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 »
Edith Brainard Davis spent 95 summers in the Borough of Fenwick (pdf) in Old Saybrook. She was the daughter of Leverett Brainard, president of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company of Hartford, and Mary Bulkeley Brainard, who was the sister of Morgan G. Bulkeley. In 1907, Edith Hollister Brainard married John Henry Kelso Davis, who worked at Case, Lockwood & Brainard. The couple continued to summer at the Leverett Brainard Cottage in Fenwick until they hired the builder George Sheffield of Old Saybrook to erect their own cottage at 6 Pettipaug Avenue in 1913. Two picture windows on the ground floor facing Long Island Sound were added to the Davis Cottage in 1930 by her sons as a gift to Mrs. Davis. The cottage is now owned by E. C. Gengras, Jr. of the Gengras Auto Group. You can read more about the cottage in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 159-162.
Perhaps the most impressive of the Shingle-style summer houses in the Borough of Fenwick (pdf) in Old Saybrook is the one built in 1900 for Morgan Gardner Bulkeley. A legendary politician, Morgan G. Bulkeley was a four-term mayor of Hartford, 54th Governor of Connecticut (1889-1893), U.S. Senator, first president of Baseball’s National League and the third president of the Aetna Life Insurance Company for 43 years. Bulkeley lived on Washington Street in Hartford and was one of the leaders of the summer community of Fenwick, In 1899 he commissioned the Hartford architect, W.E. Becker to design his summer cottage at 5 Pettipaug Avenue in Fenwick. You can read more about the cottage in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 99-108. Read the rest of this entry »
We continue our look at the Borough of Fenwick (pdf) by considering one of its many Shingle-style summer “cottages.” The cottage at 8 Agawam Avenue was constructed in 1890 by local builder George Sheffield for James B. Moore. Like his father, George W. Moore, James B. Moore acquired his wealth by brokering mortgages in the southern and western states after the Civil War. For the past five years, he and his family had spent their summers staying at Fenwick Hall, but in 1890 he was furious to find the hotel fully booked for the entire summer. He proceed to build his own Fenwick cottage in just six weeks. Designing it himself without an architect, he had no halls built on the second floor and hardly any closets in the entire house! The cottage was finally sold out of the family by James Moore, Jr. in 1946. You can read more about the cottage in Marion Hepburn Grant’s The Fenwick Story (Connecticut Historical Society, 1974), pages 166-169.
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.
In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette stopped at a store in Old Saybrook to make a purchase (according to tradition he bought either a pair of socks or a bar of saddle soap). Built in 1790 as a general store for the Humphrey Pratt Tavern, the building was moved in 1877 to the corner of Pennywise Lane where it became a pharmacy. A new section with a soda fountain was added in 1896 by owner Peter C. Lane, who had received his license in 1895 becoming one of the first two black pharmacists in Connecticut. From 1917 to 1967, the James Pharmacy was run by his sister-in-law and partner, Anna Louise James, the first African American woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy and Connecticut’s first female African American pharmacist. Miss James, as she was called, retired in 1967 and continued to live in the building’s back apartment until her death in 1977. Miss James’s niece, Ann Lane Petry, was also a pharmacist and worked for a time at the pharmacy. Petry became known as a writer, most notably for her novel The Street (1946), which became the first book by a black woman writer with sales topping a million copies. Closed after Miss James’s retirement, the building was restored and reopened by new owners in 1984 and then had other owners. Today, it is owned by the neighboring Deacon Timothy Pratt House B&B and is known as the James Gallery & Soda Fountain.