Marlborough Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking west on Marlborough Street from Farewell Street in Newport, around 1911. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This scene on Marlborough Street includes several notable Newport landmarks, with the most significant being the White Horse Tavern on the far right. This building is perhaps the oldest in the city, dating back to before 1673. It was just a two-story, two-room house at the time, but it was later expanded, and by 1687 it was being operated as a tavern by William Mayes, Sr. His son, William Mayes, Jr., had a career as a pirate before returning to Newport, retiring from piracy, and taking over the operation of the tavern in 1703. Within a few years, though, his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols, owned the property, and it would remain in the Nichols family for nearly two more centuries.

In the years before the Colony House was built in the 1730s, the colonial legislature often met here at the White Horse Tavern, which acquired its current name around this same time. Some 40 years later, it was used to house British soldiers during the American Revolution, and after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof. It would continue to be owned by the Nichols family until it was finally sold in 1895. The first photo was taken only about 16 years later, and at this point it had been converted into a rooming house.

The White Horse Tavern was already an old building in 1807 when the other prominent landmark in this scene, St. Paul’s Methodist Church, was completed. Long known for its religious tolerance, Rhode Island was among the first places where Methodism took root in America in the late 18th century. However, the Newport congregation caused a considerable stir in the Methodist community when they built this church. Although similar to other New England churches of the era, it was far more elaborate than the plain meeting houses that early Methodists worshipped in. It is considered to be the first Methodist church in America to have a steeple, bell, and pews, and early Methodist leader Bishop Francis Asbury is said to have “lifted his hands with holy horror when he first saw it and predicted that a church which began with a steeple would end with a choir and perhaps even an organ.”

Bishop Asbury was ultimately proved right in his prediction about the organ, with the congregation installing one in the church in the 1850s. However, an even more significant change had come about 15 years earlier in 1842, when the entire building was raised eight feet and a new, full-story foundation was built beneath it to make space for a parish hall. Otherwise, the exterior of the church has not significantly changed, although the building was heavily damaged by a fire in 1881. However, it was subsequently restored, and the first photo was taken about 20 years later.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, most of the historic buildings on both sides of Marlborough Street have been demolished. Even the White Horse Tavern itself was threatened with demolition. Badly deteriorated and neglected more than 50 years after it became a rooming house, it was nearly demolished in the 1950s to build a gas station here on the corner. Instead, though, it was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who restored it and reopened it as a tavern in 1957. It remains in operation today, and is marketed as America’s oldest tavern. Further down the street, St. Paul’s Methodist Church is also still standing, and still houses the same congregation. The 2017 photo shows it in the midst of a restoration project, but otherwise it is largely unchanged from the first photo, and both it and the White Horse Tavern are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark district.

Gad Lane Tavern, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 1007 Halliday Avenue West in Suffield, around 1921. Image from Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut (1921).

The house in 2017:

Different sources identify this house as having been built in 1726, 1740, or 1744, but either way it is one of the oldest houses in Suffield, and was originally owned by Samuel Lane. Born in Hadley, Massachusetts, Samuel later moved to Suffield, where he married Abigail Hovey in 1709. In 1723, he purchased 23 acres of land here in the northern part of the town, and subsequently built this house at some point over the next two decades. At the time, Suffield was part of Massachusetts, but was part of a border dispute that was eventually resolved in 1749, when the two colonies established the present-day border, about a third of a mile north of Samuel’s house.

Samuel owned this house until 1765 when, a few years before his death, he transferred the property to his grandson, Gad. About 21 years old at the time, Gad’s father Samuel had died in 1748 when Gad was just a few years old. But, as the oldest son of Samuel and Abigail’s oldest son, he inherited the family home, along with 40 acres of land. The house was situated on the main road from Suffield to Westfield, Massachusetts, and for some time Gad operated a tavern in the walk-in basement on the left side of the house. Here, 18th century cattle and sheep drivers could satiate their hunger and thirst at the tavern, while their herds and flocks did the same in the surrounding pastures and at the stream that flows just to the left of the house.

In 1772, Gad married the curiously-named Olive Tree, and the couple had five children: Hosea, Gad, Comfort, Ashbel, and Zebina. However, in 1798 Gad filed for divorce, alleging that Olive had run off with another man and had stolen many of his possessions. A March 19, 1798 notice, published in the Hartford Courant, provides the details of her infidelity, with Gad stating that: “Olive formed an improper connection with one Joſeph Freeman: That ſhe has frequently and privately took and conveyed to ſaid Freeman, the petitioners bonds, obligations, papers, cloathing and other property: That ſaid Olive hath committed adultery with ſaid Freeman — hath eloped from the petitioner and now lives in a ſtate of adultery with ſaid Freeman.”

Gad subsequently remarried to Margaret Ferry, and in 1827 he gave the property to his son Ashbel. He owned the house for 20 years before selling it in 1847, and after changing hands several times the property was purchased by David Allen in 1849. He and his wife Mary went on to live here for nearly 40 years, running a modest farm that, during the 1880 census, consisted of eight acres of tilled land, plus six acres of meadows and orchards, and four acres of woodland. His primary crops were corn, oats, rye, potatoes, and apples, and his property had a total value of $2,500, plus $100 in farm machinery and $150 in livestock.

The Allen family would remain here until 1888, when David sold the property a few years before he and Mary died. The property changed hands several times over the next few decades, and by the time the first photo was taken the house had been significantly altered, including the addition of three dormers. Well into the 20th century, the house lacked modern conveniences such as heat and bathrooms, and by the late 1930s it was owned by Raymond Kent, Sr., a tobacco farmer who used the house as a residence for his field hands. However, in 1942 his son, Raymond Kent, Jr., restored the house, and today it still stands well-preserved as one of the oldest surviving houses in Suffield.

