Sometimes the riches are obvious, sometimes not.
In the Puritan era of Connecticut history, riches were to be made by merchants, trading down the riverways to the open ocean and world beyond. In the 1600s, picturesque Wethersfield grew up around the Connecticut River. Unassuming-seeming merchants amassed great fortune through the sugar and slave trades.
Over time, the family houses grew larger, yet not necessarily more ostentatious. A Yalie Silas Deane made his fortune and built his Georgian style home in the 1760s, before he became a political star before and during the Revolution. Yes, there are formal parlors and Portland (CT) brownstone, but as you can see here, the house isn’t over the top.
They did have a lot of chairs, over 70, I think, when most homes might not have even one. Chairs were definitely a luxury item. Most of us might have made do with a bench, if we were fortunate.
The oldest house on this site dates back to 1752 and Joseph Webb. But it got a Colonial Revival makeover in the early 20th century, complete with painted murals. Definitely not Colonial!
Any wealthy Colonist would have opted for wallpaper, as you can see in the restored, rather restarined Isaac Stevens parlor.
Together, these three houses, as guided by the wonderful docent Jay, tell a story of Colonial life among the wealthy. You can track how kitchen technologies changed, see the kinds of toys and picture books the children had, and witness how servants lived, including slaves who bought their freedom and built separate cabins on the same property as their employers.
Together, the occupants of the houses tell the story of how Connecticut blended the New York Dutch sensibility and Massachusetts Puritanism to form a hybrid culture of tolerance and staid conservatism, liberal values and the tendency toward inbred hysteria (as with the Connecticut history of witchcraft).
Trivia tidbit: Colonists liked to paint the back of their houses red. Why red? While not definitive, several possibilities abound. Red warded off the devil. Hmmm. Red was available from red iron oxide and when mixed with skimmed milk and lime, made a hard, durable coat. Okay. Red absorbs the sunshine, so makes the house warmer with the winter sun. Plausible, and may explain why by the 1700s, the red barn became ubiquitous. Here’s the garden view of the handsome backs of the three Colonial homes in Wethersfield.
While Frances Osborne Kellogg’s Homestead is much more modest than the three houses in Wethersfield, her life was plenty rich, as was her fortune. Her Osborne father bought the 1840 Smith farm near Oxford, CT in 1911. His fortune was made in the manufacture of wire corsets and hoop skirts. Let me catch my breath.
When her father passed away, Frances, now married to an architect husband Kellogg, ran the factories and subsequently sat on the boards of a bank, hospital, and church, and continued her father’s interest in funding the local library. She was a remarkable business woman, at a time when just being a woman in business was remarkable.
She married at 43, when her husband was 49. It was a first marriage for both, and they had no children. They devoted creative energy according to their passions.
Her husband became interested in breeding Holstein cows, and Ivanhoe here was one of the top bull sires, making the Osborne Homestead famous. He was a founding father of a different variety–not of a nation, but of a breed.
So with cows on the brain, I ventured up hill and down dale and through the woods to Rich’s Ice Cream. The ice cream is made from the milk from the dairy right there. I had Purple Cow, a creamy raspberry with chocolate chunks. Don’t think about it too hard. I will say, though, it topped off my day of riches.