Living with antiques
The Captain Philo Beardsley house near Kent, Connecticut
BY FREDERICK D. HILL
This article appeared in The Magazine Antiques, February, 1982. All photographs are by Helga Photo Studio.
THE PROPER SALVATION of an old house requires both a devotion to the historical reality and a discerning imagination. Lawrence and Halina Conklin have exercised these gifts in full measure during their preservation, beginning in 1976, of the Captain Philo Beardsley house in Kent Hollow, near Kent, Connecticut, which is now their weekend residence.
Plate I. Captain Philo Beardsley house, near Kent Connecticut, probably built in 1770. The gambrel roofed wing at the back was added several years ago, replacing a small ell. The house is set in rolling hills and is immediately surrounded by cow pastures. The original barn, still part of the property, is across the road. Photographs are by Helga Photo Studio.
It was the Conklins' good fortune that the house came to them so remarkably intact. Incredible as it seems, the walls, paneling, floors, doors, and hardware are all original. The only restoration necessary was the interior paint, and most of the work involved stabilizing the structure and renovating the foundation. The Conklins replaced a small nineteenth-century ell at the back with a gambrel-roofed wing containing a modern kitchen, bathrooms, service areas, and children's rooms. In recognition of its extraordinary state of preservation the house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Plate II. The purpose of the hooks in the parlor is not known, although such hooks are found in other parlors and kitchens of Kent Hollow houses. The corner cupboard is original to the house. The curly-maple slant-front desk was made in Preston, Connecticut, c. 1775, and is attributed to John Wheeler Geer (1753-1828). Above it hangs a seventeenth-century map of Virginia in an eighteenth-century pearwood frame.The mahogany Massachusetts armchair of c. 1780 is upholstered in a reproduction of an eighteenth-century wool damask. The maple sofa was made in western Massachusetts c. 1800. The mahogany tea table was also made in Massachusetts, c. 1770. On it are a pair of early eighteenth century English brass candlesticks and a rare Chinese porcelain bowl of the Tao Kuang period (1821-1850) bearing on the bottom the characters for "made at Shen-te at the Hall of Broad Knowledge of Ancient Things." The late eighteenth-century portrait by an unknown artist is one of a pair found in Shelburne, Massachusetts, still in their original frames, depicting an anonymous parson (see Fig. 1) and his wife. Below it is a cherry candlestand from Connecticut, c. 1770.
Figure 1. The easy chair shown in this view of the parlor is upholstered with the same wool damask as the armchair shown in Pl. II. The cherry candlestand is unusual for the scalloping underneath the dish top. It was probably made in Norwich, Connecticut, c. 1790. (An identical example, apparently by the same maker and similarly warped, is in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.). The brass candlestick on the candlestand is English, c. 1720. The maple side chair, one of a pair, is from Rhode Island, c. 1750. The eighteenth-century mahogany drop-leaf table is attributed to the Townsend-Goddard school of cabinetmakers of Newport, Rhode Island. The Chinese porcelain candlesticks are polychromed in famille verte colors and date from the K'ang Hsi period. The mezzotint of GeorgeWashington by Valentine Green (1739-1813), done in London in 1785, is in an eighteenth-century black and gilt frame. The portrait of a parson by an unknown artist is the pendant to the one of his wife shown in Pl. II.
Figure 2. The paneled fireplace wall of the dining room is original and is similar to the one in the parlor. All the paneling in the house is attributed to Reuben Beman Jr. (b. 1742), a cabinetmaker known to have worked in Kent Hollow in the late eighteenth century. The door at the left of the fireplace opens into a shallow closet. The maple Boston chair at the right of the fireplace was made c. 1700 and retains its original red paint. The brass andirons of c. 1800 are from the Kent region and the mirrored sconces of about the same date were made in New England.
The house is believed to have been built in 1770 the year scratched into the plaster of the cellar, apparently in the eighteenth century. Its first known owner was Philo Beardsley (1755-1826), who inherited from his father, Josiah, of Newtown, Connecticut, the hundred-acre lot on which the house was built. Philo Beardsley married Esther Curtis (1764-1856) in 1784. At his death he left a half interest in the house to his widow and the other half to his youngest son, Agur (b. 1801), who stayed in Kent when his mother moved to Ohio a few years later.
Plate III. What is now the dining room was originally Philo Beardsley's bedroom and contained what is considered to be one of the finest Connecticut beds of the period (now in the Frederick K. and Margaret R. Barbour Collection at the Connecticut Historical Society). The gateleg dining table, Massachusetts, c.1700, has a maple top and the original brown paint on its base. The four maple chairs of c. 1770 could be from Massachusetts or Norwich, Connecticut. The red-painted maple blanket chest has three drawers. It was made in Massachusetts c. 1770. The eighteenth-century looking glass was made in New England. The Massachusetts oak Bible box of c. 1700 retains its original pine top and bears the incised initials EC on the front. It sits on a tavern table from Ipswich, Massachusetts, c. 1720, which has a maple base and a pine top. The brass candlesticks of c.1690 and the delftware bowls of c. 1760 are English. The chandelier was found locally. Its central section is carved with acanthus leaves.
