East Windsor Hill Post Office, South Windsor, Connecticut

The East Windsor Hill Post Office in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The scene in 2022:

These two photos show the post office at 1865 Main Street in the East Windsor Hill neighborhood of South Windsor. The building dates back to 1757, when Jeremiah Bullard constructed the one-story section on the left side. He operated a store there, and then in the 1760s David Bissell built the two-story section on the right side, where he likewise had a store.

The building was used by a variety of businesses during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but it is perhaps best known for its claim of being the oldest continuously-operating post office in the country. As indicated on the historical marker on the building, the store “received the first government post rider in 1783.” However, the building was not officially designated as a post office until 1837, so it seems questionable whether occasional post rider visits would qualify it as being a true post office, much less one that was in “continuous use.” A stronger contender for the oldest continuously-used post office would seem to be the one in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, which has been located in the same building since 1816.

Either way, though, the East Windsor Hill post office is definitely still among the oldest existing post offices in the country, and the building itself is a rare surviving example of a colonial-era commercial building. The top photo shows the building around the late 1930s, and it has seen only minor exterior changes since then. These include removing the shutters on the left side and installing new windows on the right side, both of which were likely done to improve the historical accuracy of the building. Today, the building remains in use as a post office, and it is part of the East Windsor Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Ebenezer Grant House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The Ebenezer Grant House on Main Street in South Windsor, Connecticut, around 1934-1937. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2022:

The East Windsor Hill neighborhood of South Windsor has many well-preserved 18th and early 19th century homes along Main Street, but perhaps the most celebrated of these is the Ebenezer Grant House, shown here in these two photos. Long recognized as an architectural masterpiece, the house exemplifies the type of homes that were built for the upper class families of the Connecticut River Valley during the mid-18th century.

This house was built around 1757-1758 by Ebenezer Grant (1706-1797), a prosperous merchant who lived in what was, at the time, the eastern part of the town of Windsor. Although located many miles from the ocean, this area is near the head of navigation for oceangoing vessels on the Connecticut River, and Grant was heavily involved in the West Indies trade. He exported commodities such as horses, lumber, tobacco, staves, bricks, and barrel hoops to Barbados and other West Indies ports, and in return imported rum, molasses, sugar, and indigo.

Grant also built several merchant ships here in modern-day South Windsor, near the mouth of the Scantic River, and he was a part owner in many other ships. It does not seem clear as to whether Grant was directly involved in the slave trade, but most of the goods that he imported and exported were closely tied to the plantation economies of the Caribbean colonies.

Aside from trading bulk commodities and other raw materials, Grant also purchased wholesale consumer goods, which he then sold here in his hometown. He had accounts with many of the leading colonial-era merchants in Boston and New York, including John Hancock. Around 1767 he built a store just to the south of his house, and there he sold “dry goods, rum, groceries, hardware, and fancy articles,” according to Henry Reed Stiles in his book History and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor, Connecticut.

Ebenezer Grant’s wealth and social standing were reflected in his house, which was built when he was in his early 50s. Its overall form, with four windows and a door on the ground floor and five windows above them, was typical for houses of the period in this region. But, unlike many of the other mid-18th century houses, it has two chimneys in the main part of the house, rather than a single large chimney in the center. This design choice enabled the house to have a large front entrance hall and staircase, rather than a small entryway with a winding staircase that was typical for the center-chimney homes.

This house is also different from most of its contemporaries in its exterior detail. Most homes of this period were relatively plain on the exterior, but the Grant house included details such as pediments over the first floor windows on the front of the house, and similar pediments over the side doors, which are not visible in these photos. Overall, though, its most famous feature is the highly elaborate front doorway, as shown in these two photos. Often referred to as a “Connecticut Valley doorway,” this style of doorway was perhaps the single most important architectural innovation to be developed in western New England. There were many variations on the design, some with or without the scroll pediment above the door, but the one on the Grant house is among the finest in the region. It is also one of only a handful of scroll pediment doorways that are still on their original houses; many homes were demolished or altered over the years, and several similar doorways are now on display in museums.

As was often the case for 18th century New England homes, the Grant house also included a wing, or an “ell” on the back of the house. These were often added years or decades after the house was built, to accommodate growing families. However, the ell on the Grant house might be even older than the house itself. Some sources, including Stiles’s book, cite a tradition that say the ell was built by Ebenezer Grant’s father Samuel Grant in the late 17th century as a house, and was later moved and incorporated into the new house when it was built in the 1750s. Other sources, though, including the 1900 book Early Connecticut Houses: An Historical and Architectural Study, are skeptical of this theory. It seems more likely that the ell was built at the same time as the main house, perhaps using old timbers that had been repurposed from the previous house.

