What’s New at WDS – April 15, 2020

As we all continue to adjust to the challenging circumstances wrought by the Covid19 virus, the entire WDS staff wishes you well! We miss seeing members, friends, and volunteers and the forging of new friendships with first-time visitors. 

We’re diligently working behind the scenes (mostly at home) with curatorial, educational and editorial duties and planning, and ensuring the exciting construction of the Education and Visitor Center progresses. And, while we’re not able to see you in person, we can share weekly WDS news updates. Below you’ll find three new weekly columns to keep you informed and entertained.

We encourage those who aren’t using social media to try it—on our Facebook and Instagram pages you’ll find more photos accompanying the stories below and much more!

Objects A to Z

Each week Rich is highlighting a different object from the WDS collection that you might find curious, interesting and occasionally entertaining, starting with the letter “A!” (Rich admits he’s a bit worried about the letters “X” and “Z”!)  

“A” is for Armchair!

Connecticut furniture of the early 18th century was heavily influenced by English styles, though frequently with less sophisticated detail. Elaborately carved English cane-backed chairs, for example, were copied in major centers like Boston and New York. In time, local craftsmen in coastal connecticut began to produce simplified versions featuring bannister backs with distinctive carving incorporating one or more hearts in the crown-shaped crest, similar in some ways to decorative carvings found on gravestones of the period. 

These pieces, frequently termed “Heart and Crown” chairs, were particularly popular in Fairfield and New Haven counties from the late 1720s to at least the 1750s. This armchair example, with its characteristic rush seat, is crafted of ash and birch, and has a history of ownership in Fairfield County. It most likely was originally painted black, but like many period examples was refinished at some point in the past. This chair presently sits in the upper hallway in the Silas Deane House.

Around the Grounds

Property Manager Dick Agne is keeping us updated on construction of the new Education and Visitor Center. This week, Dick notes that construction is progressing nicely, and, thanks to the warm winter, is very close to being on schedule (At this point it looks like we may be able to start moving furniture in in late summer—stay tuned). In the photos—from February—you’ll see the construction crew completing the first-floor deck and erecting steel over it.

You can also see the start of wall framing on the upper level, and construction engineers reviewing mechanical drawings at the connection of the new addition to the existing structure. Note the main meeting room taking shape with windows and doors leading to a deck overlooking the garden.

Everyday Living at WDS

Education Director Cynthia Riccio is focusing on some aspect of life in the museum’s three houses. This week she begins in the Isaac Stevens House.

We’re all concerned with Covid19 and learning how to cope with the unknown… Did you know that highly contagious diseases were common occurrences in the 19th century? The Stevens family and other Connecticut residents endured many serious illnesses: smallpox, consumption (TB), scarlet fever, malaria and influenza were the most common.

Not realizing that many diseases were caused by germs, and often spread from person to person, early residents of the Stevens House thought it was a good idea to close up a room and sit with an ill person around the clock. The sick room in the Stevens House was right across from the kitchen, making it a warm space and easy for the women in the kitchen to attend to the seriously ill. Objects in the Stevens House room include an apothecary chest—with a scale for measuring herbs and medicines of the time (perhaps laudanum)—and a pap boat for dispensing a thick liquid – usually a mix of bread, or flour and water, sometimes with butter and sugar added, to feed to the seriously ill.