The Chief of Round Hill

No chronicle of Round Hill would be complete without plumbing the memory of Bill Strain, whose family has owned and operated the Round Hill Store and Service Station for many years. His grandfather, William Sr., bought the store in 1915 and Bill, 84, is still on the job every day, attired in his blue service station uniform and ready to chat with customers. His son-in-law, John Wood, an expert mechanic, is on duty six days a week. 

A life-long resident of Round Hill, Bill, as he prefers to be called, recalls that before the advent of the Merritt Parkway, built in 1928, the Round Hill Store was a meeting place for residents on horseback who gathered on Sunday mornings before a ride, often with hounds on a fox hunt.

“The area consisted of large estates whose servants lived and worked on the property and there were always a lot of children participating in activities at the Community Center,” says Bill. “There was something going on every day and night, usually baseball or basketball. The wives of the workers were called “Squaws” and there were square dances almost every week. A girl called the squares and the men played the music. 

I also fondly recall Lillian Davey who lived on the north corner of Round Hill and West Old Mill. (Lillian Davey was a major donor to the Boys and Girls Club and built the former ER at Greenwich Hospital.) “ Mrs. Davey loved our dog, Sapi, (named for sapience or wisdom as our girls were studying Latin) whom we never leashed and she used to visit all the neighbors. On really hot days Mrs. Davey gave her a ride in her air conditioned Cadillac with white leather upholstery. That’s the kind of person she was. And do you know that dog never came inside our house–she had her own doghouse so she could come and go at will.” 

Bill’s grandfather owned the store and his father was made a partner the day he turned 21. “During World War II there was a shortage of men, of course, so as a teenager I was expected to do men’s work and I stocked shelves in the store and helped take care of wrecks on the Merritt from the Stamford line to King Street. I wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license so when a car broke down and had to be pushed, I’d steer the car.” 

In 1946, fire destroyed Long Lane Farm, now the site of Parkway School. “By the time we laid hose for half a mile to get to the lake on the Wilshire property there was no more farm,” says Bill. “Donald Lovejoy stepped up, contacted the men’s club of the church and founded a fire company (now known as the Round Hill Volunteer Fire Company.) In 1948 we got a charter from the state giving us a territory and the right to exist but the Town told us we couldn’t operate unless we joined the Greenwich Fire Department and we couldn’t go to fires without their invitation. They would come to fires after the fires were put out. We got that straightened out and now partner with the Town.” 

The Seabury property, which was owned by the Episcopal Diocese, loaned one of its barns to the fledgling company for a firehouse and that barn now is part of the Louise Mueller Land Trust. Bill Strain was made Fire Chief in 1958, the youngest in the state, and was Chief until 1974. 

He proudly drove Old Smokey, a 1924 La France pumper and his pride and joy, in earlier days. 

Family ties bind and Bill’s nephew, Rick Strain, now is Fire Chief and Rick’s son, Will, is an officer of the Fire Company. 

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