Ebenezer Grant and his first wife Ann (1712-1783) had six children, although four died young, including three who died within a month and a half of each other in the fall of 1747. By the time they moved into this house in the late 1750s they had two surviving children: a son Roswell (1745-1834) and a daughter Ann (1748-1838). As the only surviving son, Roswell would go on to become a partner in his father’s merchant firm, following his graduation from Yale in 1767. He went on to serve as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and after the war he married Flavia Wolcott, whose uncle Oliver Wolcott Sr. had been one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In the meantime, Ebenezer Grant’s wife Ann died in 1783, and a year later he remarried to Jemima Ellsworth. She was the widow of David Ellsworth, and she was also the mother of Oliver Ellsworth, a lawyer who later went on to become a U.S. Senator and Chief Justice of the United States. Jemima died in 1790 at the age of 67, and Ebenezer continued to live here in this house until hos own death in 1797 at the age of 91.

After his death, the house would remain in the Grant family for many years. His grandson Frederick W. Grant later inherited the house, and he lived here throughout most of the 19th century. In his book, Stiles credited Frederick with restoring and preserving the house, which was recognized as an important landmark even as early as the late 19th century. By this point the Grant family had also become famous, due to Ebenezer’s great-great-great nephew Ulysses S. Grant, who was descended from Ebenezer’s older brother Noah.

The top photo was taken sometime around the late 1930s, as part of an effort to document historic homes across Connecticut. By this point the house had seen some alterations, including the addition of an enclosed porch on the left side and the installation of shutters on the windows. Both the porch and shutters were apparently installed around the late 19th or early 20th centuries, since they were not present in a c.1890 photo of the house.

Those changes were later reversed, and today the exterior of the house better reflects its original 18th century design. It stands as an important architectural landmark in the Connecticut River Valley, and it is a contributing property in the East Windsor Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Martindale Farm, Ware, Massachusetts

The Martindale Farm in Ware (formerly Enfield), Massachusetts, on April 6, 1946. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission, Quabbin Reservoir, Photographs of Real Estate Takings collection.

The scene in 2024:

This house, located on Webster Road in the town of Enfield, Massachusetts was built around the year 1800 by Jesse Fobes. Jesse moved to Webster Road in 1796 from Bridgewater, MA into a smaller house just north of this property. Once this home was completed, he would move his family to the much larger farm house. When Enfield became an incorporated town in 1816, Jesse would serve as one of its first Selectmen. Ownership of the farm would be passed onto Jesse’s son, Henry Fobes. Much like his father, Henry would also become a Selectmen of the town. Henry would hold onto ownership of the farm until selling it to Joel and William Martindale in 1870 for $8,000. Included in the sale of the farm was a provision that the Martindale’s would have to house and feed Henry until his death. Considering Henry lived another 15 years until dying at the age of 92 in 1885, it seems like Henry got the better end of the deal.

By the 1880s, the farm had a considerable amount of outbuildings. On the 182 acre property were a large carriage shed, garage, hen house, brooder house, three barns, and an assortment of other smaller chicken coops. Joel Martindale would officially call the farm Maple Terrace, in reference to the three terraces that lead up to the front of the house. A sketch of the farm house with its terraces and some outbuildings was even included in the 1879 book History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts. Maple Terrace had become something of a local landmark by this point.

The farm would pass into the hands of Joel’s grandson, Emory Bartlett in 1917. He would drop the Maple Terrace name, and officially incorporate the farm as Martindale Farms Inc. But the glory days of the farm were farm behind at this point. Only a few years later, Emory would sell the farm to Harry Ryther in 1925 as payment for a large debt.

Because of its proximity to the Quabbin Reservoir watershed, the Massachusetts Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission purchased the house and the 182 acres it sat on from Harry Ryther in 1934 for the sum of $11,900. Two Martindale sisters were still living in the farm house when the Water Supply Commission purchased the property.

Martha and Mary Martindale were daughters of Joel Martindale, and both had lived in the house almost their entire lives. This led to debate as to whether or not the home should be torn down. The home appears to be right on the line of the watershed, so some thought the house should stay up and be used as employee housing. Others believed the home was still too close to the reservoir, and should be torn down immediately. An agreement was reached with the Water Supply Commission that allowed the Martindale sisters to live in the home until they either died or moved away. During that time, the home would also be used by Quabbin employees.

Mary Martindale would die in 1952 at the age of 77. Her sister, Martha would decide to move out of the large home into a smaller apartment in Springfield in 1955 so she could be closer to her remaining friends and family. Martha Martindale would be the last private resident to live inside the boundaries of the Quabbin Reservoir land. The home was torn down shortly after, and the landscape allowed to go wild. Building materials from the home were reported as being reused in a future home in the area.

The before photo was taken in 1946, much later than many of the Water Supply Commissions photos of old Quabbin homes. At this point, the reservoir was already fully flooded and the home was now located in the town of Ware, following the disincorporation of Enfield in 1938. Today, the terraces to the home are still clearly visible when you visit the farm. The home’s cellar hole is completely filled in, and much of the yard is overgrown with brambles and vines. The foundations for the outbuildings are easily found out of frame to the right of the photo. Walking down the old driveway leads to the foundations of the barns, as well as some stone walls. The tree to the left of the house in the before photo is almost certainly the same tree on the far left of the current photo. Other old trees can be seen today that would have been very young at the time the home was sold to the Water Supply Commission.

