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.

Second Baptist Church, Suffield, Connecticut (2)

Another view of the Second Baptist Church, taken around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, WPA Architectural Survey Collection.

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The church in 2017:

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The first photo was taken as part of a Works Progress Administration program to document historic buildings in Connecticut. Around 100 years old at the time, the Second Baptist Church was among those photographed in Suffield’s historic town center. As mentioned in more detail in the previous post, the congregation was established in 1805 by members of the First Baptist Church. The current building was completed in 1840, and has remained in use ever since.

The church is now nearly twice as old as it was when the first photo was taken, but its exterior has seen little change. The only significant difference is the loss of the parsonage on the extreme right, which was demolished in the 1950s to build a new wing of the church. Along with many other historic buildings in the center of Suffield, the church is a contributing property in the Suffield Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Second Baptist Church, Suffield, Connecticut (1)

The Second Baptist Church, on North Main Street in Suffield, around the early 1900s. Image from Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut (1921).

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The church in 2017:

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In the colonial era, nearly all of the churches in New England were Congregational. At the time, Baptists were a very small minority, but they gained a foothold here in Suffield. The first Baptist church in Hartford County was established in the town in 1769, and its congregation met in a small church about three miles west of the town center. Despite the remote location, the church remained there in the Hastings Hill neighborhood, and the current church building was built in 1846.

Because of how far removed it was from the town center, though, the Second Baptist Church was formed in 1805, and in 1840 they built this building on North Main Street, right in the center of Suffield. It was designed by Suffield native Henry A. Sykes, who was the architect for a number of buildings throughout the Connecticut River Valley in the mid-19th century. The Greek Revival architecture is fairly typical for New England churches of the era, with a symmetrical front facade, a columned portico, and a multi-stage steeple above it.

The church building was completed a year after Dwight Ives became the pastor. He served here for many years, and had close ties to the Connecticut Literary Institute, located across the street. Known today as Suffield Academy, it had been founded as a Baptist school, and many of the students attended church here. During Ives’s 35 year long pastorate here, the church experienced several revivals, with a significant growth in the size of the congregation.

About a century after the first photo was taken, the Second Baptist Church is still an active congregation. There have been some changes, most notably the demolition of the parsonage to the right of the church and the construction of several additions in the 1950s. The church itself is still standing, though, along with the Ebenezer Gay Manse, barely visible in the distance on the far left of the photos. Both buildings are important landmarks in downtown Suffield, and they are part of the Suffield Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

East Granby Congregational Church, East Granby, Connecticut

The East Granby Congregational Church, at the corner of North Main Street and Rainbow Road, around 1930. Image from Sketch of the Congregational Society and Church of East Granby, Conn. (1930).

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The church in 2017:

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Early 19th century stone churches are rare in the Connecticut River Valley, where most meetinghouses were built of either wood or brick. As a result, this granite church in East Granby stands out in contrast to the archetypal white, wood-frame churches of small-town New England. It was completed in 1831, and was one of many churches designed by Northampton, Massachusetts architect Isaac Damon, whose most prominent existing work is probably Springfield’s Old First Church. However, the East Granby church is very different from most of his other churches, which were almost invariably wood, with a columned portico in the front and a tall spire above it.

At the time of its completion, the church was actually located in Granby. The present-day towns of Granby and East Granby had been part of Simsbury in the colonial era, but in 1786 the two northern parishes were formed into the town of Granby. The eastern parish, originally known as Turkey Hills, subsequently split off from Granby in 1858 to form East Granby, with this area here as the town center.

The first photograph was taken around the time of the building’s 100th anniversary. At the time, East Granby’s population was just about 1,000 people, not much higher than when the town had been incorporated over 70 years earlier. However, in the nearly 90 years since then, the town has undergone significant growth as a suburb of Hartford, and now has over 5,000 residents. Part of Bradley International Airport is also located in the town, just over a mile east of the church.

Despite all of these changes, though, the church is still standing, and remains in active use. There have been several large additions over the years, which are partially visible behind and to the left of it, but Isaac Damon’s original section is largely unaltered. It is a prominent landmark in the center of town, and is part of the East Granby 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.

Main Street from Sheldon Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking north on Main Street from Sheldon Street, around 1903-1906. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

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Main Street in 2016:

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When the first photo was taken, this section of Main Street just south of downtown Hartford was still an assortment of low-rise brick commercial buildings, most of which probably dated back to the mid 19th century. However, this would soon change. Already, larger buildings were rising in the distance, including the Travelers Insurance building, partially visible in the distant center of the first photo. Also building around the same time was the Wadsworth Atheneum, hidden from view at this angle but located on the right side of Main Street. This museum opened in 1844, but by the turn of the century they were looking to expand their building.

At the same time that these buildings were being built, though, others were coming down. The first photo was taken shortly before St. John’s Episcopal Church, seen in the right center of the photo, was demolished to make way for the Atheneum expansion. The commercial buildings further to the right would soon disappear, too. By 1915 they would be demolished to build the Municipal Building, located at the corner of Main and Arch Streets.

Today, not much is left from the first photo. The Atheneum is still there, and is partially visible behind the trees, and the only other surviving landmark is the Travelers Insurance building, which was greatly expanded in 1919 to include the tower in the center of the 2016 scene. The only other prominent historic building in this scene is the Municipal Building, which was completed about 10 years after the first photo was taken and still functions as Hartford’s city hall a century later.