hunter Overbaugh and his mother are Copyright (c) 2018 Dorothy Vander Meulen, all rights reserved

1938 Hurricane – Letter from Elizabeth Pearl to her stepdaughters

A personal perspective of Elizabeth Pearl….
 Pearl Farm 1938 Hurricane Damage
 (My father, Earl Overbaugh, removing apple trees knocked down by the 1938 Hurricane on the Pearl family farm in Hampton, CT.)

Elizabeth was the 2nd wife of William Austin Pearl. She and Will did not have any children together, but Elizabeth was a loving stepmother, close to Will’s children, Beatrice, Dorothy, Eleanor and William Waite Pearl. She was my grandmother and it was not until I was a teen ager that I learned she was really a stepgrandmother. I loved her.

Grandma and Grandpa Pearl lived on Hampton Hill, on Main ST (the old Rt.6). In 1938, Rt. 6 was the main road between Hartford, CT and Providence, RI. Will and Elizabeth had a large house, newly built sometime in the early 1930’s I believe, and it was painted white with green trim. The house is situated still at the curve in old Rt. 6 where it turns sharply to the north to follow Main Street for a short way before turning sharply to the east dropping down a steep hill into the Little River Valley and from there on to Providence. Directly in front of their house, where the road turned to the north, stood a maple tree. This tree was in the middle of the intersection where Main St. and Rt. 6 joined and it is still there today protecting the house from careless drivers going too fast to make the curve. From the back of the house, Elizabeth and Will had a commanding view of the valley.

In 1938 an intense hurricane hit the New England states. The following letter was written by Elizabeth one week and a day after the storm and it is obvious from the penciled scrawl and difficulty in understanding the cramped, poorly constructed sentences and misspellings that she was still under considerable stress and exhaustion even though 8 days had passed. The letter mentions William (Bill, brother of Bea, Dorothy and Eleanor), Bert (William’s hired farmhand), Mildred (William’s wife and the mother of Joyce Rodriguez) and Maurice (Elizabeth’s son-in law from her first marriage. He lived in NY State). At the time, the town was serviced by the railroad and had its own railroad station.

It is this quiet and lovely community that the storm descended upon without warning and caused such devastation. Elizabeth’s letter is the relating of events to family living in other parts of Connecticut on how Hampton fared, and specifically how my grandparents had fared. It gives us a glimpse of the terror of this storm and how it affected the people of Hampton. No one expected it, no one had prepared for it. And, because there was no possibility of being designated as a federal disaster area at that time, these folks faced the monumental task of cleaning up from the debris and repairing the fabric of their lives on their own.

The hurricane hit on Wed. Sept. 21, 1938. This letter is dated Thurs. AM Sept. 29th and is addressed to Mrs. Eleanor P. Hall 650 Main Street, Hartford, Conn. c/o Shepard & Co. It is from Mrs. W. A., Pearl, Hampton,, Conn. It has here been edited only enough to make it more easily understood.

The Letter:

Dear Eleanor: Was glad to receive yours, and Dot’s and Bea’s letters yesterday. First mail since last Wed. Will Jewett goes to Willi [Willimantic] after it, as mail train isn’t running yet. Since this one track has been repaired [it] has been given over to food and freight for Boston. Yesterday was first train in here for week. Hampton was pretty badly hit (awful we thot till we saw Brooklyn. That is as far that way as we have been and that was terrible). No one killed or injured in our town was a wonder too. Everybody has crawled out from under and frantically working to repair roofs where it is possible to get materials which has been a big hindrance.

The roof over our bedroom, a corner off the main roof, and chimney came crashing down at once [and] blew in attic window. Some of the splintered glass Will found stuck in the attic door [some 12 to 14 feet from the window] and water poured in every where. Our hall paper, both up [stairs] and down is streaked.

Nothing but good workmanship kept this house together as it was rocked so the clock stopped twice. I thot our time had surely come when I saw Borgers porches both go, Miss Waters porch went right over the house and landed up to firehouse. One of our garage doors laid in by [our] back door [and] the cover over our well blew in front bay window and broke one glass [pane] as I was looking out. Fragments blew clear in the dining room. [The bay window was in the living room on the south side of the house and the glass would have blown clear across that room to the dining room on the north side of the house.]

Both of Mr. Fitts barn roofs and most of hay [and] part of house roof and many windows panes [blew away] which we don’t even mention now. Ford house roof and barn is a mess.

Our beautiful church steeple and belfry are in a heap between chapel and church. Parsonage chimneys and roof gone and tree on side porch. Can’t begin to tell you of everything, but our beautiful trees thru town was piled in every direction mostly in street and of course they took wires and poles also. Wed. night was like living in back woods no cars no lights. Next day the street was full of people wandering around so much to do no one seemed to know where to begin we were all in a daze. No phone to call for help. No way to get materials if we could. A temporary bridge which was only completed late Sat night into Willi. The enormous light pole by our place is still in a heap in our yard haven’t any idea when we will get juice as the Dyer Dam went out Sat which supplies power for Danielson so all workmen are laying a temporary line to Montville and after that we get fixed up. Can you imagine what that means to us. No electricity is a calamity to us no heat no anything and only water as Will dips and carrys up a pailful is so little. The porch and windows are like the road [a mess]. We can’t do cleaning till we get back to normal. We have a little hand lamp and borrowed Stella’s (Elizabeth’s sister-in law] oil stove to cook on as she was using her range [a wood stove]. Have been very thankful for the sunshine and that helps keep our spirits up and can work out side much faster if it doesn’t rain.

