Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson in Old Lyme

 This online exhibition was created in conjunction with the exhibition, The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist, on view at the Florence Griswold Museum October 5, 2012- January 27, 2013.

This exhibition is designed to enrich the Museum’s educational offerings related to Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson, as well as their young family’s role in Old Lyme at the Griswold Boardinghouse as part of the Lyme Art Colony. Primary text for this exhibition is  “Chapter Six: Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson in Old Lyme” from an upcoming monograph on the Lyme Art Colony by Director of the Florence Griswold Museum, Jeffrey W. Andersen. The exhibition was made possible through a grant from Connecticut Humanities.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), then President of Princeton University, spent the summer of 1910 at the Griswold House in the company of “a jolly, irresponsible lot of artists, natives of Bohemia, who have about them the air of the broad free world.” [1] It was a place of familiarity and pleasure for Wilson and, especially, his wife, the artist Ellen Axson Wilson (1860-1914), who wanted to paint in the company of the Lyme artists and enjoy a respite from the social demands of their life at Princeton.
Throughout that June and July of 1910, Woodrow was considering whether to accept the Democratic nomination for the governorship of New Jersey.  The decision was a weighty one because New Jersey was, as Wilson put it, the “mere preliminary” [2] for a larger plan.
A group of national political leaders were eager to recruit Dr. Wilson for the governorship as a means of making him a strong and popular candidate for the ensuing Presidential election in 1912, only a little more than two years hence.  Ruminating on this life-changing decision, he discussed it with his wife Ellen and sought the advice of several friends and Princeton trustees to whom he was particularly close. [3]
In early July, when news of this possibility was leaked to the press, reporters showed up to interview Dr. Wilson after a round of golf. The reporter noted that he was “collarless and perspiring and his face was bronzed.” He greeted the reporter with a smile, which darkened into a frown, however, when the subject of politics was broached. ‘I don’t want to talk politics at all,’ said Dr. Wilson, when first asked as to his possible candidacy for Governor.” [4] Within a week, however, Wilson decided he would accept the nomination on the condition that it was desired by a “decided majority of thoughtful Democrats of the State” and that it was clear he had not in any way campaigned for the office. [5] If those conditions were met, he did not see how he could forego practicing what he had long preached in his classes – the duty of public service when called upon. On July 16, 1910, Wilson released a statement to the press from the Florence Griswold House, signaling the beginning of his entry into politics. [6] In little over two years, Woodrow Wilson would rise to its highest office, becoming the 28th President of the United States.
The Wilsons’ first stay in Old Lyme – the summer of 1905 – was prompted by personal tragedy.  That spring Ellen’s younger brother Edward Axson (1876-1905) and his young family had all drowned in a boating

