Irene Wilbur

Irene Wilbur

Born 1937

Irene Wilbur. Courtesy of Irene Wilbur.

I was 25, in 1963, just married and found myself in a new and different world.  Little Compton seemed so small.  Nothing like the South Shore of Massachusetts, where I went to high school, or Boston, where I worked.

Fortunate enough to travel throughout New England, as a clerk for New England Telephone &Telegraph Company Yellow Page Division Training Department, I was able to visit many towns and cities.  None that could ever come close to the quaint, quiet, serenity of this land that jetted out into the ocean on three sides. 

My job ended abruptly when I married.  Married woman were not allowed traveling jobs with the company.

How times have changed!!

My world had been turned upside down.  My husband was a career Navy man; away from home (many times for more than a year).  I knew noone but my husband’s family. 

As our family grew, I would travel back to my roots quite frequently.  Three kids were piled into a port-a-crib in the back seat of our car, and off we’d go….. 100 miles north. 

Houses were not built close to one another in Little Compton.  Nothing like the city.  Making friends was difficult, to say the least.  I met my first and still my best friend, walking my baby in her carriage on John Dyer Road.  If you were not a native, being accepted was sometimes illusive.

Eventually I assimilated into town life.  This happened by going to church, involvement in Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girls’ Softball League and Republican Party, reporting and writing for two local newspapers, being involved in the PTA, serving as president of the support personnel in the town, and my work days as a Literacy Aide at Wilbur School.

However, the best introduction to Little Compton were my years of being a policeman’s wife and housing the Little Compton Police Station in my home on John Dyer Road.  The station was moved here from Chief Arthur Snell’s house on Maple Avenue in 1975, due to the illness of the chief.  

My husband Nick joined the Little Compton police force in 1968 after a 20-year career in the Navy.  He became the town’s first full-time policeman.  Except for Chief Snell, Little Compton only had part-time officers.  Those part-timers then were Leo Brousseau, Adelbert Gifford, Fred Silva, Herbert Case and Ernie Chretien. 

The new location of the police station was the beginning of an adventure for the Wilbur household!

Nick was appointed acting chief of the department and the “RED” phone was installed in our living room.  It was placed upon an old desk, dug up from the basement.  This old desk, was also the home for Mama Cat’s babies, although not for long.  Just too much activity for her liking!

Our 3 children, Lisa, Andy and Tracy were given the “TALK”: They were NEVER under any circumstances to go near the “RED” phone, AKA the “BAT” phone, as it was tagged by all three.  If they did, the wrath of Dad would be upon them!

The other attention demur was the police radio, which seemed to go off constantly.  The order to all was “BE QUIET” when it rang.  This was so that Nick could follow what was happening.  These orders were not always appreciated or easy to follow!

This new arrangement was something to get used to.  First my housekeeping skills were put to the test.  Strangers, State Police and our own officers were frequent visitors, both day and night.

For those on duty, who had prisoners that were violent or under the influence, their passenger was secured in the patrol car while the officer finished the paperwork. After it was signed off by Nick, they drove to the State Police Barracks in Portsmouth to drop off the accused.  LITTLE COMPTON DID NOT HAVE A JAIL!

Domestic disputes were handled a bit differently.  If both husband and wife were brought in, usually the wife was put in our bedroom and the husband stayed in the living room. This separation allowed and helped the officer obtain the real story and arrest the proper party. Fred Silva was the best under these circumstances.  He usually had the couple leave under a happier note, with Fred being in tears. 

The biggest problem was communications from our house to the patrol car.  We lived in a “dead” zone.  If the phone rang at two or three in the morning, Nick would have to dress, get into the police cruiser, drive to the top of Pottersville Hill and call the patrolling officer to inform him of the situation. If the call was close by, Nick would handle it himself. 

In time, the town moved the station to the Town Hall, along with the now full-time men in blue.  These included John Taber, Terry Quick, Charlie Simmons, Bert Chretien, Ronnie Coffey, Barry Wordell, Howard Bradley, and Nick.  Buzzy Marion and Sid Wordell followed soon after.

Until a new Police Chief was appointed, the “RED” phone remained at our residence. 

There are many stories of calls that cannot be told here, some intentional in nature, others not.  These calls were the same as any police department would encounter including a lost child, drugs, break-ins, accidents and suicide.

It was challenging at times for all of us.  There were many rewarding, happy, and sad days.  We all learned to accept the situation…… Especially the radio and the “RED” phone.

And yes, it was RED!

Just a post note: Being a resident of Little Compton for almost 50 years, I grew to love the town.  It was hard to leave and go live with my daughter and husband, after Nick’s passing.  Little Compton is a treasure.  May it always be! 

Irene Wilbur

April 2020

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548 West Main Road, Little Compton, Rhode Island
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