XI. Curious Houses, Ruins & Communities

This is a tough category to nail down, as some of these are actual houses that people live in today, some are houses famous people lived in, and some are never were actual houses. But somehow they all fit as far as I’m concerned.

You can find all sorts of posts about other houses around the blog… Museums, Oldests, Monuments, National Historic Landmarks… Just to name a few. These are the houses that fall outside those more logical categories.

The Ruins here are those old, sometimes creepy remnants of communities or buildings of yore – WITH a viable, not supernatural, history. Those that ARE fantastical will be explored and debunked.

Houses

The Biggest House, West Hartford
The Craziest Stone House – Woodbury/Minortown
Extreme Makeover House, Voluntown
Aborn Castle, Ellington
Old Litchfield Jailhouse, Litchfield
Helen Keller’s house, Easton
Gaylordsville Spite House, New Milford
“White Cloud” (aka Star Wars House), Salisbury
Beatrice Auerbach Fox House, Hartford

Ruins

The Former Pitkin Glassworks, Manchester

Communities

The Enfield Shaker Community, Enfield
The Last/Only Dry Town: Bridgewater
A visit to Christmas Town, Bethlehem, 12/5/2009
Pygmy Village, New Britain/Plainville
Chuaevka (Russian Village), Southbury
1/4 Acre Golden Hill Paugussett Tribal Nation, Trumbull

shaker.jpg
Shaker Houses, Enfield

…………………………………………………….

Houses

Pest House, East Lyme
Powder House, Fairfield
House with private stonehenge, Guilford
Spaceship Condos, Guilford
Halfway House, Meriden (Info)
Hobbit/Foam House, Jones Mountain in New Hartford
Hilltop Barn, Suffield
Christmas House, Torrington
Passivhaus, Westport (info)
Rotating House, Wilton

Famous People’s houses

Ruins

The Pest House, Durham near Mica Ledges
Little People’s Kingdom, Watertown
Dudleytown, Cornwall
Bara Hack, Pomfret
Gungywamp, Groton/Uncasville
Granny Austin Tavern ruins, Mooween State Park, Lebanon

Communities

The Frog People, Bethel
Plainville Campground, Plainville
Heritage Village, Southbury
The “Melonheads”, Trumbull
Willimantic Camp Meeting Association, Willimantic

One response to “XI. Curious Houses, Ruins & Communities”

  1. Lou Sorrentino says:

    Historical Importance of Beebe’s Mills at Devil’s Hopyard State Park –

    An Investigatory Report With Recommendations for Curatorial Action and Public Information (for footnotes see the full article in the CT History section of http://www.lousorrentino.com, July 17, 2008)

    Ordinary people like Connecticut’s Abner Beebe were violently abused simply for what they said in the Revolutionary War era by supporters of the cause of liberty. The Founders later established the Bill of Rights, in attempting to insure that similar abuses are not justified when protecting freedom.The story of Beebe’s Mills on both sides of Chapman Falls illustrates the conflicts of people on both sides of the Revolutionary War, and presents a useful way to teach history using archeological and colonial document research.

    Beebe’s Mills’ story has long been been known as folklore, but is now verified by a colonial document source not widely published until the 1960’s.(1) This confirms and adds detail to Dr. Abner Beebe’s 1775 Connecticut Gazette newspaper claims that “the people of East Haddam” did “damage to my person” and engaged in “violent destruction of private property” “as a result of late mentioned vote”, “to withdraw commerce”, because of his words of loyalty to Engand. He also specified that he was “abused by the Committee of Inspection of East Haddam.” (2) Then, as now, loyalty determined perspective. For example, Col. Joseph Spencer, in asking for advice in his 1774 letter to Governor Trumbull, wrote that Dr. Beebe was given “the new fashion dress of tar and feathers” by people who had high “zeal” “for what is called Liberty”. They visited Beebe several times, but he refused to say anything to give them “satisfaction”, and “without help from abroad”, Spencer was unable to protect him. (3) There is no record the Governor ever answered. This is not surprising, since the same source that verifies Beebe’s Mills’ story also describes Governor Trumbull being “as relentless as the Mob.” Rev. Samuel Peters, the Beebe family’s minister, had applied in vain to Trumbull for help after his house in Hebron was attacked and he was taken to “one of their Liberty Poles”. (4). When Connecticut’s General Israel Putnam tried to stop the Sons of Liberty’s similar abuse of Loyalists, George Washington reprimanded him, saying they were engaged in the “cause of liberty.” (5) The colonial account below verifies the Beebe’s Mills story, but judges those involved very differently. It is the last entry in Peter Oliver’s Origin and Progess of the American Rebellion 1781 manuscript, one purpose of which was to show how the Mob behaved, and so justify England’s violent response in war.

