One of the houses to be featured in The Friends of The Mark Twain House & Museum 32nd Holiday House Tour on Sunday, Dec. 2, is the Colonial Revival residence located at 4 Mohawk Drive in West Hartford. Built in 1930, the house is the work of architect Lester Beach Scheide and builder Louis Slocum. The house won a West Hartford Historic Preservation Award in 2005. The jury marveled at the amount of work done, which was based on extensive research and use of photographic evidence to restore the home’s former grandeur. The original plans for the house are in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, where it is described as a “House for C. Gilbert Shepard.” C. Gilbert Shepard was the son of Charles E. Shepard, whose own house, built in 1900, is on Prospect Avenue. The younger Shepard served as a lieutenant in France in the First World War. Like his father, he became an insurance agent. The Yale Club of Hartford gives the C. Gilbert Shepard Award each year to freshmen from the area who excel at scholarship and athletics.
Prospect Avenue forms a border between Hartford and West Hartford. My new book, A Guide to Historic Hartford, Connecticut, features some interesting houses on the West Hartford side of the street, including the Robert Schutz House at 1075 Prospect Avenue. Unlike other residences nearby, this house is turned 90 degrees from the street. Built in 1907 and designed by Charles Adams Platt, the house was built for Robert Schutz, president of the Smyth Manufacturing Company, which still makes bookbinding machines today. The house was also the residence of his son, Robert Schutz Jr., who was an architect. As a trustee and president of the Mark Twain Memorial in the 1950s, Robert Schutz Jr. donated objects he found in the attic of this house to what is now the Mark Twain House and Museum.
The house at 995 Prospect Avenue in West Hartford, across from the Governor’s Residence, was built in 1916 for Lewis E. Gordon, resident manager of the American Mutual Liability Insurance Company. From 1926 to 1989, the house was owned by Miss Ethel Frances Donaghue (pdf) (1896-1989). Her father, Patrick Donaghue, an Irish immigrant, became wealthy running a wholesale and retail liquor business and purchasing commercial real estate in downtown Hartford. A wealthy heiress, Ethel Donaghue earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an SJD from New York University School of Law. Specializing in real estate and trust law in Hartford, she practiced until 1933, when her mother was ill with cancer. Her father had passed away when she was in High School from heart disease.
Experiencing health problems of her own in her later years, Ethel Donaghue left the bulk of her wealth ($53 million) to the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation to “promote medical knowledge which will be of practical benefit to the preservation, maintenance and improvement of human life.” After Donaghue was incapacitated by a series of strokes in 1980, there was a legal battle over control of her financial affairs between the two conservators of her estate, who were both later removed (pdf). The resulting scandal led to the resignation, in 1984, of Probate Judge James H. Kinsella, to avoid an impending impeachment vote in the Connecticut House of Representatives. The house on Prospect Avenue, vacant for a number of years after her death, passed through other owners. In 2011, the house was sold to George Jepsen, who is currently serving as the state’s Attorney General.
Another house in West Hartford’s West Hill Historic District is the house built in 1920 for Eugene L. Cushman. Located at 14 West Hill, it was designed by Cortland F. Luce in the Tudor Revival style. As reported in The Iron Age, Vol. 104, No. 26, December 25, 1919:
Eugene L. Cushman died at his home in West Hartford, Conn., Dec. 18, aged 65 years. Mr. Cushman was chairman of the board of directors of the Cushman Chuck Co., Hartford, Conn., having formerly been president of that organization.
Could this be the father of the house’s first occupant, or did Cushman die before it was completed?
One of the houses in West Hartford’s West Hill development of the 1920s is the Horace R. Grant House, designed by Cortland Luce and built in 1923. Horace R. Grant, President of the Allen Manufacturing Company, is credited with conceiving the idea for the development. He planned it with Stanley K. Dimock, who had inherited the land from his father, Ira Dimock, a silk manufacturer. Ira Dimock had purchased the former Vanderbilt Mansion on the property, which was later demolished to make way for the new houses. The Grant House has a rear addition, dating to 1937 and designed by William T. Marchant.
Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford (one of three now in the town) was opened in 1931 as a combination junior high school (in the west wing) and elementary school (in the east wing). In 1965, the elementary school moved out and Sedgwick became exclusively a junior high (called a middle school from 1979). A rear wing was added in 1989-1990, the library was expanded in 2001 and another wing constructed in 2003. The school was named for William Thompson Sedgwick. Born in West Hartford in 1855, Sedgwick, a bacteriologist and educator, was an authority on public health who taught biology at M.I.T. from 1883 until his death in 1921.
Located on the West Hartford side (across from the Hartford side) of Prospect Avenue, at #825, is the William Augustus Erving House. It is an elaborate Queen Anne residence, built in 1880 for William Augustus Erving, who was, at that time, secretary of the Hartford County Mutual Fire Insurance Company. His father, Daniel Dodge Erving, had previously served as president of the company and William Augustus Erving became president himself in 1917. According to A Century in Hartford, a history of the company, published in 1931,
Large and well proportioned, he maintained his fine physical vigor mainly by walking; he seldom missed his “morning constitutional” from his home on Prospect avenue to the office, a distance of three miles.