Figure 3. The curly-maple chest of drawers in this view of the dining room is from Hartford, c. 1710. On it is a pair of early eighteenth-century English brass candlesticks, while above it hangs a sampler worked in 1806 by Jain Vreedenburgh Conklin (b. 1800), a distant ancestor of the present owners of the house who lived in the lower Hudson River valley. The tavern table, with a pine top and cherry base, is a late eighteenth-century Connecticut piece. Above it hangs an eighteenth-century New England looking glass with painted decoration. The matching maple chairs were made in Massachusetts c. 1750 and, except for their splats, closely resemble the four around the dining table (see Pl. III).
When Agur eventually needed a larger house he built a new one in the fashionable Federal style about a thousand feet south of the then outdated salt box, which thus remained intact for the next century and a half. The old house was used intermittently as a storage barn and later as a summerhouse, but it was never renovated. It stayed in the Beardsley family until 1963.
Figure 4. The folding table shown in this view of the old kitchen is one of the few to have survived intact. It is especially rare to find the original brackets. In Philo Beardsley's day the shelves held bread baked in the oven in the kitchen fireplace. The loaves were protected by a door consisting of a wooden frame stretched with stenciled homespun linen and anchored by leather hinges. The door is now stored in the attic. The canteen at the right on the top shelf is believed to have belonged to Philo Beardsley. The New England maple side chair of c. 1750 combines features of the William and Mary and Queen Anne styles.
In furnishing the house, the Conklins, who are avid collectors, followed the inventory made at Philo Beardsley's death. What is almost certainly one of his tables remains in the house (see Fig. 7), and his bed is in the Frederick K. and Margaret R. Barbour Collection at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. The original owner would surely feel at home with the elegant but restrained furniture the Conklins have acquired, especially when he heard outside the mooing of cows descended from his own.
Figure 5. The linen and silk coverlet in this bedroom is a brilliant crimson and bears a weeping willow design. It comes from Franklin, Massachusetts, and is signed and dated Nancy Thurston, Franklin 1829. The eighteenth-century New England blanket chest at the foot of the bed retains its original red paint. Both the maple armchair, which has its original black paint and the maple candlestand were made in New Milford, Connecticut, c. 1770. The nineteenth-century painting by an unknown artist hangs in an unusual opening in the paneling. Also singular is the hearthstone, which is cantilevered out from the chimney stack. The rugs are Caucasian.
Figure 6. The cherry tall chest of drawers in this view of the bedroom shown in Fig. 5 retains its original finish and brasses. It is from Avon, Connecticut and dates from c. 1790. The smaller cherry chest of drawers is also a Connecticut piece of c. 1790. The cherry chairs are attributed to Samuel Kneeland and Lemuel Adams of Hartford (w. together 1792-1795), c.1795. The brass chamberpot of c. 1800 and the early eighteenth-century framed needlework are English.
Plate IV. The original red paint of the kitchen is preserved under the present coat of matching color. The ceiling was originally plastered. The pine settle from western Massachusetts, c. 1800, has never been painted. The table, a single piece of pine on a maple and oak frame, was probably made in Connecticut in the late seventeenth century. On it is a pair of seventeenth-century Dutch pewter candlesticks. The black-painted banister back armchair in the foreground was made in Hartford in the mid-eighteenth century. The brown painted example at the end of the table is of the same date but was made in Guilford or Wallingford. The sidechair against the wall, from New Hampshire, c. 1750, retains its original black paint. The grain barrel at the right of the fireplace was hewn from a single log. It comes from Staten Island, New York, and the date 1844 is incised on it near the top edge. The wrought-iron grill hanging at the left of the fireplace may have belonged to Philo Beardsley.
Figure 7. The table shown in this bedroom is almost certainly the one described in Philo Beardsley's inventory of 1826 (now in the Kent town records) as "one cherry table, $3.50." On it is scrimshaw from the Conklins' extensive collection. The early nineteenth-century Nantucket-lightship basket bears the label of Davis Hall, one of the first known makers of these baskets. The windsor armchair of c. 1805 is branded by Amos Haggett of Charlestown Massachusetts. The paneling was probably installed in the room after Philo Beardsley's day.
Figure 8. The original handsome iron latch on the door in the entry is exactly where it has been since the late eighteenth century. Remnants of the original red morocco leather washers are still in place. The latch is particularly unusual for the fact that it is marked by the unidentified maker, I.C.
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