John F. Butler (1840-1905), who was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, founded the long-lived Butler Paint Company in Meriden in 1876. The store opened on June 25, 1876, the same day Custer made his last stand at the Little Big Horn. In 1892 Butler organized a joint stock company, taking a number of his employees into the new corporation. The store was originally located in the Horace C. Wilcox Block on Colony Street. As related in An Historic Record and Pictorial Description of the Town of Meriden, Connecticut and Men who Have Made It: A Century of Meriden “The Silver City.” (1906):
With a progressive spirit always characteristic of him, Mr. Butler in connection with the Meriden Furniture Co., in 1894, built the handsome block on Colony street which the John F. Butler Company now occupy.
Located at 51-53 Colony Street, the building housed the Meriden Furniture Company on one side and Butler Paint on the other. The Meriden Furniture Company went out of business in 1965, replaced for a time by the Music Box. Butler Paint went out of the family in 2001 and finally closed in 2011.
The building at 7 Church Street in Roxbury, near the Green, was built circa 1840 as a hat shop by Frederick W. Lathrop. Hat making was an important cottage industry in Roxbury at the time, although industrial manufacturing supplanted it by the time of the Civil War. The building was later used as a residence.
The building at 357 Main Street South in Woodbury was built sometime in the nineteenth century. Now home to a dental office, it was once the grocery and dry goods store of George N. Proctor, who primarily sold his wares door-to-door. In March 1909, Proctor’s wife disappeared after withdrawing from the bank nearly $1,000 bequeathed to her by a relative. A few hours before her disappearance another resident of town had also vanished: Rev. Charles W. Dane, pastor of the Woodbury Methodist Church. Rev. Dane and Mrs. Proctor’s names had been linked for several months and it was thought they had run off together. Just a week before, Dane’s wife had sued for a divorce, alleging intolerable cruelty. She believed he had been deliberately mistreating her to drive her away so that he could divorce her on the ground of desertion. Mrs. Proctor had arranged to meet the minister in New Britain, but he failed to appear and she went on to New York City alone. Mr. Proctor, who believed the minister had hypnotized his wife to lure her away, soon located her in the city Fifteen years before Proctor had also lost his first wife, who ran off with a clerk from his store.
In 1797 the Town of Willington granted permission for Gen./Dr. Miner Grant to build a store to the southeast of the town green. It was built as a one-and-a-half story cape with its gable end facing the street. The store was in operation until the period of the Civil War. It was then converted into a residence and significantly altered. The original store entrance was located in the center of the gable end, where there is now a chimney. By 1801, Dr. Miner Grant’s son, Miner Grant, Jr., was working as a store clerk for Dr. Samuel Willard of Stafford. An accidental explosion on December 23, 1801 led to a fire that destroyed the store. Willard and Grant escaped, but another clerk, Augustus Miller, was killed. The store was rebuilt the following year and the business was acquired by Miner Grant, Sr., who was setting his son up in business. In 1806, Miner Grant, Jr. took over the Stafford store, which was moved to Old Sturbridge Village in 1938. His father’s earlier store, now a house, remains in its original location at 242 Tolland Turnpike in Willington.
The Southmayd Building, at 542-544 Main Street in Middletown, is an outstanding example of a nineteenth-century commercial block with a cast-iron facade. It was built by George M. Southmayd, who was in the undertaking business. His father John B. Southmayd had started the business at his home, which stood on the same site. In 1911 Ludwig Krenz bought the building (It is also known as the Southmayd-Krenz Building) and opened a bar and restaurant and it has been used for that purpose ever since under various owners. Read the rest of this entry »
O’Rourke’s is a world famous diner in Middletown. Located at 728 Main Street, the diner was built by the Mountain View Diner Company (it was manufactured in 1946 and has the serial no. 223). In 1930 “Pete the Greek” Asvestras moved his lunch wagon here and by the 1940s James Dunn was running Dunn’s Diner on the spot. John O’Rourke purchased Dunn’s Diner in 1941 and soon acquired the Mountain View dining car as his business expanded. The diner, which did not have fire insurance, suffered severe fire damage in 2006 after a hamburger steamer was left on overnight. A fundraising campaign with support from the local community and around the world led to successful renovations and the diner reopened in 2008.
The three-story commercial building at 52-56 State Street in New London is known as the Marsh Building. Built in 1916, it was designed by Dudley St. Clair Donnelly, who was also the architect of a number of other buildings in New London, including the the Manwaring Building (1913) and the Dewart Building (1914), both on State Street. The building was erected by Daniel S. Marsh, who sold pianos. In 1908 he had constructed a building at 230-232 State Street for his piano store, having previously had a store in Lyric Hall on State Street. The Day newspaper reported on April 20, 1916 (“State Street Will Have Handsome Brick Building“):
Daniel S. Marsh, the State street piano merchant, is soon to erect a new three story building at 52 State street after tearing down the building now occupied on the ground floor by the Royal Lunch and the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.
The new building is to be brick, fireproofed throughout, designed by Architect Dudley St. C. Donnelly. H. R. Douglas, Inc. has the contract for the work. The structure will have three stores on the ground floor in the space now occupied by two. On the second floor there will be six offices and six on the third floor. The work will start during the month of May, the present tenants having received notice to vacate within two weeks.
[. . .] The new building will add materially to the looks of State street in that section. The present building is an old fashioned structure and the new one, which is to be up to date in every particular, will be in direct contrast to it.
The old building was taken down, but disaster struck on June 20, 1916, when the neighboring building at 62 State Street, owned by Mrs. Mary L. Cady and containing the dry goods store of Huber & Chittenden, collapsed. As The Day reported the following day (“Three Story State Street Building Crumples Into a Heap of Bricks and Twisted Timbers“) that the building “collapsed like a house of cards at 5:59 Tuesday afternoon and fell with the dull roar of a muffled explosion into the excavation in the D. S. Marsh property adjoining. Clouds of dust like the smoke of battle rose from the ruins. Five persons are known to have been injured by the falling debris.” The employees “escaped entombment beneath the mass of timber by the barest interval. Bystanders were miraculously spared from the showers of broken lumber that strewed the street. The structure was completely demolished as though it had been dynamited.”
A number of law suits soon followed the collapse of the Cady Building, including several by the injured against Marsh, Douglas, Cady, Huber and Chittenden. The first suit to be filed however was brought by Huber & Chittenden against Marsh and Douglas. As related on by The Day on August 22, 1916 (“Cady Building Collapse To Cause Many Suits“):
The plaintiffs allege that the walls of the Cady building and the adjoining building which was torn down by Marsh were contiguous and adjacent, being practically one wall and that the building was torn down without providing protection by way of bracing up and shoring up the walls. The wall of the Cady building was permitted to remain standing without any support, although the defendants knew its weakened and dangerous condition.
[. . .] The plaintiffs allege that the defendants were notified of the weakened and dangerous condition of the wall but that they took no precautions. They claim negligence and carelessness on the part of the defendants, alleging that the collapse could have been avoided by reasonable and proper care.
In the case of Huber v. Douglas, Inc, the plaintiffs also argued that the defendants, as related in Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, Volume 94 (1921):
not only allowed the Cady wall to remain in this unprotected condition, but “wrongfully, carelessly and negligently made excavations” on Marsh’s property within five feet of the foundation of this Cady wall. The soil at that point was sandy “and of such a treacherous and unsafe character that excavations made in said soil within five or six feet of the place where said soil was sustaining the great weight and pressure of supporting said easterly wall of said Cady building, would easily cause . . . said soil to shift, slip and move into said excavations, thereby removing the support afforded by said soil to the foundation of said easterly wall of said Cady building.”
[. . .] On June 14th, 1916, the plaintiff Huber, acting also for the owner of the Cady building, had an interview with Douglas concerning the protection of the Cady building, and Douglas, as manager, agreed that the company would look out for and protect the building.
The jury accepted Marsh’s defense that he was not responsible because he employed an independent contractor, but held Douglas liable:
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant Marsh, and for the plaintiffs to recover damages, assessed at $23,500, of the defendant H. R. Douglas, Incorporated. The court accepted both verdicts and rendered judgment upon them.
Douglas lost an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1919.