When we think about the days of the founding fathers, we inevitably think about New England. This was the very first portion of North America to be settled by the Pilgrims, over a century before the American Revolution. One of the original colonies and states, Connecticut is no stranger to buildings that predate the nation itself. The oldest building still standing in Connecticut is 384 years old. Let’s learn more about this amazing landmark, the Henry Whitfield House.
The Henry Whitfield House: the Oldest Building in Connecticut
In Guilford, Connecticut, just past the town green, stands a house originally built in 1639. It was constructed with enormous walls made of stone. This house also did duty as a fort to protect its community of white Puritan settlers. The house is named for Henry Whitfield. Whitfield was a Puritan minister who fled England with his flock to continue to practice their sect of Christianity freely.
The history of the Whitfield House’s construction is as bleak as any account of pilgrim life. Beginning too late in winter, the congregation was forced to stop building by winter storms, and was only able to resume the following year. Yet with the assistance of the local Indian tribe — the Menunkatuck — the large, two-story home was finally completed in 1640. Not only was it Whitfield’s home, but served as a way station for travelers and a safe haven to the congregation in case of severe weather or an attack.
Architectural Style of the Henry Whitfield House
The Whitfield House is unusual amongst very old New England houses: while most are built in a style adapted from that which was popular back in Southern England and London, the Henry Whitfield House is styled after the grand estates in Scotland and the North of England.
This may have been something of a blunder: due to the abundance of good stones for building, the house was built on a grand scale, with walls two-feet thick and big, cavernous rooms. The Puritans appear to have overlooked that sturdy wood was even more abundant: they could have built the structure primarily out of wooden beams and on a smaller footprint. It would have been just as sturdy and easier to heat. Yet if they had done so, the structure would probably not still be standing strong 384 years later.
The Whitfield house underwent a renovation in 1868. In 1899, it reopened as the Henry Whitfield State Museum — Connecticut’s first museum of itself as a state. In the early 1900’s and again in the 1930’s, the museum underwent restorations. The Henry Whitfield Museum was made a National Historic Landmark in 1997, and in 2006, a State Archaeological Preserve.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Helioscribe/Shutterstock.com
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