Samuel Latimer House, Wethersfield, Connecticut

The house at 505 Main Street in Wethersfield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives, RG 033:28, WPA Records, Architectural Survey.

The house in 2024:

The house in these two photos was built around 1770 as the home of Samuel Latimer. This particular design was often seen on houses that were built in central Connecticut during the second half of the 18th century. Some of the features, such as the central chimney and the symmetrical front facade with nine windows and a door, are typical of colonial houses across New England. However, some of the elements are characteristic of this particular region, including the so-called “coffin door” on the south side of the house, and most notably the overhanging second floor and attic.

The overhangs on this house are stylistic holdovers from the post-medieval architecture of the 17th century. On those houses, such as the Witch House in Salem or the Buttolph-Williams House here in Wethersfield, the second-story overhang is fairly large. By the second half of the 18th century, these overhangs had largely disappeared from New England architecture, but they persisted here in Connecticut. By this point, though, the overhangs were much smaller, usually only a few inches, as seen on this house, which has three-inch overhangs.

The top photo was taken around the late 1930s or early 1940s as part of a Depression-era project to document historic buildings in Connecticut. By this point, the exterior had been somewhat altered with the addition of features such as shutters on the windows and a small porch at the “coffin door.” The documentation for the the top photo also noted that “[t]he interior has been changed from the original. There is a central hall with an open staircase to the right.” However, it did not otherwise elaborate on the condition of the interior or other alterations.

Until very recently, the house still looked essentially the same as it did when the top photo was taken, including the light-colored paint and the shutters. However, the house has since been restored, as shown in the bottom photo. This included removing the historically inaccurate shutters, and also repainting it a darker color. As a result, the bottom photo better reflects how the house likely would have looked in the 18th century, and it stands as an excellent example of the type of late colonial-era architecture that was popular here in the Wethersfield area.

Samuel Hanmer Sr. House, Wethersfield, Connecticut

The house at 493 Main Street in Wethersfield, around 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives, RG 033:28, WPA Records, Architectural Survey.

The house in 2024:

This house is a classic center-chimney colonial New England house, with a design that was found throughout the Connecticut River Valley and beyond during the second half of the 18th century. Distinctive exterior characteristics include a symmetrical front façade with five windows on the second floor and four on the first floor, a large central chimney, and a door on the south side of the house that opens directly into the south parlor. This latter feature is often referred to as a “coffin door,” which according to legend was installed in center-chimney houses to make it easier to move a coffin out of the parlor after a funeral, since the front entryway is small and requires twists and turns to access the front door. The truth behind this legend is uncertain, but having a door to the south parlor undoubtedly makes it easier to move large objects in and out of the house.

The house in these two photos was built in 1765 as the home of Samuel Hanmer Sr. (1741-1813), a local cooper. At the time, Wethersfield was an important seaport, so Hanmer’s barrels were likely used by the town’s merchants who were involved in the West Indies trade. He probably had marriage in mind when he built this house, because two years later he married his wife Sarah Welles (1743-1818). The couple went on to have eight children over the next two decades: Sarah, Abigail, Hulda, Samuel, Elizabeth, Prudence, Nancy, and Joseph.

Although both Samuel and Sarah died in the 1810s, the house would remain in their family until well into the 20th century. The 1855 county map shows the property as belonging to the “Heirs of Samuel Hanmer,” likely referring to their son Samuel Hanmer Jr. (1778-1850), who had died a few years earlier. Then, in 1869 the county atlas identified it as belonging to Charles Hanmer (1839-1884), who was the son of John Hanmer (1801-1881) and grandson of Samuel Hanmer Jr. The 1870 U.S. Census shows Charles living here with his wife Clara (1842-1932) and their young sons Alfred (1867-1953) and Charles (1869-1953). They also had a 14-year old farm laborer named Clarence Deming who was living in their household.

The younger Charles Hanmer was still living here in this house when the top photo was taken around the late 1930s or early 1940s. The photo was part of Depression-era program to document historic 18th and early 19th century buildings across Connecticut, and it was one of the many that were photographed here in Wethersfield. By this point, the house had likely undergone some exterior changes since it was built. The Greek Revival style doorway appears to have been added at some point in the first half of the 19th century, and the 6-over-6 windows may have been installed around the same time, since 12-over-12 ones were more common when this house was built in the mid-18th century.

The top photo was taken when the front door was open, so it provides a glimpse into the front entry hall and the front staircase. Because the center chimney occupies a large footprint within the interior of the house, it does not allow for a large staircase. Instead, the stairs twist around the entry hall on their way up to the second floor.

The 1930 census shows Charles Hanmer living here with his wife Leila (1871-1954), their daughter Charlotte Cowan (1894-1982), and Charlotte’s son William (1925-1977). This made William the seventh generation of his family to live in this house, as he was the 4th great grandson of Samuel Hanmer Sr.

At the time of the 1930 census, Charlotte was married, but was evidently separated from her husband, Jerome Cowan (1897-1972). He was a Broadway actor, and they had married in 1924, around the time that his Broadway career started. However, they were not living together in 1930, and they divorced a year later. Jerome would go on to achieve prominence as a film actor, starring in a number of films from the late 1930s through the early 1960s, including The Maltese Falcon and Miracle on 34th Street. In the meantime, though, Charlotte went on to have a successful career of her own in the insurance industry. She was the first female officer at the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, and by the time she retired in 1959 she was the company’s assistant comptroller.

