Tag Archives: William Ellsworth Hall

Cornelia and The Sea

My great-great-grandmother Cornelia Andrews Hall was a stern woman. At least that’s the way I always pictured her. A portrait that used to hang in the living room of the farmhouse is said to be of her. She has a serious and tired countenance, and she wears a brooch containing a lock of an ancestor’s hair.

Possibly Cornelia Andrews Hall, around 1860

Possibly Cornelia Andrews Hall, around 1860

Five years before she died she tried to evict my great-grandfather William E. Hall from the farm. Her husband Salmon had been dead for thirteen years, and it would be five more years before her own death.  William wrote a comment on the eviction notice that says “Thirteen years of pleasure – five years of hell.” Something went amiss between Cornelia and her son William to cause this rift. I’ve never been able to find out what it was or if my great-grandparents actually had to leave the farm for awhile. It’s another mystery waiting to be solved.

Until last fall I didn’t know much else about Cornelia. But after my cousin Ellen sent me a photo of Cornelia’s childhood home in Sheffield, Massachusetts, and I was doing research about that homestead, I stumbled upon a letter Cornelia had written home to her family in the third month of her marriage to my great-great-grandfather, Salmon Hall:

Wallingford, August 12, 1832

Dear Parents,

It has been three months since I left you. I enjoy good health and am perfectly contented with my new situation, and much pleased with my new neighbor. I should like to have brother Dwight with me. He would find enough here to amuse him. He could pick whortle berries and go to school, drive my cow and feed my chickens. Last Monday we went to the sea. We had a very pleasant time and I enjoyed myself very much. We sailed to Kids Island and took a pleasant walk. I went in the water over my head. Mr. Hall gave me my choice to go to Sheffield or the sea. I hope my friends will not forget me. We have long waited for a line from you but have not received any. Mr. Hall says he shall not write anymore unless you write to us. I hope you will come and visit us this fall. I shall expect a visit from grandpa and grandma this season and I hope they will not disappoint me. Give my love to all inquiring friends and tell them I have not seen one homesick moment yet. Tell Brothers and Sister to write to me.

Good evening parents –  This is from your daughter C.T. Hall  &  S. Hall

Her home in Sheffield was a stately-looking place. A photo of it hangs in my cousins’ cottage in Madison, Connecticut, but until last fall I didn’t realize it was the Andrews Homestead. The fact that she chose not to go back home for her outing, but to have an adventure at the sea gives me a younger and more lively picture of her.

Andrews Homestead, Sheffield, Massachusetts

Andrews Homestead, Sheffield, Massachusetts

Nearly one hundred years after Cornelia wrote this letter, her granddaughter, Ellen Hall Norton, bought a cottage near Circle Beach in Madison, Connecticut. A copy of the above photograph of the Andrews Homestead hangs on the cottage’s living room wall. Later this summer I’ll write about the cottage – a place loved and often visited by our family. I’m glad that Cornelia “chose the sea,” and glad that my aunt Ellen did the same. My aunts and uncles and cousins have generously shared their cottage with me, and I’ve enjoyed painting the views into and out of its windows and doors. When Cornelia went to the sea for an outing it must have been a welcome respite from the busy life of the farm. Our family on the farm always kept a close connection to the sea – a connection I try to continue through my paintings.

"Sleeping Porch Windows," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 2010

“Sleeping Porch Windows,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 2010

On Wednesday:  July Window

Three Notches

The southern Connecticut towns of Wallingford and Durham are separated by the Totoket Mountains. My great-grandfather William E. Hall grew up on the Wallingford side, and my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Hart on the Durham side. At some point before they married in 1863, one of them must have crossed the Totokets by a now unused road and met the other.

My brother has the dried skin from an impressively large rattlesnake killed by an ancestor on one of these trips over the mountain. In a horse and buggy the journey was long and arduous. These days the drive from Whirlwind Hill to Durham Town Center takes about fifteen minutes.

The section of the mountain range that fascinates me is called “Three Notches.” In a letter written in 1944 to his future wife Betty, my uncle Austin tells her about his home and the things he loves:

“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 capitol on the other.” – Austin Hart Norton

After my cousin Margy shared this letter with me this spring, I became obsessed with the “Three Notches.” I love a mystery, and for me these mountains always seemed off-limits and mysterious. My mother warned me about unsavory people in that area, and signs around Paug Pond at the foot of the mountains still say “Danger – Quicksand.”

