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A Lively and Lovely History of Colonial America


Could the Van Dorens be one of America’s most famous families? It’s possible.But without question they are one of the most famous families of Litchfield County and it is an absolute certainty that they are one of the most famous families of Cornwall, Conn.

Want to learn more about the many famous Van Dorens of the world? I will point you to the words of another famous Cornwall resident, James Thurber: “You could look it up.”

Adam Van Doren is a new generation of the well-known clan. An associate fellow at Yale University, where he teaches art, he is also the creator of graceful, friendly watercolors of architectural sites, some of which he has published in small but lovely books.

His newest collection is called “In the Founders Footsteps: Landmarks of the American Revolution.”

Doing a sort of reverse Appalachian Trail thru-hike, Van Doren traveled from Maine to Georgia (not, however, on foot on the iconic East Coast hiking trail). He chose 39 watercolors from that trip for his new book; a house or building is usually the centerpiece of the drawing, but there are also people (sometimes historical figures) and leaves and signs and menus that make the paintings feel more like snapshots.

Along with the watercolors are chatty descriptions of why each site was chosen, the part it played in American history and what it’s like to visit today. Sometimes Van  Doren brings his children, who clamber around on monuments and statues. Sometimes he meets up with a friend who shares special knowledge.

I’m disappointed to report that he did not sit down for a meal from the Colonial-era menu at Fraunces’ Tavern in New York; and I’m disappointed to say that there are no Litchfield County landmarks. But perhaps Van Doren is saving those for a future time when he comes “home” to Cornwall and can paint our local landmarks at his leisure.

For those of us who’ve been around this part of Connecticut for a while, and who love history, I will pay Van Doren a high compliment in saying that his work is very much like the work of the beloved illustrator Edward Fales, if Fales had worked in watercolor and not just pen and ink.


“In the Founders Footsteps: Landmarks of the American Revolution” is published by Godine, costs $38 and can be found at Amazon and can be ordered from local booksellers.

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