William and Mildred went out to Maurice’s [in NY State] Tues 4 PM [the day before the hurricane hit] with the truck to attend an auction of pure blood cows at Earlville 75 miles further on. He did and got one staid until Sat AM [when] they got over their radio the conditions this way. They had some [of the storm and rain] out there. Imagine our surprise to go down [Hammond Hill Rd to William’s farm] Wed AM and Bert told us [where William and Mildred were]. Tues night had a cloud burst here and took out most of small bridges and plenty of roads in town. Six big trees blocked William’s [road down the] hill. Will knew side roads would be left so he frantically set to work chopping and sawing and for three days to repair roofs and try and save William’s chickens. (126 drowned first night in open shelters.) Bert had dysentery so bad could hardly move so Fri and Sat Will bro’t him up here to eat. The maple in yard and ash across the road, apple tree, pear tree and lower ash are down also others on farm. Send this on to Dot as now we know they are all right will not be [down there] right away. If nice we may come out to Bea’s since you can let them know or read this. Love Mother.

…………….Dorothy Vander Meulen


William and Elizabeth Pearl’s home, photo taken sometime in the 1930’s.

The Jewetts and the Pearls

Ever since Hampton was a fledgling community, forming out of the wilderness of northeastern Connecticut, the Pearl and Jewett families have figured prominently. For years families with those last names participated in the life of the community in many capacities, their talents and hard work contributing to the well being and quality of life in the town. No longer are the Pearl and Jewett names prominent here. Families have moved away, children have married and taken on new surnames, old people have died so that gradually the names have disappeared from the consciousness of many now living in Hampton. I suggest that those who are interested take a stroll through the North and South cemetaries. There you will find many stones marking the spot where many with these names slumber beneath the sod.

There are many descendants of these families still living in this area, though their names are no longer Pearl or Jewett. Pride of family is evidenced each year as the Pearl family continues to celebrate its history and its uniqueness by coming together for their annual reunion.

The Jewett and the Pearl families joined together with the marriage of John Porter Pearl to Maria Jennings Jewett in 1847 in Hampton. John Porter Pearl was the great great grandson of John Pearl the immigrant. One of John Porter and Maria Pearl’s 8 children was my great grandfather, Austin Eugene Pearl, born in 1851. Austin and his wife, Mary Weeks Pearl owned a farm across from and a little south of where the Hampton Elementary School is now situated on present day Rte. 97. Their house still sits beside the road.

The first “Hampton” Pearl was Timothy Pearl, born in 1695 in Boxford, MA. He was the son of John Pearl the immigrant. Timothy was a tanner by trade. Sometime around the year 1716, as a bachelor, he moved to Connecticut and bought 100 acres from Ebenezer Jennings on what was then known as Appaquage Hill. That piece of land was near what is now Lewis Rd. in Hampton. His first wife, Elizabeth Stevens from Massachusetts died after giving him 6 children. His second wife, Mary Leach, also from Mass. gave him 9 more. Amazing for the time, all 15 children lived to adulthood.

Austin Pearl was not only a farmer, but also a carpenter, a home builder and a postmaster in Hampton. The Hampton Post Office during Austin Pearl’s tenure as postmaster (1913 – 1921) was located on the east side of Main St., just north of the intersection of Hammond Hill Rd. After he retired, the Post Office moved to the center of town into an addition built onto the Hampton Hill Store. The Pearls found the U.S. Post Office a good source of employment it seems. Besides Austin, his daughter, Evelyn (Pearl) Estabrooks, was the Hampton Postmaster from 1936 to 1964. His sons, Reuben and William Pearl, were mail carriers on Hampton’s rural routes; William serving for 40 years and Reuben for 45. Other family members who worked at the Hampton Post Office, in various capacities and at various times were: Eleanor (Pearl) Moon, Mary (Pearl) Stone, Mary (Pearl) Emmons, Gertrude Pearl, Stella Pearl, Helen Pearl, Will Jewett and Vincent Scarpino. These names will be familiar to many long time Hampton residents.

Austin was a staunch Democrat who served as state representative from 1901 -1902, serving under then Governor, George P. McLean. He was chairman of the Hampton Democratic Party for years and was also a town selectman for 13 years. The fact that my great granddad was a Democrat fascinated me because most of his descendants in my parent’s generation of whom I was aware were avid Republicans. I enjoyed teasing my mother about her ‘Democratic’ roots. She took refuge in denial.

Austin and his son, Arthur E. Pearl, built many structures still standing in Hampton. One was the Grange Hall. One of the ones that Arthur built was the home that my parents, Earl and Dorothy (Pearl) Overbaugh bought on Parsonage Rd. when they retired and moved to town in 1963. That house is a low, one story structure. It was originally built for the Peabodys as a summer home. The land on which it stands was called Petticoat Pastures. I was told that it was modeled after the Little White House of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Warm Springs, GA. Don’t look for a similarity today, though. The house has much changed over the years. If anybody can tell me of other structures that Austin and Arthur built in Hampton and environs, I would be most grateful.

Chester Jewett, Mrs. Allen Jewett, M. Louise Jewett were among the first officers of Hampton’s Little River Grange #36 when it was organized in 1885. Mrs. Chester (Mary) Jewett was an original charter member and was a member for over 77 years. William W. Pearl was not only Past Master of the Little River Grange and of the Quinebaug Pomona Grange, but also Past Master of the Conn. State Grange. Many Pearls and Jewetts were long time members of the Hampton Grange, holding offices and actively participating in that organization until it closed it doors in 2002.

Dorothy Vander Meulen, Family Historian