The Story of the Mather Homestead
This information was compiled for the Bicentennial celebration of Darien.
The Mather Homestead was erected in 1778 by Deacon Joeseph Mather on land inherited from his mother, Hannah Bell, a descendant of Francis Bell, one of the early settlers of Stamford. This house, properly modeled after the usual style of New England architecture of the second half of the 18th Century, was built in the extreme corner of the township now known as Darien, the land lying partly in that township, partly in Norwalk and partly in New Canaan. It was hoped that a house erected thus far from Old King's Highway and the Sound would not be bothered by raiders during the Revolutionary War.
Deacon Joseph and his wife Sarah Scott, with their oldest child, Hannah, took possession of their new dwelling in early July 1778. At this time, the Deacon's father, the Rev. D. Moses Mather, sixty years pastor of the Congregational Church of Darien, was present, and when a fire first was wanted, he took his solar glass from his pocket, ignited the tobacco in his box and from that kindled the fire, remarking, "The first fire in the new house came from Heaven."
This house, being on the outskirts of the settlement, was considered a safe repository by the neighbors for their silver and valuables. These were hidden down the well and also suspended by straps under the top of the highboy, still standing in the homestead. But the house was discovered and one evening a band of Tories came, plundered the house, and compelled Mrs. Mather, at the point of a bayonet, to prepare them supper at the huge fireplace. They then ordered the Deacon to accompany them to Long Island Sound to prevent his giving alarm in the community until they were a safe distance away.
The Deacon fought as a soldier in the Revolution on a number of occasions, following the custom of the period in returning to his farm between campaigns. He first entered service in 1775, was engaged in the siege and capture of St. John's in Canada and went on to Montreal. In 1776 he was a member of the militia guarding the coast along Stamford. He enlisted as a sergeant in the Coast Guard again in 1779 and in 1780 he was appointed an Ensign in the Connecticut Militia.
As the family increased and, in the process of time, the children married and had many little children of their own. The annual Thanksgiving celebration around the table of the Grandparents was a gathering of great happiness for all ages. "Dinner being served, always sumptuous and ample, first to the grown people and then to the numerous children, the table was removed and the afternoon was given up to chat and hilarity. No wine and no smoking, but all satisfied and serious, the elder members sat by the fire in the west room and talked of the crops and the profits realized, the genealogy of the families, of marriages, births, and deaths, and of experiences of the Revolution, so recently passed."
In the West room also, where the same clock that now stands there indicated that it was bedtime, the family gathered for evening worship around the hearth. All stood up and turned toward their chairs and the grand-sire lead in prayer to give thanks for the blessing of another day just passed and to commit the household to the safekeeping of God for another night.
Here in this house the Deacon and his wife resided for the remainder of their long lives, he dying in 1840 and she in 1843. Here all of their eleven children, with the exception of the oldest, were born and here some of their descendants still live. Their little daughter Clara, who died in infancy in 1786, was the first to be buried across the field in what is not the Mather Cemetery.
Upon his death, the Deacon left the house, valued at $500 in the inventory of his estate, to his widow for the remainder of her life and then to his two maiden daughters, Rana and Pheobe. They continued to live here all their lives, beloved by their brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews who were always welcome at the Homestead and were frequent visitors. A widowed sister, Betsy Lockwood, with her daughter Ann Elizabeth also lived with them for many years. At Aunt Rana's death in 1880, aged 96, it was written of her "Her life has run on parallel with the existence of this nation which at her birth was in its infancy. She has been a member of the Congregational Church for 72 years. As a Christian, she was quiet, consistent, and devoted, always hopeful and cheerful and ever pleased to see all friends and neighbors who called."
Ann Elizabeth Lockwood, daughter of Aunt Betsy, was bequeathed the house in 1886 at the death of Aunt Pheobe. Shortly thereafter, in 1887, she sold the house and twelve acres for $1,000 to her first cousin Joseph Wakeman Mather. He made various improvements on the place, erecting a new barn 120 feet west of the house, in 1891, which was constructed by his brother William F. Mather. Joseph W. Mather occupied the Homestead in the summers and during the winters lived at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn so that he did not experience the discomforts of a house without central heating which must have been difficult for the "old aunties" in their declining years.
The new barn burned in 1905 and the exertions and excitement caused by this event were supposed to have hastened the death of the 85-year-old owner who died shortly after.
In his will, he left the house to his sole surviving child, Stephen Tyng Mather of Chicago, and to his niece, Bertha Mather, daughter of his brother Henry. She had been his constant companion and he had been devoted to her. The house and twenty-two acres were valued at this time at $1,300. Stephen bought his cousin's interest in the place and began to make changes almost immediately, building a new barn further from the house, a cottage for a gardener, lying a sunken garden, and changing the front porch of the house to one that extended across the front. Stephen Mather, with his wife and baby daughter, first occupied the house in 1930. In spite of his absorbing interest in the National Parks and his busy life on their behalf for the last 15 years of his life, his affection for the Homestead was always keen. He made two other series of alterations on the house, one in 1915 and the last one, leaving the house in the present condition in 1927. In spite of much change, many features remain as they originally were or have been returned to their original condition.
Bertha Mather McPherson inherited the Homestead upon the death of her father in 1930. She and her husband, Edward R. McPherson, Jr., made it their year-round home for 70 years. Their three children, Anne McPherson Tracy, Stephen Mather McPherson, and Jane McPherson Nickerson grew up here, generously gifted the homestead to the Foundation to open for the publics enjoyment. Their children and grandchildren are the seventh and eighth generation to visit the Homestead, built by their great-great-great-great-great grandfather in 1778.