Pat and I are getting ready for another adventure at the Connecticut State Library and Archives in Hartford.

My goal in Hartford is to continue to learn about the Davies family of New Haven.  You can read about the Davies mansion here.  This time around I am hoping to finish looking at John Davies’ will and to trace the ownership of the Davies property back another generation or two.  Pat has other goals and will no doubt tell you about them when she posts an update on our trip next week.

We have improved our already wonderful trips to Hartford by renting a hotel room and eating and drinking a lot after the Library closes.  It’s so much fun to combine my two favorite things—genealogy and eating and drinking a lot.

My computer has been covered in plastic all week as we are having a lot of work done on our house.  I have no access to my boxes of stuff and only limited time to look at my genealogy database, so I am reposting the story of our first wonderful trip to Hartford.

Pat and Judy Go to Hartford

Judy wrote this and sent me the draft to look at and I couldn’t resist adding my own comments.  She was nice enough to say she liked them, so they’re still here.  I am putting my words in italics so you can tell the difference – as if we didn’t sound different enough anyway.

Pat and I went to Hartford a couple of weeks ago.  She came west; I went east [actually it was north and east and I went south and west]; we met in the middle [well, it isn’t exactly the middle but who’s counting?]. To be more specific we met at the Connecticut State Library and Archive.  This is what the very impressive front of the building looks like. 

It was a magic day from start to finish.  The weather was good, [it was a gorgeous day, and we didn’t get lost getting there], we found parking easily, and then there was the library and the librarians.

I don’t know why I haven’t been in this place before.  It is chock full of wonderful things, mostly Connecticut things, but some for the rest of New England as well.  There are plenty of microfilm readers, all in working condition and set so it isn’t necessary to crane your neck at a 50-degree angle to see the screen.  There is a scanner that allows you to take digital images of microfilm records and save them to a flash drive or email them home. I made a living on that scanner.  This is a picture of our favorite microfilm scanner; Judy did actually let me use it at the end of the day.  I just love being able to take home digital files of my finds.  Now I just need to transcribe the estate papers I found.

For me the second best things were the probate records and the land records.

The best things aren’t things, they’re people, the wonderful librarians who inhabit the place.  They are extremely knowledgeable and eager to share that knowledge.  I received many helpful suggestions for my research.  Equally amazing to me was the patience exhibited by everyone with whom I had contact.  From making the equipment work to finding records they were unfailingly kind and helpful.  They were wonderful.  And very willing and able to orient us to the collection.  I even got a quick tour of the stacks, which are open, at the end of the day.  This went beyond what I expected. 

I am not a patient person.  When I asked a librarian where the land records were located she did not reply, as I almost certainly would have, “Try over there under the extremely large sign that says ‘LAND RECORDS’.” No, instead she led me the twenty feet across the room, probably convinced that I wouldn’t make it on my own, and showed me the cabinet with the microfilm.  “What town are you interested in?” she asked.  “New Haven,” I replied.  “They’re right here,” she said, not adding, “In the drawer with the large label that says NEW HAVEN.”  Then she said the magic words, “Some of the records are indexed.  Oh look, New Haven is indexed.  Let me explain how the index works.”

I have been waiting hundreds of years, maybe longer, for the records I want to be the ones that are indexed.  I’m sure every genealogist knows the feeling.  My records are never the ones that have been indexed.  My records are the ones that require me to look through miles of microfilm to find them and once found they are the ones that broke the camera, were poorly filmed, with terrible contrast, or simply the ones with the words “missing page” where they ought to be.

What did I find?  If you read this blog regularly you know of my obsession with the Davies mansion and the people who lived there.  If you’re not a regular reader and you’re interested try this link to my earlier post.

My main interest was the Minor family, that first settled in Connecticut in the middle 1600s.  Great-great-grandpa Charles Minor was allegedly born in Meriden, Connecticut in 1837 but he doesn’t show up in the Barbour Collection there or anywhere else, which he should.  I was hoping to find some record of him and his family.  I started with wills and estates, looking for the earliest family members and hoping to be able to then trace forward.  I know this is backward, but I can’t resist. 

I now have scanned copies of about 65 of the 167 pages of John M. Davies will and probate records.  I’ll go back and copy the rest of it soon.  I scanned several probate and estate records for Minors and was excited to find one for G-G-Grandpa Charles’ own G-G-Grandfather Daniel (my 5th great grandfather) with names of his children and wife.  There are more to get, and I haven’t touched the land records yet.

The land records showed me John Davies purchase of the land where the house now stands.  He bought the land from Cornelia Hillhouse.  The name Hillhouse means little if you’re not from around here, lots if you are.  This is a very old and historic name in both New Haven and Connecticut.  You will be hearing about this in future posts, so I will just say that Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven was once referred to by Mark Twain as “the most beautiful street in America.” It’s still high on the list in my opinion.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but when we reached the point that our bodies were starting to digest themselves we stopped for lunch.  We asked the librarians if we could leave our stuff strewn about for a little while and get some lunch.  They not only let us leave our stuff piled on tables, they directed us to a fast lunch place.  We sat and enjoyed each other’s company for a bit and then hastened back to work until they gently pushed us out the door, as they shut the lights off.  My request to move in was gently but firmly denied.  We’ll be back.

We actually did go back a second time, and I expect we will become regulars.  Too bad they won’t rent us cots for a week or two.

 

I am short of time this week, so I am reposting  one of my posts that continues to get a lot of looks.  When I first posted this story almost two years ago I intended to follow with the rest of the story over the next few months.  Time passed.  I have become so involved with this story that I can’t finish it.  There is always one more thing that would make it perfect.  I am hoping to abandon the quest for perfection and finish telling what I know of this story this year.  Here is the original; I hope you will stick  around to hear the rest.

 

The Davies Mansion–The  Genealogy of a House

 

This is the beginning of a long story.  It involves the history of a house, several families, a culinary school and a university and it has become the obsession of this genealogist.  This story has it all, a family flush with new wealth created in the age of the Industrial Revolution, servants just arrived from Ireland or the southern states, labor history, illness, family lawsuits, religious strife, conflict between town and gown, fact, fiction, rumor and innuendo. I begin where it all began for me.

The House

393 Prospect Street.  When I arrived in New Haven in the late 70’s  Prospect Street was a lovely neighborhood with a few big old houses and some university buildings.  The remaining old buildings were being purchased by Yale University as they became available.  And there on the top of Prospect Hill surrounded by a large expanse of weedy empty space was a big, beautiful old house, 393 Prospect Street.  When I asked about it, everyone knew it was the Davies Mansion; no one knew anything about it.  It will come as no shock to anyone who knows me or anyone who reads my pieces in this blog that I had to find out.  First, the facts about the early years.

In 1867 John M Davies, a wealthy industrialist, a manufacturer of men’s furnishings, commissioned Henry Austin, a well-known Victorian architect, to build a grand house for himself and his family in the finest part of town. Austin was responsible for many of New Haven’s finest buildings and when this one was completed it would be the city’s largest home with an interior of 19,000 square feet, 23 rooms, and seven acres of lawns and gardens.  Once it was surrounded by the mansions of Eli Whitney, Oliver Winchester, and other wealthy manufacturers, today it is the only one of the grand mansions still standing. John Davies lived in the house for a few brief years before he died in 1871.   His widow Alice lived on in the house until her death in 1898. I’m not sure who lived in the house between 1898 and 1911, but in 1911 the house was sold to Thomas Wallace.  Wallace was the owner of Wallace and Sons, a prosperous wire manufacturing company in nearby Ansonia.  He lived in the house on Prospect Street with his family until his death in 1946.  In 1947 the house was sold to the Culinary Institute of America.

The Drawing Room

photos courtesy of the Culinary institute of America

Culinary students taking a break

The Culinary Institute of America is now located in Hyde Park, NY and is the premier culinary institution of this country.  In 1947 it was known as the Restaurant Institute of Connecticut.  Although common place now, this was the first culinary school in America.  I love food.   I love to cook; I love to eat ; I love to look at food.  I can’t resist a brief aside here.

The Restaurant Institute

The 1950’s was an interesting time for American cuisine; one of its admirable goals was to free American housewives from their daily grind, with labor saving devices and quick to prepare foods.  This was the time when the idea was floated that one day we could just swallow a pill for dinner and have all our nutritional needs satisfied. Foodies like myself consider the 50’s to be the long, dark night of the soul for American cooking.  The Culinary Institute was one of a few places that kept the idea of American cuisine alive until we came to our senses.

At any rate the house was converted to a school. Yes, the interior changed, but the basic structure was well maintained.  From the outside the house looked as it had since 1868.   The Restaurant Institute became the Culinary Institute of America causing a few double takes as students walked around New have in sweatshirts with CIA emblazoned on the front.  And so it went until the Culinary Institute of America outgrew its New Haven home and moved to Hyde Park.  Yale University bought the property in 1972.

Restaurant Institute–courtesy of the CIA

And here the story of neglect and claims and counterclaims, movie offers and refusals and ultimately redemption begins.  Yale purchased the house and the land surrounding it with the intention of making use of empty land in an area that was rapidly being built up with university properties.   What is fact is that Yale did little maintenance on the house after its purchase, using it as a storage building. Yale moved to demolish the house in 1980 and preservationists fought against the move.  Local rumor says there are firefighters from that time who say they were told to simply let the building go if there was a fire.

In 1980 the university announced plans to tear the house down and the building became something of a cause celebre among Yale students.  The Yale Ad Hoc Committee to save the Davies House printed bumper stickers that changed Yale’s motto from “For God, for country, and for Yale” to ” For God, for country, and for the Davies Mansion”.  200 people rallied in front of the secretary’s office just before Yale’s announced demolition date of March 31, 1980.  The group included representatives of the Connecticut Trust for Historical Preservation, the State Historical Commission and the New Haven Preservation Trust.  Just about everyone who cared about preservation was represented.  At the last moment the deadline was extended, and in July of 1980 a development proposal was accepted.

The headline in the New Haven Register reads “Historic Davies house to be reborn as an inn”.  Arthur Fisher, head of Fisher Associates put forth a proposal to open a lovely Victorian Inn, preserving the old house and recreating some of its former glory.  The university accepted.  Another headline in the Register reads, “Hunt on for treasures stripped from Davies”.  Many things had gone missing, the fine mantel pieces, all kinds of wonderful architectural details, the hand carved banisters were all among the missing.  Everyone accused everyone else, but no matter, things would be found or recreated and the inn would open its doors in 1981.

Six more years would pass. Again, the stories of what happened in those six years vary, but, finally, a lease was signed, the boards came off, and work began.  Then Fisher ran out of money.  But all was not lost, another development firm offered to take over the building with Yale’s approval.    Yale refused.  Apparently, to quote Marsha Ryan of the Yale real Estate Office, “Yale had a chance to reflect on how we wanted to use the building and decided to use it for academic purposes.”  Work would begin shortly to prepare the building for academic use.

More years passed.  Then in 1990 two things happened.  There was a fire that caused considerable damage to the house and  in the next bizarre twist in the saga the old place was apparently creepy and kooky enough that the producers of the Addams Family movie thought it was the perfect house for Gomez and Morticia.  An offer was made to use the property and restore it, which the university refused.  This was taken as proof positive by some that the university had no intention of saving the mansion.  University spokesmen said the university was concerned  about all the disruption involved in a Hollywood production.   Whatever the truth of all this, eight more years passed.  Finally in 1998 an agreement was reached between Yale and the preservationists to preserve four historic buildings including the Davies Mansion. The exterior of the mansion was restored by 2000.  In 2001 Yale alumni Roland Betts donated five million dollars toward the renovation of the Davies Mansion. The renovation cost about fourteen million dollars before its completion in 2002.

The good news, really great news, is that once the university decided to restore the place they decided to do it right.  The first floor has been returned to its nineteenth century glory. The fourteen-foot high ceilings and spacious rooms have been preserved; original moldings, window frames and mantels have been preserved or replaced. The beautiful grand staircase greets visitors once again.  Colors and flooring are true to the original house.  The second and third floors are more modern in their design. The building now renamed the Betts House serves as the Center for Globalization, providing a home and meeting space for visiting scholars from all over the world.

In 2009 the Maurice Greenberg Conference Center was added to the grounds and attached to the house. Of course, there are a variety of opinions on this.  It would be lovely if the old place still stood alone, preserved as a museum of days past, but that was never a possibility. Personally, I think it is a good compromise both meeting the needs of the university and preserving the house for future generations.

This  is the end of the story of the physical structure, at least for the moment, but families lived and died and loved and fought in that house.  Their stories will follow in a few weeks or months and they are even more interesting than the story of the house.

 

Judy wrote this and sent me the draft to look at and I couldn’t resist adding my own comments.  She was nice enough to say she liked them, so they’re still here.  I am putting my words in italics so you can tell the difference – as if we didn’t sound different enough anyway.

Pat and I went to Hartford a couple of weeks ago.  She came west; I went east [actually it was north and east and I went south and west]; we met in the middle [well, it isn’t exactly the middle but who’s counting?]. To be more specific we met at the Connecticut State Library and ArchiveThis is what the very impressive front of the building looks like.

It was a magic day from start to finish.  The weather was good, [it was a gorgeous day, and we didn’t get lost getting there], we found parking easily, and then there was the library and the librarians.

I don’t know why I haven’t been in this place before.  It is chock full of wonderful things, mostly Connecticut things, but some for the rest of New England as well.  There are plenty of microfilm readers, all in working condition and set so it isn’t necessary to crane your neck at a 50-degree angle to see the screen.  There is a scanner that allows you to take digital images of microfilm records and save them to a flash drive or email them home. I made a living on that scanner.  This is a picture of our favorite microfilm scanner; Judy did actually let me use it at the end of the day.  I just love being able to take home digital files of my finds.  Now I just need to transcribe the estate papers I found.

For me the second best things were the probate records and the land records.

The best things aren’t things, they’re people, the wonderful librarians who inhabit the place.  They are extremely knowledgeable and eager to share that knowledge.  I received many helpful suggestions for my research.  Equally amazing to me was the patience exhibited by everyone with whom I had contact.  From making the equipment work to finding records they were unfailingly kind and helpful.  They were wonderful.  And very willing and able to orient us to the collection.  I even got a quick tour of the stacks, which are open, at the end of the day.  This went beyond what I expected.

I am not a patient person.  When I asked a librarian where the land records were located she did not reply, as I almost certainly would have, “Try over there under the extremely large sign that says ‘LAND RECORDS’.” No, instead she led me the twenty feet across the room, probably convinced that I wouldn’t make it on my own, and showed me the cabinet with the microfilm.  “What town are you interested in?” she asked.  “New Haven,” I replied.  “They’re right here,” she said, not adding, “In the drawer with the large label that says NEW HAVEN.”  Then she said the magic words, “Some of the records are indexed.  Oh look, New Haven is indexed.  Let me explain how the index works.”

I have been waiting hundreds of years, maybe longer, for the records I want to be the ones that are indexed.  I’m sure every genealogist knows the feeling.  My records are never the ones that have been indexed.  My records are the ones that require me to look through miles of microfilm to find them and once found they are the ones that broke the camera, were poorly filmed, with terrible contrast, or simply the ones with the words “missing page” where they ought to be.

What did I find?  If you read this blog regularly you know of my obsession with the Davies mansion and the people who lived there.  If you’re not a regular reader and you’re interested try this link to my earlier post.

My main interest was the Minor family, that first settled in Connecticut in the middle 1600s.  Great-great-grandpa Charles Minor was allegedly born in Meriden, Connecticut in 1837 but he doesn’t show up in the Barbour Collection there or anywhere else, which he should.  I was hoping to find some record of him and his family.  I started with wills and estates, looking for the earliest family members and hoping to be able to then trace forward.  I know this is backward, but I can’t resist.

I now have scanned copies of about 65 of the 167 pages of John M. Davies will and probate records.  I’ll go back and copy the rest of it soon.  I scanned several probate and estate records for Minors and was excited to find one for G-G-Grandpa Charles’ own G-G-Grandfather Daniel (my 5th great grandfather) with names of his children and wife.  There are more to get, and I haven’t touched the land records yet.

