Wolcott Historical Society News - January 2009
By Florence Goodman
As previously stated, my goal in this series of articles is to present a history of each of the existing structures found encompassing our Town Green and Historic District. In this edition, I will discuss the Center School and the two houses located on Boundline Road facing the Town Green: the Abijah Fenn Store and the David Bailey House.
The first Center School stood at the top of Bensen's Hill, the name given to the area that today houses our Town Green. This one-room schoolhouse was built on Center Street southwest of the Congregational Church in the mid-1800s. The original wooden structure was destroyed by fire in 1929 and replaced with a larger brick and stone structure in the same year.
The new one and one-half story building continued to be used as a one-room schoolhouse for an additional 15 years. It was later used as the town's public library until our present library was built. Today, it houses the offices of the Superintendent of Schools. Monies from the will of Addin Lewis, which were left to the town for educational purposes, were originally used to build this schoolhouse and stated that the building must always be used for education.
As you turn the corner from Center Street onto Boundline Road, the first structure you see is the Abijah Fenn Store building, which has been the home of the King Family for many years. The original portion of this one and one-half story wood frame structure was built in 1798 for Abijah Fenn and used as a store. In 1800, Moses Todd acquired the building and lot, but sold it soon after to Benham and Tuttle where it continued to be used as a store until the 1880s when it was sold and converted into a residence.
From 1902 until 1950, Town Clerks Wilfred V. Warner and Minnie N. Bergin used the front section of this house for their office. Town Clerks of Wolcott have owned this house since that early time, ending with Elaine King, who was Minnie Bergin's daughter and long time Town Clerk until our present Town Clerk, Mrs. Deborah Slater, took office. The rear wing of the house also served as a penny candy store and the rear side porch allowed entrance into the Town Clerk's Office or the candy store.
The David Bailey House is located on the western side of Boundline Road facing the Green. This two and one-half story Greek Revival-style post and beam home was erected in 1844 for David and Sarah L. Bailey. The one and one-half story kitchen wing on the southern side was an early addition. After her husband's death, Sarah acquired the rights to the property and lived there through the late 1800s. The Hall family moved into the house in the early 20th Century and maintained the integrity of the original house. John and Rose Ann Olsen have owned the house since the 1980s and have continued to maintain many of the original features, while adding on to the main structure.
This house is architecturally significant as the finest example of residential Greek Revival-style frame architecture still standing in our town. John Washburne, in the Wolcott, Connecticut 175 Anniversary book, refers to this house as the "Publick House" and states that Samuel Byington, innkeeper, built it in 1796. He also states that adjoining the house was a blacksmith and wheelwright shop that in 1797 were purchased by Abijah Fenn, who erected a store nearby. The Publick House continued to operate for many years and in 1822, Col. Moses Pond owned it. Church records indicate that the early Episcopal Society met there in 1830 prior to the building of the church. When speaking to John Olsen about this, he stated that there are remains of old foundations on the property, which indicate that at an earlier time another structure existed on this property. These may be the remnants of the "Publick House" referenced in Mr. Washburne's book.
From the 1820s through the 1870s, the population of the town greatly declined for various reasons and many of the structures that were built as commercial businesses around the town center closed and became residences. Although the stores and shops that had once surrounded the Green vanished, the Town Green still remained a focal point for social, civic, and religious life. (Much of the information for this article was taken from the National Register of Historic Places Registration form, completed in 2000, Wolcott, Connecticut 175 Anniversary by John Washburne, Samuel Orcutt's History of the Town of Wolcott From 1731 to 1874 and The 1986 Historic Resources Inventory by J.P. Loether.)
Visit our Web pages at (http://www.wolcotthistory.org/). You can download a membership application there. Please consider helping the Society by becoming a member. Our meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at the Old Stone School on Nichols Road at 6:30 PM. During the winter months, we do cancel because of bad weather. Anyone interested in visiting the Stone Schoolhouse Museum, please call Loretta Leonard at 879-4310 or Flo Goodman 879-9818.
The Historical Society would like to thank those people who supported our Holiday House Tour on December 13. We were able to raise almost $700 to use for our scholarship and building funds. Special thanks to Marylou and Brian Smail, Curt and Barbara Wood, and Flo and Terry Goodman for opening their homes for the tour. Each home was beautifully decorated. Be on the lookout for our Summer Garden Tour to be held in July. If you would like to have your garden shown in the tour, please contact Flo Goodman.
Abijah Fenn Store
David Bailey House
Abijah Fenn Store, Center School, and Congregational Church on northwest corner of Wolcott's Town Green
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.