Return Strong House, Windsor, Connecticut

The home of Return Strong on North Meadow Road in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


The exact date of construction for this house is unclear, with various sources giving dates between 1700 and 1726. Either way, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Windsor, a town that has many excellent examples of 18th century architecture. The historical records also do not seem to indicate which Return Strong built this house, as there were several with that name in Windsor. However, it appears to have been originally owned by Return Strong, Sr., a tanner who was a member of the prominent Strong family.

Return Strong was born in 1741, about six years after his father, John Strong, immigrated to New England. John Strong had originally settled in Hingham, Massachusetts, before moving to Taunton and then to Windsor in the 1640s. He later moved again, to Northampton, Massachusetts, where he was one of the founders of the town as well as ruling elder of the church. However, Return Strong remained here in Windsor, where he married his wife, Sarah Warham, in 1664. He became one of the town’s leading residents, including serving as a militia officer and representing the town in the colonial legislature.

One of Return Strong’s sons was also named Return, who had a son of his own with the same name. This name is rarely seen today, but it was not uncommon among Puritans, who frequently named their children after abstract virtues. Of John Strong’s 18 children, he also had two daughters named Experience and Thankful, in addition to an assortment of Old Testament names such as Jedediah, Ebenezer, Hester, and Jerijah.

The younger Return Strong died relatively young in 1708, but his father lived well into his 80s, until his death in 1726. Since then, there have been some additions and modifications, including the small front porch that is seen in the first photo. In the 80 years since this photo was taken, this porch has been removed, and the house has remained well-preserved. The other surrounding buildings are also still standing, including the church in the distance on the left and the house on the right. All of these properties are now part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Samuel Cross House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at the end of North Meadow Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


This house was built sometime before 1730, and it is situated right alongside the Farmington River. Like the neighboring Jonathan Alvord House, which was built later in the 18th century, it is built into the hillside along the river, with a high brick basement that has a full-size door and windows. The house originally belonged to Samuel Cross, who, according to the documentation done when the first photo was taken, operated a ferry across the river in the early 1700s.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was already over 200 years old, but it remained in good condition. Since then, a porch has been added to the left side, and there is also an addition on the back side of the house, which is not visible from this angle. Otherwise, though, the house retains much of its original appearance, and it is part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jonathan Alvord House, Windsor, Connecticut

The home of Jonathan Alvord on North Meadow Road in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1786 along the north side of the Farmington River, just upstream of its confluence with the Connecticut River. Just to the east of here is a large meadow, which is part of the Connecticut River floodplain, and the house is actually built right into the hillside at the edge of the meadow. It is two stories high, with a gambrel roof that was common in the late 18th century, but the most noticeable feature is the basement, which is a full story tall on the downhill side of the house.

The original owner of this house was Jonathan Alvord, whose last name is also spelled Alford in historical records. There seems to be very little specific information about him, although he was living here until at least the 1810 census. When the first photo was taken over a century later, the house remained well-preserved, and not much has changed since then. Along with the many other 18th and 19th century homes in the center of Windsor, it is now part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Thaddeus Leavitt Jr. House, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 281 North Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


Thaddeus Leavitt, Jr. was the son of Thaddeus Leavitt, a prominent merchant and landowner whose own house was located just a short walk to the north of here. Unlike his father’s relatively plain, Colonial-era home, though, the younger Thaddeus’s house reflects the more ornate Federal-style architecture that had come into popularity in the late 1700s. The house was built around 1800, when Thaddeus was just 22 years old, and it is remarkably similar to the Gay Mansion, which was built across the street from here just five years earlier.

In 1801, shortly after the house was completed, Thaddeus married his wife, Jemima Loomis, and they went on to raise their four children here. Like his father, Thaddeus was a merchant with a store in Suffield, and he is also referred to in historic documents with the title of Colonel, so he probably served as an officer in the state militia. However, also like his father, he died relatively young, in 1828 at the age of 50. Jemima outlived him by nearly two decades, until her own death in 1846.

In the meantime, Thaddeus and Jemima’s oldest child, Jane, married Jonathan Hunt, a lawyer in Brattleboro, Vermont. He was the son of former Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Hunt, and he went on to have a successful political career of his own, serving in Congress from 1827 until his death from cholera in 1832. He was only 44 when he died, leaving Jane with five young children.

Three of these children, who were the grandsons of Thaddeus Leavitt Jr., would go on to achieve fame as artists in the second half of the 19th century. Their oldest, William Morris Hunt, studied art in Paris, and became a prominent painter in Boston until his death in 1879. Jane’s third son was Leavitt Hunt, a photographer whose work included some of the earliest known photographs of the Middle East, which were taken in the early 1850s. However,  probably the most notable of Thaddeus Leavitt’s descendants was Jane’s second son, Richard Morris Hunt. He was one of the leading American architects of the late 19th century, and was particularly well-known for designing a number of Gilded Age mansions, including The Breakers in Newport.

