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The portrait, an oil on poplar board, is of an older lady with glasses, identified as "Harriet Ford Bull Lawton, 1700." Seems pretty straightforward, right? As our readers probably know by now, we like to verify "granny notes," so this one was no exception.

Firstly, does the date 1700 make sense? After consultation with two textile experts, it was determined that the lady in the portrait was wearing clothing from the 1840's to 1850's. Curator of Textiles at Historic Deerfield, Ned Lazaro opined; "My initial guess is c.1850. Looks to be a gathered bodice front and a natural waistline, suggesting late 1840s or early 1850s. Cap has an 1840s feel to me, as does the collar." A professional cleaning of the canvas could help, and it was also pointed out that an older lady might wear clothes from a previous era.

So, the date of 1700 is suspect--what about the identification? Harriet Ford Bull Lawton sounds quite specific, and should be easy to verify. A little research into the Lawton family tree revealed a woman named Harriet Ford Bull, who was born in 1829 and who married Sanford Lawton in 1856. Doing the math, that makes her 21 years old in 1850, so that doesn't match the image of the older lady. The information about the painting says it was donated to the Historical Society by Miss Rachel Lawton, granddaughter of Harriet Ford Bull Lawton. Rachel Lawton, subject of recent study by our group as a crusader in Longmeadow for a woman's right to vote, was a board member of the Historical Society in 1955, and her uncle William was Vice President in 1917. But, according to a newspaper story from 1958 describing recent gifts to the Historical Society, a painting of Harriet Ford Bull was donated by Harriet Ford Lawton, Rachel's sister.

The original Lawton home was located just north of the Storrs Library. In the early 20th century they resided on Crescent Avenue.

Going further into the family tree, we find several more Harriets. The first was Mary Harriet "Polly" Ford (1804-1857). She married Jabez Bull. She had a daughter Harriet Ford Bull who married Sanford Lawton. This Harriet had a granddaughter named Harriet Ford Lawton, the donor of the painting.

The only Harriet who seems to be the right age to be the lady in the portrait is the donor's great-grandmother Mary Harriet "Polly" Ford, who died in 1857. Could this be sitter? She seems likely, as she could be the mature woman in the portrait.

We often find names being repeated generation after generation--everyone wanted a namesake. So the lesson here is put a name on all of your family photos and memorabilia, even if you think you'll never forget the information! And "Mother" doesn't cut it!

Originally published July 21, 2021

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Many of our readers will remember enjoying a toy from our childhoods—the View-Master! Circular wheels with tiny photos were inserted into the View-Master and advanced with a lever on the side. You peered through the two eyepieces like a pair of binoculars and saw the magic happen—a 3-dimensional image. You may be surprised to learn that the View-Master was introduced at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, though the peak of popularity as a children’s toy occurred in the 1960s. 

But long before the “modern” version, there was the stereoscope. The basic premise is based on a human’s binocular vision.  Each of our eyes sees an object from a slightly different angle. A person with normal binocular depth perception will see the two images fuse into one, 3-dimensional image.  The stereoscope works by presenting two photographic images, one to each eye, thus recreating the way our human vision works.  The photograph appears to have depth!

Sir Charles Wheatstone is credited with the invention of an early model in 1832. He used reflecting mirrors and prisms.  The Brewster Model, which David Brewster credited to a Mr. Elliot, was made in 1839 as a simple box device without prisms or mirrors.  The obvious advantage of the Brewster model was that it could be made smaller thus making it hand-held.  The example in the Storrs House Museum collection is marked “N. Y. STEREOSCOPIC Co. D. APPLETON & Co.” This company was founded in 1858 and was located at 348 Broadway.  The Library of Congress has an image of the interior of the store.

The model that most of us are familiar with was actually invented by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861. It contains two prismatic lenses and a stand to hold the photographic card.  He purposely did not patent his design, and it is still being made today.

Several companies produced thousands of images for the viewing public: The London Stereoscopic Co. offered a choice of 10,000 views in its 1856 catalog, including famous ancient temples, castles, natural landmarks, and even family portraits.  Within six years they had over a million views to choose from! The Keystone View Co. was the world’s largest stereoscopic company, and Underwood & Underwood was publishing 25,000 stereographs a day by 1901!

The Longmeadow Historical Society has several versions of the stereoscope, as well as some of the typical rectangular images.  We also have several iterations of the View-Master and dozens of circular images.

-Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member 

Sources: Longmeadow Historical Society Archives, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2017 article by Clive Thompson, Museum of Teaching and Learning.

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The Longmeadow Historical Society, like many other historical organizations, has a variety of objects with stories attached. Sometimes these legends are true, but sometimes they are just that—legends. That doesn’t mean anyone set out to deceive, but sometimes the stories that get passed down through the years get more interesting with each telling—like the luster bough pot (likely made around 1820) that had a story attached that it had come over on the Mayflower!  

This chair (accession #19xx-104) has an equally interesting story.  The records list it as being from the William and Mary period, which would place it around 1700-1725.  It was further described as having come from the Williams family, of Flemish design, and likely made in England. Over recent years, several visiting furniture experts questioned that attribution, but no one went on the record to state whether it was an original early-18th century piece or a more recent copy.

But our readers will know that we are always looking for more information about our collections, and this chair is no exception.  A visiting curator was asked to look at it, and he said that the chair was familiar—in fact, he was aware of its likely origin! This lead us to two other similar chairs in area museum collections—Historic Deerfield, Inc. and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford.  As it turns out, these chairs were part of a set commissioned between 1828-1844!

According to the information from Historic Deerfield, the original set of chairs was commissioned by “Samuel Wyllys (1632-1709), a magistrate and merchant from Hartford, Connecticut.” The set of chairs remained in his family until sold in 1827.  “Hartford merchant, antiquarian and philanthropist Daniel Wadsworth purchased one of the original chairs and commissioned New York City chairmaker Smith Ely (1800-1884) to reproduce several copies. Wadsworth donated six of the copies plus the original Wyllys chair to the Connecticut Historical Society.  The Wadsworth label on the original Wyllys chair describes it thus: “Extreme verticality, classical turnings, and richly carved scrolls made this chair a masterpiece of the baroque aesthetic.”  I would think that “extreme verticality” might suggest that it was not the most comfortable chair to sit in—no slouching!

Further research is required to prove that our chair is one of those Smith Ely copies, but it could be!

-Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member 

Information about the chairs thanks to Historic Deerfield, Inc. in Deerfield, MA and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.

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