Ellen was devastated.  Feeling that a change of scenery would be restorative for her, and at the suggestion of Princeton Professor Williamson Vreeland, the Wilsons made plans to spend the summer in Old Lyme. [7] The Vreelands had a summer place on Lord Hill in Lyme and they felt the area would be an ideal place where Ellen could pursue her interest in painting with the artists’ colony.  In early July, Wilson traveled to Old Lyme to investigate the possibilities. He stayed at the Old Lyme Inn and made arrangements for the family to take their room and board at Boxwood, then a summer boardinghouse run by Miss Thibits, and just down the street from the Florence Griswold House.
Art had been long been Ellen Axson Wilson’s passion.[8]  Trained initially at the Rome Female College in her native state of Georgia and then at the Art Students League in New York where she spent a year from 1884 to 1885, Ellen had largely abandoned her career as an artist to raise their three daughters, Margaret, Jessie and Nell. Now that they were teenagers with their own interests, she had begun to seriously work at her art again.  She enrolled in the Lyme Summer School of Art, sponsored by the Art Students League.
Normally led by the popular teacher and art colony member Frank Vincent DuMond, it was taught by his assistant Will Howe Foote during the summer of 1905. Ellen enrolled in daily classes and twice weekly critiques for a period of five weeks. According to Ellen’s biographer Frances Saunders, “Woodrow’s plan to surround Ellen with artists proved wise. She began to enjoy painting landscapes in oil, and, in due course, this would supplant her former work in portraiture.” [9] With “spirits vastly improved,” she left Old Lyme in mid-September and returned to Princeton.
During the spring of 1908, Ellen made plans to return to Old Lyme
… but this time she sought accommodations in the Griswold House. [10]
She wrote to her daughter Jessie: I have just learned that Mr. DuMond teaches the Lyme class this summer!  Isn’t that good!
On June 22nd, she arrived at Miss Florence’s with her three daughters and her sister Margaret “Madge” Axson. Woodrow went abroad that summer to the Lake District of England, a region he had greatly enjoyed on previous occasions. Staying in a series of rooms on the second floor of the Griswold House, Ellen threw herself into her painting and found DuMond an encouraging teacher who saw progress in her own work. He arranged for Ellen to have her own studio, an unusual accommodation for an art student in Lyme.
While the letters she wrote to Woodrow that summer have not been found, it is possible to gain a sense of her pleasure and that of her daughters at living amidst the artists. Woodrow writes of his relief that “the experiment at ‘Miss Florence’s’ [is] such a success, the situation so different from what it was at Boxwood, —
your teacher so capable and direct in his method of helping, — and the outcome for you so certain and satisfactory in my mind.” [12] After returning to Princeton with ‘Mittens,’ a kitten from the house, Margaret, the oldest daughter, wrote to Florence Griswold:
I want to tell you that the summer we spent with you is one of the happiest I have ever spent and will always be a perfectly delightful memory. The informal life at your house is just the kind that suits me down to the ground. I do hope that we shall be able to go to Lyme and to ‘the Holy House’ very often. In fact I never should go to Lyme at all unless we could stay with you.
She went on to describe her desire to return with her father: “I hope we can bring him to Lyme with us some time.  I am sure he would enjoy living with the artists and eating at the hot air table.” [14]
Ellen’s interactions with the artists in Lyme continued over the winter months in New York.  The sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh had started work in Lyme on a small bronze of the Wilsons’ middle daughter Jessie, whose beauty was noticed by the artists and others. Ellen went into the city to visit with Vonnoh and to see the finished work which she thought had “a sort of large nobility about it in spite of its size.” [15]
A few years later, Robert Vonnoh, Bessie’s husband and a respected painter also associated with the Lyme colony, would paint a large figurative oil of Ellen and her three daughters while they summered in Cornish, New Hampshire. Ellen particularly admired the work of Willard Metcalf, whose landscapes had brought such renown to Old Lyme.
She spent an afternoon in his studio in New York and came away thinking that he “outranked every other American artist.” [16]
What the artists thought of her work is less clear.  In her letters, Ellen reported many positive comments.  But William Chadwick remarked “although Mrs. Wilson thought that she painted well, she was not really good.” [17] Within the colony, the distinction between the art student, no matter how dedicated, and the professional artist, who relied on his or her work for a livelihood, was sharply drawn.
What the artists thought of her work is less clear. In her letters, Ellen reported many positive comments. But William Chadwick remarked “although Mrs. Wilson thought that she painted well, she was not really good.” Within the colony, the distinction between the art student, no matter how dedicated, and the professional artist, who relied on his or her work for a livelihood, was sharply drawn.
Just because Ellen Wilson was accorded the privilege of living with the artists at Miss Florence’s didn’t mean that she was one of “them.”
Chadwick’s judgment seems harsh today. While some of her oils have a somewhat labored quality, many of her small landscapes interpret the seasonal nuance and mood of her subject with perceptiveness and feeling. Her art was consistent with prevalent themes within the colony – rural landscapes, river views, nocturnes, apple trees in bloom, and old-fashioned gardens. She responded well to DuMond’s advice to simplify and grasp the artistic significance of nature. Her oil of “Miss Florence’s Side Porch,” which Florence Griswold owned and treasured as a memento of their friendship, captures the back ell of the Griswold House draped in verdant vines and flowers.
The painting also depicted the locale of the “hot air table” that her husband was soon to join during the summer of 1909. Leaving in mid-July, Woodrow and Ellen Wilson were accompanied by their daughter Margaret (Nell and Jessie went off to Europe) for the summer season at Miss Florence’s. While this was Woodrow’s first stay at the Griswold House, he had very likely visited during their first summer in Old Lyme in 1905 and had certainly heard much from his wife and daughters. Judging from a letter he wrote to a friend before leaving he seems to have already experienced first-hand its daily rhythms:
The Griswold’s have been great people in their time and are still decidedly gentlefolk. Miss Florence has taken artists (for whom Lyme is headquarters in this part of the world) in to board in her spacious old house out of mind, and the place is a perfect artistic curiosity shop, the walls and doors of one room, for example, being painted from end to end with landscapes and figures by men of all stamps, most of them now famous, who have lived there the pleasant, informal life they love and she permits.
The artists of the Lyme School regard her as their patron saint, and have all in their turns made love to her.  In summer all of the meals of the singular household are taken out-of-doors on the piazza, the women at one table, the men at another, in order that they may with the less embarrassment come directly from their work to the table, dressed as they happen to be.  The men’s table is known as “the hot air club,” and it I shall very appropriately join.  I expect to be quite in my element in Bohemia. [18]
Dr. Wilson was, of course, given a seat at the men’ table, and it wasn’t long before we not only realized his interest in art, literature and music, but we discovered the he was an excellent storyteller. So good indeed that I have long regretted I did not keep a record of them. And in looking back over the years I remember him as a combination of firmness and tolerance, intellect and godliness; a man of affairs yet a scholar, a thinker, yet a doer. And I thoroughly enjoyed his friendship.
They are very easy to make friends with, and I hope I am.
Lyme was a “haven” where Woodrow spent the mornings writing, the afternoons playing golf, and the evenings around the hot air table engaged in conversation with the artists. [19]
Wilson saw Lyme as a place far removed from the fast-paced world – an enclave that appealed to his scholarly, reflective nature.
