Tag Archives: Whirlwind Hill

Chair Drawings

On a 1985 visit to Whirlwind Hill, I needed a calming focus while I spent two weeks with my two young children and my wonderful, but very talkative mother. I decided to draw all the chairs in my parents’ house. I made a good start of it, but I didn’t get very far. Still, it was a good exercise in looking, and I came to appreciate the intricacy and the beauty and the history of this furniture.

The farmhouse living room was a hodgepodge of chairs, sofas, lamps, and tables – some antique, and some not. Above all, the space was comfortable and light – a perfect multi-purpose room. My parents’ living room was also spacious and bright, and some of the furniture in it came from the farm. Chairs were moved around to meet the demands of guests, Christmas trees, pets, and playing children. Below is a photo of the farmhouse living room in the 1950’s.

The farmhouse living room in the 1940's

The farmhouse living room in the 1940’s

Here are a few of the chairs I drew on that 1985 visit. My drawings were too big to scan, so I apologize for the quality of the photos.

The Fancy Chair

With their low pink seats and straight backs, this chair and its mate are rarely used for sitting. They flank the living room fireplace in a rather useless, but decorative manner.

"The Fancy Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Fancy Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

A Wooden Chair

This little wooden chair is also uncomfortable, but it holds a special place in Whirlwind Hill lore because it is very, very old. At least I think it is.

"The Little Wooden Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Little Wooden Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

The Low Rocking Chair

Now that I look at this drawing, I’m trying to place the chair but can’t remember seeing it lately. I’ll have to look next time I’m back on Whirlwind Hill.

"The Low Rocking Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Low Rocking Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

The Upholstered Rocker

I like to picture my mother rocking me in this chair when I was a baby on the farm. Did this really happen? I have a vague memory of her telling me that it did.

"The Upholstered Rocker," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Upholstered Rocker,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

Me as a baby on the farm with my Grandma Crump, my mother, and my Great-grandma Barton

Me as a baby on the farm with my Grandma Crump, my mother, and my Great-grandma Barton

The Chair with the Velvet Seat

For a long time this chair sat at the end of a long hallway leading to the bedrooms in my parents’ house. There was an oval mirror hanging above it and a long patterned runner on the floor. I did a linocut of this scene, and it’s now hanging in that same hallway.

"The Chair with the Velvet Seat," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Chair with the Velvet Seat,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

"Hallway," Carol Crump Bryner, linocut print, 1975

“Hallway,” Carol Crump Bryner, linocut print, 1975

The Queen Anne Chair

My mother was proud of this chair. It had a long history on the farm. My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hall, was photographed sitting elegantly on its seat. No one sits in it now, (it, too, is uncomfortable) but maybe someday one of my great-grandchildren will look at this photo of me and my great-aunt Hattie sitting on the chair and say, “That’s my great-grandmother Carol sitting in the Queen Anne Chair.”

"The Queen Anne Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Queen Anne Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

Lydia Jane Hall, around 1900

Lydia Jane Hall, around 1900

Aunt Hattie and Carol, Christmas, 1946

Aunt Hattie and Carol, Christmas, 1946

Drawing is way to explore and learn and really, really look. Painting seems to me to be a medium that brings objects and scenes to life. In my next post I’ll share a few of the many (I count close to one hundred) paintings I’ve done of chairs.

Hezekiah’s Chair

In preparation for a trip to France last fall, I looked at photo after photo of rental apartments with grand names – “River View,” Spectacular Dome des Invalides,” “Marais Glamour Studio.” But I kept thinking, “Where is the comfy chair?”

I’m like a dog or cat in my attachment to favorite chairs.

"Yoda on a Favorite Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1995

“Yoda on a Favorite Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1995

A good seat is important for so many activities – reading a book, knitting a scarf, chatting with a friend, drinking tea, eating a cookie, or writing in a journal.

"My Favorite Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1996

“My Favorite Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1996

It was hard for me to imagine spending a few weeks without an inviting place to sit. In the end it didn’t matter, because there was so much to see in Paris I spent very little time indoors sitting down.

The rarely used chair in our Paris apartment - the "River View" apartment.

The rarely used chair in our Paris apartment – the “River View” apartment.

Were my ancestors on Whirlwind Hill comfortable in their chairs? It’s hard to tell from old photos, since most of the pictures show serious men and women sitting still and stiff in straight-backed chairs.

William E. Hall as a young man

William E. Hall as a young man

Chairs have a human presence. With their arms and legs and seats and backs they seem like friends. So when my brother sent me a photo of an old chair he had recently found and purchased, I felt like I was meeting an ancestor for the first time.

Hezekiah Hall's chair

Hezekiah Hall’s chair

The chair belonged to Hezekiah Hall, one of several Hezekiah Halls who once lived in Wallingford. An inscription on a slat under the seat reads,


The inscription on Hezekiah's chair

The inscription on Hezekiah’s chair

A well-preserved relic it is. Although it doesn’t look very comfortable, it has a feeling of dignity and artistic delicacy.

I don’t know very much about the Hezekiah Hall who owned this chair. At some point in my blog research I came across a biography of him, but I haven’t been able to find it again. His chair will have to stand in for him as I search for more information. To me it looks like the chair of an important person. I’ll let you know.

I love to paint and draw chairs. The furniture on the farm and in my parents’ house was so eclectic that it inspired my choices in making art and in furnishing my house. I plan to share some of these paintings and drawings in the weeks to come.

"Northern Light #10," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 38" x 30" 2001

“Northern Light #10,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 38″ x 30″ 2001

The Ground Shakes and the Sky Opens

Five years ago my husband Alex and I were in Connecticut to visit my father and brother. I was desperate to get to Portland, Oregon because my daughter was expecting baby number two within a week. The day we were to drive to the Hartford airport, the sky opened and dumped nearly two feet of drifting snow. My brother and my husband, both heroes, spent the morning snow blowing and shoveling the long driveway so we could get out to the road. In my haste to get going I slammed my husband’s finger in the car door. He good-naturedly gathered a baggie of snow, stuck his poor mangled finger in it and told my brother to drive on. We made our flight. The plane took off. The baby was born a week later.

Now we’re in Portland again, waiting for baby number three. In Connecticut this weekend the skies opened again, and although the thoughts of being snowed in with a cozy fire and a nice tumbler of scotch are appealing, I’m glad I’m here in Portland where we have had neither a blizzard nor an earthquake.

My phone was awake with messages this morning about the large and scary earthquake in Alaska. Everyone – even a neighbor who lived through the 1964 earthquake – said it was the scariest one ever. At least it had that effect in Anchorage. Snow seems tame and benign compared to rolling floors and swaying light fixtures. Our house sitter reported that all the pictures and paintings on our walls were askew. And, she said, “You have so many pictures!!”

I remember certain snowfalls and snowstorms from my childhood.  Some memories are vague and some so vivid.  Before I-91 went in, my mother and I walked one winter day from our house on East Center Street through the snow to the farm on Whirlwind Hill. The road was quiet and without passing cars. I picture the snow forts and snowmen we made in our yard on the days school was cancelled. My mother always said that the best thing ever was to ride in a horse-driven sleigh over snowy fields. And I’ve always loved seeing the dark branches of elms and oaks and the long sinews of stone walls etched against a stark white New England landscape.

So here are a few photos of snow in and around Wallingford and Whirlwind Hill. I’ve written this in haste, so excuse any typos or bad grammar. My mind is on snow as I write, and my memories wanted to be woken up. Hope all of you are safe and cozy. Remember – it’s still winter!!

Newspaper clipping about the 1888 blizzard.

Newspaper clipping about the 1888 blizzard.

The barnyard of the Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill after a snowstorm

The barnyard of the Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill after a snowstorm

Cows in snow, Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill

Cows in snow, Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill

After a snowstorm on Whirlwind Hill near the Hall barn.

After a snowstorm on Whirlwind Hill near the Hall barn.

Sue Collins and Carol Crump on a Radio Flyer.

Sue Collins and Carol Crump on a Radio Flyer.

Chris Heilman, Kirt Crump, and Francis Hall on Whirlwind Hill with coon dogs.

Chris Heilman, Kirt Crump, and Francis Hall on Whirlwind Hill with coon dogs.

The Great Tornado

Last summer I wrote about corn and watermelon pickles and shore cottages and my mother’s birthday. It was cheerful. Bringing up disaster in the middle of the “good old summertime,” however, is kind of a downer, but because this event was important in the history of Wallingford, Connecticut, I’m going to throw all caution to the wind (so to speak) and write about the 1878 storm that devastated my town.

It’s the nature of disaster to come unbidden and leave scars. One minute you’re fine, and the next, the roof blows off and the floor gives way – figuratively and literally. When the great tornado of 1878 struck Wallingford, Connecticut one hundred and thirty-seven years ago, it did its work quickly but left an enduring mark.

