The house at 57 Middlefield Road in Durham was built in 1733-1734 by Ithamar Parsons (1707-1786), shortly after his marriage to Sarah Curtis. Parsons carved the date 1734 upside down on the northwest cornerstone of the house’s brownstone foundation. The house passed to his son, Aaron Parsons (1758-1812), who carved “A.P. 1800” near his father’s inscription on the cornerstone. Aaron willed the south half of the house to his widow, Lucy Hawley Parsons, and the north half to his eldest son Curtis. Lucy and Curtis sold their portions to Marcus Parsons, Aaron’s third eldest son. who was a shoemaker. Marcus married Orpha Robinson in 1812. The house was acquired by Thomas William Lyman in 1853. Thomas W. Lyman was the grandson of Thomas Lyman, IV, who built a large Georgian-style house nearby. The house was sold out of the Lyman family in 1889.
The house at 105 Middlefield Road in Durham was built circa 1774-1778 for Thomas Lyman IV (1746-1832). A native of Durham, Thomas Lyman spent time in the south, where his family claimed a grant of land, before returning to Connecticut. He served as quartermaster of the First Connecticut Regiment in the Revolutionary War and as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1818. Lyman is said to have visited Thomas Jefferson for a week at Monticello and to have have entertained Lafayette at the house in Durham on several occasions. Lyman married Rachel Seward in 1771. The house was built on land that Lyman inherited from his brother Stephen, who died in 1775. It is a hipped-roof structure, which was uncommon for colonial Connecticut. Perhaps Lyman was influenced by his time in the South. The house remained in the Lyman family for many years. It was recently donated to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, which has put the house up for sale, with the proceeds to be used to launch a new Revolving Fund for preservation projects around the state. Read the rest of this entry »
At 18 Town House Road in Durham is a Federal-style house with a sign that indicates it was built in 1790 by Colonel Samuel Camp. According to Durham’s Historic Resources Inventory listing for the house, it was built in 1831 by Elias B. Meigs, who had purchased the land the year before from Ebenezer Camp.
Built around 1860, the house at 24 Maiden Lane in Durham is an example of the Greek Revival style. The house was first owned by T.B. Strong. In Durham’s Historic Resources Inventory, it is speculated that this could be Talcott Stong (b.1840), who served in the Civil War, but there’s a tombstone with the name Talcott Parsons Strong (1840-1915).
One of Durham‘s best examples of the Greek Revival style is the house at 313 Main Street (which was 138 Main Street before the numbers were changed a few years ago). The house was built around 1840 on land acquired the year before by Phineas Parmalee, a shoemaker, whose own house and shop were across the street. He sold the house for $1200 to his son, William A. Parmalee, in 1842. William A. Parmalee, a manufacturer of shoes like his father, had married Mary J. Camp in 1840. He also served as Town Clerk and as a representative to the General Assembly.
In the colonial period, Connecticut residents were required by law to attend all-day church services on Sunday. Meeting Houses were unheated and a mid-day break allowed people to eat and warm up before the afternoon services. For those who lived too far away to return home during this break time, towns sometimes built small “Sabbath Day Houses” where they could take shelter. Several Sabbath Day Houses were once located on Durham Green, but were taken down as the attendance requirement ended at the start of the nineteenth century. One surviving structure, built around 1780, was moved to Indian Lane in Durham and converted into a residence. Facing destruction in 1966, it was moved back to the Green and restored by the Durham Historical Society.
A description of Durham’s Sabbath Day Houses is related in William Chauncey Fowler’s History of Durham (1866) as follows:
These houses were from twenty to twenty-five feet in length, and from ten to twelve feet in breadth, and one story high with a chimney in the middle dividing the whole space into two rooms with a partition between them, for the accommodation of two families, who united in building the house. The furniture consisted of a few chairs, a table, plates and dishes; some iron utensil, it may be, for warming food which had been cooked. Besides the Bible, there was sometimes a book on experimental religion, like Baxter’s Saints’ Rest, or Allein’s Alarm. On the morning of the Sabbath the mother of the family with provident care, put up her store of comforts for the dinner, substantial or slight fare as most convenient, a bottle of cider almost of course. The family then set off from their home in a large two horse sleigh, or on saddles and pillions. They stopped at the Sabbathday house, kindled a blazing fire, and then went forth “to shiver in the cold during the morning services.” At noon they hurried back to their warm room. After they had taken their meal and by turns drank from the pewter mug, thanks were returned. Then the sermon came under review, from the notes taken by the father of the family, or a chapter was read from the Bible, or a paragraph from some favorite author, the service concluding with prayer or singing. After again visiting the sanctuary, the family would return to the Sabbath-day house if the cold was severe, before they sought their home. The fire was then extinguished, the door was locked, and the house remained undisturbed during the week.
In time the custom of repairing to these houses changed; the houses themselves became dilapidated or furnished a refuge for the poor. They were better suited to those times when so much was thought of private family religion, than they would be to ours, when religion has become more of a public and social concern. The last Sabbath-day house which I remember, stood on the land owned by the first minister. It was occupied by John King, a Hessian deserter from the British army. It was owned by one of the Nortons. The present writer can recollect as many as half a dozon of these houses. They grew up out of the type of religion which existed at that time. It was a family religion, rather than a public one.
Asahel Strong (1781-1863) was a farmer and a prominent citizen of Durham who served as Justice of the Peace and five terms as a representative in the Connecticut General Assembly. Strong had a Federal-style house on Fowler Avenue, but also had a vernacular house, built c. 1830 on Main Street on parsonage land he leased from the First Ecclesiastical Society of Durham for 999 years (essentially a way for the Society to sell it). Another house built on this parsonage property is the Robinson-Andrews House, located just south of the Strong House. The 1830 house remained in the Strong family until the 1850s.