The sad story of the fight between two friends
Fabian Stone was unquestionably the most important person in the life of Robert Strong Woodward. He came to work for him as a general handyman soon after Robert moved back to New England and settled into a small studio/apartment converted from a farm milk house. This was near the barn of his Uncle Bert Wells' farm which was located near the now site of the Mohawk Trail Regional High School.
Redgate - The first studio where Fabian worked for RSW
Fabian and RSW were together through the days of five studios and three fires, only leaving his employ after completing the construction of RSW's final studio at the Southwick blacksmith property on Upper Street in Buckland Center.
Despite the various vicissitudes of three devastating fires, Robert and Fabian enjoyed a satisfying, close and enjoyable relationship during their lives together. They were frequent travelers to Boston, to Vermont and to the Stockbridge area of the Berkshires. For over two decades they were the closest of friends. They both loved the outdoors, picnics in the Heath pasture, suppers in the studios and a good smoke or bourbon together.
Fabian and RSW having a picnic beneath the beech tree in Heath
Fabian was of French Canadian descent and he was proud of it, often speaking in French, especially when he was angry or upset. His grandfather, Terrance Desroches, was born in France. He worked for many years as a young man "river rat," riding the logs down the St. Lawrence River and was known as "The Frenchman." His son Eli (Fabian's father), born in Vermont, followed in his father's footsteps and was also a "river rat" riding logs down the Connecticut River from northern Vermont to the Turners Falls dam where in those days was located a large sawmill. Here the logs were hauled out of the river, dried and run through steam-powered sawmills, producing the lumber for the construction of many of the homes and businesses of the late 19th century in the Greenfield-Turners Falls and Franklin County area.
Eli's last ride down the Connecticut was in the late 1880's when he decided enough was enough and went up to settle in Colrain, Mass. He changed his name to "Stone" (English for Desroches) and soon afterward, in 1887, married a local French girl, Ellen LaPlante. The family spoke only French, the children learning English only after starting school. Fabian was born on January 24, 1903. Soon his family consisted of nine sisters and two brothers. There were 16 children in all; the rest were lost in infancy. Eli moved his family down to Buckland and bought a house near the Ice Pond off Bray Road. Here he began a business of sawing chunks of ice off the pond in winter, insulating them under mounds of sawdust, and then delivering them to the homes and businesses in the Shelburne Falls area during the summer months. These were the days of ice boxes in every kitchen and an iceman coming down the street once a week with a horse drawn wagon loaded with large chunks of ice. He would weigh the ice block on scales hanging from the rear of the wagon, and sling a large chunk onto his leather-padded shoulders to carry it into place in the house ice box.
Crittenden School where Fabian spent very little time, all of it turbulent.
Stone Road was named after Eli. It was here that Fabian grew up. He reportedly was an unruly school child, constantly in trouble with the teachers and the superintendent at Crittenden School.
At age 15 he quit school and for a short time worked in construction on the widening of Greenfield mountain road. At about the age of 17, probably in the year 1919, he took a job as handyman for Robert Strong Woodward. In the following years he became a professional mason, carpenter, electrician, painter, horse trainer, automotive mechanic and even nurse. This young man was adept at almost any job which presented itself, which was exactly what "Artist Woodward" needed. They became close friends and RSW came to depend on him more and more as the years went along.
Fabian's landscaping and stonework at the Hiram Woodward Place.
After the Redgate fire Fabian almost single handedly rebuilt the Hiram Woodward Place into a home and studio for RSW, magnificently landscaping the entire area with natural stone walks, fern gardens, grape arbors and barns.
He was especially expert at horse training, although it is remembered by some that his methods might have been a little severe. Nevertheless, Thomas à Kempis and Trigger, the two main horses of RSW, were exceptionally well trained, so that even an invalid could go out to the barn, harness them to a buggy and take off without assistance to paint for an entire day. RSW would return home late in the afternoon, unhitch the horse and put both himself and the horse to bed for the night. Many memorable paintings were made in these days. The New Silo
, November Afternoon
, and several of the Keach farm in Buckland Center such as New England in November.
RSW painting from his buggy with Thomas à Kempis tied to a nearby tree.