At some point, probably in the mid-19th century, Thaddeus Leavitt’s former mansion was renovated, bringing it in line with architectural tastes of the era. It took on a more Italianate-style appearance, with new features such as a cupola on the top of the house. The bay window on the left and the porches on the back part of the house were also probably added during this time, and they can be seen in the first photo, which was taken as part of a WPA survey to document historic architecture in Connecticut.

In the 80 years since the first photo was taken, the house has been restored to a more Federal-style appearance, including the removal of the cupola. The exterior is also painted plain white, as opposed to the multi-color paint scheme that is seen in the first photo. Along with the other nearby homes, it is now part of the Suffield Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Thaddeus Leavitt Sr. House, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 331 North Main Street in Suffield, around 1934-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


Thaddeus Leavitt was a merchant who was born in Suffield in 1750. In 1773, when he was 23, he married Elizabeth King, and the couple moved into this newly-built house that same year. Here, they raised their two children, who were also named Thaddeus and Elizabeth, and the elder Thaddeus became one of the town’s leading citizens. He served as a selectman and a justice of the peace, and his business prospered as well. In addition to running a store here in Suffield, he also had an ownership stake in a number of merchant ships, which carried goods to and from distant places such as the West Indies.

By the 1790s, Leavitt was a wealthy man, and he joined a group of other Suffield men who invested in western land. In the colonial era, Connecticut had, like many other colonies, been granted boundaries that extended from sea to sea. Although practically speaking they exercised no control over most of this land, Connecticut held claim to it until 1786, when they ceded most of it to the Federal government, retaining only the land in present-day northeastern Ohio. Known as the Western Reserve, the state of Connecticut sold much of this land to private investors, including the Connecticut Land Company, of which Leavitt was a partner.

Connecticut eventually abandoned its claim to the Western Reserve in 1800, and three years later the land became part of the newly-established state of Ohio. However, the legacy of the Connecticut Land Company has survived. There is Leavittsburg, which is named for Thaddeus’s family, and Trumbull County, which is named for Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull. However, the most recognizable name is probably that of the land company’s leader, Moses Cleaveland, for whom the region’s largest city was named.

Soon after the Western Reserve became part of Ohio, Leavitt became involved in another land-related issue, this one much closer to home. Since the early colonial days, Massachusetts and Connecticut had disputed the location of the border between the two states. The border was initially supposed to be a line due west from three miles south of the southernmost bend of the Charles River, and in 1642 a Massachusetts surveying crew marked this border. However, their line was several miles south of where the true border should have been, and for many years Massachusetts claimed the towns of Suffield and Enfield, along with other land in the area.

By the end of the 18th century, this dispute had mostly been resolved, with Connecticut taking control of Suffield and Enfield,  but Southwick remained a sticking point because its town borders straddled the line between the two states. In 1804, Leavitt was part of a commission that sought to reach an agreement between the two states. Massachusetts did not want to cede control of the portion of Southwick that was south of the true border, so the states ultimately agreed to split it, with Massachusetts taking the everything west of the Congamond Lakes, and Connecticut taking the land east of the lakes. This compromise created the “Southwick Jog,” which to this day remains an unusual feature of the otherwise mostly straight border between the two states.

Thaddeus Leavitt died in 1813 at the age of 52, and Elizabeth died in 1826. However, many of their descendants went on to achieve prominence in the late 19th century. Thaddeus, Jr., who built his own house nearby in 1800, had a daughter, Jane, who married Vermont Congressman Jonathan Hunt. Jane and Jonathan’s children included artist William Morris Hunt, photographer Leavitt Hunt, and, most notably, architect Richard Morris Hunt, who designed The Breakers in Newport along with countless other mansions of the Gilded Age.

Although Leavitt was a very wealthy man for his time, his plain, relatively modest home certainly pales in comparison with the mansions that his great-grandson would go on to build a century later. However, the house is still standing, and is one of many similar historic 18th century homes in the center of Suffield. Along with the other houses in the area, it is now part of the Suffield Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Josiah King Jr. House, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 241 North Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


This house was built around 1762 for Josiah King, Jr. and his wife, Sarah Kellogg. The couple were married that year, and they went on to raise three children here. In 1775, in response to the battles of Lexington and Concord, Josiah marched toward Boston with other area militiamen, serving for nine days until the initial crisis had passed. He would later see additional service in the war, and in 1778 he was commissioned as a captain in Connecticut’s First Regiment. Aside from his military service, Josiah was a farmer, and he lived here in Suffield until his death in 1815, at the age of 84.

Although the house dates back to the mid-1700s, it appears to have been altered sometime later, probably after Josiah King’s death. Many of its prominent features, such as the wide entablature above the second floor, the pilasters in the corners, and the fan window on the left side, did not become commonplace until the Greek Revival era of the early 19th century, so these alterations probably date back to that time period. When the first photo was taken around the 1930s, the house was listed as being in “very good” condition, and not much has changed in the 80 years since then. It remains well-preserved, and is one of the many historic 18th century homes in the center of Suffield.