Room by Room Tour
The front parlor of the Thankful Arnold House is where the Arnolds would have received special guests and
formally entertained. Visitors may have been social callers or business associates. If any of the Arnold family
were members of the Young Men's United Bible and Missionary Society, the auxiliary to the Board of Commissioners for
Foreign Missions or the Ladies Benevolent Society meeting would have been held here when it was the family's turn to
host. The front door with sidelights of the house is found in this room and faces east towards Courthouse Green.
The portrait of Thankful Arnold at age 67 is a reproduction of the original portrait done in 1843 by Higganum artist
Obediah Dickinson and still in the possession of an Arnold Family descendant. The front parlor also displays the
most choice pieces of furniture in the house including a Connecticut chest-over-chest on loan from a Brainerd
family descendant and an 18th century slant top writing desk once owned by the Burr family. The drawers of the desk
only have one drawer pull making it more difficult to open but did save money on purchasing brass pulls. Haddam
inventories indicate that most desks appeared in the homes of wealthier inhabitants. Most people had no need for a
piece of furniture designed for such specific use. Town clerks, justices of the peace, ministers, storekeepers
and merchants might own desks. On the floor is a reproduction canvas floor cloth. Traditionally floor clothes were
made from old canvas sails and were used in the summer months to achieve a cool surface and for fear of moths. In
the winter a woolen carpet would have been the floor covering of choice. Some parlors from this era may have held a bed
as well. Rooms were truly multi-purpose.
Small Hall between Front Parlor and Back Parlor
In most center chimney Colonial period houses this is where the front staircase would be located, but there is no
evidence that a stairway ever existed in this location. It is believed that in the first phase of the house there
may have been a ladder to the story above. Today the hallway houses chairs and an 18th century cupboard with
original blue-green paint and salmon colored interior. The stenciling on the wall is not original and was added
during the 1963-65 restoration by Robert Wiggins of New Hampshire. The design is based on stenciling found in the
Captain Elias Selden House in Haddam Neck.
This room is part of the 1800 phase 2 expansion of the house and served as the kitchen from 1800 to 1810. Today it
is furnished as the back parlor, where the family and boarders dined and socialized. The corner cabinet is originally
from a house in Glastonbury and was added during the 1963-65 restoration. The portraits on the south wall are Isaac
Arnold and his first wife, Mary Ann (Thomas) Arnold. Isaac was the 11th child of Thankful and Joseph Arnold and lived
in the house as a child. He may have lived here later in life with his daughter Sabra. Isaac was an active member of
the state Democratic Party, a prominent businessman who ran the Arnold Quarry with his older brother Samuel and
son-in-law, John Ingersoll, and was financially involved in a number of enterprises. He owned bank stocks, loaned money
and had investments in railroads, real estate, and commerce. For most of his adult life he lived in a home along
Saybrook Road south of the Thankful Arnold House, but after the Economic Panic of 1883 he lost much of his property
and returned to the house of his childhood. It is believed the portraits were painted at the time of Isaac and Mary
Ann's marriage, when he was 22. The portrait is a copy done by Otto Merkel of Philadelphia of the original done by
Obediah Dickinson in 1838. Mary Ann's portrait is also a copy of the original.
On the west wall is a portrait of a young boy believed to be Isaac Arnold Jr holding a whip and accompanied by a
young dog. Isaac Jr, may never have lived in the house but was an important figure in the history of the Arnold Family.
As a young boy he attended Brainerd Academy and Wesleyan Academy (later Wilbraham Academy) in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.
He then attended the United States Military Academy in West Point and graduated in 1862 with a rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
He served in the Army of the Potomac, Battery K, 4th Artillery, engaged in Battles of Chancellorsville, Malvern Hill
and Fredericksburg and was wounded at Chancellorsville. Isaac was promoted in 1863 to 1st Lieutenant Ordnance Corps
and served in the Ordnance Corps until his death, commanding arsenals in several states and attaining the rank
of Lieutenant Colonel. He married Mary Lucetta Apgar in Hartford in January 1864. They had six children: Henry,
Charles, Mary, Lawrence, Lucetta and Ruth. It was Lawrence's son Isaac Arnold who donated the Thankful Arnold House to
the Haddam Historical Society.
