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.

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.

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The building in 2016:

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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.

Simon Colton House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Simon Colton House, as seen from the Longmeadow town green on September 21, 1918. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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When the first photo was taken almost a century ago, this house was already a historic building, as one of the oldest surviving houses in the town. It was built in 1735 by Simon Colton, who married Abigail Burt a year later. They raised their 12 children in this house, and after Abigail’s death in 1760, Colton married Rebekah Hale. Colton was a prominent resident of Longmeadow, and in addition to serving as a town selectman for nine years and as a captain in the French and Indian War, he also operated a tavern out of the house.

He lived here until his death in 1796, and his son Luther lived here with his wife Thankful and their eight children. Thankful died only a year later, though, and in 1799 Luther remarried to Mehitable Deming, a widow who had four children of her own. She accepted his proposal under the condition that he build her an addition to the house, seen on the right side in this view, where she could go if she needed time away from the 12 children. Luther and Mehitable ended up having two more children of their own, making their household an 18th century version of Yours, Mine and Ours. Luther died in 1804 at the age of 47, but Mehitable lived nearly twice as long, remaining in the house until her death in 1856 at the age of 93.

The house remained in the Colton family for 200 years, until it was transferred to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1935. The organization, which is now Historic New England, has since sold the house, but with the stipulations that the front facade not be changed, and that it remains painted red. Today, the house has not changed much since the first photo was taken 98 years ago, and it is flanked by two other historic buildings. The Justin Colton House on the right, and the 1857 church parsonage, which does not appear in the 1918 scene because it was moved here around 1921, is on the left. All three buildings, along with the rest of the historic buildings around the town green, are part of the Longmeadow Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Incidentally, the Colton House is not the oldest object in the first photo. According to photographer Paesiello Emerson, the elm tree that is partially blocking the view of the house was 300 years old, which, if accurate, would mean that the tree predated even the arrival of the Mayflower. However, it is unlikely to have survived more than a couple decades after the photo was taken, as both the 1938 hurricane and Dutch Elm Disease took a heavy toll on the large elms that once lined the streets of New England.

Thomas Bliss House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Thomas Bliss House on Longmeadow Street, on May 5, 1910. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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This house is so old that it was actually built in Springfield, years before Longmeadow became a separate town. It is one of many historic 18th century homes still standing in Longmeadow, and although its exact date of construction is uncertain, it was built sometime between 1714 and 1758 for Thomas Bliss, on the opposite side of the street. When Bliss died in 1758, his son Henry sold it to Nathaniel Ely, who operated a tavern out of here. It was used as a tavern until 1833 , and was later moved across the street to its present location.

One of the subsequent owners was Dr. Lester Noble, a dentist who played a role in the high-profile 1849 murder of Dr. George Parkman. Along with fellow Longmeadow dentist Dr. Nathan Keep, Noble used dental records to identify Parkman’s badly mutilated body, making it one of the first trials to use dental evidence. Dr. Noble died a few years before the first photo was taken in 1910. At this point, the house was owned by Cora M. Page, and it featured a porch on the front and side, along with several outbuildings behind it. The porch is partially gone now, as are the barns/sheds in the background, but the historic house is still standing, and at possibly 300 years old it is one of the oldest buildings in Longmeadow.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (2)

Another view of the Burnham Tavern, taken on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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This view shows the rear of Burnham, which as explained in the previous post was built in 1770 and played a role in the planning of the Battle of Machias, one of the first naval battles of the American Revolution.  Today, the building is well-preserved, and is maintained by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a museum, complete with period furnishings on the interior.  The first photo shows its appearance when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1937, and its exterior is virtually unchanged in the nearly 80 years since.  The only noticeable difference is the use of painted shingles instead of clapboards; this is actually in keeping with 18th century customs of putting clapboard on the front and shingles on the sides and back.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (1)

Burnham Tavern in Machias, seen on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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This building is so old that it was built in a different state.  Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, and this tavern not only predates Maine statehood, but it also predates the American Revolution by several years.  Despite its remote location on the extreme eastern edge of the United States, it played a role early on in the Revolution, and it remains preserved as a historic landmark over 240 years later.

Burnham Tavern was built in 1770, just seven years after the area was first settled by English colonists.  Five years later, the American Revolution started, and the tavern was used to plan what became the second naval battle of the war.  In June 1775, a group of local militiamen led by Jeremiah O’Brien and Benjamin Foster captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta.  The Margaretta was renamed the Machias Liberty, and in August it and another captured vessel were commissioned as the first two ships in the Massachusetts navy.

In part because of its proximity to the British colonies in present-day Canada, Machias became a base of operations for privateers who captured British merchant vessels during the war.  In response, the British launched an attack in August 1777, with an invasion force of 123 marines and four of the most harmless-sounding ships in naval history: the HMS Rainbow, HMS Blonde, HMS Mermaid, and HMS Hope.  Undeterred by such intimidating ship names, local militiamen and Native American allies drove off the ships, and Machias survived the war without any additional attacks.

The building’s historic significance was already understood by the time the 1937 photo was taken, when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey.  Not much has changed since then, down to the sign hanging on the right side of the building.  It retains much of its 18th century appearance, both on the outside and on the inside, and it is operated as a museum by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.