Old is Gold: Mary Ellen Kinney’s passion for antiques

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Mary Ellen Kinney has been selling antiques at Salmon Brook Shops since 2004 and has worked there, sharing her knowledge with shoppers, for the last 17 years. Photo by Nicole Muller

If you have ever watched Antiques Roadshow, you know that many seemingly nondescript items hold surprising value on today’s market. They have survived, intact, through one or more centuries, and the quality of hand workmanship is exquisite.

“Every old thing here has a story to tell, a history, a purpose,” says Mary Ellen Kinney, an antiques dealer who has sold­—and worked—at Salmon Brook Shops for close to two decades.

Born in Hartford and raised in Manchester, Kinney lives in Tariffville. She attributes her passion for antiques to her paternal grandmother, born in 1884 in New Haven, Vt. “My ancestry goes back to the founding of this country, on my father’s side,” she explains. A (many times over) great-grandfather, James Chilton, came on the Mayflower, and is buried in Provincetown, Mass., where the Mayflower first landed in the New World.

Among Chilton’s descendants was Daisy, Kinney’s grandmother and member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who lived her entire life on the family farm in New Haven, Vt., a land grant during the American Revolution. “My great-great grandfather built the Federal-style farmhouse where my father grew up and where I visited my grandmother summers and holidays,” Kinney says. “Visiting the farm was magical for me. I loved all the beautiful old things in the farmhouse and in my grandparents’ cottage on Lake Champlain. What I appreciate most about antiques is that every piece is a little work of art, a little piece of history. I think it’s important to preserve and cherish them.”

Kinney’s family valued beauty and craftsmanship, and they took care of what they owned, passing it on through generations. “There were old crystal vases on the piano, old cooking implements, beautiful vintage table lamps, not to mention the hand-crafted furniture made from native New England hardwood,” she says.

Kinney has devoted years to researching her family’s history. “I want to know what my relatives were faced with and how they handled what life dished out,” she says. “I learned that Justus Sherwood, who married one of my great [many times] grandmothers, Sarah, was a Green Mountain Boy, who, after falling out with Ethan Allen became a spy for the Crown and turned his New Haven, Vt., property over to his father-in-law Elijah. It was open land with a log cabin at the time. Elijah built the farmhouse.”

As the years passed, the farm remained in Kinney’s family. “My father’s sister, my Aunt Marguerite, was the last to live there, and when she passed, my male cousin, my sister and I inherited it,” Kinney says. The property was sold to a Vermont family determined to continue the legacy. Kinney, her sister and cousin shared hundreds of treasures from the centuries-old farmhouse.

“I kept three gold pocket watches on long chains, which will go to my three children, and, I hope, will pass to some of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren [she has four of each],” Kinney says. “One, on a long gold chain, was my grandmother’s, a gift from my grandfather at their wedding in 1900,” she says. The other two belonged to Kinney’s father and Marguerite. She will also pass on her grandmother’s silverware, china and selected pieces of a pink depression glass collection.

Asked how she began selling some of the Vermont farmhouse pieces at Salmon Brook Shops, Kinney says her husband David, who grew up in Northern Maine, discovered it. “He brought me here because he knew I’d love it,” she says. “I have a huge amount of stuff from the farmhouse, and I enjoy passing pieces I can’t use on to people who will treasure them.”

When Kristen Majcher and Jan Kahn bought the building for their own business, New England Pine Timber Company, Majcher introduced crafters and artisans to Salmon Brook Shops. “It’s a nice combination for shoppers, but the focus is still on antiques,” Kinney says with a grin.

The shop at 563 Salmon Brook St. hosts 30 vendors and dealers. Stop in to say hello and take a step back in time, exploring hand-crafted treasures both old and new.