Tag Archives: American Revolution

The House that Aaron Built

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.

Hall Farmhouse around 1870

Hall Farmhouse around 1870

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.

Ellen, Ellsworth, Lydia Jane, and William E. Hall, around 1905

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.

Alex and Carol Bryner, 1968

Alex and Carol Bryner, 1968

On Friday:  Dark Purple Lilacs

Two Aarons

There were two Aarons on the farm when I was growing up, a living one and an ancestor. The living Aaron, my mother’s younger brother, was 19 years old when I was born and seemed more of a cousin than an uncle. My mother taught me to spell “Aaron” by reciting – “Big A, Little a, R-O-N.” This may have been my first spelling word.

Although named after the stately and historically significant Aaron Hall, Esquire, my Uncle Aaron was happy-go-lucky and full of fun. He and my mother shared an infectious sense of humor, and loved a good joke. In this photo from Thanksgiving, 1977, they’ve dissolved into giggles, my uncle trying to keep the turkey in his mouth with his napkin, and my mother laughing until the tears ran down her cheeks.

Thanksgiving 1977, Aaron Hall, Janet Hall Crump, Austin Norton, Carol Bryner, Paul Bryner

Thanksgiving 1977, Aaron P. Hall, Janet Hall Crump, Austin Norton, Carol Bryner, Paul Bryner

My Uncle Aaron died in 2005. He never attained the level of seriousness or accomplishment of his namesake ancestor, but he enhanced my childhood with his joy for life and his love for his family. And he kept the ancestral Aaron alive for us through this name association.

A portrait of Aaron Hall, Esquire, hung in the parlor of the farmhouse. This is where I remember seeing it. My brother remembers it hanging in the living room. It’s possible we’re both right, since my grandmother liked to move the furniture and pictures around every few years. It now belongs to my cousin Patti, Aaron P. Hall’s daughter.

Aaron Hall, Esq, 1760 - 1839

Aaron Hall, Esq, 1760 – 1839

The inscription on the back of the portrait says:

“This picture presented to Wm E Hall by his cousin Elizabeth Upham Jan 11, 1902. Aaron Hall son of Asahel Hall born Nov 11, 1760. Died Sept 29th 1839. Served in the revolutionary war and participated in the battles of Germantown and Monmouth.”

How different this eighteenth century Aaron Hall was from the Aaron I knew. The curly-haired boy who grew up to become my uncle fought in no wars and farmed no land of his own, although he lived just across the lane from the farmhouse and was always on call as an extra set of hands. He lived in different times, and they shaped him just as his ancestor’s times shaped his long-ago life. More about Aaron Hall, Esq. next week.

Aaron P. Hall, around 1931

Aaron P. Hall, around 1931

On Wednesday:  Out on the Sidewalk