Furnishings include a circa 1780 Mahogany drop leaf table on which meals would have been served. When not in use
the table would be pushed back against the wall and the table leafs dropped. A game of checkers sits on a table between
the two north facing windows. Both family members and boarders, who would generally have been male, would have used
this room to read, socialize or play a game of cards or checkers.
First floor bedroom
This portion of the house, originally a freestanding structure dating from around 1750, was moved here around 1810
and attached to the west elevation. It is currently furnished as the bedroom Thankful would have shared with her
daughters after her husband's death. The bedstead with flat tester frame and rope supports or frames is painted
red. Bedsteads are the wooden and rope supports. Beds are what we think of today as mattresses. Beds were
commonly stuffed with straw or feathers and rested on top of the rope supports. Goose and eider feathers were the
most expensive stuffing. Chicken and wild bird feathers were generally the least expensive. Underbeds were
generally stuffed with straw and rested on top of the ropes and under the featherbeds. The bed is dressed with bed
curtains and roof which offered protection from drafts of cold air in the unheated room and provided some degree of
privacy. The washstand is mahogany and dates from about 1800. It has a folding top and features locations for a
pewter wash basin and two cups. Improved personal hygiene was another aspect of gentility that appeared in the late
18th century. Period furniture suggests that people may have washed quite regularly. Washstands, commodes, and
dressing tables began to be widely marketed in the first quarter of the 19th century. A chamber pot, an
essential accessory, is located next to the bedstead under the bedside table. Chamber pots were used in the middle of
night or by the young, old and sickly when a trip to the outhouse was too difficult.
This room might have also been used as a work room. When male boarders were present, Thankful and her older
daughters might have retreated here to complete handiwork (hem, sew, mend or embroider) read or write letters, while
the boarders occupied the back parlor. The room contains a number of tools and instruments used in textile
production including a swift which was used to rewind a skein of yarn under tension to prevent individual threads
from tangling and a yarn winder that was used to measure yarn or thread.
Many Haddam women at this time were producing linen and woolen cloth, although machine made cloth was
increasingly available at affordable prices. We do not think Thankful spun or wove in the 1820's. Perhaps she bartered
some of her produce for a neighbor's weaving or used some of the money she earned taking in boarders to buy cloth.
Sewing clothes was accomplished with out purchased patterns. Some women made their own, but not everyone was skilled
at draping or drafting patterns. Most towns had at least one woman who made patterns and did cutting, sewing and
basting. The clothes were cut to the wearer, sometimes using another dress as a pattern, and then basted together.
The final sewing was left to the women of the household who supplied the fabric.
Nancy Arnold may have had the skill to drape or tailor. Her brother Samuel's account book credits her with making
him some pantaloons. Samuel does not record paying anyone else to cut and baste them, so we can assume Nancy did
This room, the third and final kitchen, was built circa 1810. It was the primary workroom of the house. Countrywomen
in Thankful Arnold's time prided themselves on being capable and efficient housewives and routinely performed
Preparing and Cooking Food: Thankful had a small cast iron cook stove, a modern innovation, which was sold after
Joseph died. The reflector oven now on display was hers and would have come in handy after she lost her stove. The
Arnold Family grew vegetables in the garden and kept a cow from whose milk they made butter and cheese. Baking (pies
and bread) was once or twice a week. Like her contemporaries, Thankful cooked a variety of foods in her fireplace,
from roasts to stews. Cooking was not carried out over a blazing fire, but on piles of hot coals placed on the open
hearth. Cooking pots had legs and were called spiders. Variety of meals was not expected, either by the family or
the boarders and more complicated meals were produced only occasionally as at Thanksgiving.
