Gov. William Buckingham, Faded From History, Played National Role During Civil War



By DAVID DRURY, Special to The Courant The Hartford Courant

April 7, 2012



The story goes that President Abraham Lincoln was at work in the White House executive office one day when he was interrupted by a visitor from Connecticut.

Rising from his chair, the lanky, care-worn president clamped his hand down on the man's shoulder and exclaimed: "From Connecticut? Do you know what a good governor you have got?"

Lincoln knew well what Connecticut today has largely forgotten: Its Civil War governor, William Alfred Buckingham, was one of the greatest leaders in the state's long history.

One of only four Union governors to serve throughout the entire Civil War, Buckingham proved an able, energetic administrator, a staunch and often eloquent opponent of slavery and a vital supporter of the Lincoln administration. His decisiveness and political courage in the days immediately following Fort Sumter assured that Connecticut was among the first states to answer Lincoln's call for volunteers to put down the Southern rebellion.

When the crisis refused to die quickly, Buckingham's administration worked tirelessly over the next four years to raise and supply troops.

The governor worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, traveling between the two state capitals, in Hartford and New Haven, and his home in Norwich, which became a third command center. He made regular trips toWashington, D.C., and to other Union states to confer with peers and made it a priority to personally address Connecticut troops whenever possible to thank them for their service.

Buckingham was elected as Connecticut's first Republican governor in 1858, just four years after the national formation of the party. He served until 1866, surviving hotly contested annual elections and, after a brief return to private life, was elected in 1868 to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in February 1875.

A great parade in Hartford on June 18, 1884, marked the dedication of the seated bronze statute of Buckingham that occupies a prominent position in the state Capitol's Hall of Flags.

For years afterward, Buckingham Day observances were held. But today, Buckingham's legacy has been largely forgotten.

His Norwich home, a two-story Italianate building built in 1847 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is literally falling apart. Bricks and mortar are crumbling, the roof needs replacement and the wooden porch is sagging. A consultant last year estimated that $375,000 was needed for restoration, and the local historical society wants the city of Norwich, which maintains several offices in the building, to acquire ownership.

After Buckingham's death, the home was acquired by Civil War veterans and became The Buckingham Memorial, Sedgwick Post No. 1, and in the 1930s ownership passed to the Buckingham Memorial Association, said city historian Dale Plummer, whose snug office on the first-floor hallway is above a shelter for the homeless in the basement.

"Gov. Buckingham might have liked that. He was a generous soul,'' Plummer said.

Wartime Leader

Buckingham was born May 28, 1804, at his parents' farm in Lebanon. His parents, Samuel and Joanna Matson Buckingham, had Connecticut ties going back several generations.

The second of six children, William attended Bacon Academy in Colchester, showed a talent for mathematics and for a while planned to make his living as a surveyor. That changed when at age 19 he went to Norwich to work at an uncle's dry goods store. He learned the business there, worked briefly in New York City, then returned to Norwich in 1826 to open his own mercantile business, beginning a spectacularly successful business career.

In 1848, he sold his business to become founder, manager and treasurer of the Hayward Rubber Co. in Colchester. He continued his association with the company through the profitable war years. A savvy investor, he remained ever vigilant for business opportunities.

Buckingham began his political career as a Whig. He served four terms as Norwich mayor, the last in 1857, and developed a reputation as a common-sense moderate, someone the contentious factions within the nascent Republican Party could all agree to support as governor. His won the 1858 election by the largest margin in 20 years and was re-elected the following year.

In spring 1860, Buckingham sought a third term, and the Connecticut state election was thrust, front and center, into the national political scene. Buckingham's opponent, Democrat Thomas H. Seymour, a former governor and hero of the Mexican War, ran on a platform that slavery was a constitutionally protected right and that anti- slavery Republicans would wreck the state's lucrative business connections with the South.

