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Those thousand words in pictures — some true, some false

November 16, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Town & Village Historian , Westfield Republican

Often it is hard to find the original source documents to verify historical legends and pictures, and, even then, to determine whether or not they are truly original. Sometimes they may have been altered by those who were not present at the time, and who make assumptions based their own contemporary views.

Such is the case with two drawings purported to be of how the Village of Westfield, in the vicinity of "The Commons" or "Moore Park," looked in the early-to-mid-1800s.

The first of these drawings was a pencil sketch done as a child, about 1845, by Hannah W. Patterson (1835-1894), daughter of Lieut. Gov. George W. Patterson and founder of the Patterson Library. At present (2016), there is no known extant original of this drawing. About 1930, Miss Clara Sackett, who at that time was a well-known New York artist, and whose early home was in Westfield, enlarged for the Episcopal Centennial exhibit of Ancient Documents, the pencil sketch. The enlargement was signed at the lower right corner by Clara E Sackett with the following notation under her signature: "After-a pencil Sketch by-Hannah W. Patterson" and another notation on the bottom left half reads, "Main Street Westfield" and underneath that the words, "About 1845."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
Pictured is Westfield’s Main Street circa 1845.

Several questions and anomalies should be noted about this 1930 depiction of an 85-year old pencil sketch. The first question has already been suggested above: "Where is the original pencil sketch by Hannah Patterson?" The Patterson Library does not have this, despite the fact that Miss Patterson bequeathed $100,000 of her estate to found the library. The CCHS files at the McClurg Museum does not have this particular sketch although they do have the original pencil sketch also made by Hannah Patterson of the McClurg Mansion at about the same time.

The second thing to note is the wording, "AFTER a pencil sketch by Hannah Patterson." Artists are known to take "artistic license" and there is at least one building in the drawing that is possible evidence of this, which brings up the third question. "Why does the Episcopal Church building on the right side of the drawing, sketch, or painting have a tower on it?"

The original Vestry Minutes and architectural drawings for the construction of the Episcopal Church indicate the following. January 20, 1830, was the incorporation date for the church. In August of 1831 the Vestry voted to erect a brick church, which was built over the next two years and consecrated by Bishop Onderdonk in August 1833. The building was "just a box" containing two windows on each side, which is only half the size of the present "nave" or main room of the church where the congregation now sits. There was no "chancel" that's where the altar is now located, and there was no entry vestibule, or tower, or steeple with a bell.

Between 1847 and 1849, another 15 feet were added to the church, toward the east end (toward where Elm Street is now located), and a beautiful stained glass "Rose Window" was placed at the east end. In the picture by Patterson/Sackett, there are only two windows on the side of the building which is consistent with what was actually there in 1845. But the presence of the tower and front vestibule is not correct. Also, one might notice that the drawing of the front of church appears to be much darker, as though it had been over-drawn, perhaps with pen and ink, and the tower portion added when Sackett made her enlargement.

In 1859, the Ladies' Aid Society of St. Peter's held several events to fund a bell tower, but the Civil War intervened. Following the war, the church hired Thomas Walker, a brick mason and builder, to add a vestibule, entry, and bell tower on the west end of the church. This is recorded both in the Vestry minutes as well as an 1867 diary of Walker.

As noted in an earlier paragraph, Clara Sackett did her enlargement of the Hannah Patterson sketch in 1930 when the picture was publicized in the Westfield Republican. Soon after, a series of letters to the editor began an ongoing disagreement regarding the accuracy of the tower in the picture, with one side citing the Vestry minutes regarding the construction of the tower. The other side seems to have made up a story that the original church had a wooden vestibule and tower on the east end which was replaced by the brick tower in 1867.

This argument was apparently still being perpetuated in 1944 as indicated by a note written on the back of a photo of the Sackett/Patterson picture that reads, "I judge this tower and entry were of wood as church was repainted. The church itself was brick but the repainting might have been windows. However, if this front had been brick, it would have been unnecessary to build in 1867 the brick tower & vestibule." There are some unreadable initials at the end of the note, and the date of 1944.



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