Enfield (1)

Paul Robeson House,
1221 Enfield Street

Paul Robeson was an All-American football player, a Phi Beta Kappa scholarship student at Rutgers University, and a graduate of the Columbia University Law School. An African American of extraordinary artistic gifts, he later became an internationally known actor and singer, and he was an activist in civil rights causes. Robeson purchased this house during the height of his popularity and used it to entertain his guests. His family owned it from March 1940 until December 1953.

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Robeson’s refusal to remain silent about racism in the United States, along with his ardent desire for full human justice, resulted in his being ostracized by American society. He was barred from appearing at concert halls, had his passport revoked, and saw his name removed from the football records he had established. He spent the last 15 years of his life in exile abroad or as a recluse in Philadelphia, dying in January 1976. In 1995 Robeson was posthumously inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. The house is privately owned and not open to the public. It is included in the Enfield National Register Historic District.

The above two paragraphs are from the official Freedom Trail website. Man, they sure do gloss over some of the more important aspects of Robeson’s life! The guy was hugely active in progressive causes and went through a lot of crap for it. Robeson’s life was absolutely insane!

In short (very short), he went through various electroshock therapies at the hands of the CIA, was investigated by MI5 and the KGB, incited riots, starred in movies, had his passport revoked, had his football records expunged, went before McCarthy, on and on and on.

His life story reads like pure fiction, written by a paranoid lunatic. And yet, it was all too real.

And hey, his house in Enfield was really nice… Even if it was in Enfield, of all places.

CTMQ’s Concept of Freedom Trail

4 responses to “Enfield (1)”

  1. William Hosley says:

    Dear Brother M-Quest – Ooops. You accidentally stepped on it with that last sentence – guilty of the same elite cultural bias for which I nailed the Courant a year ago when everyone and anyone (including our friend Colin M) decided to use Enfield as a pinata. Needless to say, they f..ked with the wrong guy and town on that one – my town and a place I call home intentionally. This was published Courant Op Ed response:

    The Enfield I Know

    If all you knew about Enfield is what’s appeared in the media recently, you might think we were some cornpone reactionary backwater. Between the controversies last Spring over the high school graduation venue and, more recently, the backlash over the perceived attempt to suppress screening Michael Moore’s “Sicko” at the Enfield Public Library, it’s been a rough news cycle for my town.

    The town backed down on the graduation and in the case of “Sicko” the dustup produced a more diverse and interesting program. Neither situation involved or was motivated by extremism. What bothers me, as a 26-year resident, is how quickly things are interpreted in polarizing ways. I suppose it’s a better story if there’s a villain or a conspiracy. The reality is relatively boring. But this town is anything but so it might be interesting for The Courant’s readers to learn that Enfield is, among other things, the largest town (by population) in the 2nd US Congressional district; has a growing, diverse and prosperous business sector, a gargantuan commercial district, and a political balance almost evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and Independents. I like it that for most of my years here we’ve been represented in the General Assembly by a tobacco farmer. I love that the Town Council and Mayor alternate been Democrats and Republicans often enough that no one party gets too comfortable with the idea of being in charge. That suggests a quality of democracy that many towns don’t have and that our cities haven’t witnessed in half a century.

    Enfield is one of the most favorable locations in the state – accessed by five exits off I-91, minutes from the Massachusetts Turnpike and Hartford, with rail and air transportation so close that it’s usually half an hour from the time a plane lands till we pull into our driveway. Yes, we have an abundance of strip malls and sub-divisions. But there are also many working farms and a community as diverse and tolerant as it is unpretentious. It’s a town of rich ethnic traditions. We recently spent an evening at the Polish Home raising thousands of dollars for victims of a devastating fire that destroyed an historic building at the heart of Thompsonville, a densely settled, once-thriving center of the American carpet industry. “T-ville” was important enough in its day, that in 1948 Harry Truman campaigned there on his whistle stop tour of New England.

