My Country

October 21, 2014

Four Generations Turn and Adapt their Business

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 11:56 am

Four Generations Turn and Adapt their Business: this article details the business ventures of various members of the Hopkins family. It was contributed by Julie Leone.

Wise and Brave: The Fight for Women’s Voting Rights in Litchfield

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 11:56 am

Wise and Brave: The Fight for Women’s Voting Rights in Litchfield: read about Litchfield’s role in the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association and the creation of the Litchfield Equal Franchies League. It was contributed by Jessica Jenkins.

November 19, 2013

A Family Reunion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jessica Jenkins @ 3:42 pm

It’s hard to believe that it is mid-November already. Here at the Litchfield Historical Society that means that the museums will soon be closing for the winter season. With only a couple of weeks left we hope that you will take advantage of stopping by the Tapping Reeve House or the Litchfield History Museum by December 1. Although the museums will be closed to the public during the snowy months that does not mean that things will slow down here for the staff. With the museums closed we will be busy changing exhibits in preparation for the beginning of next year’s exhibition season. What does that mean for you? It means you only have a handful of days left to stop in and see our Civil War exhibit, “The Hour of Conflict” before it comes down!



The exhibit closing however, does not mean the end of your chance to come into the museum and learn more about Litchfield during the war. Throughout the year we have all kinds of visitors who come to the historical society to research with both our archival and museum collections. Some are serious scholars, while others may have another reason for wanting to view a specific item. Occasionally the reason is very personal. This past year we had a very touching visit from a family regarding a Civil War item that is as important to their family’s history as it is to our local story about the Civil War.

For almost one hundred years the Litchfield Historical Society has cared for the Civil War overcoat of Sergeant Edgar A. Alvord. In March of 1915 the seventy-five year old veteran, and member of the Litchfield GAR, personally came to the historical society looking for a safe place to deposit the overcoat that he wore during the war. It was his hope that it would be well taken care of and respected even after he was gone. Ninety-eight years later Mr. Alvord’s great-grandson, Don Alvord, came through the same front door of the Noyes Memorial Building and brought with him his wife, cousins, and grandchildren to view the coat that his great-grandfather cared so much for.


Srgt. Alvord’s Overcoat, 1918-34-0, Litchfield Historical Society


Born in Morris, CT in 1840, Edgar A. Alvord was twenty-one years old when he enlisted as a Private in the 5th CT Infantry. After a year of performing guard duty along the Potomac River Alvord was wounded and captured at the battle of Cedar Mountain, VA during a charge on the Confederate Army. He was imprisoned for one month at Libby Prison (notorious for the overcrowded and harsh conditions) in Richmond, VA before being moved to the prison at Belle Isle for another two months. He was then paroled and moved to Annapolis, MD and again to Alexandria, VA before being exchanged back to the Union Army.


Photograph of Srgt. Edgar A. Alvord, ca. 1863, Private Collection

In December of 1863 Alvord re-enlisted in the Union Army as a veteran and was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. In 1864 when he traveled home to Connecticut on furlough Sergeant Alvord brought his overcoat with him and left it in the care of his family in Morris for the remainder of his service in the Union Army. On July 19, 1865 after four years of active service where he served in several battles and was with General Sherman’s March to the Sea, Sergeant Edgar Alvord was mustered out from the Army and returned home to Morris.

Don Alvord’s trip to the Historical Society this year was a real family affair. Not only did Don and his wife make the trip from Missouri, but they brought cousins and grandchildren along with them to the museum to see Sergeant Alvord’s coat. Being a veteran and son of a veteran himself, viewing an item used in wartime by his great-grandfather solidified for him the importance of service to your country and family tradition. One of the highlights of the visit came when the family and Historical Society staff were able to share information with each other about the coat and the Alvord family. Working together the group was able to uncover many bits of family and local history. As the family placed a treasured photograph of Sergeant Alvord next to the coat for a photo op it became obvious that both the family and the Litchfield Historical Society are working to preserve the history and memory of one of Litchfield County’s Civil War hero’s for future generations.


Srgt. Alvord and His Overcoat Reunited After 98 Years

December 19, 2012

George Catlin’s Tapping Reeve

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jessica Jenkins @ 10:53 am

Engraving of Tapping Reeve from the portrait by George Catlin. Litchfield Historical Society.


