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fun facts about the mather homestead

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New Canaan




New "barn"

The Elizabeth W. Chilton Education Center

Why is this house so special?!


The Mather Homestead is a REALLY old home right here in Darien, Connecticut, where it borders New Canaan and Norwalk.  It was built in 1778, back in the 18th century - that's 222 years ago!  

The house has lots of cool stuff inside that people used back then.  Can you believe this is a toaster (left) and this is a bed warmer (right)?   

Right now, the house sits on six acres of property, but it used to be about 100 acres.  That many acres is as much as 76 football fields! That's because the one family that lived in the house needed that much land for their crops (vegetables, flax for making fabric) and animals (cattle, sheep, chickens) to feed themselves. There was a barn that has since been replaced by a new barn -- come visit us and see it! 


There were eleven kids that grew up in the house.  Originally the house just had two bedrooms.  Can you imagine a house with two bedrooms and eleven kids? Sounds pretty crowded.

The large fireplace was in the central room of the house, called the "keeping room."  That room was where all the cooking took place and all of the important activities.  The fireplace had a "bee hive" oven in the back.  

This house stayed in one family for eight generations.  That would be like you living in the house that your great great great great great grandparents lived in!  


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The big fireplace in the "keeping room" where all of the cooking was done.  See the "beehive oven" top left? 

One of the two original bedrooms upstairs

Painting by Kathleen Weinstock of the brand new "barn"

what did kids do back then?


Back in the 18th century, some things were the same (three meals a day, sleeping and playing), but some things were VERY different!  The family operated a farm and everyone had to help.  They got up really early in the morning to do chores - like milking the cows and collecting the eggs. If kids were lucky, they went to school. They had toys, but definitely no video games - have you seen jumping jacks? the ball and cup? and marbles? 

Click here to see lots of games that you can try!

Boys and girls were treated really differently.  Girls learned to do things like sewing, cooking and serving -- even making candles and soap!  And boys were usually learning a "trade," which means a job.  And their parents were very strict. You'd better pay attention to the rules or else!  They did have treats, but no potato chips or pizza. Some of the treats were candied orange peel and marzipan.  Believe it or not they were yummy!


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This game is called "rolling the hoop."  It's a race to see who can get their hoop to the finish line first. 

The Revolutionary War: Loyalists vs. Patriots


The house was  built in the beginning of that Revolutionary War, when the American colonies (there were 13) were fighting to be independent from Britain (England).  The Loyalists were the people who agreed with England, that the American Colonies should stay part of England.  But the Patriots believed that America should become its own independent country.  In the area of the Mather Homestead, more people were Patriots. But across the Long Island Sound in Long Island, more people were Loyalists.  So the Loyalists would row across the sound and raid houses along the shore.  They took people as prisoners and stole their valuables!  The Mather Homestead was built "far" from the shore so it would be protected.  But, spoiler alert, the soldiers came and found it anyway.  

The pictures below are in the Darien Town Hall.  Have you seen them? They show British soldier who rowed across the Long Island Sound to the "Meetinghouse," now the First Congregational church of Darien.  In one picture they threaten Moses Mather before taking him to prison, and in another they threaten a mother who protects her child. Miraculously no one died! 

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Would you have been a Loyalist or a Patriot?

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Tory raid of the Middlesex Parish Meeting House in 1781, during the height of the Revolutionary War, when Moses Mather and many other of the parish’s men were taken prisoner. 

 Sally Dibble stands defiantly before a British loyalist, a bayonet pointed at her chest, protecting a young boy.

The Middlesex Parish Meeting House, 
now the First Congregational Church of Darien

Can you find the silver?

The Loyalists came to the Mather Homestead looking for valuables.  But the valuables had been hidden!!! Where would you have hidden valuables? Under the bed?  In the ground? The Mather family hid silver and other valuables in the water well (they were found!) and one other place somewhere in this dining room where they were not found! Check out the dining room and take a guess where the valuables were hidden. Answer below. And can you believe that before the soldiers left, they made Mrs. Mather cook them dinner!! But, good news, they didn't hurt anyone.


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Mather Homestead Well where they got all their water.  The valuables were hidden here ... but found!

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Mather Homestead Dining Room - where do you think the silver was hidden?

The Secret Hiding Place ... 


The silver was hidden in the tall piece of wooden furniture which has been in the home since it was built.  It is called a "high boy."  The silver was hidden with leather straps that attached it to the inside top of the cabinet. You can still see the straps today!  

Who is this Stephen Mather guy??

Stephen Tyng Mather was the grandson of Deacon Joseph Mather who built the house. He is very important in our country’s history because he created the National Parks System we have today.  A National Park is land that is protected by our government so that is can be preserved and well maintained.  Can you name some national parks? The Grand Canyon!  Yellowstone !  There are now 62 national parks but when Stephen Mather became head of the national parks there was just 14.  By the time he retired as Director of the National Park Service he had doubled the number adding the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Arcadia, Hawaii and Mt. McKinley.  Because he did so much to conserve parks in our country, you'll see a plaque like this one in most national parks.

In Connecticut, there are 52 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that pass through northwestern Connecticut.  The entire trail is 2,179 miles stretching from Maine to Georgia.  The trail was conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937.  Today the trail is managed by the National Park Service (founded by Stephen Mather), plus other organizations and thousands of volunteers.

Stephen Tyng Mather



Plaque honoring Stephen Tyng Mather

in one of the National Parks.


Stephen Mather photographing bears!

Clearly he was pretty brave.

Why 20 mule team borax?

Because it took a team of 20 mules to get the borax out of the mines in Death Valley to the railroad where it could be transported.  

20 Mule Team Borax


Borax was a brand of cleaner that was introduced in 1891 and Stephen Mather came up with the idea for the tag line "20 Mule Borax" which made the product very successful such that sales skyrocketed.  He then became RICH by the age of 47 so he could go off and work on his conservation ideas.  What "tag lines" can you think of from brands you know?  


Can you name the brand that goes with these tagline?  


- Just Do It!

- Betcha Can't Eat Just One

- Think Different

- Finger Lickin' Good

- The Quicker Picker Upper

- Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands

- I'm Lovin' It

- Like a Good Neighbor ___ Is There

- Snap!  Crackle!  Pop!  

Click for Answers

Mather Homestead ACTIVITY BOOK and ANSWERS

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