Category Archives: Artifacts and Archives

Blog posts include anything that involves items from the artifact and/or archives collection of the Historical Society.


Litchfield Garden Club Collection, Slide #70

We’ve done a lot of work to prepare finding aids for the many collections of papers in the Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library. We’re still working on those, but have also begun to find ways to provide improved access to our remarkable photograph collections. As part of a Garden Clubs of America project, The Litchfield Garden Club created glass lantern slides to document gardens of members in the 1920s and 30s. This is the only one that depicts a winter scene.

Lura Ambler Liggett by A. Sheldon Pennoyer

The Towne House (also known as Westover) on South Street was built in 1915 by Henry R. Towne and his wife, Cora Tallmadge Towne. He was the founder and president of the Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company, a very successful lock manufacturing business in Stamford. His wife was a great-granddaughter of Benjamin Tallmadge. It was later owned by Admiral Hussey and his wife, the garden club member responsible for the slide. Richard and Lura Ambler Liggett purchased the house from the Husseys. The Liggetts later built what is now the Lourdes Shrine, where Mrs. Liggett is depicted in the portrait above.


Noah Webster

Portrait Miniature of Noah Webster by William Verstille (1757-1803) Date: February 12, 1788 Held at: Litchfield Historical Society, Size: 1 7/8″ length x 1 1/2″ width

Noah Webster is the subject of a lecture to be given tomorrow night at 7pm at the Oliver Wolcott Library jointly sponsored by the Litchfield Historical Society and the library. Webster is thought to have studied law in Litchfield with Jedediah Strong. You may recognize Strong’s name from an earlier post on intemperance. Though there is no evidence to suggest that Webster attended Tapping Reeve’s school, it is a common enough question that we included his biography in the Ledger.

Tomorrow’s lecture by author Joshua Kendall will focus on his new book, The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession & the Creation of an American Culture. During the course of his research, Kendall contacted the Society to learn what primary sources we have that might illuminate Webster’s life or career. Like many young men and women who studied here, we have only small traces of his life in our collection. They are, however significant ones. Webster wrote a letter to prominent local physician, Dr. Daniel Sheldon, to request a letter of introduction to Sheldon’s son who was serving as Jefferson’s minister to Paris. Webster intended on traveling there for the purpose of completing and publishing his dictionary. Sheldon replied and included the requested letter, wishing Webster luck on his venture.  Another letter to printers in Albany discusses rights for printing Webster’s spelling book. The portrait miniature shown above is the only known image of Noah Webster.

This is a great Archives Month example of how our collections are used. Be sure to check our finding aids and publications catalog for details of our Webster holdings. You can register for the program here.

Lilac Hedges

I am working on creating a presentation for Friday’s Archives Month Lunch and Learn and I realized that I haven’t shared anything about this company, or how we came to be interested in it here on the blog. Documenting Lilac Hedges has been the work of a number of individuals. It all started with an idea for a fundraiser that has yet to come to fruition. Even if it never does, the resources and information we came out of the process with will be more than worth the effort. I don’t want to give away the whole story, but I do want to pique your interest. The fundraising idea was to create beautiful books that told the story of a particular house. Only two copies would be printed, one for our library and one to be sold to the homeowner. So we started to make a short list of houses that we might have enough information and images to create this type of book for. One was on Fern Avenue in Litchfield. The history of the various properties that had been parceled together and taken apart again was fascinating- it includes everything from Echo Farm, the first dairy to commercially bottle milk for distribution in New York city, to the Chase family who eventually created Topsmead. In the early 20th century, the Hinchman family purchased the house and barn on the property and Ralph Hinchman created a studio in that barn. His company would go on to produce greeting cards that were shown and distributed across the country, and include the artistic involvement of a number of influential artists, illustrators and producers. Before starting the company, Hinchman attended Bard and enlisted in the army where he served as a WWII fighter pilot.  Upon his return, he attended Cooper Union in New York.

Ralph Hinchman’s remarkable story could not be told without the assistance of his sister, Elsa Hinchman Clark, who donated much of the material now in our collection; his friend and colleague Jac Venza who shared several of his time to tell us about the company and Ralph’s experiences; Henry D. Bowman, an artist who worked for the company who recently also sent a number of examples of his work; and a number of other local residents who are contacting us to share their stories or artifacts from time spent working with the company. We also extend thanks to intern Benjamin Bradley who devoted the better part of two summers researching, compiling, creating an exhibit, and authoring a finding aid. I have yet to locate the business records, whether they still exist is a mystery. Ralph’s business partner, Francis McIlhenny,  bought out the company and moved it to California. Questions like how many employees Lilac Hedges had at its peak, or what their annual revenue was, have not been answered. We hope to encourage others to share what they know about this uniquely Litchfield venture.

This advertisement appeared in the CJR House Tour bulletin in 1958.


We’re here to celebrate archives month with a few features on the holdings of the Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library. PBS is airing a new documentary on Prohibition. One of the first images you’ll see is from our collection, as shown above, of the first page of the first of Lyman Beecher’s Six Sermons on Intemperance. Beecher gets a lot of credit for starting the movement but his sermons, delivered in Litchfield in 1826, came some 37 years after the first Temperance Association was formed in Litchfield. Jedediah Strong, a local attorney who once showed great promise, became notorious for intemperance. Strong’s situation is supposed to have been the driving factor behind the organization of the first temperance society.  The organizers, including such notables as  Ephraim Kirby, Julius Deming, Benjamin Tallmadge, Uriah Tracy, Moses Seymour, Tapping Reeve, and John Allen, signed a temperance pledge that year.  Strong also signed, but his resolve lasted less than a year. In 1790 he became embroiled in a scandalous divorce case in which he was accused of drunkenly beating his wife (the daughter of Connecticut’s Secretary of State). It is interesting to note that Allen, a congressman who was instrumental in the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, also violated his pledge and lost his wealth and business. Though Beecher left Litchfield the year he delivered his sermons, the temperance spirit remained. Other evidence of activity in this area can be found by searching our online finding aids, including the record book of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union from 1878.


Whose book?

Front Matter

Sometimes it’s really hard to know what to make of historic evidence. I recently retrieved a copy of Zephaniah Swift’s A System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut printed in 1795 for a researcher. Institutional records indicate the book belonged to Tapping Reeve. It was donated by the Woodruff family, and they had owned his home for a number of years. The front and back matter of the book show all kinds of doodles, indicating that it was Tapping Reeve’s book.  A document titled “Rules of the Office” from the law school indicates that this book was on the list of “privileged” volumes, meaning that students were allowed to borrow them.

James Cooley Granville 1799

It seems a little strange that a student would write in a book that did not belong to him, but the above inscription appears in the center of the book. Tapping Reeve did have a student named James Cooley in 1799, and he was from East Granville, MA.  You can learn more about him in The Ledger.

A number of other doodles seem inconsistent with what we know of Tapping Reeve.

Sketch of Tallyrand

According to the researcher who was looking at the volume, Swift visited Tallyrand in 1799, and this could be some commentary on that visit. That Reeve would draw such an unflattering image in a book he was lending seems unlikely, but it’s fun to consider the possibility. Two other writings seem very unlike him.

This page reads, “The great, The illustrious, the magnanimous, Tapping Reeve.”

And this, attributed to the author, reads, “To the illustrious, omnipotentis, and superabominable dignity of his classic and original excellency the Author Z. Swift.” Both Reeve and Swift were jurists and ardent federalists. Whether or not any animosity existed between them is unknown. What this book tells us for sure is that someone in 1799 had a sense of humor, even if they didn’t entirely explain the joke.