Self-proclaimed oldest Ripton resident talks local history and Robert Frost
RIPTON — On Saturday morning, April 21, more than 50 people attended a talk at the Ripton Community Church. The 97-year-old Hilda Barnard Billings presented “Hilda’s Recollection of the Ripton Post Office and Friend Robert Frost.”
Claiming to be the oldest Ripton resident, Hilda was born in 1920 in the downstairs northwest bedroom of the first post office in Ripton, now the Chipman Inn. “Maybe being born in this house destined me to become a postmaster,” she said.
The Ripton Post Office is 188 years old. From what is now the Chipman Inn, it moved to the Day store for 60 years until Hilda took the job in 1955 to augment the family income; she had husband Malcolm relocated it to their family home. Her title became Hilda P. Billings, Postmaster; Billings said she was grateful for that title as she thought “postmistress” sounded a bit naughty. The Postmaster title only became official after she agreed to resign her membership in the Ripton Republican Committee.
Husband Malcolm installed the boxes, built a counter in a front bedroom and also hung sleigh bells from Uncle Homer Noble’s sleigh on the front door. Patrons’ hours were five days a week from 8-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-6 p.m., as well as one hour each holiday including Christmas. All entered through the front door and as it opened so often letting in blasts of winter, the dresses Billings traditional wore were soon exchanged for warmer slacks she made herself.
Hilda and Malcolm Billings brought the Ripton Post Office into their home in 1955.
Hilda retired in 1983 after 28 years and was the last appointed postmaster. Daughter Susan took over as a contracted postmaster until 1993, when it moved back to the Ripton Country Store, where it continues to serve the community.
One of Hilda’s many interesting patrons was poet Robert Frost, who came in daily to pick up his mail the five months each year he resided on the Homer Noble Farm. He and his personal secretary dined with Hilda’s aunt Eunice Noble and her sister, Agnes, evenings until he purchased the Noble farm.
In addition to Frost moving his legal residence to Ripton, he made his presence well known. Hilda remembers his objection to seeing the “Wanted” posters that were mandated to hang in the post office. She then moved them behind the door so that they were still hanging but fewer people noticed them, including Frost.
Hilda enjoyed Frost who would always, before he left for his winter home in Cambridge, Mass., stop with instructions for forwarding his mail. If she was busy, she could find him later sitting at her kitchen table waiting to have a chat and to say goodbye.
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Sandra Brockmeyer Button.
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