James Cornish House, Simsbury, Connecticut

The house at 26 East Weatogue Street in Simsbury, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, WPA Architectural Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

The town of Simsbury is situated along the banks of the Farmington River, with most of the town to the west of the river. On the east side, though, is the village of East Weatogue, which is located between the river to the west and the Metacomet Ridge to the east, near the corner of Hartford Road and East Weatogue Street. This area was first settled by Europeans in the 17th century, but it was destroyed by Indians in 1676 during King Philip’s War. It was subsequently rebuilt, though, and this house is one of the oldest existing homes in the village, dating back to around 1720.

Like many other New England homes of the early 18th century, the house has a distinctive saltbox-style design, with two full stories in the front, one story in the back, and a large chimney in the center of the house. The original owner was Captain James Cornish, a farmer who was about 26 years old when he moved in here with his newlywed wife, Amy Butler. He and Amy had ten children, who were born between 1720 and 1740, and he became a prominent citizen in colonial Simsbury, earning the rank of captain in the town militia in 1736. After Amy’s death in 1763, James remarried to Hannah Hickox, who died in 1779. James himself lived long enough to see the end of the American Revolution, and he died in 1784, a few months shy of his 90th birthday.

Over the years, East Weatogue remained a small farming village, and many of the colonial-era homes in the area have been preserved. The first photo was taken around the late 1930s or early 1940s, as part of a WPA architectural survey to document the historic homes in the state, and this was among several homes in the area that were included in the project. At the time, the exterior of the house had been somewhat altered by the addition of porches on the front and right side, but overall its saltbox-style architecture was still readily apparent, and the survey listed the house as being in “good” physical condition.

In the nearly 80 years since the first photo was taken, the house has been expanded with a large addition on the back, and the front of the house has been restored to its original colonial-era appearance, without the porches. Although not visible in this scene, the property also includes James Cornish’s original 1720 barn, and both it and the house are now part of the East Weatogue Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

Captain May House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 1732 Main Street in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

Like the neighboring Moses Wells House, this house dates back to the 1700s, although the exact date of construction seems unclear. Various sources indicate that it was built in 1700, 1740, 1750, and 1780, with perhaps the most authoritative of these sources, National Register of Historic Places inventory, dating it to 1700. This date is certainly plausible, as its saltbox-style design was common in New England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and if accurate it would make this house one of the oldest in South Windsor.

The original owner is identified as a Captain May, who was apparently involved in trade with the West Indies. Such merchants were not uncommon in 18th century East Windsor, which at the time included modern-day South Windsor. The town is about as far upstream as ocean-going ships can travel on the Connecticut River, and the trade helped to bring prosperity to the village of East Windsor Hill. The result was a number of fine 18th century homes along Main Street, many of which were far more elegant than this relatively modest saltbox home.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was in somewhat rough condition. On the interior, much of the paneling was original to the house, but by the 1930s it was not well-maintained. The exterior of the house also showed its age, as seen with the deteriorating and missing shutters, as well as the suspiciously warped roof. However, the house has since been restored, and now stands as an excellent example of an 18th century saltbox home. Along with the other homes in the village, it is part of the East Windsor Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Moses Wells House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 1712 Main Street in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

The exact date of construction for this house seems somewhat uncertain, with different sources providing widely varying dates. The National Register of Historic Places inventory lists it as having been built in 1735 and the first owner as Nathan Day, but the WPA survey, done when the first photo was taken, lists three possible years, including 1780, 1680, and the impossibly early date of 1635. According to this survey, an ell likely dates back to the 17th century, while the main portion of the house was built later.

The 1735 date also seems too early for this style of house, which closely resembles the 1784 Jonathan Ellsworth House on the other side of the Connecticut River. Because of this, the 1780 date seems the most likely, and it appears to have been built for Moses Wells, a local hat merchant. At the time, the house was in the town of East Windsor, but in 1845 it became part of South Windsor when the new town was created.

The subsequent ownership of the house seems unclear, but by the time the first photo was taken it had seen some changes to the exterior, including the small front porch, the side porch, and a new front door. About 80 years later, however, much of the exterior has been restored, including removing the porches, adding Georgian-style window lintels, and installing historically appropriate doors and windows. Along with the other houses in the neighborhood, it now forms part of the East Windsor Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Samuel Webster House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 1906 Main Street in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This brick, gambrel-roofed house in the village of East Windsor Hill was built in 1787 for Samuel Webster and his wife Lucy. Samuel was a veteran of the American Revolution, having enlisted in 1776 as a private in the 19th Connecticut Regiment, under the command of Colonel Erastus Wolcott, who was a fellow resident of what was, at the time, East Windsor. Webster was nearly 40 at the time, and depending on the actual date of his enlistment he may have participated in the Siege of Boston, which resulted in the British evacuating Boston in early 1776.

Samuel and Lucy moved into this house a few years after the end of the war, and he lived here until his death in 1799. A year later, his daughter Wealthy married Asa Bowe, and they had five children who grew up here. Asa served in the War of 1812, and he later worked as a mail carrier, traveling once a week from East Windsor to Belchertown, Massachusetts in order to deliver the mail. Wealthy died in 1825, and Asa later remarried to Sabra Strickland, with whom he had three more children.

Asa died in 1848, but the house would remain in his family for many more decades. It would eventually be owned by his granddaughter, Mary Ann Birge, who died in 1931 at the age of 90, only a few years before the first photo was taken. Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, and it is one of many historic 18th century homes in the East Windsor Hill village of South Windsor. Today, this area, including this house, now forms the East Windsor Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Newberry House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 960 Main Street, at the corner of Newberry Road in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

John Newberry was born in 1756 in South Windsor, which was at the time part of East Windsor still. He served in the American Revolution, and after the war he married Elizabeth Ellsworth in 1784. The following year, they moved into this newly-built house on Main Street, where they raised their 11 children. After Elizabeth’s death in 1816 and John’s death in 1825, their children inherited this home, with the 1855 county map showing their youngest child, Joseph M. Newberry, living here.

Joseph and his wife Jane had eight children of their own, one of whom, Samuel P. Newberry, later purchased the brick house next door at 954 Main Street, directly across Newberry Road from here. Samuel’s youngest son Leslie later owned that house, but another one of his sons, Dwight, inherited this house at 960 Main Street. Like his father, Dwight was a tobacco farmer, and by the early 20th century he was living here with his wife Grace and their son Ellsworth.

Dwight, Grace, and Ellsworth were still living here when the first photo was taken around the late 1930s, and he would continue to live here until 1966 when, at the age of 96, he moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, presumably to be closer to Ellsworth, who was living nearby in Wappingers Falls. Dwight died three years later, at the age of 99, more than 180 years after his great-grandfather had first moved into this house.

Very little has changed with this scene since the Newberry family lived here, and even the fence is the same style as the one that appears in the first photo. The surrounding neighborhood also retains much of its small-town appearance, as US Route 5 now bypasses the center of town on a four-lane road about a half mile from here, leaving Main Street relatively quiet. Several historic districts now comprise much of the area along Main Street, and this house is part of Windsor Farms Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

John Hancock House, Boston

The John Hancock House on Beacon Street in Boston, around 1860. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This grand mansion was built in the mid-1730s for Thomas Hancock, a wealthy Boston merchant. At the time, Beacon Hill was on the outskirts of Boston, and this house was the westernmost one on Beacon Street. Here, Thomas and his wife Lydia created what amounted to a country estate, with gardens, orchards, and pastureland that extended up the southern slope of hill, and was directly across the street from Boston Common. Despite the pastoral setting, though, the was within easy walking distance of Boston’s wharves, where Hancock conducted his business. The house itself was built of granite, and was an outstanding example of Georgian architecture, complete with a balcony that offered sweeping views of Boston and the the surrounding harbor.

Thomas and Lydia had no children of their own, but in 1744 Thomas’s brother John died, and his seven-year-old son, also named John, moved to Boston and lived here in this house. After graduating from Boston Latin School in 1750 and Harvard College in 1754, John Hancock joined his uncle’s firm, eventually taking over the business after Thomas’s death in 1764. Along with the business, he also inherited his uncle’s estate here on Beacon Hill, and he went on to live here for the rest of his life.

John Hancock went on to become one of the most prominent Patriots in the years leading up to the American Revolution, and in 1774 he was elected as a Massachusetts delegate to the Second Continental Congress. From 1775 to 1777, he served as the President of the Continental Congress, and it was in this capacity in 1776 that he famously signed the Declaration of Independence. Following his time in Congress, he briefly served in the war as a major general in the Massachusetts militia, and in 1780 he was elected as the first governor of Massachusetts. Widely popular, he easily won re-election every year until 1785, when he resigned due to ill health.

Later in 1785, James Bowdoin was elected as his successor, but his two years as governor were marked by a failing economy and a poor response to Shays’ Rebellion in 1786-1787. As a result, Hancock ran against him in the 1787 election and won easily, and he went on to win re-election every year until his death in 1793. During this time, he pardoned those involved in Shays’ Rebellion, and he was also an influential proponent of the U.S. Constitution, which was narrowly ratified by the state in 1788, probably thanks to his support. In the absence of an official governor’s mansion, Hancock’s house served that purpose well, and he received a number of distinguished visitors here, including the Marquis de Lafayette in 1781 and George Washington in 1789.

By the time John Hancock died in 1793, this house was no longer at the outskirts of Boston, and Beacon Hill was in the process of being transformed into an exclusive neighborhood of elegant townhouses. Portions of the estate were steadily sold, including land to the east of the house, which became the site of the Massachusetts State House. Other parcels were sold for new homes, and by the early 19th century the house was surrounded by more modern homes. Hancock’s widow, Dorothy, had remarried in 1796, and she lived here in this house until 1816. The house remained in the family, though, with John Hancock’s nephew, also named John, owning the house until his death in 1859.

The first photo was taken sometime around the time when the younger John Hancock died, and it shows his granddaughter, Elizabeth Lowell Hancock Moriarty, standing on the second floor balcony. Despite being over a century old, the house still retained its stately elegance, and was recognized as an important landmark. There had been several different proposals for using the house, including the possibility of purchasing it as an official governor’s mansion. The family even offered the property to the state for the low price of $100,000, but many balked at the idea of such an expense, and the idea was dropped.

The property was finally sold in 1863, with the intention of redeveloping it with modern townhouses. The state was offered one last chance to move the house to a new location, but again there was significantly opposition to the $12,000 expense, and the historic house was ultimately demolished in the summer of 1863. Had it survived, the house would have become one of the city’s iconic Revolutionary War landmarks, on par with such places as the Old State House, the Paul Revere House, and Old North Church. Instead, though, its demolition did help to spur preservation movements for some of these other landmarks, including the Old South Meeting House, which survived similar redevelopment threats a decade later.

In 1865, two townhouses were built on the site of Hancock’s house. However, these houses did not last nearly as long as their predecessor, because in 1917 they were demolished to build a new wing of the Massachusetts State House. Since then, not much has changed. The 1798 state house, with its various additions over the years, remains in use as the state capitol building, and the surrounding Beacon Hill neighborhood is still home to many of Boston’s wealthy residents, nearly 300 years after Thomas Hancock first made his home here.