These Old Houses of Connecticut

“Lithograph from the Old New Haven County Atlas (1868) of the Old Stone House. Caption: This house is said to be the oldest house now standing in the United States. It was built by Rev. Mr. Whitfield in 1640. Sold by him to Robert Thompson in 1659.” -Image courtesy of the New Haven Museum, Documentary Objects Collection, “Old Stone House, Guilford,” Lithograph by unknown artist, 1862
“Exterior view of the former home of Roger Sherman in New Haven, Connecticut.” Image courtesy of the National Park Service, NPGallery, Digital Asset Management System, undated

“In tracing the history of house-building in the state, one is confronted at the very beginning with types of houses that show English influence rather than that of the natural environment in which the settlers found themselves. Dr. Ezra Stiles states that the house of Theophilus Eaton in Quinnipiac (New Haven), built by twenty servants whom Eaton had sent in advance, was an elaborate structure with twenty one fireplaces, and that of John Davenport with its thirteen fireplaces was nearly as extensive. The Thomas Hooker house in Hartford was built in the form of a cross, and that of Governor Winthrop in New London was large and imposing. In 1680, Secretary Allyn, replying to a request for a description of Connecticut buildings, which was sent to the governor of the colony, says: ‘Our Buildings are generally of wood some there are of Stone & Brick. Many of them of good Strength, & comelyness for a wilderness both of those of wood Stone & brick. Many 40 foot long & 20 foot Broad & some larger 3 & fower stories high.’ According to Johnston, in his Connecticut, Allyn struck out these last specifications, fearing to excite the cupidity of the home government.

But these structures do not represent the normal types of houses that were built by the first colonial settlers of Connecticut. The earliest dwelling places in the colony, which were dugouts along sloping grounds, roofed with timber and thatched with dried grass, soon gave way to log-cabins, and these to wooden houses sometimes without cellars, one and a half to two stories high, or occasionally in more thickly settled communities, where greater wealth gradually accumulated, to houses of brick and stone.

Plan I

Of the earliest type, here called Plan I, the most primitive was the John Norton house, recently torn down, in the Moose Hill district of Guilford, built with a large chimney, a ‘porch’ or entry in front, a ‘hall’ or living-room at one side, and a sleeping-room above… These primitive houses were generally built of huge timbers, sometimes so low that a tall man would almost hit his head against them; the kitchen was often ‘floored’ with smooth or flat mountain stones and had a big door at the end large enough to admit a cart with a load of firewood.

-Image courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923
-Image courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923
-Image courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923
-Image courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923
-Image courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923
-Image courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923
-Image courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923

Some of the houses had an outside porch, with a small room overhead forming a front projection, as was the case with the Timothy Edwards house at East Windsor. As families increased in size, ‘scants’ or leantos were added in the rear, while the steep roof was continued downward as far as the top of the first story, or, as in the case of the Acadian house in Guilford, to the ground. In the leanto were the kitchen, the scullery, and a bedroom, with a space above under the roof, used in one instance for a negro servant and called, with a double significance, ‘the black hole.’ These buildings were sometimes known as ‘salt-box’ houses, and were so built, it is said, in order to be classed as ‘a story-and-a-half’ and so to avoid the heavier tax levied on a two-story house.

“Text on front of card reads, ‘Where several Acadian peasants from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, were sheltered by the town, having been put ashore here from British ships in 1755 (see Longfellow’s Evangeline).'” -Image courtesy of the New Haven Free Public Library, Local History Room, Postcard Collection, “Acadian House, Guilford, Conn.”

Plan II

The second type of house, here called Plan II, was built with a central hall on the ground floor with rooms on either side, while chimneys, two in number, were raised in the partitions between the rooms, thus furnishing four fireplaces…

“The Roger Sherman house.” -Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, The Library of Congress, “The homes of our forefathers. Being a selection of the oldest and most interesting buildings, historical houses, and noted places in Rhode Island and Connecticut,” by Edwin Whitefield, 1882

The charm of these old houses lies in their intimate association with the history and growth of the colony, for they show a logical reason for their existence in that they were in accord with the needs and conditions of the times and answered the twofold purpose of clearing the forests and using the lumber to meet the demands of the settlers. Many of the old houses are gone and others are fast falling into decay, for the wooden buildings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lack the durability of modern construction. In order to build true to the conditions of today, we are able to employ building materials in which our Connecticut forefathers indulged but sparingly — stone from the rock-strewn hillsides, brick from the clay of the red soil country, and cement from the ingredients of valley, plain, and seashore, making the houses grow, as it were, from their own foundations. Connecticut with its coast line on the south, its great rivers, its fresh-water lakes, its two beautiful waterfalls — Kent Falls in the western part of the state and Chapman’s Falls in the eastern, — its valleys and hillsides, and its great variety of trees furnishes a background which should be treated with reverence. Yet no house, whatever its construction or historic interest, is safe from the encroachments of modern civilization. We would make a special plea for the preservation of these old houses and properties. The owners of the land are the rulers of the land, and unless this responsibility is fully met, our children will awake to find their birthright lost.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, Yale University Press, “Old Houses of Connecticut,” by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, 1923. (top) “A large chimney at the end of the Henry Whitfield house.” Image courtesy of the New Haven Free Public Library, Local History Room, Postcard Collection, “View of Chimney, Old Stone House (erected 1639), Guilford, Conn.,” by Dudley and Beckwith, undated

