Old Stone House Journal

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.

Photo of Hentry Whitfield House, Guildford, Connecticut.

The Henry Whitfield House (c. 1639), Guilford, Connecticut (Image Source: Wikipedia Commons).

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.

Close up of book covers.

My (newly acquired) rare copy of J. Frederick Kelly's Henry Whitfield House restoration journal, and paper back copy of "Early Domestic Architecture".

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.

Book opened and photographs of restoration project.

Kelly's journal includes many detailed photographs of the Henry Whitfield House restoration effort.

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.

Books on desk, with ink well and quill pens.

My reading and writing desk in the Mansfield House office.

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.

Etching of Henry Whitfield House.

A drawing of the Henry Whitfield House, from Edward Lambert's "History of the Colony of New Haven", published in 1838. Kelly restored the other end chimney and fireplace, exactly one hundred years later.

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.

Mr. Poole blowing out his birthday candles.

Mr. Poole blowing his birthday candles out while Ma Poole looks on.

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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7 Responses to Old Stone House Journal

  1. Ruby Beets Aka Crystal says:

    I love your warmness toward history, old houses, and your mother

  2. What a great gift, John! Truly!
    Happy Birthday, sir! Enjoy every page. And, thanks for all you do for our these treasures.
    Chris

  3. Juliana Inman says:

    What a touching post. I happen to hail from Guilford – County that is:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guilford_County,_North_Carolina
    Historic buildings, restoration, Architecture, books and Mom (my Aunt Josephine). How delightful! Love, Cousin Elinor Dashwood

    • John Poole says:

      Hello, Cousin Elinor Dashwood.

      You nearly floored me when I saw “Guilford”, then realized you were talking about NC. But then, of course, I’ve known all along that you’re from NC. You restored the NC Governor’s Mansion!

      Yes, historic buildings, books, Josephines, Elinors…all very delightful things, indeed! Thanks for commenting!

      Love,
      Cousin Elinor Dashwood Pooley

  4. John Poole says:

    Wai…wha??? You’re not my mom! (I know it’s you, Alexandra! Don’t deny it!) . And, yes, three is the correct number of candles, when each candle is equivalent to 17.3333… years, which is the number of years in dog-years, if you divide the circumference of the cake by the specific gravity of the candle wax, then multiply by…. (threw a little math in there, just to confuse you. Heh heh heh!).
    Love, your Dad.

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