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WPA Loom Dedicated At Cheney Homestead

Courant Community

The Manchester Historical Society opened the doors of the Cheney Homestead, on Dec. 2, which was freshly decorated by the Manchester Garden Club for the holiday season.

Visitors were invited to take tours of the circa-1785 farmhouse where George and Electra Cheney raised eight sons and a daughter.

Re-enactors Vivian Carlson and Jenifer Bussa, portraying Mary Bushnell Cheney and Caroline Jackson Cheney discussed the roles of women and children in the household. MHS volunteer Betty Lou Sandy shared how various tasks, including cooking and soap-making, were accomplished.

"It was a physical life, but everyone knew what they had to do, and children were taught practical skills from a very young age," said Sandy.

The Cheney family men were skilled in various ways, including engraving, clock-making, and artistry, and several of the eight sons founded the Cheney Mills, which in later years would become a major employer for the Town of Manchester.

It was Electra, the only daughter in the family, however, who received the greater focus of the day's events. An accomplished weaver in her own right, she wove most of the cloth she used, and it would have been appropriate for a loom to occupy her bedroom.

It was fitting, therefore, that a Works Progress Administration-era loom, donated to the Manchester Historical Society by the Hartford Artisans Weaving Center, was relocated to Electra Cheney's main-level bedroom - where it was dedicated on that day.

Peter Millett, who serves on the historical society's board, shared the plain weave, counter-balance loom's own special history. It had formerly belonged to Adah Alyson, an assistant to William Ham, who served as director of the Bridgeport Housing Authority during the Great Depression.

In a struggling economy, the Housing Authority was losing rents and as a means to provide hope and help with economic survival, Ham promoted weaving as a cottage industry.

The program was successful and caught the eye of then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who invited Ham and Alyson to Washington, D.C., along with leaders of other successful jobs programs. There, Alyson demonstrated the loom and how rejuvenating an old skill like weaving could help families economically.

"The loom had been packed away until 1933, when the daughter of Adah Alyson gave it to the Hartford Weaving Center," said Millett.

It was there that John Yeck, a volunteer at the center who in his retirement had refurbished several looms, began working on the Alyson family loom.

"[Yeck] was a go-to person who helped us with the looms. It became a project for him, and became very special to him," said Fran Curran, executive director of the Hartford Weaving Center.

It was also the last loom Yeck had been working on before he died earlier in the fall.

"We wanted to find a home for it where it would be appreciated," she said.

"A loom is an essential piece of history for this time period and at one time was the highest form of ingenuity," said Millett, whose aim is to promote art, history, and ingenuity at the Cheney Homestead. "We hope to use this interactively with children."

The Cheney Homestead, at 106 Hartford Road in Manchester, is open 1 to 4 p.m. on the second Sunday of the month, except holidays, and by appointment or for special events.

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