As you know by now, I find a lot of really interesting things in the Farmington Room. I think this really takes the cake, though.
Til Wood from the house in which Columbus lived in Funchal, Madeira. Loaned by Henry M. Cowles.
I got a bit of a chill reading that, but I was skeptical as well. In my travels I’ve seen many supposedly historic artifacts, and know that sometimes their origins are, shall we say, exaggerated. I wanted to learn more about the possible history of these pieces, so I reached out to Casa Colombo, a museum in Madeira. Madeira, by the way, is a Portuguese island located off the northwest coast of Africa.
I received a response from Francisco Clode, who told me,
There is a possibility that the piece comes from a house built in the 15th century, said to be the house of Christopher Columbus, but that, in fact, belonged to the sugar merchant João Esmeraldo. The house, situated in Funchal, was demolished in the late 19th century. It was very common of tourists and people with curiosity to collect reliquary pieces from old historical buildings.
The label seems to be authentic, written in the calligraphy that was used at the time. We have no means to prove that the wood was part of the house, as there are no remains to compare it with. Of that house, only a window remains; it is on display in a garden of a private property (Quinta da Palmeira), where visits are allowed in order to see it.
So, unfortunately, we cannot conclusively prove that the pieces here in the Farmington Room were in fact part of the Esmeraldo house. We can, however, say with certainty that they were obtained by Henry Cowles in 1892, making them an interesting part of local history at the least.
You may be wondering how Christopher Columbus would be involved in this, even if the pieces are authentic. It turns out that according to oral tradition, Columbus stayed in João Esmeraldo’s house in Funchal, Madeira for six days during his third voyage to America in 1498. The house had been built in 1495, but was unfortunately destroyed in 1876. If you’d like to learn more about Madeira’s history, I’d recommend visiting Casa Colombo’s website, which has great information in English and Portuguese.
Items like this are part of why the Farmington Room is so important. Obviously, we’d love to know for sure whether or not these pieces of wood came from a 15th century house across the ocean that once hosted Christopher Columbus. But even if they’re not what they claim to be, they tell part of the story of a Farmington resident and his travels. Farmington’s history belongs to all of us, and all of our stories make up the continuing history of Farmington.
The Farmington Room is open from 9:00am to Noon on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. All other times by appointment only. For more information, contact Travis Feder.