William Phelps, Jr. House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 124 East Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

According to local tradition, this house was built in 1670 for William Phelps, Jr., the son of one of Windsor’s founders. As a boy, the younger William had immigrated to the American colonies in 1630 along with his father, settling first in Dorchester, Massachusetts, before moving to Windsor. The elder William built a house here on East Street along the banks of the Farmington River, and, according to some accounts, William, Jr. later built this house nearby.

If accurate, the 1670 date would make this house among the oldest homes not just in Windsor, but in all of Connecticut as well. However, there seems to be significant doubt as to the accuracy of this date. The saltbox-style design of the house did not become common until the first half of the 18th century, long after William Phelps’s death, and there is little in the home’s exterior appearance to suggest that it is from the 17th century. The documentation that accompanied the first photo, done as part of the WPA Architectural Survey of historic homes in Connecticut, indicates that the house was probably built after 1700, and it identifies the first owner as William Griswold, while also stating that it was known as the Mather House.

The subsequent history of this house seems equally uncertain. The 1798 map of the town shows two houses on this section of East Street, which were owned by Daniel and Roger Phelps, and the 1855 county map also shows members of the Phelps family living here. However, in the absence of street numbers, it is difficult to pinpoint which present-day house was owned by which person. By 1869, though, the house was owned by Hiram Buckland, a farmer who also owned a neighboring house to the right. The other house, which has since been demolished, seems to have been the larger of the two, and was probably Buckland’s actual residence.

After Buckland’s death in 1887, the property was purchased by H. Sidney Hayden, a prominent landowner and philanthropist. He, in turn, sold the property to the town of Windsor for a nominal fee, to establish a poor farm for the town’s indigent residents. This house, while located on the property, does not appear to have been part of the poor farm, although it was owned by the town for many years, and rented out to a number of different tenants. During the 1920 census, for example, it was rented by Peter J. Reittinger, a clerk for General Electric. At the time, he was 40 years old and was living here with his wife Mary, their three children, and a young nephew.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was being rented by Elmer J. Norman, who paid the town $18 per month in rent, and was living here with his wife Rose and their four daughters. Several decades earlier, Elmer had served in World War I, and after the war he began working for the Windsor Highway Department. He went on to work for the town until his retirement in 1959, but he lived here in this house until his death in 1980. During this time, he was also responsible for the flags at the adjacent Veterans Memorial Cemetery, which was established on the former site of the poor farm.

In 1961, this house was the subject of a proposal to dismantle it and rebuilt it on Palisado Avenue, next to the historic Flyer House. Around the same time, the other house on the former poor farm property was demolished, in order to expand the veterans’ cemetery. However, this house was never moved, and it survives with few changes from the first photo, aside from more historically-appropriate windows. After more than a century of town ownership, the house was finally sold in 2006, and it is now a privately-owned residence once again. It is probably not as old as the traditional 1670 date, but it is undoubtedly still very old, most likely dating back to the early 18th century, and it stands as one of the few remaining saltbox-style homes in Windsor.

10 thoughts on “William Phelps, Jr. House, Windsor, Connecticut

  1. I am the current owner of 124 East St. Based on my work on the house, I do think it is from the 17th century. After peeling away some of the previous renovations the house is post and beam construction with only wood pegs used as fasteners. The kitchen fireplace has been uncovered and still had it’s original cooking crane. I may have a sample of wood carbon dated to determine a date range/age of the house.

    • Carbon dating would probably resolve the question, although I’m sure it isn’t cheap! Wooden pegs were used well into the 19th century, so it’s hard to establish a date based on that type of construction. My main reason for questioning the 1670 date (and the reason for the WPA survey people in the 1930s) is the saltbox style, which was almost unheard of prior to about 1700. During your work, did you find anything to suggest that the back of the house may have been an addition?

      • Yes, the back of the house was added later. There is evidence of it behind the upstairs bedrooms. The area where the small window is on the second floor is unfinished space.
        You can see the back of the post and beam structure with the lean-to type roof added.

  2. I believe this is William Phelps Jr’s home built in 1640’s.

    THE HISTORY OF 124 EAST STREET, WINDSOR, CT

    Despite the sign on the front of the property indicating that this house was built by William Phelps in 1670, it was likely actually built by his son, William Phelps Jr. (Born abt. 1618 – Died 1681), in the 1640s.
    Why do we believe this to be true? Well here are a few interesting facts to support that claim:
    1. William Phelps Sr. died in 1672 at the estimated age of 79. He would not be building a home at this age.
    2. William Jr. married Isabelle Wilson in June 1645. This marriage would necessitate the construction of a home, which was likely built before the wedding was held.
    3. The roof rafters of the home are tree limbs, which was indicative of older construction models

    In addition, there is a minor issue concerning the location of the house. At one point, this house was listed as 122 East Street. A Google search of that address directs one to the back the cemetery, where this house was once located. Sometime between the 1880s and 1930s the house was moved to 124 East Street, and the address of 122 East Street ceased to exist.

    • Wasn’t 122 East Street the house next door that was demolished in the 1960s?

      As for this house, I think both 1670 and 1640 are way too early for a construction date for this house. This saltbox style was essentially unheard of prior to the early 18th century, and I haven’t been able to find any documentary evidence to suggest hatvit is older. My guess is that the two William Phelpses built earlier homes on this site, and this particular one was probably built by one of their descendants, perhaps using timbers from earlier houses.

  3. This is definitely William Phelps Jr’s home which per the Phelps / Servin genealogy books published in 1899 says so. It says the William Phelps Jr built his home a small distant East of his fathers (the home that was taken down in 1961located at 102 East Street). Just google 122 East Street in Windsor and you will see where the house once stood. This house (William JR) was once garrisoned in King Phillips War because of its location next to the river. When the Veterans cemetery had to be made it was in the way but was also on Town property at that time. So they moved it to the front of the property which is now East Street which runs North which is weird. East Street was once called Silver Street back in those days. East Street ran East through the cemetery AS it originally was laid out. William Phelps Sr’s home was torn down because they needed more room for the Veterans cemetery and it was in the way.
    Keep in mind our President John Adams had a saltbox home that was built in 1650, so the concept was around for this type of home.

  4. I am the former owner of 15 Club House Rd. Alway loved that house and, when I was first moving into the area 18 years ago, I wanted to buy it but it was to much work for me. I have a friend who specializes in the deconstruction, moving and reconstruction of historic houses. He is well known in the area for his work in historic building preservation. If you would like to show it to him contact me on FB or email and I will give you his name and other info.

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