Long ago I had a dollhouse with a removable front. I could peer into the rooms, and because the roof came off too, I could look down onto the bedrooms, bathroom and staircase. For me this was magic – to be able move the furniture around and pretend that real people lived there. I’m a romantic when it comes to imagining the rooms in the houses I pass by on my walks. The glimpses I get into lit-up nighttime windows give just the barest hint of the lives lived inside.
I thought about my old dollhouse when I read my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall’s will, inventory, and property distribution documents. The actual real estate settlement and uses of the land are still confusing to me. Where exactly was the “Lot adjoining the Garden,” or “The Meadow north of the bridge,” or “The Side Hill and Meadow, under the Rock?”
The thing that piqued my interest and made me chuckle was the description of future use of the “dwelling house and buildings” for the two important women in Aaron’s life – his wife Annis, and his daughter Mary. At the time of Aaron’s death Annis was seventy-five years old. Mary was forty and unmarried. Annis was Aaron’s third wife and Mary’s second stepmother. Aaron and Annis had been married for twelve years when Aaron died. Mary and Annis both lived in the farmhouse, and as far as I know they continued living there. Mary never married, and Annis died in 1844.
I have no photographs of Annis, but do have this tintype of Mary taken in the 1860’s.
Aaron left to his “beloved wife” no property except what she brought with her to his house at the time of their marriage. She was to share the use of the chaise and horse with his daughter Mary.
And she was to have the use of the house as stated here:
We set to the widow Annis Hall, the use of one-third part of the dwelling house & buildings north of the highway towit:
- The east front room with the bedroom adjoining.
- One undivided third of the keeping room.
- The east third of the garret.
- The south part of the old cellar to the amount of one third of all the cellar room.
- The south part of the milk room.
- Her right in the oven, and at the well, with the right of passing to and from the above named apartments and appendages.
- Also her right in the wood room. [In the written document this looks like “mood room,” and I thought what a wonderful place that would be to have in a house – a place to hide out when you were just in some kind of mood.]
To his daughter Mary, Aaron gave six acres of land, $150, and his chaise. Her share in the house was also specified:
The use of one-sixth part of the dwelling house, while she remains single, towit:
- East front chamber with the bedroom adjoining.
- One undivided sixth part of the keeping room.
- The west end of the garret to the amount of one sixth of all the garret room.
- The remaining part of the old cellar, with the right to use the oven and the well.
- Also the right to use the stairs and passes leading to and from the apartments and privileges herein set to her.
I try to picture how the women lived in this way, if indeed they did. Maybe it just had to be put down in writing in case some kind of argument ensued. But it’s hard for me to think of the rooms I grew up with – dining room, kitchen, living room, bathroom, parlor, etc. being used so very differently. I don’t know how many other people were living in the house in 1839 when Aaron died, but the 1830 census counts ten people. By 1939 my great-great-grandfather Salmon had married Cornelia and had added three children to the household – Aaron, Mary Jane, and my great-grandfather, William E. Hall.
I wish I still had that dollhouse. Maybe some day I’ll make a model based on the Hall farmhouse, but for now I’m content to speculate about nineteenth-century domestic life on Whirlwind Hill.
On Monday: Spoons