“We have the sound of trains often in our ears and motor cars whirr by on the road at our door: but the world which passes by us does not notice us: we are side-tracked at a very quiet rural station where life has hardly changed its pace since the thirties [1830s]. Certainly it is the same town to a stick that I knew four years ago. I have changed much more than it has.” [20]
The Wilson family fit right in at Miss Florence’s boardinghouse. Ellen was encouraged by some of the artists there that summer (William Robinson, Harry Hoffman, Ernest Albert, and Frank Bicknell were among those staying there)
that her work was “no longer that of an amateur” and was indeed better than “a good deal of that in the exhibitions.” [21]
Woodrow was given the title of “Colonel Wilson” [22] and, as initiation into the fraternity, was the subject of the artist’s antics. Wilson’s customary breakfast was a bowl of shredded wheat. Artist Arthur Heming “selected a nice little bunch of excelsior from a newly arrived packing case, put it in a bowl, poured cream over it, and served it to the future President of the United States.” [23]
No matter what new delicious dishes we offered, Woodrow Wilson always wanted his shredded wheat. So one Sunday morning when it was my turn to wait on table, I selected a nice little bunch of excelsior from a newly arrived packing case, put it in a bowl, poured cream over it, and served it to the future President of the United States. But he didn’t detect until he tried to force it apart with his spoon.
Wilson found the colony to be a compelling experiment in communal living.  As a non-artist with a somewhat detached point of view, Wilson provides us, through his letters, with some of the most detailed descriptions of life in the boardinghouse.  Returning from a side trip to Philadelphia, he wrote
I find the make-up of the household here a good deal altered.  People come and go. You no sooner get interested in them than they are off.  It is always the interesting ones that go.  The others, to whom you never give a thought and who serve as a sort of filling, are fixed and stationery, as are their counterparts in nature.
But, fortunately, even the commonplace ones are not, in this house, of the ordinary boarding house breed.  It is, even in its mere ballast, an artists’ house. [24]
As the summer wound down in late August, the Wilson family became involved in the annual exhibition at the library [be sure to introduce earlier].  Plans and preparations for the exhibition was the subject at every meal, although once again Ellen was not invited to participate as an exhibiting member of the colony “The exhibition business is very diverting in a way,”
Woodrow wrote to his friend Mary Peck:
I sit down with the “hanging committee” at every meal, and hear all the talk of the sensitiveness of this man and the arrogance of that about the place given his picture on the walls of the little library, with its most unsuitable light.  The jealousies and personalities of another profession, from which I myself stand entirely detached, are displayed before me in all their detail, in all their consequences.  I do not mean that the men display more ill nature than others or that they speak with conscious and intentional unkindness of their fellow artists; but of course I know what men mean when they talk; I can read between the lines very plainly.  And because I am not part of it or in it, it seems to me that these fellows live in a rather petty world, — much more petty than the world I live in (there’s where the poison of self-appreciation finds entrance), a very small province of the great kingdom of life; and I feel the condescension of an outsider, who is touched by none of these things! [25]
Later in the letter, Woodrow went on to admonish himself for feeling such thoughts, acknowledging the pettiness in his life of academia.
Like many of the artists, Woodrow and Ellen longed for a place in the country and their happy experience in Old Lyme led them to think seriously about buying a place there. “Ellen and I have fallen more in love than ever with Lyme,” Wilson enthused. “It certainly abounds in beauties of all kinds.” [26]Living at Princeton in the President’s residence meant they didn’t have a residence truly their own and so, late that summer of 1909, the Wilsons began “diligently looking about for some little house, that we can afford, to buy or some site on which to put one up.” [27] They eventually found a piece of property on the west side of the Lieutenant River that was owned by David P. Huntley. Everything was settled between purchaser and seller, but Huntley’s difficulties in clearing the title to the property prevented the final closing. Despite this setback, Old Lyme continued to be an important chapter in the Wilsons’ family life over the next few years.
They celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with the purchase from Macbeth Gallery in New York of a painting by the Lyme painter Chauncey Ryder. [28] Woodrow came to Old Lyme in June 1910 to give the principal address at the dedication of the rebuilt Congregational Church. His subject was “The Country Church.” He and his wife were joined that eventful summer of 1910 with an entourage that included, at various times, their daughters, Ellen’s sister Madge, and two sisters from New Orleans, Lucy and Mary Smith, who were best friends with Ellen. Not only was there excitement about Woodrow’s political overtures, but about Madge’s impending marriage to Edward Elliott, who had recently been appointed dean of faculty at Princeton. The two were married on September 8th at the Old Lyme Congregational Church in a quiet ceremony attended by the family. [29]
In May 1911, Ellen Wilson returned to Old Lyme by herself. Writing ahead to Florence Griswold, she exclaimed: “I should love to get in two weeks of sketching at that charming season.”  [30] Comfortable among both old and new friends at the Griswold House, Ellen turned to painting “apple-blossom subjects” with the other artists in residence, an exercise that she reported in a letter to her husband that left “everybody swearing over them and declaring them impossible.” [31] Her daughters and the Smith sisters joined her in June, all of them in rooms at Miss Florence’s, where, by all reports, they thoroughly enjoyed the Holy House’s diversions and informal life. The artists especially regarded the daughters as good sports. [32] Woodrow Wilson came up twice during the month of June for brief visits and then, in mid-July, the entire group left for Sea Girt, New Jersey.
This was the last summer the Wilson family would spend in Old Lyme. “Mrs. Wilson and I think very, very often of our happy days with you in Lyme, and I know that Mrs. Wilson has genuinely regretted that she could not get down to the exhibition this year,” wrote President Woodrow Wilson to Florence Griswold in a letter dated September 10, 1913. [33] At the time they were making plans for a fall wedding of their daughter Jessie to Frank Sayre, a recent Harvard Law School graduate who would become assistant to President Harry A. Garfield at Williams College. The wedding took place on November 25th in the White House and Florence Griswold was one of the guests. “It was quite an event for her as she had done very little traveling,” the artist Gregory Smith recalled. [34]
 “I can’t bear to think that the Wilsons will not be here,” she wrote to Ellen in 1912, in recognition that the Governor’s campaign schedule probably wouldn’t permit a visit to Old Lyme. Even after Ellen died prematurely on August 6, 1914 in the White House, Florence Griswold maintained contact with President Wilson, frequently writing to him on largely local subjects (and often requesting that he intervene on her and the town’s behalf) that had little to do with his responsibilities as President. Nevertheless he responded patiently and with obvious fondness for her. After Woodrow remarried in December 1915, he brought his new wife Edith up to Old Lyme in September 1917 to meet Miss Florence and call upon the Vreelands.
The Presidential yacht, the U.S.S. Mayflower, anchored off Saybrook Light at the entrance to the Connecticut River. A tender brought them up the Lieutenant River and they walked through the gardens to the Griswold House. On the way back, Mrs. Wilson was overheard to comment that she did not see how anyone could stand to stay in such an “absolutely dreadful, filthy” place. The charm and informality of the Griswold House that “suits me down to the ground,” as Margaret Wilson once put it, was lost on the new Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. It would, however, not be so easily forgotten by her husband and the rest of his family.

