Happy New Year from Historic Buildings of Connecticut! One of Connecticut’s grandest houses is the Lockwood–Mathews Mansion in Norwalk. A 62-room Second Empire-style country house, it was built by LeGrand Lockwood, a New York City businessman and financier, who named the estate Elm Park. Construction of the mansion, designed by Detlef Lienau, begun in 1864 and took four years. Lockwood lavishly furnished his house and displayed art by Hudson River School painters, including the monumental Domes of the Yosemite by Albert Bierstadt. The depreciation of gold in 1869 was a series financial blow for Lockwood, who died in 1872. His heirs lost the estate through foreclosure in 1874. Charles D. Mathews bought the property in 1876 and it remained a residence of the Mathews family until the death of his daughter, Florence Mathews, in 1938. Sold to the City of Norwalk in 1941, the estate became a public park. After the city announced plans to demolish the mansion in 1959, preservationists formed a Common Interest Group and after a prolonged legal struggle were able to save it. The Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk arranged to lease the building from the city and formed the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum of Norwalk, Inc. to restore and operate the mansion as a public museum. The mansion is now undergoing a new renovation, begun in 2007.
Happy Independence Day! The Nathan Lester House & Farm Tool Museum on Long Cove and Vinegar Hill roads (153 Vinegar Hill Road) in Gales Ferry is owned by the town of Ledyard. A typical Connecticut farmhouse of the period, the Lester House was built in 1793 by Nathan Lester, whose father, Peter Lester, had originally purchased the farm. The house is also known as the Larrabee House because Hannah Gallup Lester, Nathan’s only child, married Captain Adam Larrabee. The house remained in the family until 1908, when it was bought by Dr. and Mrs. Charles B. Graves. In 1965, as a memorial to her parents, Elizabeth Graves Hill gave the house and 11 acres of land to the Town of Ledyard. This property included the Ledyard Oak, which was the second largest white oak in the country and appears on the Ledyard town seal. The tree was officially declared dead in June, 1969. A new white oak was planted near the original Ledyard Oak in 2009.
The John Bishop House is a Federal-style house in Newent in Lisbon. The Bishop family were early settlers of Lisbon, when it was a part of Norwich. The house is notable for having a well shaft in the pantry/buttery, so the family did not have to go outside to get water. The house is now the John Bishop Museum, run by the Lisbon Historical Society. Work was done in 2011 to replace the house’s wood roofing.
In 1836, Henry P. Haven (1815-1876; A biography of Haven by Henry Clay Trumbull, entitled A Model Superintendent, was published in 1880) established the Gilead Sunday School in Waterford. In 1876, Gilead Chapel was built at the corner of Foster Road and Parkway North to serve as the home of this interdenominational school. After the school closed in the early 1940s, the building was used for a decade by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints. Vacant several years thereafter, in 1969 it was purchased by Raymond Schmitt for his his Historic Johnsonville Village in Moodus in East Haddam. The building was taken down and reassembled in Moodus at the intersection of Johnsonville Road and Neptune Avenue.
Yesterday I featured the Carriage House at Johnsonville, a now abandoned Victorian-themed village attraction in East Haddam originally created by Raymond Schmitt, founder of of AGC Corporation. One of the buildings that Schmitt brought to Johnsonville is the Hyde Schoolhouse. It was originally built in Canterbury between 1853 and 1863 and was said to have been discovered by Schmitt’s wife Carole in an abandoned state, surrounded by overgrowth.
In the 1960s, Raymond Schmitt, owner of AGC Corporation, an aerospace equipment manufacturer, purchased the former nineteenth-century mill village of Johnsonville in East Haddam and began to transform it into a 100-acre open air museum celebrating the Victorian era. As an attraction, Johnsonville did not keep regular hours, but was open to the public several days a year (most notably during the Christmas season when holiday decorations were on display) and for charity functions. For his recreated period village, Schmitt purchased historic structures from other places and moved them to Johnsonville. One of these was the Carriage House (built between 1870 and 1900) and an adjacent Livery Stable (built around 1920). They were moved by Schmitt from Winsted. Inside, he stored his collection of antique horse drawn carriages and sleighs, which were often used in carriage rallies and in rides for the public. After a disagreement with the town of East Haddam in 1994, Schmitt shut down Johnsonville and put the property up for sale. After his death in 1998, his estate sold off much of his antiques collection (including his carriages), several pieces of the property and even individual buildings. The remainder of the village has long sat abandoned and up for sale to potential developers. Thanks to Luke Boyd for introducing me to Johnsonville.
The Goodwin Schoolhouse in East Hartford was built in 1821 by George Goodwin, Jr., a paper manufacturer. He built the school on his own property on Burnside Avenue and hired a teacher to teach his own children and those of his neighbors. A one room schoolhouse, the building was used as a school until 1855, when the students started attending town schools. The former school was moved to Martin Park in 1975 as a gift to the town from George Goodwin, grandson of the original builder. It is open as a museum operated by the Historical Society of East Hartford.