A Hamden landmark with a direct link to the founding of the town, the “Old Red House,” built by Jonathan Dickerman, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is popularly believed that Dickerman built the house for his bride, Miriam Bradley, in or around 1770. Deeper research suggests that this particular home was not actually constructed until 1795. Notable today for its lack of substantial remodeling, the house sat for many years on the north side of Mt. Carmel Avenue at the base of a line of ridges locally known as the Sleeping Giant, a treasured Hamden landscape. In 1924, the house and about 200 acres of land were owned by John Heaton who, having relocated to Switzerland, was prevailed upon to donate the property to the Sleeping Giant Park Association. The property was subsequently gifted to the State Forest and Park Department for inclusion in the Sleeping Giant State Park. Under a lease arrangement, the Hamden Historical Society maintained the interior of the house while the State Forest and Park Department, today’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, maintained the exterior. When the State determined that it could no longer afford to maintain the home properly, it allowed the Historical Society to purchase it for $1.00 provided that the Society remove the house from State property. For $1,500 the Society purchased an acre of land from the New Haven Water Company directly across the street and on Thursday, October 31, 1963, the house was moved to its current location, where it remains in 2019.
The ancestors of Jonathan Dickerman II were among the first settlers of New Haven. His grandfather, Isaac, served as a deacon in the First Society (First Church of Christ) where he was charged with monitoring the behavior of church goers. He also served as a judge in the county court, and enlisted in the militia, setting an example of citizen involvement for his progeny. Between 1727-1745 Isaac acquired land through the Sixth Division of the New Haven Colony and two of his sons, Jonathan (I) and Samuel moved to an area then known as the Blue Hills which subsequently became Mt. Carmel Parish in 1764. Jonathan II (Isaac's grandson) built “The Little Red House” and family lived there for several generations. To quote Rachel Hartley, “From these have descended a long line of worthy citizens many of them being at this time residents of Hamden.”
Jonathan Dickerman was a successful farmer. In his will he bequeathed about 100 acres to his heirs along with the house, a well, a privy (outhouse), sheds, a barn, a corn crib, and various outbuildings. Farm families in the early 19th century were self-sufficient. Large gardens, and live-stock and poultry provided for their dietary needs. In this “age of homespun” flax was grown and processed to make clothing. Wood lots provided for home heating, for fencing, and likely for some furniture. Still, by the time Jonathan built his house, Mt. Carmel was developing into a successful community boasting of two grist mills, several saw mills, a meeting house, district schools, and several taverns.
Just as their forebears, Jonathans I and II served their communities. Jonathan I served as a “fence viewer,” appointed at the first Mt. Carmel town meeting on June 20, 1786. In 1804, Jonathan Dickerman II and a number of his neighbors petitioned the County Court in New Haven to set aside the entire Eighth and Ninth Division of Lands in Hamden, “praying to be permitted to improve said tract of Land in a common fielde as by petition on file.” Over the course of the next forty years, Jonathan II served as hayward, treasurer, and moderator.
In its day, the Dickerman homestead would have consisted of front and read yards. The rear or dooryard would have been bare earth where family and domestics would have carried out heat producing household chores in summer. Located near the house there was most likely a vegetable/berry garden where typically beans, peas, squash, potato, turnip, melon, herbs and berry bushes would have been planted. Along the road there would have been a stone wall and trees planted to provide shade in the summer. There would have been separate acreage for corn, rye, flax, and hay; an orchard of apples and pears; and woodlots and pastures.
Now, the Spring Glen Garden Club maintains a representative herb garden at the rear of the house, and volunteer docents lead visitors on the tour. In the house there are typical rooms set up as well as displays of tools and other accessories, all period pieces, some original to the house. One relatively new edition to the site is the Dickerman/Talmadge Cider Barn. In 1993, the Talmadge family donated the barn to the Hamden Historical Society with the provision that it be moved from their property. Local efforts, including work by students from nearby Eli Whitney Technical School ensured the relocation and reconstruction of the barn at the site of the Dickerman house. Both house and barn suffered damage in a May 2018 storm (some say tornado) that struck the area. Repairs are underway and the buildings should be ready to again welcome visitors in the summer of 2020.