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The Webster Dining Room Reimagined: An Informal Family Dinner

April 12, 2021 Archive Insight, Think THF
Two-story white house with black shutters, surrounded by lawn and a few trees

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With Greenfield Village reopening soon, you’ll find something new at the Noah Webster Home!

Room with patterned floor and walls containing a large, set table with many mismatched chairs
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We have reinstalled the formerly sparsely furnished Webster dining room to better reflect a more active family life that took place in the Webster household at the time of our interpretation: 1835.

Painting of man with white hair in dark suit and white cravat, sitting in an armchair and holding a piece of paper
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Noah and Rebecca Webster moved to their New Haven, Connecticut, home in their later years to be near family and friends, as well as the library at nearby Yale College. This painting of Noah dates from about this time.

Painting of seated woman in dark dress with light collar and hat
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The Websters moved into their comfortable, newly-built home on Temple Street in New Haven in 1823. This portrait shows Rebecca Webster from about this time as well.

Room with table and four chairs, as well as fireplace with doors on either side,
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New research and evolving historical perspective often lead us to reinterpret Greenfield Village buildings. So, furnishings change to reflect these richer or more accurate stories. This is what the Webster dining room looked like in 1947.

Dining room with elaborate furnishings, including set table and chairs and two sideboards
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In 1962, the Webster house was refurnished to showcase fine furnishings in period room-like settings—rather than reflecting a household whose elderly inhabitants started housekeeping decades before.

Room with patterned blue wallpaper containing fireplace, bed, chest of drawers, chairs
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In 1989, after meticulous research on the house and on the Webster family, the home was beautifully transformed, and its furnishings more closely reflected the Webster family’s lives.

Narrow room with one window, chair and desk, two dressers, and other furnishings
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You could imagine the Websters living there. This is Rebecca Webster’s dressing room.

Mostly empty room with patterned floor and wallpaper, containing a few chairs and side tables
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Yet the dining room was sparsely furnished. The 1989 reinstallation suggested that the Websters were “in retirement” and “withdrawn from society,” and didn’t need or use this room much.

Pair of boots lying on patterned blue floor next to chair with tub; rags nearby
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The dining room was presented as a seldom-used space in the Webster home during the mid-1830s. This detail showed boots being cleaned in the otherwise unused room.

Part of carpeted and wallpapered room showing fireplace, sideboard, table and chairs
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Webster family correspondence and other documents paint a picture of a household that included not only family activities, but more public ones as well, during the 1830s and beyond.

Black-and-white photo of tree-lined road with houses with low fences along both sides
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Daughter Julia Goodrich and her family lived down the street and were frequent visitors. The Webster house appears at far right in this photo of Temple Street taken in the 1920s.

Oval painting in elaborate gold and dark frame of woman in white dress with dark curly hair standing between two large columns
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Webster children and grandchildren who lived farther away came for extended visits. Daughter Eliza Jones and her family traveled from their Bridgeport, Connecticut, home for visits.

Canopy bed in a room with patterned carpet and wallpaper
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At times, some Webster family members even joined the household temporarily. They could stay in a guest room in the Webster home.

Engraving of street scene with trees, buildings, people, and an oxcart in the foreground
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Webster’s Yale-attending grandsons and their classmates stopped in for visits and came to gatherings. This print shows Yale College—located not far from the Webster home—during this time.

Room containing bookshelves, armchair, and table and side chairs
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The Webster family home was also Noah’s “office.” He had moved his study upstairs in October 1834, met there with business associates and students.

Room with patterned carpet, green walls, table and chairs in middle of room and additional chairs around the perimeter
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Guests—including visiting clergymen, publishing associates, Yale faculty, and political leaders—would have called at the house or would have been invited to gatherings in the home. This is the Webster parlor.

Long set table with mismatched chairs in room with patterned carpet and wallpaper
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To help reflect the active family life that took place in the Webster household in 1835, the new dining room vignette suggests members of the extended Webster family casually gathering for a meal.

Mismatched chairs along side of table; fireplace in background
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The room’s arrangement is deliberately informal, with mismatched chairs. Hepplewhite chairs that are part of the dining room set are supplemented by others assembled for this family meal.

Corner of set table with mismatched chairs; fireplace behind
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A high chair is provided for the youngest Webster grandchild.

End of table covered with cloth with dominos and plate of scones on it; additional dominos on patterned floor below
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The grandchildren’s domino game was quickly set aside as the table was set and three generations of the family began to gather.

Corner of set table with chairs; fireplace with mantel behind and patterned wallpaper on walls
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The dining room furnishings, like those in the rest of the home, reflect a household whose elderly inhabitants started housekeeping decades before. The Websters would have owned most of their furniture, tableware, candlesticks, and other items for decades. The Connecticut-made clock on the mantel would have been a bit newer, since it dates from 1825–1835.

Wooden chair with back slats in shield shape and dark blue satin seat
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But the Hepplewhite style chairs—no longer in fashion—would have been purchased more than 30 years before.

Table containing white dishes with blue pattern; wallpapered wall in background
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The early 1800s Chinese export dishes would have likely been bought decades before. Quite fine and fashionable when new, the sturdy dishes would have survived to be used at everyday meals and for family gatherings many years later.

Clear glass lamp with etched pattern on tablecloth with dishes and silverware at place settings nearby
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The Websters would have acquired other furnishings more recently--including newly available whale oil lamps, which provided brighter lighting than candles. In coastal New Haven, whale oil was readily available.

Window with curtains surrounded by wallpapered wall
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Stylish curtains of New England factory-made roller-printed cotton fabric are gracefully draped over glass curtain tiebacks and decoratively arranged.

Meat roast (partially sliced), jello mold, and round loaf of bread on plates on table, with place settings nearby
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Do stop by the Noah Webster Home when Greenfield Village opens this spring and see what the Websters are having for dinner as they “gather” with their children and grandchildren! And for even more Village building makeover stories, see also this recent post from Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life Donna Braden.


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life and Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

Noah Webster Home, home life, Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, furnishings, food, by Jeanine Head Miller, by Charles Sable, #THFCuratorChat, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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