Have you seen our very own Tapping Reeve popping up on Facebook a lot lately? I’m sure you’ve noticed him donning holiday outfits, dressing for the weather, and enjoying events around town. You may have even noticed that Mr. Reeve has started taking more frequent trips out of the state, which he has been kind enough to share with his friends through his travel photos.

One thing you may have also noticed through it all is that no matter what Tapping is up to he always has some very recognizable characteristics. It could be his iconic seated pose, with crossed legs and glasses in hand. Or it could be his shoulder length locks and high collar shirt.

But who is responsible for this recognizable image of Reeve? It is the only known image in existence of this noted American jurist and founder of the nation’s first law school. Without it we would not know today what this pioneering legal mind looked like. To the artist responsible for creating Reeve’s likeness we owe a debt of gratitude.

George Catlin is a name recognized by art historians, Native American scholars, and 19th-century history buffs alike. Remembered as the creator of a vast portfolio of artwork and writings documenting the lives, customs, and traditions of numerous Native American tribes, Catlin will go down in history as one of the great American artists who saw the importance of immortalizing the American frontier before it disappeared in the wake of industrialization and westward expansion.

"Ball-Play Dance." by George Catlin. Litchfield Historical Society.

Before beginning work on his life’s masterpiece however, George Catlin was a young law school student at the Litchfield Law School in 1817. While attending lectures Catlin was known for having more of an interest in sketching his fellow students and local scenery than working on his studies. He eventually passed his bar examination in Pennsylvania two years later and began a legal career. It was a short-lived stint however, as his love for art, nature, and natural history won out.

In 1821 Catlin moved to Philadelphia to pursue a career in art. He exhibited as a portrait miniaturist from 1821 to 1823 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, who accepted him as a member the following year. Following that honor he continued to work as a portrait artist in Pennsylvania before relocating his work to New York. Through the 1820s he produced numerous portrait miniatures as well as full-size portraits.

Watercolor on Ivory portrait miniature of Sarah Pierce. Attributed to George Catlin. Litchfield Historical Society.

Although Catlin left Litchfield after completing his legal studies, documentation exists in the Archives of American Art showing that Catlin was back in town in 1825—two years after Tapping Reeve’s death. In his subscription and expense notebook for 1825, Catlin writes:

“Having ascertained that my portrait of the Hon. Tapping Reeve is the only resemblance left of that memorable man, I have deemed it a duty to his friends and the public – and particularly to Gentleman of the Bar to propose the publication of it by Subscription

If published the plate will be executed in the most superb manner, and I hope that sufficient encouragement will be given in the way to authorize the execution of it.

The price of the prints will be one dollar each, to subscribers, payable on delivery. All other sale will be invariably at one dol. & fifty cents each.

Geo. Catlin

Litchfield 25th March 1825”

Following this entry is his subscription list containing twelve names, all but four from Litchfield. Among the subscribers were such notable legal and political names as Oliver Wolcott, Seth P. Beers, and Truman Smith, as well as Rev. Lyman Beecher.  While the subscription list is not dated, it can be inferred from its placement in the notebook that it was compiled in 1825 during Catlin’s time in Litchfield.

Was the portrait of Reeve that Catlin mentions completed during his time in law school, or was it a piece that Catlin returned to Litchfield to complete for his former teacher? No one knows. And the location of the original is not known either. These are mysteries that have yet to be uncovered. What is known is that this portrait was turned into an engraving as Catlin proposed. The publishing of the picture did not happen until four years later in 1829. Why there was such a long delay is not noted by Catlin in his papers.

Portrait prints such as the one of Reeve were very popular in the United States prior to the Civil War. A market existed for the likenesses of politicians, businessmen, writers, and entertainers in the American home. Capitalizing on this demand, Catlin had already published two portrait engravings in Philadelphia prior to the publication of his portrait of Reeve in 1829. Utilizing his previous experience in marketing such prints, Catlin sought to transform another of his portraits into a print for buyers who may want to memorialize the Honorable Tapping Reeve. Working with Peter Maverick, an engraver in New York, Catlin was able to accomplish this goal.

