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.

Elijah Mather, Sr. House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 256 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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Among the many fine 18th century homes on Palisado Avenue in Windsor is this hip-roofed Georgian, which was built by Elijah Mather, Sr. He was born in Windsor in 1743, and moved into this house soon after his marriage to Mary Strong. The couple raised five children here, and their names give an interesting insight into the naming customs of the era. Their first child, Mary, was named for her mother, followed by Elijah, Jr., named for his father. Next came Return Strong Mather, named for Mary’s father, then Allyn, whose first name was Elijah’s mother’s maiden name. Their last child was William, whose name does not appear to have come from any family members. Around the time of William’s birth in 1776, Elijah Mather left Windsor for several months to serve in the American Revolution. He enlisted as a private in a light horse regiment, and was part of Washington’s army during the retreat through New Jersey, until his enlistment expired in December.

Mary died in 1790, and Elijah in 1796, but their house is still here, 250 years after they first moved in. The first photo was taken as part of an effort to document historic architecture across Connecticut. This project was done as part of the Works Progress Administration, and provided jobs in the midst of the Great Depression while also recording information about historic buildings that, in some cases, were in danger of being lost forever. At the time, it was described as being in “good” condition, and retained much of its original material. The closed shutters on the second floor probably give it a more dilapidated look than was actually the case, but it certainly looks much better today, with restoration efforts such as more historically appropriate windows. Along with the other houses nearby, it is part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

James Hooker House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 118 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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James Hooker was born in Hartford in 1742, and was the great-great grandson of Thomas Hooker, the founder of Connecticut. Like other members of the Hooker family, he was a merchant, and was a partner in the firm of Hooker and Chaffee. This firm helped to provide supplies for the American soldiers during the American Revolution, and Hooker was commissioned as a captain in the Continental Army. He built this house around 1772, several years after the death of his first wife, Hannah Allin. He remarried in 1777 to Dolly Goodwin, and after her death in 1784 he remarried again, this time to Mary Chaffee. She was the daughter of Dr. Hezekiah Chaffee, who lived in the house next door, and was also the sister of John Chaffee, one of Hooker’s business partners.

Although the house itself dates back to the 18th century, it has seen significant alterations over the years. Many of the exterior architectural elements, including the entablature below the roof and the pilasters in the corners, were added around the 1840s, reflecting the Greek Revival tastes of the era. Likewise, little original material remains on the interior. By the time the first photo was taken, the house was part of the Chaffee School, and the interior had been completely gutted to accommodate space for classrooms. Despite these changes, though, the house remains historically significant. It is one of many 18th century homes in Windsor, and it is part of the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hezekiah Chaffee House, Windsor, Connecticut

The Hezekiah Chaffee House at 108 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, on January 21, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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Dr. Hezekiah Chaffee was born in 1731 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and in the mid-1750s he moved to Windsor. Here, he married Lydia Griswold Phelps, a widow who was nine years older than him. He evidently prospered in his profession, because around 1765 he built this large, elegant home, directly opposite the green at the old town center on Palisado Avenue. Here, the Chaffees raised their five children: Hepsibah, Mary, Hezekiah, Jr., Esther, and John. They also had several slaves, with town records in 1791 indicating that an unnamed slave gave birth to a daughter, Betty Stevenson. At the time, slavery was legal in Connecticut, and would officially remain so until 1848, although gradual emancipation had reduced the number of slaves in the state to just a few dozen by then.

Perhaps the most notable event in the early history of the house came on November 4, 1774, when John Adams spent the night here while on his way back home from Philadelphia after the First Continental Congress. The future president kept a diary during the trip, primarily with brief daily accounts of where he ate and slept, along with occasional remarks about the character of his hosts. In his entry for “Fryday Novr. 4,” he mentioned that he dined in Hartford, and then “Lodged at Dr. Chafy’s in Windsor. Very cordially entertained.”

Dr. Chaffee lived here for the rest of his life, and also had his medical practice here in one of the ells of the home. His wife Lydia died in 1801, and he died in 1819, at the age of 88. The house went to his son, Hezekiah, Jr., who was also a physician. He died just two years later, but the house would remain in the Chaffee family for another century.

In 1926, the house became part of the Loomis Institute, a private school that had been founded 12 years earlier. Located a little north of the Loomis campus, the house became the Chaffee School, the girls-only counterpart to Loomis. It was in use by the school in 1937, when the first photograph was taken as part of Great Depression-era efforts to document historic buildings across the country. The two schools consolidated in 1970, forming the current Loomis Chaffee School.

The house was subsequently sold to the town of Windsor, and it is operated by the Windsor Historical Society as a museum. More than 250 years after its completion, and despite several changes in use, the house remains well-preserved on both the interior and exterior. It is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Windsor, a town that features many historic 18th century homes. Because of this, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and it was subsequently designated as a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which also encompasses many of the other surrounding historic homes.