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.

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.

Peacefield, Quincy, Massachusetts

Peacefield, the former home of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, at 135 Adams Street in Quincy, on October 10, 1929. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leon Abdalian Collection.

The house in 2019:

As explained in more detail in an earlier post, this house was the home of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and several more generations of the Adams family from the late 18th century into the early 20th century. The house was built in 1731, and it was originally owned by Leonard Vassall, a sugar plantation owner from Jamaica. His daughter Anna later inherited the property, but she and her husband were Loyalists, so they fled to England at the start of the Revolution, leaving the house vacant.

John and Abigail Adams purchased the house from the family in 1787. At the time, the house was much smaller, consisting of the portion on the left side in these photos. It was also in poor condition, from having sat vacant for so long. They had bought it sight-unseen, as they were living in England at the time, where John was serving as the first U.S. Minister to Great Britain. They were disappointed by the condition of the house when they returned here to live, but they soon set about repairing and expanding it. This work included a large addition on the right side, which was built in the 1790s. Abagail oversaw much of this work, since John Adams was away most of the time during the 1790s, serving as the first vice president and then as the second president of the United States.

John Adams retired from politics after losing reelection to Thomas Jefferson in 1800. He spent the last few decades of his life here at this house, which he named Peacefield. Abigail died in 1818, and John died here on July 4, 1826. In one of the most remarkable coincidences in American history, he died on the same day as his friend and political rival Jefferson, which also happened to be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

John Quincy Adams then inherited the house. At the time of his father’s death he was serving as president, and after losing re-election in 1828 he returned here to Quincy. However, unlike his father, he did not have a quiet retirement. Instead, he returned to politics and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1831 until his death in 1848. During that time, he was particularly vocal in his opposition to slavery, and became one of the leading abolitionists of his era.

During the second half of the 19th century, Peacefield was owned by several more generations of the Adams family. John Quincy Adams’s son, Charles Francis Adams, owned it until his death in 1886, and Charles’s sons Henry and Brooks subsequently inherited it. Brooks ended up being the last member of the family to live here at Peacefield, and he remained here until his death in 1927.

The top photo was taken only two years later, in 1929. By this point, the other members of the Adams family had formed the Adams Memorial Society, and this house was preserved as a museum. The property was later transferred to the National Park Service in 1946, becoming the Adams National Historic Site.

Today, the exterior of the house has seen very few changes since the top photo was taken almost a century ago. The house is still operated by the National Park Service, and it is open to the public seasonally for tours. The name of the Park Service unit is now the Adams National Historical Park, and it includes Peacefield along with the nearby birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, which stand side-by-side on Franklin Street in Quincy.

Elijah Williams House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Elijah Williams House on Albany Road in Deerfield, on May 31, 1939. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1760 as the home of Elijah Williams, and it originally stood a few hundred feet to the east of here, facing the town common. That lot had been the site of two previous homes owned by the Reverend John Williams, pastor of the church in Deerfield. The original house was destroyed during the 1704 French and Native American raid on Deerfield, and the Williams family was taken captive. When John Williams returned to Deerfield several years later he rebuilt his house, and his son Elijah Williams (1712-1771) later inherited it. Around 1760, Elijah demolished that house and built the current one, which incorporated some of the building materials from the older house.

The layout of the house is fairly typical for mid-18th century New England homes, with a symmetrical front façade that has four windows on the first floor and five on the second floor. However, its most distinctive feature is the ornate front doorway. This style of doorway was often found on the homes of wealthy residents of the Connecticut River Valley during this period, and typically had intricate classically-inspired designs. It provided a dramatic contrast to the exteriors of homes that were otherwise largely plain, and several of these doorways are now on display in major American art museums. There are relatively few of these doorways that survive intact on houses today, but this house still had its original one in place when the top photo was taken.

Elijah Williams was a prominent figure in colonial Deerfield. He was a wealthy merchant, and he held the ran of major in the colonial militia. He also served as a representative in the colonial legislature, along with holding other local political offices. By the time he built this house he was about 48 years old, and he was married to his second wife Margaret. He continued to live here until his death in 1771, and Margaret died the following year.

Their son John Williams subsequently inherited the house. He owned it until 1789, when he sold it to Consider Dickinson. Known locally as “Uncle Sid,” Consider was a veteran of the American Revolution, and after the war he went to Canada to hunt and trade furs. He later moved to Deerfield, settled down and married his first wife Filana Field, and lived the life of a farmer here on this property. Filana died in 1831, and in 1840 “Sid” remarried to Esther Harding.

Consider Dickinson had no children from either of his marriages, and after his death in 1854 Esther inherited this house. She, in turn, left the property as a bequest in her will to establish a high school and library on the property. This led to some uncertainty about the future of this historic building after her death in 1875. It faced possible demolition, but local historian George Sheldon lobbied for its preservation, arguing (incorrectly, as it turned out) that it was actually the same house that the Reverend John Williams had built in 1707 after his return from captivity. It seems unclear as to whether Sheldon actually believed this, or whether he stretched the truth in order to ensure that the house was saved. Either way, he was successful, and the house was moved westward to accommodate the construction of a new school building, which would become part of Deerfield Academy.

The old house was used as a rental property at its new location until 1916, when the academy converted it into a dormitory. This work included an addition to the rear of the house, which can be seen in the distance on the left side of both photos. The house underwent further work in 1994, with the replacement of the original clapboards, and then in 2002 the original front doorway was removed and replaced with a replica.