"Squall," Carol Crump Bryner, collage, 2005

“Squall,” Carol Crump Bryner, collage, 2005

My mother’s family has lived on Whirlwind Hill in East Wallingford since the early eighteenth century, so I was always aware that, even though we weren’t in a tornado state like Kansas, we weren’t exempt from whirlwinds. Starting in 1670, when the town was founded, tornados visited Wallingford five times. The tornado of 1878 killed thirty people, injured over thirty-five others, and did significant property damage.

“On the afternoon of Friday, August 9, 1878, we were an active and a prosperous people…Surely any visitor on that bright day would in his heart have said, ‘Here is a place beautiful in its valleys and hills, and blessed in its contented and joyous families.’ No words could have been more true. But Friday evening saw a far different sight, for we were soon to feel the breath of the Death Angel…About 6:15 p.m. black clouds met above Community Lake and swept eastward…The time from the formation of the cyclone until its destructive work in the village was completed, did not exceed one and a half minutes…Torrents of rain fell for ten or twelve minutes. Water came down in sheets.” — John B. Kendrick, “The History of the Wallingford Disaster”

The above quote, and the vignettes in the rest of this post are from a book owned by my great-grandfather, William E. Hall. I have a feeling that my lifelong fear of tornados came from my mother’s telling of these stories. She treasured this little book that John B. Kendrick wrote and published only a month after the cyclone hit Wallingford. In seventy-six written pages and eight engraved illustrations, Kendrick detailed the horror, hope, and occasional humor that followed in the wake of the tragedy.

Front cover of "History of the Wallingford Disaster," by John B. Kendrick, published in 1878 by The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., Hartford, Connecticut

Front cover of “History of the Wallingford Disaster,” by John B. Kendrick, published in 1878 by The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., Hartford, Connecticut

Because a reprint of “History of the Wallingford Disaster” is easily available online or through that bookseller whose name starts with ‘A,’ I’ll share with you just a few highlights from the book.

The storm wreaked the most havoc near what is now Colony Street on the west side of Wallingford. The Catholic church was destroyed, and the majority of the dead were Catholics. A Protestant deacon who was visiting from a nearby town the day following the tornado asked a bandaged victim;

“My poor fellow, how do you account for the fact that none but Catholics were killed yesterday?” Without hesitation, Pat replied: “Sure and it’s aisy enough accountin’ for that; the Catholics are ready to die any minute, but your folks ain’t good enough to go suddint like.”

"Catholic Church," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“Catholic Church,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

In the chapter called “The Destruction on the Plains,” Kendrick wrote;

“All the barns in this section [the plains] were torn to pieces, and no one can find out where the wind put the pieces. One man went eastward to find his cow, and met her coming back uninjured. He does not know which left the premises first, his cow or his barn.”

“One of the injured women, upon being asked how it seemed, replied: “I did not know whether to laugh or cry; the pigs were whirling round in the air, cows were flying as if they had wings, and doors and furniture went by us and over us like lightning.”

"On the Plains," illustration from History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“On the Plains,” illustration from History of the Wallingford Disaster”

On the hill, and on the east side of town, the destruction wasn’t as pervasive, but still costly.

“In William E. Hall’s [my great-grandfather’s] woods, fine large beech, white oak, and chestnut trees, lie upon the earth broken and shivered; one can plainly see the manner in which the wind twisted them from their stumps. They lie here in every direction but the northwest. In one place the trees lie across one another, pointing northeast and south. The storm here was too high to do much injury to small timber, but these six acres of heavy timber suffered injury to the amount of about one thousand dollars.”

"On the Hill," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“On the Hill,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

On the Sunday following the tornado the high estimate of visitors was 77,000 – the low estimate 22,000. The rapid spread of word about the disaster seems amazing to me in the days before social media. Extra trains were added to the line to accommodate the hoards, and one hundred and thirty-eight Wallingford men (my great-grandfather William included) were deputized as special constables to protect life and property.

“Wherever there is anything to be seen, there will people gather, why this is a fact is not for us to explain; but we all know and have felt this peculiar attraction. The wind with its strange and fatal violence had scarcely done its work on that sad Friday evening, when strangers began to appear into the desolated regions. On foot, in teams, by rail, they found access into the village and among the ruins.”

