Article by contributor Bernadette Dostaler
It is not hard to imagine Connecticut’s past while visiting the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Old Wethersfield. We toured three 18th-century houses that are time capsules of life in the 1700s and early 1800s. The eight-acre property is the largest historic district in Connecticut and also features a lovely colonial revival garden and the historic Webb Barn (available for event rentals). The museum opened in 1919 and is owned and operated by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut.
Soon, the museum will step into the 21st century with a much anticipated, new, Education and Visitor Center that blends seamlessly into the museum grounds. A late fall opening is planned for the $6.5 million addition which will greatly enhance the museum’s ability to welcome visitors and host programs and events. Features of the new center include an exhibition room with a skylight that allows natural light to illuminate display objects, a library, archival and material storage areas, kitchens, and ample office space.
A friendly and knowledgeable staff took us on a tour of three side-by-side historical houses, the Silas Deane, Joseph Webb, and Isaac Stevens Houses. Each house has its own unique history and period interiors.
The Silas Deane House, the largest and grandest of the three, was built to impress. Silas Deane, a 1758 graduate of Yale College, was an attorney, merchant, and important figure in the American Revolution. The house has a spacious entrance hallway, intricately carved staircase, a second-floor musician’s gallery and a large 2nd-floor room with a sprung wood floor meant for dancing. The kitchen with its huge fireplace would have been state-of-the-art in the 1700s. The decorative arts are also on display with fine furniture, china, and portraits. Indeed, the Deane’s did entertain important guests such as John Adams who, in 1774, took tea with Mrs. Deane. In 1775, George Washington had dinner at the house on his way to take charge of the troops outside Boston.
The next house on the tour was the Joseph Webb House built-in 1752. George Washington used the house as his headquarters in May 1781 where he met with French commander the Comte de Rochambeau to plan the Yorktown campaign.
The woodwork and wallpaper have been restored in the Washington bed-chamber. In 1914, Wallace Nutting, the famous photographer and antiquarian, purchased the house. He renovated the home and opened it to the public on July 4, 1916.
Our final stop was the Isaac Stevens House. Completed in 1789, by leatherworker, Isaac Stevens, he and his new wife, the former Sarah Wright, moved in later that year. This house is smaller and more intimate than its two neighbors. The interiors portray the life of a middle-class family in the 1820s and 1830s.
After completing the tour, we re-entered the present-day world, but have plans to return and take advantage of the many historical programs offered by the museum.