As the years went along, however, RSW lost much of his once prodigious upper body strength and depended more and more on Fabian for harnessing the horse and driving him to the site of his paintings. Fabian would stay around with him for the day, and then bring him home. Thereafter came the early Nash automobile and subsequently the fabulous Packard phaeton, into which Fabian would load RSW into the rear seat along with an easel and all of the painting paraphernalia. He would then drive him off for a day of painting, often as far away as Manchester, Vermont.
Fabian has loaded RSW and all his supplies into the rear seat
of the old Nash to go painting in Conway.
RSW painting from the rear seat of the 12 cylinder Packard Phaeton.
Fabian was capable of taking this enormous automobile apart bolt by bolt and making any necessary repairs.
Seen to the right of the Mary Lyon Church is
the long horse shed which Fabian used to
construct the Heath pasture studio.
Their closeness, however, often led to violent arguments and long periods of time when neither would speak to the other. Fabian faithfully kept everything running during such times. The lawns and grounds were meticulously kept just as RSW wanted. Fabian even built a pasture studio on the top of Burnt Hill in Heath where RSW produced many magnificent masterpiece paintings of a windswept beech tree against the mountain ranges. The pasture studio was made from much of the lumber and timbers retrieved when the horse sheds of the Mary Lyon Church were taken down, Almost single handedly, Fabian took these timbers up to Heath and constructed a perfect studio for nearly year-round painting.
The Heath studio built on Burnt Hill by Fabian.
Abruptly, in 1932, Fabian eloped with and married a Conway girl, Mary Wheeler, who was a nurse. Fabian moved out of the Southwick House which was under reconstruction at the time to live with his new wife near the Four Corners area of Upper Buckland . He continued, however, to work for RSW, completing the Southwick studio and home.
Then suddenly, in the summer of 1941 something happened. The two had a severe argument from which they never recovered. There were many strong letters back and forth, lawyers involved and Fabian left permanently, after 22 years, for another job at Mayhew Steel Manufacturing Company in Buckland. There is a lot more to this story than is being told here. These two men who were so closely devoted to and dependent upon each other for so many years became estranged almost over night.
Now that all the close family members have passed on, the following letter, written by RSW is being included here. It was found in RSW's desk files giving his side of the terrible difficulties between him and Fabian.
THE FABIAN AFFAIR
"A year and eight months ago, in July 1939, I bought from J. M. Blassberg in Shelburne Falls, a 1939 Chevrolet Beech Wagon. Fabian Stone, then my hired man, on whose judgment and interest I had grown to depend, since he had taken care of me under very personal circumstances due to my wheel-chair life, and whom I thoroughly trusted, Fabian suggested that I consider doing this, made on his own initiative all arrangements for Blassberg to demonstrate the car to me, and urged me to purchase it. I owned at the time a large and very heavy Packard twelve. This car, far beyond any I could afford to buy myself had been a gift to me from one of my patrons and friends, Mrs. William H. Moore. Realizing that because of my physical handicap I worked at my out-door painting under great disadvantage in the average car, Mrs. Moore presented me with a car large enough to use my easel and painting outfit on the back floor. Appreciating my terrific fight to work up a paying business at my painting, so as to try to earn my own living, keep out of the invalid class and be independent of state aid, many of my friends have done helpful things of this type to assist me. But the Packard has been extremely expensive to run as my only car, for errands, express boxes (my crated paintings going to and from exhibitions are large), my wheel chair, etc. So it did seem advisable to purchase a lighter cheaper car for this daily work, to save my Packard solely for the vastly important purpose of out-door painting. I naturally never expect to be able to own again such a car as the Packard, to help me in my career as a painter. The Chevrolet seemed a saving solution. Also the time had come when it seemed necessary to have a closed car for transporting my elderly parents, both 80, and my father blind; I had the entire financial care of them. They had been very brave in riding in the open Packard winters on the trips to my Buckland home. My mother admitted, however, that a closed car would really be wiser for her and father, and she influenced me in the final decision to purchase it. But unfortunately I did not have the available funds to buy the car. For over three years I have had the affliction of very serious bladder trouble. The intense pain has halted and limited my work and action very vitally, directly slowing up my output and my sales. Twice in two years I've been to specialists and hospitals in Boston, but for no definite benefit. My every available dollar was spent on these trips, and I was even helped by friends in the expenses. I was in no position to buy a motor car, even if it was economy to do so. Just previous to this a small amount of money had been left to me by my old nurse, Miss Cowles, when she died. Because of my illness and my going to Boston for serious operations, I had had this deposited in my mother's name, for in case anything happened to me, she and my blind father did not have a dollar to keep them living. I have no "estate" and no money in any bank beyond the few hundreds at a time which accrue from the sale of my paintings. Although it is difficult to explain it all to the "hired man type" I live in a very absurd and hypocritical position, riding in the most expensive of motor cars, living in a comfortable home, working in a comfortable studio, with often not enough money in the bank to secure the next month's food! The public, even my nurse and hired man, both closely necessary to my existence, are incapable of realizing the facts, the gigantic struggle (especially now in my recent added illness) which I have to make for mere existence, and for the attempt to establish a paying career and business. My mother, knowing of course, and realizing what this smaller closed car would mean to help me, suggested that she take the money for the Chevrolet from this small fund I had placed for her and father's protection. Rather reluctantly I agreed, so it was really my mother's precious money which paid for the car.