    “February 1775 – A Parish Clerk of an Episcopal Church at East Haddum in Connecticut, a Man of 70 Years of Age, was taken out of his Bed in a Cold Night, & beat against his Hearth by Men who held him by his Arms & Legs. He was then laid across his Horse, without his Cloaths, & drove to a consid­erable Distance in that naked Condition. His Nephew Dr. Abner Beebe, a Physician, complained of the bad Usage of his Uncle, & spoke very freely in Favor of Government; for which he was assaulted by a Mob, stripped naked, & hot Pitch was poured upon him, which blistered his Skin. He was then carried to a Hog Sty & rubbed over with Hogs Dung. They threw the Hog’s Dung in his Face, & rammed some of it down his Throat; & in that Condition exposed to a Company of Women. His House was at­tacked, his Windows broke, when one of his Children was sick, & a Child of his went into Distraction upon this Treatment. His Gristmill was broke, & Persons prevented from grinding at it, & from having any Connections with him. All these events occurred prior to the Battle of Lexington, when the rebels say the Rebellion began.” (1)

    East Haddam land records confirm the gristmill and sawmill at Chapman Falls were owned in the period by Dr. Abner Beebe. The fact that the mills are on opposite sides, but had common interests, can illustrate the Colonists’ dilemma. No matter what side people were on, business and family interests came first. The property on which the mills stand was deeded on 3/21/1774 by Abner Beebe to John Chapman, (6) his brother-in-law via Abner’s sister Ann, wife of John’s brother Jabez. (7) Beebe regained title to the mills after the conflict, escaping the legal confiscation of Tory estates late in the War. (8) A Jabez Chapman was also on the key East Haddam Committee of Association, modeled by the First Continental Congress in September 1774. (20)

    The Committee’s vote decided who was an enemy of the Colonies, and prohibited business being done with them, as both Col. Spencer and Peter Oliver said happened to Abner Beebe. Despite the fact that the Colonies were still English, such Committees were the real governing power; their will often enforced by mobs and riots. Episcopal ministers encouraged loyalty to the Church of England and it’s King. In 1774, when an English attack was a real possibility, this was very risky. Several in his Loyalist congregation were tarred and feathered, and one almost killed. Unlike the three Beebe’s who stayed, Rev. Peters fled when his house was attacked by a “Mob”, which he also called the “Sons of Liberty”. Although the Sons of Liberty started as a distinct group in the 1760s, by 1774 the difference between them and mobs became blurred in enforcing the Committee’s findings. Origin and Progress describes a similar 1774 decision to ban commerce as made by a “Mob Committee.” Rev. Peters said Spencer and the Governor encouraged such mob abuse. (9) (18) Rev. Peters said local leader Col. Spencer and the Governor of Connecticut encouraged such mob abuse (9) (14) Abner’s uncle Jonathan Beebe was very outspoken against the Revolution, declaring that British General Gage was right in shooting at the crowd in the Boston Massacre.The Committee voted Jonathan, Abner and his father William Beebe enemies. (10) With the prospects of no business, and the “new fashion dress of tar and feathers”, Jonathan Beebe was restored to favor when his confession was published in the Connecticut Gazette. (11) Abner’s brother Asa refused to recant, despite also being tarred and feathered, and left to settle in Vermont. He was a lay reader for Rev. Peters’ Episcopal Parish. (12) Jonathan Beebe was about 70 in 1775, so it is likely that Abner’s uncle Jonathan was the same Parish Clerk mentioned in Origin and Progress. (13) Rev. Peters escaped to live in London. Peter Oliver wrote his history in London’s Loyalist refugee community, so it is likely he heard Beebe’s tale there, since Origin and Progress records the same incident. (4)

    The first American publication of the mills’ tradition was traced to a Connecticut Advertizer newspaper article of 1881 which explained the “large millstone” which “most visitors at Chapman Falls have noticed” this way; “revolutionists broke open the mill and rolled the principal stone down the falls”. (16) This account closely matches that of Beebe’s mill in Origin and Progress which specifies that his “gristmill was broke and persons prevented from grinding at it”. Period context of this phrasing is revealing. By late 1774, a pending attack by the English was on everyone’s mind. Preventing them from being supplied by Loyalists like Abner Beebe was vital, so private property was often seized or made useless. In 1798 an English army colonel advised that “If an enemy should penetrate far into the country, the mills should be prevented from grinding by breaking the upper stones…On an enemy’s landing, the mills should be guarded and prevented from grinding…”. (17) A 1781 petition by people of nearby Longmeadow, MA describing similar incidents is worded much like Abner Beebe’s complaint of “violent destruction of private property.” The petition noted it was common to “Seize on private property where necessary, and in some Instances prevent people from using their property in such a manner as essentially to injure the whole…Many things were done by the people and their Committees, which could not be justified…” Throughout the Revolutionary War period, mills were key places of struggle for the control of local resources. General Washington at one point ordered his officers to remove the stones from local mills to prevent millers from grinding flour for the enemy.(18) These understandings of historical context and colonial era word usage provide independent confirmation of the 1781 account of Beebe’s gristmill attack by the Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice. In his final example of atrocities done by those he called the Mob, Peter Oliver notes that “His Gristmill was broke, and Persons prevented from grinding at it.” (at least removing it’s millstone)

    Over many years the tradition evolved to include myths. Such scenarios illustrate the importance of from the time of an incident. For example, folklore details of the early 20th century named Captain Aaron Fox as the Sons of Liberty leader who personally threw several millstones into the falls in the attack. (19) The local Aaron Fox was merely eleven at the time, and only became a Captain in the War of 1812.(20) The only other Aaron Fox who served Connecticut in the Revolutionary War was from far-away Fairfield County never became a Captain. (21) A review of the Fox family tree revealed a Eunice Beebe marrying East Haddam’s Aaron Fox. (22) Beebe’s assault occurred in front of his children, one of which “went into distraction”, as Origin and Progress specifies. (1) Purely romantic speculation demonstrating the development of folklore might find the young Aaron Fox meeting his future bride during the gristmill attack, and his heroic role passed on as family tradition.

