Vampires in New England

October 16 Sunday Series talk to focus on
“Vampires in New England”

Vampire folk beliefs go back to the 18th century in Connecticut, and Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni has archaeological evidence that he’ll share to illuminate beliefs about… the undead.

On Sunday, October 16, 2016, at 2:00 PM at the Kent Town Hall, Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni recently retired Connecticut State Archaeologist, will present some highlights of his own research at Colonial gravesites, exploring how fear and superstition led New Englanders, particularly those around Jewett City, CT, to take drastic measures with burial customs — they didn’t want anyone returning from the grave. The archaeologist will discuss the sources of belief in vampires and the undercurrent of fear of the undead. Bones, graves and history reveal the myth and fact of each situation.

Dr. Bellantoni’s talk will follow a brief Annual Meeting of the Kent Historical Society. There will be an election of trustees and officers, as well as a vote to amend the organization’s bylaws. The Kent Historical Society sponsors the Sunday Series every other month September through May. Free admission for members; $5 suggested donation for non-members.

For more information please call 860.927.4587.


George Laurence Nelson Art Scholarship 2016 Awarded

George Laurence Nelson Art Scholarship Awarded to Chris Moore

In honor of noted American artist George Laurence Nelson, one of the founders of the Kent Art Association, the Kent Historical Society offers a scholarship of $1,000 to any graduating high school senior or college student from Kent intending to further their education in studio art or art history. 

The 2016 scholarship has been awarded to Christopher Moore, who is a student at Emmanuel College, where he is studying art history and art criticism. As a graduate of Kent Center School and summer intern working with the Society’s Nelson art collection, Moore’s longstanding interest in George Laurence Nelson’s artwork and its reception made him a natural choice for the scholarship. A letter of recommendation from Dr. Anna Knaap, one of his professors at Emmanuel, praised his writing ability and his ability to see deeper into subtle aspects of various works of art. “In his paper on the Crucifixion by the late Gothic painter Duccio, he picked up on more subtle elements, such as the gray toned coloring of Christ’s body that would have appealed to the viewer’s emotions and the varied responses of the figures witnessing the scene.  In these papers, Christopher demonstrated both his writing skills and ability to observe sophisticated and seemingly inconspicuous details in works of art.  In short, he digs deeper than his peers. In sum, Christopher has demonstrated very strong academic, communication, and leadership skills in his first year at Emmanuel College.  He is a fine art historian, a talented writer, and a valuable teacher to his peers.  I therefore strongly recommend him for the George Laurence Nelson Art Scholarship.”

The Kent Historical Society is located at Seven Hearths, which was the home of George Laurence Nelson and has a permanent display of his original art works.  This home, at 4 Studio Hill Road, is a reminder that Kent has a rich and diversified historical past.  In supporting young artistic talent we hope to keep this tradition ongoing.

Frank Galterio and the Moravians

History on Foot:  Frank Galterio and the Moravians

By Brian Thomas

Some people learn a landscape by reading a book about it. Others must walk its length and breadth over many years. Still others, like Frank Galterio, do both.

A longtime friend of the Kent Historical Society, Galterio has been walking Schaghticoke Mountain since the 1970s when he came here camping from Long Island. Eventually he moved to Kent. He explains, “I hike all over the place, all day long. And I usually don’t follow trails.”

On one walk, he had a conversation with Alan Russell, chief of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe.  Russell showed Galterio a copy of a map of a gravesite that had 68 graves in it. Later, around 2010, Galterio found two volumes about the Moravian missionaries who lived in Kent from 1743 to 1767 among the Schaghticokes– translated and edited by Corinna Dally-Starna and William Starna, called Gideon’s People: Being a Chronicle of an American Indian Community in Colonial Connecticut and the Moravian Missionaries Who Served There.  Galterio has read this account five times.

Galterio explains what makes these Moravian diaries so interesting. The missionaries had to write day by day diaries of everything going on, from the weather to earthquakes, and especially their ties with the Native Americans. “The Moravians were really truthful in their diaries,” Galterio says. “They didn’t lie. It was a sin.” Many Schaghticoke Indians became Moravians during this period.

The history was checkered, since Connecticut expelled the Moravians during the French and Indian War. Many of the Moravians, in addition to a number of Moravian Indians, fled to the main site of the Moravian church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the order welcomed them and provided land for them to farm. Eventually it became possible to return to New York and Connecticut.  Galterio says, “They said they wanted to return where the land was most beautiful and the people were the most peaceful. And that was here in Kent.”   

