Cove Warehouse, Wethersfield, Connecticut (3)

The Cove Warehouse in Wethersfield on July 29, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2024:

The top photo was taken on the same day as the one in the previous post, as part of an effort to document the building for the Historic American Buildings Survey. At the time, the Cove Warehouse had just been restored for the second time in less than a decade. Built in the late 17th century as a warehouse for the town’s merchants, it survived throughout the colonial period and the 19th century. It was eventually restored in the early 1930s, but then in 1936 it was damaged by a major flood that caused extensive damage throughout the Connecticut River Valley. However, the building was again restored, and the top photo was taken soon after this work was completed.

Since then, there have been a few changes to this scene, most notably the retaining wall that was added in 1971 to prevent erosion. The dock in the top photo is gone, perhaps as a result of this project, but it was likely a 20th century feature anyway. Otherwise, the warehouse itself is still standing, It is an important town landmark, and it is operated as a seasonal museum by the Wethersfield Historical Society.

Cove Warehouse, Wethersfield, Connecticut (2)

The Cove Warehouse in Wethersfield on July 29, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2024:

These two photos show the Cove Warehouse, which is explained in more detail in the previous post. It was built sometime in the late 17th century as one of six warehouses that stood here along what was, at the time, the banks of the Connecticut River. A flood in 1692 destroyed the other five warehouses, and it also altered the course of the river, creating the “Cove,” which is isolated from the river except for a narrow inlet.

This warehouse was the sole survivor from the 1692 flood, and throughout the 18th century it was used by the town’s merchants, who were able to sail oceangoing vessels up the river to Wethersfield. It was restored in the early 1930s, but it was heavily damaged in the March 1936 flood. However, it was subsequently restored, and the top photo shows the building in 1940, shortly after its restoration.

Today, the building’s appearance has not changed much in the past 84 years. The dock behind the building—which was likely added during the restoration—has since been removed. This probably occurred in 1971, when a stone wall was built at the base of the foundation in the back of the warehouse to protect it from erosion. Otherwise, though, the building is still easily recognizable from the top photo. It stands as an important town landmark, and it is operated as a seasonal museum by the Wethersfield Historical Society.

Northeast Bedroom, Munroe Tavern, Lexington, Massachusetts

The northeast bedroom on the second floor of Munroe Tavern in Lexington, probably around 1940. Image courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Samuel Chamberlain Photograph Negatives Collection.

The room in 2023:

As explained in a previous post, Munroe’s Tavern was built in 1735, and it functioned as a tavern throughout most of the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th century. By the 1770s, it was operated by William Munroe, and during the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 it was briefly commandeered by British redcoats, who used it as a temporary headquarters and field hospital.

This bedroom is located in the northeast corner of the house, directly above the bar room. As noted in the building’s 2010 historic structure report, this was the less formal of the two main bedrooms, and as a result it had less detailed trim around the fireplace, in contrast to the more formal bedroom on the other side of the stair hall. These two photos were taken from the southeastern corner of the room, next to the doorway to the front stairs. On the left is the fireplace, and in the distance is the doorway to the back hallway.

The tavern was converted to a private residence around 1850, and then in 1860 William Munroe’s grandson, William Henry Munroe, inherited the property. He modernized much of the interior, including replacing the original doors with new ones that had doorknobs rather than latches. He used this room as his bedroom, and he lived in the house until his death in 1902.

In 1911, the tavern was acquired by the Lexington Historical Society, and it subsequently underwent a restoration in 1939 on both the interior and exterior. The top photo was taken shortly after this work was completed, and it shows the replacement door and hardware that reflects the style that would have originally been used in the house. According to the historic structure report, it seems unclear exactly how much of the room is original material, such as floorboards and plaster walls, and how much of it was replaced in the restoration, but overall these elements are consistent with 18th century construction.

Today, the room looks a little different from when the top photo was taken over 80 years earlier. The furniture has been rearranged and the room looks less cluttered, and the wallpaper is different, likely for historical accuracy. Some of the objects appear to the the same ones in both photos, just in different locations, including the washstand and the mirror above it. The tavern is still owned by the Lexington Historical Society, and it is seasonally open to the public for tours. The organization likewise operates Buckman Tavern and the Hancock-Clarke House, both of which are similarly preserved in their 18th century appearances.

