First, a disclaimer: I don’t know for sure that Aaron built the farmhouse, but it is most likely that he did. So I will proceed on that assumption and on a few other speculations in this post that I state as facts.
Aaron Hall was born in 1760 in the original Hall homestead. This small house, which eventually became the kitchen and dining room of the large house had a dirt-floored cellar, a ground floor kitchen and living space, and an upstairs attic sleeping room. Aaron was the last child born to Asahel and Sarah Hall, and one of six of their twelve children who lived to adulthood. Since Aaron’s own eleven children seem to have fared better, I wonder if their long and productive lives were due in part to the house that Aaron built.
In 1781 Aaron married Elizabeth Cook, and not long after built his new house on the upward slope of Whirlwind Hill. The Federal style addition to the original home was graceful and dignified. He was a patriot, and built in a manner that would befit his stature as a veteran of the American Revolution. I have one early picture of the house the way it must have looked in the decades after it was built.
My mother, who had strong opinions about aesthetic beauty, said that the stately house was spoiled when Aaron’s heirs and their wives made practical changes to the exterior over the years. Until the early 1900’s the home had classical moldings around the doors and windows, an iconic fanlight window in the attic pediment, twelve-over-twelve paned windows on the front, and white-painted clapboards. All these details were made for show and not for comfort or easy maintenance.
Aaron’s new house had more room, but bigger rooms and more windows brought the need for more heat and more furniture. The new house would have been cold enough in winter to have an upstairs bedroom called Siberia. There was more privacy, certainly, but with a front parlor and a sitting room and multiple bedrooms there would have been enough added housework to require hired help.
By the time my grandfather Ellsworth was a teenager in 1900, the family had filled the house with comfort. My great-grandmother Lydia records in her journals the family gatherings, the evenings when neighbors came to play cards and eat cake, and the celebrations to welcome a new generation. In this photo, which is one of the last that shows the house with its white clapboards, my great-grandparents pose at the front door (a place of many family portraits) with their youngest children, my grandfather Ellsworth and his older sister Ellen. To me they look both proud and happy. Life was good for them.
I’ve always loved this ancestral portrait showing my grandfather as a young man, but it wasn’t until recently when I came across the photo below that I realized the extent of its influence. In the fall of 1968, just two months after our wedding, my husband and I asked a friend to take our first Christmas card photo. We were living in an old Victorian house in the middle of downtown Menlo Park, California. We had a small barn in the back yard, a little duck pond, six ducks, two chickens, and one cat. We felt like urban farmers and decided to dress the part. I don’t remember consciously posing in the style of my ancestors, but here we are, doing just that as we stand in our sunny doorway looking toward the future.
On Friday: Dark Purple Lilacs