Galterio’s research is ongoing, but a high point came in 2012, when Frank brought Craig Atwood, director of the Center for Moravian Studies to Kent and led him to the gravesite on the map. He introduced him to Alan Russell. The Schaghticokes and the Moravians “hadn’t been together for 269 years,” Galterio said. He filmed them together, standing among the graves of their ancestors.

Birdsey Grant Northrop, Tree Hugger Extraordinaire

By Wendy Murphy

July 18, 1817 marks the birthday of Kent’s own Birdsey Grant Northrop. Few Americans know his name today but over the eight decades of his very productive life he was revered not only in New England but in places as far away as Japan, Australia, Turkey and Germany. Farmer, teacher, preacher, educational reformer, world traveler, prominent writer/lecturer, town planner and diplomatic envoy, his greatest and most lasting work was on behalf of planting trees and beautifying small towns, two causes that he believed were essential to the happiness and vigor of democratic society. He is the often-unsung “Father of Arbor Day” in many countries.

Birdsey’s life began modestly enough. His parents moved to Kent from New Milford around 1800, buying Azariah Pratt’s homestead near the intersection of Route 7 and Cobble Road and enough acreage to establish a typical subsistence farm of the day. Like his four brothers and sisters, Birdsey’s boyhood days were divided between attendance at the district primary school, farm chores, and church.

Kent, like most of Connecticut in those years was largely denuded of trees as farming and the charcoal industry claimed the state’s once resplendent forests, which probably explains his particular affection for trees. He would always remember the joy he took as a boy of six helping his mother plant a young maple tree in their front yard, then watching it grow in size and beauty as he grew to manhood.

Birdsey might well have gone on to become a farmer like his father, but he had larger ambitions beyond Kent. Much to his father’s displeasure he eventually set off for college, graduating from Yale with a degree in theology in 1841 at the age of 24.

Young Northrop took a wife and was soon called to lead a small Congregational church in Massachusetts. But he continued to look for some greater platform for service. When offered the job as director of Massachusetts’ school system and then of Connecticut’s fledgling program, he left preaching to become a champion of free and compulsory public school education. Recognizing that America had much to learn from Europe in those years he read avidly and traveled abroad to investigate both public education and environmental conservation.

Even in those busy years he made time to lecture and write, going from town to town to stir up interest in planting shade trees along thoroughfares, cleaning up front yards, painting aging buildings, and installing gas lights and sidewalks to improve village and community. His
report on tree culture in Europe, published in 1879, so impressed the Connecticut Board of Agriculture that he was asked for advice in reviving Connecticut’s primordial forests.

From this was born Connecticut’s Arbor Day, made into law in 1876 by the State Legislature. As it was the centennial year of American Independence, Northrop urged everyone to honor the
heroes of the American Revolution by planting a tree that “its fruits may survive 1976.” That first year Connecticut’s teachers and students were awarded prizes for planting five trees of specified height and species. Many other states followed Connecticut’s example.

Remarkably, Northrop’s work was particularly influential in Japan, which had only recently opened itself to foreign trade. Invited by the Emperor of Japan to visit in 1872 to consult on modernizing their educational system, Northrop was too busy to make the trip. Instead, he brought over several Japanese girls to educate in the U.S. as a demonstration of what Japan should aspire to. Northrop went on to win lasting admiration as the individual most responsible for resolving the prickly Shimonoseki Indemnity stand-off between the two nations in 1883. Carrying a 40-foot long petition signed by virtually every influential figure in academia and the clergy in the U.S., Northrop successfully petitioned Congress to return some $750,000 that had been extracted 20 years earlier in connection with Japan’s default on its Open Door Treaty.

Northrop finally made it to Japan in person in 1895. He delivered 38 lectures in the short space of two months, mostly focused on establishing Arbor Day in Japan, an annual custom observed ever since. An old man now, he remained committed to his causes, traveling to almost every state in the union to spread the word until his death on April 28, 1898.

Birdsey Northrop’s legacy to Kent continues thanks to the gratitude of a Japanese forester,
Shunichi Kuga, who visited Kent in 1972, bringing copies of his own biography of Northrop and a check for $1,000. The gift, Kuga explained, was in appreciation to the town for what Northrop had done for Japan so long ago. Emily Hopson, town historian, received the unexpected check, promptly depositing it in the Town’s bank account.