Republican leaders countered with their rising star, Abraham Lincoln, who made a celebrated swing through Connecticut in March. Lincoln addressed enthusiastic audiences in Hartford, New Haven, Meriden, Bridgeport and Norwich on March 9, 1860, and urged voters to back the Republican candidate.

While in Norwich, Lincoln stayed at the Wauregan Hotel downtown, which Buckingham built in 1855. The two Republican leaders began a cordial relationship that continued through the war.

 Lincoln's visit helped Buckingham win re-election — barely — by just 541 votes. In May, Lincoln captured the Republican nomination at the party convention in Chicago. In late December 1860, as the secession crisis loomed, Buckingham wrote to the then-president-elect, urging that he appoint Connecticut Republican Gideon Welles to his cabinet and expressing hope that he would be able "to execute the laws all over our land in spite of the combinations of states."

The Crusader

Buckingham had no illusions about what Lincoln's election meant for the country. As early as December 1860, he asked the state quartermaster to make preparations to equip and train 5,000 state militiamen.

The governor's response to Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers after the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861 was immediate and decisive. On his own authority — the General Assembly, which had constitutional control of the militia, was not in session — Buckingham issued a call for volunteers and within weeks, three 90-day regiments were formed, equipped and dispatched to Washington.

To help meet the expense, Buckingham pledged $50,000 in personal credit from the Thames Bank in Norwich, where he was a director. He would continue using personal funds to meet the state's military expenses throughout the war.

Raising and organizing regiments, equipping the troops and meeting their needs while in the field occupied much of the governor's time during the war years.

In total, the state contributed 30 infantry regiments, including two "colored regiments," artillery brigades and cavalry units to the Union cause. The administrative machinery needed to support such an undertaking simply did not exist in 1860 and had to grow, often painfully, under Buckingham's direction.

State government archives at the Connecticut State Library indicate the unprecedented day-to-day demands faced by the governor and his staff. File folders are filled with letters from residents seeking military commissions, promotions or transfers, inquiring about back pay or benefits, offering suggestions or simply complaining when someone received an undeserved appointment: "Mr. Bradley Lee (?) of Barkhampsted a young lawyer, good looking, a pet of the ladies too but without business capacity & with no military knowledge whatever.''

Buckingham's views on slavery hardened as the war progressed. "He really came to view the war in a messianic way,'' said Matthew Warshauer, professor of history at Central Connecticut State University.

A deeply religious man, Buckingham was involved with the establishment of Broadway Congregational Church in Norwich, taught Sunday school there for decades and was strongly influenced by its charismatic abolitionist minister, the Rev. John P. Gulliver, Plummer said.

In his May 1862 address to the General Assembly, Buckingham argued that slavery, by causing the war, had forfeited its constitutional protection and all but called for emancipation.

In August 1862, Buckingham led a group of petitioners to the White House to press Lincoln to authorize emancipation. The president did so a month later and Buckingham wrote to offer congratulations.

By the spring of 1863, after a disastrous winter for the Union, Buckingham's re-election became critical for the future of the Lincoln administration.

Buckingham was again challenged by Seymour, a Peace Democrat whose party had been energized by the Emancipation Proclamation and the depressing military situation.

"If I can do anything to assist you in the coming election, let me know and it will be done,'' wrote Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in a March 21, 1863, letter to Buckingham, on departmental stationery, that was found in the Connecticut Historical Society archives.

That assistance came by granting furloughs for Connecticut troops, allowing them to return home to vote, which likely assured Buckingham's narrow re-election.

The governor achieved a significant legislative victory in January 1864 when the state legislature passed a constitutional amendment to allow Connecticut troops to vote by absentee ballot. Its approval by popular vote in August came too late for the spring gubernatorial election, but in time for the critical presidential election of 1864 that saw Lincoln defeat Gen. George B. McClellan.

In his address to the General Assembly following his 1864 re-election, Buckingham called for a constitutional amendment ending slavery. Congress adopted the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery in January 1865. Connecticut approved it that May and it became law in December.

