The man who made time stand still

The Avery Homestead is probably the oldest house in Ledyard. Avery Hill Road, where it’s situated, follows a path that was cut centuries ago. The house was built around 1696 by William Morgan for his bride, Margaret Avery. When North Groton (Ledyard) became a separate parish in 1726, Morgan’s son conducted worship services there until a meeting house could be built. In 1745, after being owned by a few different families, the property passed back into Avery hands, where it stayed for more than 250 years.

The preservation of this farmhouse is a credit to Amos Geer Avery, the seventh in an unbroken line of Avery owners, who restored it in the middle of the 20th century to reflect its colonial roots. The National Register of Historic Places cites the fine craftsmanship of the homestead’s construction, the “exceptional integrity of its rural setting,” and the property’s evocation of “eighteenth–century lifeways.” It’s fitting that, besides historical restorations, one of Amos’s hobbies was repairing clocks, because viewing the homestead and grounds today is like stepping back in time.

Amos was born in 1902. He attended the Connecticut Agricultural College (now UConn), where he studied botany. After graduation, he conducted research in plant genetics for the Carnegie Institute and taught botany at Smith College. He loved genealogy and did extensive research on the Avery family’s role in early Connecticut clock making. He enjoyed working on clocks and published a book about colonial timepieces that’s an engaging read. Many museums today have clocks in their collections that Amos repaired.

Amos was passionate about preserving the past. After his mother died in the 1950s, he retired from Smith College and began restoring the homestead, removing Victorian flourishes and modernizations that his ancestors had added over the years but that were out of character with the original design.

In an interview with David Collins for The Day, Amos described how the project took on a life of its own when he poked a hole in a ceiling and felt a molding above it. He explained, “(I) wanted to see what was there, then the whole ceiling had to come down, then we had to restore the room … it went from bad to worse as far as the amount of work was concerned!” Today, the homestead is owned by a couple who operate a seasonal business featuring antiques and primitive American art, a perfect enterprise for this setting.

In 1970, Amos donated 100 acres of his property, which include woods, glacial deposits, maple swamps, giant rhododendrons, wild orchids, and an old dry-wall sheep wash, to the Avalonia Land Conservancy. This nonprofit organization’s website states, “It is essential to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of wildlife, our present generation, and the generations yet to come.”

This stewardship is especially meaningful when you consider the long history and enduring beauty of Avery Hill, which passed from the Pequots to the Mohegans to the New London colony. In 1653, New London allocated parcels to Robert Allyn, John Coit, and James Avery, in what was called the Poquetannuck grant. Later, Avery gave or sold his portion of the grant to his daughter, Margaret, and her husband, William Morgan, which takes us back to where this column began.

Amos was civic-minded throughout his life. He was an honorary director of Avalonia, served on the board of the Bill Library, was active in the Avery Association, the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, and participated in several local historical societies. Amos was still vigorous in his 80s; The Day published a photograph of him chopping wood (10 cords' worth) after Hurricane Gloria struck in 1985!

In the end, of course, time doesn’t stand still for anyone; Amos died in 1998 after a purposeful life spent looking back but paying it forward.

 

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