Eric Sloane and the Noah Blake Outhouse Restoration

The Noah Blake Outhouse, Rebuilt and Returned

In the summer of 2016, Barb Russ of the Eric Sloane Museum was made aware of an estimate to have the Noah Blake Outhouse refurbished, the low estimate coming in at over $7,500. Friends board founder and president James ‘Wil’ Mauch conferred with Barb and with Catherine Labadia of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development concerning the willingness of the state to have the Friends assume responsibility for the outhouse, and it was agreed that Wil would either restore or replicate the outhouse based upon an assessment of the structure.

The underside of the Noah Blake outhouse revealed the substantial degradation of the bottom support structure.  Much of the wood showed signs of wood destroying insect infestation.

The initial intent was to repair the outhouse following the recommendations set forth by the architectural firm hired by the state of Connecticut to provide building assessments for structures at the Eric Sloane Museum of Kent. Unfortunately, the outhouse was more substantively degraded than it appeared in situ. After a thorough condition assessment, it was determined that it would have been very difficult and not cost effective to repair the outhouse following the plan set forth in the architectural overview document.  It was far more cost effective to replace the outhouse, with the added benefit that the outhouse would be more in keeping historically with what Eric Sloane envisioned in Diary of An Early American Boy.

Interior framing of the Noah Blake outhouse, showing modern dimensional lumber and framing nails.

Detail of the framing used in the Noah Blake outhouse

Unfortunately, most of the sawn lumber was rotted and displayed obvious signs of having been cut with a circular blade.  Ironically, Sloane himself wrote of the invention of the circular saw by a Quaker woman in 1825.  Others have pointed to an earlier date for the invention, but either historical possibility makes it difficult to believe that an outhouse supposedly standing in 1805 would be clad in boards that were cut by a circular saw.

The approach taken in the reconstruction of the Noah Blake outhouse was one that placed the outhouse in context with both what Eric drew in his illustrations for the Diary book, as well as what was happening historically in the Kent area c. 1805.  Both suggested heavier timber framed construction, blacksmith forged nails, period door hinges, split shingle roof shakes, and lumber dressed to reflect ways of working wood in the period.

The discussions and research that informed the approach of the outhouse was considered when discussing the refurbishment of the Noah Blake cabin.   The cabin, it turned out, presented many of the exact same challenges as the outhouse, with an added and important twist

Please help us to document Eric Sloane murals

Readers of this blog know that Eric Sloane painted a number of murals over his lifetime, perhaps his most famous being the one he executed in the lobby of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  I came across these photographs I took some years ago and thought I would include them here.  Readers are encouraged to submit photographs and descriptions of murals known to be executed by Eric Sloane to the “Resources” section of the friends of the Eric Sloane Museum website (www.freindsof

At the time these photographs were taken, the mural pictured had been rescued by some folks at what was being developed as the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island (  I was invited by Eric Sloane’s 5th wife, Ruth Hinrichs, to view the mural which, if I remember correctly, had just been re-discovered in a storage facility.  I believe that the mural was removed by some workers who were dismantling a hanger at the old Roosevelt Air Field.  The workers clearly cut it out of the wall – the nominal studs are still visible under the plaster.

The mural encapsulates neatly themes that ran throughout Eric Sloane’s career.  It is within this early mural that we can see Sloane’s interest in depicting the past and progress, as well as his playful sense of humor, evidenced by the treatment of the light switch and telephone at the lower left of the mural.

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Corroborate and/or enhance Eric Sloane’s work

We’re not only searching for visual connections to Eric Sloane’s life work – sometimes one comes across other sources the corroborate or enhance Eric’s work in some way.  If you find references to topics Eric covered in print and in oils in other outlets, please post them here.  Below is an interesting reference to bells – specifically to sleigh bells and their distinctive sound:

I recall reading one of Eric Sloane’s books on early American life a passage concerning bells that were placed on harnesses, especially in winter time.  The bells were used as a signal to let others know that a horse drawn vehicle was approaching.  Presumably, this was done to avoid accidents.  Early American lore also posits that one of the roots of the adage “I’ll be there with bells on” grew from the idea that if a driver had difficulty on a journey and required help from a fellow traveler, that driver was expected to present his harness bell strap as a “thank you” to the one who offered assistance.  If, then, someone declares “I’ll be there with bells on”, he or she means to suggest that they will reach their destination quickly because the journey will be without incident.

Eric Sloane tells of sleigh bells placed on sleighs for the purpose of signaling the approach of winter travelers.  I can speak from experience that driving a sleigh without bells is dangerous.  Sloane (as well as my experiences) tells me that sleighs traveling across snow make little noise – noise that is further suppressed by the winer landscape, not to mention the hats and scarves worn by others out in the winter weather.  Winter nights could be an especially dangerous time.

Eric Sloane also wrote the neighbors could tell one another from the sound of their sleigh bells.  Bells could be purchased by the piece and in various quantities and sizes.  Farmers could piece together a custom array of bells that would make a distinctive sound – a personalized horn, if you will.  It is wonderful to think of an early American family, gathered around the hearth on a winter’s night, listening to the sound of “Farmer Jones” – or is that Brother Abraham? – gliding by on the family cutter.

