a Trip Back in Time
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – As homes in Fairfield go today, the Ogden House would have construction code issues with the zoning board, but in its day, it was considered a stately residence owned by a well-to-do family.
The historic saltbox with its hand-planed shingles at 1520 Bronson Road held a candlelight open house early evening Dec. 10. It was hosted by the Fairfield Museum and History Center and featured a team of docents in period costume giving background about the house and its owners and a glimpse of life back in 1750, when the home was constructed.
A front walkway lined by paper bags containing candles led to the entryway of the home. Just inside, docent Barbara Lucia greeted visitors and collected a $3 admission fee. “This is my second year doing this,” said Lucia. “I’m a newbie. History was always something I was interested in. At this point in life, as a retiree, you look for something constructive to do.”
In a front dining room, docent Patricia Rock pointed out features, like a gate leg table at its center. She explained that the table would normally be pushed to a corner to allow activities of the times like spinning yarn on a loom, working with flax to make linen and carding wool, which involves combing it to pull fibers into straight rows.
“Spinning was constant as all the clothing and bedding had to be made,” said Rock. “Flax growing was mandated and there were a couple of acres of the plants grown near the house.”
Rock mentioned that fellow docent Harry Audley grows flax to use for demonstrations. Standing nearby, Audley said, “It’s a long process. It’s seeded in March, pulled and dried in July, placed in a stream for 21 days in August to dissolve the gelatins around the fibers, then dried and hung in a barn. Then it’s brought down, put through a flax break to break the shell and pulled through a hetchel to straighten the fibers for spinning.”
In an adjacent back room, called the keeping room, docent Roberta Garbarini offered baked goods and piping hot apple cider from a long table. As people filed in, she went into action. “This is where the fire was kept,” she said. “David Ogden was gifted the house on his wedding night. The fire would have to be kept going all night as it would be difficult to reignite. A teenager would have tended it and slept down here. Jane Ogden would bake pies and bread over the fire.”
This small snippet of information was enough to gain an appreciation for the challenges of living in these parts 260 years ago when the home was built, suggested Bill Vogel, president of the Fairfield Museum. “This is a throwback to Colonial times right here in our neighborhood. It’s a great opportunity to see how tough it was to get by back then,” he said.
“The Ogdens were actually fairly well off,” added Vogel. “Most residences were half or a quarter of the size. You can see that even with their rudimentary tools, they built houses to last.”
Pooh Donahue of Fairfield, visiting with her children Andrew, 5, Tommy, 4, and Ronan, 5, were curious about the home. “I wanted to bring the kids to learn about history and this old-fashioned house.”
The family tromped from the back room into a north parlor on the opposite side of the house. Rock explained that the room was used for entertaining, and a small table for tea parties, card games, the drinking of rum and a smoke with clay pipes. There was also a desk here where Mr. Ogden did his accounting of trades – often his crops for the wares of a neighboring cobbler.
The upper portion of the home contained the family’s sleeping quarters, including a master bedroom with a four-post bed and fireplace, which was actually quite cozy looking.
Back down below, museum coordinator Walter Mathis spoke about how sugar was packaged, in a 4 to 6 inch cone. A small tool called a nipper would be used to break off pieces, though sometimes the children would sneak down and bite off a piece – hence the term “little nipper” -- a fact that delighted the little nippers in attendance.