In the 1980s the Kuga Fund was tapped once for street tree planting along Main Street, after which it was largely forgotten. Then in 2001 the new Kent Conservation Commission volunteered to take custody of the account, which had grown in value considerably, for tree maintenance in the village. Most recently the Kuga Fund contributed to the planting of eight new shade trees along Elizabeth Street. And come Friday April 29, Birdsey Northrop will also be remembered at the annual Arbor Day ceremonies at Kent Center School. This public celebration of arts, poetry, music and tree planting by children was revived in 2001 with help from the Kent Conservation Commission, the Kent Garden Club, and the Kent Greenhouse. Hometown boy Birdsey would be well pleased.


Northrop’s Enduring Legacy
Arbor Day had more than one father, as the citizens of Nebraska City, Nebraska are proud to point out. In 1872 resident J. Sterling Morton, year after year observing the loss of precious topsoil to wind and water erosion, persuaded the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture to sponsor a statewide program of tree-planting across the treeless prairie.  Morton’s Arbor Day, held in early April on his birthday, was first and foremost concerned with “economic conservation” and the majority of trees planted in those early years were in wind rows to shelter farm fields. By contrast, Birdsey Northrop and his followers were driven by a more aesthetic and “moral” concern for village improvement; his Arbor Day was launched in 1876 in the nation’s centennial year. Over time the efforts and celebration of both movements merged. More recently, growing concerns over oil spills, air and water pollution, loss of habitat, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, pushed the broader topic of environmental protection onto the national political agenda. In 1970 the first Earth Day, also in April but one week earlier than Arbor Day, was held in hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. That same year Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health and the environment through the writing and enforcement of environmental regulations in every state and territory.


George Laurence Nelson Art Scholarship 2018


In honor of noted American artist George Laurence Nelson, one of the founders of the Kent Art Association, the Kent Historical Society is offering a very special scholarship of $1,000 to a deserving student intending to further his or her education in studio art or art history.

The George Laurence Nelson Art Scholarship will be awarded to a graduating senior or college student who is a graduate of Kent Center School, or whose family resides in any of the Region One towns (Canaan, Cornwall, Falls Village, Kent, Salisbury and Sharon). The application must be postmarked or received by the Society by May 1, 2018.

Applications have been supplied to the guidance offices of most high schools in the immediate area. Please click HERE for a copy of the application form.

The Kent Historical Society is located at Seven Hearths, which was the home of George Laurence Nelson and has a permanent display of his original art works. This home, at 4 Studio Hill Road, is a reminder that Kent has a rich and diversified historical past. In supporting young artistic talent we hope to keep this tradition ongoing.

For further information or to request an application for the George Laurence Nelson scholarship contact:


Tel: 860-927-4587

Kent Historical Society, PO Box 651, Kent, CT, 06757 (Please reference: Art Scholarship)

Summer Art Enrichment 2015


The Kent Historical Society offered three weeks of Art Enrichment Programs for children in July 2015. Morning sessions had children exploring color through fine art in a variety of mediums and then focused on drawing. The afternoon sessions delved into painting.

The Historical Society wants to foster arts education for young people in our area to honor the memory of George Laurence Nelson, a pre-eminent 20th Century artist known for his portraits, landscapes and florals, who lived at Seven Hearths for many years and bequeathed his 18th century home to the Kent Historical Society to operate as a museum.   

KHS believes that arts education and other forms of cultural enrichment are essential to a young person’s whole and healthy development. The Society offers Summer Arts Enrichment to encourage children’s innate creativity and boost creative thinking and problem solving, while expanding their experience and appreciation of the arts.

Classes took place in the Kent Historical Society’s “Art Barn,” an indoor/outdoor space on the campus of the Historical Society’s Seven Hearths property, facing gardens and a woodland that is used as extended classroom space. At the culmination of each class there was an exhibition to allow parents and family to see all of the creations completed through the week.  On that day, the museum was open to view the exhibition at the time “Camps of Kent.”

KHS member families have priority registration and discounted fees. Join as a Family member for $35.
COLOR SPLASH I ~ Art instructor Cheryl Moore returned to KHS’ Summer Art Enrichment program to focus on color. Moore is a respected artist and a 33-year teacher, who knows how to draw out artistic talents from her students. She is chairman of the Art Department at South Kent School and has offered a number of special workshops for younger children over the years. The KHS sessions focused on exploring color through painting. The projects included “Swipe Art” that involves using a limited palette of color dots that are swirled together to create unique images; “Underwater Watercolor” which uses a technique that involves alcohol to create water bubbles; watercolor abstract flowers were painted; leaf prints were created using large leaves; and dot painting was employed using a technique similar to that used by renowned artist Vance Kirkland.

