Connecticut Hall, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

Connecticut Hall, seen from across the quadrangle on the Old Campus of Yale University, around 1901-1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in an earlier post, Connecticut Hall was among the earliest buildings to be constructed on the Yale campus. It was completed in 1752, and it originally featured a Georgian-style design that was modeled after Massachusetts Hall at Harvard. At the time, there were only a few buildings here at Yale, so Connecticut Hall served many different purposes in its early years. There was space for a dining room, library, recitation hall, chapel, and dormitory rooms, and the ground floor also housed the buttery, where students could purchase beer, tobacco, and other products not available in the dining hall.

Over the years, as Yale steadily expanded, Connecticut Hall was joined by a group of similar buildings that all stood in a line parallel to College Street. Collectively known as the Old Brick Row, these buildings alternated between long dormitories and shorter academic buildings. Connecticut Hall eventually became exclusively a dormitory, and was known as South Middle College. In the midst of this expansion, Connecticut Hall was altered around the turn of the 19th century, and the original gambrel roof was replaced with a peaked roof, as seen in the first photo.

The Old Brick Row was at the center of Yale for much of the 19th century, but by 1870 the school had adopted a new plan that called for new Gothic-style buildings along the perimeter of the campus, with a large open quadrangle in the middle, where the Old Brick Row stood. The buildings around the quadrangle were largely completed by the mid-1890s, and demolition of the old buildings began around the same time. By the turn of the 20th century, only three remained, and two of these – North College and the Lyceum – would be demolished in 1901. This left South Middle College as the sole survivor of the Old Brick Row, and at this point it was almost entirely walled in behind modern buildings, including Welch Hall on the left, Osborn Hall in the distant center, and Vanderbilt Hall on the right side of the first photo.

The old building was nearly demolished, but this threat sparked an outcry in favor of its preservation. As a result, it was instead renovated, soon after the first photo was taken. The most noticeable change on the exterior was the reconstruction of the gambrel roof, and the building was renamed Connecticut Hall. It would continue to be used as a dormitory throughout the first half of the 20th century, but it underwent another major renovation in 1952-1954, when the interior was gutted and converted into office space. Today, the building still stands, and it currently houses the offices of the Department of Philosophy. Now over 250 years old, it is the oldest surviving building on the Yale campus, along with being one of the oldest college buildings in the United States.

Connecticut Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Connecticut Hall on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1905-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This area has been part of the Yale University campus since 1718, when the school’s first permanent building in New Haven was constructed just to the south of where this photo was taken. It was named College Hall, and during the early years it was the school’s only building. However, as Yale grew, the campus came to include other buildings, including Connecticut Hall, which was completed in 1752. It received its name because it was built using funds provided by the colony of Connecticut, and its Georgian-style architecture was based on the 1720 Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University.

Connecticut Hall originally served many different purposes, and included space for a dining room, library, recitation hall, and a chapel, in addition to dormitory rooms. The southeast corner of the building, seen closest to the foreground in this view, also housed the campus buttery, where students could purchase such necessities as cider, beer, sugar, pipes, tobacco, books, and fresh fruit. Over time, as new buildings were constructed on the campus, Connecticut Hall eventually became exclusively a dormitory, although the buttery remained here for many years, serving as a popular gathering place for Yale students until it finally closed in 1817.

By the turn of the 19th century, Connecticut Hall had been joined by several other brick buildings, including the First Chapel and Union Hall to the south of it, and the Lyceum and Berkeley Hall to the north. Around this time, Connecticut Hall itself was altered to match architectural tastes of the era. The original gambrel roof was removed, and it was replaced by a gabled roof that matched the other buildings. Two more buildings were added in the early 1820s, with the completion of North College and the Second Chapel, giving the school a total of seven buildings in a line running parallel to College Street. Several of the building names were changed by this point, including Union Hall, which became South College; Berkeley Hall, which became North Middle College; and Connecticut Hall, which became South Middle College. Collectively, this group came to be known as the Old Brick Row, and it was a defining feature of the Yale campus throughout most of the 19th century.

Throughout its many years as a dormitory, Connecticut Hall housed a number of notable Yale students. These included Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale; dictionary publisher Noah Webster; inventor Eli Whitney; U. S. Senators Jeremiah Mason and Simeon Olcott; diplomats Joel Barlow, David Humphreys, and Silas Deane; prominent pastors Lyman Beecher, Horace Bushnell, Manasseh Cutler, and Nathanael Emmons; poet Edward Rowland Sill; and novelist James Fenimore Cooper. With the exceptions of Bushnell and Sill, all of these men attended Yale during the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and likely would have spent a significant amount of time here at the buttery in the corner of the building.

