Phelps-Hatheway House showcases largest 18th-century wallpaper collection

By Calla Vassilopoulos - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Wed., Jun. 12, 2013
Jack Cown, the tour guide, holds up a grocery item sealed with a globe of wax to prevent contamination and allow the food to be handled. The white cone-shaped figure on the table is sugar. Photos by Calla Vassilopoulos.
Jack Cown, the tour guide, holds up a grocery item sealed with a globe of wax to prevent contamination and allow the food to be handled. The white cone-shaped figure on the table is sugar. Photos by Calla Vassilopoulos.

The Phelps-Hatheway House and Garden opened its doors as usual on Saturday, June 8, to welcome visitors to experience a glimpse of daily life centuries ago. The tour guide, Jack Cown, took visitors through the first floor of the house observing the structure, décor and furniture as ownership changed throughout the years.

“It was such a surprise to me to see the original woodwork that was here, the original wallpaper,” said Stanley Orzech from Glastonbury. Orzech came to take advantage of the free tour as part of the statewide Open House Day on June 8.

The most unique aspect of the house, according to Cown, is the neoclassical style wallpaper in the “new” addition built by Oliver Phelps in the late 18th century. The wallpaper originated in Paris, France, and four of the five rooms' wallpaper can be dated back more than 200 years. “We have the largest on-site collection of that type of wallpaper anywhere in the United States,” said Cown.

The wallpaper was hand-made, meaning the designs were blocked onto the wallpaper by using painted wood blocks. One of the murals on the entrance way walls featured a woman with a wreath. The figure alone took five painted blocks to make. After each block was painted and put on the wallpaper, there was a drying period before the next block could be applied. This was repeated for each figure that appears on the wallpaper. 

The Phelps addition parlor was not only wallpapered with elegant designs, but it also contained the only piece of original furniture in the house. The desk belonging to Phelps, was made in 1770 by a manufacturer in Northampton, Mass.

The parlor in the Phelps addition also displayed a china tea set and brick of tea. In the 18th century, making tea was not as simple as putting a tea bag into a cup of hot water. Tea was made by scraping the brick into a small bowl and pouring hot water over the tea.

For visitor Tom Curtis of Enfield, the best part of the tour was seeing the changes through the years, specifically the furniture from the oldest parts of the house to the newest parts. “It's nice to see how things become more utilitarian to what is now elegant,” said Curtis.

Tours of the Phelps-Hatheway House are conducted every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. through October. For more information on tours and memberships, visit ctlandmarks.com.


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