Jonathan Warner House // 1798

Jonathan Warner, a local farmer who inherited land originally purchased by his grandfather in 1697, built this massive farmhouse on over 100 acres at the western edge of the Connecticut River. Warner owned land on both sides of the river, in modern-day Chester and Hadlyme. He then established a ferry crossing the river which had a toll, that helped him amass a larger fortune. The Chester-Hadlyme Ferry remains today as the second oldest in the state. Warner and his family farmed the land with oxen, pigs, geese and sheep (among other animals) and often traded with nearby towns and colonies as far as the Caribbean. He was also engaged in a successful shipping business, both in New England and in the Caribbean. He was a partner in the ventures of the brig Matilda until she was seized by the French in 1799.

The homes large estate of land has been subdivided somewhat, but the existing home and over 20-acres of land surrounding it retain the bucolic feelings of the old farm. It features two double-height Ionic columns flanking the entry and at the center, a gorgeous Palladian window.

Bella Vista Villa // 1908 //

Designed to resemble the stone houses of Italy, this home in Chester, Connecticut stands out among Colonial-era homes in the region. The home was designed by the owner, Ila Howard Stone (1870-1931), known to many as “Madame Pierre”. Although she was the ex-wife of a reverend, and not a trained architect, she designed this massive estate to house her lavish parties and many suitors.

After her divorce (which was almost unheard of for a reverend and his wife), Ila recreated herself as Eila Pierre “Madame”. She was viewed as promiscuous and a modern day feminist, who affronted small town sensibilities in her modern Italian Villa mansion.

The home was constructed by at least five masons and laborers who immigrated from Italy. Some of the laborers even constructed the Gillette Castle across the Connecticut River.

Russell Jennings Manufacturing Company Offices // 1906

The Russell Jennings Manufacturing Company was created by Russell Jennings (1800-1888), a Reverend from Deep River who later invented (and patented) the first extension drill bit in America. Seeing the opportunity for wealth and a future for his family, he began a company which manufactured the tools. He quit the church and became an inventor, quickly growing his family business from the ground up.

The auger bits were manufactured in a facility in Deep River and shipped all over the world, with the Connecticut River and rail lines providing easy transportation of their product. The business continued after Jennings’ death in 1888 and began to evolve, creating new tools. The business continued and grew, requiring a new facility.

The company moved north to Chester, CT and had a brick office building made in the Federal Revival style in 1906, shortly after their new tool handle was patented and production began. The 30’x50′ building is two stories and appears much like when it was built over a century ago. The first floor housed the company offices, shipping, and stock rooms and on the second floor, the director’s office and packing rooms.

The company was bought by Stanley Works by 1944, and the building was sold. It was occupied by a couple industrial companies, including Old Town Corporation until a fire gutted the building in 1976. It was vacant for years after. It appears that the building has been converted to residential use.

C.L. Griswold Mill // 1850

Located in the center of Chester, CT, this historic mill located on the Pattaconk Brook, a tributary of the Connecticut River, stands as a lasting example of a traditional wood-frame mill building in Connecticut. The C.L. Griswold Co. mill was the third industrial complex on this site, all sought the valuable location for the ability of water power from the river.

The shop produced auger bits, wood screws, corkscrews, reamers and other light hardware before closing in 1919. A Masonic Lodge bought the mill in 1924 and over the years, made some less fortunate alterations and deferred maintenance which left its future uncertain.

In 2000, the mill was purchased by the Chester Historical Society which was converted to a museum in 2010, which features Chester’s history.

Mitchell-Pratt House // 1820 //

This absolute stunner of a home was built for Abram Mitchell, who received large amounts of Continental Army money in notes from his father. The most prominent owner was Dr Ambrose Pratt, a Yale Medical School graduate who practiced hydropathology and used his personal home as a sanitarium.

The most interesting feature is the oval window above the portico. The spider web pattern of the glazing has an eagle at the center (look closely)! The home has been basically unchanged from 1820 besides being moved in 1966 to save it from demolition as it was on land owned by the church nearby. Phew!

Leet-Ely House // ca.1798

This prominent Federal Style house at 14 Liberty Street in Chester, CT was built for Captain Gideon Leet, a merchant and shipbuilder who was active in the West India trade. It appears that the home was purchased soon after completion by Dr. Richard Ely (1765-1816), who may have completed the home in the Georgian-Federal transitional style we see today.

Dr. Ely graduated from Yale College in 1785 and became a prominent surgeon in Middlesex County, often seeing patients at his home in Chester (then still a part of Saybrook). When Dr. Ely died in 1816, the home was willed to his son, Richard B. Ely (1798-1869) and then two later Richard Ely’s in succession.

The Leet-Ely House is a great example of late 18th century residential architecture. The home has a prominent central chimney, modillion cornice, rusticated corner quoining, a fanlight over the door, and an ionic columned portico.

Charles Daniels House // ca. 1830

Located just outside the town center of Chester, CT (one of the cutest towns in the state I’d say) is this gorgeous and well-preserved example of a Greek Revival home.

The home was built for Charles Daniels (1799-1838), a businessman and factory owner who built a gimlet factory on Liberty Street. Within a couple years, his home was built next door at 43 Liberty Street. The factory was built abutting Deep Hollow Brook (now Chester Creek) which provided fresh water and power to the facility which produced gimlets (not the gin drink), a hand tool used to drill small holes in wood without splitting it.

The home was estimated as being designed by Ithiel Town, a prominent architect and engineer who designed many iconic buildings in Connecticut and surrounding region. Alternatively, local lore states the home was designed by architects Town & Davis, but there is no documentation to support that theory.

The home is small, yet packs a punch with style. It is sided with flush boarding which gives it a smooth finish, an elaborate portico supported by four large fluted columns, and prominent entablature which extends around the home.

The house was originally located about 300′ east of its present site, nearer the site of the M.S. Brooks & Sons factory. Threatened with demolition after years of vacancy, it was moved to its present site in 1978, retaining not just the foundation exterior, but also the chimneys, using their original materials

Brooks Factory postcard
Factory today