Hezekiah Chaffee House, Windsor, Connecticut

The Hezekiah Chaffee House at 108 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, on January 21, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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Dr. Hezekiah Chaffee was born in 1731 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and in the mid-1750s he moved to Windsor. Here, he married Lydia Griswold Phelps, a widow who was nine years older than him. He evidently prospered in his profession, because around 1765 he built this large, elegant home, directly opposite the green at the old town center on Palisado Avenue. Here, the Chaffees raised their five children: Hepsibah, Mary, Hezekiah, Jr., Esther, and John. They also had several slaves, with town records in 1791 indicating that an unnamed slave gave birth to a daughter, Betty Stevenson. At the time, slavery was legal in Connecticut, and would officially remain so until 1848, although gradual emancipation had reduced the number of slaves in the state to just a few dozen by then.

Perhaps the most notable event in the early history of the house came on November 4, 1774, when John Adams spent the night here while on his way back home from Philadelphia after the First Continental Congress. The future president kept a diary during the trip, primarily with brief daily accounts of where he ate and slept, along with occasional remarks about the character of his hosts. In his entry for “Fryday Novr. 4,” he mentioned that he dined in Hartford, and then “Lodged at Dr. Chafy’s in Windsor. Very cordially entertained.”

Dr. Chaffee lived here for the rest of his life, and also had his medical practice here in one of the ells of the home. His wife Lydia died in 1801, and he died in 1819, at the age of 88. The house went to his son, Hezekiah, Jr., who was also a physician. He died just two years later, but the house would remain in the Chaffee family for another century.

In 1926, the house became part of the Loomis Institute, a private school that had been founded 12 years earlier. Located a little north of the Loomis campus, the house became the Chaffee School, the girls-only counterpart to Loomis. It was in use by the school in 1937, when the first photograph was taken as part of Great Depression-era efforts to document historic buildings across the country. The two schools consolidated in 1970, forming the current Loomis Chaffee School.

The house was subsequently sold to the town of Windsor, and it is operated by the Windsor Historical Society as a museum. More than 250 years after its completion, and despite several changes in use, the house remains well-preserved on both the interior and exterior. It is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Windsor, a town that features many historic 18th century homes. Because of this, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and it was subsequently designated as a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which also encompasses many of the other surrounding historic homes.

Ebenezer Gay Manse, Suffield, Connecticut

The Ebenezer Gay Manse on North Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, WPA Architectural Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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Ebenezer Gay was 23 years old when he was ordained as the pastor of the church in Suffield in 1742. The Hingham, Massachusetts native had recently graduated from Harvard, and he arrived in the midst of the Great Awakening, which was already sweeping across New England and had resulted in a number of revivals here in Suffield. That same year, he married Hannah Angier, and the following year they moved into this elegant, gambrel-roofed Georgian home in the center of town.

At the time, it was not uncommon for pastors to be hired directly out of college and remain in the same church for the rest of his life. Ebenezer Gay was no exception, and served here for 54 years, until his death in 1796. Towards the end of his ministry, his son, Ebenezer Gay, Jr., became the assistant pastor, and took over the full duties upon his father’s death. Like his father, the younger Ebenezer lived in this house. He also had a remarkable tenure as the pastor here, serving until his death in 1837, for a total of 95 years between father and son.

When the first photo was taken, the house was already about 200 years old, and its historical significance was well-recognized. It was owned by the Suffield School for Boys, which would become Suffield Academy. At the time, it was vacant, but would eventually be put to use as faculty housing for the school. It is still used for the same purpose, and in the early 2000s it was repaired and restored to its original appearance. Along with the other buildings in the area, it is part of the Suffield Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Phelps Tavern, Simsbury, Connecticut

Phelps Tavern on Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury, in 1926. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

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The building in 2016:

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This house was built in 1771 for Elisha Phelps, a member of one of Simsbury’s most prominent 18th century families. He served in the American Revolution, participating in Ethan Allen’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. The following month, he was appointed as a commissary and a captain in the Continental Army, a position he held until his death in 1776 while serving in Albany. His widow, Rosetta, moved out of the house in 1779 and sold it to Elisha’s brother, Noah Phelps.

Like his brother, Noah had participated in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, playing a particularly vital role. Prior to the capture, he had entered the fort disguised as a farmer in need of a shave. While there, he gained valuable intelligence about the vulnerability of the fort, particularly its weakened walls and wet gunpowder. This gave Ethan Allen the confidence to attack, and the fort was taken without a fight, leading to a significant colonial victory in the early days of the war.

Noah Phelps only lived here for a few years before moving to a different house. He went on to serve in several different positions, including as a justice of the peace, a probate judge, a delegate to the state ratifying convention for the US Constitution, and a major general in the state militia.In the meantime, his son, Noah Amherst Phelps, moved into this house. During his ownership, the younger Noah used the house as a tavern. After his death in 1817, his widow Charlotte and later their son Jeffery continued operating the tavern.

The tavern was in a good position to take advantage of traffic on the Farmington Canal, which was completed in 1835 and connected New Haven, Connecticut with Northampton, Massachusetts. It was built directly behind the tavern, only several hundred feet east of here, and the tavern became known as the Canal Hotel. However, the canal was never particularly successful, and its route was converted into a railroad in the late 1840s. Around this same time, in 1849, Jeffery Phelps closed the tavern, although the house would remain in his family for several more generations.

The house was modified in 1879 and again in 1915, but it was owned by members of the Phelps family until 1962, when it was donated to the Simsbury Historical Society. It has been preserved as a museum, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The nearby Farmington Canal route is also listed, although the old railroad is long gone and the right-of-way is now a rail trail.

College Green, Brown University, Providence, RI

The College Green at Brown University, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Brown University is one of the oldest colleges in the United States, and one of the nine that date back to the colonial era. It was established in 1764 as Rhode Island College (or, in its original charter, the slightly wordier name of “the College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, in America”). Originally, it was located in the town of Warren, but in 1770 the school moved to its current campus in Providence.

The first building at the new campus is the one in the center of the photo. Known today as University Hall, it opened in 1770, and has served a variety of roles over the years. During the American Revolution, it even housed soldiers prior to the departure for Yorktown near the end of the war. Today, it is used for administrative offices, including the offices of Brown’s president.

On the right side of the photo is the Greek Revival-style Manning Hall, which is another one of the older buildings on the campus. It was completed in 1834 as a library and chapel, and over the years its uses expanded to include a museum, studio, and lecture space. Today, it includes the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology as well as the Manning Chapel.

The newest building in this scene is Slater Hall, on the far left. It was built in 1879, making it more than a century newer than its colonial neighbor. It is named for its benefactor, Horatio Nelson Slater, and was designed as a dormitory by the Providence architectural firm of Stone & Carpenter. Today, it remains in use as a dormitory, and like the other two buildings in this scene, very little has changed in its exterior appearance.

John Brown House, Providence, RI

The home of John Brown on Power Street in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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Not to be confused with the more famous John Brown who led the raid on Harpers Ferry, this house was the home of Rhode Island merchant John Brown. Although they shared a name, these two New Englanders could not have been more different; while one was executed after an attempt to violently overthrow slavery, the other, who lived here, built his fortune from enslaving people.

Rhode Island’s John Brown was born in Providence in 1736, and had a profitable career as a merchant, including with the slave trade. Slavery was not illegal in New England during the colonial era, and although it was not nearly as widespread as in the south, many New England merchants nonetheless became wealthy through the slave trade. Brown was also involved in trade with China, and during the American Revolution he invested in privateers that raided British shipping.

Even before the Revolution, though, Brown showed an interest in the patriot cause. In 1772, he was one of the leaders of the Gaspee Affair, an early conflict between the colonists and British authorities. The HMS Gaspee was a British schooner that had been patrolling Narragansett Bay in an effort to stop the widespread smuggling that was occurring in the colony. While pursuing a smuggler, the Gaspee ran aground in nearby Warwick, prompting Brown and a group of other men to board the vessel and burn it. Although it occurred nearly three years before the Revolution actually started, it was an early sign of the growing tension in the colonies.

Following the war, Brown built this Georgian-style mansion on College Hill, near the campus of Rhode Island College. Brown was involved in the early years of the school’s history, and served as its treasurer for several decades. Other members of the Brown family were also highly influential, and in 1804 the school was renamed in honor of John Brown’s nephew, Nicholas Brown, Jr.  John Brown’s house was among the first of many elegant mansions that would soon appear in the College Hill neighborhood, and the area later became the city’s premier residential neighborhood.

The house was designed by Brown’s brother, Joseph, who had also designed Providence’s historic First Baptist Church building, and it was completed in 1788. During the time that Brown lived here, he was the subject of controversy over his slave trade practices. Some members of his family, such as his brother Moses, were abolitionists who opposed his occupation, but he also soon ran afoul of new slave trade laws, which forbade outfitting American ships to be used in the slave trade. Brown was the first to be tried under this new law, and in 1797 he was found guilty and forced to forfeit his ship. This conviction notwithstanding, Brown was elected to the US House of Representatives the following year, and served one term from 1799 to 1801.

After Brown’s death in 1803, the house remained in his family for nearly a century. By the time the first photo was taken, it was owned by Marsden J. Perry, a prominent bank and railroad executive who purchased it in 1901. He made some modifications to the house, but overall it retained its original appearance, both on the interior and exterior. Perry died in 1935, and it was sold to John Nicholas Brown, the great-grandson of Nicholas Brown, the college namesake. He aimed to preserve the historic house, and in 1942 he donated it to the Rhode Island Historical Society, who has owned it ever since. Today, with the exception of the ivy on the walls, essentially nothing has changed about this scene, and the home is now open to the public as a museum.

Josiah Day House, West Springfield, Mass (3)

One more view of the Josiah Day House on Park Street in West Springfield, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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This view of the Josiah Day House is similar to the previous one, showing what it looked like around the time that the Ramapogue Historical Society acquired it as a museum in the first decade of the 20th century. Since then, the area around the house has changed, and West Springfield’s town common is no longer lined with the tall trees that appeared in the first photo. However, the Day House is still standing, and remains a museum, with an interior furnished with 18th and 19th century antiques, many of which belonged to the Day family, who lived in this house for four generations from 1754 to 1897. For more information on the history of the house, see this earlier post.