Re-elected to his eighth and final term in 1865, Buckingham opened the General Assembly by calling on legislators to amend the state constitution to give blacks, many of whom as soldiers had been fighting and dying in the nation's armies, the right to vote.

The amendment passed both houses of the legislature, but to Buckingham's disappointment it was rejected by by state voters in October 1865, keeping Connecticut the one state in New England where only whites were allowed to vote.

His return to private life proved brief, however. His wife, Eliza, died in April 1868, and he agreed that fall to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Easily elected, he began serving in March 1869 and maintained a vigorous work schedule that included seeking restoration of legal rights for his former Confederate enemies. He died at age 70 a month before his term was to expire.

The former governor's passing was widely mourned. Public plaudits highlighted his patriotism, his integrity, his devotion to hard work, his sobriety — he served as president of the Connecticut State Temperance Union — his religious faith and his generosity.

"A noble, kind and generous soul has passed away. A man whose life in all things honored the name of Christian,'' the Hartford Daily Courant wrote.

Buckingham is buried alongside his wife in Yantic Cemetery in Norwich.

In their guided tours of the state Capitol, the Connecticut League of Women Voters does what it can to keep Buckingham's memory alive. Schoolchildren are encouraged to rub the feet of his statue for good luck.

"The kids get a kick out of it,'' tours director Kim Fabrizio said. The guides also like to entertain their audiences with the story of how a lieutenant governor in the 1920s claimed to have seen Buckingham's ghost standing in Room 324, today's Republican caucus room.

"He haunts the building he never worked in,'' Fabrizio said.

Made in Bridgeport: When America’s best built car was built here


Written by David Wrubel

Tuesday, 03 April 2012 12:46

"48" Locomobile, Type "M" touring car, from The Locomobile Book, 1910. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical SocietyLocomobile, an automobile that became known as the "Best Built Car in America," was one of the most expensive and elegant automobiles ever manufactured in the United States.

It was driven by many of the country's most prominent people: The Mellons, Goulds, Vanderbilts, Wanamakers, Walter Chrysler (who took it apart and put it back together again), Andrew Carnegie, William Wrigley, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix and Cecil B. DeMille, among others.

But it wasn't manufactured in Detroit.

In 1901, investors bought the Stanley Steamer Company, renamed it Locomobile, bought 40 acres in Bridgeport, and built a factory at the foot of Main Street, on the edge of Seaside Park, where the United Illuminating Co. oil tanks now stand. By 1902, Locomobile had become the largest auto manufacturer in the country, with sales of more than 5,200 steam-powered units.

Steam-powered cars had numerous drawbacks, including limited "mileage" between water fill ups, slow boiler-pressure buildup, and the occasional explosion. Beginning in 1903, after selling the steam patents back to the Stanley brothers, Locomobile concentrated exclusively on gasoline-powered automobiles.

In the early years of auto manufacturing, international road races played an important role in highlighting engineering and durability. A win — or sometimes merely finishing a race — meant a great deal to a brand's reputation.

European manufacturers, particularly French and German companies, dominated these races from the outset. America's first great international auto race was The Vanderbilt Cup. Sponsored by the founding family of the New York Central Railroad, it was run over public roads on Long Island.

Locomobile Type "E" Runabout, from The Locomobile Book, 1908. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical SocietyIn 1908, the Locomobile Model 16 won the Vanderbilt Cup, becoming the first American automobile to win an international road race. By beating the Europeans, Locomobile demonstrated that America would be a player in the new technology of automobiles.

On the strength of this, Locomobile became known for well-built and speedy luxury cars. The 1908 Locomobile 40 Runabout was a 60-horsepower two-seater and sold for $4,750 (more than $114,000 today).

