FORTY FORT – Some Sundays, Rosalie Eby and other volunteers dressed in colonial-era clothing wait for hours for visitors to show at the Denison House.
And some days, no one comes.
On one recent day, Eby, in full costume, stood near the road in front of the historic home to try to wave cars in.
Nancy Lychos, secretary of the Denison Advocates, the volunteer group that runs the tours, realizes the Wyoming Valley is not a big tourist draw. But she said there is a lot of history here.
And you might be missing out on much of it.
Col. Nathan Denison, whose house this was, was one of the most important figures in Wyoming Valley history, in fact. He served as a colonel in the militia in the Revolutionary War. He was second in command at the Battle of Wyoming on July 3, 1778.
Denison signed the papers of capitulation of the Wyoming patriot forces to the British after the Battle of Wyoming, and the table on which that paper was signed still sits inside the home.
Bob Mischak, the volunteer group’s vice president and financial manager, said the agreement guaranteed the safety of the settlers, but they had to surrender their arms as well as 1,000 bushels of wheat meant for George Washington’s army.
Denison later became a justice of the peace and ended his career as a Luzerne County judge, Lychos said.
Denison came from Connecticut in 1769, one of the 40 original men who settled the area, which is where Forty Fort gets its name, Lychos said.
“Nathan’s original home was a log cabin on the banks of Abraham Creek,” Lychos explained. “In those days, you could put a row boat on the creek.”
He built the house here in 1790. The Denison House, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is modeled after Denison’s grandparents’ home in Mystic, Conn., Lychos said.
“The hardware on the front door is a replica of his ancestral home,” she said.
The 2 1/2-story house is an 18th-century New England-style home with the chimney built into the center. It has five fireplaces, three of those downstairs.
Denison and his wife, Betsy, lived in the home with their seven children. Their first child, Lazarus, was the first born in the settlement.
“Betsy and Nathan were both educated,” Lychos said. “He lived here until his death (in 1809). He probably died in the house.”
During the tours, visitors can learn the Denison history and see the home as the Denisons would have lived in it, from the original floor paneling and original arched stone fireplace in the living room to the movable crane for hanging metal pots in the stone fireplace in the kitchen to the straw mattresses, linen clothing, spinning wheel and pewter wash basins upstairs.
Outside is an herb garden that includes basil, oregano, mint, sage and other herbs early colonists would have used in cooking and for medicinal purposes.
Denison also had a distillery on the property, though that is not evident today.
“Nathan was known as a distiller,” Mischak said. “It might have been a side occupation.”
He said Denison owned about 100 acres in Forty Fort and eventually 200 to 300 acres in what is now the Back Mountain.
The home remained with Denison descendants until the mid 1930s, when the last descendant, Richard Reillay, sold it. Several additions that had been added to the house were later torn down when the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission took ownership. The commission also did extensive renovations on the property, Lychos said.
The Luzerne County Historical Society had owned the house since 1967, when it purchased it for $25,000, Lychos said. But after the society could no longer afford to operate it three years later, the state commission took it over, she added. She said the commission gave it back to the society in 2011.
Now the volunteer group gives tours from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays from Memorial Day to the end of September. The last tour this year is Sept. 22, but the Colonial Harvest Festival will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 29. The Afternoons of Colonial Hospitality will take place Dec. 7 and 8, also from 1 to 5 p.m.