Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Posts Tagged ‘history

Poke Through the Past in Connecticut’s Farmington Valley

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By Marlene Fanta Shyer

Mature Life Features

Seven gentle towns, tied together in a lesser-known region of Connecticut by proximity, commerce and a river, call themselves Farmington Valley and offer an easy weekend of history and art just 30 minutes on I-84 from the state capital, Hartford.

A car is a must to navigate Routes 44, 10 and 4, the area’s main arteries, which are less highways than country roads bordered by foliage and wide lawns instead of neon, American flags instead of billboards as they meander through Avon and Simsbury, Canton, Farmington, Granby, East Granby and New Hartford,

Our first stop was the sparkling white 1771 First Church of Christ in Farmington, famous

for its role in the saga of the slave-ship Amistad. In 1841, the Africans who arrived on this ship as slaves and who were freed through the efforts of John Quincy Adams, were sent to this area

because of its central location and geographical proximity to Hartford, then a transportation hub.

The newly freed men and women attended weekly services at this Congregational church, at

which town meetings to determine their fate were also held. In these pews sat the people who

raised the funds that allowed the Sierra Leone natives to return home. The minister, the avowed abolitionist Rev. Noah Porter, was the father of Sarah Porter, who later founded Miss Porter’s School. The school, which includes the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis among its alumna, is the church’s neighbor on Main Street.

A short drive away on Mountain Road is the Hill-Stead Museum, the jewel in the

local crown, that was the private residence of the Pope family who intended to use it as a

retirement home. Designed by their architect daughter, Theodate Pope, and built in 1901 on

152 acres, it stands as it stood then, complete with its first edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary

in the library, and a museum-caliber collection of art on its walls. In the midst of eclectic household furnishings, against a backdrop of wood paneling and wallpaper, hang the oils of Mary

Cassatt, Whistler, Degas, and Manet. There is so much detail in the decorative arts here, so many prints, clocks, Wedgwood, vases – a Pixis Corinthian jar is 2,500 years old – that we almost overlooked the Dürer etchings and renowned Monet paintings of grain stacks in the main drawing room.

To pick up treasures for your own homestead, head for Collinsville Center. Antique shops around here are more common than pedestrians, but the Collinsville Antiques Co. allows the militant shopper a block-long, two-story experience. There is everything from a $5 Goldwater-for-President campaign pin and 1920s license plates for $20 to a $4,000 Maurer safe to hold these plums.

For more genteel antiquing, try the Balcony Antiques in Canton, voted Number One in the state of Connecticut. If you know what you’re doing – it’s even more fun if you don’t — raise your hand during the bidding wars every Saturday night at the Canton Barn every Saturday night for housefuls of the ordinary and the extraordinary. There are no holds barred and no bottom price on anything. Everything is sold. Nothing is held back. But credit cards are not accepted. To learn more, go on line to

For a proper dinner before all the action, head for the 1780 Pettibone Tavern in Simsbury, where you’re sure to hear about the on-site ghost of Abigail Pettibone, who was beheaded by her husband, and the 4,000 bottles of wine in the cellar. You can sit down to a filet mignon accompanied with crab meat and asparagus or a glazed salmon, or sit at the bar and order some steamers with butter.

One of the many ways to work off the good eating in Farmington Valley is a hike to Heublein Tower, which was the homestead of food-and-beverage magnate Gilbert Heublein. He built the 875-foot atop the highest point of Talcott so he could view most of central Connecticut. Or you can take a two-mile bike-hike along the Farmington River between Collinsville and Unionville. Tubing is popular when the weather’s hot and the water’s cool. Canoeing, fishing, and golf are all available.

So is shopping. It’s best in Old Avon Village, where the shops cluster and the words”candles” and “soaps” comes to mind. The tiny Petite Boutique may feel smaller than your bathroom but it’s packed full of hand-made jewelry and things the proprietor describes as “vintage” and “exotic”.

Vintage is a word very much at home in the Farmington Valley. It’s a getaway that brings one back to a time of fifes and drums. You may even have to stop to let a turtle cross a road. Or you might just want to slow down anyway. There’s probably an old cemetery or some other historical site just around the next bend.