So when I came east this April, my brother and I began looking at maps and reading histories and going to the library to find out more about the routes taken across these mountains by George Washington in 1775 and 1789 and by our grandparents and great-grandparents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of the Notches on this trip, and we’ve only begun to discover the old routes and roads, but when we learn more I’ll give a full report. How I will ever be able to find that stone with my great-grandfather’s name chipped into it, I have no idea, but I’m determined to try.

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

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

On Monday:  Cornelia and the Sea

Speckled Beauties

In spring and summer, when my grandfather needed a break from the cows, he went fishing. His mother, Lydia Jane Hall, recorded some of his outings in her journals.

Saturday, May 24, 1913 – “Cloudy and Rainy. Ellsworth, John, and Edgar gone to Paug Pond fishing. Had extremely good luck – caught several large pickerel, the largest weighing over three pounds – enough fish for a dinner for three families. Never brought home so many before.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, June 24, 1914 – “Damp foggy morning, very warm until toward evening, then a little cooler…Ellsworth and Agnes spending the day at Paug Pond fishing with John and Mabel. Came home with sunburned faces and few fishes.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Sunday, May 24, 1921 – “A fine day. Ellsworth went early this morning with John Leavenworth to spend the day in the fields by the trout stream…I have been sitting on the walk enjoying the works of nature. Henry, Ellen, Mother Norton, Norton Van Dyne, Jane, and John came to see us. Ellsworth and John home safely with the speckled beauties.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Ellsworth passed his love of fishing to his children. My mother loved to fish, and she was good at it. Her brother, my uncle Francis, must have loved it too.

Monday, May 5, 1924 – Francis has a new fish pole and has caught one fish – thinks he is smart.” Lydia Jane Hall

When my brother and I were young, we dug night-crawlers for bait and sat on the bank of the cow pond or at the edge of the reservoir to watch our red and white bobbers and wait for a bite. I remember hoping I would catch a speckled beauty and not a spiky bullhead. But the speckled beauty I remember best is the one kept in the cow trough near the bullpen.

The bull lived in a stall on the lower level of the barn. His presence dominated the space. I knew bulls were dangerous, and I had been warned to be careful, but I visited him anyway. I liked to look through the slats of the pen and watch the big ring in his nose shake as he snorted and stomped. Then I’d go back outside to visit the fish. Someone – maybe my grandfather or my uncle – kept a trout in the cold spring-fed water of the cow trough. I don’t know why the fish was there, and I’m sure it wasn’t always the same fish, but after the excitement of the bull, it calmed me to put my hand in the cold water and try to touch the fish as it swam around and around in its watery exile.

"Trout in the Cow Trough." Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting, 2013

“Trout in the Cow Trough.” Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting, 2013

On Monday:  The Front Door


To entertain my visiting grandsons one afternoon, I put out paper and pencils and some old crayons that came with a restaurant kiddy meal. But the youngest grandson (three years old) would have none of that. He wanted the big box of crayons from the high shelf where I keep my art supplies. I can’t remember where I got them, but I know I was excited when I bought this set of ninety-six Crayola crayons. They’re still in pristine condition. They reside neatly and sharply in their tiered rows – the way I long for them to stay.

But I can’t resist this little guy, so I gave him the box. At first he took out one at a time, drew a few lines, then tried to put them back. This soon gave way to an indiscriminate and disorderly adventure with first the crayons and then the little holders that keep them separated. Before I knew it the table was covered with crayons, and I was suddenly reminded of the cows.

Milk production was the main industry on the farm, and much of the daily activity was geared toward keeping the cows happy. My grandparents owned black and white cows called Holsteins and a few brown and white ones and milked them twice a day in the early morning and the late afternoon. As I helped my grandson color little circles on the paper, I wondered how a cow would look with colored spots.

I remember the work it took to herd the cows from field to lane and into and out of the barn at milking time. When the cows had been pastured across the street from the barn, all available help (sometimes even small children) lined Whirlwind Hill Road brandishing sticks to keep the cows from wandering up the hill, down the driveway, or into the front yard of the farmhouse. My grandfather’s gentle voice nudged them along as he tapped their rear ends with his stick and crooned, “Cow-boss. Cow-boss. Cow-boss.”

