Gay Mansion, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 222 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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One of the finest 18th century homes in Suffield is the Gay Mansion, which was built in 1795 for Ebenezer King, Jr. He was a very wealthy man, with a net worth of reportedly over $100,000 (nearly $1.5 million today), and this is reflected in his Federal-style mansion. Around the same time that this house was built, King was an investor in the Suffield, Cuyahoga, & Big Beaver Land Company. This company, comprised of a number of other Suffield men, owned entire townships in the Western Reserve, a section of northern Ohio that was, at the time, claimed by Connecticut.

Unfortunately for King, he eventually lost much of his money, and had to sell his mansion in 1811. It was purchased by William Gay, a prominent lawyer and the son of Ebenezer Gay, who had been the longtime pastor of the Congregational church. Aside from his law practice, William Gay was also the postmaster of the town for 35 years, and for much of that time the post office was located here in his living room. After his death in 1844, two of his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, continued to live here. They never married, and after their deaths in the 1880s the house was inherited by the children of their sister Deborah.

The house remained in the Gay family for over 100 years, and by the start of the 20th century it was still filled with old family heirlooms and other antiques. It was even featured in a Good Housekeeping article in 1907, because of its extraordinary level of preservation on both the inside and outside. In 1916, it was sold to Daniel R. Kennedy, Jr., the pastor of the Congregational Church, and he was still living here a couple decades later when the first photo was taken. Very little has changed in the appearance of the house, and it is now owned by Suffield Academy and used as the residence of the headmaster.

Harvey Bissell House, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 82 North Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, WPA Architectural Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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Harvey Bissell was originally from Windsor, but around 1815 he built this house in the center of Suffield. It features Federal-style elements that were often seen in upscale homes of the day, including the ornate lintels over the windows, the quoins on the corners, and the Palladian window above the front door. The house also once had a two-story front porch, as seen in the first photo, although it is unclear whether this was an original part of the design. This porch as gone by 1939, when the house was photographed for HABS.

A year after the completion of the house, Harvey Bissell married Arabella Leavitt, and the couple had six children, one of whom died young. He was a storekeeper here in Suffield, but he and his family later moved to Hartford, Vermont. The 1850 census lists him as a farmer, with real estate valued at $40,000, equivalent to over $1.1 million today. He died that same year at the age of 63, and Arabella later moved to Lawrence, Kansas with several of her children.

Now over 200 years old, the house has undergone significant changes in recent years. In 2011, a large addition was built in the back of the original building and became Suffield Commons, a luxury apartment complex for seniors. The architecture of the addition matches the Bissell House, and the original 1815 section has been renovated into a restaurant.

John Hoskins House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 560 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, 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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This house was built around 1750 on Palisado Avenue, the main north-south road in Windsor, which runs parallel to the Connecticut River. The river is about a third of a mile from here, in the distance behind the house, and the floodplain in between provided early settlers with particularly fertile farmland. The house’s design is typical for area homes of the mid-18th century, featuring a slightly overhanging second story, which was somewhat of a holdover from late Medieval architecture.

According to the WPA Architectural Survey, which was conducted when the first photo was taken, the house was originally owned by a John Hoskins. This was hardly an unusual name in 18th century Windsor, though, and it does not seem clear as to which John Hoskins lived here. Regardless, the house remained in the Hoskins family until at least 1798, when a map of the town indicated that a Benjamin Hoskins owned the house. His identity also seems somewhat vague, and by the mid-19th century the house was owned by the Ellsworth family.

When the first photo was taken, the house was described as being in “excellent” condition. The only significant change to its original appearance was the porch, which was probably added sometime in the late 19th century. The porch has since been removed, along with the stone wall in the foreground and the barn in the distance. However, the house itself still stands, and probably more closely resembles its original appearance now than it did 80 years ago. It is one of many historic homes along Palisado Avenue, and is an excellent example of a typical mid-18th century farmhouse.

Oliver Ellsworth Homestead, Windsor, Connecticut

The Oliver Ellsworth Homestead at 778 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, around 1920. Image from Old New England Houses (1920).

