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.

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.

Henry Hunt House, Enfield, Massachusetts

The Henry Hunt House on Webster Road in Enfield, Massachusetts, on October 31, 1928. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission, Quabbin Reservoir, Photographs of Real Estate Takings.

The scene in 2024, in the modern-day town of Ware:

This house, located on Webster Road in the town of Enfield, Massachusetts was the home of Henry H. and Harriet R. Hunt. Based on its architecture, it appears to have been constructed sometime around the late 18th or early 19th centuryies. The Hunts purchased the house from Eugene Tuttle in 1902, and the 35-acre property included the 1 ½ story Cape and a shed, as shown in the top photo. The barn and garage for the farm were located across the street from his home on a separate 38-acre lot.

The home’s location inside what would become the Quabbin Reservoir watershed was soon to be problematic. Hunt farmed the property until selling it to the Massachusetts Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission in May of 1938. He would receive $5,130 for the sale of both of his properties. The home and outbuildings were torn down soon after, and cellar holes filled in. Although the home was well above the reservoir’s waterline, it was deemed necessary to tear down because the home and outbuildings were located inside the reservoir’s watershed.

The first photo was taken on October 31, 1928. The garage and barn would have been located just outside the photo on the left. The site today looks much different. Hunt’s backyard fields have been filled in with trees, and the stonewall has collapsed in sections. The home’s foundation and filled in cellar hole is barely visible below the large fallen tree in the center of the photo. Foundations for the garage and barn can still be seen across the street underneath heavy brush.

Josiah Quincy House, Quincy, Massachusetts

The Josiah Quincy House on Muirhead Street in Quincy, around 1880. Image courtesy of the Thomas Crane Public Library.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show the former home of Josiah Quincy I, a member of the prominent Quincy family. The house is located in the Wollaston neighborhood of Quincy, and it was once part of a large estate that had been owned by family patriarch Edmund Quincy (1602-1636). His great grandson, Josiah Quincy (1710-1784), eventually inherited 100 acres of this land, and in 1770 he built this home on the property.

Josiah Quincy was a prosperous merchant, and the elaborate design of his house reflected his wealth. It is an excellent example of Georgian architecture, with distinctive exterior features such as the balustrades on the roof and the classically-inspired front portico. However, the most significant design element is the monitor roof. This is the earliest known example of such a roof in colonial America, and it is one of a relatively small number of homes that had this particular style of roof during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Quincy family was prominent and well-connected politically in the years leading up to the American Revolution, and some of the family members married prominent patriot leaders. Among them was Josiah’s niece Dorothy Quincy, who married John Hancock in 1775; and Josiah’s first cousin twice removed Abigail Smith, who married John Adams. Josiah Quincy himself was also active in the patriot cause, including observing British fleet movements from the attic windows of his house. His son, Josiah Quincy Jr., was a prominent leader of the Sons of Liberty, but he died of tuberculosis in 1775, just a week after the start of the American Revolution.

If not for his untimely death, Josiah Quincy Jr. would have inherited this house. Instead, his son Josiah Quincy III (1772-1864) eventually inherited it in 1784, when the eldest Josiah died.  Josiah Quincy III would go on to become probably the most famous of the many residents of this house who bore that name. He was a prominent politician, including serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1805 to 1813 and as mayor of Boston from 1823 to 1829. His tenure as mayor is perhaps best remembered for his role in constructing a large public market, which was named in his honor. He later went on to become president of Harvard, serving from 1829 to 1845.

Josiah Quincy III died in 1864, and he left this house to his three unmarried daughters: Eliza (1798-1884), Abigail (1803-1893), and Sophia (1805-1886). The top photo was taken around 1880, when these three sisters were still living here. Eliza Quincy played a particularly important role in preserving the house and documenting its history during her time here, and it was in part because of her efforts that the house became widely known as an architectural and historical landmark.

After the death of Abigail Quincy in 1893, her nephew Josiah Quincy V inherited the house. By this point, the home that had been a quiet country estate a century earlier was in the midst of a rapidly-developing suburb of Boston. So, in 1895 he sold off most of the surrounding land, which was then subdivided into new streets and house lots. He also sold the old house itself to Frank and Lucy Hall, who lived here until their deaths in 1913 and 1911, respectively.

In 1937, the Hall family sold the house back to the Quincy descendants, who in turn donated it to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Now known as Historic New England, the organization continues to preserve the house as a museum, and it is open periodically for public tours. As shown in the second photo, the house has seen few changes since the first photo was taken, and it stands as an excellent example of Georgian architecture in New England. Because of its architectural and historical significance, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997.