"John Simmons's House," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“John Simmons’s House,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

The most vivid description of the storm’s rage came from a fourteen year-old boy, Elbridge Doolittle, who watched it from the second story rear window of his Center Street house. His tale makes the storm seem like a living being – a giant Godzilla bearing down on the tiny creatures below.

“I saw the lightning flashing, and then heard a queer noise, and turned around and looked over to the lake, in which direction there was a rumbling and rolling noise. There was a crash, and then something shot up into the sky that looked like a cloud of smoke, and was so thick that I couldn’t see through it. There was an awful roar, and it came along about five rods, and then there were pieces of board and shingles and pieces of roof, I should think that were about [five feet square]. These I suppose came from Grasser’s shop. The tornado, or whatever you call it, was about as wide as a house is long, and kept whirling round and round, being a good deal bigger at the top than at the bottom. It swept along awfully fast and tapered down at the bottom like a balloon with a long tail stringing under it, out of which a stream of water kept running, just like it would out of a tunnel. The tail kept swinging and whipping around like a snake…When it got opposite our house the thing was terribly black and thick and was full of timbers, which kept turning end over end instead of spinning around like a top. It was full of limbs of trees too, and they looked like big kites with the leaves at the top, and the limbs or trunks hanging down like the tail to a kite. Every little while the stuff in the air would drop and another building would be picked up and thrown around. The tail kept dragging along the ground and all moved very rapidly, there being no stop until it reached the school-house. Then I thought it stopped for a second or two, as if the school house was too big for it, but it went up into the air, and the tail seemed to wind around the school-house, I could see it so plainly…I should think it took about three minutes for the whole thing to come from the lake to the school-house.”

"The Graded School House," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“The Graded School House,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

The loss of life and shelter was horrific, but in the end, people stepped up and helped each other. Storm clouds made way for blue sky. Friends and neighbors nursed the injured, buried and mourned the dead, and rebuilt homes, barns, schools, and churches to shelter the living. Kendrick prefaces his account of the tornado and its aftermath with words of hope and optimism;

“Many men and women of our day think and act as if the days of chivalry were past. It is a great mistake. The world is daily growing wiser and better, and with all the sadness and pain of this disaster, there have been many, very many, grand and noble deeds of self-denial and mercy which assure one that this is not a very bad world after all.” — John B. Kendrick – Preface to “History of the Wallingford Disaster.”

"Retreating Storm Clouds," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015

“Retreating Storm Clouds,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015




The colorful and cheerful bluebird is often called the “Bluebird of Happiness.” Hearing their first spring song or seeing their bright blue bodies coming to land on a fence post is as joyful to me as having one land on my shoulder. They bring life to a landscape, and that’s the truth.

My mother's "Bluebird of Happiness," made by Ron Ray, 1994

My mother’s “Bluebird of Happiness,” made by Ron Ray, 1994

When I talked to my brother recently, he was sitting on the front steps of our house on Whirlwind Hill drinking a glass of wine and looking over the front yard to the reservoir. I asked why he wasn’t sitting out back on the deck, which is the usual place to relax on a late spring evening. He told me it was because of the bluebirds. They had returned, and he didn’t want to disturb them.

"View of the Reservoir," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

“View of the Reservoir,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

My mother, Janet Hall Crump, kept a pair of binoculars close by in winter when she sat at the kitchen table looking at the bird feeder and in summer as she enjoyed the peaceful view over the fields toward the ponds. She grew up watching birds and learning their habits, songs, and nesting patterns. In her later years she got more and more involved in the fluttering and tweeting world of her back yard. I know she was lonely much of the time, and for her the birds were cheerful, entertaining, and often dramatic neighbors.

Cousin Sue and Janet Crump sitting on the deck, spring, 2006

Cousin Sue and Janet Crump sitting on the deck, spring, 2006

In the 1980’s, when an effort to bring bluebirds back to the New England countryside caught her fancy, she joined the crusade. Because these birds like to nest near open fields, experts advised building nesting boxes to certain specifications in order to encourage the “good” bluebirds and discourage the “bad” imports – European starlings and English sparrows.

"Bluebird House without Bluebirds - Whirlwind Hill," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 1991

“Bluebird House without Bluebirds – Whirlwind Hill,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 1991

My mother had birdhouses built out in the fields along the fence line and around the horse ring. She read books, followed the directions for maintaining the nesting sites, and spent hours behind her binoculars watching and waiting. Her obsession led to many years of her giving and receiving bluebird-related greeting cards, gifts, and trinkets.

Bluebird book - gift from Janet Crump to Carol and Mara Bryner - paper cover made by Carol and Mara

Bluebird book – gift from Janet Crump to Carol and Mara Bryner – paper cover made by Carol and Mara

On a June day in 1992, my mom, my daughter Mara, and I drove to Cheshire, Connecticut to watch a “bluebird banding.” In a letter to a friend I wrote about that event:

June 23, 1992 – “I had wanted to draw a bluebird house. But the day got away from me. We were busy all day. Went at 12:30 to see a man band baby bluebirds – they are trying to bring bluebirds back to this area. We each held one (5 altogether) until he put them back into the nest. What a beautiful spot it was.” – Carol Crump Bryner

Bluebird banding, summer 1992

Bluebird banding, summer 1992

Determined to raise as many bluebird families as possible, my mother waged a one-woman war against the English sparrows. She was unabashedly anti-immigration as far as this bird species was concerned. Through her we got excited about the nest building, suffered through the waiting and hoping and watching, and then all too often received sad news about the dramatic destruction of the bluebirds’ nest, eggs, and babies.

When I was on Whirlwind Hill this spring I didn’t see a single bluebird. But after I left, my brother cleaned out one of the old nesting boxes, and shortly after that a bluebird family moved in. They built their nest, laid their eggs, and now it’s my brother’s turn to be the watcher. He tells me that Mr. Bluebird sits on top of the house all day long, guarding his potential offspring. We wish him well and hope that the children will come back year after year with their songs of happiness.

"View from the back yard - Whirlwind Hill," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and pencil, 1992

“View from the back yard – Whirlwind Hill,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and pencil, 1992


Update – Climbing the Three Notches

On a recent April Saturday afternoon I set out in the company of my brother Kirt, my cousin Dean, and Dean’s wife Jean, to climb the mountain ridge that we call the “Three Notches.” We wanted to follow the paths our ancestors used long ago, and we also hoped to find some marks left on a rock at the highest point of the ridge.

In a 1944 letter to his future wife Betty, my mother’s cousin, Austin Norton wrote:

“When I was a kid I used to be crazy to go out to Mother’s home [his mother was my great-aunt Ellen, my grandfather Ellsworth’s sister] and help them hay and milk. I would ride my bicycle out there every Saturday just to get in the way and watch. That must be a satisfying way of life, farming I mean…There is a range of hills beyond the farm which we love to climb for a picnic lunch…Our favorite spot on the range is called “Three Notches,” and on the highest notch, Mother’s dad [my great-grandfather William E. Hall] has his name chipped into the rock. That’s the highest point of land in Wallingford and you can see for miles around, Long Island Sound on one side and Hartford, the capital on the other.” – Austin Hart Norton

Since last March, when we first heard about the carving, my brother and I were, as Austin put it, “crazy” to go search for it. These mountains (which in Alaska would be called hills) are part of the trap-rock Metacomet Ridge that stretches from New Haven, Connecticut to the Vermont-Massachusetts border. We decided to start our hike at the south end of Fowler Mountain, just east of Whirlwind Hill, and follow the Mettabesett trail to the base of the first of the three peaks. When I asked my brother how far a walk this would be he said “Not that far.”

"Not that far!" - A view of the Three Notches and Fowler Mountain.

“Not that far!” – A view of the Three Notches and Fowler Mountain.

My brother had never climbed the “Three Notches.” He’d ridden a horse on Fowler Mountain back in the 1970’s when the old cabin used to be there. Dean had gone more recently, and agreed to guide us on this sunny, windy afternoon.

Determined to go on this hike despite a bad cold and a worse fear of ticks, I sprayed myself with a ridiculous amount of “Deep Woods Off” and hoped for the best. The trail, although steep and treacherous in places with loose rocks and branches hidden under deep layers of leaves, was wide and sun-dappled and easy to follow.

Starting up the trail

Starting up the trail

I was thrilled to come upon patch after patch of wildflowers.

First were the adder’s tongues –

Adder's tongue (or trout lily)

Adder’s tongue (or trout lily)

Then rue anemone and bloodroot –

Rue anemone

Rue anemone

And just as I was telling Jean about hepaticas and how hard they were to find these days, I looked down and saw a small army of the bright little flowers popping out from under brown leaves. Joy!



A cabin used to stand somewhere on the ridge of Fowler Mountain. My brother and Dean looked for signs of this former refuge, but there wasn’t enough time for a thorough search. This was proving to be a much longer walk than I had planned on, and “not that far” had begun to seem like wishful thinking. I could see on my phone map we were still a long way from the Three Notches.

But at the end of Fowler Mountain we came across an old marker for the George Washington Trail. Although the plaque itself was gone (most of the metal plaques on these markers have long ago been spirited away by vandals), the post was enough to show us the place where our first president and our early Hall ancestors crossed the Metacomet Ridge on their way from Wallingford to Durham. It ran perpendicular to our trail up the ridge, and someday we’d like to explore it more thoroughly.

George Washington Trail marker post

George Washington Trail marker post

Ahead of us was another steep incline, which I hoped was the ascent to the first notch, but in a “Bear Goes over the Mountain” scenario, we found yet an even steeper climb on the other side. I was ready to quit, but Dean prodded, “Come on Carol – It’s worth it.”

Getting closer

Getting closer

It WAS worth it. The view was spectacular. To our left we could see Whirlwind Hill and the view beyond to New Haven and Long Island Sound. To the right we looked at Meriden, Hartford, and on toward Massachusetts.

The view from the notch - looking toward Whirlwind Hill and beyond to Long Island Sound.

The view from the notch – looking toward Whirlwind Hill and beyond to Long Island Sound.

And then my brother said, “Here’s the name!” He found our treasure. On an outcropping of rock overlooking the Ulbrich Reservoir, were letters and numbers carved into the rock’s surface.

Kirt with the carved rock

Kirt with the carved rock

My great-grandfather’s name, W. E Hall,  was still there – a one-hundred and thirty-year-old memento of his wish to be immortalized on this spot. The carved date of 1874 indicates he was probably thirty-seven years old when he chipped away at the hard rock.

Set in stone

Set in stone

Happy and satisfied with our findings, we took photos of each other before beginning the long trek back to our car.

Kirt and Carol

Kirt and Carol

It was so quiet up there – a peaceful solitude that’s hard to find these days. We could understand why this spot was a favorite for our relatives, and we plan to go back whenever we can. It cheers me now to have a focus for those mountains beyond Whirlwind Hill. The distant view is more meaningful because of knowing where to look  – at a spot on that high windy rock where part of my family history is set in stone.

"The Three Notches,"  Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

“The Three Notches,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014



A View of the Farm

The Barnyard cropped

I worried off and on this year that I was spending too much time in the past with my long ago relatives. But now that I’m stepping away from it for a while I feel even closer to the farm on Whirlwind Hill and to all the ghosts that kept me company while I wrote, painted, and researched.

Distance, as painters know, can make a painting come together. When you step back to take a look at what you’ve done, all those individual brush strokes suddenly coalesce and the image takes on its own life. What you thought were many little pieces become a complete view.

But there are many different views of the farm on Whirlwind Hill. I’ve written about happy times, good memories, tragedies, and successes. I’ve deliberately left out family quarrels, hard feelings, crop failures, and the stormy times that are an integral part of a long family history. I prefer a more cheerful slant, and chose the moments that worked to carry history into the present and give it an encouraging future.

Because this is my last regular post I’ll close with some painted views of the farm. The farm lives on for me as a feeling – a feeling and a memory of a place that embraced me and still connects me and my brother and cousins to the ancestors who loved and sheltered and protected us.  I send out a huge thanks to all of you who followed my musings and encouraged me this year. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this project and every chance I’ve had to learn more about my readers.

Here is the painting of the farm by Mary E. Hart that hung in the farmhouse parlor. It was probably done around 1860-1870.

Oil painting of the Hall farm done by Mary E. Hart around 1860 as it hung in the farmhouse parlor in 1932.

Oil painting of the Hall farm done by Mary E. Hart around 1860 as it hung in the farmhouse parlor in 1932.

A hundred years later, my mother, Janet Hall Crump, made a copy of Mary’s painting and passed the copy on to me.

"The Hall Farm," Janet Hall Crump, oil on canvas board, around 1960, after a painting by Mary E. Hart

“The Hall Farm,” Janet Hall Crump, oil on canvas board, around 1960, after a painting by Mary E. Hart

She – my mother – was my touchstone for farm memories and the source of endless stories about the family. She gave me not only her love for her childhood home, but also her sense of humor and her appreciation of painting and art. Thanks Mom!

