Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Daggett Farmhouse (formerly known as Saltbox House, Connecticut Saltbox House, Wells House, and Dana Wells House)

From its inception through the 1940's, Greenfield Village consistently expanded itself in size and scope with the continual addition of historic structures. But, once Doctor Howard's office was placed there, a span of over 20 years went by before another old house found its way into the open-air museum (not including the Herschell-Spillman Carousel).
It was in 1977 that antiquarian, Mary Dana Wells donated a saltbox house, complete with most of the colonial furnishings she collected, as well as an endowment fund to maintain it, to the Edison Institute to be placed in Greenfield Village. The old home was originally brought to Mrs. Wells attention by way of a Mr. George Watson, an employee/architect of Old Sturbridge Village, located in Massachusetts. That open-air museum could not use a 1750 saltbox due to it not being appropriate to their 1790 to 1840 span of collections.
Mrs. Wells had much of the '19th century updates' removed in her own restoration project and found the original unbalanced facade, and it was this 18th century design that prompted Mrs. Wells to purchase the house.

Built in the mid-18th century, restoration specialists Watson and Donald Graham watched carefully as the Edison Institute crew painstakingly dismantled the house and reconstructed the numbered pieces at the far-end of the Village. It was ready for public viewing by the 1978 season. With this wonderful New England addition in its new location situated near the Plympton House, Giddings House, the Farris Windmill, and the English Cotswold Cottage and Forge, the colonial section of the Village was now complete.
Before the reconstruction inside Greenfield Village, this saltbox structure was accustomed to moving, for when Mrs. Wells was told of the Andover, Connecticut dwelling in 1951, she had it disassembled and moved 35 miles to Union, Connecticut. Once in its new location and restored, the house served as Wells' home for the next 26 years, until she could no longer keep it in its pristine colonial condition. That is when Mrs. Wells decided to donate this great example of a New England saltbox house to Greenfield Village.

"Welcome, friends, to the Daggett Home. Sit thee down beside the fire."
Notice the tight, winding staircase inside the entrance way

At the time this dwelling was originally built, Andover, Connecticut was known as Coventry, and it was in this village that by 1750 - around the time he married his wife, Anna Bushnell - Samuel Daggett built the saltbox structure. Daggett was a housewright by trade and built this particular home on Shoddy Hill Road, atop 80 acres of land, half of which had been deeded to him by his father. Daggett also framed almost every other house in the surrounding area, as his account book at the Connecticut Historical Society attests.

Note the unique style of the gable roofing in this side view

The saltbox style was a very popular style of architecture in colonial Connecticut. This form gets its name from the similarity in shape to the small chests used for storing salt at that time. The most distinctive feature is the asymmetrical gable roof, which has a short roof plane in the front and a long roof plane in the rear, extending over a lean-to. English settlers created the saltbox form by adapting a medieval house form to meet the different needs and climate of North America. The design was perfect for the harsh New England climate.
The main room of the house - the "hall" - was an all-purpose room with a large fireplace where most of the cooking, eating, and living would occur. A small, steep staircase would access the upper room, or chamber, used for sleeping and storage.
The Great Hall
Across from the fireplace
Looking toward the kitchen
Hearth cooking: Just as it was done nearly 300 years ago
This certainly isn't fast food!
The above five photographs were taken in the "hall" of the Daggett Home.
Yes, they eat what they cook!

The parlor - or "best" room - was located on the opposite side of the chimney from the hall. This was a more formal and private room that had its own fireplace, and often included the master bedroom and was used for formal entertaining.

The above three pictures are of the Daggett's parlor.

The third room was a long kitchen built along the back wall in the lean-to, and this, too, included a fireplace.

The following two photos are of the Daggett kitchen where food is still prepared much in the same way as it was in Samuel and Anna's time

Besides a kitchen, this rear room could be divided up into a pantry, buttery, and sometimes an additional bedroom. With cooking moved to the kitchen, the hall could be used for other activities such as weaving.
What I will present in this next grouping of photographs are some rare images of the bedrooms on the 2nd floor. The general public is not allowed access to this part of the home for this is now used mainly for storage, therefore the pictures are only glimpses. However, it is a fascinating look at the bedrooms of a mid-18th century saltbox house.

The room in the photo above was called, according to a 2nd floor map that I have, a Parlor Chamber. A parlor chamber was considered the master bedroom and would keep the most elegant bedroom furniture. I must say, however, that whomever drew up the map might have been a bit confused, for the parlor chamber, by definition, was always the largest bedroom (chamber) in the home, and this room is almost half the size as the room listed as the Hall Chamber (see photo below):

There is a small hall connecting the parlor chamber to the hall chamber
From the connecting hall one will step directly into the larger Hall Chamber (or possibly the Parlor Chamber?).
It is in this other chamber where the furniture of Mrs. Wells, of whom donated the home to Greenfield Village, is kept, numbered and wrapped.
In the previous smaller room we were in is also used for storage of other pieces of furniture which are not part of the Wells collection:
The stairs going back to the main floor can be difficult to maneuver, which is why, I am sure, the general public is not allowed up to the 2nd floor.
The stairs can be almost treacherous...

...as you can see!

I would love to one day see Greenfield Village set the 2nd floor up in the way it might have been nearly 300 years ago and keep it for viewing on special occasions.

Back down to the main floor we can visualize what life was like for Samuel and Anna Daggett:

Uh oh! Looks like Mrs. Daggett is letting her husband know she did not appreciate his visiting with friends while she and the children worked at home!

