William Phelps, Jr. House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 124 East Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:

According to local tradition, this house was built in 1670 for William Phelps, Jr., the son of one of Windsor’s founders. As a boy, the younger William had immigrated to the American colonies in 1630 along with his father, settling first in Dorchester, Massachusetts, before moving to Windsor. The elder William built a house here on East Street along the banks of the Farmington River, and, according to some accounts, William, Jr. later built this house nearby.

If accurate, the 1670 date would make this house among the oldest homes not just in Windsor, but in all of Connecticut as well. However, there seems to be significant doubt as to the accuracy of this date. The saltbox-style design of the house did not become common until the first half of the 18th century, long after William Phelps’s death, and there is little in the home’s exterior appearance to suggest that it is from the 17th century. The documentation that accompanied the first photo, done as part of the WPA Architectural Survey of historic homes in Connecticut, indicates that the house was probably built after 1700, and it identifies the first owner as William Griswold, while also stating that it was known as the Mather House.

The subsequent history of this house seems equally uncertain. The 1798 map of the town shows two houses on this section of East Street, which were owned by Daniel and Roger Phelps, and the 1855 county map also shows members of the Phelps family living here. However, in the absence of street numbers, it is difficult to pinpoint which present-day house was owned by which person. By 1869, though, the house was owned by Hiram Buckland, a farmer who also owned a neighboring house to the right. The other house, which has since been demolished, seems to have been the larger of the two, and was probably Buckland’s actual residence.

After Buckland’s death in 1887, the property was purchased by H. Sidney Hayden, a prominent landowner and philanthropist. He, in turn, sold the property to the town of Windsor for a nominal fee, to establish a poor farm for the town’s indigent residents. This house, while located on the property, does not appear to have been part of the poor farm, although it was owned by the town for many years, and rented out to a number of different tenants. During the 1920 census, for example, it was rented by Peter J. Reittinger, a clerk for General Electric. At the time, he was 40 years old and was living here with his wife Mary, their three children, and a young nephew.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was being rented by Elmer J. Norman, who paid the town $18 per month in rent, and was living here with his wife Rose and their four daughters. Several decades earlier, Elmer had served in World War I, and after the war he began working for the Windsor Highway Department. He went on to work for the town until his retirement in 1959, but he lived here in this house until his death in 1980. During this time, he was also responsible for the flags at the adjacent Veterans Memorial Cemetery, which was established on the former site of the poor farm.

In 1961, this house was the subject of a proposal to dismantle it and rebuilt it on Palisado Avenue, next to the historic Flyer House. Around the same time, the other house on the former poor farm property was demolished, in order to expand the veterans’ cemetery. However, this house was never moved, and it survives with few changes from the first photo, aside from more historically-appropriate windows. After more than a century of town ownership, the house was finally sold in 2006, and it is now a privately-owned residence once again. It is probably not as old as the traditional 1670 date, but it is undoubtedly still very old, most likely dating back to the early 18th century, and it stands as one of the few remaining saltbox-style homes in Windsor.

25 thoughts on “William Phelps, Jr. House, Windsor, Connecticut”

  1. I am the current owner of 124 East St. Based on my work on the house, I do think it is from the 17th century. After peeling away some of the previous renovations the house is post and beam construction with only wood pegs used as fasteners. The kitchen fireplace has been uncovered and still had it’s original cooking crane. I may have a sample of wood carbon dated to determine a date range/age of the house.

    • Carbon dating would probably resolve the question, although I’m sure it isn’t cheap! Wooden pegs were used well into the 19th century, so it’s hard to establish a date based on that type of construction. My main reason for questioning the 1670 date (and the reason for the WPA survey people in the 1930s) is the saltbox style, which was almost unheard of prior to about 1700. During your work, did you find anything to suggest that the back of the house may have been an addition?

    • By chance I saw this post, wondering if you will get this message. Searching info on Willam Phelps my ancestor. Thank you,

  2. I believe this is William Phelps Jr’s home built in 1640’s.


    Despite the sign on the front of the property indicating that this house was built by William Phelps in 1670, it was likely actually built by his son, William Phelps Jr. (Born abt. 1618 – Died 1681), in the 1640s.
    Why do we believe this to be true? Well here are a few interesting facts to support that claim:
    1. William Phelps Sr. died in 1672 at the estimated age of 79. He would not be building a home at this age.
    2. William Jr. married Isabelle Wilson in June 1645. This marriage would necessitate the construction of a home, which was likely built before the wedding was held.
    3. The roof rafters of the home are tree limbs, which was indicative of older construction models

    In addition, there is a minor issue concerning the location of the house. At one point, this house was listed as 122 East Street. A Google search of that address directs one to the back the cemetery, where this house was once located. Sometime between the 1880s and 1930s the house was moved to 124 East Street, and the address of 122 East Street ceased to exist.

    • Wasn’t 122 East Street the house next door that was demolished in the 1960s?

      As for this house, I think both 1670 and 1640 are way too early for a construction date for this house. This saltbox style was essentially unheard of prior to the early 18th century, and I haven’t been able to find any documentary evidence to suggest hatvit is older. My guess is that the two William Phelpses built earlier homes on this site, and this particular one was probably built by one of their descendants, perhaps using timbers from earlier houses.

    • Are you on Ancestry.com? If so, I’d like to chat reference the Phelps Family lineage. If not, feel free to email me.

