henry-ward-beecher

In an 1856 article entitles “Litchfield Revisited,” Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, describes a return visit to the town where he grew up. Many of the things he described are still there:

The morning after our arrival in Litchfield we sallied forth alone. The day was high and wide, full of stillness and serenely radiant. As we carried our present life up the North Street, we met at every step our boyhood life coming down. There were the old trees, but looking not so large as to our young eyes. The stately road had, however, been bereaved of the buttonball trees, which had been crippled by disease. But the old elms retained a habit peculiar to Litchfield. There seemed to be a current of wind which at times passes high up in the air over the town, and which moves the tops of the trees, while on the ground there is no movement of wind. How vividly did that sound from above bring back early days, when for hours we lay upon the windless grass and watched the top leaves flutter, and marked how still were the under leaves of the same tree!

Litchfield Jail
Litchfield County Jail

Litchfield Bank
The Bank

One by one came the old houses. On the corner stood and stands the jail — awful building to young sinners! We never passed its grated windows without a salutary chill. The old store, and same old name, Buell; the bank, and its long lean legs spindling up to hold the shelf up under the roof!

Tallmadge House
Benjamin Tallmadge House

The Colonel Tallmadge house, that used to seem so grand, that it was cold, but whose cherry trees in the front yard seemed warm enough and attractive to our longing lips and watery mouths. How well do we remember the stately gait of the venerable colonel of Revolution memory! We don’t recollect that he ever spoke to us or greeted us, — not because he was austere or unkind, but from a kind of military reserve. We thought him good and polite, but should as soon have thought of climbing the church steeple as of speaking to one living so high and venerable above all boys!

Sheldon-Gould House
Elisha Sheldon House, later the home of Judge James Gould

Then came Judge Gould’s! Did we not remember that, and the faces that used to illuminate it? The polished and polite Judge, the sons and daughters in that little office in the yard, the successive classes of law students that received that teaching which has so often honored both bar and bench. Here, too, we stop to retrace the very place where, being set on by a fiery young Southern blood, without any cause that we knew of then or can remember now, we undertook to whip one of Judge Gould’s sons, and did not do it. We were never satisfied with the result, and think if the thing could be reviewed now it might turn out differently.

There, too, stood Dr. Catlin’s house, looking as if the rubs of time had polished it instead of injuring it. Next there seemed to our puzzled memory a vacancy. Ought there not to be about there a Holmes’ house to which we used to go and get baskets of Virgaloo pears, and were inwardly filled, as a satisfying method, of keeping us honest toward the pears in the basket?

Dr. Sheldon House
Dr. Daniel Sheldon’s House

But Dr. Sheldon’s house is all right. Dear old Dr. Sheldon! We began to get well as soon as he came into the house; or if the evil spirit delayed a little, ‘ Cream-o’-tartar’ with hot water poured upon it and sweetened, finished the work. He had learned long before the days of homeopathy, that a doctor’s chief business is to keep parents from giving their children medicine, so that nature may have a fair chance at the disease without having its attention divided or diverted.

Signs

Underwood House
Colonial Revival House built in 1895 on the site of Sarah Pierce’s Female Academy

But now we stop before Miss Pierce’s — a name known in thousands of families, where gray headed mothers remember the soft and quiet days of Litchfield schooling. The fine residence is well preserved, and time has been gentle within likewise. But the school house is gone, and the throng that have crossed its threshold brood the whole globe with offices of maternal love. The Litchfield Law School in the days of Judge Tapping Reeve and Judge Gould and Miss Pierce’s Female School, were in their day two very memorable institutions, and, though since supplied by others on a larger scale, there are few that will have performed so much, if we take into account the earliness of the times and the fact that they were pioneers and parents of those that have supplanted them. But they are gone, the buildings moved off, and the grounds smoothed and soft to the foot with green grass. No more shall the setting sun see Litchfield streets thronged with young gentlemen and ladies, and filling the golden air with laughter or low converse which unlaughing then, made life musical forever after!

But where is the Brace house? An old red house — red once, but picked by the winds and washed by rains till the color was neutral, thanks to the elements. The old elm trees guard the spot, — a brotherhood as noble as these eyes have ever seen, lifted high up, and in the part nearest heaven locking their arms together and casting back upon their separate trunks an undivided shade. So are many, separate in root and trunk, united far up by their heaven touching thoughts, and affections.

Lord House
Lynde Lord House

Mrs. Lord’s house is the only one now before we reach our own native spot. This, too, holds its own and is fertile in memories. Across the way lived Sheriff Landon, famous for dry wit and strong politics. But south of him lived the greatest man in town, Mr. Parker who owned the stages; and the wittiest man in town, with us boys, was Hiram Barnes, that drove stage for him! To be sure, neither of them was eminent for learning or civil influence, but, in that temple which boys’ imaginations make, a stage proprietor and a stage driver stands forth as grand as Minerva in the Parthenon.

But there are houses on the other side. The eastern side of Litchfield North Street, like the eastern side of Broadway, was never so acceptable to fashion, albeit some memorable names lived there. It was our good fortune to be born on the west side of the street . We know not what blessings must have descended upon us from having been born on the fashionable side of the street. One shudders to think how near he escaped being born on the other side, the east side of the street.

But there is our own old home! Of this we must not speak at the end of a long article.