Opened at 300 Main Street in Old Saybrook in 2009 is The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, named for the famous actress who lived in town. Before the building was restored to become a new cultural arts center, it had served from 1911 until 2004 as Old Saybrook’s Town Hall. Designed by New London architect James Sweeney, it was constructed in 1910-1911 to be the Old Saybrook Town Hall and Theater, with town offices in the raised basement and a theater above that was used both for performances and community gatherings. A driving force behind the building‘s construction was Joseph A. Cone, a printer, performer and musician, and the Old Saybrook Musical and Dramatic Club, which he had founded. Unfortunately, by the 1950s the old theater space had been subdivided for more town offices. Today it again serves its original purpose as a performance space.
The summer cottage at 25 Pettipaug Avenue in the Borough of Fenwick in Old Saybrook was built circa 1871 on land sold that year to Mrs. Cyrus Knight. Her husband, Rev. Cyrus Frederick Wright was rector of the Church of the Incarnation (later renamed St. James’ Episcopal Church) in Hartford from 1870 to 1877. He resigned after an incident in which church funds were stolen by the parish treasurer. Rev. Knight then served as rector of St. James Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from 1877 to 1889, but continued to summer in Fenwick. When he became Bishop of Milwaukee in 1889, he and his wife could no longer make the long trip to Fenwick and therefore rented the cottage for the summer. Rev. Knight died in 1891 and his wife, Elizabeth P. Pickering Knight, in 1912. The cottage was then owned for a time by Heywood Whaples. It was purchased in 1952 by Ellsworth Grant (1917-2013) and his wife, Marion Hepburn Grant (1918-1986), the sister of Katharine Hepburn. The cottage has later rear additions. You can read more about the cottage in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 128-131.
The summer “cottage” at 28 Fenwick Avenue in the Borough of Fenwick in Old Saybrook was built in 1887 for Mary Brace Collins, who lived at a now demolished house at 1010 Asylum Avenue in Hartford. Her father was Thomas K. Brace, first president of the Aetna Fire Insurance Company, and her husband was Atwood Collins, who became president of the Security Trust Company in 1896. The company later merged with the the Hartford-Aetna National Bank in 1927 to form the Hartford National Bank and Trust Company. You can read more about the cottage in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 84-87.
At 4 Agawam Avenue in the Borough of Fenwick in Old Saybrook is a Queen Anne cottage that was once located on the waterfront in Fenwick. It was built in 1885 for Henry P. Morgan of Brooklyn, who owned a large dry goods business, and was moved to its current location (4 Agawam Avenue) around 1901 by Ernest Williams, who was in the building supply business. His daughter Dorothy married Everett Francis of Middletownn. You can read more about the cottage in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), page 170. Read the rest of this entry »
The Borough of Fenwick (pdf) in Old Saybrook has long had its own nondenominational house of worship, St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea. Religious services for the Fenwick summer community were initially led by Rev. Francis Goodwin in his own home. A leader of both Hartford and Fenwick society and an amateur architect, Rev. Francis Goodwin (1839-1923) championed the development of more parks in Hartford as the city’s first commissioner of parks. In 1883, Rev. Goodwin designed and built a small chapel on his property for Sunday worship. By 1886, the chapel was too small to accommodate the number of worshipers, so it was moved to its current location (30 Agawam Avenue) and enlarged with additional pews and a bell tower. St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea is a Shingle style structure, as are so many of the Fenwick summer cottages. You can read more about St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 37-49.
Continuing our look at the cottages of the Borough of Fenwick in Old Saybrook, we come to a house that has been much expanded over time. Leverett Brainard (1828-1902) purchased one of the original Fenwick lots in 1871, but he and his wife, Mary Jerusha Bulkeley (sister of Morgan G. Bulkeley) did not immediately undertake the building of a summer cottage. In 1877, Brainard acquired a Fenwick cottage that had been built circa 1871 by J.A. Eldridge of Springfield and had it moved to his own lot and remodeled to suit his needs. Over the years, as the family expanded, they added new rooms to the cottage, which came to bear little resemblance to its original appearance. Leverett Brainard, who lived on Washington Street in Hartford, was born in Colchester and attended Bacon Academy. He moved to Hartford in 1853 to work for the City Fire Insurance Company. He eventually became the president of The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, which was one of the largest publishing companies in New England. As his obituary in the New England Stationer and Printer (Vol. XVI. No. 5, August 1902) stated, Brainard was “one of Hartford’s most prominent citizens, and closely identified with the commercial progress of Hartford, Conn., for nearly half a century.” The house passed to the Brainard’s son, Newton C. Brainard, who left it to his nephew, his sister Edith’s son, Frank Kelso Davis. You can read more about the cottage in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 91-99. Read the rest of this entry »
The actress Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003) had long-standing connections with the Borough of Fenwick in Old Saybrook. Her parents, Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn and Katharine Houghton Hepburn, who lived in Hartford, began spending their summers there in 1912. After the family’s original wooden Shingle-style cottage on Long Island Sound was swept out to sea in the hurricane of 1938, they built a new one of brick based on a design the family had modeled out of blocks and dominoes. The house, which covers about 8,000 square feet, was a frequent retreat for the actress, who eventually moved there to spend her final years. In the 1930s and 1940s, Howard Hughes would land his seaplane in the Sound, right in front of the Hepburn home. Katherine Hepburn shared the house with her brother, the playwright Richard Hepburn, who died in 2000. After Katherine Hepburn passed away in 2003, the house was acquired by the major New York City developer, Frank J. Sciame, Jr., who completely renovated the house in 2005 and put it up for sale. Although Taylor Swift came close to buying the house, Sciame took it off the market last summer because he had received no offers that matched the $30 million asking price. Sciame, who recently reduced the height of two granite posts at the end of his driveway from five to four feet after an extended legal drama with the Borough of Fenwick Historic Commission, will continue to use the house as a summer home. You can read more about the Hepburn “cottage” in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 171-179. Next month, a special exhibit will open at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford: Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, which runs until September 13, 2014. Read the rest of this entry »