Learning History From Quilts

Learning History From Quilts


A special donation of a historical quilt linked to Kent spurred the Kent Historical Society to offer an event dedicated to quilt history.  Sue Reich of Washington, an author and lecturer on quilt history, demonstrated the use of quilts as a historical research tool as part of the Kent Historical Society’s Sunday Series on Jan. 19, 2014 at the Kent Town Hall.

 Reich has been a quiltmaker since childhood. She lectures widely on many aspects of quilt history, and is a certified American Quilt Society quilt appraiser. She co-authored “Quilts and Quiltmakers Covering Connecticut” and authored “Quilting News of Yesteryear: One Thousand Pieces and Counting,” as well as “Quilting News of Yesteryear: Crazy as a Bed-Quilt”, “World War II Quilts”, “Quiltings, Frolicks and Bees” and “World War I Quilts.”

 The main quilt discussed is a recent donation to KHS. It is a signature quilt that dates back 120 years has been returned to town. Embroidered with the date 1894, it belonged to the Rev. Benjamin Mead Wright at the time of his retirement as pastor of the First Congregational Church of Kent in 1896.

 The quilt was handed down in his family, where it remained until 2012, when KHS Board members Dick and Charlotte Lindsey met his grandson, Stanley Wright, in Norwalk. Wright felt strongly that the quilt should be returned to Kent. It was on display during that fall at the church and then transferred to the Historical Society. At the time of this recent donation it was assumed that the quilt had been made as a retirement gift for Rev. Wright by his congregation, but close examination by Ms. Reich has now led us to believe that may not be the case. The more we study the quilt, the more questions we have. We’re digging into family histories, old newspaper stories, church records and more.

 The society hopes that this presentation will spark renewed interest in the stories that quilts can tell. KHS held a Quilt Discovery Day in April 2014, to which people brought their own treasured quilts for Ms. Reich to evaluate.


Quilt Discovery Day

KHS hosted quilt expert Sue Reich of Washington for an entire day of quilt evaluations Sunday, April 6, 2014.  “Quilt Discovery Day” allowed registrants an opportunity to find out how much a family heirloom quilt might be worth and what time period it dates back to.

Verbal assessment were giving to each quilt owner would could then write down the information. A digital photograph of each appraised quilt was taken and provided to the owner.

A special presentation during the lunch break focused on “Tips for Care and Use” to learn about the preservation, storage, care and suggested ways to display or hang a quilt.

Reich is an author and lecturer on quilt history and has been a quiltmaker since childhood. She lectures widely on many aspects of quilt history, and is a certified American Quilt Society quilt appraiser. She co-authored “Quilts and Quiltmakers Covering Connecticut” and authored “Quilting News of Yesteryear: One Thousand Pieces and Counting,” as well as “Quilting News of Yesteryear: Crazy as a Bed-Quilt.”

The Kent Historical Society hosted Reich in January for a talk “Learning History From Quilts,” and she shared information about quilts in the KHS collection, including two that had been recently donated.



Tom Hooker Hanford

Tom Hooker Hanford

Musician Tom Hooker Hanford performed on March 16, 2014, sharing a family-friendly program that he calls, “Fiddle Dee Dee: Children’s Folk Songs of Old New England.”

The musical celebration involved a number of songs from “Folk Songs of Old New England,” which was first published in 1939 by Editor Eloise Hubbard Linscott. She collected a variety of songs from elderly New Englanders. The musical pieces had been handed down for generations and some of the songs were 100 years old at the time of publication. “The old songs are fun and I’ve tried to interpret them in a way that stays faithful to the originals,” Hanford said.  Some songs, like “Billy Boy,” may be familiar favorites, while many others are less well known. “The Lumberman’s Alphabet” takes a humorous look at the life of a north woods logger. “Jolly Old Roger,” with its sign-along chorus is a droll portrait of a colonial tinker, Hanford said.

The program attracted children of all ages and their families. “I present the songs in a way that is appealing, playful and fun for all ages,” Hanford said.  Copies of his CD featuring the songs performed is available at www.tomhookerhanford.com/songs.html.

Civil War Medicine

Civil War Medicine

The Kent Historical Society featured a presentation on May 18, 2014, on Civil War medicine by Harwinton resident Dane Deleppo. The presentation was a preview of a large ceremony that happened in Litchfield to honor one battle in the war.

Dane’s talk focused on the care given to soldiers in the Civil War. He also shared information about the training of doctors, misconceptions about the care, as well as which medical drugs were available. Poor hygiene in camps led to disease becoming rampant, and at the beginning of the war there were no hospitals to which to take the badly wounded. Eventually orders were issued that each regiment must have a surgeon. The development of medical practice during the Civil War had many different aspects.

