It’s Just… Just So… I Can’t Think of the Word
Woodbridge (Google Maps location)
December 2, 2012
In what seems to have become an annual tradition, I visited another historic house museum during their December holiday party. I’ve sort of figured out how this whole thing works. (I know, I know… I’ve been doing this for over six years now, you’d think I’d get it by now.)
Many of our state’s town historical societies own old historic houses that they present as museums. Many are well known and open fairly frequently. Fair enough. But then there are those smaller societies in smaller towns that simply can’t support many open hours throughout the year – like this place.
Last year, Damian and I ventured out to Hampton’s historic house, the Burnham-Hibbard Museum. It’s only open 2 days per year, for a few hours each day. This year, I dragged the whole family down to Woodbridge’s Thomas Darling House, which appears to be open a few more times – maybe 4 or 5 times per year.
When I get to these places, I feel like I’ve won something. Some people collect rare comic books or paintings. I collect rarely open museum visits. It’s even better when I have Hoang and the boys with me. Oh how they love it so.
(While I was entertaining the toddler Calvin, Hoang taught Damian to refer to the Darling House as a “tired old house.” So yes, the next day when Damian had to go through what he did over the weekend for school, he referred to his visit to the “tired old house.” We have fun.)
We pulled up to the house at 1:40 and saw a sign saying it was only open 2-4. Oooh, even better, a rarely open museum with a tiny window of opportunity! (Not mentioned anywhere on their website.) And we were going to get inside!
But first, with time to kill, I navigated my way across Woodbridge – on the rare roads I’ve never driven before – to one of the town’s other two main points of interest: Savino Vineyards. The other place is, of course, the New England Brewing Company.
After some wine, we returned back to the Darling House to find a parking lot full of cars and a hub of activity. Wow, I had no idea.
If, by this time in your reading you are thinking, “boy, Steve is really beating around the bush here,” you’re right. I am.
Why? Because in the hour we spent at the Darling House, I learned absolutely nothing about Thomas Darling or the history of Woodbridge. Or Amity.
Amity? Yup, Amity. (The historical society is actually called the Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society.) I won’t go on another of my Connecticut town naming convention kicks, but I will mention that Amity encompasses an area located partly in the town of Woodbridge, and partly in the city of New Haven. It is bounded on the northeast by the West Rock ridge, on the south by the Westville neighborhood of New Haven, and on the northwest by an incline in elevation above which lies the highlands of Woodbridge. That’s pretty unique. Mystic, of course, is the much more famous “town” that does this two-town straddle thing. Don’t get me started on Georgetown.
The Holiday Open House here is nuts. A whole choir of kids were there, stuffed like sardines on the stairs, caroling and hymning away. All of their parents were there filming the show from the tiny vestibule. The 3 main downstairs rooms were filled with tables full of goodies – which was great. But for my CTMQ purposes, I couldn’t do a dang thing.
So I took Calvin outside so he could run around for a little while. Inside, Damian baked by the raging fire while Hoang stared at the busy wallpaper and wondered why she married me – or at least why she didn’t down a whole bottle of wine across town.
Once the chorale thing was over, “Thomas Darling, Country Squire” appeared and gave a little talk about his life and his house. That’s him in green below. It was very short and not too revealing. With that over, most left the house and I was able to give myself a tour. Upstairs was the typical two bedroom set up of these places: One kids’ room and one adult room. Spinning wheels, creepy old dolls, chamber pots and uncomfortable antique chairs. Yup, it was all here.
Back downstairs and into another room with the most ridiculously terrible Charlie Brown Christmas Tree I’ve ever seen. I hope this is an effort to be historically correct, in that they had really crappy Christmas trees back in the day.
I ate a delicious chocolate mint chip cookie in that room though, so I was happy.
Some portraits hung on the walls and there was a giant fireplace and some more old chairs. And that was it, folks. Although there was what appeared to be a docent upstairs staring out the window, not a single person said a single thing about the house (other than “Thomas Darling”. We left not knowing much about the house or its namesake.
(Granted, I didn’t ask anyone either and everyone else there was probably from Woodbridge and has visited multiple times before, but still… Some signage or some literature would be in their best interest.)
The worst thing is that now that I’ve read all that there is to read on the Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society site, there’s really not that much to add here. This is another case of a relatively rich guy building a relatively nice house that happened to stay within the same family for a long, long time and never got razed.
The site claims,
Thomas Darling (1720-1789) played a significant role in colonial Connecticut and counted such prominent citizens as Benjamin Franklin, Ezra Stiles, Roger Sherman, and Benedict Arnold among his friends and associates.
And that’s pretty impressive. He studied theology at Yale but did nothing with that and dabbled in all sorts of businesses in New Haven (successfully). Then he moved out of downtown up here, to what is now Woodbridge.
Here’s a bit more from the Society:
When Thomas Darling decided to leave New Haven to pursue a country squire’s life, he hired Abiel Gray of West Hartford, CT to build his new home. It took Gray two years (1772-1774) to complete the project. The Gambrel roof structure is built on a central hall plan and incorporates several unusual features. The paneling and woodwork in the hallway and front rooms are rich in detail and accentuated by the nine foot three inch ceilings. Imported tiles of Biblical scenes over one fireplace suggest a New York influence.
Miss S. Berenice Baldwin willed the contents of the house to the Society, having sold the structure and 150 acres of the original farm to the town of Woodbridge. Miss Baldwin also had the distinction of being the first person to donate to the Society with her gift of $5.00 back in 1937! The town has placed the care of the house and outbuildings in the hands of the Society. This collection includes a large 18th century barn, a 19th century horse barn, a carriage shed, a chicken coop, a pig house, and a 19th century privy.
The Society has also amassed a large collection of farm implements which are on display in the horse barn. Quilts, linens, and period clothing comprise another special collection. Local archival records date back to the 17th century, and the extensive Darling family papers span three centuries.
As you can see, the chicken coop is still going strong.
With some newer chickens.
Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society
Twelve Mile Circle saysDecember 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm
It’s nice to see the return of creepy dolls — and in jail where they belong!
Peter saysDecember 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm
If the scraggly tree’s an attempt at being historically accurate, it falls short. Tanenbaums didn’t spread from Germany to the United States until well after Thomas Darling’s lifetime.
Thomas Darling saysNovember 23, 2013 at 9:38 am
In semi defense of the scraggly tree. The Darling House rooms encompass several generations of family life. The room where the tree is set up for the Holiday Open House is the VICTORIAN room, not representing the colonial times of the first Mr. Darling. We have a long standing tradition of using a cedar tree. Since the inception of the event over a quarter of a century ago, we have used up most of the cedars available locally, so I must use what I can find. We don’t mind a sparse tree so that we can hang lots of vintage ornaments and tinsel. I will admit, it is not fancy and grand and up to the standards of the rich and famous historical societies, but we like it. The Open House is not designed to be a tour where you learn about the house and its inhabitants (although Mr. Darling will gladly spend some time answering those types of questions), it is a time to mingle and enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmases “long long ago”. I did very much like your idea of signage. We used to have a booklet in each room, but have moved things around enough that they are no longer helpful, and we should update them. Maybe then you would better appreciate all those chairs – including Mr. Darling’s own lowback windsor, and Mr. Woodbridge’s pulpit chair. Or the 18th century bannister back wheelchair. We will do it all again on December 8th from 2-4 pm, and I have scouts out looking for a suitable and fuller cedar tree! All the best, Mr. Darling