21. Pardee-Morris House Museum

Pardee Like It’s 1699
New Haven
Location
July 21, 2007

[Sadly, I'm adding this historic house museum to the Defunct List. Some great comments below though.]

Summer 2010 Update: The house has re-opened! (but I’ll keep this page as-is for now)

mq21a.jpgIt looks like we missed the boat on this one… the Pardee-Morris house is closed indefinitely for a reason that I fear a lot of these places I’m visiting will close before I’m 50. (That’s just over 15 years from this writing.) RobC and I made a point to get over to New Haven’s Morris Cove section to see this historic house on our New Haven MegaQuest day just to at least say we were there. Well… we were there.

I don’t know anything other than a few token facts about this place, so instead of pretending otherwise, I’m simply going to cut and paste an entire New Haven Register article (conveniently printed less than a month ago) which serves as a cautionary tale about these important old properties.

I do not plan on going to all the closed museums around the state to prove some sort of point, as I think the article about this one will suffice. I’ll email the author to let him know I’ve stolen his article of course – but to also let him know that my title is better than his. Heck, my second choice (“Well, The Outside Sure Is Pardee”) is even better. Oh well… Enjoy:

We’ve got a special place, and it’s slowly dying
by Randall Beach

William Hosley was clearly frustrated as he opened the locked door to the Pardee-Morris House, a long-neglected historic gem in New Haven’s Morris Cove neighborhood.

Hosley is executive director of the New Haven Museum & Historical Society, which owns the spacious house (6,000 square feet). He wants the doors to this building to be open daily, available to new generations of school kids and to all ages, including those old enough to remember going there when it was a museum (1920-2000).

“I know it’s possible,” Hosley said of his hope to restore the house as a multiservice resource center. “It’s just money.”

mq21f.jpgRenovating the house could revive the area, too. I’ve previously written about people wanting to restore the Five Mile Point Lighthouse at Lighthouse Point Park. Fort Nathan Hale is nearby, as well.

“This house is the gateway to it all,” Hosley said. “There’s a summer, America good time feeling about this whole area.”

Pardee-Morris was built circa 1670 by the Morrises, but was burned by British troops July 5, 1779, when they invaded New Haven. Capt. Amos Morris rebuilt it a year later, recycling materials from the original structure. In 1915 it was bought and restored by William Pardee.

When Pardee bequeathed the house to the historical society in 1918, he envisioned that the premises would be used “as a center of the civic life of the neighborhood … appropriate to encourage the art and practice of good citizenship.”

Hosley, too, spoke of the need for civic involvement as he took me through the house, now devoid of virtually all its furnishings (they’re in storage). He sees Pardee-Morris as “a symbol of negligence and abandonment” in a modern era where the public is “saturated with entertainment.”

Our culture, he noted, is “homogenized,” lacking interest in special places such as this.

This was my second tour of Pardee-Morris. Three years ago I was inside with Hosley’s predecessor, Peter Lamothe, who was appealing for public support.

Hosley has more passion and pizazz than Lamothe. Maybe that will make a difference in the society’s quest for funds.

mq21c.jpgThe house seems beleaguered, waiting for a white knight. Its paint is peeling badly inside and outside. Some of its windows are broken. I noticed rat traps set up outside. It’s shameful that it has come to this.

“It’s almost unbearable,” Hosley said.

The historical society was forced to close the house to the public in 2000 because the organization ran out of money, and volunteers to staff the building were no longer coming forward. (There you see that problem of civic involvement.)

In 2004, unable to raise enough money to renovate the house, the society’s board of trustees voted to place the house in private hands through stewardship. The society would work with the group Historic New England to line up an owner who would be required to maintain its integrity. But it would not be open to the public.

The stewardship idea didn’t attract an owner. Now Hosley and his colleagues are trying a different strategy: obtaining state bonding funds.

Hosley said $1.6 million will be needed to fix up the house and establish new programs, including a digital resource center of historic photos, a reading room and perhaps a branch library. The grounds could be transformed into a community garden.

We walked into “the ballroom,” a large, wide expanse with many windows. “I love this room,” Hosley said. “It has spectacular potential as a public space.”

mq21d.jpgAfter we got back downstairs, Hosley, standing in a doorway laced with cobwebs, told me, “The state has poured millions and millions into sports and entertainment. Hartford alone received $150 million for cultural activities in the past 10 years. The Mark Twain House got about $8 million in funds for a visitors’ center that was a luxury, not a necessity. And yet this house, the most historic property of the Colonial era in New Haven, is dying.”

Hosley is awaiting news from state Sen. Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, on efforts to include the house in the state bonding package. Looney told me Friday, “I think it has a pretty good chance, but there’s no guarantee.”

If Pardee-Morris doesn’t get those funds, Hosley said, “I can’t imagine what it’ll take” to save the old homestead. The rats will have won; they will be the only creatures that can get inside.

And if what Hosley calls “the steamrolling forces of homogenization” cause the house to be demolished, he predicts it will be replaced by “a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all thing that has no connection with the community, no durability, no long-time appeal.”

mq21b.jpg

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Cost: Free, but does that matter?
Hours: Never open
Food & Drink? Too depressed to eat
Children? Why?
You’ll like it if: You hate museums
You won’t like it if: You thought it was open and you hate rats
Freebies: dead rats

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For the Curious:

Museum website (More pictures)
1999 Lyrics
The New Haven Register

16 responses to “21. Pardee-Morris House Museum”

  1. honeybunny says:

    The only thing missing from the last photo was a
    “Raspberry Beret” ~~

    hb

  2. Cristina Carde says:

    Hello,

    I used to live in the house next door to this house with my roommate in 2005 to 2006. We were always intrigued by this place and always wanted to look inside but we never got the chance to since it was closed. However, I found your article to be interesting. It is very sad to see how neglected a historical treasure like this has become. I was wondering if anyone can tell me if there was anyone allowed to enter the building at night. There were plenty of times that my friends and I would see lights on in the house along with shadows of people moving around during the time we were there. I always had a feeling that there was always someone watching us whenever we passed by when walking our dog. I hope that someone comes forward to help restore this house. It’s a part of New Haven history that we should remember.

  3. Gail St.Mary says:

    I’ve driven by this elegant home several times and can’t believe someone has not come forward to help restore part of New Haven’s history. We all know what it’s like to sit in a history classroom trying to envision the past; BORING! Here is a perfect opportunity to share the past, re-live history, and enjoy a community experience, before it’s too late. Being an owner of a 1780 house, has been both challenging and a serene experience. Unfortunately, completely restoring it is not a financial option, but the appearence of some of my home’s originality brings a sense of wonder when life was peaceful and simple.
    It is very sad to watch such an awesome piece of history fade away. Are there any Pardee or Morris relatives out there who may share in this endevor?
    GSM

  4. Steve says:

    I asked friend of CTMQ and director of the New Haven History Museum, Bill Hosley, what the deal was with this property. He replied, “The state never delivered on its bond package commitment and we can’t possibly resuccitate it without substantial $. It’s a great house, in a not so accessible neighborhood but the collections were never anything to write home about. It will almost certainly be sold with preservation easements to protect it.”

    Christina – I have no idea, but I’d guess that people would work on the house at night on a volunteer basis after work maybe. Either that or East Haven crackheads found a home.

  5. Tina Louise Harl says:

    Thomas Morris (1604-1673) was my grandfather and the patriarch of the Morris family in New Haven. I was born in New London, Conn., on the navy base, but I live in Kenosha, Wisconsin, now. Most Wisconsin buildings were built after the 1830s. Saving our American history is important. I hope this house can be saved. I would like to return to Conn. and see it.

  6. LOUISE FITZSIMONS says:

    I am the chair of a volunteer committee at the New Haven Museum and Historical Society, owner of the Pardee-Morris House. I have a particular interest in improving this site in the hope of once again being able to attract visitors. I would like to work with people in the neighborhood who might be interested in visiting it, attending events at the site (inside and outside), possibly volunteering,etc. Please reply or call me at home. I’m in the phone book.
    Thanks so much for your interest in this wonderful, but unfortunately neglected, treasure.

