It Truly Is A Small World!

by Donna DiBella

Over the years, I have met so many interesting people through the Society and today would like to share a special story of one of them.

Sometime in 2003, I received an email from Barbara Newhook, a Florida resident who claimed her great grandmother; Louise Holt Berrian had lived in the General William Hart House from 1894 to 1923.  Louise was a Montclair, New Jersey resident and used the house every summer to escape the busy metropolitan New Jersey/New York area to a more relaxed seaside atmosphere that was Old Saybrook.  After a good deal of research, I discovered that indeed, Louise Holt Berrian did inhabit 350 Main Street in what is now “home” to our Society.  Many of you know that the house was once known as “The Wood School”, a boarding school for girls run by Miss Hetty Wood who owned the house for over 50 years.  Louise Holt Berrian’s husband, George was the son or grandson of Hetty’s sister Maria and George eventually inherited the home from Hetty.  Once that was confirmed, Barbara and I agreed to meet at her home in Palm Beach Gardens.  Seems “Grandma Lou”, as she was called, was someone who kept everything and Barbara Newhook and her mother, Barbara Burke had inherited trunks of family items looking for a “new/old” home.  Ironically, at that time my husband and I were spending occasional long weekends in Florida and our golf club was two minutes from the Newhouse home. Of course, I shared all this with the late Dorothy Swan who was delighted and couldn’t wait for me to return with information on the items the family wanted to gift the Society.

Barbara Newhook, and I spent several hours poring through trunks filled with textiles, buttons, beads, Old Saybrook memorabilia even a piece of Grandma Lou’s wedding cake! Photographs of the house and gardens have been a wonderful resource capturing a glimpse of a time gone by. On a cold damp Thursday in March of 2004, the truck arrived at the Hart House with several trunks and boxes filled with Berrian items.  Dorothy Swan, Suzanna Otto, Warren Almquist and yours truly were there to welcome the Berrian items home. How fortunate and grateful the Old Saybrook Historical Society is to have received these marvelous “treasures”.  In 2004, the exhibit committee put together, “The Berrian Years in Old Saybrook” and nearly all of these items were on display.  Grandma Lou’s granddaughter, Barbara Burke and great granddaughter, Barbara Newhook from Florida came up for the pre-exhibit party. In addition, Jane Walker and her husband from Pennsylvania who Grandma Lou sold the house to in 1923 came as well.  A great time was had by all!!  This past summer we devoted a case in the exhibit gallery to many items and photos of The Berrian Years.  They are on exhibit indefinitely for all to enjoy.  When Barbara Burke passed away, the family asked that donations be sent to the Old Saybrook Historical Society.  Barbara Newhook and I, although we do not see each other often enough, remain friends.