Bar Room, Munroe Tavern, Lexington, Massachusetts

The bar room at Munroe Tavern in Lexington, probably around 1940. Image courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Samuel Chamberlain Photograph Negatives Collection.

The scene in 2023:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, Munroe Tavern is an important historic landmark due to its involvement in the start of the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, during the battles of Lexington and Concord, Earl Percy commandeered the tavern to use as his temporary headquarters and as a field hospital.

Here in the bar room, wounded redcoats received medical attention while others helped themselves to the tavern’s food and drink. One redcoat apparently fired his gun into the ceiling, and the portion of the plaster with the hole has been preserved in its original location, although it is not visible in these photos. The redcoats spent about two hours here before continuing their retreat to Boston. On their way out, they stacked the furniture in the center of the room and lit it on fire, but it was quickly extinguished after they left.

The building remained in use as a tavern until around 1850, and it was subsequently converted into a house. Around 1860 it underwent significant modernizations on both the interior and exterior. This occurred during the ownership of William Henry Munroe, grandson of the William Munroe who had operated the tavern during the Revolution. He lived here until his death in 1902, and then in 1911 the tavern was acquired by the Lexington Historical Society.

In 1939, the Lexington Historical Society extensively restored the tavern on both the interior and exterior. The top photo was likely taken soon after this work was completed, and it shows a portion of the room, including the fireplace. According to the 2010 document Historic Structure Report: The Munroe Tavern, Lexington, Massachusetts, much of the existing material in the room dates to the 1939 restoration, including the floorboards, the doors, windows, window trim, hardware, and the plaster ceiling. However, there are still some original features. The framing is presumably original, along with the cupboards over the mantel and the bricks in the firebox. The mantel itself is not original, but it likely dates to around the 1790s, according to the historic structure report.

Today, more than 80 years after the room was restored, not much has changed here other than moving around the furnishings. Probably the most significant object in the top photo is the original tavern sign, which hung outside of the building in 1775. Although badly faded, it is still legible. It has an image of a punch bowl, and it reads “Entertainment By Wm. Munroe.” The sign is visible in the top photo on the right side of the fireplace, and it is still in the room, but it is on the opposite wall now.

The tavern is still owned by the Lexington Historical Society, which has also preserved Buckman Tavern and the Hancock-Clarke House. All three of the buildings played important roles in the events of April 19, 1775, and all three are open to the public seasonally for tours.

First Church of Christ, Farmington, Connecticut

The First Church of Christ, Congregational, on Main Street in Farmington, on July 29, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The church in 2021:

Farmington’s First Church of Christ, shown here in these two photos, stands as one of the best surviving examples of a colonial-era meetinghouse in Connecticut. It was completed in 1772, and it was designed and constructed by Judah Woodruff, a local builder who was responsible for many houses in Farmington during this period. As was the case for other meetinghouses of the era, it served as the religious, social, and political center of the town, functioning as a place not only for church services, but also for town meetings and other gatherings.

The church was established in 1652, and it occupied two earlier meetinghouses. The details of the first one are unclear, but the second one was completed in 1714, and it stood here in the vicinity of the present-day structure. This second meetinghouse was small and poorly built, and it had to serve the needs of a growing town. At the time, Farmington was significantly larger geographically, and included present-day towns such as Avon, Berlin, Bristol, Burlington, New Britain, Plainville, and Southington. Many of these places had their own parish churches by the mid-1700s, but their inhabitants still had to come here to Farmington for the town meetings.

By the late 1760s, the town had begun the process of planning for a new meetinghouse, and the construction work began in 1771, as indicated by the “July AD 1771” inscribed on one of the foundation stones. It was completed a little over a year later, and the dedication ceremony occurred on November 25, 1772. The architecture of the building is typical for colonial meetinghouses of its era, with a main entrance on the long side of the building and a steeple that is set off to the side. It would not be until the late 18th century that this trend shifted, and it became more common for meetinghouses to have main entrances on the gabled end of the building, and a steeple that rises from the roof above that entrance.

The interior of the Farmington meeting house likewise reflected colonial-era styles. The pulpit was located in the middle of the long side of the building, so that the interior was much wider than it was long, in contrast to later church designs. On the main floor were a series of box pews that were rented by families, and there were more pews on the gallery, along with rows of benches in front of them. As was the case in most colonial meetinghouses, seating reflected social status, and the more prominent families generally occupied the pews closer to the front, while young unmarried people, along with people of color, were usually in the less desirable seats in the gallery.