Color Splash II –
This week was also led by Cheryl Moore and was dedicated to exploring mixed media with a variety of materials, including recyclable papers, and featured painting with watercolor and some acrylic paints. She exposed the young artists to a variety of artistic styles, cultural interpretations, and mediums. Some of the projects were a mixed media self-portrait, tissue paper collage flowers, a landscape using recycled materials, fish prints using the Gyotaku style, and several watercolor paintings.

Drawing –This drawing class was led by Andy Richards, who is a native of Kent and currently the chairman of the Visual Arts Department at The Gunnery School in Washington. He instructed students in drawing as a way to explore their creativity and use their imagination. Exploring one’s ideas visually with drawing is a wonderful way to communicate and share a vision. The central idea was for students to have fun and learn that drawing and the visual arts are a positive learning experience. Students worked with pencil, markers, charcoal and pastel on paper, learning techniques for each and worked on an exercise that involved drawing their favorite place – anything from a house, a room or even a treehouse. Pastels allowed students to work with color and see how different colors can affect the mood of the drawing.

Painting –
Painting can be a lifelong activity, whether as a professional or as a hobbyist. Learning about color and the wonderful effect it has on people can help guide your painting process. Andy Richards lead this program as well, and covered the Principles of Design and the Elements of Design with the idea that knowledge of these will help the student to understand how to take his or her imagination and put it onto canvas. Students started with watercolors and moved on to working with acrylics.  One of the projects was an exercise that involved splattering paint and then looking for creatures that can be developed from the shapes created by the splatters.

 KHS expects to offer this program again in Summer 2016.

Witch Hunts in Connecticut

New England’s Other Witch Hunt

Available until April 15, 2015  ~  On January 18, KHS board member Dick Lindsey recorded Walt Woodward’s enthusiastically received talk on “New England’s Other Witch Hunt”.  Woodward, CT’s State Historian, came through the ice and rain to describe the fierce witch prosecutions that took place in the 17th century.   Woodward has kindly given us permission to make this video available until April 15, 2015, so if you missed the event, this is your chance to see it.




The Other Witch Hunt: a talk by the Connecticut State Historian

In another of its continuing Sunday Series presentations, KHS hosted Walt Woodward, the Connecticut state historian, who gave a presentation on Sunday Jan. 18, 2015, on witch hunts that happened in Connecticut. Over 50 people attended this lively talk.

Not many people know that Connecticut was New England’s most determined witch prosecutor – even fiercer than Salem. The record is terrible: The first person hanged for witchcraft in New England came from Windsor, and, for a time, every Connecticut woman indicted for witchcraft was convicted and hanged.

Walt Woodward animated this extraordinary, but neglected episode in a lecture that began with the Protestant Reformation and continued through the Hartford Witch hunt of the 1660’s – a nightmare of trials and executions that preceded Salem by a generation. Woodward told how Connecticut’s Governor John Winthrop, Jr. played a role in ending executions for witchcraft 30 years before they even began at Salem.

The state witch hunt was a tale of misogyny and public panic. Woodward discussed the early witch hunts, and explained why almost everyone in the 1600s feared witchcraft. Woodward said, “As Connecticut’s State Historian, I am honored to play a part in keeping our stories alive and vital — especially neglected ones, like the witch hunts.”

Kent’s own Seger family was caught up in the madness. Elizabeth Moody Seger was accused of witchcraft three times. It is documented on the family’s web site


New Life for Old Gardens

New Life for Old Gardens, by Marge Smith

Every year in late spring, the gardens at Seven Hearths garner many compliments, with the tulips, iris and peonies in full bloom. It is a pretty show, to be sure, but nothing like what Laurence and Helen Nelson saw when they sat on the back porch at Seven Hearths. The gardens were once a profuse, brilliant display, lovingly tended by the Nelsons, and we are about to embark on the second phase of bringing them back to glory.