In my impoverished and unstable condition, I have always been sensitive about having a costly Packard registered in my name. Now, to have two cars registered in my name seemed all the more undesirable. There were two specific reasons at just the time of purchasing the cars in my name. (These reasons I will explain in detail if necessary but will not enlarge this statement by writing them out now. They were honest and sensible reasons.) Fabian had been with me for a long period of years. His great strength, of which he was proud, had helped me in countless ways, had increased my activity and greatly aided my attempt to be a normal business man, to lead a normal life rather than that of an invalid. Because of the unusual circumstances of my paralysis, he had been intimately beside me in all my dealings of complete life, was received by my friends, my business connections, as part of me, as my "legs" ! He came from a wild, lawless, uncouth youth, had been in jail countless times for various causes of lawbreaking, had lost his driving license six times, until finally he was told in Boston that if his name ever came on the records again over motor car trouble his license would be taken away from him for life and never granted him again. (I worried about this quite a little.) But despite all Fabian's wild ways and raw nature, I had grown to believe in his very basic principles of honesty, loyalty and manhood. For years I fought his battles for him, his dilemmas when breaking the law, his superficial negatives. The whole neighborhood assured me I was "playing with lightning", but still I determined to make a "social" man out of him, when originally, because of his pitiful early life he had never really matured.. For years he has gone out of his way to tell my close friends of his appreciation for what I had done to his life, vowing I had taken him "from the gutter" and made a man out of him. I had grown to feel for him as a brother would, as a father, as a member of the family. We had had differences of course, as any two men of intense natures, living closely together for years, would have; he had grown impossible on several occasions, and I had been forced as employer to discharge him, but showing and avowing regret and remorse, he had been hired back. I prayed and hoped he might take care of me all my life. So when it came time to register the new car, I told him the reasons I didn't wish to have two cars in my name at the time and asked him if it would be all right if I put the new Chevrolet in his name, for the present anyway. So it was done, without my giving it the fractional shade of thought that I was taking the chance of losing my hard-fought-for-property. (I realize now of course it was not good "business" to have done so, but that it should have been registered in my mother's name.) But I believed in Fabian as much as I did in myself, and so put this trust in him, without qualm or doubt. The car had to be made over entirely in front, in special way to make it usable for me. (Due to urinal conditions and a stiff knee joint I cannot have my legs elevated a particle above horizontal). The back seat was all made over for height and slant, a considerable expense to just fit my mother who is very short. Every fractional cent and expense on the car has been paid by me, every operating cost, every tax, every insurance. Of course! because it was MY car, with everybody else ever connected with it, having the same thought. It has grown to be absolutely indispensable to me and my life and my business, as I never supposed possible. My wheel chairs, at Fabian's suggestion, were all made over with hinged backs, so they could be carried in this car. Not once by phrase or intimation, during the twenty months I have owned it, has Fabian, before me, ever alluded to it as possibly his; he has never taken it once from the garage to use it personally, except after asking me first if he might so use it. In fact, he rarely had the slightest need of using it. Since I discharged him, three weeks ago when he stole this car, declaring it was his, I have had various reports come in to me, that Fabian has been bragging among his friends that the Chevrolet was his, and that I never could discharge him because he held the ownership over my head. But the idea never in all the twenty months went through my private mind or thoughts, that Fabian would or might ever claim the car as his.
