After teaching at the schoolhouse in East Haddam, Nathan Hale went on to become the schoolmaster at the Union School in New London, teaching there from 1774 until the Revolutionary War began in 1775. Built in 1773, the gambrel-roofed school building was originally located on State Street, was moved to Union and Golden streets in 1830 to serve as a private home and was purchased in 1890 by the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Under their guardianship, the building has been moved several additional times: first to the burial ground on Huntington Street, then, in 1966, to to Crystal Avenue and in 1975 to a spot next to City Hall. In 1988, the town paid to move the school to the Parade, at the foot of State Street. For some time, it has been used as a Visitor Center and museum. The schoolhouse has just been moved a sixth time, to a new plaza adjacent to the Water Street parking garage.
This Memorial Day, we honor the Connecticut patriot and hero of the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale. The Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, in East Haddam is a one room school, built in 1750. After his graduation from Yale, Hale taught here as schoolmaster for the Winter session, 1773-1774. The building was later moved from Goodspeed Plaza (a location now marked by a bust of Hale) to serve as a house and around 1900 was moved again to its present site on a hill, overlooking the Connecticut River. It is now a museum, operated by the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Nathan Hale moved on from East Haddam to teach at the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in New London, where he was working when he joined the Continental Army. He was captured and hanged by the British as a spy on September 22, 1776.
The Shaw-Perkins Mansion, on Blinman Street in New London, was built, beginning in 1756 for the wealthy merchant and shipowner, Capt. Nathaniel Shaw. The house, completed in 1758, was constructed by French Canadian builders, who used granite from the ledge behind the property. Nathaniel Shaw, Jr. inherited the house. He served as Naval Agent for Connecticut and the Mansion was a naval War office during the Revolutionary War. Nathan Hale was a visitor to the Mansion around 1775 and George Washington likely spent the night there in 1776. The house survived Benedict Arnold’s 1781 burning of New London, with only the kitchen being damaged. Shaw’s wife, Lucretia, died in 1781, after becoming ill from nursing prisoners and Shaw himself died the following year from a hunting accident. The house then passed to his brother, Thomas Shaw, and then to his sister, Lucretia Shaw Woodbridge and her husband, Judge Elias Perkins. The house was extensively remodeled by Dr. Nathaniel Shaw Perkins in 1845. His daughter, Jane Richards Perkins (1844-1930), sold the house and its contents to the New London County Historical Society in 1907, on condition she could reside there until her death. The house was restored and is open to the public as a museum.
This Fourth of July we celebrate Connecticut’s State Hero by featuring the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, now a historic house museum operated by Connecticut Landmarks. In 1776, Nathan Hale, who was gathering intelligence for George Washington and the Continental Army, was captured by the British and hanged in New York as a spy. Before his death, he is said to have spoken the famous last words, possibly derived from Addison‘s influential play, Cato, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” In that same year, his father, Deacon Richard Hale, razed and rebuilt the family homestead (the Hales had lived on the property since 1740) to provide more space space. Nathan Hale had been born in the earlier house, built in 1746, and would never see the new house, which was completed a month after his execution. Deacon Richard Hale died in 1802. By the early twentieth century, the house was in disrepair, but was purchased in 1914 and restored by George Dudley Seymour, a lawyer and antiquarian who was great admirer of Natan Hale. He also purchased the nearby Strong-Porter House, home of the uncle of Nathan Hale’s mother. When Seymour died in 1945, the house was bequeathed to the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, now Connecticut Landmarks.
Today’s Independence Day post at Historic Buildings of Massachusetts is Boston’s Faneuil Hall!
The earliest (eastern) section of the Strong-Porter House, on South Street in Coventry, was built around 1730 by Aaron Strong. Strong’s niece, Elizabeth Strong, married Deacon Richard Hale, who came from Newburyport Mass. to Coventry. In 1758, the Strongs sold the house to the Porter family, who expanded the western section and added a rear lean-to by about 1777. In 1930, the house was purchased from the Porters by the lawyer and antiquarian, George Dudley Seymour, who lived there during his restoration of the nearby Nathan Hale Homestead. Seymour mistakenly believed that Nathan Hale’s mother Elizabeth Strong Hale had lived in the house. The building is now a property of the Coventry Historical Society and is open to visitors as a house museum.
Connecticut Hall, built between 1750 and 1752, is Yale‘s oldest surviving building. Located in the University’s Old Campus, its design was based on Harvard’s Georgian-style Massachusetts Hall. Money to fund its construction was obtained through the sale of a French ship, captured during King George’s War. Yale’s president, Thomas Clap, hired Francis Letort from Philadelphia and Thomas Bills from New York to build the dormitory, which would house a number of notable residents, including Noah Webster, James Hillhouse, John Trumbull, Eli Whitney and, most famously, Nathan Hale (A statue of Hale now stands outside the building). Later, when more buildings were being constructed for Yale’s “Brick Row” in the Federal style, the gambrel-roofed Connecticut Hall was no longer in fashion. In 1797, John Trumbull removed the old roof and enlarged the building. The building, renamed to South Middle College was again remodeled in 1882 and used for various purposes in the following years.
In 1900, with the buildings of the Brick Row being demolished, Connecticut Hall was saved from destruction by a group of alumni, led by Professor Henry W. Farnam. In 1905, with the Colonial Revival under way, alumni funds supported yet another remodeling, by architect Grosvenor Atterbury, which restored a gambrel roof to the building. Again standing out with the construction of new Gothic buildings around Yale’s Old Campus, a sense of balance was restored with the construction of McClellan Hall, a reproduction and partner to Connecticut Hall, in 1925. Today, Connecticut Hall is home to Yale’s College Faculty meeting room, the Comparative Literature and Philosophy departments, and a computer lab. Please take a look at today’s companion post about Massachusetts Hall at Historic Buildings of Massachusetts.