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.

Phelps-Hatheway House, Suffield Connecticut (2)

The Phelps-Hatheway House on South Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Georgian-style home is a prominent architectural landmark in the Connecticut River Valley, and is one of the finest 18th century homes in the entire region. As mentioned in an earlier post, it was built sometime between the 1730s and 1761 for Abraham Burbank, and the house was later inherited by his son Shem. At the time, the house was much smaller, consisting of just the central portion. It had a gabled roof, and lacked the ornamentation that was later added. Shem was a merchant, as well as a captain in the state militia prior to the American Revolution. However, like many other wealthy merchants in the area, he was also a Tory, and sided with the British during the war. As a result, his business suffered, and in 1788 he had to sell the house.

The next owner of the house was Oliver Phelps, who, like Burbank, had been a merchant. However, unlike Burbank, he had been on the winning side of the American Revolution, serving as a deputy commissary for the Continental Army. He was originally from Granville, Massachusetts, and served in both houses of the Massachusetts legislature. He was also a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention in 1779-1780, and served on the Governor’s Council in 1786. At this point he was a wealthy man, and in 1788 he formed a partnership with Nathaniel Gorham, who had been one of the delegates to the US Constitutional Convention the year before. Together, they purchased six million acres of land in western New York for one million dollars, and that same year Phelps purchased this house from Shem Burbank.

Around 1794 set about expanding the house with a new wing on the right side, as well as adding ornamentation to the exterior. This brought the house up to architectural tastes of the late 18th century, and it also reflected his considerable wealth and social standing. Some of the remodeling was done by a young local architect, Asher Benjamin. About 21 years old at the time, he would go on to become one of the nation’s leading architects, and this house is his earliest known work. Phelps also had the interior decorated lavishly, including with imported French wallpaper that still covers the walls of the house today.

During this time, Phelps also continued his land speculation, purchasing vast tracts of land in present-day Ohio, Georgia, West Virginia, and northern Maine. By 1800, he was, according to some sources, the largest private landowner in the country, but this ultimately led to his downfall when land values dropped. Deeply in debt, he sold his house in 1802 and moved to Canandaigua, New York, which had been part of his initial land purchase in 1788. He served a term in Congress from 1803 to 1805, but his financial troubles continued, and he died in debtor’s prison in 1809.

Apparently undeterred by the financial ruin of its two previous owners, Asahel Hatheway purchased the house from Phelps in 1802. He had grown up at his parents’ house just a little south of here, and studied theology at Yale. After graduation, he briefly worked as a pastor, but then returned to Suffield, where he became a farmer and a merchant, along with serving as a church deacon and a justice of the peace. He married his wife Anna in 1778, and they had six children together. Anna died in 1807, only about five years after moving into this house, but Asahel continued living here until his death in 1828, at the age of 89.

The house was inherited by his son, Asahel, Jr. Like his father, the younger Asahel had graduated from Yale, and became a merchant in New York City before returning to Suffield in 1812. He and his wife Nancy had six children, and he died in 1829 at the age of 49, just a year after his father’s death. His daughter Louise, who was only a few years old when he died, became the third generation of Hatheways to own the house. She never married, and lived here for the rest of her life, until her death in 1910. The 250th anniversary book of Suffield, published a decade later, describes how “her stately dignity and gracious but firm refusal to open her home to any but a few intimates imparted to the old mansion an air of mystery.”

Louise was the last living descendant of Asahel Hatheway, Sr., and after her death many of the family heirlooms were donated to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The house is now owned by Connecticut Landmarks, a preservation organization that maintains several historic houses in the state. Both the exterior and interior have been remarkably well-preserved, and the house is open to the public for tours. Even older than the house itself, though, is the massive sycamore tree on the left side of both photos. It is approximately 300 years old, predating the house by several decades, and aside from the loss of a large limb it has not changed much in the 80 years since the first photo was taken.

Timothy Phelps House, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 155 South Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1795 for Timothy Phelps and his wife Elizabeth. At the time, they had two young sons, Thaddeus and James, and they would later have a daughter, also named Elizabeth. The overall appearance of the house is similar to the traditional New England Colonial-style home, with a gabled roof and a symmetrical front facade, with four windows on the first floor and five on the second floor. However, the house is more ornate than the earlier Colonial homes, with classically-inspired elements such as the Palladian window above the door, cornices over the windows, and pilasters on the corners of the house.

Timothy Phelps died in 1836 at the age of 75, and Elizabeth died nine years later. Since then, the house has undergone some changes, including additions on the back. Probably the most noticeable change, though, is the metal roof, which was installed sometime before the first photo was taken. Overall, though, the house has retained its Federal-style architectural details, and it is one of many elegant 18th century homes in the center of Suffield. Along with the other surrounding homes, it is now part of the Suffield Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elihu Kent, Jr. House, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 161 South Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1787 for Elihu Kent, Jr., who lived here with his wife Elizabeth and their four children, Rebecca, Betsy, Samuel, and Azel. Elihu was a farmer and tavern keeper, and he also served in the American Revolution alongside his father, Elihu Kent, Sr. He was captured at the Battle of Long Island, and subsequently spent a long time in one of the infamous sugar house prisons in New York City, where, according to historical records, he “suffered greatly.”

It seems unclear how long Kent lived in this house, because he also lived in a smaller home nearby at 221 South Main Street before his death in 1813. Since then, his house here has remained well-preserved, and it is one of the many 18th century homes that line North and South Main Street in Suffield. When the first photo was taken, it was listed as only being in “fair” condition, but it has since been restored, and is now part of the Suffield Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.