We tend to think that the challenges, triumphs and tragedies that Hebron families face in the 21 st century are far different from those of our forebears. Yet the story of Elton William Buell, his wife, Grace Denslow Lyman, and her best friend, Rachel Joyner, proves that such is not the case.
The Buell family has been an integral part of Hebron and Hebron history since the early 1700’s. Isaac Pinney’s map of Hebron, dated 1744, noted a “Buel” family located south of Gilead Congregational Church; other Buel families are to be found on the western side of Hebron.
Fast forward to 1870. Annie Hutchinson Foote, in her book In Gilead, notes that the 1771 home located on the east side of Gilead Street, and just south of today’s Route 85 and 94 intersection, was lived in by John Buell and his wife, Abby Ellis, who had married in 1872. John and Abby’s eldest son, Elton William Buell, was born in that house in 1874 . By this time, the Buells were best known for their saw mill, an operation that would see its glory days under Elton’s management.
Elton married Grace Denslow Lyman on January 16, 1894. Grace was the pride and joy of her parents’ eye, especially father George, who made daily entries in his diaries from the 1870’s until the 1920’s. (George was originally from Bolton, but his family moved to Hebron sometime after his birth in 1841.) Grace was also the Lyman’s’ only child. It is through George’s diaries that we learn much of the history of Elton, Grace, and ultimately, her best friend Rachel Joyner.
Grace entered her marriage heavily influenced by a book owned by many young women at that time: The Mother’s Assistant: Young Lady’s Friend and Family Manual. Published by Cyrus Stone in Boston in 1852, the opening chapter of the book was entitled “Duties in the Conjugal Relation.” Other chapters counseled women on “Filial Relations,” “Conversation,” “Children Guided to the Savior,” and “Sympathy; The Bond of Marriage.”
The saw mill operation, located in the little knoll on the north side of the Buell house, was a hubbub of activity in the 1890’s. Many local Hebron men were employed there, sawing logs, loading carts, and transporting the lumber throughout Connecticut. Teams of horses regularly came and went; ledger books from the Post store in Hebron routinely noted orders for the milled wood.
Elton and Grace’s life couldn’t be better. While Elton was busy at the mill, Grace filled her days with church activities and visits with her best friend, Rachel Joyner, the teacher at the White School House located nearby at the intersection of Gilead and North Streets. Rachel was at her side as Grace delivered her first child, a son named Deems, on September 27, 1896.
The name “Deems” was somewhat odd in Gilead, where most sons had traditional names like Robert, Edward, and Charles. But it appears from Buell family documents that Elton and Grace named their son Deems after Charles F. Deems, pastor of the Church of the Strangers in New York City, where George Lyman (Grace’s father) had once lived. The Church of the Strangers was a group whose philosophies were consistent with Congregationalists; the Buell family members were longtime and staunch members of the Gilead Congregational Church. By naming her son “Deems”, Grace honored both her father and her husband’s religious backgrounds.
On June 9, 1898, Elton and Grace welcomed their second child, a daughter they named Dorothy Isabelle. And on August 12, 1904, a second daughter, Anna Grace, was born. Ever the faithful friend, Rachel was in attendance for the births of both girls.
But something went wrong shortly after the birth of Anna Grace. We witness the heartbreaking course of events through George’s diary. His entries on August 12 are in his usual pristine handwriting, but as the days pass, the handwriting becomes more and more illegible as he records his daughter’s failing health and ultimate death.
August 12: “Our fourth grandchild born at 4:45 p.m. to Grace and Elton.”
August 19: “Baby Buell a week old.”
August 21: “Elton got Rachel, and Dr. Pendleton called…”
September 5: “Oh the agony this day is. She was taken at 9:30 last night, and we hastened to Gilead with our terrible grief.”
September 6: “With my precious dead” [This heartbreaking statement was George’s only entry this day.]
September 7: “Our darling was laid in her grave, mourned by all who knew her. I am nearly crushed by this – my only child gone; oh why must we have to give her back to Him who gave her to us?”
Grace was 30 years old when she passed away, leaving behind two small children and a three-week old infant, a husband whose days were necessarily consumed with the saw mill operations – and a best friend who almost naturally inherited the care of the children and the household.
It surprised no one that Elton married Rachel almost a year later on August 18, 1905. Was it a love match? No one may ever know about Elton and Rachel, but there is no doubt that Grace and Rachel’s friendship proved the tie that binds. Elton and Rachel had no children of their own. Instead, Rachel dedicated her life to raising Grace’s children, who claimed throughout their lives that they knew no other mother than her.
The Buell saw mill burned down twice in the ensuing years after Grace’s death. After the first burning, it was rebuilt; after the second burning, Elton chose to simply put up a small shed and downsize the mill operations to smaller items. His business card proudly proclaimed his Wood and Plug Turning Factory as offering “specialties and plugs of all kinds;” interestingly, his letterhead noted that he had “telephone connection”, an indication that the Buell enterprise had entered the modern age. Elton soon became famous for his cauliflower crates, which were in high demand by farmers in Bolton.
Rachel did well in raising Grace’s children. Deems served as Hebron’s Town Treasurer for a number of years, and married Helen Foote, daughter of Alice Hills and Edward Foote. They and their four children ultimately moved to Laconia, New Hampshire, where Deems opened up his own wood turning business, and produced the original handles for Fuller Brush products. Dorothy married Howard Tryon of Glastonbury; they had no children. The youngest daughter, Anna Grace, married Charles Ganter of New Brunswick, Canada, whom she met while he was living in Hartford. Anna and Charles had two children, Dorothy and Rachel. It is Anna’s daughter, Dorothy Ann Ganter Giglio, who has faithfully preserved much of the Lyman-Buell documents of this era.
Elton Buell is buried between his two wives in the north cemetery of Gilead, his beloved Grace to the left, and the ever-faithful Rachel to the right. Hebron history is replete with many stories of tragedies and triumphs that have tested the mettle of Hebronians. They serve to strengthen our resolve in facing life’s daily challenges in a stalwart manner worthy of our past.
Hebron Historical Society sincerely thanks Dorothy Ganter Giglio for sharing the Lyman diaries and Buell documents and pictures referenced in this article.