When the current meetinghouse was constructed, the pastor of the church was Timothy Pitkin. A 1747 graduate of Yale, Pitkin had subsequently married Temperance Clap, daughter of Yale president Thomas Clap, and then became the pastor here in Farmington in 1752. He came from a prominent Connecticut family; his father, William Pitkin, was the colonial governor from 1766 to 1769, and Timothy’s son, also named Timothy, was in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1805 to 1819. Aside from serving as pastor, Pitkin was also a benefactor of the new meetinghouse; he contributed 20 pounds toward its construction, which was a significant part of his 125 pound annual salary.

The meetinghouse was completed right around the time when Connecticut and the other colonies were dealing with questions relating to British authority. Here in Farmington, residents condemned the so-called Intolerable Acts, which Parliament had passed in response to the Boston Tea Party. At a June 1774 town meeting here, the voters of Farmington declared their opposition to “such arbitrary and tyrannical acts,” and they approved a measure to gather food and transport it to Boston to aid the beleaguered residents there.

Then, in September the town approved the purchase of stockpiles of lead, flints, and powder, and in December it indicated its support for the resolutions of the First Continental Congress. However, not everyone in the town was apparently united in their support. The town records also indicate that, at the December meeting, Matthias Loaming, and Nehemiah Royce were declared to be “Open Enemies to their country” for refusing to vote on the measure. As a result, the town voted to “withdraw all connection from them, untill they shall make Public Retraction of their Principles and Sentiments in the matters aforesaid.”

Once the Revolution started, Farmington supported the Patriot cause. At a town meeting here in March 1777, voters approved a bonus system to encourage residents to enlist in the Continental Army. Soldiers would receive five pounds upon enlistment, followed by another five pounds after completing one year of service. Then, in September the town approved providing two shirts and two pairs of stockings to those who were in the army.

Aside from approving expenditures to fight against British rule, another matter that came up here in the meetinghouse was the need to maintain decorum during worship services. In December 1772, soon after the meetinghouse opened, the town addressed the issue. As quoted in Noah Porter’s 1872 Historical Discourse on the church, the complaint was that:

[I]t is suggested by many members of this society that indecencies are practiced by the young people upon the Sabbath in time of public worship by frequently passing and repassing by one another in the galleries, and intermingling sexes to the great disturbance of many serious and well minded people.

Naturally, such scandalous behavior as unmarried people sitting with members of the opposite sex could not be tolerated here, so the town designated separate gallery staircases for men and women. However, it does not seem to have had the desired effect, because it was still an issue over 40 years later when, in a similar issue was raised in 1813. As quoted by Porter, the church declared:

that the practice of certain young gentlemen in themselves in the pews on the female side of the gallery in times of public worship is disorderly, and ought to be, and is, by this society, wholly disapproved of.

This issue was eventually resolved in the mid-1820s, when the pews in the galleries were replaced with slip pews, and young people were encouraged to sit with their families, rather than being largely unsupervised in the galleries. The old pews on the main floor were later replaced in 1836, and around this same time the original high pulpit was also removed. Another sign of changing times came in 1824, when the first stoves were installed. Prior to this time, as was typical for colonial-era meetinghouses, people would have to bring their own foot stoves if they wanted heat.

Perhaps the single most notable event in the history of this building is its involvement in the Amistad case. Farmington was one stop in the long odyssey of the survivors from La Amistad, as they traveled from Africa to Cuba to Connecticut, before ultimately returning to Africa. It began when a group of Mende people from Sierra Leone were captured and transported to Cuba. From there, 53 of them were sold in Havana and then transported on the schooner La Amistad. During this trip the Mendes, led by Cinqué, overpowered the small crew, killed the captain and cook, and forced the others to sail to Africa. However, the navigators deliberately kept the ship off course, and it was intercepted by U.S. authorities off the coast of New York City in August 1839.

This incident occurred in the midst of rising tensions in the United States surrounding the future of slavery, and it led to several important questions that the courts had to address. These included the issues of whether or not the Mendes had been legally enslaved, since the international slave trade was illegal in the United States, and also whether or not their mutiny had been a justifiable act of self defense. President Martin Van Buren, under pressure from Spanish authorities and from southern slave owners, favored returning them to Cuba. They were ultimately put on trial in Connecticut, with two different court cases in Hartford and New Haven. The court found in their favor, but the Van Buren administration appealed it to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling in 1841.

