… OK. So I don’t really label myself a Yankee, but I like the headline!
(Note: all sources will be identified at the end of this post)
One of the things that I like about visiting Connecticut is touring the homes of historic authors. I didn’t have a lot of hours to play, so I only visited places within a 45 minute drive of my Connecticut apartment. So, I visited the homes of Noah Webster, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
My first destination:
Before I write about Noah Webster, I want to tell you why “Qui Transtulit Sustinet” is on the sign. It is Connecticut’s State Motto and it can be translated as, “He Who Transplanted Still Sustains.” (dr. delagar… correct me if I am wrong!!) I have read that the vines represent Connecticut Colony and that “He Who Transplanted” refers to God. The transplanted vines are the English people who came to the new land. So… He who transplanted them still watches over them.
You may recall, Noah Webster was the author of many books and spellers, but is most known for publishing the first American English dictionary. The 1828 edition had 70,000 defined words. In this dictionary, he updated (some would say Americanized) the spelling of many British English words, such as changing honour to honor. It was the fifth edition; the first edition had been published in 1806. He lived in New Haven during those years.
A page from the 1828 (first) edition is pictured below:
Note: When you look at the image, check out the word STURK, defined as a “young ox or heifer.” I have never seen that word. I wonder if it is still used, or if the word is obsolete. If you know that the word STURK is still used today, please write a comment. I am curious to know!
Below are some original spellers, authored by Noah Webster. People are most familiar with the McGuffy Readers, but Webster’s spellers came first! They fell out of favor when the McGuffy Readers gain popularity in the schools and among those schooled at home.
A speller was used to help to learn to read and spell. Noah Webster wrote the first three American-English spellers. The Blue Backed Speller was first published in 1783 as Part I of A Grammatical Institute of the English Language.
“…as a writer, he saw a national language as the way to unite the many states into a single culture.”
I presume that this was his writing desk (below.) I know that the trunk was the one he used to transport his belongings between the Colonies, England and France.
He is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, around the corner from where my husband was raised.
In the portrait of Noah Webster, below, I wonder about a few things:
Is that a real skull being used as a paperweight??
Check out the page of the book he is reading. Is that a black man in chains? What is he reading about?
Look out the window. There are slaves outside of his window doing some planting. Noah Webster wrote a book, Effects of Slavery on Morals and Industry, so I wonder what his position was on the issue of slavery. I guess that if I read his book, I might figure it out!
… I also wonder why would he keep books, papers and a musical instrument on the floor??
(Click on the image to make it larger)
I drove over to the Clemens and Beecher Stowe houses. Both houses share a common yard, but they are separate entities. The Clemens family (Samuel, his wife Olivia and their three young daughters, Suzy, Clara and Jean) and Harriet Beecher Stowe lived there at the same time. Samuel Clemens was middle aged and Harriet Beecher Stowe was elderly when they were neighbors. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived with her husband and adult twin daughters.
Their properties were part of an area known as “Nook Farm,” which was a community of artists, writers and activists.
Brothers-in-law John Hooker and Francis Gillette purchased 140 acres of pasture and woodland and founded the community. William Gillette, the actor who played Sherlock Holmes, grew up in the neighborhood. Many suffragettes lived in the “Nook Farm” neighborhood, which is mostly along Forest Street in Hartford. The Houghton-Hepburn family moved there around the time that the Clemens sold their home in 1903. Katharine Hepburn’s mother and father were very active in the women’s rights movement and in educating the public about the dangers of venereal disease. Her father was a urologist at Hartford Hospital and treated many of the prostitutes that lived in the local brothels.
As you drive down Forest Street, the houses are grand. Many of the homes were custom-built by nationally renowned architects. (If you decide to visit the area, keep in mind that the street is surrounded by a ghetto. It is no longer an exclusive neighborhood, although it is still beautiful!)
The Mark Twain house is an architectural masterpiece. The bricks are designed to look like stenciling. This theme continues in the house. Louis Comfort Tiffany’s company designed and painted the elaborate stencils seen throughout the house, yet most prominent in the grand foyer. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I will write to the curator and ask permission to use their official photos. With permission, I will add them to this post.
The roof is made of slate. Each individual slate was hand-carved and follows a diamond pattern, as seen below:
The detailed brickwork is awe-inspiring.
Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his wife Olivia believed in bringing nature indoors. A conservatory was built off of the main sitting room, where the family would gather to play games and present plays. As you can see from the outside, the conservatory is full of lush greenery and some exotic plants and trees. The floor is made of multi-colored slate tiles. If you look closely at the image, you can see a statue through the windows. The garden is beautifully designed and the windows let light into an otherwise dark house:
The open porches face what used to be a beautiful ravine and a little river that lined the property (Park River.) Unfortunately, urban sprawl has devoured the once park-like view. The river has been re-routed and now it flows through a concrete pipe under the ground. The woods are gone; apartment buildings have taken their place. There are still enough woods to imagine how beautiful it must have once looked.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
Noah Webster House Museum
Mark Twain House and Museum