A trip down memory lane at Warren State Hospital

Back in Time

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Members of Dr. Robert H. Israel’s family who toured Fairacre – once the family home for Warren State Hospital superintendents – with Israel’s son, Dr. J. Robert Israel, on Tuesday include (from left): Liz Twardon, Bruce Israel, Ethan Gredler, Michael Gredler, Mark Gredler, Nicholas Israel, Pamela Israel, AnnaLisa Gredler, Stefan Israel, Christine Israel, Dr. J. Robert Israel, Kathy Israel, John Robert Israel Jr., Ian Israel, Jessica Israel, and John Robert (Critter) Israel III.

A visit to Fairacre, on the grounds of Warren State Hospital, was a trip back in time for J. Robert Israel.

Fairacre, now a conference center, was the home for the hospital superintendents’ families into the 1980s.

Israel’s father, Robert H. Israel, was superintendent from 1935 to 1970. J. Robert spent many years calling home Fairacre and calling Fairacre home.

The house is along Main Drive, just in front of Center Building.

On Tuesday, Israel and his wife of 65 years Christine, of Asheville, N.C., their children Bruce (Liz Twardon) Israel, Pamela (Mark Gredler) Israel, Stefan Israel, John Robert (Kathy) Israel Jr., and grandchildren Ian Israel, John Robert ‘Critter’ Israel III, Nicholas Israel, Ethan Gredler, Michael Gredler, and AnnaLisa Gredler spent hours at Fairacre.

It was a first visit for some, but J. Robert had revisited his childhood home before, most recently in 2014.

He had something to say, some memory, of every nook and cranny in the three-story house and the basement.

His children reminded him of stories that he failed to bring up– sometimes intentionally.

What the children thought was the front door was not. The front door was used by special guests.

The most significant personage Israel could remember visiting Fairacre while he was there was a former president of Brazil.

Some of the furniture in the house on Tuesday was familiar.

“This was my mother’s writing desk,” Israel said in one of the rooms on the ground floor.

But most furnishings either went with the family or have been replaced since.

Isreal said at the bottom on the staircase. “That didn’t stop us.”

John Robert Israel Jr. had memories from the same location. “I got a Slinky for Christmas one year,” he said. In addition to sending it walking down the steps, as it was intended, he said he “really enjoyed” dive-bombing family members with the metal coils as they walked beneath him.

In the library, Christine pointed out “where the stockings were hung.”

Israel agreed, pointing to the same fireplace. “That’s where vants’ rooms on the third floor were bedrooms — the largest for the senior maid, a closet for out-of-season clothing, and a “servants’ sitting room.”

Someone on the tour asked Israel about what looked like an outlet — but not a standard electrical outlet — near the floor on the second floor.

“That was part of the built-in vacuum system” in the 1908 building, he said. Ducts connected outlets at various points in the house to the suction system. Whoever was doing the cleaning could connect a tube to the outlet, turn on the system, and vacuum.

In the basement, “When I was a kid, this was the haunted part of the house,” John said, there have been many changes since 1970, but the spaces were familiar.

Israel pointed out the portion of the storage room, a good-sized shelf, that was reserved for Coca-Cola — a weakness of his father’s.

He had brought the visitors’ attention to “ash drops” at the base of the ground floor fireplaces. In the basement, he again directed attention to where those ashes would have ended up — large concrete boxes with metal doors well away from visitors and carpet.

Another system no longer in use made sure there was firewood at hand. Wood was loaded onto platforms in the basement. The platforms were then raised using ropes up through the floor next to each fireplace and secured.

In the laundry room were two large sinks. While some items were laundered by hospital personnel and patients, Israel’s mother, Helen (Webber) Israel, was in charge of the rest, he said.

The tour did not include the garage, but Stefan reminded his father that there were stories — other than the place the children were introduced to the great Dane — from that location. “In the attic of the garage, a certain little boy would naughtily play with matches,” Stefan said pointing to his father. He described the place as a “death trap” that he was surprised hadn’t burned down. Later, children were provided with directions and a safe location for playing with matches. Stefan explained that such fruit, not forbidden, was not so sweet. While not all of the outbuildings remain today, none were destroyed by accidental fires set by anyone in the Israel family and Fairacre itself still stands.


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