The Martha A. Parsons House Museum
1387 Enfield Street (Route 5)
Enfield, CT 06082 USA
Phone (860) 745-6064
Open Sundays 2:00 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. May through October and other times by appointment. Admission is free.
Martha A. Parsons (1869-1962)
A strong and independent woman, Martha A. Parsons was recognized professionally in the predominantly male world of business at the turn of the century. She traveled extensively, invested her considerable wealth shrewdly and remained active in civic and church matters throughout her life.
Born on December 6, 1869, in Enfield, Connecticut, Martha was the youngest daughter of John and Juliaette (Allen) Parsons. While attending Enfield High School, Martha earned certificates equal to today's teaching certificate.
In the 1890s Martha joined the Morgan Envelope Company as a stenographer for the then-generous sum of $12 per week. At her subsequent employer, Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain, she advanced in 1912 to secretary of the corporation, a most unusual accomplishment for a woman at the time. Indeed, Martha signed her mail "M.A. Parsons" so other companies wouldn't know they were dealing with a woman.
Three years after her mother's death, Martha retired from her successful business career at the age of 50 and returned to live in Enfield with her older sisters, Juliaette and Mary.
Martha's participation in her hometown continues even after her death in 1962. With her bequest of the family home to the Enfield Historical Society, Martha A. Parsons has earned the gratitude and respect of the community she loved so well.
The Parsons House, as it is now known, was built in 1782 by John Meacham on land assigned for use by future "parsons" (ministers). At one time, the house was called "Sycamore Hall," for the row of sycamore trees that lined the street. The present name, however, is the result not of the house's intended use, but of a charming coincidence: the last family to occupy the house was named Parsons.
In 1800, John Ingraham, a retired sea captain from Saybrook, Connecticut, purchased the house for his family. It was he who decorated the front hall with the famous George Washington Memorial wallpaper, which remains intact. How long this house was occupied by the Ingraham family is not clear. Research reveals a progression of owners in the early 1800s, who, through additions of adjoining land, enlarged the property to three times its original size. John Ingraham's granddaughter married Simeon Parsons, and they were the paternal grandparents of Martha A. Parsons. In 1906, 26 hears after the death of John Parsons (John Ingraham's great-grandson), his widow, Juliaette Parsons, purchased the property. She moved in with her three daughters, Juliaette, Mary, and Martha.
The Enfield Historical Society acquired the property in the 1960s, through the generous bequest of Martha A. Parsons. The ell was converted to a caretakers' apartment, allowing restoration and continuing care of the house and its contents.
The George Washington Memorial Wallpaper (1800)
A Boston paper stainer combined the English pillar and arch design with a memorial to George Washington. An advertisement for the wallpaper proclaimed "[as the wallpaper is created] to perpetuate the Memory of the Best of Men, is the production of an American, both in draft and workmanship, it is hoped that all Americans will so encourage the Manufactories of the Country, that Manufactories of all kinds may flourish, and importation stop." This historic and extremely rare wallpaper still decorates the front hallway of the Parsons House.
Furnishings and Decorative Arts
No amount of money could buy a collection of antiques that has more meaning to a community than the lifetime accumulation of a prominent local family. With only a few historically important additions made since Martha A. Parsons' bequest, the collection displayed within the walls of her house reveals one family's lifestyle of unpretentious simplicity and graciousness for over 180 years.
Every piece of furniture was important either for its usefulness, the significance of its previous owner or the way in which it was acquired. In the parlor, for instance, are the cherry Hepplewhite half-moon and Pembroke tables brought from the West Indies by Captain Ingraham for his daughter's wedding gift. The dining room displays a harbor scene etching by Whistler and the silverware and sterling spoon collection handed down for generations. Up in the south bedroom is the delicate candlestand with drawer, selected for display in the 1985 "Great River" exhibit at Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum. Here, too, is a nineteenth-century highboy with reeded columns, scalloped apron and cabriole legs. In the reading room stands the secretary made by a local carpenter named King for Martha's mother Juliaette in 1845, the year of her wedding. Gracing the parlor is the elegant Chippendale chair that had been part of a set given by a Parsons ancestor to an early Congregational church in Enfield.
Whether for its utilitarian or sentimental value, every possession was lovingly maintained by each generation of the Parsons family. The Enfield Historical Society is proud to continue this tradition.
This page last updated 2/22/2010. The contents of this site are copyright © 2010 by the Enfield Historical Society, Inc. Please contact us if you have any comments or questions about this site, or if you wish to use or distribute any of the materials found on this site. Thank you.