With furrowed brow and loud voice I herd my grandsons with, “Come on kids. Come on kids. Come on kids.” Keeping my mind on the past when I’m with grandchildren is a challenge. I love being with them, and when I am, all my thoughts are in the present, and all my cows are in color.

"Crayola Cow," Carol Crump Bryner, crayon, 2013

“Crayola Cow,” Carol Crump Bryner, crayon, 2013

On Friday:  Speckled Beauties

The Gold Beads

My grandparents, S. Ellsworth Hall and Agnes Maud Biggs Hall, were as much a part of my growing up life as my parents were. I saw them almost daily until I went to college in 1963. When they died – my grandfather in 1968 and my grandmother in 1970 – they left me photos and letters and memories and a feeling of being connected to a world that came before me.

My grandmother also left her gold beads. First they came to my mother, and then, when I married, my mother passed them on to me. They were probably a wedding present to Agnes when she married Ellsworth in 1913.

"Gold Beads," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

“Gold Beads,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

My great-grandmother wrote about the wedding in her journal:

December 27, 1913 – “A fine clear cold day. Ellsworth’s wedding day. Married at four o’clock in the afternoon to Agnes Maud Biggs by the Episcopal minister, Mr. Reynolds. The two families present including the brothers and sisters. A fine supper served by Mrs. Biggs at her home. House prettily trimmed with evergreens. All had a good time. The bride looked nice in her pretty white silk dress, also in her traveling suit. The groom very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall on their wedding day, 1913

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall on their wedding day, 1913

December 28, 1913 – “Cold night Saturday night, cold today. Ellsworth a married man. Spent the night with his bride in Springfield. His birthday today – thirty-two years old today. He has always been one of the best of boys to us all, and hope he may be blessed in all his ways that are good.” – Lydia Jane Hall

For their honeymoon my grandparents went to Stowe, Massachusetts, where this photo of them rabbit hunting (they called it rabbitting) was taken. They spent seven days away from the farm.

Ellsworth and Agnes rabbit hunting in Stowe, Mass., 1914

Ellsworth and Agnes rabbit hunting in Stowe, Mass., 1914

January 3, 1914 – “Cloudy and cold. We are wishing the bride and groom would come home. We want to see them.” – Lydia Jane Hall

January 7, 1914 – “Nice day – Ellsworth and Agnes came home. Looking well and happy. They had a very pleasant trip. We had oysters for supper. We all enjoyed them.” – Lydia Jane Hall

They came home to the farm and rarely left for the next fifty-four years. My grandfather couldn’t bear to be away from “wife,” as he often called her, and would succumb to fits of anxious burping and unhappiness when she was gone overnight. Someone, maybe my cousin Tom, took this picture of them in front of the farmhouse sometime in the early 1960’s. My grandmother wears her gold beads, just as she did all those years ago on her wedding trip. She wore them often on the farm, and I was used to seeing them around her neck. Now, when I wear them, I think of her, and the beads feel warm and comforting against my skin.

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall, around 1960

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall, around 1960

On Wednesday:  Cows

Out on the Sidewalk

My farm ancestors believed that bedding, rugs, laundry, the very old, and the very young needed to be “aired out” regularly. When I was a baby living in the farmhouse, my mother put me outside on the walk in my carriage for at least a half hour a day. Once, when my mother and father left me in my grandparents’ care for a weekend, my mother wrote a detailed note about what and when to feed me and specific times for napping, bed, and bath. This list, titled “Usual Routine,” instructed my grandmother to feed me liver soup and prunes, and included these lines.

“8:00 or 8:30 – Arise – put in high chair and give 6 drops of oil in Teasp with orange juice – give rest of orange juice in cup. Put outdoors if nice.”

Carol out on the sidewalk, 1946

Carol out on the sidewalk, 1946

For the old ones living in the farmhouse, spring weather meant finally being out in the sunshine and feeling truly warm. My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hall, welcomed this time of year. In a May journal entry she says it’s the “first day I‘ve been out of the house since the fall.” The front of the house faced south, so it was pleasant and bright in spring and summer. She would have been able to see the barn across the street, people coming and going up and down Whirlwind Hill Road, and the children playing on the lawn.

