Published: June 11, 2002
HARTFORD, CONN. – Culminating a four-year, $1.3 million restoration and redevelopment effort, the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society will reopen the Hartford’s oldest surviving residence, the 1782 Butler-McCook House & Garden, on June 15.
The reinterpreted and restored historic site, which houses the newly created Main Street History Center and its inaugural exhibit “Witnesses on Main Street,” is the pilot project of an ambitious program to improve and revitalize each of A & L’s eight museum properties. The Antiquarian & Landmarks Society, the only statewide museum organization in Connecticut, was founded in 1936.
“Butler-McCook is one of the best-documented houses in America and a time capsule of astonishing authenticity and character,” maintains A & L executive director Bill Hosley. “The McCooks were the quintessential Victorian family whose sentimental affections and strongly developed personalities and character are fully revealed by the house and its furnishings,” adds Hosley. “It is easy to imagine that it is 1880, the McCooks just walked out and you’re invited for a look inside.”
Home to four generations of Butlers and McCooks, the house offers an unparalleled, uniquely authentic glimpse of daily life on Main Street during the first 200 years of our nation’s history. Built in 1782 by Dr Daniel Butler and his wife Sarah Sheldon Butler, the residence remained in the family until it became a museum in 1971. Complete with original furnishings, it showcases Hartford’s oldest intact collection of art and antiques. Its restored Victorian ornamental garden is the only surviving domestic commission by Jacob Weidenmann, once a nationally renowned landscape architect, best known in Hartford as the architect of Bushnell Park and Cedar Hill Cemetery.
The restoration component of the project involved a complex lead-abatement program, the restoration of the Victorian-era exterior paint scheme of gold, green and brown, as well as two refurbished parlors, a library, dining room, three bedrooms and special galleries devoted to toys and collection highlights. Guided tours focus on the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, when the house was occupied by Trinity College Professor Reverend John and Eliza Butler McCook and their seven children.
Because of the family’s numerous genealogical ties back to the founding of Hartford, Victorian-era furnishings are interwoven with family heirlooms that date as early as the 1750s.
Among the exceptional objects is a circa 1765 tall clock made by Benjamin Cheney of Hartford and originally owned at the Butler Tavern where Dr Daniel Butler was raised. The house contains a wide array of Hartford-made furniture, a large collection of fine art by Hartford artists, a collection of Japanese armor assembled during a family trip around the world in 1907, needlework associated with family member Lydia Royse’s Hartford-based female academy, and a folk art made from the Charter Oak.
A highlight of this multi-faceted revitalization is the new Main Street History Center, located in a former office wing that was added to the house in 1897 and 1910. Its exhibition, “Witnesses on Main Street,” offers an intriguing look at a changing Main Street as seen through the eyes of a family who was there at the City’s founding and participated in 300 years of its development. The Center will be the hub of an innovative new program that treats the area as a kind of outdoor museum without walls.
According to A & L curator and project director Beverly Lucas, “Butler-McCook’s location at the intersection of Capital and Main makes it an ideal base for thematic tours and excursions that draw on the cultural richness of one of Connecticut’s most historic streets. We’ve developed an illustrated walking tour brochure and a series of guided tours of Main Street for children and adults. We’re excited about sharing them with the public.”
Within walking distance are the Connecticut State Capitol, Wadsworth Atheneum, Coltsville, the Old State House, Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground, Bushnell Park and many outstanding architectural landmarks.
Visitors to the Center will view a series of short videos that tell the story of the family, explore 150 years of change along Main Street, celebrate the richness of Hartford’s Victorian heritage and zero in on 1854, the year when Hartford artist Joseph Ropes created a celebrated panoramic view of a city then in the midst of rapid industrialization.
The Center’s Aetna Gallery, which will feature changing exhibitions, opens with “Main Street, Then and Now,” offering fascinating views of Main Street as contrasted in contemporary photos and historic post cards, stereographs, and related images. A permanent back-porch exhibition, “Oasis on Main Street,” examines the history and evolution of the site’s architect-designed ornamental garden.
On Sunday June 16 – Father’s Day – of the opening weekend, Victorian refreshments will be served and A & L director Bill Hosley and curator Beverly Lucas will present the house beginning at 1 pm.
Major funders for the project include the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the Connecticut Humanities Council, the State of Connecticut, the Aetna Foundation, Fleet Bank, the Hartford Courant Foundation, the Auerbach Foundation, the Connecticut Energy Foundation, The Hartford, United Technologies, the Connecticut Historical Commission, Carse/Hall/Robinson Foundations, the Maximillian E. and Marion O. Hoffman Foundation, the Mortensen Foundation, the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and A& L’s trustees, members and friends.
The Butler-McCook House & Garden and the Main Street History Center are at 396 Main Street. There is free on-site parking at the 59 South Prospect Street entrance.
The House is open year-round Wednesday through Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday, 1 to 4 pm, and till 8 pm the first Thursday of every month. The last tour starts at 4 pm.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm