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Eye-Popping Opulence

Welcome to your bi-weekly newsletter from Connecticut Explored with the latest stories, the newest Grating the Nutmeg podcast, programs and exhibitions from our partners to see/watch this month, and more! 

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Fall 2021: We’re not in Puritan Connecticut anymore

Last, but far from least in our exploration of Victorian Connecticut, are three stories about “more is more” Victorian architecture.

The Lockwoods’ Opulent Elm Park

Our first story, by historic preservationist and interiors historian Mimi Findlay, introduces readers to Elm Park in Norwalk—now the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum. Surprisingly, the mansion is owned by the City of Norwalk—saved from demolition in the 1960s by citizens who rallied to preserve it, Findlay writes.

It all began with LeGrand Lockwood, born in Norwalk but who made his money on Wall Street, and his wife Louise, also a Norwalker. Wishing to escape the city in the midst of the Civil War, they began construction on their truly eye-popping “summer cottage” in 1864, commissioning the top designers of the day.

But life—and tragedy—intervened. Findlay writes, “The family moved in in 1868 and then Black Friday arrived on Wall Street in October 1869. The gold market crashed and LeGrand was ruined. He was forced to mortgage Elm Park; he sold his stock in the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad (as it was now called) to Cornelius Vanderbilt. The family moved to Elm Park full time, but in 1872 LeGrand died suddenly of pneumonia. Louise was forced to sell the art collection at auction and all the furnishings. In 1873 Vanderbilt foreclosed on the house.”

Read the full story and how it came to be a museum open to the public in the Fall 2021 issue or with your CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM subscription—15% off until 12/31/21.

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From Palliser’s American Cottage Homes, published 1878. Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Special Collections, Yale University Library

The Innovation of Palliser, Palliser & Company

Meanwhile, in Bridgeport, two brothers started a business to bring Victorian design to the masses. Emily Clark, an English and journalism teacher at Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, brings us the story of “George and Charles Palliser, brothers who emigrated from England in the 1860s and who influenced the urban landscape of Bridgeport and other cities throughout the state and across the country.” They “started what George Palliser claimed was the first-ever mail-order architectural practice,” Clark writes, and “through a relatively new phenomenon, the Pallisers were able to provide working-class residents with sophisticated designs without paying for an architect. Many homes in Bridgeport built from Palliser, Palliser & Company designs are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Read the full story in the Fall 2021 issue or through our special offers below.

Building Art of Clay

Even the City of Hartford had to consider its budget when commissioning a Civil War memorial in the 1880s. When the submitted designs for the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch proved too costly to build, architectural historian and CTExplored assistant publisher Mary Donohue writes, “Hartford architect George Keller came up with a solution: place the arch adjacent to the existing Ford Street bridge (rather than build a new bridge) and substitute inexpensive building materials such as local sandstone and terracotta for marble and bronze.”

The terra cotta embellishment is especially worth a closer look, notes Donohue. Terra cotta “is a clay-based, fired earthenware that can be used glazed or unglazed. It
can be mass produced from molds or hand sculpted by craftsmen to make custom pieces,” Donohue explains. Made by the Boston Terra Cotta Company, there are two other spectacular buildings in Connecticut that feature it. Find out where in the Fall 2021 issue or with your CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM subscription.

Fall SALE!

6 for 4 to Your Mailbox

Through 12/31/21, get 6 print issues for the price of 4 (one year) or 10 print issues for the price of 8 (2 years). That’s 2 FREE issues (a $15 value) added to any NEW or GIFT print subscription! Use coupon code HOLIDAY21 at CTExplored.org/Shop.

15% off to Your Inbox

OR, Subscribe for the first time to CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM and SAVE! Receive 15% off a one-year Inbox PREMIUM subscription through 12/31/21.

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The Latest from Grating the Nutmeg

129. Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter That Changed America

What more do we need to know about Sam Colt? Turns out there’s plenty. Before the iconic blue-domed Colt Armory, Colt Park, the Colt addition to the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Church of the Good Shepard, and Colt’s home Armsmear—in other words, before Colt became fabulously wealthy—he traveled with a novelty act, womanized, drank, smuggled guns to Russia, bribed politicians, and blew up ships in New York Harbor with electricity.

Mary Donohue, assistant publisher of Connecticut Explored, digs into these stories with Jim Rasenberger, author of Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-shooter that Changed America.


Programs and Exhibitions to Enjoy This Month

Victorian Library in Lebanon

Although Lebanon is best known for its colonial and Revolutionary War history, the town’s landscape is dotted with wonderful rural examples of Victorian architecture. In 1869 members of the First Congregational Church erected a Pastor’s library. To assure its long-term preservation, the church donated it and several hundred books that were once part of the pastor’s library collection to the Lebanon Historical Society. Open for tours seasonally or by appointment.

Lebanon Historical Society Museum; historyofLebanon.org

Beautiful Barns

Picturing History: Historic Barns of Connecticut, a traveling photography exhibition, will be on view in December at the Pequot Library in Southport. The exhibition features images of barn interiors and exteriors taken by professional, amateur, and student photographers of all ages and submitted to Preservation Connecticut as part of its Historic Barns of Connecticut project. (Visit connecticutbarns.org.)

Get your cameras ready for Preservation Connecticut’s next contest! It will feature historic landscapes in celebration of Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday in April 2022. Visit preservationct.org and the organization’s social media for news and announcements.

The Cannon Ball House & More

Explore local and national history through the lens of identity and memory at Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center in Ridgefield this fall. Visitors will discover an expanded site experience—including new tours and new exhibits—that connects past and present through compelling storytelling. Site admission includes a guided tour, entry to exhibits in the Carriage Barn, and access to the beautiful four-acre grounds and walled garden. Visit the museum’s website and follow it on social media: @KeelerTavernMuseum on Facebook and Instagram and @KeelerTavern on Twitter.

Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center, Keelertavernmuseum.org

State Library Wins Awards 

The Connecticut State Library’s Digging into History: WWI Trench Restoration in Seicheprey, France, headed by project coordinator Christine Pittsley, is the recipient of a 2021 American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Leadership in History Award, one of 38 awards given this year, and a Connecticut League of History Organizations 2021 Award of Merit. This groundbreaking project brought 15 Connecticut high-school students to Seicheprey, France in July 2019 to restore a section of trenches once occupied by Connecticut doughboys. To learn more about the project, visit ctinworldwar1.org/trenchproject/.

Connecticut’s 20th-Century Artists On View

Ozias Dodge, (1868 – 1925), artist, inventor, and adventurer—and later director of the Norwich Art School, an affiliate of Norwich Free Academy—was born in Vermont just after the Civil War. He showed a natural talent for art and studied at Yale, The Arts Students League in New York, and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Much of Dodge’s later work, including that held in the Slater Memorial Museum’s collection, reflects both his boyhood in a rural and rustic environment and the influence of the Barbizon School. See his work in the Slater Museum’s permanent exhibition Connecticut Artists of the 20th Century.

Slater Memorial Museum, slatermuseum.org


Editors’ Picks

Stories we love from back issues to read now. 

“‘A Victorian Wonder’: Bridgeport’s Bishop Arcade,” Spring 2020

Site Lines: Monuments to Connecticut’s Lost County Government,” Fall 2012

Nook Farm: Where Mr. Twain and Mrs. Stowe Built Their Dream Houses,” Summer 2011


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6 for 4 to Your Mailbox

Through 12/31/21, get 6 print issues for the price of 4 (one year) or 10 print issues for the price of 8 (2 years). That’s 2 FREE issues (a $15 value) added to any NEW or GIFT print subscription! Use coupon code HOLIDAY21 at CTExplored.org/Shop.

15% off to your Inbox

OR, Subscribe to CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM and SAVE! Receive 15% off a one-year Inbox PREMIUM subscription through 12/31/21.

Get 15% off for 1 year

Or try us our with our First One Free offer at CTExplored.org/Shop.