Sunday, May 8, 1921 – “This is a fine day and it is Mother’s Day. Mothers, children, and grand-children been to see us bringing flowers. Mrs. Biggs here and went home this afternoon. Henry, Ellen, Jane, John, Hattie, Edgar. Wilbur and Edyth’s boy (William E. Hall) whom we think is fine & Emily Crooks. Agnes, & Lydia & Francis went to Sunday school. I have been out with William sitting on the walk. Agnes took our picture.”

This photo could have been taken on the day she talks about. Maybe young William took it of his grandmother Lydia, his Aunt Agnes, and his three cousins, Janet, Lydia, and Francis.

Lydia Jane Hall with Agnes Hall, and the three children - Janet, Lydia, and Francis

Lydia Jane Hall with Agnes Hall, and the three children – Janet, Lydia, and Francis

My favorite picture of Lydia Jane out in the sun is this one from the early 1900’s. She and her husband William sit in front of the open parlor window, enjoying each other’s company.  They’ve brought the parlor chairs outside onto the lawn so they can sit and chat and welcome the Sunday afternoon company.

Lydis and William Hall, around 1900

Lydis and William Hall, around 1900

On Friday:  Violets – An Addendum


When I had a tooth pulled a few years ago I fussed and complained about it for days before and for days after. My great-grandfather William Ellsworth Hall didn’t make a very big deal about his adventures at the dentist. Nor did he say much about the start of the Civil War. Here’s what he wrote in his 1861 journal.

Saturday, April 20 – “Went to New Haven. Had 8 teeth out. Spent the night with Aaron.”

Sunday, April 21 – “Went in town to have teeth out. Had 8 out. Walk home. War news.”

Monday, May 6 – “Got my teeth. Came home.”

He may have complained about his teeth to his wife, but didn’t share his feelings in his journal. Sometimes it bothers me that the past reaches me in this consciously or unconsciously edited way. William was a busy man and penned only a few words each day. But he wrote what he thought were the essentials, and it’s fun for me to have these glimpses into his life.

Journal of William Ellsworth Hall, 1861

Journal of William Ellsworth Hall, 1861

The women and men who built the Hall farm were probably even tougher than my great-grandfather. The first settlers carved the town of Wallingford out of land “purchased” from Quinnipiac Indians Mantowese and Sawseunck in 1638. In his “History of Wallingford Connecticut” Charles Davis describes the purchase.

“Lastly, the said Theophilus Eaton, John Davenport, &c., accepting from Mantowese this free gift of his land as above do by way of thankful retribution give unto him eleven coats made of trucking cloth, and one coat for himself of English cloth, made up after the English manner.”

At the time of this treaty the Quinnipiacs in the area numbered about two hundred and fifty. By 1774, a mere four were left in Wallingford.

The original 1670 town plan for Wallingford shows the six-acre house lots (forty-two in all) mapped out on the “Long High Way” – the street that would eventually become Main Street. To the east of these lots, in the direction of the Hall farm, the planner wrote two words – “East” and “Wilderness.”

Charles Davis describes the challenges for the first settlers.

“Making a new settlement was quite a formidable undertaking…Wolves, in thousands, infested the new settlements. They killed the cattle, they stole and carried off the sheep, and did what they could by their unearthly howlings at night, to add to the horrors that thickened on the skirts of the wilderness. The moose, the deer and the bear roamed at will through the unbroken wilderness.”

Whether or not it was right for my ancestors to become owners of land that had belonged to Indians and animals that “roamed at will,” is a thornier issue than I can cover in this blog, but it does give me pause to remember that the land I think of as mine and ours was not always so.

When I visit Wallingford and take walks around the block that makes up Whirlwind Hill, I pass a lonely wooded area. It used to be the site of the Scard farm, but in just the few years since the house was taken down, the woods have reclaimed their place. I think about John the Immigrant’s three sons who were among the thirty-eight original settlers of Wallingford. How intrepid they must have been to clear the land one tree at a time to build their homes and their lives and their community. Farming was, and still is, an incessant battle against the forces of nature, and they worked daily to be good caretakers of their land.

In these woods I can almost feel the ancient presence of people and animals that walked and roamed among the trees before any of our family arrived. Someday these familiar acres may be wilderness again, and the thought humbles me as I continue on my way to the top of Whirlwind Hill.

"Wallingford Woods, Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2012

“Wallingford Woods, Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2012

On Friday: Seeing the Big Picture