A Brief History of Harrison House

Harrison House, one of Branford's old homes and a museum with plenty of inspiration for this column, is open for the summer -- stop by!

One of the first interesting things I learned about Harrison House, before going there, started with a message from reader about the date discrepancies in when Harrison House was built. Pete linked me to the Historic American Buildings Survey of 1940, which shows Harrison House (as the Harrison-Linsley House) as built in 1690, rather than the 1724 date on the building's sign. An article at the , published in 1942, lists a date circa 1680 for the architecture of what it calls the Swain-Harrison House: writer and architect J. Frederick Kelly (who we'll talk more about later) reports that Daniel Swain

built the front, or main portion of the house ... he received [land] from the town in 1679. Just when Swain built upon it, there is nothing to show; however, we may reasonably assume that he did so within two years' time after the grant was made, and on this basis a date of circa 1680 for the house appears permissible.

Kelly goes on to write about the leanto portion of the house, which he suggests was a part of a remodel in the 1730s. The leanto portion of the house is an add-on, but one I understand happened much later than the 1730s, according to information from the . However, it seems to me that Kelly's date of the 1730s is awfully close to the 1724 date that the house bears on its official sign. Might it be possible possible that some of the original house -- the fantstic chimney, perhaps? -- remains from that original building, but much of the home really belongs to the 1724 date on official town records? It's not a discrepancy I've been able to resolve, but if I discover more, I'll certainly revisit the topic!

According to historical documentation, the home that stands on the site was built by Nathaniel Harrison II around 1724, and it remained in his home until 1800, when it was sold to Joseph Linsley. It passed into the Smith family through marriage in 1916, and in 1938, the house was sold first to G.A.R. Hamre, and then to the aforementioned J. Frederick Kelly. Kelly not only investigated the home's architecture and wrote about it, but he also restored the home, which had fallen into some disrepair over the years. In 1950, Kelly left the house to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which has, since 1980, leased it to the Branford Historical Society and tasked them with taking care of it. The agreement led to the home being opened to visitors on Saturdays in the summer, from 2 to 5 p.m.

I myself had my first visit to Harrison House last Saturday, when Margaret Iacobellas was the volunteer guide. (She was actually helping to train Branford Patch blogger who will be there as a guide this weekend. You can read more about her adventures .) Margaret guided me through the three major period rooms -- a parlour room decorated as it would have been in the 18th Century, a room with a loom and a dinner table set up as it would have been in the 17th Century, and a bedroom that features a quilt made in the early 1800s. The leanto section of the house features history books and photo CDs of early Branford, and the final room open to guests is a museum, featuring information about MIF, Branford Lock Works, and even the 1790 Census. I hope to write about MIF and the Lock Works -- and maybe even that early census, or some of the data on it -- for the column in the future, and now I know right where to go for the information!

Harrison House also features a colonial era garden in the back, an original barn, an old (but not original) out house, and an old well. Admission is the price of a donation, and parking is available at an angle out front (between the street and the hedge) or by driving down the drive way a little ways into the field behind the house. It's a real treasure trove of Branford history, and I hope that it's one everyone gets the chance to experience! Go visit Jenna this weekend and quiz her on just how much she's learned about Branford -- I bet you'll be surprised how much you learn, too.


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