June 9: William Howard Taft Dedicates a Connecticut Landmark

 

 

 

June 9, 1915 marked the start of a new lease on life for the Thomas Lee House in East Lyme, which stands today as the oldest wood-framed building in Connecticut.  Amid a flurry of pomp and circumstance and community celebration, former President William Howard Taft helped dedicate the reopening of the newly-restored colonial house to the public.

One of the more remarkable features of the Thomas Lee House — besides the fact that it has survived intact for over 350 years — is its well-documented provenance.  Originally built as a simple, one-room house circa 1660, the Thomas Lee house underwent multiple expansions to the house over the next few decades to better accommodate Lee’s wife and fifteen children.  The house and property was passed down from generation to generation for nearly 200 years before being sold to a farmer who used the first floor of the house as a hay barn and chicken coop.

William Howard Taft speaking at the Thomas Lee house rededication ceremony, June 9 1915. (Photo: East Lyme Historical Society)

By the dawn of the 20th century, the house was in such a state of disrepair that town officials debated whether or not to tear it down.  In 1914, the East Lyme Historical Society, with help from multiple community fundraisers and other cultural organizations like the Society of Colonial Dames, was able to purchase the house and finance an extensive archaeological survey and historically-accurate restoration.  The Historical Society was thrilled to have former President (and then-current Professor of Law at Yale) William Howard Taft — himself a Lee descendant — as the guest of honor at the rededication ceremony.  According to the Historical Society’s minutes, Taft gave an informal address that was “enthusiastically received” by the crowd, emphasizing that “we can’t afford to forget our past.”

The Thomas Lee House now serves as the home of the East Lyme Historical Society, and remains open to the public as a house museum.

Further Reading

A Connecticut Home that Dates Back to the 1600s,” connecticuthistory.org

Thomas Lee House and Museum,” East Lyme Historical Society