The Martindale Farm is one of the best and most easily accessible spots in Quabbin for history lovers. Located near the end of Webster Road through Gate 53, the old farm is located in a large clearing on the west side of the road. In the summertime, Quabbin rangers will sometimes do history programs at this location and go into greater detail on who the people were that owned this farm.

Buttolph-Williams House, Wethersfield, Connecticut (3)

The east side of the Buttolph-Williams House in Wethersfield, in August 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2024:

These two photos show the east side of the Buttolph-Williams House. Built around 1711, the house is one of the oldest in Wethersfield, and it is one of the many historic homes that line the streets of the town center. The top photo was taken as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1938, and by this point the house had undergone many alterations from its original appearance, including newer windows and clapboards, and an ell on the back of the house.

At the time that the top phot was taken, the house was the home of siblings Kate and Frank Vibert. They had grown up in the house in the late 19th century, and they lived here until their deaths in the 1940s. The house was then acquired by the Connecticut Antiquarian and Landmarks Society—now known as Connecticut Landmarks—and it was restored to its original appearance in the late 1940s. This included re-installing diamond-paned casement windows, removing the rear ell, and removing the newer clapboards that had covered the original second-story overhang.

The house was once believed to have been built in the 1690s, but subsequent research has shown that it was actually built around 1711. Either way, though, it has many of the post-medieval architectural elements that were common on 17th century New England homes, and it survives as an excellent example of a First Period House. It is still owned by Connecticut Landmarks, and it is operated as a museum by the nearby Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum.

Buttolph-Williams House, Wethersfield, Connecticut (2)

The front façade of the Buttolph-Williams House in Wethersfield, around 1927. Image from Old Houses of New England (1927).

The house in 2024:

As explained in the previous post, the Buttolph-Williams House is one of the oldest homes in Wethersfield, and one of the best-preserved First Period homes in the Connecticut River Valley. It was built around 1711, but it has many architectural elements that were typical of 17th century New England homes, including the steep roof, the casement windows, and the overhanging second floor. Some of these features were later altered as the houses was modernized, and by the time the top photo was taken in the 1920s it had seen some significant exterior changes, including newer sash windows and a layer of clapboards that hid the overhang.

For many years the house was owned by the Williams family, starting in 1721 when Daniel Williams purchased the property. By the late 19th century it was owned by James Vibert, whose children Kate and Frank lived here until their deaths in the 1940s. The house was then acquired by Connecticut Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, and in the late 1940s it was restored to its original appearance.

The house has been open to the public as a museum ever since. It is one of many historic homes that are owned by Connecticut Landmarks, as the organization is now called, and it is operated by the nearby Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, which owns three historic homes on Main Street. Because of its significance as a rare surviving First Period house, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Buttolph-Williams House, Wethersfield, Connecticut

The Buttolph-Williams House on Broad Street in Wethersfield, around 1924. Image from The Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut (1924).

The house in 2024:

This house is one of the oldest surviving homes in Wethersfield, having been constructed around 1711. It is usually referred to as the Buttolph-Williams House, but this name was based on an incorrect assumption about the age of the house. For many years it was believed to have been built in the 1690s by David Buttolph, although subsequent research has shown that it was actually built around 1711 by Benjamin Belden, who later sold the property to Daniel Williams in 1721.

Although built in the early 18th century, this house has many architectural features that were more typical of post-medieval 17th century homes. Among these were the steeply-pitched roof, the overhanging second floor, and the small diamond-paned casement windows. On the interior, the house has a typical hall-and-parlor layout, with two rooms on the first floor that are separated by the large central chimney.

The house was owned by the Williams family for many years, and during this time it underwent some changes and modernizations, including an ell on the back of the house and new sash windows here on the original part of the house, as shown in the top photo around 1924. By this point the overhang of the second floor was hidden by a layer of clapboards, although the overhang beneath the attic on the gable end of the house was still visible.

By the late 19th century the house was owned by James Vibert, a stagecoach driver who was living here during the 1870 census with his wife Mary and their children Sarah, Kate Mary, Frank, and Anna. James’s real estate was valued at $2,500, and his personal estate was valued at $3,000.

Mary Vibert died in 1884, but James outlived her by many years. He resided in this house until his death in 1913, and his children subsequently inherited the house. Kate and Frank were both living in the house when the top photo was taken, and they remained here until their deaths in the 1940s.

The Viberts were the last residents of the house, and the property was then acquired by the Connecticut Antiquarian and Landmarks Society. In the late 1940s it was restored to its original appearance. This included the removal of the rear ell, the installation of new casement windows, and the removal of the clapboards that had covered the second-story overhang.

Today, the house is still owned by the same organization, which is now known as Connecticut Landmarks. It is operated as a museum by the nearby Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, and it stands as one of the best-preserved First Period house in the Connecticut River Valley. Because of its significance, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.