    Enfield was home to the largest Shaker community in southern New England and the birthplace of Joseph Meacham, the most important of the ruling elders who established the Shaker movement in the United States. The Shakers went out in the early 20th century selling their compound to the State of Connecticut for use as a prison, now the largest complex in the Department of Corrections system.

    Among local businesses headquartered or with major facilities here are brands such as Lego, Hallmark Cards, Casual Corner, Brooks Brothers, and Precision Camera, “the world’s largest camera repair facility.”

    Enfield’s minority population is a little below the state average. But a favorite story around town is how the actor, singer and civil rights legend Paul Robeson choose Enfield as a wholesome, safe, quiet, quintessential New England town for his family, at a time (1940s) when his political activism and world-renown made him a lightening rod for controversy.

    Patriotism and veteran celebrations are big here. Our July 4th celebration rivals Hartford’s – nothing else in the region comes close. For 70’s rock aficionados, you can imagine Foghat opening for Blue Oyster Cult on the Green last July as really very very sweet. July 4th here is a big, hog-stomping festival of civic bonding. Sometimes it looks a little like Animal House with more tattoos and motorcycles, beer and pierogies than BMWs and pearls – but welcoming, inclusive and tolerant.

    Enfield Public Library and our award-winning Senior Center provide a rich mix of services, programs and amenities. Our Enfield Historical Society and Martha Parsons House museum are among the most active and interesting volunteer-run organizations of their type in the state. In the summer our stretch of the Connecticut River is almost intoxicatingly beautiful. Walks, bicycle trails and boat launches provide river access for fishing and recreation from Long Island Sound to the Holyoke Dam. Located on an enormous prehistoric dune, Enfield has a beach with sand as fine and light as Hammonasett but without the crowds. Eagle sightings on Kings Island (the highest and second largest land mass in the Connecticut River) are common.

    Oh, and did I mention that housing and taxes are about half that of Hartford’s posh suburbs? Comfortable and even historic properties here are regularly available for $150,000. Twice that and you’re looking at a veritable palace and some truly fine architecture.

    This is, of course, the great wonder of Connecticut with its 169 distinctive towns. Every one has a personality and a constellation of amenities, resources and stories to tell. Thank heaven we’re not all alike. And thankfully we can agree and disagree without being too disagreeable.

  2. Richard Earl Smith says:

    My maternal grandmother was Lois Swindells, after her husband Frederiic Swindells died, she sold this house to Paul Robeson. I have many pictures of the house interior and exterior from when they owned it, including the bowling alley out back.

    I have an oil painting from the rear garden toward the Connecticut River and Thompsonville. I remember the house from when I was a child.

    At the time my grandmother was socially castigated for selling to an African American. My maternal grandfather is interred in the Swindells Mausoleum in Springfield, MA. My grandmother moved to 120 Herrick Rd. (formally Institution Avenue) Newton Centre, MA. a house that was a Anniversary gift and similar in build to 1221 Enfield Street. They also owned the Beech Hill farm, Truro, Nova Scotia and were world travelers.

    If there is any interest in pictures I possess or any other information I may remember, I may be reached at: r.e.smith@juno.com

  3. Lisa Bachan says:

    Just a little more history. Before it was the Robeson house it was the Davidson house, owned by Richard Davidson and his wife until Mr. Robeson bought it. More should be published about the history of the Davidson family. They are an interesting bunch.

  4. Lisa Bachan says:

    OK, Here is the real scoop. I went to Enfield, Connecticut to sort out this mystery. The facts of the mystery are Mr. and Mrs Swindells owned the house very early on then they sold it to Alfred Levi. Mr Levi had it for some years and then he passed away and his estate sold it to the Davidson family. Then the property went to the Springfield Chapin Bank. From that point on, there are only bank records and then to Mr. Robeson. There are no tax records prior to 1960 for Enfield which would have been another great source of information. This is the reason both families have pictures of the interior at different times.

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