June 9: Saving the Oldest Wooden House in Connecticut


June 9, 1915 marked the start of a new lease on life for the Thomas Lee House in East Lyme, which has the distinction of being the oldest extant wood-framed building in Connecticut. Amid a flurry of pilgrim’s pride and pomp and circumstance, even a former President came to help dedicate the opening of this recently saved and fully restored 17th-century 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 home underwent multiple expansions over the next few decades to accommodate Lee, his wife and their 15 children. For nearly 200 years, the house and its adjacent property was passed down from generation to generation within the Lee family. Then, however, with the structure in a serious state of decline, it was sold out of the family 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 early 20th century, the once impressive family dwelling was in such a state of disrepair that local officials considered ordering it be torn down. In 1914, the East Lyme Historical Society, with aid from multiple community fundraisers and cultural organizations like the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Connecticut, raised enough funds not only to purchase the house, but to 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 newly restored home’s rededication ceremony. According to the Historical Society’s minutes, Taft gave an address emphasizing that “we can’t afford to forget our past” that was “enthusiastically received” by the crowd.

The Thomas Lee House now serves as the home of the East Lyme Historical Society, and remains open to the public as both the state’s oldest wood-framed house and a museum.

Further Reading

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

Thomas Lee House and Museum,” East Lyme Historical Society

Facebook_2 Click on image to order via amazon.com

Pankhurst FB png