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lates from east to west, forming sheltered depressions, in which many, indeed
most of the early colonists located their farms, often choosing the lowest and
least sunny spot for their dwelling house and outbuildings.

Occasionally though, and nearly always by a family of known English ori-
gin, a large and roomy house, with some pretension to architectural symmetry
and ornament, would be built upon the summit of a hill. Such is the position
of the old " Johnson house," plainly to be seen from many of the city streets.
The original Johnson made a sensation by entering town with his" family, in




THE JOHNSON HOl'SE.

what an old resident called "an equipage." This equipage was a vehicle with-a
canvass top. Its prototype was exhibited at the State Fair of 1892. This vehicle
was considered elegant, and gave a certain social position to the new-comers.
The Johnson farm included part of the west mountain and quite all of the cliff
known as West Peak. This purchase was not by other thrifty farmers consid-
ered an especial evidence of good judgment. The mountainous forest was,
most of it, hemlock, and no self-respecting housekeeper of that era would
buy hemlock wood for any purpose, unless cheated into it, a feat only
accomplished by slyly inserting a log or two of the objectionable timber
into an honest looking load of hickory and maple. For many years the moun-
tain was considered a nearly worthless adjunct of the property, but within the
last few years it has acquired a value other than its forests. The men of the
4



so



MEMORIES OF MERIDEN



Johnson family were just the silent, grave, stern men of that day. The moth-
er, slightly paralytic, equally serious and formal, and the two daughters, called
by the children of that formal time " Miss Amanda " and Miss Huldah," might
have stepped bodily out of Mrs. Gaskell's "Cranford." The writer has just
one memory'of one of these ancient sisters. She sat stiffly upright, her with-
ered hands crossed, as she gave out that "she considered red flannel extremely
conducive to health." Besides the equipage aforesaid, the family brought with
them good store of china and Wedgewood ware. Cut glass decanters and wine
glasses adorned the mahogany sideboard. China and pewter cider mugs had
their own place. The pewter cups and platters had a commixture of silver,
rather more than one of silver to sixteen of pewter. There are still extant
certain pieces of old china and glass, once their property. An old pitcher with
the parting of the to-be bride of "Old Robin Gray" and her Jamie depicted on
one side, and the ship with white sails flaming, and the tossing waves beneath
which bore Jamie away from her, on the other, had been in some long gone




time broken into many pieces, carefully replaced and joined together with
putty now dried by time into a hardness equal to the pottery itself. An old
stoneware flip mug, with a surface as smooth and fine as china, is hooped with
metal bands.

The cut glass on the sideboard was not kept solely for show. Callers were
always refreshed by a small modicum of cherry brandy or foreign wine from
the decanters, dispensed in the tiny wine glasses. Their loaf-cake, rye bread,
cream biscuits and honey were famous in all the region round about.

The formalities of a tea-party were once described by a lady who assisted
at the function. Upon the arrival of the guests, they were met at the door by
both sisters, and by them helped in the arranging of best caps and lace collars.



MEMORIES OF MERIDEN.



SI



They were then escorted sedately to one of their chairs by one of the sisters,
and "negus" was mixed with much precision and with distinguished solemn-
ity by the other. The del-
ectable tipple was then
dispensed by both, and
was partaken of with se-
rious appreciation by all,
including the minister and
his wife, who were always
the guests of honor at such
solemn divertisements.
The family coat of arms
was, and perhaps still re-
mains, cut into the panel-
ling of what was the best
parlor.

The old, old white rose,
single to be sure, but fra-
grant, and with buds when half opened of absolutely perfect loveliness, can
still be found on the premises, as can also the almost extinct red and white
striped York and Lancaster rose. The family is extinct, and the old house
is to this generation a landmark — nothing more.




THE COE PLACE.




Till, RICE HOUSE.