As far as we know, neither Catlin nor Maverick recorded how many prints of the engraving Maverick produced. Was it a small handful—just enough to fill the subscription order taken in 1825? Or was it a much larger amount? Either way, Catlin and Maverick’s partnership to produce the print has left history with the only known image of Tapping Reeve. Without their work we would have to rely solely on the written record to piece together what this pioneering legal mind looked like. And Mr. Reeve would have a much harder time getting dressed for the upcoming holidays!

October 31, 2012

Halloween in Litchfield

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 11:26 am

This morning I started to wonder when door-to-door trick-or-treating became a custom. After a quick Internet search, it seemed likely that it was sometime in the 1950s. I turned to the Litchfield Enquirer to see what was going on in town mid-century. While I did not find mention of door-to-door candy collecting, I did find that townspeople were definitely celebrating Halloween.

I started my search in 1954, and found the article to the left about the Lion’s Club’s annual party which began in 1953.  I also found this mention of a party at the East Litchfield Volunteer Fire House: 

And this great advertisement for the Litchfield Food & Bakery Co.  Aren’t those prices amazing!











I then forwarded the film reel to 1955 (yep, we’re kickin’ it old school with a working microfilm reader) and found that the Lion’s Club event was even bigger. The article above gives all the details for those who wanted to participate. The one to follow reports on the actual event.








How long did the Lion’s Club continue this tradition? And were children trick-or-treating at houses during these years?  Please share your recollections of Litchfield’s Halloween traditions!

June 15, 2012

School books

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 4:37 pm

Contributed by intern Lauren Ericson

For the students in the Litchfield school system it is almost time to return their textbooks, clean their desks, and start their summer vacation! With graduation ceremonials underway, it seems appropriate to compare these traditions to those at the Litchfield Female Academy. Several books in the Sarah Pierce collection contain notes regarding who owned the book, when they used it, who they were associated with, and what they did in school.

For example, Jane Roxana Lewis was presented with A sketch of my friend’s family for her skill in Arithmetic. Miss Lewis also kept a reliable record of her social life at the Academy by listing her friends’ names in her copy of Sketches of universal history. This list included three girls in what John Brace Pierce referred to as “The Club” – Elizabeth (Betsey) Wolcott, Mary Landon and Elizabeth Cooke – as well as several others.

Similarly, Elizabeth Goodwin received a book for her participation at the Female Academy. Her copy of Village hymns for social worship was given to her, and signed, by Sarah Pierce as a “Prize in History & Geography & for general good scholarship.” Nancy Barclay was also rewarded with a book. Sarah Pierce presented Miss Barclay with The whole duty of women for her “perfect cheerfeeling and good term here in the family.”

So while today’s exemplary students may receive a plaque or trophy along with their customary diploma, this honor was parallel to that of receiving a book from Sarah Pierce herself. And although today’s social butterflies have friends sign their yearbook, a tangible list of all of your friends was not as unusual two-hundred years ago. Regardless of which traditions are abandoned or continued, the end of a school year is a time to celebrate accomplishments with friends. Congratulations!

Lauren Ericson is a student at Southern Connecticut State University. She worked on updating records to add to our online database of publications. She also added information about each volume with ties to Female Academy students to the Ledger.

April 20, 2012

Another gem for National Poetry Month

Filed under: Uncategorized — Liz @ 3:06 pm

The following are excerpts from a poem by a Grace Stone Field, the pen name of Mrs. Charles I. Page. It was printed along with the Historical Society’s annual report from August 9, 1912. The recording secretary of the time, Elizabeth C. Barney Buel, believed this tribute to Harriet Beecher Stowe to be Grace Stone Field’s “masterpiece”…”very beautiful–a true artistic gem.”

In the first few stanzas Field tackles Stowe’s impact on the fight against slavery, but also pays tribute to her writings on New England and its “quaint or queer” citizens in a later stanza (Poganuc People, anyone?).

Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Tribute

Shall we twine a greener tendril in the laurel crown she wears?
Shall we add a fresher flower to the garland that she bears?
Shall we say, of one long silent, that she speaks again today?
Shall we prate of her and praise her in some trite, perfunctory way?

Nay, she heeds nor praise nor blaming, dwelling with the immortals now;
We can add no glint of glory to the nimbus round her brow–
But her own achievements land her, speaking with a certain voice
Through the lips of dusky thousands who but name her to rejoice.

