Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Fairhaven Dormitory

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Institution Name: Mitchell College
Original/Historic Place Name: Reuben T. Palmer, Jr. House
Location on Campus: 373 Pequot Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1850original construction
ca. 1896Queen Anne alterations
Designer: unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Greek revival, Other (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Materials:
Foundation: fieldstone rubble and cobblestone
Walls: vinyl siding
Roof: asphalt
 
Function:
1850-1896private residence
1957-present (2006)residence hall
 

Narrative:
The Palmer House has side gables with open-bed pediments. The front of the house is three bays wide, with a one-story porch across the entire front. This had square paneled columns, which have been replaced by chamfered posts. The porch has been extended on the south side by one bay since 1957. Dormers with open-bed pediments are placed in the front slope of the roof. There is a first floor bay window with 4-over-4 wooden double-hung sash. Windows are paired and originally held 2-over-2 sash vertically divided. These have been replaced with sash divided into two panes each horizontally. Paneled pilasters are set at the corners of the house. The cornice features a wide entablature and paired scroll-cut brackets. The main body of the house has flanking two-story wings on either side, and the south wing has pilasters matching those of the body of the house. The north wing has an oriel window on the second floor where it meets the house, and a rear addition has a cobblestone foundation which continues under part of the main house. Both the rear addition and north wing have a simplified entablature with small, simple brackets. Front rooms on the first floor have colonial revival fireplaces and paneling very similar to that in the Sunflower Lodge of the Mitchell estate.

The Palmer House is an example of a mid-19th century dwelling altered in the late 19th century to become the home of a well-to-do industrialist. The house is transitional between the Greek Revival and the Italianate styles, containing elements of both. This combination of stylistic characteristics works well together, creating a harmonious design. Alterations were made ca. 1896, when the house was moved from a location near downtown to its present site. These included new construction and the addition of an oriel window. The understated character of the alterations, use of simple brackets, and the placement of the oriel window do not disturb the original design. The house maintains its integrity despite alterations by the college.

Reuben T. Palmer, Jr. was the secretary and treasurer of the R. T. Palmer Company, manufacturers of bed comfortables and coarse cotton goods. The company's mill was located in downtown New London, and Palmer's father and namesake was president of the company. Another firm, Palmer Brothers, had plants in Oakdale, the Palmertown section of Uncasville, and Fitchville, where they also produced produced bed comfortables.

Reuben T. Palmer was the uncle of the Palmer brothers, and his son was their first cousin. Frank L. Palmer, George S. Palmer, and Elisha Palmer, principals of Palmer Brothers, owned mansions in New London. George S. Palmer's mansion, Westomere, modeled after a Virginia plantation house, was located just south of Mitchell College.

Like other manufacturers in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Palmers moved to urban centers. Rather than construct an entirely new house, Palmer chose to move and remodel an existing building. This adaptation of an older home was a strategy that the Mitchell family also employed. Actor James O'Neill, father of Eugene O'Neill, renovated an existing Greek Revival home in the late 1880s a block north on Pequot Avenue. Eugene O'Neill spent much of his childhood and early adult years in this neighborhood. In fact, the Palmer House was purchased by Eugene O'Neill's mother, Ella, in 1919 and sold by her estate in 1924. Mitchell College acquired the house in 1957, mistakenly thinking that the house was the setting for Eugene O'Neill's play, Long Day's Journey into Night. The actual setting was the Monte Cristo Cottage, one block north on Pequot Avenue.
 

References:

Pierson, Curt. "College Acquires Pequot Ave. House, Suspects It Was THE O'Neill Home."New London (CT) Day, June 1, 1957.

Whittlesey & Starr. Whittlesey's New London Directory. New London, CT: Press of New London (CT) Day, 1888.

 

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Last update: November 2006