Besides building houses, Samuel Daggett worked the family farm and grew many different crops and raised several types of animals on his farm, for his family's use or to sell or trade for other things the family needed. From his account book, we know that Samuel Daggett grew wheat, corn, barley, oats and tobacco; made cider from the apples in his orchard; and raised cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. One would think that would be enough to keep the man plenty busy, but, in order to provide for his family, Daggett also had additional sources of income, including making furniture; he made chairs, spinning wheels and even coffins.
Surprisingly, we find that he pulled aching teeth for his neighbors, a skill he learned from his father.

The home life and daily activities of Anna and the Children were closely connected to the work that Samuel Daggett did. On farms in the colonial era, each family member played an important role in producing food, clothing and household goods for the family. Anna Daggett ran the home and cared for the family. Anna prepared and preserved food; spun yarn; made clothing, towels and sheets; gave the children their earliest lessons in reading and writing; and fed animals like chickens and pigs.

The Daggett daughters, Asenath and Tabitha, learned the skills of "housewifery" from their mother. They prepared yarn by carding and spinning; made clothing, soap and candles; tended the garden; and prepared food. The son, Isaiah, helped his mother and sisters with some of the chores around the house, and learned farming and other skills from his father
Like other families in this area of Connecticut, the Daggetts used, sold, or traded items they made for those they needed.

On a spring, summer, or fall day, a Daggett presenter can be found working in the garden

A small idea of colonial life: neighbors of the Daggetts saw each other most frequently at church on Sundays, which allowed them to socialize as well as attend religious services. People also got together to help one another with building a house, spinning yarn or harvesting crops. Sometimes just men or just women got together with each other, but most gatherings included some element of fun. These events helped build a sense of community.
The Daggetts and their neighbors walked much of the time, but had other means of travel as well. They walked to visit their neighbors or to attend church. Farmers also used horses or oxen for transportation. Sometimes they might rent them from a neighbor if they didn't have their own. When traveling alone, a farmer might ride on horseback, but if he was transporting goods he might use a pair of oxen pulling a cart.
New England colonists sometimes held a day of thanksgiving, but Christmas was not celebrated. In keeping with their beliefs, New England Congregationalists did not celebrate religious holy days.

Spinning wool into yarn by way of a walking - or 'great' - wheel.
The wool is dyed there in the yard of the Daggett House.

Greenfield Village now uses the house in a very effective manner. Employing living history, the docents are dressed in accurate period clothing of the mid-1700's, and they work the house seasonally as if they truly lived there 250 years ago. However, rather than portray a 1st person presentation, such as Plymouth Plantation, these presenters remain in 3rd person, teaching the visitor the everyday life of colonial New England by various means, including the preparation and cooking over a hearth of daily meals, dyeing wool and spinning said wool into yarn by use of a great (or walking) spinning wheel, weaving, gardening, chopping wood, and more. And the knowledgeable presenters are ready and willing to accept patron's questions.

In addition, during the summer months patrons can, for a fee, hand-dip their own beeswax candles, something we do every year and burn our souvenirs during the Christmas Season. Colonial women dipped candles as part of their domestic work. Every Colonial home was the producer of all things needful to life, including candles. Candlemaking was not a hobby then — it was a labor assigned to the housewife. And a backbreaking, smelly, greasy task it was. For a long time, candles were made only of animal fat, and housewives collected every scrap after butchering and cooking of meats was completed. These precious fats were hoarded carefully, protected in covered crocks. At candlemaking time, the fat was melted down and the dipping process began.
Fortunately for early American women with the wherewithal to get them, there were other candlemaking materials available to them, besides ones available in Europe. New England gave them bayberries, which have a heavenly scent — quite a change from the stinky animal-fat candles. Bayberries were introduced to the Colonial women by their Native American neighbors, who also showed them how to get the wax out of the berries. another source of candle wax was beeswax, and many farm families raised bees, primarily for their honey and their pollination work, but also to get the sweet-smelling beeswax. Lucky was the Colonial farmer with a hive or two of bees!
~ (The above information about candle dipping came from an on line source by

I asked this presenter to give our candles a single dip for a 'colonial photo op.'

The Daggett Farmhouse is one of my absolute favorites in all of Greenfield Village, and I never fail to learn something each and everytime I visit the place.
Historical presenting at its finest.

Now, to bring this home to 'life' even more so for the reader of this post, below are photos in which show the tombstones of Samuel and Anna Daggett in the Old Andover Cemetery in Connecticut.

The tombstone of Anna Daggett: Birth: 1734
Death: Jan. 28, 1832
relict of Samuel; age 98
(From "Find A Grave")
The tombstone of Samuel Daggett: Birth: 1723
Death: Aug. 24, 1798
Rev. War Veteran. Age 75
(From "Find A Grave")

(By the way, if you are interested in reading more on everyday life during America's colonial period, you might enjoy a post I wrote from my "Passion for the Past" blog. Click HERE)



Erin said...

This was one of my favorite places to work, and imagine my surprise when I found myself looking out the front door in one of your pictures! This was such fun to read.

Historical Ken said...

You (and so many others from the Village) have always been very kind and patient with me and my picture taking!
Thank you for that and your kind words!

campenkid said...

I live in Andover, CT and the road where this house was originally built is called Shoddy Mill Road, not hill as written in the page information.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Campen kid - - I'm not sure where I have the road listed as Hill Road but upon double-checking I did already have it as Shoddy Hill "atop 80 acres of land."
I appreciate any help in any mistakes, especially from those who live in the area, so I do thank you for keeping a sharp eye.