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Ancient South Kent house reveals a secret during restoration

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

A 1904 photo of Pigtail Corners in South Kent shows half of the original facade of the Branson home, without the painted sign on its front. By 1915, a porch had been added, encapsulating the sign, which read, “C.W. Page Groceries, Good Things to Eat,” giving a timeframe for the business’ operation. Photo contributed

The house, originally constructed circa 1740 by John Hopson, was doubled in size around 1780. 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 2022 when a winter gale sent a massive tree toppling onto it. “The whole house shook,” Douglas Branson said this 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 C.W. Page Store, which sold “Groceries, Good Things to Eat.”

A sign, announcing C.W. Page’s grocery store, which sold “Good Things Eat,” was uncovered during repairs to the Branson home in South Kent. Photo by Kathryn Boughton

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 knew George Washington was rumored to have slept there while passing through Kent. They believed that a portion of it was once used as a post office. And 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, who took up residence in the 1970s.

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 an early 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 1891. 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 among his heirs with his wife, Helen, receiving much real estate.

A falling tree did severe damage to the Branson’s 18th-century home in 2022. Repairs currently underway have revealed a surprise. Photo contributed

Was the house on the corner where he had his store? The house was reportedly owned by three generations of Pages, but 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 already 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, eventually 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 oldest part of the Branson house dates back to circa 1740 and has been maintained in almost original condition over nearly 300 years. Photo by Kathryn Boughton

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.”

Kathryn Boughton
Written By

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Judi Moore

    May 30, 2024 at 1:37 pm

    Great article!

  2. Avatar

    Bruce Hoheb

    May 30, 2024 at 1:46 pm

    I am a South Kent resident and would be interested in discussing the preservation of the sign with the owner(s). They can contact me at bhoheb@gmail.com if they wish.
    Bruce Hoheb
    Treasure Hill Road
    CT.

  3. Avatar

    Perry Mudd Smith

    May 30, 2024 at 5:36 pm

    Any interest in starting a GoFundMe page to offset the cost of restoration?

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