Deleppo is a 25-year veteran of Civil War re-enacting and is the current president of the T. A. Hungerford Museum in Harwinton. Deleppo and his wife, Carol, received the 2012 Mary Tallmadge Chapter of the DAR award for historical preservation.

The Civil War Battle of Cold Harbor was remembered on Memorial Day weekend in Litchfield with a series of events organized by Litchfield’s Morgan-Weir American Legion Post 27 and the National Park Service. Deleppo was one of the featured speakers. Other presenters included Bert Dunkerly of the National Park Service, Civil War historian Peter Vermilyea, who also teaches history at Housatonic Valley Regional High School and Western Connecticut State University, and the Connecticut Army National Guard Brass Pack. The battle of Cold Harbor was significant because so many local men were involved and because of its devastation. The 2nd Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery had trained on the Litchfield Green and suffered large losses in the battle. The organizers of the Litchfield event have a Facebook page “Litchfield County Connecticut Remembers Cold Water – 150 Year Anniversary.”

History of Farming

History of Farming

 Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 at the Kent Town Hall, we hosted John Perotti of Lone Pine Farm in Millerton, NY. He spoke about the progression of farming in the area as well as his own family farm, which is now being operated by the fourth generation in the family.

In a wide-ranging talk, he discussed his own experiences with livestock and various crops — this man really loves cows! He also had some interesting things to say about genetically modified organisms, whole milk, and organic farming.  With candor and a great sense of humor, he described the challenges farmers face today.

The audience had several Kent farmers, including Megan Haney, Bill Case and Barry Labendz, who added their perspective to a lively discussion.

Sunday Summer Series: July 20th, Aug 17th & Sept 21st

Skiff Mountain Schoolhouse

The little pre-Revolutionary one room schoolhouse sits high atop Skiff Mountain on the edge of the Marvelwood School campus.

Given to the Kent Historical Society in 1972 by Pauline Skiff Gunn, a descendant of the original builder, the schoolhouse is now visited as part of the Society’s “History for Kids” program with the Kent Center School. However, the schoolhouse is sadly underused, and we are investigating more avenues of presentation for this little gem.

The Skiff Mountain School still stands at its original site on the windy peak of this mountain. The structure is definitely pre-1812, and probably is nearer to 1760.

The land on which the building stands was owned originally by Nathan Skiff, whose properties and large house, dated 1766, still belong to family members. The three Skiff households that lived on the mountain built the school to serve the needs of their children and those of other local families.

In 1972 Mrs. Pauline Skiff Gunn deeded the school house to the Kent Historical Society. The building was then carefully restored and authentically furnished. An original narrow desk for four children is in place. Many of the accessories on display here were gifts from former students at the school.

At one time, there were 14 separate school districts in Kent, each with its own schoolhouse. Skiff Mountain (District #14) is one of two remaining as they were in their heyday, the other being Kent Hollow (#12). Nine have been turned into residences: Flanders (#1), Kent Plains (#2), North Kent (#3), Macedonia (#4), Bulls Bridge (#5), South Kent (#6), Geer Mountain (#7), Rocks (#8), and Fuller Mountain (#10). Only East Kent (#9), Ore Hill (#13) and the unnamed #11 are now gone.

History of Agriculture in Kent

The History of Agriculture in Kent

A century ago, the town of Kent had a completely different appearance. The hills were bare of trees, and crisscrossed with miles and miles of stone walls and barbed wire fences. Where we now have tidy subdivisions with fancy houses and manicured grounds, there were once cows, hundreds of them. Maybe thousands of them.

There were also pigs and chickens, goats and sheep. The farmhouses and barns were surrounded by fields of corn, hay, rye, wheat and…tobacco! Yes, tobacco. Tobacco was an important crop in the northwest hills. We usually think of the Connecticut River Valley when we think of tobacco, the flat fertile valley lands covered with acres and acres of tobacco tents and long, low barns.

But tobacco was also grown here on our hills as a successful cash crop at the turn of the last century. However, it is a labor intensive crop, and after WWI sufficient help was hard to find, with the result that the tobacco industry died out in our area.

Another cash crop quickly moved in to take over the void left by the demise of the tobacco market. Got Milk? We sure did in Kent. Dairy farms, already common in Kent, quickly spread throughout the town, some small, some large, but all feeding a growing population of city dwellers who could not keep the necessary cow or two in their back yards.

The arrival of the railroad and subsequent development of refrigeration techniques made it possible to transport great quantities of milk farther and farther away from its source. Initially, creameries were built, usually near the railroad depots, to collect and process the milk. There was a Borden Creamery by the present South Kent Post Office, the foundation of which may still be seen. Eventually, modern technology permitted the raw milk to be hauled directly from the farm in ten gallon cans to the milk platforms near the train tracks where they were placed on the daily milk train.