Just at the time I bought the Chevrolet, I had my will made out for the first time. I was ill and going to Boston for an operation, and should anything happen to me I wanted my mother shielded from a tangled estate. My property, the Packard, all my paintings were to go to the persons who have so trustfully loaned me the money to establish my home and career. This left my mother and father practically nothing, so just why in this will I left the new 1939 Chevrolet car to Fabian, I do not know. But in appreciation for his letting me use his name on the registration, and because he had personally shown such interest in building up the car to make it usable for my wheel chair and paralytic life, on the spur of the moment I willed this 1939 Chevrolet to him. Unwisely, after I returned from the hospital, on one of our trips to Greenfield, when the family was along, I joked about my scare in making out my will, and spoke then for the first time before him of the fact that I had willed this car to Fabian. This probably made an indelible and fantastic impression on Fabian's simple mind.
A car that looks like the Chevrolet in question
When the year was past after I bought the Chevrolet, conditions had changed somewhat, which made me wish to have that car registered in another's name. These changes, I will not detail here because of the space and time they would take, but I am willing to state them to anyone one concerned. I began to feel it would be better business and reason, both for my sake and Fabian's to have the Chevrolet registered in my own name. I meant to have attended to it all through the winter, but I have been so worried with my increasing illness and with unusual sickness and trials in my household, and with delay in my painting, that I kept forgetting to attend to the matter at a convenient time. Finally, around the 20th of February, Mr. Mirick called me by telephone on some insurance matter, and I happened to think of my Chevrolet. I told him my wishes, talked about the technical process and expense, and he came up to my studio the next day to get my signature. I was busy painting but turned and signed the slip. He then asked where Fabian was. I replied that he was about the place somewhere, when at that moment he passed by the studio door. I called to him, told him what I was doing, and said Mr. Mirick wanted him to sign the transfer of registration. He replied " Yes, I'll do it", and they went out together to Mr. Mirick's car. I returned to my painting with no more thought given to the matter, supposing it was all settled. The next day, February 21st. Fabian was to take me and my family to Greenfield on some very important errands. My nurse was going back to the hospital on the 23rd, making a very awkward situation for me. The 22nd was a holiday, and necessary things had to be done before she went. At 11:30 that day Mr. Mirick called me by telephone, saying he did not yet have Fabian's signature and needed it at once to get me the new plates before the holiday and Sunday week-end, so I would not be caught without a car. (To save expense I have been storing the Packard during the winter months, using just the Chevrolet.) I was totally amazed to learn he didn't have Fabian's signature from the day before, but Mr. Mirick said that when they got to his car Fabian refused to sign the release, said he wanted to talk it over with me and would bring his signature down early the following morning. I told Mr. Mirick in all innocence that we were coming through the village at one o'clock on the way to Greenfield, and I would have Fabian run in with the paper. Fabian was working in the garage, and I went out and asked him, in a mild way, what the reason was for his not signing the paper yesterday, what the misunderstanding was, that Mr. Mirick needed it at once. At that, with a criminal ghastly look that I'll never forget, Fabian turned to me like a maniac, said the Chevrolet was his, not mine, that he would never sign it out of his name to his dying day, and that I had no way of making him! I almost fainted with the impact, so complete was my surprise, my shock, my amazement, that after nearly twenty years of living together, anyone I trusted could turn on me in such a deceitful, vicious way. In my amazement I tried to reason with him, but it seemed to me as if Fabian was actually demented. Before we were finished he said there was only one condition in the world which would cause him to give the car up to me, namely if I would sign a contract to never discharge him, for a long term of years. I told him of course this was preposterous, for one thing it was pure blackmail to so force such a signature, and for another, two men could never live together in any peace who were forced to stay together under contract. With a sinking heart, I knew now for the first time in twenty years, that Fabian was dishonest. Technically, with