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A Woman's Diary Offers Rich Glimpse Into Riverhead's Past

A unique exhibit at the Hallockville Museum Farm chronicles a young bride's courtship in years' past.

Henrietta Terry was 19 years old when she married Herbert Wells on Christmas Day, 1883, in Riverhead.

Like so many young brides, Terry wrote excitedly about her courtship, about her wedding dress and the gifts she received, in her diary.

And for the first time, that very same diary is on exhibit at the in Riverhead. The "Pages From Her Diary" exhibit features not only Terry's wedding dress but many of her keepsakes and wedding gifts, offering a heart-touchingly real look into Riverhead's rich past and making history come vibrantly alive.

"Today is Christmas. I suppose it has been the most eventful day of my life. At seven o’clock in the evening I was married," Terry wrote on December 25, 1883.

The exhibit, which will open Friday with a reception between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., is a labor of love by the Hallockville staff, including exhibit committee members Richard Wines, Nancy Gilbert, and Mary Anne Huntington, who have spent months gathering Terry Wells' possessions and arranging them artfully in the yellow Trubisz House.

For Wines, the exhibit is particularly meaningful -- Henrietta Terry was his great-grandmother. Throughout the years, her diary has been a family treasure, offering insight into her life. While organizing the exhibit, Wines reached out to family members who have lovingly kept and cared for her memories, including the glorious plum silk wedding dress, which a relative brought in person from Michigan, rather than to risk losing it in shipping.

Terry, in her diary, wrote about shopping for the wedding gown: "Ma and I went to River Head and went by Brown & Jackson to get me a plum colored silk dress."    

The exhibit features many sentimental items that breathe life into the pages of history. Henrietta Terry's diary describes the Riverhead of yore, as she attended church meetings with her beau and went to have wedding portraits taken in what is now the Star Confectionary building on East Main Street.

Other places in the diary, including the family's house on Sound Avenue and Pennys Lane, still stand.

Wedding gifts, such as silver-plated brides' baskets and pickle casters, were traditional at the time, and are on view at the exhibit. Also on display is an original bustle pillow, and a napkin ring engraved with the initials of the bride's maiden name, as was customary at the time.

But like brides today, Terry exchanged the gift for something she fancied, a porcelain wash set. "She liked pretty things," Wines said. "She was very aesthetic."

Despite the passage of time, young brides today still return wedding gifts, Wines added, smiling. "So much in the diary is different -- and yet, so much is the same."

In her diary, Terry's voice -- the voice of a young girl -- happily chronicles the time she spents stitching her "mottos," which today would be called embroidery patterns or samplers. 

And, like many young girls, Terry wanted some of her diary to remain a secret, so she practiced "mirror image" writing, or inscribing her words backwards, so that they can only be read with a mirror.

Another treasured memory on display is a hair wreath. The Victorian tradition of gathering with friends to create a hair wreath, which is framed and kept in a glass case, and was made of horse hair and woven into beautiful ornate flower-like patterns, was an important ritual and resulted in a traditional wedding keepsake.

The diary also describes trips to the fair in Riverhead, where Terry collected bright postcards, also on exhibit, and to other Riverhead locales.

History comes alive in the diary, Wines said. "It's so authentic. She has slight misspellings, and speaks slightly in the vernacular. You can hear the way she talked."

The exhibit will be open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through December 2. Friday's reception will feature recipes from Terry Wells' time, including pressed chicken and a ribbon cake.

Should Terry be alive today to see the exhibit, Wines said, "I think she'd be delighted, to see something like this."

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