A Moment in Time


Fort Trumbull, New London. Pencil drawing by Reynolds Beal, July 4, 1887. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2008.67.2.

It’s the Fourth of July. An American flag is flying from Fort Trumbull, and a stately procession of tall ships is leaving New London harbor. The monument commemorating the Revolutionary War Battle of Groton Heights is visible in the background. It could almost be a snapshot taken during OpSail, but this drawing was made by an artist more than one hundred years ago, and the ships are contemporary working vessels, not museum relics. The artist, Reynolds Beal, was part of an artists’ colony at Noank, Connecticut, where he spent his summers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Some summers he chartered a sailboat, cruising up and down Long Island Sound, making sketches along the waterfront. A sketchbook from 1899, which he spent on the yawl Starfire, and a few other drawings of Connecticut coastal scenes are in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society. Beal made his drawing of Fort Trumbull on July 4, 1887. That was just one year after my grandmother was born, and one year before my grandfather’s family immigrated from Ireland. Yet the view doesn’t look much different than it does today.

Dr. Thompson’s Celebrated Eye Water

Letter from Joseph Thompson to his uncle Isaac Thompson, 1842. Ms 101872

Letter from Joseph Thompson to his uncle Isaac Thompson, 1842. Ms 101872

Joseph Thompson of Bridgeport, Connecticut, wrote a letter to his uncle Dr. Isaac Thompson of New London, Connecticut, in May, 1842. Joseph related the peaceful death of two of his sisters within a week of each other and how devastated he felt. His mother, he mentions, is also dying.

While the above tale is a sad one, what is really interesting about this letter is the recipient. Isaac Thompson was a fairly well-known pharmacist who sold various “patent” medicines including “Dr. Isaac Thompson’s Celebrated Eye Water”. Thompson introduced this remedy in 1795 and it was continuously available for nearly 200 years in Connecticut and the country. In fact it had the largest sale in the U.S. of any topical ophthalmic preparation in the 19th century. Continue reading

On the Road with Richard Welling: Along the Maine Coast


Wrecks- Wiscasset. Drawing by Richard Welling, ca. 1974. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of the Richard Welling Family, 2012.284.5642

When I was growing up, my family spent two weeks in Maine every summer, and those were probably the best two weeks of my entire year. Later on, when I was grown up and living in the Boston area, I went to Maine frequently, both on weekend day trips and for extended vacations, exploring parts of the state that I hadn’t known as a child. When CHS was given the Richard Welling Collection in 2011-2012, I was delighted to discover that Richard Welling had drawn many of my favorite Maine landmarks, including the Hesper and the Luther B. Little, two derelict schooners on the waterfront in Wiscasset.  In fact, he made this drawing one summer while he was traveling with his daughter, just as I used to travel up the Maine coast with my parents long ago. The old schooners are gone now; after decades of vandalism and decay, their remains were moved to a local landfill in 1998. What I didn’t realize when I used to stop to admire the old ships was that such abandoned wrecks were once not an uncommon sight throughout New England, even right here in Connecticut. For many years, the old wooden whaler Colgate could be seen rotting away in Winthrop Cove in New London.  To see more pictures by Richard Welling, visit the Richard Welling Collection in the CHS online catalog.  To see pictures of Colgate, before and after it was abandoned in Winthrop Cove, look in Connecticut History Online.

David Starr, Civil War soldier

Photograph of David Starr. 2013.221.

Photograph of David Starr. 2013.221.

David Allen Starr was the son of David H. and Harriet Rogers Starr of New London, Connecticut. In 1862 he and his brother Elisha enlisted in the 5th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers. David was captured by the Confederate Army at the battle of Cedar Mountain and taken first to Libby Prison and then to Belle Isle. He was lucky enough to be paroled in five months but not before being starved and enduring the hot sun with no place to take cover. After his release, David was placed on guard duty at a hospital in Frederick, Maryland, before rejoining his regiment which was preparing for General Sherman’s “march to the sea”. Continue reading

New Fort for New London Harbor

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. That summer, as the war got underway, Secretary of War William Eustis wrote to Capt. C. D. Wood in New London, Connecticut. “Sir, You will immediately commence the repairs of the magazine at Fort Trumbull and the block house at Fort Griswold and will forward estimates with your opinion of the enclosed plan & works for the harbour of new London.”

Below is the plan Eustis enclosed. Rarely do we find anything so colorful among our manuscripts!

Plan for New London harbor, 1812, Ms 84137. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The scale in the upper right corner of the document shows that the scale is 20 feet to one inch. Various letters, listed in the lower left corner, denote distances between points, a well, and magazines for powder and fixed ammunition. Structures visible are the officers quarters and barracks. The plan is on a single sheet of paper, approximately 11×17 inches. An image of the profile is on the reverse side.

Plan for New London harbor, 1812, Ms 84137. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Fort Trumbull, in New London, was in fact rebuilt in 1812. We do not know what Wood thought of the plan, nor if it was ultimately used. The fort that was built was torn down in 1839, replaced by the structure that still stands.

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

Frank Smith correspondence

How would you feel if your younger son went off to war? Annie Smith of New London, was nearly beside herself when son Frank joined the Quartermaster Corp in 1918. Her letters to him, part of the many letters sent to popular Frank, are filled with comments about how much she misses him, how she cries when she reads his letters, how she cries when she writes back to him, and how much she fears he will go “across”. Frank worked in the laundry at Forts Mead and Meigs and with the reclamation department in Ohio. His chances of going oversees were limited.

While Annie’s sentiments about her son are intriguing, so are some of the tidbits she included in her letters. She tells him one time that she had to cut the cake she made him to fit in the box.  She is also struck that there are girls working down at the machine shop! “They have to wear overall and shirts.” The flu epidemic was in full swing while Frank was in the service (yet another worry for Annie!) and she mentions that there are a lot of sick people in New London and that a lot are dying. It seems New London was quarantined for awhile during the outbreak.

As a slice of life in New London in the early 20th century, this collection is a gem.