    Another example of speculative folklore resulted in several post-colonial millstones now in the lawn at the caretaker’s residence near Chapman Falls being attributed to the event. The myth of “Aaron Fox’s millstone” and it’s related photo were erroneously published in the otherwise noteworthy guide to Connecticut State Parks titled A Shared Landscape. (23) Recent archeological evaluation revealed “quarter-dress” design markings from a later period on the two millstones in the lawn, excluding them as related colonial era artifacts. Their relatively intact condition and later design suggest Beebe’s sawmill as their place of origin. This left a “sickle-furrowed” stone first documented in 2002 as being down-slope from the gristmill in the falls the only colonial era millstone found nearby. The condition of the sickle shaped grooves on the face of the millstone is revealing. They are not completely worn down, despite many years in the falls. This point could indicate it was thrown in to prevent grinding. It could be that any of the dozens of foundation stones were replaced in a later period, or that the colonial millstone was thrown in for an unrelated reason, but there is no evidence to support either unlikely possibility. The position and condition of the millstone, and the colonial document evidence, all seem to verify linkage to the story. (23) Revolutionary War Historian Ray Raphael concluded; “You don’t have to have absolute certainty in this arena. We use physical artifacts as a means of telling significant tales, and that can certainly be done in this case.” With these understandings of the archeological evidence, the colonial era millstone found downslope from the gristmill is reasonably linked to it. (24) In fact, the millstone story was so compelling that it had to be removed from the falls for the safety of the many people who took the risk of climbing over the fence to see it, and avoid vandalism. (25) The millstone is now planned to be on loan from the DEP, as part of an exhibit of the East Haddam Historical Society. The Beebe’s Mills story received national attention in the New York Times article of 1/25/04 titled “Uncovering A Millstone Who-Done-It.” (26) A joint panel of historical and archeological professionals, the DEP, and lay persons, then decided to commemorate Beebe’s Mills’ history. (27) The Connecticut State Archeologist later re-confirmed that decision. (28) An independent investigative study was then announced. (29). In 2007 colonial document research verifying the mills’ story was confirmed by the Connecticut State Historian who wrote this was “exactly what is needed to help clinch the argument.” (30) While no one piece of the evidence verifies the whole story, when considered together, the evidence is compelling. Re-evaluation of the millstone by an independent Staff Archeologist of the Kentucky Heritage Council concluded “You can still comment in interpretative materials at the park that the position and condition of the millstone seem to verify the story.” His examination of photos of the archeological evidence found the sickle furrowed millstone fragment to be the only one with design markings from the colonial era. (23) Revolutionary War historian Ray Raphael commented; “We use physical artifacts as a means of telling significant tales, and that can certainly be done in this case… Again, you’ve got a juicy piece of material history there, and in my mind reasonable linking to tell a big story.” (31) The Connecticut State Archeologist turned out to be correct when he first concluded that ”We have the mill, we have the stone and we have a wonderful story to go with it. It talks about people’s attitudes toward each other at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and to tie it to an artifact is pretty cool.” (32) As a result of further research, at least three artifacts have been reasonably linked to the story; the gristmill, the colonial era millstone, and the sawmill. With the conclusions of the joint panel re-confirmed by stronger evidence, and the validation of independent histiorical and archeological experts, application was made for inclusion of the Beebe’s Mills and the colonial millstone on the Connecticut Historic Register, and an exhibit at the park commemorating the site. Beebe’s mills at the top of Chapman Falls, and the colonial millstone, have definite links to the stories of real families on both sides of the Revolution. The verifiable archeological and historical evidence combined teaches history in a compelling way. This project can create a special relationship of time and space for public education and tourism that can be very effective in promoting the state park and it’s history. (33)

    Recommendations for curatorial action and public information: 1-Posting of interpretive signage in kiosks at Chapman Falls and several other locations in Devil’s Hopyard State Park to reflect this history of Beebe’s Mills, and directing vistors to the East Haddam Historical Society to view a related display. 2-Revision of the park’s website history synopsis, and promotion via other media outlets. 3-Pamphlets and flyers with similar information for distribution at the site and other State Parks. 4-Lending of the colonial millstone to the East Haddam Historical Society for use in the related display. 5-Planning of a larger commemorative display, possibly at the sawmill site, as originally decided by a joint panel, to include the Connecticut Council On Culture and Tourism, the Researcher, the Office of Historic Preservation, the State Parks Division, and any other appropriate members. 6-Inclusion of Beebe’s Mills and it’s extant artifacts, such as the colonial millstone, on the Connectcut Historic Register.

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