Starting in 1870, the school began shifting toward a new campus plan. Rather than the Old Brick Row, which had been set back from College Street, the new plan called for buildings along the perimeter of the campus, with an open quadrangle in the center. The Old Brick Row stood in the midst of this planned quadrangle, and its comparatively modest Federal-style buildings stood in sharp contrast to the far more ornate Gothic-style buildings that were rising around them. Demolition began in 1893, when South College and the Atheneum – formerly known as the First Chapel – gave way to Vanderbilt Hall. Four more buildings would be demolished between 1896 and 1901, leaving only Connecticut Hall, which was then known as Old South Middle.

Connecticut Hall had been the first of the Old Brick Row to be built, and it ultimately outlasted all of the other buildings that followed it. However, it too was slated for demolition at the turn of the 20th century, but this proposal sparked a significant outcry, particularly among older alumni who lamented the impending loss of the only remaining vestige of the school’s distant past. Professor Henry W. Farnam – who was himself a Yale graduate as well – was quoted in the Kansas City Star in 1903, praising its humble architectural style and remarking that “It is the one building which the wealth of the multi-millionaire cannot duplicate. Not only is South Middle our one example of colonial architecture, but it is the only example of a recognized architectural style owned by the college. I do not disparage the beautiful new and costly modern buildings, but they are not originals. They are necessarily copies.”

In an early example of historic preservation, the building was spared demolition. It was restored to its colonial-era appearance, and it was also renamed Connecticut Hall, after having been named South Middle College for about a century. This work included rebuilding the gambrel roof, and the project was completed in 1905, not long before the first photo was taken. As a result, Connecticut Hall became quite an anomaly here on the Old Campus, as the only Georgian-style building in the midst of an otherwise entirely Gothic quadrangle. However, as Farnham had noted, it was the only original example of a historic architectural style here, since all of the other buildings were imitations of medieval-era Gothic buildings. Ironically, though, Connecticut Hall would inspire a copy of its own in 1925, when the nearly identical Colonial Revival-style McClellan Hall was built just to the west of it, in order to provide some degree of symmetry in the quadrangle.

Connecticut Hall would undergo another major renovation from 1952 to 1954. The interior was completely gutted and rebuilt, and it was converted from a dormitory into academic use. Today, it is used as offices for the Department of Philosophy. However, the exterior has remained essentially unchanged since the 1905 renovations, as these two photos demonstrate. It still stands as the oldest building on the Yale campus, predating the next oldest building by nearly a century, and in 1965 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

John Banister House, Newport, Rhode Island

The house at 56 Pelham Street, at the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around 1930. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

This large, elegant Georgian-style home was built in the early 1750s, and was built as the home of John Banister (1707-1767), a prosperous colonial merchant. Banister was originally from Boston, but subsequently came to Newport, where he married Hermione Pelham in 1737. She came from one of Newport’s leading families, and her great-grandfather, Benedict Arnold (1615-1678), had served for many years as the colonial governor of Rhode Island. Governor Arnold, whose other descendants included the Revolutionary War traitor of the same name, owned a significant amount of land in downtown Newport, including the Newport Tower, which still stands a few blocks away from here. This property was later inherited by the Pelham family, and then by John Banister after the death of his father-in-law in 1741.

Banister built this house on the property about a decade later. He and Hermione had two sons, John and Thomas, who grew up here, and John inherited the house after his father’s death in 1767. However, the two brothers later found themselves on opposite sides of the American Revolution. Thomas was a loyalist, and even enlisted in the British army during the occupation of Newport, while John supported American independence. In retaliation for his patriot views, the occupying British forces seized this house, along with John’s farm in nearby Middletown. The house became the headquarters of General Richard Prescott during the occupation, although John later reclaimed his property following the British evacuation of Newport in 1779. His brother Thomas was less fortunate, though. As a loyalist, his property was confiscated by colonial authorities, and he never returned to Newport after the army’s evacuation.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1930, the house was nearly 200 years old, and was already recognized for its historical significance. Then, in 1968, it became a contributing property in the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that encompasses much of the downtown area. Over the years, the interior has been heavily modified, but the exterior has remained largely the same as it was when the house was built. Even these two photos, taken nearly 80 years apart, do not show much of a difference, aside from the removal of the shutters. However, in recent years the John Banister House has fallen into disrepair, as shown by several boarded-up windows in the 2017 photo. Shortly after this photo was taken, though, work began on a major renovation of both the interior and exterior, including restoring the original floor plan, replacing the shingles and windows, and repairing damage to the chimneys, foundation, and frame. When this work is completed, the house will again be used as a single-family home.

For more information on the Banister House and its ongoing restoration, see these articles here and here on the Newport This Week website.

Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island

Trinity Church, seen looking east along Frank Street in Newport, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport features an impressive collection of colonial-era buildings that have survived to the present day, but one of the most significant of these is Trinity Church, which is seen in these two photos. It was built in 1725-1726 as an Anglican church, replacing an earlier building that the congregation had previously used, and it was the work of local architect and builder Richard Munday. His design was based on the churches of London architect Christopher Wren, and it also bears a strong resemblance to Old North Church, which had been built just a few years earlier.

Although the building itself was completed in 1726, the spire was not added until 1741, and it had to be rebuilt in 1768. Another change came in 1762, when the church was expanded by 30 feet. In order to do this, the building was divided in half, the rear section was moved back, and the addition was built in the middle of the two halves. However, it has seen few significant changes since then, and it remains remarkably well-preserved, both on the exterior and interior.

Unlike in most other New England towns, Newport’s colonial-era churches were not built at the head of large public squares. This was an effect of Rhode Island’s legacy of religious tolerance, in order to avoid showing preference to one denomination over another. Because of this, houses of worship tended to have less prominent locations. Here, Trinity Church was situated on a narrow lot bounded by Spring, Church, and Frank Streets. The church building itself filled up most of the lot, with just enough room for a small churchyard on the north and west sides. As the first photo shows, this left the church crowded on all sides, and nearly hidden from view by an assortment of modest houses and commercial buildings.

This situation continued for much of the 20th century. However, a fire in 1973 destroyed the building at the corner of Thames and Frank Streets. This loss helped to spur the redevelopment of the entire block, and during the 1970s the Newport Restoration Foundation acquired properties in the two-block area between Mill and Church Streets. This project was led by the Newport Restoration Foundation’s founder, the tobacco heiress Doris Duke, and it eventually involved the removal of all the buildings here on Frank Street. These buildings held little historical or architectural value, and they were replaced by Queen Anne Square, a public park that stretches from the front of Trinity Church down to Thames Street.

Today, the narrow, cobblestoned Frank Street is still there, although the western end of it is now a pedestrian walkway through Queen Anne Park. With the street no longer cluttered with buildings, Trinity Church is now easily visible from Thames Street and the waterfront area, and it stands as the only surviving structure from the first photo. The nearly 300 year old church is now one a contributing property in the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that encompasses much of downtown Newport. However, it is also individually listed as a National Historic Landmark, making it one of 18 buildings in Newport to be recognized as such.

White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

Ropes Mansion, Salem, Mass

The Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built sometime in the late 1720s, and was originally the home of Samuel Barnard (1684-1762), a merchant who had moved to Salem from Deerfield, Massachusetts. He was a survivor of the 1704 Indian raid on Deerfield, and he lived there until after the death of his wife Mary and their infant son Samuel in 1720. He subsequently came to Salem and married his second wife Rachel, the widow of his cousin Thomas Barnard. Here, he propspered as a merchant and became a wealthy man, as demonstrated by the elegant Georgian mansion that he built within a few years of his arrival.

Rachel died in 1743, and he later remarried to Elizabeth Williams, who died in 1753. Three years later he married his fourth wife, Catharine Dexter, and they lived here until his death in 1762. With no surviving heirs from any of his marriages, Barnard left a considerable amount of money for charitable purposes, including a hundred pounds for the relief of the poor in Salem and Deerfield, and two hundred pounds to purchase silver for the churches in Salem, Deerfield, and Greenfield. Among these gifts was a silver tankard, now in the collections of Historic Deerfield, that was made by the young Boston silversmith Paul Revere.

Barnard left his property in Salem, including this house, to his nephew, Joseph Barnard. In 1768, Joseph sold the house to Judge Nathaniel Ropes (1726-1774) for eight hundred pounds. At the time, the property extended beyond the house as far as the banks of the North River, since Federal Street has not yet been opened a block to the north of here. Ropes was a 1745 graduate of Harvard, and began his career as a lawyer. He represented Salem in the colonial legislature in 1760 and 1761, and served on the Governor’s Council from 1762 to 1768. He was also a judge on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and a judge of probate, and in 1772 Governor Thomas Hutchinson appointed him as a justice on the Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court in the colony.

Ropes’s short tenure as an associate justice on the court was marked by a significant controversy over how judges were paid. Although appointed by the royal governor of the colony, the judges were, until this point, paid by the elected representatives of the General Court. Because these royal judges were effectively at the mercy of the colonists, the British proposed paying them directly, through the already-unpopular colonial taxes. This action further outraged Massachusetts patriots, who feared that the judges would become partial to the Crown over colonial interests. However, there was significant pressure on these judges to not accept their royal salaries, and in 1773 the lower house of the General Court gave a clear warning to Ropes and the other Superior Court justices, with a resolution stating that:

any one of them who shall accept of, and depend upon the Pleasure of the Crown for his Support, independent of the Grants and Acts of the General Assembly, will discover to the World that he has not a due Sense of the Importance of an Impartial Administration of Justice, that he is an enemy to the Constitution, and has it in his Heart to promote the Establishment of an arbitrary Government in the Province.

