Oldgate (1790)

March 29th, 2008 Posted in Farmington, Federal Style, Houses


In 1786, the wealthy Farmington merchant Zenas Cowles bought a house on Main Street, at Meadow Lane, that had been lived in by blacksmith Isaac Bidwell (and earlier by the town’s first two ministers). Zenas’s brother, Solomon Cowles, lived in a house just across Meadow Road. In 1790, Zenas employed the British architect William Sprats to build a newer and grander house around the older one. Sprats had been a British officer during the Revolutionary War, but was captured and remained in America after the war. He may have employed former Hessian soldiers, who had also been prisoners, as carpenters in the construction of the house. Designed in an elaborately detailed Georgian-style, the house is known as Oldgate because of the property’s front gate, which features a broken scroll pediment and an Asian design signifying “peace and prosperity.” In the nineteenth century, the house was home to Thomas Cowles, a prominent Farmington resident, politician and abolitionist. A later owner of the house was Rear Admiral William Sheffield Cowles, whose wife, Anna Roosevelt Cowles, was the sister of President Theodore Roosevelt, who visited Farmington in October of 1901.

  1. 6 Responses to “Oldgate (1790)”

  2. By Evan Cowles on Dec 4, 2008

    You could add to the notes on Oldgate (1790) in Farmington to see its sister house in Litchfield: The Julius Deming House (1793), and vise versa.

    What a great website!

    Evan Cowles(owner of Oldgate)

  3. By Evan Cowles on Mar 28, 2016

    Also see Smithsonian Gardens Archives under “Oldgate”:

  4. By Douglas on Apr 25, 2017

    My 4th great grandfather William Sprats was not an officer in the British Army, but a private in Burgoyne’s Artillery who was taken prisoner at Saratoga and kept as a POW for 2 years. He and a friend attempted escape, were caught, and imprisoned in Hartford Gaol. Somehow he got out, married the niece of one of his captors, stayed in America where there was much more opportunity for him than going back as a private soldier in England, and built many mansions and public buildings throughout New England.

  5. By Stuart Cowles Johnson on Jan 31, 2018

    I’m a member of the contingent of the Cowles family that moved to Ohio. Since moving back to Connecticut I’ve driven by Oldgate a few times and am gratified to know it’s “still in the family.”

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  2. Jun 1, 2008: Historic Buildings of Connecticut » Blog Archive » The Julius Deming House (1793)
  3. Jun 5, 2013: Envisioning A Garden's Future, More Than A Century Ago | Connecticut News

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