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The house in 2017:

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This house was built in 1781 for Oliver Ellsworth, a lawyer who was, at the time, a member of the Continental Congress. He  was well on his way to becoming one of Connecticut’s most prominent figures of the late 18th century, and served as one of the state’s representatives in Congress from 1778 to 1783. Along with this, he held a variety of state offices, but perhaps his most important contribution to history came in 1787, when he was one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Although he left the convention early and did not sign the finished Constitution, he played a key role in resolving the contentious issue of how states would be represented in the new Congress. He worked with fellow Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman to create the Connecticut Compromise, which established the current structure of Congress, with two senators per state, plus a varying number of representatives that was based on population.

Two years later, Ellsworth became one of Connecticut’s first two senators, serving from 1789 to 1796. During this time, he was largely responsible for writing the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the federal court system. In 1796, he became the head of this court system when George Washington appointed him as the nation’s third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Washington’s previous choice for the position, John Rutledge, had been rejected by the Senate, but Ellsworth was confirmed by a unanimous vote. That same year, he also gained 11 electoral votes in the presidential election, finishing a distant sixth behind John Adams. He served as the Chief Justice until his retirement in 1800. During this time, John Adams sent him to France as part of a delegation to negotiate with Napoleon, with Ellsworth and the other Americans ultimately reaching an agreement that avoided war between the two countries.

Ellsworth lived in this house for over 25 years, and both George Washington and John Adams made visits here during their presidencies. Ellsworth and his wife Abigail raised nine children here, including twins William Wolcott Ellsworth and Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. Born here in 1791, they both achieved prominence of their own. William followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a lawyer and politician. He married Emily Webster, the daughter of dictionary writer Noah Webster, and he served as a Congressman from 1829 to 1834, the governor of Connecticut from 1838 to 1842, and as a judge on the state Supreme Court from 1847 to 1861. Likewise, Henry was involved in politics, serving briefly as mayor of Hartford before spending a decade as the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, from 1835 to 1845.

The exterior of the house has not changed much since Ellsworth’s lifetime. The addition on the right side came in 1788, presumably to accommodate the growing family, although the pillars and the overhanging roof were added later in the 1800s. After his death in 1807, the house remained in his family for nearly a century, until 1903, when it was given to the Connecticut chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The organization still owns the house, and it is preserved as a museum, with tours offered by appointment. Because of its significance as the home of one of the Founding Fathers, the  house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

Jonathan Ellsworth House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 336 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, in August 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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This house is one of the finest Georgian homes in Windsor, and was built in 1784 for Jonathan Ellsworth. They were a prominent family in 18th century Windsor, and one of his relatives was Oliver Ellsworth, the third Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, who lived a little further north of here on Palisado Avenue. Jonathan Ellsworth’s house would remain in his family for many years, and by the mid-19th century it was owned by William H. Ellsworth, who lived here with his wife Emily and their four children: William, Horace, Elizabeth, and Clara. Horace would later inherit the house, and owned it until his death in 1934, exactly 150 years after the house was built.

The first photo was taken only four years after Horace’s death, and it shows the alterations that had happened to the house over the years. It had lost many of its original Georgian details, and he WPA architectural survey, which was completed around the same time, noted that it was only in “fair” condition. However, in the 1960s it was restored to its former grandeur, with features such as historically appropriate windows, the scroll pediment over the door, the lintels over the first floor windows, and the quoins on the corners of the house. It is an excellent surviving example of an 18th century home in Windsor, and it is a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elijah Mather, Jr. House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 248 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, 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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Elijah Mather, Jr. was born in 1768, and grew up right next door to here. He was the oldest son of Elijah Mather, Sr. and Mary Strong, and in 1790 he married Jerusha Roberts. Following their marriage, the couple moved into this newly-built house next to Elijah’s parents’ house, and they raised four children here before his death in 1798 at the age of 29. More than two centuries later, the appearance of the house is still largely the same as it was when he lived here. Architecturally, it is a fairly typical design for 18th century New England homes, and has changed little since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago. Like the neighboring home where Elijah’s parents lived, the house is a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.