Home and Garden

T he story of the Pardee-Morris House, one of New Haven’s oldest structures, usually focuses on its role in the Revolutionary War. When the British invaded the city on July 5, 1779, the house was one of the battle’s casualties. A century later, Charles Hervey Townshend gave an account of that day in his book The British Invasion of New Haven, Connecticut (1879). As troops approached the estate of Captain Amos Morris,

it is probable that they were frequently fired upon, and this grand old manor house, built of stone (but now sheathed with pine), was consigned to the flames, as well as all barns and outbuildings and several fields of grain; also the cattle and other animals were slaughtered and sent on board the fleet as rations for the crews. Captain Morris and some friends barely escaped capture, and in less than one hour nothing remained but the black walls and towering chimneys of one of Connecticut’s finest mansions.

The Morrises, who first established their estate in 1671, eventually constructed a new house on the circa 1750s foundation, “built to be a modern version of the one that burned,” says Jason Bischoff-Wurstle, director of photo archives for the New Haven Museum. That historic home, which still stands on Lighthouse Road in Morris Cove, never left the Morris family until it was donated in 1918 by its final owner, Morris descendant William Pardee, to the museum.

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Although its most dramatic moments draw most of the attention, there are countless quieter stories to hear and lessons to learn from the Pardee-Morris House. This summer, two exhibits focus on domestic life in the home—one temporary, one permanent.

A sunny room lined on three sides with 12-pane windows—once the Colonial-era summer kitchen and later the den and study of William Pardee—today serves as a summer gallery space. On view here all season is Domestic Buildup, a collection of designs and studies by quiltmaker and visual artist Richard Killeaney of Bridgeport, curated by Bischoff-Wurstle.

Killeaney’s understated patterns for queen-sized quilts, a domestic necessity, utilize paper that itself has domestic origins. Newspaper grocery circulars with their odd-sized blocks of photos and text cobbled together become a template for quilt squares. “I don’t think [the designers of the circulars are] making a decision about making this grid, but I liked that,” explains Killeaney, who’s been collecting these advertisements for years and using them as inspiration. “The random space is what I’m interested in.”

Paper strips from security envelopes become the pieces of another quilt pattern. When one strip runs out, Killeaney cuts another to fill whatever space is left, just as a Colonial woman would have cut strips of cloth for a quilt. “With quiltmaking, there’s always been this idea of, ‘It’s what you have, take it as it comes,’” Killeaney says. “Only wealthy women made fancy quilts… If you have a bunch of strips, you’re not going to chop them up in triangles. It’s a bad use of fabric.”

These designs and others on view in Domestic Buildup were inspired by the Pardee-Morris House itself. An attempt to mimic the gallery’s window panes in a quilt pattern turned out to be “too simplistic,” Killeaney says, but it led him to the squares of the grocery circulars. And the wide pine floorboards in the house’s second story led him to the stripped pattern. In fact, he says, the same principle would have applied for a builder. The floorboards are made of fir, “which was a less expensive wood,” and they’re cut in wide planks, “which is easier to install and takes less labor,” Killeaney says. “To me, there’s not a huge difference between the way you would build a house versus the way you build a quilt.”

In the meantime, another domestic project—this one more permanent—is growing in Pardee-Morris’s back yard, a sampler herb garden restored by Morris Cove neighbors Rachel Heerema and Giulia Gouge. An herbalist and master gardener, Heerema says there are reasons why herbs have been grown for thousands of years and continue to be popular with gardeners today: “They are so hardy and they are so giving of their flavors and their medicine.”

Heerema and Gouge researched colonial herbs and their uses and divided the garden into small quadrants for culinary, household, medicinal and aromatic herbs. Tucked into a corner of the back yard, the garden is shaded in the morning, then emerges to catch the midday sun. Delicate blue catmint and tiny stems of lavender reach for its warmth. Ruffled orange marigolds edge one bed while brilliant zinnias in shades of red and pink line another. Here and there among the plants, sea shells cupping the last leftover drops of rain sparkle in the light.

The Morrises’ herb garden would have been located right outside the kitchen door for convenience, Heerema says, and it would have been bigger. “Anybody who grows any kind of parsley knows you need a lot more parsley than that,” she says of the garden’s tiny sample.

The Pardee-Morris House itself has been similarly scaled back. The historic site that now claims a humble corner was once part of an estate covering much of the Morris Cove peninsula. The house that’s now open for limited hours each summer was once a home inhabited every day of every season. But through Killeaney’s quilt patterns and Heerema and Gouge’s garden herbs, we might catch a glimpse of those mostly unrecorded, ordinary days.

Domestic Buildup and Colonial Herb Garden
Pardee-Morris House – 325 Lighthouse Rd, New Haven (map)
Sun noon-4pm (and during 7pm concerts on 7/10, 7/24 and 8/7)
Artist Talk: 7/28, 2pm
www.newhavenmuseum.org/visit/pardee-morris-house/

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1-9 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 10 photographed by Cara McDonough. Image 2 features Richard Killeaney.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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