The company's racing success also came at a time when automobile sales in the U.S. were exploding. There were 78,000 vehicles on the road in 1905, 306,000 in 1909, 459,000 in 1910, 618,00 in 1911, and 1.7 million by 1914. It was during this period that Locomobile solidified its reputation as the best-built car in America by making cars of exceptional quality and marketing them shrewdly.

Locomobile's primary luxury competitors were the "3 P's" — Pierce Arrow, Peerless, and Packard. Of the four, Locomobile was the most expensive. Lacking the financial strength of its competitors, Locomobile chose to compete by concentrating on hand-built, limited production automobiles of unsurpassed luxury and quality. Locomobiles featured details like silver fixtures from Tiffany's, velvet upholstery and electric intercoms. By 1918 the company limited production to no more than four cars per day.

In the early days of automobile advertising, it marketed itself by placing ads in the magazines of the day that catered to the wealthy. Its message was simple and consistent: Locomobile would be built for quality rather than quantity, and its hand-built cars would not be produced on an assembly line.

When a car was ordered from a Locomobile dealership, a team of six highly qualified mechanics went though the factory and gathered the parts and pieces they required to build the car to order. Although not entirely unique in its manufacturing approach, Locomobile created molds and forged its own parts out of cast steel, bronze and aluminum in the Bridgeport factory. The interiors were appointed with English broadcloths, velours and tapestries.

Locomobile's most important model was the Model 48 , introduced in 1919. Its materials and workmanship were among the best in the world; many vintage-car enthusiasts believe that it was America's Rolls Royce. Such was its pricing: A typical Model 48 convertible cost about $10,000 (almost $131,000 in today's dollars), when the average Model T Ford Phaeton cost about $300 (just under $4,000 in 2011).

After World War 1, Locomobile over expanded, and in 1922 William C. Durant, founder and former president of General Motors, acquired the company. Durant's strategy was to use the Locomobile name to sell a less expensive car that would compete with the Chrysler and Chevrolet.

While modestly successful during the roaring twenties, Durant lacked the efficient, assembly line production capabilities necessary to truly compete with these brands. Finally, the 1929 stock market crash and resulting Depression all but eliminated the market for luxury automobiles. Along with many other companies, Locomobile closed its doors forever in 1930.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, there were more than 1,000 automobile manufacturers in the U.S. More than 120 brands began with the letter "A" alone. Most produced very few cars and quickly went out of business. Of Locomobile's "three P" competitors in the luxury market, only Packard survived the Depression.

Pierce Arrow struggled financially and was acquired by the Studebaker Corp. in 1928, disappearing as a separate brand in 1938 after years of losses. The Peerless Company stopped manufacturing automobiles in 1932, and proving once again that timing is everything, began brewing Carling Black Label beer in late 1933, immediately after prohibition was repealed.

Plant of the Locomobile Company of America, located in Bridgeport, from The Locomobile Book, 1910. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical SocietyThough Locomobile was an undercapitalized company that made the most expensive automobile built in America, it remained a successful, world-renowned manufacturer for almost 30 years by developing and earning its reputation as the best built car in America.

The fact that the best built car in America was made in Bridgeport wasn't as surprising then as it would be today. Connecticut was a national manufacturing powerhouse from the dawn of the American industrial revolution through the post-World War II era. Precision metal work was a particular hallmark. Among other things, the state churned out firearms, auto parts, copper and brass products, aircraft components, bearings, house wares, clocks and watches, hardware, machinery and machine tools.

This Connecticut industrial boom is among the themes explored in a new permanent exhibit, entitled "Making Connecticut," at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. The exhibit makes use of 500 artifacts to chronicle 400 years of the state's history, from its native-American roots through today.

The museum is located at 1 Elizabeth Street and is open Tuesdays through Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

One woman's passion: the $33m Tom Thumb islands

One woman's passion: the $33m Tom Thumb islands

Reclusive artist buys up historic US sites to 'put my brush on them'

 To the Mattabesec Indians who used to populate the coast of western Connecticut before the Europeans arrived, they were known as "the beautiful sea rocks". The archipelago of small islands in Stony Creek in Long Island Sound are homes to migrating seals and sea birds; some of the islands are no bigger than ledges lapped by the waves.

Over the past few years today's residents of the Thimble Islands, as they are now called, have noticed a mysterious pattern. One after another, the larger and more habitable of the islands are being bought up by the same person - Christine Svenningsen to be exact, a painter who keeps a very low profile and only occasionally displays her work in local galleries. Last week she bought what is thought to have been at least her 10th island in the creek, paying $2.7m for it and raising her overall spending on the islands to about $33m.The first of the islands owned by the Svenningsens, West Crib, was bought by her husband, John, in the 1970s. He made a fortune selling party goods such as balloons, streamers and hats, building his business into one of the largest such trades in the world.

It was after he died in 1997 that his widow began buying up more of the islands. Mrs Svenningsen, who is listed in the local council directory as the second most wealthy concern in Branford after the Connecticut Light and Power Company, is thought today to own almost half of the 23 habitable islands in the chain. The grandest of her possessions is the 7.8-acre Rogers Island which she bought in 2003 for $23.5m, that sports a 27-room mock-Tudor mansion with tennis and basketball courts.

Tom Thumb, billed at circuses before his death in 1883 as the world's smallest man at 3ft 4in, is one of several historic characters to have peopled the Thimble Islands. Captain Kidd, the pirate, dropped anchor here and possibly buried his treasure too, say locals.

President William Taft established a "summer White House" on one of the islands in the 1900s, while granite from Bear Island was used to build the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Mrs Svenningsen is extremely media-shy and gave what she described as her only interview to the Associated Press. She told the agency she is motivated to buy the islands partly to preserve the way of life they represent. She said she wanted to protect them from condominium developers, referring disparagingly by comparison to the Long Island - a playground for the wealthy.

"It's not the Hamptons and I don't think any one wants it to become the Hamptons. I think we all like it the way it is, a little slower pace of life."

She said her island possessions were like "little pieces of art. I get to put my brush to them."

She was speaking partly literally. She has renovated several houses on the islands, painting the furniture with bright fishes and seascapes. She also creates fragrant gardens, including a lily garden. "You can smell it before you get to the dock with your boat," she told Associated Press.



One Woman Buys Ten Private Islands

Conn. Widow Buys Islands Off L.I. Sound

BRANFORD, Conn. -- Some people collect stamps. Christine Svenningsen collects small islands.

The widow, whose private ways and extravagant tastes in real estate have tongues wagging along Connecticut's coast, has spent about $33 million in recent years to buy 10 of the Thimble Islands in Long Island Sound.

The secluded islands, known by the Mattabesec Indians as "the beautiful sea rocks," have attracted legends and luminaries for generations. Circus star Tom Thumb found love on the islands, and treasure hunters have combed them for Captain Kidd's buried riches.

Svenningsen's buying spree has created something of a mystery.

"It's like a movie," said Valerie Wiel, who owns a market on the mainland town of Branford, of which the islands are a part. "Is she going to buy the whole town? The town has been pretty much the same for a long time. To me this points to more change than people would be comfortable with."

Svenningsen, the middle-aged widow of a party goods magnate, bought her latest island last week for $2.7 million and has her eye on another one. She also typically buys the few houses on the islands.

"There's no master plan," Svenningsen said in what she called her first and only interview. "They're like little pieces of art. I get to put my brush to them."

An artist, she is renovating many of the historic homes and paints the furniture with bright fish and other nautical themes. She fills her islands with colorful gardens, including one with lillies.

"You can smell it before you get to the dock with your boat," she said.

Of the hundreds of Thimble Islands, about 25 are considered habitable. They are all within three miles of the coastline and are reachable only by boat. Tour boats have taken sightseers among the islands for generations. The islands were named long ago for thimbleberries, or black raspberries, which once grew wild there.

Houses on the islands have long been used for social gatherings for the rich and famous as well as for summer vacations for families of modest means. President William H. Taft and actor James Earl Jones were among the visitors, while "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau and his wife, newscaster Jane Pauley, own an island home.

Svenningsen's late husband, John, bought a home on the islands in the late 1970s. After he died in 1997, she began to buy up more of the islands.

She bought the house where Tom Thumb courted "Miss Emily." Local legend has it that his boss, P.T. Barnum, ordered Thumb instead to marry "Miss Lavinia," another of his performers. He obeyed, marrying her in 1863.

Tom and Emily's names remain etched in a rock near the house. Svenningsen said she plans to rebuild a bridge that connected the house to another island before it was washed away by a 1938 hurricane.

"She tends to take very good care of the islands," said John Herzan of the New Haven Preservation trust. "It's not pure preservation, but it's high-quality renovation."

Svenningsen shocked the town in 2003 when she paid $23.5 million for the 7.75-acre Rogers Island, with a Tudor-style mansion, tennis court, docks, swimming pool and bath house. It remains the highest price one of the Thimbles has fetched.

She said developers might otherwise buy up the islands and build condominiums.

"It's not the Hamptons and I don't think anyone wants it to become the Hamptons," Svenningsen said, referring to the celebrity enclave on New York's Long Island. "I think we all like it the way it is, a little slower pace of life."

Her purchases have come as soaring real estate prices, especially along the waterfront, have caused a dramatic jump in property taxes. That has forced some property owners who lived on the islands and the mainland for generations to sell.

Some worry that the islands are increasingly becoming a playground for the rich. The days when families stayed in small homes with kerosene lamps, no televisions and only rainwater for showers are giving way to trophy homes with lush lawns.

"The Thimble Islands were quaint. I don't think they're quaint any more," said Anthony DaRos, a former Branford selectman who has worked on the homes as a contractor for decades. "They were such a great playground for everybody."



Another 'Thimble Island' sells at a bargain

-BRANFORD — Christine Svenningsen, a true fan of the rocky and secluded Thimble Islands, has continued showing her appreciation for the beauty and serenity of the Thimbles with a flourish of a pen in her rather well-appointed checkbook.

Svenningsen just bought another island.

She added Beldens Island, which was listed for $3.9 million last year, for the bargain basement price of just $2.77 million — and she got some offshore oyster grounds in the deal, to boot.

The purchase of Beldens Island, a 1.04-acre expanse that, according to assessor’s records has one house, a wooden shed, a wooden deck and some docks on it, recently was recorded in the town clerk’s office.

It brings the number of Thimble islands now owned by Svenningsen, or limited liability companies she is a principal of, as is the case with Beldens Island, to at least 10 — and the amount she has spent to buy them over the years to at least $33 million.

Svenningsen, the widow of John Svenningsen, a Westchester County, N.Y., party goods magnate who died in 1997 at age 66, sent local jaws a-flapping back in 2003 when she bought the 7.75-acre Rogers Island for the then-unheard-of sum of $23.5 million. It remains the highest price one of the Thimbles has fetched.

Svenningsen also may be angling for an 11th Thimble.

She’s listed as a principal of East Crib LLC, which registered with the secretary of the state’s office earlier this year, although no sale has been recorded for East Crib Island, a 0.52-acre rock in the Thimbles archipelago off Stony Creek.

Svenningsen or her husband has owned neighboring West Crib Island, which has two houses on 1.38 acres, since 1976.

East Crib Island is owned by the Joel Schiavone Irrevocable Family Trust. The trust represents four of the well-known New Haven developer’s children, who inherited the island, which has one house on it, after their grandmother, Esther Schiavone, died in 2002.

Allyx Schiavone of New Haven, one of the siblings, declined to comment Friday on whether a sale was in the works.

The woman who sold Beldens Island to Svenningsen, Geraldine Chandler of Killingworth, who, according to assessor’s records, bought it with her then-husband, John, for $250,000 in 1985, also declined to comment.

Svenningsen has an unlisted telephone number and could not be reached for comment.

Waterbury attorney Thomas E. Porzio, listed as the agent for Beldens Island LLC, which is the island’s new owner on paper, could not be reached for comment.

Beldens Island’s assessed value, according to the 2004 assessment, was $715,900, including $603,300 for the land, $104,200 for the house itself and $8,400 for outbuildings and extra building features, according to town records.

Besides Beldens Island, Rogers Island and West Crib Island, Svenningsen or limited-liability companies she’s associated with bought Wheeler’s Island in 1998, Rogers Island (also known as Yon Comis) in 2003, Phelps Island in 2003, Jepson (or Rock) Island in 2003, Cut-In-Two East Island in 2003, Reel Island in 2004 and Cut-In-Two West Island in 2005.

Over the years, she also purchased a house in Stony Creek with 56 feet of water frontage on Linden Point Road, the small Spencer’s Rock adjacent to Rogers Island and a six-car garage on the mainland at 218 Thimble Islands Road.

The most Svenningsen has paid for any Thimble other than Rogers Island was $3.4 million for 0.8-acre Cut-In-Two East, one of the most famous of the Thimble Islands because legendary P.T. Barnum-era circus star Tom Thumb spent a summer there courting "Miss Emily," the daughter of the island’s owners at the time. According to local legend, Barnum is said to have ordered Thumb instead to marry "Miss Livinia," another of his performers, but Tom and Emily’s names remain etched in a rock near the house.

At the time of the sale, Cut-In-Two East’s 1,300-square-foot house, built in 1900, featured a living room with walls covered in Barnum-era circus and theater posters that commemorated Tom Thumb’s visits.

There are between 100 and 365 Thimble Islands — depending on how you define an island — some not much bigger than a boulder. Of the 25 habitable islands, some of the homes are seasonal and some have been winterized.

Tour boats have taken sightseers among the islands for generations. According to local legend, pirate Captain Kidd left treasure buried on the aptly named Money Island, the most populated of the Thimbles.



Thimble Islands



Thimble Islands are an archipelago of small islands in Long Island Sound, in and near the harbor of Stony Creek, Connecticut in the southeast corner of Branford, Connecticut, 41°15′52″N, 72°45′11″W. Known to the Mattabesec Indians as "the beautiful sea rocks", they consist of a jumble of granite rocks, ledges, and outcroppings resulting from glaciation, numbering between 100 and 365 depending on where the line is drawn between an island and a mere rock. The islands serve as a rest stop for migrating seals. Some of the shoreline residences in nearby Pine Orchard, Connecticut have a spectacular view of the Thimbles. Although they are said to be named for the thimbleberry, a relative of the black raspberry, that plant is seldom seen in the area, being more frequent in northern New England. Other species of blackberry and raspberry, however, are sometimes referred to by residents of the area as thimbleberries.

The first European to discover the islands was Adrian Block, in 1614. Legend says that Captain Kidd buried his treasure here, causing intermittent interest among treasure hunters who believe they have unearthed a clue to its location, although more interest is generally paid to Gardiner's Island, 30 miles away.

The islands themselves - long prized by sailors on the Sound as a sheltered deep-water anchorage -- comprise 23 that are inhabited (most of them wooded), numerous barren rocks and hundreds of reefs visible only at low tide.

Horse Island, the largest island at 17 acres (69,000 m²), is owned by Yale University and is maintained as an ecological laboratory by Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History. Southern Connecticut State University keeps Outer Island for similar purposes, and Frisbie Island is maintained as a sanctuary for wild birds. Bear Island is home to a granite quarry which exported high quality stone to such constructions as the Lincoln Memorial, Grant's Tomb, and the base of the Statue of Liberty. A much larger quarry just north on the mainland is still working, and supplied the distinctive pink/orange Stony Creek granite for the Brooklyn Bridge and the newest House Office Building in Washington.