Baking was done in the beehive oven, which had to be preheated for baking day. Typically it took up to two hours to
heat up an oven and some ovens were erected so well that five successive lots of food could be baked without reheating
the oven. Many ovens were large enough to hold 10 to 12 pie plates. Once the oven was heated to desired temperature, the
hot coals were raked out and often swept down with a damp broom. Breads were baked first, followed by puddings,
pastry, cake/gingerbreads and then custards. Often a casserole of beans was put in the oven overnight and served
for breakfast the next morning. Ovens featured a cast iron or heavy wooden door to retain heat during baking. Long
handled peels were used to take items in and out of the oven. Baking was generally done once a week either on Wednesday
or Saturday and a Dutch oven was used in between for quick breads, pies and cakes. Typical New England baked pies
included egg, minced, chicken, apple, pumpkin and squash. Foot pies were made in conjunction with butchering and were
made from the "cleaned" feet of the slaughtered animal.
The kitchen features a number of tools that Thankful and her daughters would have used on a regular basis in
food preparation. The knife polishing board was used frequently to polish the steel knife blades and keep them from
tarnishing and rusting. Usually a mixture of fine sand and water were used up against the board. Another frequently
used tool was the large wooden apple parer with leather belt and two pronged metal holder. Apple parers were one of the
tools developed in the last quarter of the 18th century to improve the efficiency of food preparation. In Haddam apples
were one of the main food crops and small and large orchards were part of the New England landscape until the second haft
of the 19th century. Apples were used for cider, eaten raw and baked into pies. They were also dried as a means
of preservation. There are many other typical kitchen implements on display including a large dough box, bowls,
cups, plates, jugs, and other tools.
Standards of cleanliness were becoming more rigorous in Thankful's time, but were not what they are today. Washday
really did take all day when clothes were washed in a tub and with a washboard. Dishes had to be washed everyday,
floors swept (remember that roads and paths were not paved and wood was hauled regularly in to the house, all of
which brought in dirt), pewter and other metal objects (kettles, knives, etc.) had to be scoured and polished, and
chamber pots emptied daily. Thankful's kitchen features a wooden wash tub used for laundry. There would have been a
similar one for washing dishes.
In order to accomplish these many chores water had to be hauled inside from the backyard well. Although some houses
of the period had a well and pump in the kitchen, Thankful did have the convenience of an interior water supply.
Other weekly tasks included ironing which was a hot, tiring and physically demanding chore. More than one iron
was usually used; one heating up while the other was in use. Some irons, like the one in the Arnold kitchen, were warmed
on a trivet over a pile of coals, and care was required to make sure the bottom of the iron remained clean and did
not transfer ash to the clean clothes. Laundry chores were among the most disliked, and they were frequently the first
for which financially able women hired help. Other weekly duties included churning butter and making cheese. Seasonal
chores included slaughtering, candle making, soap making, and cultivating, planting and harvesting the herb and
In addition to indoor chores, women and children were also responsible for other outdoor work including chopping
kindling wood for the fires and tending to the cows.
The kitchen features many other tools and furniture that were necessary in running an early 19th century kitchen
and household. Hanging from the rafters are herbs drying for use in cooking, household cleaning and for
Climbing the very steep staircase to the upper floor brings the visitor to the open attic space, which is located
underneath the lean-to or saltbox roof. A portion of the attic is used for storage and features furniture and items
the family is no longer using. A portion of the attic is reserved for drying herbs and the far eastern portion is where
the youngest boys of the family have set up their "beds". Once the family started taking in boarders, the finished
rooms were used by the paying guests and the young boys were required to sleep in the unfinished attic.
This small bedchamber is furnished for paying boarders and features a four posted bedstead with rope supports.