In this section of the town are also the farms owned respectively by mem-
bers of the Allen and Coe families. Commodious and handsome dwellings
have been built on both of these estates, which have descended from father to
son. The old farmhouses are still standing, but are in no way distinctive.
Nearer the city is another farmhouse which antedates its centennial by many



52



MEMORIES OF MERIDEN.



years. Low in its elevation, it is large upon the ground. Substantially built,
its wide low hall with its staircase rising directly from it, gives an air of
roominess not usual in dwellings of that period. This hall now furnished with
" things new and old " gives access to the cosy rooms on each side, with their
cupboards and corner fireplaces. This is and has been for more than a hun-
dred years the " Rice Farm." There, many a year agone. Deacon Ezekiel
Rice, a widower with seven children, brought home as his bride the sometime
widow of Dr. Hall of Wallingford. Into the family of seven girls and boys
the new wife brought her three daughters. From that time, all the young peo-
ple lived in the peace of a singularly harmonious home. Somebody, with more
truth than elegance, said of them that " they were stirred together with a long
stick and never afterward did anyone know to which side of the house did they
belong." To these ten, six more were added, and the sixteen grew up and all
but one married. From the shelter of its broad roof have gone out into the
world those who are known in pretty nearly every state in the Union. Among




its later inmates arc those who have been and are in close relationship
and friendship with men and women known beyond the limits of our own
country for their important station in the political world, and for the wealth
of their intellectual resources.

The house and land surrounding is still owned and occupied by members
of the family name. Before the present dwelling was built,more than a cen-
tury ago, there was another, of which only the door stones and an old well
were discoverable some years since. At the southwest corner of the low door-
yard terrace, there stands a vigorous, and although distorted, very beautiful
maple. This tree was a good size when the present house was built, and is at
least a hundred and fifty years old. A tall and vigorous pine tree has a pretty
bit of family history connected with it. One of the daughters, then a little
girl, went to Middletown with her big brother, she riding behind him on a



MEMORIES OF MERIDEN.



S3



pillion. Going over the mountain she saw the tiny tree, only a few inches
high, and she transplanted it in the home door yard. Some years ago it
seemed to be dying. It is a landmark, and would be missed, but it has taken
a new start and bids fair to live through another generation. Besides these,
visibly striving to renew its youth, is an ancient stump of a "golden sweeting"
apple-tree, the parent of which was brought to Wallingford from England, It
is, itself, the parent of all that especial fruit in these parts.

From the first this home was the center of good cheer and of an intelli-
gent, social culture.

In the northern section of the town is standing another quaint dwelling.
Its long, low, picturesque roof once sheltered one of the large families of the
olden time. It is still occupied by a member of the family, and, like the three




BLACK POND.



before mentioned, is still held in the family name. This was not exactly a
farmhouse. Years ago, its owner. Squire Patrick Clark, conducted a thriving
tin business that with its numerous surrounding low workshops gave that cor-
ner of the town the name of " Clarksville." Tinware making was then the
most important Meriden industry, antedating that of ivorj' comb making,
which afterward outgrew its predecessor, but of which no trace is left except
the pretty artificial lake known as " Prattsville Pond." In its day the tin busi-
ness quite held the town. Not only were the shops at Clarksville kept busy, but
there were those of " Squire " Noah Pomeroy at the " East Side," and two sep-
arate concerns belonging to members of the Yale family in the center of the
town, and another, quite as thriving as any of the others, carried on by "Good-
rich and Rutty." Of those old workshops not a vestige can now be found.
Streets with sidewalks and electric lights now traverse the precincts where



54



MEMORIES OF MERIDEN.



the "apprentices" soldered the pots and pans, doing their evening "stint" by
the obscure radiance given out by tin lamps filled with whale oil, or by tallow
candles.

The Pomeroy shops are gone. Even " Black Pond," the adjacent east side
natural lake, the only natural lake in the town limits, has lost its weird notori-
ety as a fathomless water. Since the trees from the overhanging mountain
side have been cut away, the sunlight falls as brightly there as anywhere, and
it is now known to be no deeper than any mountain side lake is apt to be.

As the tinware and ivory comb business declined, the present industries
which give Meriden the title of " Silver City " grew naturally out of the small
but very well paying trade in britannia metal. This was at first confined to
the manufacture of spoons and tea and coffee pots of homely and inelegant
pattern, and except perhaps a simple beading, of a perfectly plain finish.

