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:

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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.

John Hoskins House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 560 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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This house was built around 1750 on Palisado Avenue, the main north-south road in Windsor, which runs parallel to the Connecticut River. The river is about a third of a mile from here, in the distance behind the house, and the floodplain in between provided early settlers with particularly fertile farmland. The house’s design is typical for area homes of the mid-18th century, featuring a slightly overhanging second story, which was somewhat of a holdover from late Medieval architecture.

According to the WPA Architectural Survey, which was conducted when the first photo was taken, the house was originally owned by a John Hoskins. This was hardly an unusual name in 18th century Windsor, though, and it does not seem clear as to which John Hoskins lived here. Regardless, the house remained in the Hoskins family until at least 1798, when a map of the town indicated that a Benjamin Hoskins owned the house. His identity also seems somewhat vague, and by the mid-19th century the house was owned by the Ellsworth family.

When the first photo was taken, the house was described as being in “excellent” condition. The only significant change to its original appearance was the porch, which was probably added sometime in the late 19th century. The porch has since been removed, along with the stone wall in the foreground and the barn in the distance. However, the house itself still stands, and probably more closely resembles its original appearance now than it did 80 years ago. It is one of many historic homes along Palisado Avenue, and is an excellent example of a typical mid-18th century farmhouse.

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.