Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Oliver Ellsworth Homestead and Museum in Windsor is welcoming visitors through  October 12.

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That name may not ring a bell with most today, but Oliver Ellsworth was one of our nation’s founders, and an important one at that. His accomplishments included:

  • As a Connecticut delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia , he was among the select few who helped draft what became our nation’s basic governing document;
  • He was Connecticut’s first United States Senator;
  • And, he was the third Chief Justice of the United States.

There were two other things that were even more important than the public offices he held. He is credited, along with fellow Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman, with developing what became known as The Connecticut Compromise, or just The Great Compromise.

The word “compromise” may be anathema to certain true believers today, but that willingness to work together on a contentious issue decided the fate of the federal legislature, and it could be argued the country itself.

The agreement called for an upper legislative chamber, a senate that had two members from each state, regardless of size. Up to that point, there were serious disagreements between the large and small states. The effort  to create a national government that could actually govern hung in the balance.

As if that weren’t enough, we can thank Ellsworth for the very name of our country. He authored an amendment that removed the word “national” and replaced it with “United States,” as in the United States of America.

The Georgian style structure in Windsor that Ellsworth called home has been expanded since it was built in 1740 and it was subject to major upgrades in more recent times by its present owners, the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, which owns a number of historically significant properties in the state.  The Ellsworth family home  was built on land that had been in the family since 1664.

If you visit the home situated on 12 acres in the north central part of Connecticut, keep in mind that among many others who walked through the front door were two sitting U.S. Presidents, George Washington in 1789 and John Adams, a decade later in 1799. It was a measure of the respect our country’s earliest leaders held for this Connecticut native.

He called his small patch of Connecticut soil Elmwood and such was his patriotic fervor that he planted 13 elm trees there to symbolize the newly created 13 states.  The trees haven’t survived, but the noble experiment in democracy that he championed lives on.

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The Ellsworth Homestead and Museum

778 Palisado Ave.

Windsor, CT 06095

860-688-8717

Open through Oct. 12

Fridays 12:00 Noon until 4:00 PM;
Saturdays 12:00 Noon until 4:00 PM;
Sundays 1:00 PM until 4:00 PM. 

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Kathleen Moore: “A Coast Guard Heroine”

Cutter Kathleen Moore

Kathleen Moore, one of the more remarkable women in Connecticut history, has also been one of its least known figures, despite a heroic career as a lighthouse keeper that began at Black Rock Harbor Lighthouse near Bridgeport when she was 12. It continued until her retirement at 84 in 1878.

In between, she was credited with saving 21 lives, often braving the storm-tossed waters of Long Island Sound in a small craft at great peril to her own safety.

Her story is told at the United States Coast Guard Museum at the service’s academy in New London.  But now that story will be told in an entirely different way. The Coast Guard has named its newest ship The Coast Guard Cutter Kathleen Moore. The 154-foot patrol craft was built by Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La., and is the ninth Fast Response Cutter delivered to the Coast Guard.

The shipyard that built the Kathleen Moore also provided recognition for this remarkable Connecticut woman in a different way. When she died in 1899 Moore was buried without a marker, but the people at Bollinger Shipyards bought an impressive stone that marks her burial site and notes her role as “A Coast Guard Heroine”.   A ceremony, complete with Coast Guard Color Guard, noted the recent occasion.

Norwich’s Leffingwell House Museum once entertained George Washington and Benedict Arnold, but not at the same time

CT Hist Leffingwell House Museum

Christopher Leffingwell wasn’t the first owner of the stately house that bears his family name in the historic city of Norwich, but he was, arguably, the most notable.  It was his entrepreneurial skills and business sense that made him a significant supplier of provisions for Washington’s Continental Army.

The home he inherited wasn’t always as big as it became when visitors as varied as Uncas, the great Mohegan sachem, General Washington himself and his one-time neighbor, Benedict Arnold came calling.

The house built by Stephen Backus, Circa 1675, was initially a two-room structure that expanded over time as needs changed.  The initial addition  allowed it to be use as an inn and gathering spot for those historic personages and many more ordinary travelers.

The current owners, the Society of the Founders of Norwich , term it a living museum, an apt description. It is one of many house museums to be found in Connecticut, but this one has a special resonance.

In addition to being an extraordinary example of a restored example of New England Colonial architecture, the Leffingwell House Museum offers a little something for everyone’s  interests.

The eastern Connecticut city of Norwich, where the Leffingwells were among the original settlers, is one of the state’s oldest communities. It was once among its richest communities and a most productive example of our nation’s the spirit of innovation.

It played significant roles in both the Revolutionary War and again in the Civil War, where its manufacturing and commerce  aided the national causes.

Examples of this past can be found in displays throughout the Leffingwell House. These include  all manner of things from the Colonial era; items brought back from China and elsewhere by whaling captains; British-made pewter; a British uniform frock and even samplers that were used to teach young girls how to needlepoint  as their learned their alphabet and numbers.

But among the most stirring things to see is the nearly 200-year-old U.S. flag designed by Samuel Chester Reid, a navy captain and Norwich native. The flag created by Reid by was adopted by Congress as the basic American flag design. This one was found in the attic of a Norwich home and is proudly displayed.

That cherished bit of Americana alone is worth a visit, but it in terms of offerings, it is one among many.