Refrigerated trucks then replaced the trains, making the transportation of raw milk even more lucrative. High butterfat content brought the highest price, and our fields were dotted with herds of Guernseys, Jerseys and Holsteins, each breed known by its local keepers to be the highest butterfat producer!

Former Kent Historical Society President, Susi Casey Williams, compiled a list of dairy farms that she can remember from her childhood. With her list, we begin to shift away from our long focus on the iron industry in Kent ( a subject very worthy of historians’ attention, but by no means the only interesting part of Kent’s rich history). So sit back, relax and enjoy this virtual tour of Kent as it appeared a half century ago.

And, when you’re done if you have any comments, additions, corrections or questions, please let us know!!! Dairy farming was the principal occupation in Kent from the early 1800s until the 1950s – the iron works thrived in the mid-1800s, but the ore petered out. When I was, say, about 8 years old (1947), the following farms existed:

In town, the Casey farm on Lane Street, which also ran the McBee farm (pigs & chickens) near Ackerman’s house, the “summer barn” on North Main Street and the hay barns down by Kent Center School; the Templeton Farm on Maple Street where elderly housing is now – the barn is now The Nutrition Site & Masonic Hall; Lew Bull’s farm next to the old Town Hall – the barn became The Milk Pail Restaurant.

On Skiff Mountain, going up the hill was the Gurnsey Richards farm (Boone Moore’s); then the Ladd farm on the right, where the Connerys live now; on top, on the left where Tom Sebring & Steve Vaughn live now, was the Patrick Kinney farm; turn right, and at the Marvelwood School was the big Rawson Farm where they raised black angus (their lands extended to the stables, and over toward Jerry Tobin’s); going past the little one room school house, there was a Tobin Farm on the right (now Nichols); at the bottom of that hill was John Tobin’s Farm (now Austi Brown’s); then, going up toward Jerry Tobin’s, you first came to the Luther, later Paul, Skiff (Gunn) farm on the right (now occupied by Walter and Margaret Gunn Kane), next was the Tobin Brother’s farm, also on the right. Bill & Jerry Tobin both built their houses on farm acreage.

Taking that left at Skiff Mountain cemetery onto Dolldorf Road, which becomes Appalachian Trail Road, the land all belonged to the Kinney farm, until it conjoined with Gurnsey Richards’.

Going to Fuller Mt. Road & taking a right down the back way to Macedonia, there was Myra Hopson’s farm (now Pond Mountain Trust where Paul and Beth Dooley live and where my Dad often rode a big Morgan stallion), then the Card farm and a Wathley farm (now Jorrin). I don’t remember any farms along Macedonia Brook Road, until you got to Dell Eads’ – that was a Chase farm (Red Horse Ranch) and the magnificent barn was Vern Eads’ office and storage for his drop forging equipment.

On 341 toward NY State from Eads, there was the Edwin Chase farm on the right (big gray house still there where the Lawrence Chase family lives), followed by the Posselt farm on left, where we sometimes got Christmas trees.

Turn around on 341, and head back east toward Kent School – where there was another big farm (Kent School Farm) that the boys used to work at (now a soccer field, hockey rink, etc. & the new headmaster’s house) and where I kept a horse for a while. It burned, I think in the 70s. Down Schagticoke Road, there was the derelict Fuller Farm, first home of Kent School.

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Hidden History of Litchfield County

A Helping Hand: Hidden History of Litchfield County

Pete Vermilyea book resizedAt the Kent Historical Society, we strive to accommodate researchers of all kinds, whether they are writing for themselves, their families, or the larger public. Our archives are available to anyone for any purpose they might have. Occasionally, though, some of our visiting researchers publish a book. Longtime friend of KHS, Peter Vermilyea has done just that. You can order a copy of Hidden History of Litchfield County, just published by the History Press.

Peter came by the office to drop off a review copy, and we were pleased to see a handsome acknowledgement to our curator, Marge Smith, right there on page 8.

The book grew from Vermilyea’s fascinating blog, Hidden in Plain Sight, which you can find at www.hiddeninplainsightblog.com. Peter’s curiosity takes him all over the local landscape, and he constantly turns up instances of history that still linger, if you open your eyes to see them.

A resident of Litchfield, Peter teaches history at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village, and at Western Connecticut State University. A graduate of Gettysburgh College, he is the director at his alma mater’s Civil War Institute. He’s the author or editor of three books and more than a dozen articles, mostly about Civil War History.

We know that other researchers are out there, and maybe some of you have a book inside you, struggling to be born. At the Kent Historical Society, we can’t do the work for you, but we can help with documents, photographs, costumes, and who knows what else.