Phelps-Hatheway Garden Brings Music and Beauty

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On a damp and rainy Sunday afternoon in early October, a group of hardy music lovers assembled in the Phelps-Hatheway House Garden for what should have been an outdoor concert. Instead, making the best of the less than perfect weather, the historic house’s site administrator, Lynn Mervosh, ushered the crowd of about forty into the garden’s Summer House, where folding chairs had been installed and a group of guitarists were tuning up. Some of the group were professional or semi-professional, and some were students; all were members of the Connecticut Guitar Society. The music, though occasionally uneven in quality, was enthusiastic and entertaining–a welcome addition to what could have been a dismal day.

The performance was the second of the summer season. Both were initially rained out and their dates moved – the summer of 2021 was not ideal for outdoor events. But Mervosh persevered, hoping to create a new tradition for the historic home, now a museum. The charge for each concert was minimal; the events serve to increase awareness of the House in the wake of COVID limitations.

Although restrictions will continue to limit indoor gatherings at the House, there are plans for a major event in September 2022. This will be a tribute to Astrid Hanzalek, a Suffield resident and major donor during her lifetime, whose bequest since her death has been a boon to the organization. In addition, tours continue to be available for small groups on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., staffed by trained guides.

The House reflects the history of our town. The original section was built in 1761 by Shem Burbank; the Oliver Phelps family bought the House in 1788 and added the newer addition at that time. The Hatheways arrived in 1810 and their descendants remained there until 1910, when Sumner Fuller bought the House. In 1956 the Fullers gave the property to Connecticut Landmarks; in 1962, major restoration work began on the building, which was finally opened to the public in 1972. At some point in the House’s past, the furnishings of one room–a parlor–were sold to the Wintertur Museum in Delaware. The room was totally gutted, losing not only its federal style furniture, and its rugs and draperies, but also its historic wallpaper. That room has been reconstructed and now appears exactly as it was in the late 18th century. All the other rooms in the house are original.

The Phelps-Hatheway House and barn, along with its lawns, whose flower beds are maintained by the Suffield Garden Club, are a major attraction in Suffield and an integral part of the community. Weddings and parties often take place in the barn, and in the past vendors displayed their wares there and on the adjacent grounds at a craft fair during Suffield on the Green. The House and barn are available for other activities as well; For example, Mervosh described an interesting summer program for children and a book group which met on Zoom last year. Although the traditional Christmas celebrations cannot take place inside the House again this year, there will be appropriate decorations on the outside. And we can look forward to the day when it is safe for the House to resume all its former community-oriented activities.

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