the bill of sale and the registration of my car in his name, he thought me cornered past getting out. A trust put in his name in a brotherly, friendly really affectionate way, he had taken advantage of and broken. I didn't suppose the man lived who would do this to me, let alone the man who had shared my life, and struggle, and attempt to overcome almost insurmountable handicaps, physical, financial, commercial, for almost twenty years. As employer, to employee, there was nothing left for me to do but to tell him to leave me at once. I wish to note here that I did not discharge Fabian until AFTER he had refused to turn over to me my own motor car. I had ardently hoped Fabian was going to take care of me all my active life; I have so entrusted him with all my business, possessions, and physical welfare he had become almost indispensable to my life and progress. So if Fabian attempts to persuade anyone that he kept the car BECAUSE I discharged him, it is not the truth. He spent the afternoon insolently running in and out, packing his possessions, taking what he pleased and finally left, taking my car with him. I was left absolutely stranded and helpless over the holiday and Sunday. I cannot ride in any car except one made over for my physical handicap, and my Packard was dismantled and unregistered. I cannot explain the tragedy the helplessness, the despair, to me of those several days. By Monday afternoon Mr. Mirick was able to get my Packard plates. I went at once to Mr. Bartlett, my lawyer, in Greenfield, having found a boy temporarily who could lift me into the car and drive the Packard. Monday evening Fabian came to the studio, trying to force me into hiring him back, holding the ownership of the car out, as bait. Before he left I forced the importance on him of returning my car, before I might have to send officers after it. He said he'd never bring it back while he lived, but I could come up to his yard and get it. He declared it was out in his yard to get. I telephoned Mr. Bartlett at 10 pm for advice; he said to get the car at once. Powerless to move myself, I telephoned a cousin near Shelburne Falls; he got out of bed, dressed and taking his son went to Fabian's home for the car. Fabian insolently said the car was his and they could go home without it. On Wednesday, February 26th Mr. Bartlettt sent the sheriff, Mr. Turner, with a warrant for the car. He brought it into my yard at noon. Because of legal attachment, it can be used by neither party.
I did not suppose, as I have said above, that the man lived who would do such brutal harm to me in my superhuman struggle to keep living, to keep working, to keep my head above the sea of physical defeat. Fabian in his heart knows absolutely the Chevrolet car is my property, and knows it is indispensable and needed to my very existence, as an invalid in a wheel chair. Any statements he makes to the contrary are made solely to keep technical possession of the car.
I understand Fabian claims to have a witness that I gave the car to him. Any statement to that effect by anybody is perjury, is a direct lie, for never in my life to anyone anywhere, did I make the statement the car belonged to Fabian. The possibility of it, while I lived, has never even entered my mind. Although I try to do many things for those caring for me, in appreciation for their services, because it gives me my greatest personal pleasure to do things for others, I am not in the financial class or status to give a motor car as a gift, to even the nearest relative. Fabian knows this; the confessions I've made in this document prove it. I had to take the money from my mother's security for even the initial payment. I do not own enough money to buy a new car to take the place of this Chevrolet, yet it has grown to be necessary to my actual existence.
Fabian knows who is the owner of the Chevrolet motor car in question, as does all the world which knows me and the car."
Fabian driving one of Dr. Boyden's horses.
Shortly thereafter Fabian began work as an auto mechanic at the Wilcox Garage in Greenfield; then opened his own Esso station and repair garage. Finally, he went to work caring for and training horses for Dr. Boyden, headmaster at Deerfield Academy. After Dr. Boyden's death Fabian operated his own horse farm where he raised and trained horses until his retirement. After leaving the employ of RSW Fabian's brother Ray and his sister Lena worked for him as handyman and nurse-cook-housekeeper. (Please see "Abbie's story
" in the Recollections section of this website.)
Gravestone of Fabian Stone, his wife, and their son.
Fabian died on June 29, 1965. His gravestone made from rose granite is in the Arms Cemetery in Shelburne Falls where he was buried with his wife. They had one child, a son, Bernard ("Jim"), born on Christmas day, 1933 who lived in Greenfield, MA. He died on January 16th, 2010.