Paintings by Ellen Wilson

[1] Woodrow Wilson to Mary Peck, June 19, 1909, Link et al, eds., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 19:262 (hereafter cited as PWW).
[2] Woodrow Wilson to David Benton Jones, June 27, 1910, Ibid. 20:543.
[3] Wilson had just gone through a grueling controversy at Princeton over the location of a residential graduate college that had divided the trustees, faculty, and alumni. Represented in the press as fundamentally “a contest between the forces of privilege and democracy,” Wilson earned strong allies (and not a few enemies) within Princeton with his forceful position that he was fully dedicated to democratizing American universities (see PWW, 20: vii). As he considered this “most unusual” opportunity, he was torn by his allegiances to Princeton and his realization that the educational reforms that he had put in place there were unfinished (see PWW, 20: 543).
[4] “Dr. Wilson Not Seeking Office,” Printed in the Newark Evening News, July 9, 1910, from PWW, 20: 568.
[5] Ibid, p. 581.
[6] Nominated on September 15th, Wilson gave a rousing acceptance speech. Still in Old Lyme, Ellen sent a telegram: “Congratulations from all the household love from the family.”PWW, 21:101.
[7] There are two other intriguing personal connections that may have contributed to their decision to go to Old Lyme. Woodrow Wilson’s assistant at Princeton was a young man by the name of Arthur C. Ludington whose family was one of the most prominent families that summered in Old Lyme. Certainly he would have been a source of information about the town. In addition, the Wilsons had commissioned a Richmond Virginia artist by the name of Adele Williams to paint their portraits. She began working on them in Princeton during the fall of 1903, shortly after she spent the past summer in Old Lyme with the artist colony. She became quite friendly with Ellen Wilson and it seems entirely likely that she spoke with her about her experience that summer.

[8] Ellen Axson Wilson’s career as an artist was the subject of a 1993 exhibition held at the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C. and the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Museum in Staunton, Virginia. See Frank J. Aucella, Patricia Hobbs and Frances Wright Saunders, Ellen Axson Wilson First Lady – Artist. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson House, 1993. For an excellent and authoritative biography on Mrs. Wilson, see Frances Wright Saunders, Ellen Axson Wilson: First Lady Between Two Worlds. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985. 


The destruction of the Daily Record building by Waddell’s Army during the Wilmington Riot of 1898.


Daily Morning Journal-Courier, August 23, 1894

On August 22, 1894, around 200 Connecticut African American leaders met at the famous Savin Rock establishment of the caterer J. W. Stewart and formed a new organization for the “betterment of the conditions of Afro-Americans.” The new group was called the State Sumner League of Connecticut.  It was considered a club of the Republican Party and its purpose was reported as “the improvement and advancement of the colored citizens of Connecticut to the end of healthy and material progress—politically, socially, intellectually, and morally” (Daily MorningJournal and Courier, Aug. 23, 1894).
In response to the era’s frightening advance of de jure and de facto segregation, disenfranchisement, and extra-legal violence in the South, to say nothing of deepening discrimination in the North, the founders of the Sumner League asserted the right of all citizens to “every civil right without distinction or account of birth, race or previous social status.”  Within a few years, the League was being mentioned in several of the most important African American newspapers in the country.
The news was usually regarding the activities and speeches of the League’s president, the New Haven bootblack Joseph P. Peaker (1852-1937).  On one occasion, Peaker was reported to be serving as the president of an 1896 “colored convention” in Boston, and, during other years, he was listed as a member of the Executive Committee of the major civil rights organization of the time, the National Afro-American Council (1898-1907).
Peaker also played a key role in the 1897 Connecticut tour of the outspoken editor and publisher of the Richmond Planet, John Mitchell, Jr.  Mitchell was a living legend who used his newspaper to crusade against lynching at great personal peril.  Thus, his appearance in Connecticut was widely covered.  On March 26, he spoke in New Haven to a large crowd of around 300 on “Outrages in the South and the Lunenburg Case.”
According to the news account of his talk in the Planet, Mitchell spoke for an hour in great detail about the many cases of unjustified imprisonment and lynching of African Americans in Virginia.  He was congratulated by Black Connecticut leaders for his efforts to free three innocent women from Lunenburg County — Pokey Barnes, Mary Barnes, and Mary Abernathy — who were unfairly accused of murder and sentenced to death.
Mitchell left a fascinating and detailed first-hand account of the Connecticut tour, in which he discussed the people he met and places of interest that he visited (Richmond Planet, April 3, 1897, p. 1, cols. 7-9).  In it, he described Joseph Peaker as “an original character, a race man through and through, a polished speaker, using chaste English,” and “in his glory” at the podium.
Peaker seems to have been involved in national civil rights initiatives that were truly central to the period. A year after the Mitchell tour, in 1898, Peaker appears in a national wire service story about a historic mass meeting at Cooper Union in New York City (Daily Morning Journal and Courier, Nov. 18, 1898, p. 1, col. 4)). He is said to have made brief remarks,  sharing the stage with some of the great African American figures of the day.  These included the New York Age editor Thomas T. Fortune and Ebeneezer J. Barrett, the former U.S. minister to Haiti.

The Cooper Union meeting was called in response to the Wilmington (North Carolina) race riot, an incident in which an armed band of 500 townspeople, led by a former Confederate officer and white supremacist, forced the ouster of the Republican town government and burned the offices of the Daily Record.  Many prominent African Americans were able to flee to safety, but 14 Black residents were killed.  The Cooper Union meeting condemned this violence but went on to do more.  The attendees also resolved to protest the constitutional changes that allowed Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana to disenfranchise more than half of their populations and called upon the federal government to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow the president to use federal troops to protect African American life and in the southern states.
Many of the figures speaking out at the Cooper Union went on to found an important organization, the National Afro-American Council. By 1899, Peaker, again identified as president of the Sumner League of Connecticut, is listed as part of the executive committee of the new group.  He was again rubbing shoulders with some of the most important Black leaders in the country:  Fortune, Mitchell, Bishop Alexander Walters, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, W.E.B. Dubois, and Booker T. Washington.
While the general mission of the Council was the effort to dismantle segregationist Jim Crow legislation, the immediate impetus for its formation was the mob assault and murder of the African American postmaster Frazier Baker in Salt Lake City.  Their work on the behalf of Baker, and many others, consciously bridged the range of strategies found in the movement at the time.  Perhaps uniquely, they urged both protest and self-help, and were admired because they were granted annual meetings with President McKinley.  The NAAC’s effectiveness has been debated, but contemporary scholar Shawn Leigh Alexander, author of An Army of Lions, argues that it played a critical role and laid the foundation for the formation of NAACP in 1909.

National Afro-American Council meeting, St. Paul MN, 1902

The New Haven Daily Morning Journal and Courier run (1880-1907) that carries the stories about the Sumner League is now being digitized by the Connecticut Digital Newspaper Project and will be searchable  in the Library of Congress database of historic newspapers known as Chronicling America sometime in early 2017.  Then, stories about African American Gilded Age Connecticut in state newspapers like the Journal and Courier will be easily contextualized by viewing them side by side with related articles from the many key African American newspapers already found in the database. For this period, these include the Richmond Planet, theWashington Bee, the Saint Paul  and Minneapolis Appeal, and dozens of others.  The prominence of the Connecticut movement in the post-Reconstruction campaigns against lynching and disenfranchisement in the South, and for an end to discrimination in public accommodations in the North, can now be more fully told.
For Further Research
Alexander, Shawn Leigh. An Army of Lions: The Civil Rights Struggle before the NAACP.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
Opsahl, Alexander J. “Afro-American Council (1898-1907)” at BlackPast.org. Accessed on July 15, 2016 athttp://www.blackpast.org/aah/afro-american-council-1898-1907.
Warner, Robert Austin. New Haven Negroes: A Social History.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1940, pp. 178-181.  State Library Catalog Record athttp://www.consuls.org:80/record=b1760232~S1

Seasons in Connecticut

Painting Connecticut

30" x 18" x 2"
Painting / Oil

Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford,CT.
Harkness Memorial State Park is a beautiful oceanside Connecticut park located in Waterford,Ct. My painting friend and I spent several days this summer "plein air" painting the view from an overlook as you enter the park. We both hope to spend a lot more time there this summer. There is a magnificent mansion on site with wonderful gardens.

