Centuries-old surprise found in Kent home

The interior of the centuries-old home in South Kent.

Kathryn Boughton

Centuries-old surprise found in Kent home

KENT — Douglas and Chris Branson, owners of an old house located on the southeast corner of Camp Flats and South Kent Road, have uncovered a fascinating reminder of the building’s former life while making repairs to the mid-18th century building.

The house, originally constructed circa 1740 by John Hopson was doubled in size around 1780 when an addition was constructed. The earliest portion of the house, remarkably unchanged by nearly 300 years of occupation, remains intact, but the later addition suffered a significant blow in December 2023 when a winter gale sent a massive tree toppling onto it. “The whole house shook,” Douglas Branson said last week.

One front corner of the building was crushed under the tree and now, 17 months later, restoration work has begun. As workers cleared away the damaged portion of the house, removal of a ceiling suddenly revealed an old sign painted on what was once exterior clapboards.

The sign announced that it was the CW Page Store, which sold “Groceries, Good Things to Eat.”

The Bransons already knew some of the history of the property. They knew it had been a 140-acre farm where cattle and pigs were raised—indeed, the section of town where it lies is known as Pigtail Corners. They believed that a portion of it was once used as a post office. They knew that it had been a home to artists: Hugh Tyler who lived there in the mid-1900s and later Ms. Branson’s father, Larry Coultrip.

They inherited the property from Coultrip upon his death in 1998 and honored his desire that the building be preserved in as original a condition as possible. But they never suspected its mercantile background.

So, who was C.W. Page? It is probable that the merchant was Clark Page, both a son and a father to men named Walter Page. Page, variously described in census records as a blacksmith and farmer, was born in 1826 and died in 1897. The inventory of his estate reports the monetary value of “old store merchandise” and the sale of a store building for $850. His land was divided up among his heirs with his wife, Hellen, receiving much real estate.

Was the house on the corner where he had his store? It cannot be said with certainty. In 1897, six years after Clark Page’s death, Francis Atwater wrote in the History of Kent, Connecticut that one Fred Chase had become a wealthy businessman after buying “the small and ancient grocery store of this place,” a building that had passed through the hands of William Geer, Edward Dakins and a man named Segar. “It was an old stand, but it remained for Chase to make it a noteworthy establishment,” Atwater wrote.

Chase quickly built on his success, moving his store close to the railroad station and building a new dwelling house. Atwater writes, “South [of Chase’s property] is a feed store, it being the remodeled building formerly occupied by the small grocery.”

“The four houses in the immediate vicinity of the station are those of Walter Page [Clark Page’s son], VanNess Case, Miss Emiline Fanton and John Burkhardt. All are farmers and Mr. Page runs a distillery and cider mill,” Atwater concludes.

Did the Page family go back into the retail business and start their grocery store once more? We don’t know. What is clear is that a photo of the house taken in 1903, before a porch was added to the front, does not show the sign painted on the front. Walter Page became South Kent postmaster in 1915 and during his tenancy Larry Coultrip removed what he believed to be post office boxes from the porch addition.

The Bransons are interested in preserving the sign, but the work would not be covered by insurance. They have been exploring various funding options, including the Historic Homes Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Unfortunately, the property does not have either state or national register designation.

“Our goal is to preserve it,” said Douglas Branson. “We are hoping to share this amazing discovery as it is part of the history of the area and to see if there is any interest in a private party or historic entity helping preserve the store sign. We feel it would be a shame to cover it back up.”

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