On the "bed" (hay filled mattress) is the bedwrench made of maple. In normal use the bedstead ropes would stretch and
sag and bedwrenches were used to tighten them. The chest of drawers stored clothing and the small wash basin is made of
brass. Boarders would not have had a private room and most likely would have shared the room with a colleague or
total stranger. Privacy was not valued in the same way as it is today. People, even strangers, often shared rooms and
beds. Some people even found the idea of sleeping alone strange and tried to avoid it.
The basement level
This level of the building is where Joseph Arnold would have had his business including shop and office. The room located
in the c. 1750 shed that was moved here would have been his storeroom or warehouse. Note the wide door, shelves
and unfinished walls. Today the ground floor is used by the Historical Society for meeting space and office space.
The Arnold House Shards
During the 1962-1965 restoration of the Thankful Arnold House workmen found hundreds of pieces (shards) of pottery
and porcelain in the wall cavity between the back parlor and 1750 ell addition. A few of the pieces were glued together
for display but the rest were stored in boxes and placed in the attic where they languished for almost thirty-five years.
In 1999 the shards were 'rediscovered' and a group of interested parties lead by former director Jan Sweet started
the process of washing, sorting and gluing the shards back together. Archeologist Robert Gradie was contacted to work
with the group to help determine the age and uses of the shards. The pieces were first sorted by color and material
and then again by function. The last sort was to gather all the available parts of each object and glue them back
together. The time frame of the shards ranges from items that belonged to the Arnolds as newlyweds (1796) to dishes
that were bought within a few years of Thankful's death in 1847.
Among the many puzzling questions that came to mind while looking at the hundreds of pieces of pottery were three
Why were the dishes broken?
According to social historian Dawn Adiletta, there were two times women traditionally discarded what we would now
think as valuable items. When a man remarried, the new wife might take the belongings of her predecessor and put them
down the outhouse. Similarly, a daughter-in-law who had lived with her husband's parents might establish her new role
as mistress of the household by removing her deceased mother-in-law's belongings. Two hundred years ago people were
not interested in antiques. So these women got rid of that "old stuff" because they wanted what was new
Of course, none of the Arnold family's second wives or daughters-in-law ever lived in the house on Hayden Hill.
But there was Nancy, Thankful's eldest daughter. Born in 1800, she lived her whole life in the family homestead. Nancy
may have cleaned house when her mother died. It's possible Nancy may have been angry at having spent her whole life
helping to care for her younger brothers and sisters, and then for an infirm Thankful. Another possibility is that
rather than discard broken dishes in a pile out in the back yard they were discreetly hidden in the wall rather than be
in plain view of the family and neighbors.
Why were the shards in the wall?
Shards (of a large quantity) have been found in the walls of only three houses in Connecticut. Why they were placed in
the wall may be partly a matter of the construction of the Arnold House. The wall where the shards were located is
where the 1750 building was attached to what had been an outside wall of the 1800 addition. Both structures consisted
of clapboards nailed to the outside of a row of planks and lathing and then plaster attached to the inside. Houses built
in this manner have very narrow walls. However, when two buildings are joined a gap is created between them. One theory
is that Nancy, ever practical, used this gap to dispose of the broken china and block the passage of mice.
What can we learn about the Arnold Family based on the items that they owned?
As the shards were sorted, catalogued and glued together, archeologist Robert Gradie put together pieces of the lives of
the Arnold Family. The personal taste, their economic fortunes, and even personal details, such as the ceramic bedpan
which may tell of Thankful's health problems, are all revealed in these objects. Although not all of the shards have
been put back together, representative selections are on display at the Arnold House and we encourage you to come and
At this time we don't know how many shards we have, nor how many separate objects there are. A rough guess is that 10%
is red ware, American pottery dating from 1790 to 1810. Another 85% is English china made before 1850, and perhaps 4%
is Chinese export. The remaining 1% is a mystery. Most of the objects tossed in the wall can be reconstructed almost
in their entirety. However there are several small pieces which represent all that is left of four objects.
These fragments have left the experts perplexed. One piece was determined to be from South America and how it
ended up in the wall of the Thankful Arnold House remains a mystery.