Tressa Octave Connecticut

5" x 5" x 5"
Mixed Media / 3-D

A deer being hit by a car. More deer are hit on the parkways in CT because the DOT plants trees and scrubs that deer like to eat right on the edge of the parkway.

Debbie Wilhelm Siraco Connecticut Shores

5" x 7" x 2"
Seascapes/Marine / Beach
Painting / Acrylic

 40" x 30" x 2"
Painting / Oil

Winter - Salem, Connecticut

 8" x 10"
Painting / Acrylic

Thimble Islands
The Thimble islands at sunset in Connecticut are spectacular

24" x 12"
Painting / Oil
View from Enders Island

A view of Long Island Sounds from Enders Island near Mystic, Connecticut, on a sunny spring day.


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                SAVE THE COMET!
We were advised late on Friday that a request for permission to demolish the Comet Diner is on the agenda for the next Hartford Historic Preservation Commission meeting at 4 pm on Wed. August 17 (260 Constitution Plaza, Plaza Level Conference Room).
During the past two years the Preservation Alliance has created "The Farmington Avenue Comprehensive Community Action Plan" and, along with the Business Improvement District (BID) has centered the plan on the preservation of the keystone diner built in 1948.   Last fall the City of Hartford awarded a grant to create a master plan for the block between South Marshall and Laurel Streets. It calls for the preservation of the Comet and construction of new buildings to enhance the once-thriving commercial corridor.  Under consideration is the potential of a multi-use project involving retail and residential development.  We are optimistic that a clever approach to the reuse of vacant and abandoned buildings along Farmington Avenue can make a significant impact on community economic development.



Mayor Luke Bronin luke.bronin@hartford.gov
Hartford Historic Preservation Commisson  c/o caitlin.palmer@hartford.gov
Sean Fitzpatrick (Director of Development Services) sean.fitzpatrick@hartford.gov
Jaime Bratt (Director of Planning & Economic Development) jamie.bratt@hartford.gov


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John Tuohy's MY WRITERS SITE: Happiness ...................

John Tuohy's MY WRITERS SITE: Happiness ...................: ABOUT THE AUTHOR John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washington DC. He holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood Unive...

Chain of private islands off Connecticut coast up for sale

By Jennifer Gould/New York Post

Who needs the Caribbean when you can buy your own private archipelago off the Connecticut coast.
While some wealthy couples collect art, Christine and Edmund Stoecklein used their millions to buy a major portfolio of private islands. Now their secret stash of eight islands are on the market — the “rarest and most remarkable assemblage of private islands” on the Eastern Coast, according to the listing — for $78 million.

“This is a really beautiful collection of private islands, and they are unique. You don’t expect it off the coastline,” Sotheby’s listing broker, Shelly Tretter Lynch, told the Post. “I’ve traveled all over the world, and I’ve seen nothing like it.”
Unlike other East Coast private islands — and believe it or not, there are others — these islands include stately mansions and charming guest houses.
“The family built beautiful houses on most of the islands, and that is what makes these islands truly special,” Tretter Lynch said. The listing was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

All of the islands are a five or ten minute boat ride from the Connecticut coast — or a twenty minute helicopter ride from Manhattan.
The price includes a 2.32 acre waterfront property on the mainland with a stately Victorian mansion, staff lodgings, and a private dock for boats traveling back and forth from the islands.
The best home is a 10 bedroom, 13,000 square foot mansion that sits on 8 acres on Rogers Island. That home was built around 1900 and fully restored. Rogers Island also includes a four bedroom cottage, artist’s studio and greenhouse on the property. There’s also a swimming pool, tennis court and a golf putting green and tees designed by Jack Nicklaus. The island also includes a private cove with two granite piers and floating docks that can accommodate larger yachts. Christine Stoecklein bought Rogers Island for $22.3 million in 2003.

One of the other islands, Reel Island, is undeveloped, while Wheeler Island, which is on less than an acre, has an eight bedroom home. Another island, known as Cut-in-Two Island, features a pedestrian bridge that joins the east and west portions of the island, which have their own homes.

Last year, the Post reported, another private island off the coast of Connecticut was on the market for $10.99 million. Tavern Island, off the coast of Rowayton, Conn., is so close to Manhattan that it boasts views of the city skyline. That three and a half acre island was settled by Europeans in 1651. By the 1950s and 1960s, it had become a chic party pad for Hollywood royalty, including Marilyn Monroe, thanks to its owner, theater legend Billy Rose before it faded into oblivion. The island includes a six bedroom Tudor mansion, also from 1900, along with a pool, cottage, boat house, tea house and private beach — and it is still listed for sale with Rick Higgins, of Higgins Group Real Estate. 

