After seeing enough urban grittiness at New Britain, Connecticut, our trip to Woodbury soothed the eyes and minds with its colonial homes and finest antiques stores. According to a pamphlet, Woodbury was established in 1673. Its Historical Society is now housed at the Hurd House, built around 1680, the oldest building of the town. Across the street is a circa 1763 Colonial home of Jabez Bacon. While we didn’t have time to visit either, there are enough houses, some in Greek Revival-style dated probably in federal period and some from Victorian times we did see. Perhaps the well-preserved architectural beauty attracts antiquarians and dealers, and nowadays it is called the antiques capital of Connecticut.
The dealers have formed Woodbury Antiques Dealers Association and created a content-rich website with dealers listing and local information. You can search by names, by category or by regions/countries in which they specialize. Be sure to check it out.
This was our first trip to Woodbury, the famed Connecticut Antiques Trail. Unlike Adamstown or New Oxford in Pennsylvania, stores in Woodbury are much smaller. Some are in period houses. There are no gigantic antiques malls with space rivaling a Wal-Mart super center. Most of the stores are located within one mile distance to the town center along Main Street. (Officially stores are located along a six mile stretch of Route 6 and some within 1 mile of town on Routes 47 and 132.) But Woodbury, as a rural town, is not walking friendly, especially not in winter. The best way to explore Woodbury antiques is to have a two-day trip, preferably starting on Friday. This is because although the majority of the stores open at least from Wednesday to Friday, some are only open on the weekends. With approximately 30 stores in total, it is almost impossible to visit every store within one day. So our recommendation is to call ahead to check store’s open house and divide all stores into two groups: Friday group and Saturday group. Woodbury also features the oldest inn in Connecticut and some fine restaurants. It is for sure an ideal gateway for antiquing.
Since we had only one afternoon in Woodbury after visiting the New Britain Museum of American Art, we decided to drive to the northern end of the antiques strip (North Main Street) and visit subsequent stores southwards.
Our first stop is at G. Sergeant Antiques, 88 Main Street North. We were told unless we drive another two miles north, the shop is the north end of the antiques strip. “I also think you are at the best store of all.” A shopkeeper member quipped. It is true that no where else did I see so much best museum-quality 18th or 19th century English and Continental furniture. Henry Francis DuPont may have been disappointed because American furniture was only sparsely represented. Geo loved a cellarette veneered in Mahogany, something one can still use in modern times with either the so-called taste or the 19th century clumsiness. After lifting the lid, we found the drainage hole was soldered at some point. “I guess I have to scoop the water out.” Geo joked. On the second floor, I found a giant decorative door frame, with Greek columns and a carved pineapple in the middle. The store opens daily (except Tuesday) from 10 to 5 and Sunday from 15 to 5.
Unfortunately Wayne Mattox Antiques was not open on that particular Friday afternoon, although its website indicates it opens daily from 10 to 6. (Another good reason to call in advance.) A quick browse through their website shows the store offers formidable collection of American folk art and pre-1840 furnishings. If you cannot make a trip to their store, check their antiques advice columns. It is really well worth reading.
Our second stop is at Grass Roots Antiques, which is connected to Martell & Suffin Antiques through a sculpture garden. This was where the antique shopping experience became intense because Geo and I have found a few desirable items at reasonable prices. We had to guard our checkbook cautiously with each step into different rooms. If we had followed the consumption rules of the recession period: only buy what you need, not what you want, we would not have made this antique trip. But we both agreed there is a significant difference between nice-to-have and die-to-have. Through casual shopping with nothing particular in mind, you know that you have found that particular thing by heart, and any second thoughts would disqualify such particularity and necessity to buy. Thus we walked out empty-handed, although Geo took a card for a scroll empire sofa, which he would have bought immediately if we had enough room for it at home and a way to get it there.
After a brief visit to the Crossroads Sporting Antiques, a store specializing in antiques related to hunting, horse-racing and animals (in particular dogs and horses) with a real giant but friendly dog, we came to the Main Street Antiques Center, one of the largest multi-dealer stores. Here we lost track of our time and wandered around among great selection of antiques and fine art. There were many prints and paintings, although I could only recognize immediately a painting by Wiggins, an Old Lyme artist specializing in cattle and sheep.
Both Geo and I were amazed by an American Classical mahogany secretary/bookcase, made around 1815. The upper section with a flat pediment above a pair of glazed Gothic arch doors opens to a fitted interior. In the lower part, under a pair of small drawers, the base with a fold0ver slanted writing surface and three long drawers is flanked with a pair of carved supports, raised on paw feet with foliate tops. Except a large veneer repair along the bottom rail, it is in very good condition. With its drawers, cabinets and shelves of different sizes, it can hold most of modern office supplies. Curiously, we have found two holes on the back of the upper bookcase section. The staff told us it was probably cut for lifting purposes. It was perhaps the best item that I have found during the trip which is functional and aesthetically pleasing. But we knew it wouldn’t fit in the trunk of a Chevy Impala, not to mention that our meagre income won’t accommodate such a fancy piece.
After that, we basically ran out of time and could only spare a few minutes in the rest of the stores. But we were delighted to meet Cynthia at Madeline West Antiques. She furnished five rooms of the first floor of the house with antique items for sale. Each room breathes its own character and looks lively and comfortable as well. Geo fell into discussion with Cynthia about the characteristic feature of Michael Allison furniture and learned that a similar piece to the chest of drawers offered in the store can be found at the Boscobel house museum in Garrison, New York. In a different room, a portrait painting of a lady brought another discussion because both the name of the sitter and that of the painter are written on the back of the canvas, something extremely rare for portraiture. It reads “Ms. Jame Wootsencroft Aged 42 years Wm Taylor Nov 9 1850”. Cynthia thought it may be English based on the unbalanced space on each side of the face although I felt she was more likely American. Taylor was perhaps influenced by painters in cosmopolitan areas and this portrait has a combined effect of broad strokes of British style and flatness and linearity of conservative tastes, not uncommon in the 1840’s and 1850’s. The fact that the names of the sitter and painter are known is both a blessing and curse to the potential buyer. I would not be happy until I found out more biographical information if I were the owner. But that’s probably the fun part of owning such a great painting. The store opens Mon, Wed – Sat from 11 to 5.
There are many more stores than can be covered in this short article. Again, visit the website www.antiqueswoodbury.com for more information. Some stores listed in a pamphlet published by the association have closed, so do ask store owners for recommendations. We would love to visit several stores which were either closed or missed during our trip, such as Black Pearl Antiques & Fine Arts, Wayne Mattox Antiques, Winsor Antiques, Woodbury Antiques & Fine Art, etc, but also stores which we visited this time, as dealers can become friends after a few trips. Perhaps the next trip can even be accented with a night of country lodging and some good wine.