For more information, go to

(Farmington First Church of Christ Photo by S. Wacht, GeminEye Images) 

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2004

Written by Cecil Scaglione

May 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm

The newspaper …

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… which has been described as a nation talking to itself,”  has been replaced by the Internet, which is where everbody in the nation is talking at the same time.

— Cecil Scaglione, Mature Life Features

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 27, 2011 at 11:24 am

Posted in A Musing

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Spoons Dish Out Welsh Soul

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By Sandy Katz

Mature Life Features

Cardiff Castle (British Travel Authority)


To be born Welsh is to be born privileged.

 Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,

But music in your blood,

And poetry in your soul.

–Wilfred Wilson






CARDIFF, Wales — In the heart of this Welsh capital, I dropped into the Castle Welsh Crafts shop to learn more about Wales’ soul by poring over spoons made out of wood rather than silver. These utensils with variously designed handles are known as love spoons and date back to the 17th century, when a young man would carve one to present to the young lady he wished to woo.

The symbols carved on the spoon have particular meaning. For example, a heart signifies love; a wheel, work, and a shield, protection. They’re still given out as a lasting token of affection.

Most of the Welsh are descended from people who began settling in these western reaches of Great Britain thousands of years ago. The earliest were the Iberians followed by invasions of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and English. Struggles against these marauders and efforts to earn a living from the harsh, rugged land helped shape the strong, independent Welsh character. Their eloquence, warmth, and imagination have been attributed to their Celtic forebears.

Wherever you roam in Wales, you’ll encounter the Red Dragon. This symbol of bravery and victory over countless invaders has been emblazoned on shields and standards since the Middle Ages as the emblem of the Welsh people.

Pubs play an important role in social life here, but Welshmen proudly maintain close family ties and are deeply religious. They love to sing and are famous for their excellent choirs and glee clubs. It’s not surprising that they turned out to be quite a theatrical and poetic bunch. Consider such well-known actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton, singer Tom Jones, and, of course, poet Dylan Thomas.

Cardiff sprang from the wealth fueled by the region’s thriving 19th-century coal empire. In the city’s center stands the 1,900-year-old Cardiff Castle. Restored in the 1800s by Victorian architect William Burges, the citadel is an extravaganza of color and exquisitely detailed craftsmanship. East of the castle stands the aristocratic structure called the National Museum of Wales. Amidst its art, natural history, and science displays is a spectacular exhibition on the evolution of Wales, complete with animated Ice Age creatures and a simulated Big Bang. The fourth-floor gallery houses paintings by such Impressionist masters as Degas, Manet, and Pissaro.

To learn more about the Celts, we headed for Celtica, a recently restored mansion in the village of Machynlleth just south of the mountainous Snowdonia National Park. Exhibits illustrate Celtic beliefs and culture, as well as their poetic, inventive, and heroic nature.

Anyone who dotes on browsing in musty bookshops will find nirvana in Hay-On-Wye on the Welsh-English. The tiny settlement proclaims itself as the second-hand-book capital of the world. Virtually all the shops, including the town’s former theater, offer books on every conceivable subject. The village’s reputation for beguiling bibliophiles owes a fair amount to the somewhat eccentric bookseller Richard Booth who, among other things, once declared himself the King of Hay and that his minute realm was to be independent from England.

To the west, beyond Camarthen in the village of Laugharne, Dylan Thomas devotees will find his Boathouse where he wrote his most famous work, “Under Milk Wood.” Built into the hillside a 15-minute walk from the town, “The Shack,” as he called it, is a shrine to the poet that houses photos, manuscripts, and recordings.

Local legend says Merlin the Magician was born in Carmarthen and raised by his mother and nuns in the Church of St. Peter. His mother was said to be the daughter of the King of South Wales and his father was described as a spirit who lived between the moon and earth. Merlin was thought to have spent most of his adult life in the area of Caerleon advising King Arthur.

Copyright 2003



Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm