Sometimes I wonder if my love for historic homes is a product of nature, or nurture. Or some synthesis thereof. My inner wiring is addicted to timelessness and continuity. And not only to appreciate that continuity, but somehow to enjoy and participate in it. On the other hand, I grew up in the nexus of two historic districts in my home town, and my fascination with historic homes, colonial history, and New England folk lore likewise is traceable to the earliest observations of my youth.
But my mother, Mrs. Josephine F. Poole, is perhaps my single greatest, most positive influence of all. She had always made it a point to expose me to science, and also culturally significant places or events, since my earliest days. She’s ultimately the one I have to give the most credit to, for my present day interest in these various things.
When I was either a high school senior or college freshman (I don’t exactly remember when, but it was more or less around that time), she asked me one Saturday morning in the summer if I wanted to drive us to Guilford, Connecticut to see “the old stone house”, a place I’d never heard of before. Of course, she was referring to the Henry Whitfield House (c. 1639), which is the oldest surviving house in Connecticut. So we took a tour of this old home, and, of course, the place made a lasting impression on me.
Henry Whitfield was a minister who led the settlement of Guilford. He was also a very wealthy man, and used his personal resources to purchase much of what would become the Guilford plantation. His new home was one of the first structures built there. Constructed almost entirely of wet-laid stone from a nearby quarry, and overlooking Long Island Sound, it also served the early settlers of Guilford as a protective fortress.
The nature of its construction and material undoubtedly accounts for the Henry Whitfield House’s longevity. The home had been restored twice in its lifetime: Once in the very early 1900s, and then again in 1938-39, this time by J. Frederick Kelly, a well known architect and architectural historian, from New Haven, Connecticut.
Kelly restored many ancient homes throughout Connecticut. He also published a number of books on early New England architecture, two of his better known ones being Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut (1924), and Early Connecticut Meeting Houses (1948). In 1926, he visited the Mansfield House, during its extensive restoration by Mabel P. Stivers. While Kelly had never published any formal account of the Mansfield House that I’m aware of, he proclaimed its restoration at the time to have been “a very fine piece of work”. Needless to say, J. Frederick Kelly is one of my heroes.
So, as you can imagine, I was deeply pleased and surprised when my mother recently presented me (on my birthday) with a copy of J. Frederick Kelly’s “The Henry Whitfield House 1639: The Journal of the Restoration of The Old Stone House, Guilford”. It’s a very rare book, of course, having been long out of print. She managed to acquire my copy from Resource Books, a collector and seller of rare and used books, in East Granby, Connecticut.
This gift is immeasurably significant to me on a number of levels. Not only because it was a birthday gift from my mother, but the fact that she was the one who’d introduced me to the Henry Whitfield House in the first place, so many, many years ago (where does the time go?). And then, of course, the J. Frederick Kelly connection, as well. I can’t imagine a better expression of what I’d meant earlier by a certain notion of timelessness and continuity, in the face of passing time, than this simple birthday gift from my mother.