Today, the main portion of the house still looks much the same as it did when the top photo was taken, despite having primarily new materials on the exterior. It remains in use as a dormitory for Deerfield Academy, and it stands as one of the many historic 18th century homes here in the center of Deerfield. As for the original doorway, it has been preserved and is now on display at the Flynt Center of Early New England Life here in Deerfield, as shown in the photo below:

Joseph Stebbins House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Joseph Stebbins House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, around 1920. Image from the White Pine Architectural Monographs Volume VI No. 5 (1920).

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1773 by Joseph Stebbins (1718-1797) for his son, Joseph Stebbins Jr. (1749-1816). A year later, Joseph married Lucy Frary, and they raised their large family here in this house. Over the next 23 years they had 13 children: Tirzah, Charlotte, Dennis, Charlotte, Joseph, Lucy, Avice, Arabella, Caroline, Aurelia, Baxter, Mehitable, and Maria. Large families such as theirs were not uncommon in 18th century New England, but it is interesting to note that, in an era of high infant mortality rates, 11 of their 13 children managed to survive to adulthood.

Joseph Stebbins was primarily a farmer, but he also served as an officer during the American Revolution. He fought at Bunker Hill in 1775 and in the Saratoga Campaign in 1777, and he was eventually promoted to lieutenant colonel after the war. During Shays Rebellion of 1786-1787 he was part of the militia force that suppressed the rebellion here in Western Massachusetts, and in 1788 he rose to the rank of a full colonel in the state militia.

Joseph and Lucy’s youngest son Baxter eventually inherited the property, and it was subsequently owned by a succession of other Stebbins family members throughout the 19th century. It was finally sold out of the family in 1897, and in 1898 it was purchased by Jennie Maria Arms Sheldon, a noted entomologist and historian. She was the curator of the Memorial Hall Museum here in Deerfield, and she was also the second wife of George Sheldon, a local historian who published many works on the history of Deerfield and the surrounding area. She owned the house when the top photo was taken around 1920, and it would remain in her possession until her death in 1938.

The house was later rented to Deerfield Academy, and then it was purchased outright by the school in 1952. It is one of the many homes on Old Main Street that are owned by Deerfield Academy, and over the years it has been used for faculty housing. Today, it has seen few changes since the top photo was taken, aside from the removal of historically-inaccurate shutters, and it stands as a good example of a gambrel-roof Georgian home here in Deerfield.

Timothy Childs House, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Timothy Childs House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, on July 24, 1930. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show the Timothy Childs house, which is also commonly known as the Childs-Champney house. Based on recent dendrochronological studies, it was built in 1730, replacing an earlier house that had burned. It was originally the home of Timothy Childs and his wife Hannah Chapin, and they lived here together for about 35 years. Hannah died in 1765, and Timothy subsequently sold the house in 1767.

The next owner was John Russell, a tailor who also operated a retail liquor establishment here. The house would later change hands several more times during the late 18th century before being acquired by Elijah Williams in 1800. He was about 33 years old at the time, and he may have purchased the house with marriage in mind, because two years later he married Hannah Barnard. Elijah was a saddlemaker by trade, but he also served at various times as postmaster, register of deeds, and as a militia captain.

Elijah Williams died in 1832, but the house remained in his family for many years afterwards, with his son Samuel inheriting it, followed by Samuel’s daughter Elizabeth. However, they did not necessarily reside here throughout this time. During the early 1850s, Samuel Williams and his family were in Ohio, and they later moved to Kansas as part of the abolitionist movement to prevent Kansas from becoming a slave state.

Born in 1850 in Ohio, Elizabeth Williams went on to become perhaps the most famous owner of this house. At a time when women’s higher education was still rare, Elizabeth graduated from Vassar College in 1869, and went on to become a noted author. She wrote a number of novels and travel narratives, and her works were regularly published in national literary magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and The Century Magazine. In 1873 she married artist James Wells Champney, and in 1876 they moved to Deerfield, where James built his studio behind the house. The historic homes and streetscapes in the town subsequently became a subject for many of his paintings, but his other work included creating the illustrations for Elizabeth’s books.

This house eventually became the Champneys’ summer home, while their primary home was in New York City. They named this house “Elmwood,” and in 1886 they moved it further back from the street, to its current spot. They also added the front entryway that is shown in these two photos. This ornate doorway was originally on Alexander Hamilton’s home in New York City, but the Champneys acquired it and installed it here, providing a rather unusual contrast to an otherwise largely plain 18th century house.

James Champney died in 1903 in an elevator accident in New York City. He was in an elevator when it became stuck between two floors. Rather than waiting for the problem to be fixed, he attempted to climb down to the floor below. However, he ended up slipping through the gap between the elevator and the floor, and fell four stories to his death.

Elizabeth owned the house until 1913, when she sold it to W. Scott Keith. The Keith family owned it throughout most of the 20th century, including when the top photo was taken in 1930. At the time, the house had shutters, but these were a very recent addition. They appear to have been installed at some point in the early 20th century, because late 19th century photos of the house show it without any shutters. The top photo also shows the large elm tree next to the house, which was still standing here until at least the mid-1990s.

The house was was one of the last remaining privately-owned homes of Old Main Street, as most of the other homes are now owned by either Historic Deerfield or by Deerfield Academy. It was eventually sold to Historic Deerfield in 2018, and the organization will be using it for housing, along with holding meetings and other events here.

For more information about this house, see p. 75-78 of Family & Landscape: Deerfield Homelots from 1671 by Susan McGowan (1996).