This week the focus is on the Borough of Fernwick in Old Saybrook. A peninsula of land located where the Connecticut River flows into Long Island Sound, Fenwick was purchased in 1870 by the New Saybrook Company, with the financial backing of the Charter Oak Life Insurance Company of Hartford. The land was thereafter developed as a summer resort for wealthy citizens, many from Hartford. By 1899, when it was incorporated as a borough, the avenues of Fenwick were lined with numerous summer houses, referred to as cottages. There was also the Fenwick Golf Course, opened in 1896. The New Saybrook Company also constructed a large hotel at Fenwick, called Fenwick Hall. In 1887 the Charter Oak Life Insurance Company went bankrupt, and Fenwick Hall was acquired by Edward S. Stokes (d. 1901), who had connections with the New York City political machine and had famously shot his rival, James Fisk, in 1872. Stokes welcomed politicians and celebrities to the hotel. Following a tax dispute, the hotel was bought at auction in 1894 by Fenwick resident Morgan G. Bulkeley, former Governor of Connecticut. The hotel then served as a social center for residents of Fenwick and accommodated guests from the same social circle. Fenwick Hall burned in 1916, but its functions were taken over by the Riversea Inn, a Colonial Revival building at 20 Fenwick Avenue. The Riversea Inn had been built as a residence in 1885 and was remodeled into its present appearance around 1910. Since the 1950s, the building has again been a residence. You can read more about the Riversea Inn in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 67-75.
The first Methodist sermon in Watertown was preached in 1794 and the town’s first Methodist Class was formed in 1800. As described in the History of Ancient Westbury and Present Watertown from its Settlement to 1907 (1907):
On February 21, 1853, a meeting was held in the office of Dr. Catlin to discuss the feasibility of establishing Methodist worship at Watertown Centre, and it was voted desirable to have preaching here the following conference year. Much difficulty was experienced in securing a suitable place for these meetings, and the committee accepted the invitation of General Merritt Heminway to use the ball-room in his hotel during the summer. Rev. Larmon Abbot preached the first sermon here May 29, 1853. There being no facilities for heating the ball-room, during the winter the Congregational chapel was rented for the use of the Society. In October, 1854, the basement of the new Church was ready for use, and the edifice was dedicated December 13, 1854.
. . . In 1897, the membership of the Church having greatly increased, it became necessary to build a larger edifice. $9,500 was subscribed, largely through the influence and generosity of Augustus N. Woolson. He also purchased the old Church for $1,000 and removed it. A call for more money for carpets, organ, etc., was met by the same generous giver. And not only in his Church was Mr. Woolson’s influence felt. He represented the town in Legislature, and was sent by the unanimous vote of his townsmen as delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Many homes in the town were made happier by his benevolence. It has been said that for a quarter of a century before his death there was no movement looking toward the improvement of Watertown in which he had not a prominent, if not a leading part. He was an honest and successful business man, a model citizen, a philanthropist and a sincere Christian.
Completed in 1898, the church (305 Main Street) was designed by George W. Kramer, whose book The What, How and Why of Church Building was published in 1897. Kramer also designed the Methodist Church in Derby, the Asbury United Methodist Church in Bristol (1900) and St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Hartford (1900).
The former seminary of the Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette is located at 85 New Park Avenue in Hartford, next to Our Lady of Sorrows Church. Founded in France in 1852, the Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette established their first North American chapter in Hartford in 1892. The seminary was built in 1894-1895 and, due to the increasing number of students, two wings were added in 1906-1907. A chapel was dedicated in 1908. In 1961, the last class graduated from the seminary in Hartford and a new seminary opened in Cheshire. The former seminary building in Hartford is now used as a retirement house for LaSalette Missionaries.
On Library Road in Middlebury is a Georgian Revival building built in 1898. It was originally Center School, a two-room schoolhouse, and later served as a town hall annex and then as the town library, and now is occupied by the Middlebury Historical Society.
The Bank of Commerce of New London was chartered in 1852 and became a national bank in 1864. As related in A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut, Volume 2 (1922), edited by Benjamin Tinkham Marshall:
The first business transactions of the bank were in the office of Williams & Havens, whaling merchants, on October 14, 1852, when notes aggregating $11,000 were discounted—a fair day’s business for an infant institution. Subsequently the bank obtained permanent quarters in the second story of the Union Bank building, at the present location of the Union Bank and Trust Company. When the Crocker house building was constructed, the National Bank of Commerce took a lease of its present location for fifty years from April 1, 1872.
The directors, desiring to furnish their patrons with the best convenience and comforts for transacting business, decided to erect a building which the bank would occupy at the expiration of its lease of the Crocker house quarters, or earlier if possible. To this end a lot was purchased on State street, next east to the First Baptist Church, extending around the church, with a frontage on Washington street as well as on State street, and the present fine home of the National Bank of Commerce is the result of its decision to own its own home.
The Queen Anne/Colonial Revival building at 105-107 Water Street in Stonington was built in 1901 to house a drugstore and ice cream parlor on the first floor, while the business’ owner, Francis D. Burtch, lived in the apartment above. Various other businesses have been located in the building over the years. In 1954, poet James Merrill (1926-1995) and his partner David Jackson moved into the residence. Merrill‘s epic work, The Changing Light at Sandover, incorporated messages that he and Jackson transcribed from sessions using a ouija board in the house’s turret dining room. Merrill, who was Connecticut’s State Poet Laureate from 1985 to 1995, willed his home to the Stonington Village Improvement Association. The James Merrill House Committee runs a program that makes the Merrill apartment, maintained as it was during the poet’s lifetime, available to writers for rent-free stays of one or two semesters of an academic year.
The Farrington Building, located at 131-141 West Main Street in Waterbury, was constructed in c. 1925-1930 as an addition to the Westerly Apartments, a c. 1890 Queen Anne building. The Farrington Building is a two-story Georgian Revival retail and office structure. In 1935, the First Federal Savings & Loan Association, now known as Webster Bank, opened on the building‘s second floor. Its only employees were the company’s founder, Harold Webster Smith and a clerk. Smith started his new business during the Great Depression under the federal government’s National Housing Act, passed in 1934 to stimulate the economy and make housing construction and home mortgages more affordable. Webster Bank now has thousands of employees and numerous branches.