The land records showed me John Davies purchase of the land where the house now stands.  He bought the land from Cornelia Hillhouse.  The name Hillhouse means little if you’re not from around here, lots if you are.  This is a very old and historic name in both New Haven and Connecticut.  You will be hearing about this in future posts, so I will just say that Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven was once referred to by Mark Twain as “the most beautiful street in America.” It’s still high on the list in my opinion.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but when we reached the point that our bodies were starting to digest themselves we stopped for lunch.  We asked the librarians if we could leave our stuff strewn about for a little while and get some lunch.  They not only let us leave our stuff piled on tables, they directed us to a fast lunch place.  We sat and enjoyed each other’s company for a bit and then hastened back to work until they gently pushed us out the door, as they shut the lights off.  My request to move in was gently but firmly denied.  We’ll be back.

We actually did go back a second time, and I expect we will become regulars.  Too bad they won’t rent us cots for a week or two.

This is the beginning of a long story.  It involves the history of a house, several families, a culinary school and a university and it has become the obsession of this genealogist.  This story has it all, a family flush with new wealth created in the age of the Industrial Revolution, servants just arrived from Ireland or the southern states, labor history, illness, family lawsuits, religious strife, conflict between town and gown, fact, fiction, rumor and innuendo. I begin where it all began for me.

The House

393 Prospect Street.  When I arrived in New Haven in the late 70’s  Prospect Street was a lovely neighborhood with a few big old houses and some university buildings.  The remaining old buildings were being purchased by Yale University as they became available.  And there on the top of Prospect Hill surrounded by a large expanse of weedy empty space was a big, beautiful old house, 393 Prospect Street.  When I asked about it, everyone knew it was the Davies Mansion; no one knew anything about it.  It will come as no shock to anyone who knows me or anyone who reads my pieces in this blog that I had to find out.  First, the facts about the early years.

In 1867 John M Davies, a wealthy industrialist, a manufacturer of men’s furnishings, commissioned Henry Austin, a well-known Victorian architect, to build a grand house for himself and his family in the finest part of town. Austin was responsible for many of New Haven’s finest buildings and when this one was completed it would be the city’s largest home with an interior of 19,000 square feet, 23 rooms, and seven acres of lawns and gardens.  Once it was surrounded by the mansions of Eli Whitney, Oliver Winchester, and other wealthy manufacturers, today it is the only one of the grand mansions still standing. John Davies lived in the house for a few brief years before he died in 1871.   His widow Alice lived on in the house until her death in 1898. I’m not sure who lived in the house between 1898 and 1911, but in 1911 the house was sold to Thomas Wallace.  Wallace was the owner of Wallace and Sons, a prosperous wire manufacturing company in nearby Ansonia.  He lived in the house on Prospect Street with his family until his death in 1946.  In 1947 the house was sold to the Culinary Institute of America.

The Drawing Room

photos courtesy of the Culinary institute of America

Culinary students taking a break

The Culinary Institute of America is now located in Hyde Park, NY and is the premier culinary institution of this country.  In 1947 it was known as the Restaurant Institute of Connecticut.  Although common place now, this was the first culinary school in America.  I love food.   I love to cook; I love to eat ; I love to look at food.  I can’t resist a brief aside here.

The Restaurant Institute

The 1950’s was an interesting time for American cuisine; one of its admirable goals was to free American housewives from their daily grind, with labor saving devices and quick to prepare foods.  This was the time when the idea was floated that one day we could just swallow a pill for dinner and have all our nutritional needs satisfied. Foodies like myself consider the 50’s to be the long, dark night of the soul for American cooking.  The Culinary Institute was one of a few places that kept the idea of American cuisine alive until we came to our senses.

At any rate the house was converted to a school. Yes, the interior changed, but the basic structure was well maintained.  From the outside the house looked as it had since 1868.   The Restaurant Institute became the Culinary Institute of America causing a few double takes as students walked around New have in sweatshirts with CIA emblazoned on the front.  And so it went until the Culinary Institute of America outgrew its New Haven home and moved to Hyde Park.  Yale University bought the property in 1972.

