Late in December 1983, an antique sideboard along with other furniture stood outside in the snow in front of the King House Museum following a fire in the museum. Many of the rugs, Civil War artifacts, pottery, dishware and furnishings survived, including the sideboard. Restored to its former beauty by Peter Arkell of Branford, the sideboard, in Curator Lester Smith’s opinion, is one of the most valuable items in the collection.
The sideboard was bought for $50 in 1807 by Ebenezer King III from John Fitch Parsons, a Suffield cabinetmaker whose shop and residence were on Crooked Lane, now Mapleton Avenue, near Dunn’s Corner, where Thompsonville Road and Mapleton Avenue intersect. Parson’s fine craftmanship is evident in the Hepplewhite construction of the sideboard, newly fashionable at the time, which is notable for simple, straight legs. The mahogany veneer sideboard, 6-feet in length, with a serpentine shape, inlaid decoration and beehive brasses glows in the afternoon sun in the museum’s dining room.
It was bought by Ebenezer King III for his curative water spa resort on Poole Road, along with two end tables for $8 apiece also displayed in the dining room of the museum, a candlestand for $2 and other items. The transaction is recorded in King’s account book kept at the Kent Memorial Library. A copy of this particular transaction is available at the museum. Ebenezer was perhaps a cousin to Dr. Alexander King, the original owner of the King House. The museum received these items from Samuel Reid Spencer Jr., great grandson of Ebenezer when Spencer donated the house and furnishings to the Suffield Historical Society in 1960.
The therapeutic use of water, known as hydrotherapy, is recorded in early Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations. The practice resurged first in Europe and then the North American colonies in the 1700s through the 1800s. The belief was that the water flushed out impurities, particularly if the water came from natural springs. Stafford Springs, a nearby town, had a very popular water spa beginning in the 1760s. Even John Adams, then a Massachusetts legislator, made the trip to the town and partook of the waters.
Ebenezer King III wanted to cash in on the hydrotherapy craze. Earlier, Dr. Alexander King had advertised in the Hartford Courant the therapeutic merits of a spring located at the end of what is now Poole Road. Ebenezer and his brother, Fidelio, bought the land surrounding the spring and built a large 3-story resort hotel. The spa was popular for a while but ultimately failed. The building served as a school a few years before The Connecticut Baptist Literary Institute, now known as Suffield Academy, was founded in 1833. The building burned down in 1909. Today all that remains of the spa is an oily patch of water and the furniture at the King House Museum.
The John Fitch Parsons sideboard is one of many treasures at the King House Museum. The museum is now closed for the winter but will reopen in May, as is customary. Discover history where you live.