CHESHIRE — Hannah Curtis Lewis was annoyed at her new son-in-law Rufus Hitchcock. It took her three hours via horse and carriage to get from her home on the other side of town to Hitchcock’s house for his holiday party, and she wouldn't have a chance to freshen up before guests arrived.
“My son-in-law should’ve said just come over Saturday evening, but no invitation was extended,” she said. “But then I remembered my daughter is married to a very rich man so it is OK.”
This little bit of fictional historical family intrigue came from the historical re-enactors playing the roles of Lewis, Hitchcock, and his wife Hannah Lewis at the Cheshire Historical Society’s annual holiday open house held Sunday afternoon at the Hitchcock Phillips House located on Church Street. The party is a yearly tradition for the society going back to 1972.
“Every year we try to do something special and different,” said Diane Calabro, the president of the historical society who was also reenacting the role of Hannah Curtis Lewis.
Thomas Mulholland and Taylor Solomon, both 19-year-old town residents, leaped into the roles of the newly married couple, who were indeed wealthy and prominent members of Cheshire society. Mulholland, who has helped run the town’s graveyard storytelling tours, pulled Solomon in.
“We’ve been friends since elementary school,” Mulholland said.
“Even before that,” said Solomon.
Lewis and Hitchcock were married in July 1792, and had three children in five years. Hannah Lewis died at the age of thirty in 1799. Hitchcock married again six months after her death.
“She had a few miscarriages too,” said Solomon, who portrayed the new bride. “It’s interesting to see how they lived.”
The displays in the house range the quotidian to the unusual. The house holds not one, but two tables previously owned by U.S. presidents (Millard Fillmore and Ulysses Grant, respectively.) There’s a display on Civil War admiral Andrew Hull Foote, who grew up in town. Hundreds of 19th century tools and wares are displayed from room to room. Up on the third floor, Mulholland created a typical Cheshire Academy dorm room circa the 1950s.
“When you delve into Cheshire’s history there are so many different activities and so many companies,” said Ron Gagliardi, former town historian.
Cheshire resident Amy Cody toured the house with her 14-year-old son Colin Cody and her mother Marcia Schoepfer. Mother and son had been inside when they were younger, but it had been a while. Showing up at the Hitchcock Phillips House was a way to engage their hometown, Amy Cody said.
Schoepfer moved to town when she was in kindergarten and graduated from Cheshire High School.
“My parents were here and we always enjoyed the town so I stayed,” she said.
Amy Cody returned to town after graduating from college to take over the century old family business, G. Schoepfer, a company that makes eyes for dolls.
Colin plans on following in his family's footsteps and sticking around after college.
“I like New England. I like the town, how you know everyone. There’s some excitement, not like living in a big city. It’s like living in a little village,” he said. “I would probably live here when I was older because I would want my kids to experience that.”
The Cheshire Historical Society’s exhibits do a good job of placing someone on a continuum – ultimately there’s not much difference between Rufus and Hannah starting out in life back in the 1700s than there is right now. The artifacts, both shabby and gleaming, point towards the moments that make up a life.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” Mulholland said.
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