Where in Connecticut?

Dixon Welling House003

Hon. James Dixon’s Former Home, 159 Farmington Avenue, Hartford. Photograph by F. D. Berry, ca. 1900. Samuel Taylor Collection, The Connecticut Historical Society

The gracious old house has a wide veranda and is surrounded by mature trees. In the photograph, it is autumn, and the ground is littered with leaves, but in spring, the gardens must have been a riot of color. There was a coach house, a barn with one of the first basketball hoops in the country, made out of an iron hoop from a sugar barrel. For an old man in the 1970s, looking back on his childhood, it was “Paradise Lost,” an ideal place for a boy to grow up. The house was located at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Sigourney Street in Hartford, on a large lot that sloped down to the railroad tracks. It belonged to James Dixon, who served as Senator from Connecticut during the Civil War. After Dixon’s death, his family continued to live there well into the twentieth century. Miss Elizabeth Welling, the great niece of Senator Dixon and his wife, was the last person to live there. She was the aunt of the Hartford artist Richard Welling. The house was torn down in the 1920s to make way for the new home offices of the Aetna Life & Casualty Company. My father got a job there during the 1930s, in the depths of the Great Depression, and worked as an underwriter for Aetna for thirty-nine years. My childhood home, in a wartime housing project, across the river in Manchester, was torn down in the 1950s in order to erect housing for the elderly. For many years afterwards, the flowers from my mother’s garden continued to come up. It was my own “Paradise Lost” and I still go back there in my dreams.