Phelps-Hatheway House attic tour reveals treasures

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Suffield - posted Wed., May. 8, 2013
Jack Cown, a tour guide, brings visitors into a room of the attic and pops open a trap door which he conjectures was used by the Underground Railroad. Photos by Jennifer Coe.
Jack Cown, a tour guide, brings visitors into a room of the attic and pops open a trap door which he conjectures was used by the Underground Railroad. Photos by Jennifer Coe.

The Phelps-Hatheway House is a historic museum that offers a glimpse into American history. To walk the gardens and learn of the Phelps and Hatheway family histories tells any visitor a lot about local industry, history, architecture and culture. But, by climbing an extra staircase to the third floor and opening the door which leads to the attic, you will get a whole other perspective on history.

“This, of course, was not a part of daily life,” advised tour guide Jack Cown, who gave a First Saturday Attic Tour on May 4. The attic itself is a very large, open room with two side rooms. The long room, when opened for the first time in the early 2000s, was full of treasures once used by the Hatheway family. These were things which had been brought up and then forgotten about as new owners took over the home through the years.

“These things are not discarded,” said Cown, “just put away.” He said the general attitude in those days was, “Don’t throw it away, we’ll fix it someday.” And indeed, children’s toys, broken glassware, and an old wooden bathtub littered the floor.

The Hatheways themselves lived in the home quite a long time, about 100 years. Everything in the attic was stored in boxes and barrels - the preferred shipping container of the period. When the Hatheways purchased the home in 1810 from Oliver Phelps’ estate, they “didn’t throw anything away,” said Cown. “They were thrifty New Englanders.”

Tools, old-fangled odds and ends, coal-burning stoves and even chamber pots all neatly line the walls. In one small room, piles of aged magazines from the 1860s and books, including Bibles, were stacked neatly. Due to the humidity and dryness of the attic, these ephemera have definitely seen better days. In this same room, Cown lifted the latch to a trap door in the floor, which he surmised could be a hiding place for the Underground Railroad, though this has not been proven.

Tours of the Phelps-Hatheway attic are offered on the first Saturday of every month through October. For more information on this tour, visit www.ctlandmarks.com.


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