With this decision, the Mendes were free, but they still had to get back home. They would end up spending much of 1841 in Farmington, where the abolitionist-minded community provided them with places to live while also working to raise money for their return trip to Africa. There were 36 survivors by the time they arrived in Farmington, with the rest having died at sea or while in prison. One more, a man named Foone, drowned while swimming in the Farmington Canal in August, but the other 35 remained here until November. Throughout this time, they regularly attended church services here in this building.

The town held a farewell service for them on November 17, here in the meetinghouse. The Reverend Joel Hawes of the First Church in Hartford preached a sermon for the occasion, based on the verse “And hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth” from Acts 17:26. In his sermon, Hawes praised African culture, denounced the effects of slavery on the people of Africa, emphasized the sinfulness of racism, and reminded Christians about how all humans are a part of the same family. After the sermon, several of the Mendes spoke and sang, and then Cinqué delivered a narrative of their captivity. He spoke in his native language, and one of the other Amistad captives, Kinna, translated it into English for the crowd. They departed Farmington two days later on a canal boat, headed for New York. There, they attended another farewell service, and then boarded a ship to Sierra Leone, where they arrived in 1842.

In the years that followed, the old meetinghouse continued to stand here in the center of Farmington as an important town landmark. After 1830 it was no longer used for town meetings, a move that reflected changing attitudes surrounding the relationship between church and state, but it continued to be used by the First Church for its worship services. By the time the first photo was taken in 1940, the building was nearly 170 years old, yet its exterior had largely retained its architectural integrity.

Today, the First Church is still an active church congregation, and this building stands as a well-preserved example of a colonial-era New England meetinghouse. From this angle, there have been few changes aside from the addition of several windows and the removal of the shutters. These shutters would not have been original to the building, so they were probably removed in order to reflect its 18th century appearance. In 1972, the building was named as a contributing property in the Farmington Historic District, and then in 1975 it was individually designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Ocean Bank, Stonington, Connecticut

The First National Bank building, formerly the Ocean Bank, on the north side of Cannon Square in Stonington, in November 1940. Photo by Jack Delano, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The first photo was taken in November 1940 by Jack Delano, a noted photographer who was employed by the Farm Security Administration in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In this capacity, he was part of a team of photographers who traveled around the country, documenting life in America during the Great Depression. He was in Connecticut during the fall of 1940, where he visited a number of cities and towns, including here in Stonington. His caption for this photo is simply, “A bank for sale in Stonington, Connecticut,” and he perhaps chose this subject as a way of representing the effects of the Depression on the once-prosperous whaling and fishing port.

Nearly a century before its demise in the Great Depression, the First National Bank of Stonington had its origins in 1851, with the incorporation of the Ocean Bank. This small Greek Revival bank building was constructed around this time, and the bank’s first president was Charles P. Williams, a former whaling ship captain. Williams had gained considerable wealth in the whaling industry, and he went on to further expand his fortune through real estate speculation. By the time he died in 1879, he was said to have been the wealthiest man in eastern Connecticut, with an estate valued at around $3 million.

In the meantime, the Ocean Bank became the First National Bank of Stonington in 1865, and it would remain in business here in this building for the next 75 years. However, the bank ultimately closed in February 1940, leaving the town of Stonington without any financial institutions. The bank’s president at the time, Judge J. Rodney Smith, explained in newspaper accounts that, although the bank itself was financially sound, the business conditions in town made the bank unprofitable for investors. He apparently did not cite specific reasons for this, but a likely cause was the ongoing Great Depression, along with the recent hurricane in September 1938, which battered coastal Connecticut.

As the sign in the first photo shows, the bank building was still for sale when Jack Delano took the photo some nine months after the bank closed. The building would ultimately be acquired by the Stonington Historical Society in 1942. The organization originally intended to turn the building into a museum and headquarters, but over the years it has instead been used as a rental property. Today, the historical society still owns the building, which has remained well-preserved in its 19th century appearance. It has also retained its original use as a bank, and it is currently a branch of Dime Bank, as shown on the sign on the left side in the 2021 photo.