      Thank you,

      Wesley Lander Phelps

  3. This is definitely William Phelps Jr’s home which per the Phelps / Servin genealogy books published in 1899 says so. It says the William Phelps Jr built his home a small distant East of his fathers (the home that was taken down in 1961located at 102 East Street). Just google 122 East Street in Windsor and you will see where the house once stood. This house (William JR) was once garrisoned in King Phillips War because of its location next to the river. When the Veterans cemetery had to be made it was in the way but was also on Town property at that time. So they moved it to the front of the property which is now East Street which runs North which is weird. East Street was once called Silver Street back in those days. East Street ran East through the cemetery AS it originally was laid out. William Phelps Sr’s home was torn down because they needed more room for the Veterans cemetery and it was in the way.
    Keep in mind our President John Adams had a saltbox home that was built in 1650, so the concept was around for this type of home.

  4. I am the former owner of 15 Club House Rd. Alway loved that house and, when I was first moving into the area 18 years ago, I wanted to buy it but it was to much work for me. I have a friend who specializes in the deconstruction, moving and reconstruction of historic houses. He is well known in the area for his work in historic building preservation. If you would like to show it to him contact me on FB or email and I will give you his name and other info.

  5. I am also a direct descendent of William Phelps Sr. I believe my brother Larry as to the historical age of this house. He has done extensive research on our origins and history in Windsor. William was a very important person in Windsor and probably had this house built for him because of his status in town. Too bad that someone can’t prove this for sure. I would like to know.

  6. Addressed to Larry Phelps and others.
    I appreciate your desire, Mr. Phelps, to have a 1640 house and I sincerely hope that may be the case. However, without a dendrochronology ( a very scientific growth ring analysis of the beams of qualifying structural members) , also subject to geographical locations) you do not have scientific proof that the house can be assigned such an early date. In addition, I have seen roof rafters with bark on them in timber frame houses in the 17th century and well into the 19th century (essentially smaller trees cut down the middle and squared to sit against the roof sheathing and expose the bark facing down into the attic). I am sorry, but your theory of this being indicative of just a very early house is definitively incorrect. It can be indicative of an “early” house, but that would also include the entire 18th and at least the first half of the 19th century in Connecticut. Please do not take my comments personally because I truly hope, Mr. Phelps, that you get that early date. That would be terrific.
    I just saved and dismantled a Wethersfield house that was near collapse in the rear due to “ demolition by neglect.” Stories and good Town records had a house ( or buildings) at this Wethersfield location as early as 1685 to 1695. Many folks even guessed an earlier date, but after a Dendrochronology performed by Michael Cuba and Dan Miles ( a pre-eminent dendrochronologist who has dated scores of New England Colonial houses) , the date was found to be 1721. The house was built as a one room deep, four room house with a lean to added circa 1755 to 1760. After 1976, the owner of that period changed the rafters of the lean to a raised lean ton with rafters made to be integral to the earlier 1721 house creating the look of a saltbox. The house ( or houses) claimed to be 1685 and circa 1695 had been long gone, but still may have existed on the property.There were also numerous outbuildings from the earlier periods on this property that, sadly, had all disappeared. We hope to restore this house, the 1721 Riley-Addams ( later Adams) House as a museum in Wethersfield.
    Also, many lean to additions that follow the rafter line of the original one room house are later. Did we have saltbox houses in the in the 17th century in Windsor and Hartford? Very likely , but probably not in 1640.
    William Flynt and Eric Gradoia both perform dendrochronologies in Connecticut, and formerly worked at Historic Deerfield and are now independent. They are highly trained professionals and can provide you with very accurate dating and give you the satisfaction of knowing the true date ( or dates) of your house. I certainly hope that you get the dates that you are looking for. Best wishes in your endeavors.
    We (The Glastonbury Restoration Company) dismantled ( finish date December 2021) and placed safely in storage an endangered one room deep, 20’ x 40’ center chimney house, the 1698 John Goodwin House, located in present day East Hartford ( formerly The East Society of Hartford until 1783), when East Hartford was created as a separate town. We retained William “ Bill” Flynt to perform a dendrochronology on the Goodwin House. His results indicated that the trees to make the timbers of the Goodwin House were felled in the winter of 1697-1698. Fortunately, due to the dedicated stewardship of early Colonial property records of The East Society of Hartford , (later East Hartford), the dendrochronology results dovetailed perfectly with the ancient property records. John Goodwin started building his house in March , 1698, perfect timing that followed the felling of the trees and preparation of the timbers to be ready for March , 1698.
    If you wish to have a dendrochronology performed, Mr. Flynt may be reached at (413) 774-5582 or (802) 380-3385. If these numbers have changed, please email me at stevebielitz@yahoo.com
    Thank you. And good luck. I hope you get a very early date.
    Steven A. Bielitz

  7. I’m a descendent of William Phelps Sr. from Connecticut who came here from England on the Big Ship the Mary John during the Great Migration. My mother was Virginia M Phelps of Michigan. I love the saltbox home shown in the picture. Being so old, it still looks good. I just Google pictures now and then of Phelps Family. So much history!

  8. I drove by this house while I was exploring Windsor this past weekend. It is beautiful. I have a question for the historians if anyone is still following this old thread.

    Could the house have originally been a colonial and with the lean-to being added and the home resided when it is said to have been moved?

    If that is a possibility would the earlier date seem more plausible?


Leave a Comment