Friday, December 2, 2016

Treasure Hunters in Ruins of Old House

Fortune hunters are an intriguing lot.  Whether it’s Lord Carnarvan and Archaeologist Howard Carter excavating Tutankhamen’s tomb, or the dismantling of an old house, the intrigue entices the imagination.  In July 1938 Howard and Clark Rich of East Hampton and Spencer Jewell of Hartford (later to operate a plumbing business and own the Carrier Block at 82 Main Street) were tearing down a house built in 1750 by Nathaniel Markham, who, according to the last resident Charles Darling, is said to have hidden a fortune in bills and coins among stones of the Chimney.  Perhaps this early date is derived from the opinion of a local authority on art, who says its architecture resembles that of house build around 1750, rather than from the sign that has been on the house since the Connecticut Tercentenary, “Nathaniel Markham, 1786.”  And likely, the legend of the “hidden fortune” has come from the well-accepted tradition that in the War of 1812, when the British fleet was raiding the Connecticut shore towns and venturing up river, nearly discovering the American fleet harbored in Hamburg Cove, some Chatham householders hid their silver plate at the base of an old chimney.  Silver plate is the British definition of solid silver which differs from the plated tin or pewter often found today. The house by the way, was a tavern on the main highway passing along the east side of Lake Pocotopaug across a shallow ford from Markham’s Point (Meeks Point) to Arrow Point (Spellman Point) and thence along the north shore of the lake to Clark’s Hill and on to East Middletown, present day Portland.   In the end, no precious metal treasures however. The only silverware that had been found in dismantling the ancient inn was four rusty forks. 

Carl Price, author of Yankee Township, investigated the dismantling process by the treasurer hunters of the Nathaniel Markham homestead and managed to rummage through a box of literary treasure trove, rescued from the attic, with little intrinsic value, but of great interest and certainly the only fortune the house yielded.  There were readable books of ancient vintage in this box:  “the Village Blacksmith – Life of Samuel Hicks” 1842; “Anecdotes of the American Revolution” 1844 along with a dozen others.  The manuscript diary of C. N. Darling for 1875, neatly written, was full of East Hamptonian (what the Town was called by my High School Principal Andrew D. V. Ferrigno) interest.  For each day the weather was fully recorded with special reference to the clouds, with whose scientific names the author was quite familiar, and also as to the temperatures – frost on June 13 and September 22; six below zero on February 9.  A record of carpentry work as billed against various distinguished citizens, Dr. Notling, Horatio Chapman, W. W. Watrous, Joel S. Ives, Leonard Willey, John M. Smith; Chancy Bevin for filing 1 saw 25 cents; Augustus H. Conklin to making conductors 40 cents.  Work on the new Methodist church building was recorded throughout the year, and a catalog of all its spruce timbers up to the time of its dedication on Wednesday, October 20, 1875, when 100 were present for exercise beginning in the afternoon and lasting until midnight.  One item proved, however, that life was not all work:  “November 12.  Went hunting today.  Father Herm (Rich), myself, with dog, 7 greys.”  A final notation from the diary: “East Hampton needs a Board of Trade to induce manufacturers to locate here.  Western enterprise can well be imitated.”  We’re still talking about how to attract business 138 years later!

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