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Leffingwell House Museum 

348 Washington St, Norwich, CT 06360
(860) 889-9440

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Connecticut’s early role in the Industrial Revolution and much more on display at the Canton Historical Museum

 

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The name on the side of the large brick building overlooking the Farmington River is faded after nearly 200 years, but in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, it proclaimed to the world that the Collins Company Axe Factory was located here.

The sprawling industrial complex launched in 1826 by a pair of 20-somethings, Samuel Watkinson Collins, 24, his brother David, 21, and their wealthy cousin, William Wells, made edge tools into the 20th century.  At its peak, the company’s product line numbered 1,300 different types of such tools.

The items produced here were used almost exclusively, it is said, on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Such was their quality, that Collins machetes were widely used in Central and South America. Their axes and picks made their way to the California Gold Rush and later Collins-produced bayonets were used in the Civil War.

The memory of those heady days is displayed in the Canton Historical Museum, housed in a three-story wooden structure that once was used by the Collins Company to finish and assemble agricultural plows.

Its collection tells the story of the company that used hydropower to begin mass-producing axes and other tools in this rural enclave a 30-minute drive from Hartford, the state capital. But the museum collection ranges from early Native American artifacts to the Victorian Age and even some well preserved inventions made by Thomas Edison.

Reminders of 19th century life also include a reconstructed general store, post office and  barber shop, a parlor featuring life-size mannequins wearing period wedding gowns. A hand-pulled piece of fire apparatus and a metal Civil War casket are among the more unusual items on display.

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The Canton Historical Museum www.cantonmuseum.org

11 Front St, Collinsville, CT 06019
(860) 693-2793

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It’s been 400 Years Since Adraien Block Put us on the Map

 

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There are few reminders today of their early exploration of Connecticut and the Dutch impact here, including the important role played by Adraien Block, who became to the first European known to have sailed up Long Island Sound and produce a map of the shoreline and several of her inland waterways, including the mighty Connecticut River.

There’s the place name, Adraien’s Landing in Hartford, part of a vibrant waterfront development that houses the largest convention center between New York and Boston and the Connecticut Science Center fronting on the Connecticut River.

And, there are exhibits that focus on the early Dutch exploration of Connecticut at two Connecticut museums. These can be found at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex and at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center on the tribal reservation in the state’s southeastern corner.

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Connecticut River Museum 

67 Main St. Essex, 06426

860-767-8269

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 Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center 

110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, 06338

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Connecticut’s Valley Forge is a Peaceful Reminder of a Difficult Time in the Revolutionary War

 

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Connecticut’s oldest state park, Putnam Memorial, located in the state’s southwestern portion, is dedicated to soldiers of the Continental Army, one third of Washington’s army, who encamped here in the winter of 1778-1779.

The troops were positioned there to counter a British incursion similar to what had happened 20 months earlier when they marched to nearby Danbury and destroyed large quantities of provisions for Washington’s army.

The encampment has been called “Connecticut’s Valley Forge,” where troops of the Continental Army under the command of Major Gen. Israel Putnam spent the winter following the far better known Valley Forge encampment of General Washington and his troops.

By historical accounts, it was a harsh Connecticut winter, with the troops suffering from a lack of proper clothing, among other necessities of life, including meager pay. At one point, troops under in one of the brigades were preparing to march on Hartford to voice their grievances. Gen. Putnam, a legend for his exploits in the French and Indian Wars and at Bunker Hill, confronted the men and delivered a stirring address, one that recognized the situation and called on them to think of their heroic past and how that would be compromised by such a mutiny. They stood down.

Today’s state park offers a visitor’s center and other places of importance, including a museum, and an account of a daring escape when British soldiers tried to capture him.

There is a self-guided walking tour that highlights 14 significant stops. One of them is the museum that contains exhibits, interactive kiosks and a variety of historical materials that include discoveries made during archaeological excavations at the 183-acre park.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection which operates the park has provided a six-minute video overview of what you will see while visiting there.

 

 

History blossoms at 14 gardens planted around Connecticut

weir Farm National Historic Site

The Weir Farm

Connecticut offers its history up to visitors in many forms, shapes and colors. The most familiar might be museums, battle sites, house museums and, yes, colorful gardens that grace Connecticut’s landscape and accentuate its past.

Connecticut’s Historic Gardens , a group that promotes this part of the state’s history, has highlighted 14 of them.

The Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton — the only national park devoted to American painting– is perhaps the best known, given that it was home to three generations of Weir family artists, starting in with J. Alden Weir, a pioneer in the development of American Impressionism.

If there were an award for the historic garden site with the most interesting name would go to the Thankful Arnold House Museum in Haddam, which features the Wilhelmina Ann Arnold Barnhart Memorial Garden.  Itmay be the garden with the longest name.

The other 12 historic gardens located throughout the state are:

Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden,  Bethlehem  06751Butler-McCook House & Garden, Hartford 06103;   Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme 06371; Glebe House Museum & The Gertrude Jekyll Garden, Woodbury 06798; Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford 06385Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT 06105; Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington 06032; New London County Historical Society & Shaw Mansion, New London 06320; Osborne Homestead Museum & Kellogg Environmental Center, Derby, CT 06418; Promisek at Three Rivers Farm, Bridgewater, CT 06752;  Roseland Cottage, Woodstock 06281; Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum , Wethersfield 06109;