The leading Connecticut industry, rivaling for many years that of clock-
making, was that of tinware. Northern tin-peddlers pervaded the Southern

States, and what were
then known as fort-
unes were thus ac-
cumulated, of which
Meriden had its gen-
erous share. Since
then other business
ventures have start-
ed, developed into
more or less impor-
tance in their own
time, have declined
and passed out of the
needs of this newer
day.

But the great
THE PATRICK CLARK HOMKSTEAD. factories of this latcr

dispensation, growing still more and more extensive in their operations and
varied in their merchandise, have grown up from and have been evolved out
of, more or less directly or indirectly, those low, unpretentious, nearly forgot-
ten workshops of seventy years ago. The men who conducted the enterprises
of those years were all of them economical, thrifty and painstaking. Besides
these qualities, they were both, farmers and manufacturers, eminently God-
fearing, Sunday-keeping men. They strove, — even if they sometimes, being
but human, failed — to have "a conscience void of offence."




NERVA.

A Story of Pastoral Connecticut,



BY MILO LEON NORTON.



PART I. — DESOLATION.

Fortunes are made and lost in a day, is a common allnsion to the fluctua-
tions of Wall street, but yet to one who has little knowledge of the feverish
excitement, the anxieties, the depressions and exhilarations peculiar to specula-
tion, this expression is as meaningless as the terms of a quadratic equation to one
who has never progressed beyond the simple calculations of arithmetic. There
is a fascination about speculation, like all forms of gambling, that is almost
irresistible ; and the fact that some succeed allures others on to almost certain
ruin.

George Smith had been a successful operator on Wall street. Whatever
he touched turned to gold. His great ambition was to become a millionaire^
but, having attained this, he was just as ambitious to add another and still an-
other million to his pile. How few learn the lesson of moderation. How few
ever succeed in curbing the insatiate craving for more, that becomes a passion,
a mania, robbing men of much of the real enjoyment of, and relish for the good
things of life.

George Smith became interested in a new, gigantic railway project in the
West. This was to be the master financial stroke of his career. The bonds
were issued, the scheme duly lauded by the well-paid metropolitan press, the
bonds were being taken by investors ; indeed, success seemed assured. But a
rival operator saw a chance to steal a march on his fortunate rival. A syndi-
cate was formed. Legislation hostile to the Smith system was secured by a
process best known to those familiar with the lobbies of legislative bodies.
False reports were circulated. The stocks depreciated. In short, George
Smith, triple millionaire that he was, found himself out-generaled, and ruined.
The bubble had burst.

Gathering up a few scattering securities he realized what he could upon
them, cast into the pool again, and lost. Luck had turned. There was no use.
Prematurely'aged at fifty, when he should have been in the prime of life ; hope-
less and nerveless, what could he do ? He still possessed some real estate, but
this under forced sale did not realize its full worth, a few thousands, and de-
positing this, he cast about for some business opening, for he had abandoned
speculation forever. He was soon astounded to learn that the bank which held
this remnant of his fortune had failed. The very roof above his head must
now be sold and he must seek inexpensive quarters elsewhere.

Misfortunes never come singly. They came upon him and overwhelmed
him like an avalanche.

It is not surprising that this run of ill-luck that had swept from him in a
few months what had taken him so many years to accumulate, should com-



56 NERVA.

pletely prostrate him. Many a man has ended his life by suicide at such a
crisis in his affairs. But he was too utterly crushed by his misfortunes to even
think of suicide. He lapsed into a sort of stupor, from which nothing could
arouse him. He took little interest in anything. He ate and slept and con-
versed aimlessly, nervelessly.

Mr. Smith's family consisted of a wife and two daughters. One of the lat-
ter, the older, was with her mother in Europe, the other was with her father.
The two sisters were as unlike as two persons could well be. The elder one
was proud, haughty, calculating, like her mother, her horizon bounded by her
own desires and ambitions. Her mother had married for money, not love.
Born of an old, aristocratic family, she inherited the blue blood of her ances-
tors. Fortunately for her, her husband had settled upon her an immense sum,
the income of which, coupled with her own private fortune, placed her above
the possibility of want. The news of her husband's failure, which would have
excited wifely sympathy and compassion in most women, only deepened her
alienation from her husband. To her, financial misfortunes were criminal.
Henceforth their paths would be divergent.

