Built circa 1695-1700, the Samuel Smith House (pdf), at 82 Plants Dam Road in East Lyme, is notable as an example of a mostly unaltered early colonial-era house. Additions were made in 1735 (when the end-chimney structure became a center-chimney structure with an expansion on the west side and the house was re-framed with a gambrel roof) and 1812 (when a rear ell was added), after which the house remained essentially unaltered. The house still has an eighteenth-century shed (with a lean-to added in the twentieth century), the original well and a c. 1810 outhouse. Also known as the Hurlbut House, the Smith House was built on land owned by Nehemiah Smith, Jr. In 1698, Smith transferred the property to his son, Samuel, who was probably already living on the property (his father lived elsewhere). Recently acquired by the town of East Lyme, the house is being restored by the Friends of the Samuel Smith House to become a museum.
The Niantic Baptist Church was established in 1843 by residents of East Lyme’s southern village of Niantic who were weary of making the trip to the northern village of Flanders each Sunday to worship at the Baptist Church there. The Niantic Baptist Church of 1843 burned in 1866 and was replaced the following year by the current church. The original steeple (a double cupola) was blown down in the 1938 hurricane and replaced by the current single cupola tower. A Fellowship Hall was added in 1959 and another fire in 1964 led to the restoration of the building, which is located at 443 Main Street.
The house at 105 East Pattagansett Road in East Lyme was built circa 1760 by Joseph Smith, the son of Samuel Smith, whose 1695 house survives on Plants Dam Road. During the Revolutionary War, the house was rented to Elisha Beckwith, a notorious Tory, who was known to pass intelligence to the British force based at Sag Harbor, Long Island. The British would cross Long Island Sound at night, hide their boat at Crescent Beach and leave the next day with supplies provided by Beckwith. Beckwith was likely a valuable source of information for Benedict Arnold during the raid on New London on September 6, 1781. The Connecticut Gazette of November 30, 1781 (also quoted in John Warner Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections under the date December 6, 1781) reported that
Last Friday a guard under the command of Ensign Andrew Griswold, stationed at Lyme, discovered a whale boat in a fresh pond near Black Point; and suspecting it came from Long Island, they set a guard of five men over the boat; and the night after four others of the guard with Ensign Griswold, went towards the house of the noted Elisha Beckwith; one of the party named Noah Lester, advanced faster than the rest, and was challenged by Beckwith’s wife, who was near the house; this alarmed ten men who were in the house, well armed, and they immediately seized upon and made prisoner of Lester, and carried him into the house. Soon after the other four of the guard came to the house, (not knowing Lester was a prisoner,) and went directly in; where they discovered the ten persons in arms: a scuffle immediately ensued between them; and after some lime the guard secured six of the party, among whom was Elisha Beckwith; the other four made their escape into the woods, but they all except one were taken the next day. They came in the above boat from Long Island, and were under the command of Thomas Smith, formerly of Middletown, who had a Captain’s commission under the British King. Elisha Beckwith went off with the enemy the 6th Sept. last, when they made their descent on this place. The above culprits are secured in Norwich gaol.
After spending time in the Hartford Jail, Beckwith eventually reunited with his family in Nova Scotia in 1782.
Today we continue with the Catholic theme, but this time with a church in Niantic. St. Agnes Parish was established in Niantic, East Lyme in 1922. The original wooden church on Prospect (now Haigh) Avenue, opened in November, 1924. Construction on the present church was interrupted by World War II. The foundation had been dug, but was covered over until construction was resumed in the mid-1950s. The parish celebrated its first Mass in the new church, at 22 Haigh Avenue, on February 10, 1957. The former wooden church was used as the parish center and church school until it was razed in 1962 to make way for a new church hall. A new rectory was built in 1967 and the current church hall and classrooms in the 1990s.
The Little Boston School in East Lyme was first established in 1734. There is a surviving Little Boston School House that was built around 1805 and originally stood on the north side of West Main Street. The school was run by the Second Ecclesiastical Society of Lyme until 1856 and from then until 1922 by the Town of East Lyme. After closing as a school, the building was donated to the East Lyme Historical Society in 1926 and moved to a new location, adjacent to the Thomas Lee House. Restored to an early twentieth-century appearance in 1973, the school house is now a museum.
A Greek Revival house with an elaborate window in its front gable, the Smith-Harris House in East Lyme was most likely built in 1845 by John Clark for Thomas Avery. The house was later occupied by Avery’s son, William, and after his death, it was sold to William H. H. Smith, who used it as a summer home. In 1921, he sold it to his brother and nephew, Herman Smith and Frank Harris, who had married two sisters. After the deaths of their husbands, the sisters continued to reside in the house, until they relocated to a nursing home. The house was left vacant and was deteriorating when a group of citizens urged the town to save and restore the house. A restoration committee was appointed in 1974 and the restored house opened as East Lyme’s Town Museum in 1976.
Built around 1660, the Thomas Lee House in Niantic is one of Connecticut’s oldest wood frame post-Medieval English houses. The original structure consisted of a single-room ground floor with a chamber above. This was expanded, after 1700, with the addition of a West Parlor and Chamber. The lean-to, which makes the house a saltbox, was added about 1765. The Lee family owned the house for two hundred years, until it was sold to a local farmer who used it as a barn and chicken coop. The farmer planned to tear the house down, but in 1914, it was saved by the East Lyme Historical Society, with help from the Connecticut Society of Colonial Wars, the Society of Colonial Dames, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities and Lee family descendants. The house was restored under the direction of Norman Morrison Isham, an architectural historian and author of Early Connecticut Houses (1900). It opened to the public in 1915 as a historic house museum, operated by the East Lyme Historical Society.