Laurence and Helen Nelson purchased the house in November, 1919, to use as a weekend and summer retreat from the hustle and bustle of New York City. The place was shabby and rundown, both inside and out. Laurence wrote about the grounds in his essay New Life for Old Timber, saying, “Everywhere thistles, nettles, burdock and plantain competed with the grass which had grown to the height and volume of a sturdy crop of hay…Here and there, currant bushes struggled amidst the nettles…A few old fashioned roses revealed where a garden might have flourished, and a clump of daylilies managed to raise their clear yellow blooms above the confusion.”

The Nelsons were not daunted by the mess. They hired a man, fictitiously named “Mr. Kirk” in New Life, to help them make botanical order out of the chaos in their yard. Being fairly new to the world of perennial gardens, they paid close attention to Mr. Kirk and learned as they went along. Because the house itself first required the majority of their free time in the country, the gardens took shape slowly.

Then the Great Depression hit! The Nelsons struggled in the face of shrinking income to maintain their country home and their apartment and studio on West 67th St. They finally had to make a choice: New York or Kent? Fortunately for us, they chose Kent. They moved to the country, where they made Seven Hearths their real home, finding solace in the gardens that they now had time to expand and nurture.

From Laurence’s diaries and Helen’s articles, we know that they spent winters poring over seed catalogs and designing additions to Mr. Kirk’s first small garden. They grew their own annuals and perennials from seed, choosing varieties that Laurence loved to portray in his still-life paintings. He made “sketches” during the summer that showed the various stages of a flower as it opened and bloomed, as pictured above. Those sketches became his reference over the long winter months when he was forced to paint indoors. While the gardens lay dormant, Laurence could create his great floral masterpieces.

Often Helen, a noted art critic for The New York Globe, would write an article about their gardens and submit it, along with one of his paintings, to magazines such as the March 1930 issue of Country Life, in which she wrote, “Now the garden is vibrant in the full blaze of the sun; color relations are complimentary, warm and cool, and poppies of various shapes, sizes and colors are spreading their crinkly petals and honey bees galore are tumbling ruthlessly amid the   stamens, making an orgy of their pollen gathering, as though drunk with the pungent odor of undistilled opium. “ Their time in Kent, while not easy financially, was rich and productive for them, and they both drew great joy from their gardens.

Helen died in 1971 and Laurence in 1978. He left Seven Hearths and much of its contents to the Kent Historical Society at the urging of his friend and longtime society president, Miss Emily Hopson. The gardens had begun to fade by that time, owing to both Nelsons’ ill health. Miss Hopson, at age 76, was no spring chicken herself, but she lovingly tended the gardens as best she could until she was over 90 years of age!

Finally, she realized that she needed help, and called me in. At the time I had a full time garden design and maintenance business, so I brought my crew to Seven Hearths to work alongside the undaunted old lady. Under her watchful eye, we pulled out barrow after barrow load of goldenrod, wild phlox, honeysuckle vine, goutweed and other vile invasives. Gravel pathways began to appear. Tiny shoots of struggling peonies poked up. Square wire cages, used by Nelson to protect his beloved lily bulbs, often surfaced on the tines of a grubbing fork, the bulbs having long since been smothered by the weeds. Bearded iris, Siberian iris, old fashioned roses – all sorts of treasures emerged again. Some may even have been the ones that Helen and Laurence had found in 1919. When exposed to a decent share of sunlight, soil and water, they all began to thrive. The Nelson gardens were not lost!

While we worked in the garden, Miss Hopson discovered that I had a deep interest in the history of Kent. She talked me into joining the board of the society, and I volunteered with her once a week as she worked in the archives. She eventually created the position of Executive Director for me so that someone would be at the helm when she passed away, which she did at the venerable age of 99! In the following decade or so, I worked with KHS board members Jeff Morgan, Mary Grusauski, Beth Dooley, and other dedicated volunteers to try to maintain the gardens. We’ve managed to keep the weeds at bay, but even with hired help we’ve never had time or resources to really restore the gardens.

But that’s about to change. Nancy Schaefer, President of the Kent Garden Club and a long time avid gardener, joined the KHS board a couple of years ago, and has offered to spearhead a formal effort to make the gardens at Seven Hearths a showstopper once more. She’s carefully examining the Nelsons’ diaries, scrapbooks and photo albums, as well as Helen’s articles, for clues to the original layout and contents. We’ve made a list of all the flowers that appear in Laurence’s paintings. When our research is complete, we’ll make a plan for the restoration and begin to dig in the ancient soil once more. If you’d like to give us some hands-on or financial support, please let us know.