She wrote at once to her youngest daughter to join them in Paris, where
they could live at their ease, and leave the man who had brought all this dis-
grace upon them to shift for himself. To this proposition the youngest daugh-
ter made a prompt and indignant refusal. What ! Leave her father to bear
his burden of disaster alone ? Not she. Her father had done too much for
her to be recompensed with such ingratitude.

The stately family mansion was sold. Some of the most useful furniture,
and some precious souvenirs were reserved, rooms were secured in a quiet
locality, and a talent for management was developed in this girl of twenty,
that surprised herself : she who had never been required to give an anxious
thought for the morrow.

A few months after taking up their abode in their new quarters, Nerva —
for I must now introduce her by name — was reading aloud to her father, who
listened, half heeding, in his listless way, when her eyes rested upon an illus-
tation of an old farm-house, its windows broken, its weather-boards fallen off
in places, its chimney of hewn stone still defying wind and weather, its doors
unhinged, and tangled vines and shrubbery growing wild and luxuriant about
the stone door-steps of the old deserted habitation. It was one of those aban-
doned houses so common in New England. There was something about it in
keeping with the dilapidation into which their fortune had fallen ; something
about the old ruin that seemed consonant with the ruin and desolation that had
come to her heart. Not only had she lost her position in society as a belle and
heiress, petted and admired and envied, but the young fortune-hunting lawyer
to whom she had been betrothed, when she had promptly released him from
the engagement, had as promptly accepted the release, not without a show of
regret, to be sure, but as she well knew, without a particle of sincerity about
it. Hollow and insincere as she then knew her alBanced to have been, yet the
sudden rending of ties so sacred, the sudden blasting of the hope that, perhaps,
after all he would be true to her despite her loss of fortxme, the dashing to
earth of all the hopes and dreams that had taken possession of her young life,
almost crushed her beneath their accumulated weight. But the sight of her
poor father, sitting day after day, helpless almost as a child, yet trustful and



NERVA. 57

gentle and kind as he always had been since her earliest recollection, nerved
her to struggle bravely against the overwhelming disasters that had befallen
them. Her eyes followed the descriptive text, and she read, with languid
interest, paragraph after paragraph.

All at once a sudden inspiration came to her. How nice it would be to
live in the seclusion, the solitude, of such an old home. How sweet to bury
one's self;in such an old tomb. The close companionship with nature, the gentle
murmur of the brooks, the perfume of the new mown hay, the beauty of the
wild flowers, the shadows of the leafy wood, and the grandeur of the hills ; how
all these things would inspire her very soul, and soothe and heal her wounded
heart.

She laid down the magazine at last, and sat and thought, and thought, and

thought.

********

It was a perfect day. May, the lovely bridal month of the year, had
decked herself with apple blossoms, the loveliest of all fruit blossoms. All
nature was gay with bud and bloom, and brilliant with vernal sunshine. A
New England train wound in and out among the hills of Litchfield County.
It labored up a steep grade through a wild gorge, a canyon they would call it
in the wild West, through which a stream of water dashed over gray rocks,
spread out into miniature lakes, or glided along underneath drooping willows
or black stemmed alders. Farther along a deep cut in the solid rock of the
gorge, worn away by untold ages of falling water, afforded an ideal site for a
mill-dam. One had time only to catch a glimpse of a deep, dark chasm, into
which plunged the waters from the weir above, when the train gave a lurch, as
it rounded a curve, and then traversed the border of a placid mill pond, upon
which was reflected the deep blue of the sky, and the cloud-fleets that sail on
aimless voyages along the uncharted currents of the upper air. A little island,
a continent in miniature, with a cape here, a gulf there, beetling crags a cubit
high, rocky promontories, bold headlands — what one could imagine Australia
to be, could he view it from the moon — seemed to float upon the lakelet, to nes-
tle there as an emerald might nestle upon the bosom of a sleeping maiden.

Farther along the train emerged upon a plain. A stream wound through
it in serpentine spirals, fringed with water-loving alders and mottled maples.
The plain itself, like a great river, stretched away to the north, skirting the
frayed edges of the bordering hills, or yielding to the encroachments of huge
masses of metamorphic rock. Scores of cattle grazed in the pastures. Farm
houses, surrounded by cherry trees in full bloom, partially revealed their
white-painted gables and weather-beaten roofs in the distance.

