What’s New at WDS – April 22, 2020

Below you’ll find three weekly columns to keep you informed and entertained. We encourage you to check out our Facebook and Instagram pages for more photos and information.

Objects A to Z with Curator Rich Malley

“B” is for Brownstone!

This week’s exploration focuses on brownstone—the reddish-brown sandstone found in a number of places around the museum. Brownstone is both easily quarried and carved, which made it a popular material for gravestone carvers in the 18th century.

As early as 1690 this distinctive stone was beginning to be quarried in the Portland, Connecticut area, a short distance downriver from Wethersfield. By the 19th century Portland brownstone was finding wide use as a building material; in fact, the term “brownstone” came to refer not just to the material, but also to the elaborate row houses constructed from it. Examples could be found in major urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago.

Closer to home, our Silas Deane house, built in the latter 1760s, incorporated Portland brownstone in the carved fireplace mantel in the front parlor, likely the work of a local gravestone carver. The inclusion of the distinctive Tudor-rose detail suggests the close cultural connection between England and her colonies; this was, ironically, a link that would be severely tested within a decade.

Other examples of brownstone’s use at the museum include foundations and front steps. When WDS reopens, pay us a visit, and see where else this distinctive stone was used.

Around the Grounds

In this week’s “Around the Grounds,” Property Manager Dick Agne’s photos show the new Education and Visitor Center taking shape. We begin with a view north from the second floor of the Deane House, which shows the “old” Education Room roof has been removed. We also see a view from the reception room looking west, with the exhibit room entrance on the left and a hallway leading to the conference room and a new kitchen. And we peek through the window of the new gift shop, where we see the deck overlooking the garden on the left and the Webb Barn in the distance on the right.

Interestingly, some of the most exciting elements of this new addition won’t even be seen when the work is complete. Twenty-first century construction and insulation, and a new heating system, will allow us to keep the Webb House open year-round for education programs, and special events, exhibits and tours.

Everyday Living at WDS

Whether the 18th century or the 21st century, one thing is clear – food is a priority! One of our most popular school programs is “Foodways,” in which we demonstrate the production, preservation, and preparation of food in 18th-century America. Here you see the Deane kitchen, which reflects the foodways of an affluent family. A less-prosperous colonial family would not have the abundance of food seen here, nor would the kitchen be as big.

No fridge? No problem! Colonial women dried, smoked, salted, and pickled foods so they would last through a long New England winter. The types of dried herbs above the fireplace and on the table were used in cooking and medicine. Dried fruits were for eating and sweetening baked goods. 

When asking students what they think is “missing” from the Deane kitchen, most answer that there is no oven or sink. Then we show the wide-eyed youngsters the oven and sink you see here, noting that the 18th-century versions just look a bit different from the ones they have at home.