Avery-Copp House Museum: a ‘time capsule’ in Groton
Groton ― In the Avery-Copp House Museum’s parlor, a room full of antique collectibles with windows overlooking Thames Street, Docent Molly McElroy on Saturday demonstrated how people more than a century ago played music on a phonograph.
The machine has no wires or electricity, and people wound it up like a music box and used cylinders to play different songs.
As Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” played, McElroy said this would have been people’s entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s and is the start of recorded music. The parlor phonograph was donated to the museum, and in the sitting room, is a newer version of a phonograph -- used by the family that once lived in the house -- and nearby their later radio.
The Avery-Copp House Museum, located at 154 Thames St., is an example of what life was like from 1890 to 1930 and offers a window into the lives of the family and the servants who lived there, said McElroy. Docents McElroy and Mary-Pat Thayer gave a tour to The Day on Saturday.
“Not only is it this snapshot in time, as we go through, but also just an amalgamation of all the generations that lived here,” McElroy said.
Rufus Avery built the house around 1800, and then his relative Latham Avery, a merchant captain, moved in with his family. Around the mid-1800s, Latham Avery’s daughter, Mary Jane Avery Ramsdell, inherited the house and renovated it in a more Victorian style with a porch, a spiral staircase up to the second floor, bay windows, and two-toned flooring, McElroy said.
Her niece, Betsey Avery Copp, inherited the house in the late 1800s and moved there with her husband, Belton Allyn Copp II, and their three children, Allyn, Emily and Joe.
The family saw many changes in their lives, from the turn of the century to World War I, the roaring 20s and the Great Depression, McElroy said.
In 1930, Joe Copp inherited the house he grew up in and decided not to change a thing: keeping the furniture, knickknacks and paintings all as they were, McElroy said. When he passed away in 1991, his nieces and nephews saw the house was a “time capsule” and decided to turn it into a museum, which shows life in Groton.
During the tour, the docents described life on Thames Street, where there were many shops, people bustling by and ships on the Thames River.
The docents showed elements of the family home, along with changes over time: a playing card table with issues of the Saturday Evening Post; a desk where Betsey Avery Copp wrote letters to family and friends that are the basis for much of what is known about the family; formal portraits of family members that gave way to photographs; and a kerosene lamp that was changed into an electric one.
Thayer said a garden in the back served as a respite for the family in an ever-changing world.
In one bedroom, there was a steamer trunk and curio box with souvenirs from a relative’s travels.
On the third floor, the museum researched and replicated the quarters where two servants, a cook and a maid of all work, who were Irish immigrants, lived. McElroy said. There were three bells in the house where they could be called at any time. When the family got indoor plumbing in the house, the servants did as well.
A small trunk, comparable to what an immigrant would have taken over, stood in the cook’s room ― in contrast to the relative’s large steamer trunk for travel.
A Sears catalog advertised a woman’s hat for $2.85, which was about as much as a maid could make in a week.
“Room and board was included, so what they made was what they got, but it does put it into perspective,” McElroy said.
Thayer said these “time capsules” in homes across the state show what people’s lives were like.
“These small museums are gems in the state,” Thayer said.
The museum offers free tours Saturdays and Sundays from late May to mid-October, or people can contact the museum for an appointment.
More information is available at www.averycopphouse.org.
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