Carol and Janet Crump on Whirlwind Hill, 1947

Carol and Janet Crump on Whirlwind Hill, 1947

In 1998, for my brother Kirt’s birthday, I made him a copy of my mother’s copy of Mary E. Hart’s painting. It always pleases me that the Hall barns were once painted yellow and the house and picket fence a classic white.

"The Hall Farm," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 1998, after a painting by Janet Hall Crump

“The Hall Farm,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 1998, after a painting by Janet Hall Crump

In 1985 I painted my own view of the farm, as I knew it during my childhood when the house had brown shingles and the barn had two silos. Because this is a monoprint, the image is backwards, but no less real to me.

"A View of the Farm," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint, 1985

“A View of the Farm,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint, 1985

In the end it doesn’t matter which is the “true” memory or the “real” view, because when I’m on Whirlwind Hill, I’m always home.


Spring Cleaning

Spring washing on Whirlwind Hill

Spring washing on Whirlwind Hill

As spring nudges me with warm breezes and birdsong I feel the urge to clean my own nest. And when the cold of the New England winter abated, my ancestors set about refreshing the rooms of the farmhouse.

My great-grandmother Lydia opened doors, pushed up windows, brought furniture, rugs, and carpets out onto the sidewalks to air. With her broom she swept away the dust and shadows of a long winter. She aired out the quilts and bedding and washed all the curtains. My grandfather whitewashed the kitchen and called on the paperhanger to brighten the chambers. What a good feeling it must have been after months of smoky stove, fireplace, and furnace fires to let the sunshine and fresh air flow through the old house.

Wednesday, March 13, 1912 – “Cloudy and rainy. The meadows full of water. The water rushing down the gutter. Ellsworth and Pauline [hired girl] cleaned the kitchen attic. Looks fine. A good work done, which is very pleasing to me.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, April 24, 1912 – “Pauline cleaning and righting the front chamber and Ellen’s room. I washed and ironed the front chamber curtains. The rooms look very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, May 1, 1912 – “A nice clear day from morning until night. Done lots of work. Pauline cleaned two rooms upstairs. Her room and Ellsworth’s, and the back hall. Looks fine.” – Lydia Jane Hall

It’s a time of transition, this spring-cleaning time. When I used to have shows of my paintings every year or two, I always cleaned my studio and organized my supplies after the show was hung and the opening over. Cleaning and organizing helped me get started again. It opened a space for whatever new images, projects, and ideas came along.

Next Monday, March 30, will be my last regular entry for “On Whirlwind Hill.” In my first post last year on April 7, I said I would write my stories for a year. The year has passed and I’m ready to let some new ideas visit me. I do have unfinished business on Whirlwind Hill. I haven’t read all the journals and letters yet, I haven’t climbed the Three Notches, and I still haven’t found out why this lovely neighborhood was named Whirlwind Hill. The blog will stay up indefinitely, and I may add a post from time to time. If you’re a subscriber, an email will let you know if I’ve added something. And comments will still reach me. I’ve loved connecting with all of you who have read and commented and shared stories.

"Spring Cleaning," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and gouache, 2015

“Spring Cleaning,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and gouache, 2015

On Monday: A View of the Farm


"Pen," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

“Pen,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

Among the Whirlwind Hill documents my mother treasured were a dozen or so letters written between 1812 and 1815 to my great-great-grandfather Salmon Hall. Until recently I assumed these letters to be written by his brother Aaron Chauncey Hall. All the signatures on the letters were either A. C. Hall, or A. Hall.

A. C. Hall signature

A. C. Hall signature

But just last week I discovered upon closer reading, that many of these old letters were written by my great-great-uncle, Asahel Hall, son of Aaron Hall Esq., older brother of Salmon Hall, and younger brother of Aaron Chauncey Hall. His signature is different than Aaron’s and the letters he wrote more detailed and informal. I was happy to be able to finally connect this Asahel to the Dr. Asahel Hall lauded in an obituary that my mother kept with these letters.

Dr. Asahel Hall signature

Dr. Asahel Hall signature

Asahel grew up on the farm, became a doctor, and during the war of 1812, when he was just twenty years old, became a surgeon’s mate at Fort Griswold in New London, Connecticut. (I wonder what this says about the medical profession in those days, that a twenty-year old could become a doctor?) Later in his life he settled in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he practiced medicine, married, and had four children. One of his sons, Henry Clay Hall, was a long-serving United States diplomat to Mexico, Cuba, and Central America, and was consul-general in Matanzas and Havana, Cuba. Abraham Lincoln signed Henry’s appointment as vice-consul general of Matanzas.