I have been reading a fascinating book entitled The Yankee Peddlers of Early America, by J.R. Dolan (1964, Bramhall House, New York).  A contemporary of Eric Sloane, Dolan must have shared very similar interests.  A passage concerning the peddling of brass bells (page 151), caught my attention and reminded me of Eric Sloane’s writings on the subject of sleigh bells:

“Another item of brass that was sold almost exclusively by the peddler of the nineteenth century was the cowbell.  In these days, when a farmer’s pasture is always securely enclosed with wire fencing, a bell attached to the cow is not usually necessary.  But in the nineteenth century nearly every cow had to have a bell if she was to be located readily and driven in from the pasture.  However the making of cowbells here never reached the point it did in Switzerland, where in certain dairy districts each family developed a cowbell with a distinctive sound that enabled the owner to distinguish his cows from those of his neighbors by the sound of the bell.  The bells themselves were sometimes engraved or embossed with a distinguishing mark and since they are virtually indestructible they have become treasured family heirlooms.”

A connection, perhaps, between the early American custom of building custom sleigh bells for a distinctive sound and a similar Swiss practice of locating cows?

– Jim

More Eric Sloane Murals

international silver 1

international silver 2


Here are two photographs I took inside the old International Silver headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, sometime around 2000/2001.  This mural seemed at the time to be in very good condition given it’s age and the likelihood that, like may office buildings of the era, it was populated by a number of heavy smokers.  I believe that Eric Sloane painted this mural directly upon the wall.  The lights above the main stairwell provided a dramatic effect to Eric’s already dramatic sky.

New Thread: Updating Mawdsley’s Book on Eric Sloane

Many “Sloaneiacs” justly identify The America of Eric Sloane: a Collector’s Bibliography by Dr. Dean L. Mawdsley as the source for information regarding works by Eric Sloane.  Since initial publication in 1990, Dr. Mawdsley released at least one supplement (2003). Some Sloane aficionados I have spoken with have uncovered articles or contributions by Sloane not noted in Dr. Mawdsley’s book, which should neither come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the prodigious output of Mr. Sloane, nor should it be taken as a slight against Dr. Mawdsley’s impressive, important, and comprehensive work.

The Resources Blog here on the Friends of the Eric Sloane Museum website seems like a perfect place to begin to collect our discoveries.  I’ll start with one I made last night, a discovery that prompted this new thread.  On my bed stand is a copy of The Yankee Peddlers of Early America, by J.R. Dolan (1964, Bramhall House, Publishers).  Anyone interested in early American history would find this an interesting and well-researched volume.  What caught my attention was the appearance of two Eric Sloane illustrations on pages 89 and 94.  Both Sloane illustrations are full page and both were originally created by Sloane for Our Vanishing Landscape.  The drawing on page 89 is entitled “When Taverns where (sic) built to be taverns and looked like taverns….”, the second on page 94 is entitled “The Evolution of the Plank Road”.  Both titles were given by Sloane and appear on the originals.

When you find additional ‘lost’ articles, illustrations, contributions, or pieces by or about Eric Sloane not covered in Mawdsley’s excellent book, please post them here.

– Jim

Eric Sloane and Husband and Wife Trees

Thought I might start a “resource theme” of finding photographic examples of Eric’s works.  Some of this falls into the genre of Early American/Eric Sloane “forensics”, much like author Tom Wessels’ treatment of New England forests in his 1997 classic Reading the Forested Landscape:  A Natural History of New England.  Wessels, incidentally, is a favorite of my friend and fellow board member Jeffrey Bischoff.  No doubt if you have been around Jeff, he has made you keenly aware of Mr. Wessels.

I am going to start with one of my favorite references by Mr. Sloane, one that involves the planting of “husband and wife” trees:

husband and wife trees


These relics, if you are lucky enough to find them, are sometimes found still standing long after the house has been destroyed.  They seem like sentries guarding a tomb of something no longer present, yet the presence of these guardians harken back to a much earlier time.  Here are two of my favorites, both oak trees of a very advanced age…

husband and wife trees autumn

…in autumn, and below in winter…

husband and wife trees winter

Eric Sloane, Heirloom Apples, and Cider

I recently received a request from Peter S. Montgomery of Warren, Connecticut.  Peter’s project is an important one – if you have some information that can help Peter in his efforts, please post it here.  Thank you!

“Greetings from Warren, former home of Eric Sloane.

I am working on a project E.S. would have approved of: increasing public awareness of CT’s heirloom apples and saving those that can be found, then having scions cut and trees grafted.  That said, I was reviewing 1955 first editions of his works and could not find a specific reference, but did find the sketch of the apple orchard tools on another site.  Are you aware of any of his writings on farm life, cidering and orchard keeping which might be used in my efforts and, if so, what were his comments?”

          This scholarly glimpse into the literary body of work produced by Eric Sloane crossed my desk the other day. Writing in Common –Place, an online journal sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and the University of Connecticut, author Abigail Walthausen provides some much needed context for Eric’s literary inspiration. In my opinion, there is truth in much of Ms. Walthausen writes, but I have come to view Eric Sloane’s artistic inspirations in a somewhat different light. Much of what Eric was trying to convey in his works on paper and on Masonite was, ironically, an acknowledgement our nation’s progress. This acknowledgement was couched in a philosophical look at loss, and it is that ethos of loss that seems to permeate Sloane’s works. Yes, America has progressed greatly since the founding of our nation, but what have we – individually and collectively – lost during this period? It’s a bold and a somewhat impertinent question the artist asked. It is the question, however, that makes Eric’s point that he was not “longing for a better past” or simply “nostalgic”, but his exploration was more nuanced, more complex.