In downtown Bridgeport is a vacant and dilapidated 13-acre building complex, which occupies a city block. Ghost hunters are very interested in the building, which was possibly built on a Native American burial ground. The Beaux Arts structure, built in 1922, was once home to the Poli Palace, the Majestic Theater and the Savoy Hotel. The Poli Palace was built by theater impresario Sylvester Z. Poli as a vaudeville house. Mae West appeared at the theater in 1927. It was the largest theater in Connecticut and continued in use (later renamed Loew’s Palace Theater) until 1975. The Majestic Theater was smaller than the Poli Palace. It was in operation as a movie theater until 1971. Both theaters were designed by Thomas W. Lamb. Between the two theaters was the 109-room Savoy Hotel. In 1935 the Prohibition-era gangster and bootlegger Dutch Schultz moved to the Stratfield Hotel across the street for several months after two trials for tax evasion in New York State. It is wondered if he was involved in the murder of two people in the second floor lobby of the Savoy during this period. A month after leaving Bridgeport Dutch Shultz was gunned down in Newark, New Jersey. The city is seeking to redevelop the property.
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.
At 2 South Grand Street at its intersection with Mountain Road in West Suffield is a building consisting of two attached sections. The oldest part of the structure dates to circa 1750. For many years the building was the Terrett House Hotel and tavern. In 1837, the first post office in West Suffield was operated out of the Terrett House, the tavern-keeper serving as the postmaster. The Terrett House was where the second murder in Suffield history took place. As reported in the Hartford Courant on October 28, 1862 (“Murder at West Suffield”):
James Drake, keeper of a hotel at West Suffield, was shot dead on Saturday afternoon by a man named Cullen, a cigar maker, who works at Westfield, but whose family resides at West Suffield. It is said Cullen has allowed himself to be jealous of Drake, (but probably without cause), and has threatened his life on several occasions. Saturday afternoon he came home, and with a loaded revolver went directly to the hotel of Drake, for the purpose of shooting him. He fired two shots into Drake while he was behind the bar, but neither of them proved serious; the latter then ran out of doors and around the house, pursued by Cullen; and as he was again entering the door, a third shot entered his heart, proving fatal
Cullen was soon arrested. The hotel seems to have changed hands a number of times. On April 12, 1904, the Courant noted:
The West Suffield Hotel, better known as the Terrett House, has again changed hands, Alanson Hoffman having sold out his interests to Landlord F. Hart of North Bloomfeld. A telephone service has been added and other improvements have been made.
The Courant reported another sale on March 8, 1910, by Patrick J. Murphy to Charles C. Anderson, “who has had charge of the Buckngham Stables in Springfield for several years.” In 1915, Anderson and James Mitchell, proprietor of the Suffield House, another tavern, were fined $150 each for selling liquor on May 2 to 20-year-old William A. Coulson, who later that same night killed John Wardosky with his automobile while under the influence of liquor. Coulson was charged with manslaughter and pleaded no contest. The tavern-keepers’ fine included the additional charge of “permitting a minor to loiter about their places of business.” (“Liquor Drinking Up Suffield Way.” Hartford Courant, June 10, 1915). An owner in 1990 spray painted the building florescent orange to vent his frustration at bureaucratic red tape that had stalled his efforts to renovate the building to become and arts and crafts mall! A later owner restored it as a multi-family home.
At 601-607 Main Street in Middletown stands an impressive five-story Colonial Revival structure, built of granite, brick and concrete block. Now serving as low income housing, it was built in 1914-1915 as the Hotel Arrigoni by Frank Arrigoni, a prominent local building contractor. He and his brother, Dionigi Arrigoni, immigrants from Italy, owned the hotel and established Arrigoni & Brother, a road construction company that built many miles of highway in Connecticut. The hotel was run by the Arrigoni family until 1963. The building, later known as the the March Inn and then the Arriwani Hotel, was converted it into a rooming house. In 1995-1996, it was converted into Liberty Commons (pdf), the first supportive housing program in the state. The building also houses The Buttonwood Tree, a nonprofit performing arts and cultural center. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m presenting the New Hartford House Hotel (in New Hartford) in this post, although I still have some questions about the history of this building. If anyone has further details, please contribute to the comments! It was built in 1888 (according to this post). A former hotel (it was once painted pink in the 1970s!), it now contains a restaurant and shops on the first floor with apartments above. There was an earlier tavern at the same location that was replaced by the current building. In 1846, Elias Howe was living in this earlier New Hartford House and using the basement as a mechanic’s shop. On September 10, 1846, Howe became the first person to be awarded a patent for a sewing machine using a lock-stitch design. A Handbook of New England (1916), by Porter E. Sargent, states that “In Howe’s shop, on the site of the New Hartford House, woman first sewed a stitch on a sewing-machine.” Read the rest of this entry »
After staying at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington while he was filming The House of the Devil (2009), horror film director Ti West heard some of the ghost stories associated with the historic hotel. He was inspired to make an independent movie filmed at and revolving around the inn. Called The Innkeepers, it opened in theaters last week.
The Yankee Pedlar Inn opened in 1891 on the corner Main Street and Maiden Lane in Torrington. Originally known as the Conley Inn, it was built by an Irish immigrant named Frank Conley and his wife Alice. Designed by architect Robert Wakeman Hill, the four-story building was constructed of pallet brick, trimmed with Vermont Marble. Known for its comfort and elegance, the hotel became a popular and successful establishment. The Conleys managed the hotel until they died in 1910 and their niece, Mary Tryon, sold it two years later. It then passed through various owners and was expanded in 1918-1920. In 1940, the Yankee Pedlar restaurant and bar was added and entire hotel became known as the Yankee Pedlar Inn in 1956. Read the rest of this entry »
The Hotel Bond reigned as Hartford’s grandest hotels in the 1920s and 1930s. It was built on Asylum Street in Hartford in two sections. The first section, a 6-story block, was completed in 1913, on the site of the former Popular Restaurant. In 1921, there was a grand reopening which unveiled the attached second section, a 12-story block with an elegant 5,000 sq.ft. Grand Ballroom on the top floor. There are many dramatic photographs of the Hotel Bond during the Flood of 1936. During World War II, the Hotel Bond was a hub for servicemen passing through Hartford. By the 1950s, the Bond faced competition from the Statler Hotel, opened in 1954, and the estate of founder Harry S. Bond went into bankruptcy. In 1965, the hotel building was sold to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, which used it as the Saint Francis Hospital School of Nursing. The renovated Bond Ballroom reopened for receptions in 2001 and the rest of the building became a Homewood Suites by Hilton in 2006. Read the rest of this entry »