Let us rather say God put her in the time and place he planned,
Set a task that men might shrink from her slender woman’s hand;
Made her mighty among women, made her strong to dare and do–
Closed her fingers round her weapon, small and trenchant, too;

And with sympathy diviner than the sympathy of men
She made plain the bondsman’s sorrows with her tiny, potent pen;
Stirred the feeble, laggard impulse, set the northern heart on fire!
Woke the wavering, sluggard conscience to a splendid brave desire.

Thus she wrote, yet lighter fancies wove and wrought within her brain
And she sketched our fair New England, lovely valley, pleasant plain;
Wrote of tender hearts that fluttered under manners more austere
Of the Puritan descendants, stern and solemn, quaint or queer.

April 4, 2012

Elijah Boardman Acquisition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 1:33 pm

The Litchfield Historical Society’s Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library is elated to announce the recent acquisition of a significant collection of business records created by Elijah Boardman (1760-1823).


Thanks to the generosity of Elijah and Mary Anna Boardman’s descendants, Joan Boardman Wright McDaniel and her daughter Caroline Boardman McDaniel Lamphier, scholars will be able to pore over this iconic entrepreneur’s ledgers, blotters, and day books. Boardman’s newspaper advertisements reveal that he went to great lengths to bring a variety of foreign goods to this rural market. His ledgers document his intricate pattern of trade in which he shipped local agricultural goods, received in trade or purchased, which he shipped to New York and sold at a premium. He brought back rum, molasses, and a large variety of textiles.

The family retained the papers for generations, first in the Boardman house in New Milford, and, for a number of years, had them on loan to Yale University. Recently, Mrs. Lamphier and Mrs. McDaniel made the decision to donate the 97 volume collection to a historical society. Derin Bray, an art and antiques consultant who did extensive research for To Please Any Taste: Litchfield County Furniture and Furniture Makers, 1780-1830, published in 2008 by the Litchfield Historical Society, contacted the family upon learning about their collection. His familiarity with Litchfield County and early republic history enabled him to recognize the significance of the collection and suggest to the owner that the family donate the papers to the Society whose professionally trained staff and regular hours would enable scholars to have regular access to the collection.

ledger2These volumes document a business with close ties to Litchfield and to the Society’s existing collections. Prior to embarking on a mercantile venture with his brother Daniel, Boardman served in the American Revolution and trained as a clerk in New Haven. He commenced business as a merchant in New Milford in 1781. The Society holds Boardman & Seymour records, 1794­-1811, a collection of orders, invoices, receipts, and correspondence documenting a partnership between Boardman and Moses Seymour Jr. of Litchfield.

In 1795, Boardman became a member of the Connecticut Land Co., one of the purchasers of the Connecticut Western Reserve. The Notes and Proceedings of the Connecticut Land Company, 1795-1809; the Judson Canfield papers 1760-1856; and the Samuel Flewwelling Papers, 1799-1868 are among the Society’s extensive documentation of the settlement of Ohio by Connecticut natives, many of whom migrated from Litchfield County.

Two of the Boardman’s sons, William Whiting Boardman and George Sherman Boardman, attended the Litchfield Law School. Two of their daughters, Caroline Boardman Schreoder and Mary Anna Boardman, attended the Litchfield Female Academy. Schroeder’s schoolgirl diary is in the Society’s Litchfield Female Academy collection.

Boardman became prominent in politics after 1800. He was repeatedly elected to the Connecticut General Assembly and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1821. For this election, Boardman, a democrat, joined Oliver Wolcott (1760-1833) on the Toleration Party ticket. Boardman died on a visit to Ohio in 1823.

Scholars and history buffs alike know well the Ralph Earl painting of Boardman that hangs in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collection at the Wadsworth Athenaeum boasts the Earl landscape of the Boardman house in New Milford, CT. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA holds the Earl painting of Boardman’s wife, Mary Anna Whiting Boardman, and their son William Whiting Boardman. This collection provides exciting new documentation of significant American works of art.