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The Nutmeg State: The Heiress to a Gun Empire Built a Mansion Foreve...: Sarah Winchester inherited a fortune and used it to construct a mysterious mansion in northern California By Pamela Haag, Zocalo...

Ed Sullivan, Elvis and Griffin Hospital

On the rainy night of August 7, 1956, TV top rated host Ed Sullivan had flown into Bridgeport with his son-law-Robert Precht, age 27. They were headed to Sullivan’s weekend retreat at 367 North Hill Road in Southbury, an otherwise modest home on 130 acre dairy farm. Ralph Cacace, Sullivan’s watchman on the Southbury property had driven down to pick them up as he did most Sunday night’s.

It was 2:00 Am when the party entered Seymour on route 8. Thick patches of fog had dogged on the ride up the twisting road.  Sullivan, who was then 55, was driving the 1956 black Lincoln convertible. His son-in-law was in the front seat and Cacace was in the backseat. Suddenly, a car driven by 22-year old Joseph Palmucci, an X ray technician, of Ansonia, swerved into Sullivan’s lane causing a violent head on collision that wrecked both cars.

Palmucci broke his jaw. Precht had a fractured left ankle, a series of gashes across his scalp and a 15 inch laceration under his chin. Cacace was tossed from the back seat into the front seat and suffered various cuts and bruises on his chest and lips. Ed Sullivan’s body was thrown up against his steering wheel with such force that he broke a rib in half and crushed his sternum.

“There was a taste of blood in my mouth and the smell of smoke in my nostrils and I couldn’t breathe because my chest was caved in” Sullivan later wrote.

When police arrived they found Sullivan sitting on the side of the road. Precht and Cacace were trapped in their seats and had to be pried out by the fire department. Palmucci was also thrown from his car and was lying on the road.

All parties were rushed to the Griffin Hospital and the accident was flashed across the wires and made international news. It would take Ralph Cacace four days to regain consciousness.   

In July of that year, Sullivan had agrees to sign Elvis Presley on his program after first refusing the singer any air time at all. The problem was that after Elvis made his second appearance on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, Elvis had bumped and grinded his way through “Hound Dog”. The teens loved it but the press and most adults were outraged to say the least. When Ed Sullivan was asked if he would book Elvis on his show, he said he would not, feigning outrage over the sexuality of Elvis’s act. The truth was, Sullivan was hyper-protective of his career and his program and wanted to avoid the wrath of the press by allowing Elvis on his show.  

On July 1st, 1956, Elvis appeared on the Steve Allen Show, which aired opposite The Ed Sullivan Show. To avoid controversy Allen demanded that Elvis appear on stage dressed in a tux and had him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound….without moving his hips. The ploy work, the adult world forgave Elvis and his hips and the Steve Allen Show crushed Sullivan in that week’s ratings.

On the following day, Monday morning, Sullivan signed Elvis for his program. He was to appear three times for the then incredible sum of $50,000, the highest amount ever paid to a performer to appear on TV.

His first appearance would be Sunday night, September 9th, 1956. Then on August 7, Joseph Palmucci, the x ray technician from Ansonia rammed his 54 Chevy into Ed Sullivan’s car on route 8 causing Ed Sullivan to miss hosting one of the most iconic performances in the history of entertainment.
British actor Charles Laughton hosted the show instead. Sixty million viewers tuned in to watch the King of Rock sing “Don’t Be Cruel” “Love Me Tender” and Little Richard’s hit, “Ready Teddy.”

At the end of the last song, Elvis solemnly thanked “Mr. Sullivan for having me on his television program” and wished him a speedy recovery and then said “As a great philosopher once said…’you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!’” and the gyrating began. However Sullivan had ordered that the cameramen only shoot Elvis from the waist up.


