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:

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.

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.

William King House, Suffield Connecticut (2)

The William King House in Suffield, seen on February 17, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey collection.

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The house in 2015:

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Taken from a slightly different angle from the earlier photo in this post, the 1938 view here shows the house as it appeared when it was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey.  Begun in 1933, the project was intended to provide work for unemployed photographers and architects during the Great Depression, in order to document some of the country’s historic properties.  These images and documents are now available online through the Library of Congress, and more photographs of the King House, along with detailed architectural drawings, can be found here.  The house hasn’t changed much in its exterior appearance in the past 77 years, and today it is used as a bed and breakfast, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.