Asahel’s letters home to his brother from his post at Fort Griswold are affectionate and personal. He often laments the fact that he hasn’t heard from his four brothers and six sisters, and wishes he could come home to see them.

“Dear Brother, The mail has come in & nought [sic] do I hear from you & why? Are you too busy to give me a line, or your mind & attention given to the fair daughters? If the latter be the case, I will not presume but admonish you to relax a little and give me a word or two to revive a flagging spirit.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, May 20, 1814

He also spends time thinking about women.

“Dear Brother, I am comfortably seated by a good fire in a warm room, although it is devilish cold without & in fact it has been so cold for a number of days, I have hardly made the daring attempt to call on the fair ones. Just after my return, I attended two parties & my favorite lady was there. She almost tempted me to sin. Her glistening arms & ruddy cheeks – her fine fair form & lips so sweet, would almost raise the devil with any fellow.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, February 1, 1814

And he gives Salmon advice on planning for the future.

“I had some conversations with Father, about you & business. He said he had not mentioned to you anything about living with him the ensuing year, but was of the opinion it would be best for both for you to tarry another year, as in the course of that time the prospects of affairs might change, & some good opportunity arise for you. He said he would give you so much per month or give you a proportional part of the products of his land, etc. etc. Under all circumstances I could but believe an agreement in one or the other of those points, would be better than entering into any other business.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, February 1, 1814

Salmon took his brother’s advice, and so the Hall farm was passed down for generations to enjoy.

Letters sustained me for much of my life. I became homesick easily, and newsy letters arriving at camp, college, summer jobs, and my eventual exile in the far west were always welcome. Both of my grandmothers and my mother regularly wrote me news of all sorts. In this letter sent to me at camp in 1958, my grandmother reports on all of my Hall first cousins except Dean, who hadn’t yet been born.

Grandma Hall's letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, front page, summer, 1958

Grandma Hall’s letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, Front page, summer 1958

Grandma Hall's letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, back page, summer 1958

Grandma Hall’s letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, back page, summer 1958

During my teenage years I corresponded with a pen pal, Merle. She and I wrote letters back and forth from her home in England to my little red house in Wallingford, Connecticut. We talked about lipstick, nail polish, new dresses, our parents, our siblings, our pets, and boys.

I never met Merle, but felt I knew her through the details she sent to me about her everyday life. And now I’m gradually starting to get acquainted with my distant and sometimes mysterious forefathers and mothers. Although their lives and times were different from mine, we shared a similar desire to stay connected, to send and receive news, and to give advice. Maybe the ancestors didn’t talk about lipstick and perfume as I did with Merle, and I certainly never advised anyone to take Calomel the way one brother advised another, but we enjoyed the process of writing a letter – of putting pen to paper and using words to bring another person closer to us and to let them know we care.

A letter from Asahel to Salmon

A letter from Asahel to Salmon

On Monday:  Foraging

March Window

The month that “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” brings with it the first signs of spring. Color creeps back into the landscape, the birdsong can be heard again, and the winds blow away the dark clouds of a long winter.

This is the twelfth and last of my monthly “Windows.” Being able to share these monoprints and the words of my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Hall with all of you readers has been one of my favorite parts of creating this blog. Her words continue to inspire my painting, my writing, and my day-to-day life, and, like her, I welcome the spring that’s coming and the “good old summertime” that isn’t far behind.

"March Window," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“March Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Saturday, March 2, 1912 – “March coming in like a lion. Hope it will soon be lamb like.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, March 31, 1913 – “A beautiful early morning. The high winds of old March are howling now and hope they will cease soon as this is the last day.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, March 10, 1921 – “A nice day after the shower. The grass is beginning to look green where the snow lays. The children are well and happy out in the open. Their colds do not trouble much, only the use of handkerchiefs.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, March 4, 1924 – “A beautiful day. A bright sunshine all day. The snow has certainly gone today, or we can see it is letting go. There is enough left yet. The water has been running off the hills all day. The boulevard covered – the streams are full. Soon the traveling will be good. The green grass will take the place of snow. The birds will come back to build their nests among the green leaves and sing their songs, and they will be welcomed by us all.” – Lydia Jane Hall

See also: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February Windows.

On Wednesday:  Letters