Behind the Scenes at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum!

Everyday Living

Did you know Christmas wasn’t declared a legal holiday in Connecticut until 1846? While mention is made of Christmas in earlier Wethersfield records, it’s unclear how the holiday was celebrated or how widely. The WDS staff missed giving Christmas tours of the Isaac Stevens house this year, but we can share a few highlights… Typically, we would show how the Stevens House was decorated when the Francis family—Stephen – age 38, Elizabeth – age 35, Eliza – age 12, Stephen – age 10, Edwin – age 3 and Lewis – age 1—lived there in 1840.

By this period, the Francis children may have been familiar with Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” published in 1823, or Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843. Christmas was promoted as a holiday for children, and many of its customs were designed to support the morality of the early Victorian period. Presents from Santa Claus were inducements to proper behavior. Children were encouraged to avoid the lump of coal promised to those who misbehaved. 

Toys, sweets and exotic fruits were considered the most appropriate gifts for children. But when 19th-century doctors and writers began advocating for a longer period of childhood, during which children were encouraged to play, toys became more common. An increasing number of toys were being created by the mid-century, and the giving of toys at Christmas became more prevalent. The Stevens House Christmas of the 1840s falls into a transitional period when sweets were still considered suitable, but toys began appearing in stockings and under trees.

Around the Grounds

This week in “Around the Grounds,” Dick shows us the decorated front entrance to the new WDS Welcome Center and Gift Shop. Check out the massive holly tree lit up on the left! We also see the lighted garland wrapped around the columns at the front entrance to the Webb House and along the newly re-finished fence. We are so fortunate to have such a talented staff!

WDS Collections A-Z

“Y” is for Yoke!

We are nearing the end of the alphabet! This week takes us into the 19th-century Webb Barn, where an array of farming implements is displayed on the walls. These tools remind us of the importance of agriculture to those living in the Connecticut River Valley, from the indigenous peoples who first inhabited the region to farmers and nurserymen working the area’s fertile soils today.

In its simplest form, a yoke is a shaped wooden crossbar or frame used to link two draft animals, like oxen or horses, side-by-side. Typically, a pair of adjustable, bow-shaped wooden loops encircles the animals’ heads and is attached to a crossbar through holes drilled in the yoke. When pulling a plow or a wagon the yoke helps keeps the animals working together. Like many old examples, our yoke is missing the wooden loops but still seems to convey a sense of purpose.