Another lurch of the train, another sharp curve, and the train rushed into
a narrow defile in the mountain. Huge boulders and angular masses detached
from the heights above, lay scattered about. Through the very hearts of
many huge rocks the engineers had blasted the way for the locomotive. There
were pools, shaded by sombre hemlocks ; there were cascades dashing over the
rocks, or tumbling down the mountain side ; there were wooded slopes, and
gray, bald crags of rock, towering high above the tree tops.

Still farther on the spire of a village church, and clusters of snow-white
houses were seen, and the train came to a halt at a little station, — " deepo,"
the villagers persisted in calling it. At the station two passengers alighted.
They were Nerva and her father.



58 NERVA.

They were quickly approached by the local Jehu of the village livery sta-
ble, who proffered his services.

" Can you take us out to the Weston farm ?" asked Nerva.

" Certainly, ma'am. But there's nobody living there," replied Jehu.

" I know it. We wish to go out there, and have you come for us at six
o'clock," said Nerva, motioning toward a lunch basket, which Jehu quickly
stowed away, with his passengers, into his carryall.

With Yankee inquisitiveness Jehu plied his passengers with questions on
the way, eliciting very little information, however. Nerva desired very much
to be left to her own reflections, and to closely observe the country through
which they were driving. She soon turned the tables on the questioner, wha
could not have been more inquisitive had he been conducting the cross-ques-
tioning of a witness, by asking the names of owners of houses and farms which
they passed, and listening to their biographies as glibly told by her informant.

Three miles from the station a small rural hamlet was reached. The road
descended to it from a lofty ridge, at the foot of which it nestled. Ledges of
mossy rocks cropped out here and there, barely admitting the passage of the
wagon. Little streams of water trickled down the rocks, and off through the-
meadows. Great, spreading elms and symmetrical maples lined the roadway
upon either side. Half a dozen farm-houses, some of them very old, with great
chimneys protruding from their roofs, stood behind the rows of shade trees.
The first settlers had found many relics of the aborigines in the shape of
arrow heads, stone axes and other implements, and so [they named the place
Indian Hollow, and " Injim Holler " it had ever since been called. Only one
descendant of the original settlers remained. The rest had died, or drifted
away to livelier and more congenial scenes. The throb of the great world's
pulse came to the few families in the hamlet but faintly through the medium
of the press. They plowed and sowed, and reaped and mowed, in the sum-
mer, and cut their year's supply of fuel in the winter, as their fathers had done,
and were content, with one exception, and he, still a young man, had worked
his way through an agricultgral college and come back full of new-fangled
ideas, strange and new to his neighbors, to whom the good old ways were all
sufficient. All these facts and much more Nerva learned as they drove on.

A turn in the road brought them to a grassy lane. The bushes on each
side had not been cut ; the fences were out of repair ; white birches, the van-
guard of the hosts of the wilderness, had taken possession of once cultivated
fields ; tangled vines and brambles were everywhere, illustrating the fact that
nature abhors a vacuum.

Up this lane, over a hill, across a rude bridge in the hollow beyond, Jehu
guided his team and drew up at a solitary, deserted farm-house. Nerva did
not need to be told that it was the place they had come to see, for she recog-
nized it instantly by the picture she had seen in the magazine.

Dismissing the carriage, father and daughter proceeded to explore the old
dwelling. Thanks to the durable, hand-rived shingles, the rain had penetrated
but little through the roof, and most of the ceilings were intact. The windows
were broken, the doors unhinged, and the floors warped by sun and storm.
They climbed up into the great empty attic, where the wasps built their nests
of clay, and the spiders spread their nets for the unwary fly. They walked
through the tenantless rooms, descended into the capacious cellar, looked up



NERVA.



59



from the cavernous fire-place to the blue sky above through'the chimney fltie,
and looked out of the unglazed windows. Then they went out and sat on the
velvety g-rass beneath a spreading cherry tree, white with its mass of bloom,
and ate their noontide lunch.

The old house stood on a terrace upon the hillside. To the south was a



Online LibraryWilliam Columbus FerrilThe Connecticut quarterly (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 46)