Vincent R. Impellitteri, New York’s 101 Mayor was an Ansonian. He was born on February 4, 1900, in the village of Isnello, Sicily. In 1902, his father, Salvatore Impellitteri, was a shoemaker, moved the family first to New York’s Lower East Side and then to Ansonia where Impellitteri attended local elementary schools and graduated from Ansonia High in 1917.
On his election day as Mayor of New York, Impellitteri gave credit to his success in life to Annie E. Larkin his teacher at the Elm Street School who taught him to speak English. Larkin, the one of 12 children of Irish immigrant parents, also taught catechism at Holy Rosary Church for 25 years, where again, Impellitteri was one of her charges. Larkin went on to become principle of the Elm Street School which was later renamed the Larkin School in her honor. The school serves today as the police headquarters.
The parishioners of Holy Rosary later commissioned a headstone, at Larkin’s grave in St. Mary’s cemetery which reads (In Italian on one side and English on the other) “Annie E. Larkin. For 50 years as a school teacher, for 25 years instructor in catechism to Italian American children. To All, kind and self-sacrificing.
After a stint as a Navy radioman on a destroyer in World War I, he attended Fordham and later Fordham Law while working full time as a night bellboy and manager at a Broadway hotel, the Ansonia. He became a US citizen in 1922 and earned his law degree in 1924.
Always active in Democratic politics he joined a law firm in which Martin Conboy, an influential Democratic figure, was a member and so his political career began. For nine years, from 1929 to 1938, Impellitteri served as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan before returning to private practice, mostly criminal law.
He entered public life again in 1941 as law secretary to Justice Peter Schmuck of State Supreme Court. And later became secretary to Justice Joseph Gavagan, a liberal progressive.
In 1945, the soft spoken and unassuming Impellitteri, with Tammany behind him, (They needed an Italian-born Roman Catholic to balance out O’Dwyer’s overwhelmingly Irish-American ticket) was elected president of the City Council, the No. 2 position at City Hall, in 1945 yet he was virtually unknown to most New Yorkers.
The slightly built, shy, Impellitteri was known for his old world courtly manner, his calm demeanor, scholastic approach to the city’s issues. Aside from chain smoking cigars, he was somewhat drab and predictable a drastically different figure from the non-stop, almost maniacal energy of former Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and the backslapping good humor of his boss the very colorful William O’Dwyer.
But Impellitteri’s lack of flamboyance was what the people of New York wanted in their Mayor in 1950. Besides it was widely accepted across the city that it was Impellitteri, an O'Dwyer protégé, who was running the city behind the scenes in large part due to O’Dwyer’s all too frequent vacations.

In September of 1950, with a major political scandal about to break, William O'Dwyer resigned as Mayor and took an appointment as President Truman's Ambassador to Mexico and Impellitteri - who had been City Council president since 1946 - became Acting Mayor.
A special election was called to fill the three remaining years of Mr. O'Dwyer's term but Impellitteri, due to his bickering with the Manhattan Democratic machine, Tammany Hall, was denied the democrats nomination. It has been said that one of the causes for the slap was due to Impellitteri refusal to knuckle under to Mafia Boss Frank Costello, who, in the early 1950s, virtually ran the Manhattan Democratic Party. So Impellitteri ran as an independent under the banner of the Experience Party.
During the election the Republican candidate for Mayor charged that Mafia boss Tommy Luchese was behind Impellitteri campaign and had proof that Impellitteri (and eight other powerful Democrats) has shared a table sponsored Luchese at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, Inc., dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on October 16, 1946. It was all rumors and there has never been any substantial evidence that Impellitteri was involved with the mob.
Political experts wrote him off. But the little man from Ansonia and his stand against the machine inspired New Yorkers and seemingly overnight, as massive grass roots volunteer organization came to life across the city. Impellitteri won the race with a 225,000-vote plurality in a three-way race.
The shoemaker’s son was the first person to not only become mayor of New York without the support of a major political party and in direct defiance of the all-powerful Tammany Machine.
His first trip outside the city as Mayor was to a banquet held in his honor at the Armory in Ansonia as a guest of Mayor Frank Fitzgerald.
After his election Impellitteri quickly reached out to the Democratic bosses across the city but spurned Tammany powerful and revengeful Boss Carmine Gerard DeSapio by denying him patronage.
DeSapio, Tammy’s last boss, was about Impellitteri’s age, and like him was born the son of an Italian immigrant, worked his way through Fordham and climbed the Tammany ladder although DeSapio started at the lowest ranks as a messenger and street organizer. DeSapio became district leader for lower Greenwich and was a key player in the struggle between the Irish and Italians to control the machine.
In 1949, DeSapio became Tammany’s youngest boss and although nationally recognized as the nation’s most prominent Italian American politician he was also considered a tool of organized crime. Impellitteri probably took on DeSapio because like almost everyone else on the political scene he recognized that Tammany’s days were nearing an end.
Impellitteri inherited one deadly scandal after another, from mob control of the waterfront, to corrupt cops. That, combined with post war inflation, an inability to stand up to the state government and the flight of the middle class from the city, painted Impellitteri as an incompetent, which he certainly wasn’t but he may well have been in over his head.
When Impellitteri sought re-election in 1953, Tammany Hall and DeSapio threw their entire machine against him, instead backing Manhattan Borough President, Robert F. Wagner, a reliable go-along-get along Tammany loyalist who went on to serve three terms as mayor. The election was an easy win for Wagner. Two days after leaving office, Wagner named Impellitteri to a judgeship.
Impellitteri, called “Impy” in political circles, retired as a Criminal Court judge in 1965 due to the increasing severity of Parkinson’s disease. He had married Elizabeth Agnes McLaughlin in 1926. They had no children and Elizabeth died at the end of 1967.
The couple kept an apartment at the New York Athletic Club but was fond of pointing out that his fame was fleeting since he was rarely recognized on the streets as the former Mayor.
Impellitteri eventually moved into Carolton Convalescent Hospital in Fairfield. He died of heart failure at age 86 in Bridgeport hospital on January 29, 1987. He was waked at the Spinelli-Malerba Funeral Home in Ansonia and was given a burial mass at Holy Rosary Church, his home parish. Mayor Impellitteri is buried at Mount Saint Peter's Cemetery in Derby.