Charles, Leila, Charlotte, and William were all still living here in 1940, and all except for William in the 1950 census.  Charles and Leila both died in the 1950s, and at some point Charlotte moved to Hartford, where she died in 1982 at the age of 88. She appears to have been the last direct descendant of Samuel Hanmer Sr. to live in this house, ending two centuries of consecutive generations of ownership.

Today, more than 80 years after the top photo was taken, not much has changed here on the exterior of the house. Aside from the 19th century alterations, it retains its historic appearance, and it stands as one of the many well-preserved 18th and early 19th century homes that line Main Street in Wethersfield. It is a contributing property in the Old Wethersfield Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Constant Griswold House, Wethersfield, Connecticut

The house at 459-461 Main Street in Wethersfield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives, RG 033:28, WPA Records, Architectural Survey.

The house in 2024:

The house in these two photos was built in 1780 as the home of Constant Griswold and his newlywed wife Rebecca Boardman. Prior to building this house, Griswold served as a militia soldier during the American Revolution. He responded to the Lexington Alarm in April 1775, and he subsequently fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June.

When it was built, the exterior of the house would have looked different compared to its appearance in these two photos. Based on the architectural style, the house appears to have been remodeled sometime around the mid- or late-19th century, with the installation of features such as a bay window on the left side, 2-over-2 windows on the rest of the house, and a small overhang above the front door. The eaves on the gable end of the house are likely also 19th century additions, and the house probably would have originally had a large central chimney, rather than the two smaller chimneys that are now on the house.

The top photo was taken around the late 1930s or early 1940s, as part of a Depression-era project to document historic buildings in Connecticut. Since then, very little has changed on the exterior of the house. It is one of the many historic 18th century homes here in Wethersfield, but it also retains its 19th century alterations. This gives it an unusual mix of Georgian and Italianate-style architecture, and it shows how historic homes can evolve in their style as tastes change over the years.

 

Samuel Woodhouse Jr. House, Wethersfield, Connecticut

The house at 5 River Road in Wethersfield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives, RG 033:28, WPA Records, Architectural Survey.

The house in 2024:

This house was built in 1783 as the home of Samuel Woodhouse Jr. He had served as a soldier in the American Revolution from 1776 to 1780, including participating in the Battle of Long Island in 1776. At the end of the war he married Abigail Goodrich (in 1781, and two years later they moved into this house.

Aside from his military service, Woodhouse was a sailor and shipbuilder. Despite being many miles inland, Wethersfield’s location on the Connecticut River made it an important port for oceangoing ships, and much of the town’s economy was based on trade. Woodhouse’s home reflected his wealth, particularly with the use of brick, which was a characteristic of many higher-end houses in Connecticut during the 18th century.

Samuel and Abigail Woodhouse had at least nine children, including three sons who died as young adults. Their two oldest sons, George and Samuel, both died at sea, in 1810 and 1817 respectively. According to newspaper accounts, the younger Samuel was 25 years old and was serving as first mate of the brig Connecticut when he fell overboard during a voyage from Martinique. Their youngest son Henry also died at the age of 25, while in Charleston, South Carolina in 1826.

Samuel and Abigail appear to have lived here for the rest of their lives. Samuel died in 1834 at the age of 77, and Abigail in 1851 at 92. The 1855 county map lists this house as the “S. Woodhouse Place,” likely referring to their son Solomon, who had died two years earlier in 1853. The 1850 census shows Solomon living in Wethersfield, probably in this house, along with his wife Laura and four of their children. His mother Abigail, then 90, was also in his household, as was his sister Abigail Goodrich and his niece Delia, who was the daughter of his late brother Sylvester Woodhouse.

The top photo was taken sometime around the late 1930s or early 1940s as part of a Depression-era project to document historic buildings in Connecticut. By this point, the house appears to have undergone some renovations, including the replacement of the original windows with 2-over-2 windows. The shutters were likely not original either, and they may have been installed at the same time as the windows. There is also a stone patio in front of the house, but it seems unclear whether this was original, since its stonework does not match the foundation of the house.

Today, more than 80 years after the top photo was taken, the exterior has been restored, including the removal of the shutters and the replacement of 18th century-style 12-over-12 windows. The exterior was also cleaned up with the removal of the climbing plants that were growing on the house in the top photo. The house stands as a good example of late Georgian style architecture, and it is one of the many homes in the Old Wethersfield Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Francis Bulkeley House, Wethersfield, Connecticut

The house at 319 Main Street in Wethersfield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives, RG 033:28, WPA Records, Architectural Survey.

The house in 2024:

This house is one of the many historic 18th century homes in Wethersfield, and it is one of several that have an asymmetrical front façade. Rather than the more conventional “five over four” colonial style with a central doorway and two windows on either side of it, this house has a shorter left side, with just a single window to the left of the door on the first floor. Otherwise, though, the overall design is typical for mid-18th century colonial New England homes, including the central chimney.

The top photo was taken as part of the WPA Architectural Survey, a Depression-era project to document historic homes and other buildings in Connecticut. According to the information that accompanied the photograph, it was built around 1770 as the home of Captain Francis Bulkeley. The source of this date seems unclear, and the current historical marker on the house states that it was built in 1750. However, the state’s ConnCRIS database of historic resources takes an even less committal stance, only stating that the house was constructed in the “late 18th century.” Any of these certainly seem plausible, and its architecture suggests that it was probably built sometime during the second half of the 18th century.

Today, the house appears to have a different paint color compared to the top photo, and the historically-inaccurate shutters have been removed, but overall the exterior of the house has seen few exterior changes since the top photo was taken over 80 years ago. The house is now part of the Old Wethersfield Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

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.