Bissell Tavern, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 1022 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in the early 1790s for Ebenezer Fitch Bissell, Sr. and his wife Esther. They were in their late 50s at the time, and Ebenezer was a veteran of the American Revolution. In April 1775, he and a number of other Windsor men marched in response to the Lexington Alarm, and later in the year he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 8th Connecticut Regiment. In 1776, this regiment became the 17th Continental Infantry, and Bissell was promoted to captain, serving until he was taken prisoner during the Battle of Long Island in August, 1776. Many American soldiers died in the appalling conditions of makeshift British prisons in New York City, but Bissell survived, and continued serving in the Continental Army after his release.

Ebenezer lived in this house until his death in 1814, and his wife Esther appears to have died around the same time. Their oldest son, Ebenezer, Jr., inherited the house, and operated it as a tavern. The house was located on the main route from Hartford to Springfield, so it was an ideal location for a tavern to serve the stagecoach travelers who passed through here. Variously known as Bissell Tavern and Bissell’s Stage House, the tavern was identified by a sign that featured portraits of Oliver Hazard Perry and James Lawrence, two naval heroes of the War of 1812. Ebenezer opened the tavern about a year after the end of the war, and by the early 1820s it was being run by his son, Fitch Bissell. He operated the tavern until about 1833, a few years before railroads would make the old stagecoach routes obsolete.

Although it does not appear to have been used as a tavern beyond 1833, the house remained in the Bissell family until 1841, a few years after Ebenezer’s death. For the rest of the 19th century, the property passed back and forth between the Bissell and Hayden families several times, but the house remained essentially unchanged on the exterior. By the time the first photo was taken, the house was owned by produce farmer Paul Kazanowski, and was listed as being only in “fair” condition in the WPA Architectural Survey. However, the house was subsequently restored, and today still it does not look much different from how it looked two centuries ago, when stagecoaches would stop here. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it stands as the only surviving early 19th century tavern in Windsor.

David Phelps House, Simsbury, Connecticut

The house at 2 East Weatogue Street, at the corner of Hartford Road in Simsbury, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Federal-style home was built around 1800, and in the early 19th century it served as a tavern along the stagecoach route to Hartford. Located in the village of East Weatogue in Simsbury, it is in the narrow area of land between the Farmington River to the west and the Metacomet Ridge to the east, at the foot of one of the few passes through the long, narrow mountain ridge. It was an ideal spot for a tavern, because nearly all traffic between Hartford and Simsbury would have passed by the front door. Originally owned by David Phelps, the tavern is not to be confused with another Phelps Tavern, which was located in the center of town and was operated by Noah Phelps around the same time as this one.

The architecture of the house reflects the Federal style of the era, with distinct features such as a symmetrical front facade, a Palladian window on the second floor, and a front door flanked with sidelights and a fanlight above it. The main section of the house has two chimneys, and when the first photo was taken the house had a total of 11 fireplaces. The wraparound porch, which extends the length of the front and the right side of the house in the first photo, was not original to the house, and was added around the turn of the 20th century.

About 80 years after the first photo was taken, the house has seen some significant changes, most notably the removal of the large porch. Today, it looks much more historically accurate than it did in the early 20th century, and it still stands at an important intersection along the main route from Simsbury to Hartford. Despite its proximity to the state capital, though, the village of East Weatogue has retained much of its original agrarian appearance, and this house now forms part of the East Weatogue Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

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:

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.

Frary House, Deerfield, Mass

The Frary House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, around 1900-1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

The Old Deerfield Historic District is a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. The well-preserved New England village features 53 historic buildings, with over 30 that date back to the American Revolution or earlier. Among these is the Frary House, seen here in these photographs.

When the first photo was taken, the house was believed to have been built in 1698 by Samson Frary, one of the original settlers of Deerfield. However, dendrochronology has since shown that it was built around 1758, although it is possible that portions of the house may date back to 1698. If so, it would make it one of possibly two houses that predate the 1704 Indian attack on the village. Either way, though, the house is unquestionably old, and historically significant.

The left side of the building is the oldest, and dates back to about 1758, when it was owned by Salah Barnard. He operated a tavern out of the house, and in 1775 Benedict Arnold stopped here on his way north to capture Fort Ticonderoga. The American Revolution had started just weeks earlier, and Deerfield had a large number of loyalist residents, yet Arnold managed to acquire provisions for his men here at the tavern while at the same time maintaining the secrecy of his mission.

The most significant change to the building came around 1795, when Barnard added a larger tavern to the right side of the building. Like many other New England taverns of the era, it not only provided food, drink, and lodging for visitors; it also served as the social center of the town, and would have been used as a meeting place for a variety of local events. Salah Barnard died the same year that the addition was completed, and his son Erastus inherited the building and operated the tavern for the next ten years, until he moved away from Deerfield.

The property was eventually purchased in 1890 by Charlotte Alice Baker, a descendant of Samson Frary, the building’s purported original owner. She hired the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge to restore it to its original colonial appearance, and the work was complete by the time the first photo was taken. Today, the Frary House/Barnard Tavern is owned by Historic Deerfield, a museum that owns a number of historic properties in the village.

Along with the Frary House and Barnard Tavern, this scene shows one other historic home. Just to the right of the tavern is the Nims House, which predates the Frary House by over a decade The original house on this site was built around 1685 by Godfrey Nims, but was destroyed in the 1704 Indian raid. It was rebuilt in 1710, and portions of this house might still be standing, but most of the present-day home dates back to sometime between the 1720s and 1740s. It remained in the Nims family until the 1890s, and it is now owned by Deerfield Academy, who uses it for faculty housing.