The inhabited islands bear a total of 81 houses: 14 islands have only one, one (Governor) has 14, one (Money) has 32, and the rest have between two and six. The houses are built in a variety of styles, ranging from a 27 room Tudor mansion, with tennis and basketball courts and a caretaker's residence on 7.75 acres on Rogers Island, to small summer cottages built on stilts or small clusters of buildings connected by wooden footbridges. Some of the houses cover a small island completely, while Money Island, 12 acres (49,000 m²) in size, bears an entire village of 32 houses, a church and post office buildings, concealed among tall trees. Some of the houses were once occupied year-long, but currently they are only used in the summer. The exposed nature of the houses makes them dangerous during storms; local residents still talk about the hurricane of 1938, which killed seven people. The exclusivity of the houses has made them quite expensive, therefore residents are divided between local families which have owned their home for generations, and more recent residents who tend to be wealthy. The least expensive houses, on Money Island, are appraised at about $600,000. Several are well-known; current and past residents of the Islands range from General Tom Thumb on Cut in Two Island East to Garry Trudeau and Jane Pauley. President William Taft established his "Summer White House" on Davis Island for two years. Residents of the area tend to observe the privacy of island dwellers, obeying the 5-mile-an-hour speed limit for motor craft and never landing without an invitation.

Only six islands get electrical power through underwater cables from the shore; the rest utilize some combination of generators, solar power, batteries, or kerosene and propane. About half the islands get fresh water through underwater pipes from shore; the rest utilize wells or rain water, or have containers of water delivered. No sewers serve the islands, requiring the use of septic tanks for all waste water treatment.

Sailing through the islands can be tricky for those unfamiliar with the area, due to the disorientation caused by the myriad of similar islands (particularly at night), the hidden underwater rocks and ledges, and the complex currents caused by the tides acting on the channels between the rocks.

In the warm season, a small ferry transports people and things between the islands and the Stony Creek harbor on the hour from 8am to 8pm. Prior to the advent of telephones, islanders would hang a red flag on the dock to request a ferry visit. An on-call water taxi has recently been added, and three tour boats take passengers on scenic cruises; kayak tours are also available. Many residents have their own boats, and some occasionally arrive by seaplane.

Some of the Thimble Islands' large enough to have names include

Hen Island,

Money Island,

 East Stooping

Bush Island,

Potato Island,

Smith Island,

Cut in Two Island (East and West),

Governor Island,

Phelps Island,

High Island,

Rogers Island,

Wheeler Island aka Ghost Island,

Mother in Law Island aka Prudden Island,

Pot Island,

Horse Island,

West Crib Island,

East Crib Island,

Little Pumpkin Island,

Davis Island,

Lewis Island,

Kidd's Island,

Outer Island,

Reel Island,

Belden Island,

Burr Island,

Frisbie Island,

Jepson Island,

Wayland Island,

Bear Island.

In 1976, party goods magnate John Svenningsen of Amscan purchased West Crib Island. After his death in 1997 his widow Christine Svenningsen purchased Wheeler Island in 1998, followed by the purchase of Rogers, Phelps, Jepson, and Cut in Two East in 2003, Reel in 2004 and Cut in Two West in 2005 at a total cost of about $30 million, thus making her owner of more than 20% of the habitable islands and the largest taxpayer in Stony Creek. Locals speculate on any motivation other than simple love of the islands, but approve of her meticulous upkeep and restorations of the properties.

As outcroppings of the granite bedrock which were once the tops of hills but have become islands since due to the rise in sea level after the most recent ice age, the Thimble Islands are much more stable than most of the islands in Long Island Sound, which are terminal moraines of rubble left by retreating glaciers.

Note: The correct term for these type of islands is a "drumlin" Cheyenne Morrison.