What’s New at WDS – November 18, 2020

First Memorial Bench Tells Generations-Old Story
Earlier this year, a stately black walnut tree was removed from the WDS grounds to allow space for the construction of the new Education and Visitor Center. While museum staff lament the loss of any of the venerable old trees on the property (typically due to weather), they were gratified when a six-foot section of the walnut tree—weighing 800 pounds—was set aside, cut, kiln-dried, and milled into four handsome memorial benches for the new addition.

The benches were handcrafted by City Bench in Higganum, Connecticut, whose craftsmen believe that the trees that line our streets and fill our public spaces represent generations of common stories. The first bench to be named aptly reflects a generations-old story of a family transplanted from New York State and taking root in Wethersfield, a family for whom trees, and the wood derived from them, are especially meaningful.When WDS Property Manager Dick Agne first viewed the benches, he was captivated. “My first thought was, ‘This is the perfect opportunity to recognize my parents; they loved wood, whether it was a standing tree or a piece of furniture, and it was a significant feature in their lives.’”

Dick’s parents, Betty and Maynard, left rural New York for Wethersfield in 1938, leaving behind life on the farm that had been in the Agne family for generations. During the depth of the Great Depression people often went wherever jobs were available. Both parents became teachers in Hartford; Maynard taught woodworking, Betty taught third and fourth grade. The Agnes’ career choice allowed the family to spend summers back on the family farm, where Maynard spent the time pruning trees and repairing or replacing old wood throughout the house and outbuildings.

Dick recalls his father once buying 500 tree saplings from the New York Forestry Department and planting them. “He loved the concept of growing trees,” Dick says, “And he wanted to preserve and extend the wooded area at the back of the property.”Betty, who was a member of the Wethersfield Art League, often painted wooded scenes in New York and Connecticut in watercolor or oils. Dick followed in Maynard and Betty’s footsteps, and taught science, including botany, in East Hartford for 38 years. Thanks to his parents’ influence he developed a deep respect for the beauty and value of trees and applies those values today while managing the seven-acre WDS property.

The Agne bench has been placed in the new WDS Education and Visitor Center. Three more walnut benches are available for memorializing loved ones, as are other naming opportunities throughout the museum and property. For more information, contact WDS Director of Development and Membership Anne Guernsey at [email protected].
Everyday Living
This week in “Everyday Living at WDS” we examine Veterans Day through the lens of Webb family history, focusing on Samuel Blatchley Webb, whose miniature portrait appears on the bracelet pictured.

Samuel was born in Wethersfield on December 13, 1753, the third child of Joseph and Mehitable Webb. He was tutored by his stepfather, Silas Deane, and served as Deane’s secretary at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. 

At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Samuel enlisted in the Continental Army as a lieutenant under Captain John Chester. He served as an aide to General Israel Putnam during the Battle of Bunker Hill. In December 1777, he was captured and held as prisoner-of-war on Long Island until 1781. Samuel also served as an aide to General George Washington and participated in Washington’s 1789 inaugural parade. On his retirement from the military Samuel became a breveted brigadier general. He was a founding member of the Society of Cincinnati.

In the WDS education program, “Sam Webb: Revolutionary Soldier,” students learn about Samuel’s military career and contributions. Activities include reading a letter written by Samuel Webb and John Chester recounting the Battle of Bunker Hill. Students then try to identify the contents of a reproduction haversack (pictured) similar to those carried by Revolutionary War soldiers on the battlefield. The eager students then view the Washington Bed Chamber where we display the dress sword Samuel carried in Washington’s inaugural parade.
WDS Collections A-Z: “W” is for Wax Jack
If you think keeping your email and postal mail secure is a production, consider 18th-century correspondence! Gummed envelopes were not yet available; envelopes themselves were not common. So how did one send a letter and maintain confidentiality? In most cases one would fold the letter itself in such a way as to create an envelope, then address it and seal it using a blob of wax called—you guessed it—sealing wax. Sealing wax often came in the form of a small candle. One would light it and drip the melted wax onto a folded letter.

But what if you sealed multiple letters on a regular basis, or wanted the newest technology? You might purchase what was called a “wax jack,” a device developed by the Dutch in the 17th century. (The term “jack” referred to any device that incorporated a spindle or roller.) A long beeswax-coated taper was coiled around the center spindle of this device, which provided a safer method of heating and softening the wax, which would be dripped onto the folded letter to seal it. Often the sender would press a personal seal onto the warm wax to complete the process.

The Deane house library features an 18th-century silver example of such a wax jack, likely French in origin. It is just the type of useful-yet-flashy accessory that a frequent correspondent like Silas Deane would have owned in the days before cybersecurity threats!
Around The Grounds
The year 2020 continues to challenge us! This week in “Around the Grounds,” in photos captured on Oct. 30, Dick shows us an early wintry scene across the beautiful brick courtyard toward Main Street, with a coating of snow on our benches. Another view looks toward the Webb Barn with snow on the new terrace. We also see a dusting on plantings in the new courtyard and the roof of the new Education and Visitor Center. But, take heart, before long we will trade these frosty views for the splendor of spring, and we look forward to seeing folks gather again on the grounds of WDS!