Restaurant Institute--courtesy of the CIA

And here the story of neglect and claims and counterclaims, movie offers and refusals and ultimately redemption begins.  Yale purchased the house and the land surrounding it with the intention of making use of empty land in an area that was rapidly being built up with university properties.   What is fact is that Yale did little maintenance on the house after its purchase, using it as a storage building. Yale moved to demolish the house in 1980 and preservationists fought against the move.  Local rumor says there are firefighters from that time who say they were told to simply let the building go if there was a fire.

In 1980 the university announced plans to tear the house down and the building became something of a cause celebre among Yale students.  The Yale Ad Hoc Committee to save the Davies House printed bumper stickers that changed Yale’s motto from “For God, for country, and for Yale” to ” For God, for country, and for the Davies Mansion”.  200 people rallied in front of the secretary’s office just before Yale’s announced demolition date of March 31, 1980.  The group included representatives of the Connecticut Trust for Historical Preservation, the State Historical Commission and the New Haven Preservation Trust.  Just about everyone who cared about preservation was represented.  At the last moment the deadline was extended, and in July of 1980 a development proposal was accepted.

The headline in the New Haven Register reads “Historic Davies house to be reborn as an inn”.  Arthur Fisher, head of Fisher Associates put forth a proposal to open a lovely Victorian Inn, preserving the old house and recreating some of its former glory.  The university accepted.  Another headline in the Register reads, “Hunt on for treasures stripped from Davies”.  Many things had gone missing, the fine mantel pieces, all kinds of wonderful architectural details, the hand carved banisters were all among the missing.  Everyone accused everyone else, but no matter, things would be found or recreated and the inn would open its doors in 1981.

Six more years would pass. Again, the stories of what happened in those six years vary, but, finally, a lease was signed, the boards came off, and work began.  Then Fisher ran out of money.  But all was not lost, another development firm offered to take over the building with Yale’s approval.    Yale refused.  Apparently, to quote Marsha Ryan of the Yale real Estate Office, “Yale had a chance to reflect on how we wanted to use the building and decided to use it for academic purposes.”  Work would begin shortly to prepare the building for academic use.

More years passed.  Then in 1990 two things happened.  There was a fire that caused considerable damage to the house and  in the next bizarre twist in the saga the old place was apparently creepy and kooky enough that the producers of the Addams Family movie thought it was the perfect house for Gomez and Morticia.  An offer was made to use the property and restore it, which the university refused.  This was taken as proof positive by some that the university had no intention of saving the mansion.  University spokesmen said the university was concerned  about all the disruption involved in a Hollywood production.   Whatever the truth of all this, eight more years passed.  Finally in 1998 an agreement was reached between Yale and the preservationists to preserve four historic buildings including the Davies Mansion. The exterior of the mansion was restored by 2000.  In 2001 Yale alumni Roland Betts donated five million dollars toward the renovation of the Davies Mansion. The renovation cost about fourteen million dollars before its completion in 2002.

The good news, really great news, is that once the university decided to restore the place they decided to do it right.  The first floor has been returned to its nineteenth century glory. The fourteen-foot high ceilings and spacious rooms have been preserved; original moldings, window frames and mantels have been preserved or replaced. The beautiful grand staircase greets visitors once again.  Colors and flooring are true to the original house.  The second and third floors are more modern in their design. The building now renamed the Betts House serves as the Center for Globalization, providing a home and meeting space for visiting scholars from all over the world.

In 2009 the Maurice Greenberg Conference Center was added to the grounds and attached to the house. Of course, there are a variety of opinions on this.  It would be lovely if the old place still stood alone, preserved as a museum of days past, but that was never a possibility. Personally, I think it is a good compromise both meeting the needs of the university and preserving the house for future generations.

This  is the end of the story of the physical structure, at least for the moment, but families lived and died and loved and fought in that house.  Their stories will follow in a few weeks or months and they are even more interesting than the story of the house.

© 2009-2014 The Genealogy Gals All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright