The first Congregational church building, or meetinghouse, in Newington was built in 1716. By 1784 the congregation needed a new building, but the bitter debate over where to erect it lasted thirteen years. Some members forcefully supported relocating the church from the center of the parish to the southern part. These members owned extensive tracts of land there and wanted to increase the vale of their property. The church society finally agreed to build the church in 1797 in the center of Newington. Those on the losing side separated from the congregation to build their own church, an Episcopal church called Christ Church, on what is now Church Street. The church only lasted for thirteen years and the building was then torn down. Newington’s Church of Christ Congregational, on the other hand, prospered. A parish house was added in 1893 and and a new two-story brick parish house in 1949. The 1797 church was torn down in 1960 to make way for the current church building, designed by architect Francis Newell of the firm of Jeter and Cook and built by Wadhams and May Construction Company. The cornerstone was laid on October 23, 1960 and the building was dedicated on March 5, 1961. A new three-story addition was dedicated in 1997. For more information see Barbara Lukens, “Facilities Often Shared By Newington Church” (Hartford Courant, February 12, 1956); Jean Weatherbee, “Dedication Set Sunday For Church Buildings” (Hartford Courant, March 1, 1961) & “Tombstones Mark Site Of Newington ‘Battle'” (Hartford Courant, April 30, 1961).
The house at 82 Willard Avenue in Newington was built in 1859 and is an excellent example of the Italianate style. A 1955 Harvard Alumni directory lists it as the address of Harold Ingalls Dyer. The house was one of several historic properties specifically excluded from a proposed new development area centered around the recently opened CTfastrak Busway station.
Built around 1850 by the Seymour family, the house on Chapman Street in Newington known as “The Pillars” combines Italianate and Greek Revival features. The house is distinguished by its strikingly large entrance portico with Tuscan columns. Substantial restorations to the building were completed in 1986 following damage from a fire. In 1901, Amy and James Archer were hired to look after the house’s resident, an elderly widower named John Seymour. After Seymour died in 1904, his heirs turned the building into a boarding house for the elderly, with the Archers staying on to provide care for the residents. The house was known as “Sister Amy’s Nursing Home for the Elderly.” In 1907, the heirs sold the house and the Archers moved to Windsor, where they established the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm. Between 1907 and 1917, there were 60 suspicious deaths in the Archer Home, as well as the deaths of Amy Archer’s first husband James and her second husband Michael Gilligan. Amy Archer-Gilligan, who had purchased large amounts of arsenic, was eventually found guilty of murder in a famous case which inspired the play and film, Arsenic and Old Lace. The Seymour House in Newington was later owned by Philip Brown, who ran the Newington Junction Post Office until 1944. Today the house is subdivided into apartments.
Eliphalet Whittlesey (1679-1757) was born in Saybrook and later settled in the Newington section of Wethersfield, purchasing land from his older brother Jabez. Around 1709, he built a small one-story, two-room house at 20 Rod Highway, now 461 Maple Hill Avenue. His son, Eliphalet II, was born in 1714 and eventually left town with his wife and ten of his children in 1761. Eliphalet III later settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Another son, Lemuel Whittlesey, remained in Newington, constructing the current Whittlesey Homestead sometime between 1758 and 1772. The house was inherited by his son, Asaph, and then by Asaph’s daughter Delia, who married Homer Camp. Their son was Lemuel Whittlesey Camp. The house has had many owners over the years.
Located in Newington Junction, the Stoddard-Sherwood House was built for John Rozwell Stoddard. He was superintendent for the Russell & Irwin Manufacturing Company and then manager for the Capewell Horseshoe Nail Company. Stoddard and his wife, Lila Marguerite Steele, had seven children and one of them, Lila Steele Stoddard Sherwood, who had married Charles Sherwood, lived in the house after her father’s death in 1936.
This month’s issue of Connecticut Explored (the magazine formerly known as the Hog River Journal) has an article on the architecture of the Berlin Turnpike, written by Mary M. Donohue. According to the article, the Olympia Diner, on the Turnpike in in Newington, was built around 1950. It was one of many diners made by the Jerry O’Mahoney Company in the 1950s. Diners of the period retained many aspects of the earlier art deco style. The Olympia Diner continues to operate as a popular restaurant and historic landmark.
The homestead of the Willard family in Newington is at 372 Willard Avenue. Built in 1732, it is one of the oldest houses in Newington and has its original double door. In the twentieth century, when the house was home to the First Selectman, James C. Gilbert (served 1922 to 1939), it operated as the town office, with Gilbert conducting town business in what was known as the Borning Room!