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.
The house at 404 Main Street in Old Saybrook has been dated back to 1697 or even 1687. By the mid-eighteenth century, the house was owned by John Shipman. This Cape-style house has been altered over the years, but still has four fireplaces and a beehive oven in the kitchen.
Located right next to Grace Episcopal Church in Old Saybrook is the Rectory, built in 1892, which replaced an earlier rectory, which had been lost in a fire. The design of the building was influenced by a house seen by the church’s rector in England. The Rectory is currently being leased out, with the rector and his wife live elsewhere.
For Easter, we’re featuring here an English Gothic-style church in Old Saybrook. Regular Episcopal services began to be held in Old Saybrook in 1825, meeting in the Center Schoolhouse. The first Grace Episcopal Church was constructed in 1830-1831, later replaced by the current church building, built in 1871-1872. The second church used the cornerstone of the first church, which was subsequently moved around the corner to the Old Boston Post Road.
Old Saybrook‘s Main Street School was built in 1936. In 1999, voters approved a referendum to convert it to serve as the new town hall. At the same time, restoration of the former town hall of 1911 was also approved and it has been restored as the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center.