-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, Kahle / Austin Foundation, “Pattern in the material folk culture of the Eastern United States,” by Henry H. Glassie, 1989
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, Kahle / Austin Foundation, “Pattern in the material folk culture of the Eastern United States,” by Henry H. Glassie, 1989
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, Kahle / Austin Foundation, “Pattern in the material folk culture of the Eastern United States,” by Henry H. Glassie, 1989
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, Kahle / Austin Foundation, “Pattern in the material folk culture of the Eastern United States,” by Henry H. Glassie, 1989
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, Kahle / Austin Foundation, “Pattern in the material folk culture of the Eastern United States,” by Henry H. Glassie, 1989
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, Kahle / Austin Foundation, “Pattern in the material folk culture of the Eastern United States,” by Henry H. Glassie, 1989
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of Pennsylvania Press, Kahle / Austin Foundation, “Pattern in the material folk culture of the Eastern United States,” by Henry H. Glassie, 1989
-Image courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, University of California, “Chronicles of New Haven green from 1638 to 1862; a series of papers read before the New Haven colony historical society,” by Henry T. Blake, 1898
-Image courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, University of California, “Chronicles of New Haven green from 1638 to 1862; a series of papers read before the New Haven colony historical society,” by Henry T. Blake, 1898
-Image courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, University of California, “Chronicles of New Haven green from 1638 to 1862; a series of papers read before the New Haven colony historical society,” by Henry T. Blake, 1898

MEETING-HOUSES

SINGING — SABBA-DAY HOUSES — ORDINATIONS — BURIALS

“During this period the style of meeting-houses began to change. The first ones were usually square, with pyramidal roof and a belfry, sometimes built of logs, and perhaps with no glass in the windows. They had been enlarged from time to time, and patched and propped up, but finally it became necessary to build new ones. These were not quite square, but more or less oblong.

-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, “History of New Haven County, Connecticut,” by Mary Hewitt Mitchell, 1930

Guilford in 1711 appointed a committee of seven men to manage the affair of their new building, — the first in the new form. It was 68 by 46 feet in dimensions, had double galleries, the upper one ‘banistered,’ and possessed the adornments of the first steeple, clock and bell. In 1717 Wallingford started to build a new meeting-house, its form to be like the one in Guilford. It, too, was three stories high, that is with two galleries, and ‘pues maid all round it and ye rest of yes hous shall be long seats.’ It had a steeple and in 1728 a belfry.

Derby’s second house (1721) also was not square, but was 40 by 32 feet; Wterbury’s was similar, 40 by 50, and is said to have had some rude carved work in the interior. The parish of New Cheshire started to build its meeting-house in 1723, 40 by 30 feet, with galleries added five years later. In 1735 they voted to build a new house, having the two-thirds vote of the society required by law, and chose an agent to ask the General Assembly to appoint a committee to fix the site. This building was larger, 64 by 56. A few years later stone steps were put up, and ‘it was agreed to put on a good handsome painte on yet meeting-house; in order to presrve ye same from ye wether.’ Milford, in 1727, built a new meeting-house, still larger, 80 by 65, but also with two galleries, a ‘Three Decker.’ Like most of these buildings, it had three entrances and a steeple at the west end, 95 feet high. Benches were used until 1775, when pews were made. Branford meeting-house, built 1740, was 44 by 26 feet.

In 1750 the church in New Haven, that is the part remaining… built a new house of worship, of brick, 72 1/2 by 50 feet. It had a tower, steeple and three entrances. In 1758 the new society of Amity built its first meeting-house, 40 by 50 feet, with a row of pews along the walls, and on each side of the broad aisle. It had three entrances and a high pulpit. At first it was not painted, but later the society voted to allow some persons the privilege of coloring it and building a bell chamber at their own expense. The New Light meeting-house in New Haven was painted the common lead or ‘blue’ color, used on some buildings instead of the expensive white paint. There were several other buildings in the town in this color, one of them Yale College. Perhaps the red paint used more widely was not thought so suitable for a meeting-house. About this time Guilford Second Society had ‘Voted to collour our new meeting-house a lead collour.’ New Haven County has one of the three remaining examples of this type of church building, the old stone church of East Haven.

-Image courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, The Library of Congress, “Some old time meeting houses of the Connecticut valley,” by Charles Albert Wight, 1911

These, like the first buildings, were unheated, and so cold in winter that sometimes at communion the wine and bread were frozen, and the minister’s voice almost drowned in the sound of stamping feet. Minister and people alike seem to have tried to fortify themselves as well as possible against the icy temperature, with mittens, muffs, mufflers and heavy coats. One minister protected his head with a fur skull cap, even while preaching. Mr. Merwin of New Haven wore overcoat and gloves while he expounded the word, and President Dwight’s appearance in the pulpit must have been somewhat like a coachman, ‘wrapped in a heavy brown great coat, with three or four broad capes, and a stout belt closely buttoned around his waist.’ The minister in Hamden once preached from the text,’ Who can stand before his cold?’ ending his sermon with the remark, ‘Dear Brethren, I should be very glad to say much more on this deeply interesting subject; but ‘who can stand before his cold?'”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Internet Archive, Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, “History of New Haven County, Connecticut,” by Mary Hewitt Mitchell, 1930

The Beginnings of Yale

-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916
-Image courtesy of the Internet Archive, University of California, “Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726),” by Edwin Oviatt, 1916

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