Jesse Lee, the minister who established Methodism in New England, preached his first sermon in New England in June of 1789 in the center of Norwalk. The town’s first Methodist church was built in South Norwalk in 1816. By 1858, the congregation had grown so large that it divided. Planning for a new church, which is now called the Norwalk United Methodist Church, began at a meeting on April 25, 1858 at “Phoenix Hall,” which was then located at the Norwalk River Bridge on Wall Street. Work on the church edifice at 724 West Avenue started in 1859 and the building was dedicated on December 6, 1860. An Italianate structure, it was designed by architect Tappan Reeve of Brooklyn, New York. Ornamentation, removed from the church’s towers in the wake of storm damage in the 1920s, has more recently been replicated and the church repainted in its original colors.
The house at 16-18 Spring Street in Bristol was built in 1883 (or perhaps as early as 1870?). It was designed by the Bristol architect Joel T. Case. It later became the home of Edward Dutton Rockwell (1855-1925), who came to Bristol in 1888 with his brother Albert F. Rockwell. Their New Departure Bell Company grew into one of the largest bell factories in America and the largest producer of ball bearings in the world. E.D. Rockwell later left New Departure to become manager of the Liberty Bell Company. The house has lost its original Italianate tower and second-floor porch.
Yesterday’s post featured the c. 1875 Christian Swartz House, which is today part of an upscale housing complex called Haviland Gates in South Norwalk. Another Victorian-era home that is part of Haviland Gates is the Burbank-Wolfe House at 12 Haviland Street, built c. 1864. It contains two of the development’s 21 apartments. Unlike the Swartz House, the Burbank-Wolfe House was moved in 2002 to its current location from 61 South Main Street, where the City built a new police station. In the early twentieth century, the house was owned by Dr. Robert M. Wolfe (died 1940), who served as mayor of South Norwalk from 1909 to 1910 and again from 1912 to 1913. He was the last mayor of the municipality of South Norwalk before it was integrated into the City of Norwalk in 1913.
Christian Swartz (1846-1932) served as mayor of South Norwalk in 1880 and again in 1882. He was born in Württemberg, Germany and came to America with his parents in 1849 at the age of three. In 1868, in partnership with Jeremiah Bernd of Danbury, Swartz opened a cigar shop in South Norwalk called C. Swartz and Company. In 1880, this became the Old Well Cigar Company. As related in Vol. IV of Men of Mark in Connecticut (1906), by William R. Goodspeed:
In 1882 the business of South Norwalk had grown to such large proportions that another bank was deemed a necessity. In company with Hon. R. H. Rowan, Hon. John H. Ferris, Hon. Talmadge Baker, and other prominent men, he was one of the organizers of the City National Bank, and has continued as a director of said bank since that time. In the re-organizatíon of the Norwalk Lock Company, he became one of the directors and has continued as such.
Christian Swartz‘s public services began before he entered business life. At the age of eighteen years he enlisted in the Union cause in the Civil War and served until peace was established, a period of ten months. Since that time his public services have been political rather than military, and to him politics has always meant service to his fellows of the best and highest kind. He has followed the tenets of the Democratic political body and became a Gold Democrat. He was city councilman in 1878, mayor of South Norwalk in 1880 and again in 1882, sheriff of Fairfield County from 1884 to 1887, and he has been a member of the state shell-fish commission since 1893. He is the present chairman of the city water commission, president of the board of estimates and taxation of the town of Norwalk and President of the Norwalk Hospital. He has been in many other ways a strong factor in local politics and civic growth and prosperity.
A man of deep religious convictions and training, Mr. Swartz is a devoted and regular member of the South Norwalk Congregational Church. He is a chairman of the business committee of that church and a member of the Christian Inquiry Club connected with that body. He has many fraternal and social ties, and is a Mason, and a Knight Templar. He was elected Grand Commander of the Knights Templar of Connecticut in 1892. He is a member of the South Norwalk Club, the Norwalk Club, and the Norwalk Country Club. He is fond of outdoor life, particularly at the sea-shore, and of late years has become a devotee of physical culture.
The building at 9-11 Wall Street in Norwalk was built in 1875 but Col. Frederick St. John Lockwood on the site where the general store of E. Lockwood & Sons operated in the eighteenth century. The building originally had retail stores and a market on the first floor, offices on the second floor and Lockwood Hall, a large hall for public functions and entertainments, on the third floor. The structure was remodeled in the Art Deco style and renamed the Twin City Building in the 1930s. In the 1950s and 1960s the second floor was shared by the Hilltop Athletic Club and Radio Station WNLK. Today the building’s principal tenant is The Fat Cat Pie Co.
A landmark of South Norwalk is the Donovan Building at 138 Washington Street, corner of Water Street. Built in 1889, it was the home of Jeremiah Donovan‘s Saloon. A civic leader and politician, Jeremiah Donovan served in the state house from 1903 to 1904 and the state senate from 1905 to 1909, and again from 1911 to 1913. He then served a term in the U.S. Congress from 1913 to 1915, and as mayor of Norwalk from 1917 to 1921. The building has since housed a bar/restaurant under various owners, except for the period of prohibition when it was an A. & P. Today the restaurant has a collection of vintage prizefighter pictures that belonged to “Battling Bat Kunz”, a regional champ who owned the restaurant for several decades. The current owner, Richie Ball restored the restaurant and bar in 1979 to its original Victorian style and renamed it after its original founder, Jeremiah Donovan. On the east side of the building is a mural depicting one of the last working schooners on Long Island Sound, the Alice S. Wentworth. It was painted in 1978 by Brechin Morgan, a local artist. After a billboard company painted over it in 1983, Morgan repainted the mural with some friends. It was touched up in 2007. Read the rest of this entry »
The headquarters of the Westport Historical Society is the Bradley-Wheeler House, located at 25 Avery Place. The house was built by Ebenezer Coley, a merchant, for his son Michael Coley. Financial troubles forced Michael Coley to deed the house back to his father three years later. Ebenezer Coley then sold it in 1799. Ann Hazzard Avery Ripley (1764-1830) occupied the house, where she also had a millinary shop, in the early nineteenth century. From 1846 to 1857 the house was owned by Farmin Patchin, who had financial problems and deed the property to the Saugatuck Bank. The house is named for two of its later nineteenth-century owners: Morris Bradley and Charles B. Wheeler, both local businessmen. It is likely that Morris Bradley was the owner who dramatically altered the style of the house to its current Italianate appearance. Bradley acquired the house in 1865 and it was occupied by him until his death in 1886 and then by his widow until it passed to his daughter, Julia A. Bradley Wheeler. She was married to Charles Beach Wheeler, who ran a store with his brother-in-law Abraham Bradley (died 1886). The house was later home to Charles and Julia’s son, Lewis Wheeler, a doctor who died in 1958. Wheeler’s estate left the property to Charlotte P. Darby. After her death in 1979, the house was left to Christ and Holy Trinity Church, which sold it to the Historical Society in 1981.