The collections of the Litchfield Historical Society have long been lauded by enthusiasts of the Early Federal period of American history for their richness in documenting the social and political history of that era. This collection can only serve to enrich existing holdings and expand knowledge about early American commerce, early Connecticut, the Western Reserve, and a host of other topics. The Society will begin processing the collection immediately and hopes to make it available to scholars as soon as possible. It will certainly prove an invaluable resource to all manner of historians and decorative arts scholars, not to mention the added value it will provide the Society’s exhibitions, publications, Web site, and programs.

April 2, 2012

Happy National Poetry Month!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Liz @ 11:09 am

April is National Poetry Month! To join in the celebration, we will be posting poems from the Historical Society’s collections.

Our first selection is from a young student from Litchfield’s Spring Hill School named Peter Seeger.

Yes, the same Peter Seeger who later became a renowned folk singer and activist was once a boy who composed delightful poems for his school’s literary magazine.

The Spring Hill School was founded in 1926 by Dorothy Bull and Mabel Spinney, who modeled the school on the ideals of progressive education.

Students feed chickens at the Spring Hill School

Before “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” there was “Cheer-Up Rhyme for a Misty Day,” published in Wit and Wisdom, Spring Hill’s Upper School literary publication, in June of 1932.


Cheer-Up Rhyme for a Misty Day

‘Tis a very foggy day,
In the misty, foggy way,
And I hope that it will clear up very soon;
For the hillside’s all blurred out,
By this dampish white about,
And all last week I hardly ever saw the moon.

It’s so wet and damp and “mucky,”
That one doesn’t feel so lucky,
If on slips and falls down in an “ooky” pond.
But, when I settle down and read,
Having cared for every need,
I feel that I should smile and say,
“Be darned”.

February 6, 2012

Love is in the Air

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 5:05 pm

Betsey Huntington Wolcott

There are some fantastic love letters in the Society’s collection. Here are two excerpts to inspire you from Frederick Wolcott to his beloved Betsey Huntington on June 27, 1800.

If I were to write to you as often as I think of you, the perusal of my letter would afford you a constant employment.  If, however I could flatter myself that you would read them with as much pleasure as I write them, I am sure you would not be unwilling pretty frequently to hear from me.  My mind dwells with great pleasure on our acquaintance & friendship.  I love, without reserve, to write to you & to disclose my feelings; to tell you I am your friend, & that I will always remain so… I shall leave home the next monday on a journey of business, & shall be absent a fortnight or three weeks.  Betsey, how many times do you believe I shall think of you before I return?  May I not with more propriety say how much of my time shall I not think of you? Full transcript

He later wrote of their upcoming wedding:

I will only add that I have never thought Weddings were proper occasions for much parade.  In the one in which I expect to be interested I am willing however that the good Girl whom I love, and in whose judgment I have confidence, should be the sole directress of the ceremonies…. I am entirely happy in the choice I have made and, in my most sober hours, my judgment and feelings wholly approve of my determination (provided you will still yield your assent) to form with you a connection on which in an eminent degree will depend the colourings of my condition and prospects thro life. Full transcript

Their life together was cut short when Betsey died in 1812, shortly after the birth of their sixth child, Laura. Frederick went on to marry again,  but no letters of this kind to his second wife are known.

Maria Tallmadge Cushman

Love isn’t always a bed of roses. Upon breaking her engagement with Virgil Maxcy, young Maria Tallmadge received a letter from Tapping Reeve.

By this you will perceive that I am not unacquainted with events that have given you much uneasiness the occasion of my writing this is that I know on such occasion in such cases the mind is returning to the event and inquiring whether it can be justified my dear child your conscience if rightly informed must acquit you in of any guilt in dismissing Mr Maxcy for I have no doubt that you struggled with your reluctant affections to make them yield. This you found impossible ^ the consequence must have been if you had preserver^ed until you had given your hand you would have done it without giving your heart this would have ^ been a step that could not have been retraced and most probably would have been a source of grief not only to you & would have been injustice to him you must with an aching heart have lived a life of deception and after all your attempts to conceal from him the real feelings of your heart would have been made in vain…your knowledge of his strong attachment to you and your tenderness for him of nature and wish to render him happy might lead you into an error but never stained you with any fault of heart…

She presumably found love after all as she went on to marry John Paine Cushman. Poor Mr. Maxcy’s life did not end so well. He died during an explosion on the ship “Princeton” in 1844.

Click here to find a transcription of the entire letter to download.

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