    S/ Louise

  7. Vincent Seneco says:

    My Grandmother Grace Morris, Daughter of Robert and Mary Woods Morris lived there as a child and I visited the homestead when it was open in the 70′s
    It’s a shame it cannot be maintained.

  8. martinet says:

    My husband’s mother, Pam Martineau of New Haven (born Pauline Morris), was a descendant of the Morrises who built this house. We’ve been there to see the house and its grounds but were not able to see the interior. We (in Willimantic) and our extended family in Pennsylvania (particularly Pauline’s niece) would be interested in efforts to preserve the house, although unfortunately none of us has much money and that’s apparently what this is going to take.

  9. Tina Louise Harl says:

    I wonder if the New Haven television based show “Flip this House” would be interested in helping to preserve this historical CT building? Preservation and beautification of older New Haven buildings is stressed on the show. To renovate this former 1600s home of the Morris Puritan family would be saving a house, but even more importantly, saving a part of early American history. Plus, it would make a great show and could be a tax donation for “Flip this House.” What do you think, Louise Fitzsimons? (I descend from the original Thomas Morris line to John Morris to Capt. John Morris to Daniel Morris to Nathaniel Morris to Mary Morris–Morristown,NJ.)

  10. Annie Mason says:

    I worked as a tour guide at the Pardee-Morris House back around 1987-88. My “real” job was as a cataloguer at the Yale Center for British Art. I loved this weekend job…because it was so quiet. Didn’t get many visitors…but I was delighted to tour the ones that came. The house had some fascinating history, and so many were shocked to see the “ballroom.”It is so sad to see its demise. Happening too much. Our children may see a need to pour the “big bucks” into satisfying the egos of sports figures, but will not know the stories, the anecdotes, the artifacts, and the way of life of those that lived that life, in a time that goes before us. Truly sad.

  11. Judith L says:

    I, too, was a docent there in the late 70s when I was in college. It was a lovely house then, and in good repair. I remember loving the ballroom, and the wig powdering closet. Sad to hear it’s neglected now.

  12. Loree L says:

    I have been in the Morris cove section tons of times but never noticed the house. This March ( today)we happened upon it. It look s similar to a house in Rhode Island called the Babcock Smith House. BUT WITH NO FUNDING. Funny we were discussing how this country has lost values in nationalism and tradition here is another example. What can one do to help??

  13. Helen Rosenberg says:

    My Grandmother was Helen Morris and Thomas Morris Sr and Jr. were my Great, etc. grandfathers. I found this very interesting and hope to visit New Haven soon.

  14. william e. morris says:

    I am a direct descendant of the home and my grandfather eliott nelson morris and his father lived there at one time. it is a shame that this history is being let go. i have been in this home during a family reunion many years ago and it was beautiful. this is a shmae that we have no values of our history. I was always taought to not forget where you come from no matter where you go in life. I am now teaching my 2 boys about thier history and there isn’t alot of information left to show them. i tried to take them there and realized we couldn’t go in side any more. something has to be done.

  15. CJones says:

    Amos Morris is my 6th great grandfather . I would love to be able to see the house and experience how live was.

  16. Catherine Wylie says:

    I too am a descendent of Capt. Amos Morris. He is one of my great grandfathers as well. Isn’t there any way to get descendants to pitch in for these kinds of situations such as posting links to donation sites on the boards of ancestry.com under Morris surname, etc.? I would certainly be willing to help out in that way. I wish I had a bunch of extra money, but I don’t. But if every descendant could donate a little…I know this post was a while ago (and I need to look up and see if it still there,) because I want to do a genealogy tour of New England. Many of my ancestors were some of the first in this country and fought in the Revolutionary War. Another place I would like to see, which I am glad is still around, is the Freeman family farm in Old Sturbridge, MA. I think it is sad when people put more money into sports than in preserving heritage. To me that just points to the sad dumbing down of American culture.

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