Nathaniel Ropes promised that he would not accept the royal salary, and he was even acquainted with prominent patriots such as John Adams, who visited this house on November 9, 1771. The future president commented on the visit in his diary, writing:

Dined this Day, spent the Afternoon, and drank Tea at Judge Ropes’s, with Judges Lynde, Oliver and Hutchinson, Sewal, Putnam, and Winthrop. Mrs. Ropes is a fine Woman — very pretty, and genteel. Our Judge Oliver is the best bred Gentleman of all the judges, by far. There is something in every one of the others indecent and disagreable, at Times in Company-affected Witticisms, unpolished fleers, coarse Jests, and sometimes rough, rude Attacks, but these you dont see escape Judge Oliver.

This meeting here at the Ropes house included some of the most prominent jurists in the colony at the time. Along with Ropes himself, both Benjamin Lynde, Jr. and Peter Oliver were justices of the Superior Court, and the Hutchinson mentioned in the entry is likely Foster Hutchinson, who also served on the court. Lynde was the chief justice at the time, but the following year he was succeeded by Oliver, who was later forced out once the Revolution started. Coincidentally, Oliver’s replacement as chief justice was none other than John Adams himself, although he never actually sat on the court and eventually resigned after holding the position from 1775 to 1776.

In the meantime, as the colony moved closer to revolution, Ropes faced problems right here at his home in Salem. Although he had refused his royal salary, he nonetheless held Loyalist views, and his position as a high-ranking judge made him a symbol of British power in the colony. According to tradition, in March 1774 an angry mob attacked the house, throwing mud, sticks, and rocks at the windows and calling for Ropes to renounce his allegiance to the Crown. However, at the time Ropes was in his bed, gravely ill with smallpox, and he died the following day, with the stress from the mob supposedly being a contributing factor in his death.

Writing in his diary a little over a week later, John Adams made no mention of a specific mob attacking the house, but did comment on how the turmoil in the colony had affected Ropes’s health:

Pynchon says judge Ropes was exceedingly agitated all the time of his last Sickness — about the public Affairs, in general, and those of the Superiour Court in particular — afraid his Renunciation would be attributed to Timidity — afraid to refuse to renounce — worried about the Opinion of the Bar, &c.

Nathaniel Ropes was only 47 when he died, leaving his widow Priscilla and six young children, whose ages ranged from one to 14. She and the children moved to nearby Danvers for some time, but after a few years their oldest son, Nathaniel Ropes III (1759-1806), returned to this house and began a merchant business here in Salem. He and his wife Sarah had three children who survived infancy, including a son, Nathaniel Ropes IV (1793-1885), and two daughters, Sarah (Sally) and Abigail. The elder Sarah died in 1801, at the age of 36, and two years later Nathaniel remarried, to Elizabeth Cleveland. However, he died in 1806, at the same age as his father’s untimely death.

Nathaniel Ropes IV would later move to Cincinnati, where he lived for the rest of his life, but his sisters Sally and Abigail continued to live here in the family home. In 1817, Sally married Joseph Orne, whose father, William Orne, was a prosperous merchant. They had a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in 1818, but Joseph died later in the year, at the age of just 22. Like so many other members of the family, Abigail Ropes also died relatively young in 1839, and Elizabeth died three years later, at the age of 24.

After having outlived her husband, daughter, parents, and sister, the middle-aged Sally remained here in this house for many years. The 1850 census shows her living here alone except for two women who were presumably servants. By the 1870 census, she was 75 years old and employed a live-in nurse and a servant, and she also lived here with her nephew, 37-year-old Nathaniel Ropes V. Although born in Ohio, Nathaniel had later returned to his father’s childhood home here in Salem, and continued living in the house after Sally’s death in 1876.

Nathaniel died in 1893, and the house was then acquired by his sisters. The following year, it underwent renovations. It was moved back from the street, and was modernized with conveniences such as central heat, electricity, and plumbing. A large wing was also built in the rear of the house, the fence was added to the front yard, and some of the interior was also renovated. The three sisters went on to live here for the rest of their lives. The oldest, Sarah, died in 1899, followed by Mary in 1903 and Eliza in 1907. Unmarried, and with no surviving nieces or nephews, Mary and Eliza were the last of their branch of the Ropes family, and after their deaths they left the property to the Essex Institute, as a memorial to their family.

The first photo was taken a few decades later, as part of the New Deal-era Historic American Buildings Survey. The house has not seen any significant changes since then, and it is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which acquired the property following the 1992 merger between the Peabody Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute. A year later, the exterior of the house appeared in the Disney film Hocus Pocus, where it served as the home of one of the main characters. Today, the house is still open to the public as a museum, and is one of many historic properties owned by the Peabody Essex.