story & photo
by Maren Schober
The Denison Homestead Museum of Mystic is the center of activity this reunion weekend, August 1-3, as many Denison family members come in from all over our country for the event. This year the reunion activities also include Friends of the Society and invited guests.
“We welcome you all to the Denison Reunion and are happy you are here,” affirms Jean Evans, director of the Denison Society. “Please take the opportunity to tour the rooms inside and become acquainted with Denison members of the past.”
What better place to have the reunion? Built in 1717, the Denison Homestead was constructed on land granted to Capt. George Denison back in 1654. It is believed to be one of the few homes left in the country continuously owned by the same family.
Inside the Homestead the five main rooms are set up to represent a different periods of history in America and the Denison family. Therefore, it features the Denisons who lived in the house at that period.
In the Federal Parlor (1838) one finds Oliver and Nancy Denison , role played by Walter and Louisa Watrous with two of their children Emma and Marcia Denison, role played by Kanani Kinnaman and Lilly Schlauder.
“I am in Mystic because of my fourth great grandmother, Minerva Denison,” Louisa shares with me. “I’d carried her photograph around with my belongings for years, and never thought much about it. One afternoon while driving through Mystic, I saw the name, “Denison Homestead” on a map and wondered if there was a connection. There was a copy of the photo hanging in the homestead and had been donated by a great aunt.”
“I began to investigate the lives of my ancestors,” continues Louisa, “and it was their deep faith, hard work and service to country that inspired my own faith in God. It’s a spiritual journey to look back at how the Denisons and other local people lived, to preserve their stories for us all and to role play as Nancy Denison at special events.”
Louisa Watrous tells me about one very big highlight in her life that changed her and affected her in a very positive way.
“When I was seventeen years old in 1970 and a high school student in Syracuse, NY, I was placed by the American Field Service as a summer exchange student with the Zulu family of Charles and Mary Mncwango, in Nhlangano, Swaziland, southern Africa. It was part of an experimental program to have four white students live with black families in that part of the world under apartheid, the legal separation of the races.”
Louisa continues, “ I was immediately accepted as a part of the family and they took me in with unconditional love. I called Charles “Daddy” and Mary “Mother” and the children became my brothers and sisters. I attended an all boys’ boarding school as a day student, with a handful of whites. One day I realized I didn’t have any sense of color difference. When I got back home in the U.S. and looked in the mirror, I was shocked-I had forgotten I was white!”
The Denison Homestead Museum, 120 Pequotsepos Rd. in Mystic, offers many educational events and activities for families. Hours are Friday-Monday 1-5 p.m. For specific information you can go to their website: www.denisonsociety.org.