Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers
The Porter-Phelps-Huntington House in Hadley, Massachusetts was home to the same family continuously over six generations and two hundred years. In 1955, it became a museum filled with a family collection of furnishings and folklore. Over the years, the house has been nicknamed "Forty Acres", "Elm Valley", and "the Bishop Huntington House". In this finding aid, it will be refered to as "Forty Acres" or the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House.
Built in 1752, by Captain Moses Porter, this was the first house constructed outside the stockade, which had surrounded Hadley since its settlement in 1659. Moses Porter was killed in the French and Indian War only three years after moving his small family into their new house.
His widow Elizabeth and daughter, also named Elizabeth, lived together in the house. In 1770, the younger Elizabeth married a man named Charles Phelps. He moved into the house with the bride and her mother and took over management of the farm. Charles was a prominent lawyer and politician and he wanted the house to reflect his status, so a vast number of changes were made to it between 1770 and 1799. Charles Phelps also ambitiously expanded the family estate until he owned almost a thousand acres at the time of his death in 1814.
In 1801, the Phelps' daughter, Elizabeth, had married a Connecticut minister by the name of Dan Huntington. In 1816, after her father's death, Elizabeth and her husband moved to Hadley with their nine children and Dan gave up his ministry to manage the farm. In Hadley, two more children were born. In 1817, Elizabeth's brother, Charles Porter Phelps also returned to Hadley and built a house across the road from the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House. Charles Porter Phelps' house is refered to in this finding aid as the "Phelps Farm".
It was the youngest of the eleven Huntington children, Frederic Dan, who loved the family home most. Before his father's death in the 1860s, Frederic Dan bought up his brother's and sister's shares of the big house so that he would inherit it. However, his business as an Episcopal minister in Boston and later Bishop in Syracuse, allowed Frederic Dan to spend only the summer months at the house in Hadley. He did keep the place as an active farm, with a caretaker to look after it during the winters. The house in Hadley was also a popular summer spot for Frederic Dan Huntington's children and grandchildren who all spent a week or two there each year.
George Huntington, Frederic Dan's eldest son, never had a chance to inherit the house, however. Father and son died on the same day in July of 1904. The farm was inherited jointly by George's six children. The best use for the house was rather uncertain at this time. Around 1911, the eldest son, Henry Barrett, tried to run a dairy farm there, but this was unsuccessful.
In 1921, the children took it upon themselves to make the old fashioned house into a suitable summer home for their mother, Lilly Barrett Huntington. This venture was a success and Lilly spent several happy summers there before her death in 1926.
The house then fell into disrepair until the 1930s, when George's middle son, Dr. James Lincoln Huntington, began to take an interest in the history of the house and family. In 1929, he aquired full ownership of the property from his brothers and sister. James then had the 1795 chaise house converted to a residence. He began to spend much time there during the summer and on every available weekend. Through the 1930s and 40s, Dr. Huntington spent an increasing amount of time at "Forty Acres". In 1942, he gave up his Boston medical practice and moved to Hadley permanently. James spent most of his time and all of his money working to preserve the house and research family history. He was able to retrieve much of the old family furniture, which had been dispersed among various relatives, over the years. This he returned to the old house, removing anything that did not have connections to the early family. During the 1940s, he began giving tours of the house and searched for funds to preserve it as a museum permanently. Unfortunately, James was unsuccessful in this quest for funding and in 1955, came very close to selling the house. At this time, however, concerned friends and neighbors came to the rescue with money to form the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation and Dr. Huntington donated the house and its contents to them. Since James Huntington's death in 1968, this private non-profit foundation has continued to preserve the house and open it for tours each summer.
A floor plan of the house in 1820 can be found in BOX 175 of the collection. Architecutral drawings for 20th century alterations are in BOX 176. James Lincoln Huntington's journals of 1922-1964 (BOXES 80a, 80b, 81) are also valuable resources for architectural information.
The above has been a brief history of the house. For a more detailed account, consult the book Forty Acres by Dr. James Lincoln Huntington, a copy of which is available in this collection. However, please note that recent research has proven much of the architectural information in the book to be inaccurate. For detailed architectural information, see the 1988 Historic Structures Report, avaiable from the Archives staff. The house is open for tours May 15 through October 15 (Saturday through Wednesday) and a copy of the tour is also available from Archives staff. Again, the architectural material in this written tour should be disregarded. Researchers may be able to visit the house during winter months by contacting the curator at (413) 584- 4699.
For additional genealogical and biographical information, see BOX 83. This contains material collected by James Lincoln Huntington about the family history. There is material about every branch of the extended family and is a valuable resource for family history information.
See also biographical sketches for the family members whose papers are a part of this collection: