The early settlers - that would be 1646 - came to Groton between the Thames and Mystic rivers to farm. But there was never much living to be scratched out of the rocky soil and hilly terrain. It did not take long for shipbuilding to become an important early industry. Large ships were floating out of the Groton yards as early as 1724. Beginning with the Revolutionary War, when a 36-gun frigate was built here, the government came to depend on Groton shipbuilders. In the War of 1812 many privateers were fitted out to run British blockades. During the Civil War the ironclad Galena was constructed at West Mystic and after the war, in 1868, a Navy Yard was established on the Thames River. During World War I it was officially commissioned as a submarine base and in World War II Groton churned out 74 diesel submarines for the Navy. In 1954 the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, launched from Groton, by then truly the Submarine Capital of the World.
Groton men didn’t just build ships, they sailed them. Local mariners racked up some of the most impressive sailing records of the 19th century. Captain Joseph Warren Holmes doubled Cape Horn at the tip of South America 83 times, more than any other man afloat. On one trip, after a year at sea on his Pioneer, Captain Ebenezer Morgan returned with 1,391 pounds of whale oil and eleven tons of bone which he sold for a profit over $100,000, considered a record voyage.
In 1655 the first settlers colonized the east bank of the Thames River; when Groton became a separate town in 1705, the east bank was called Groton bank. In the waning days of the American Revolution, in late summer 1781, a British raiding force under the direction of turncoat Benedict Arnold overwhelmed a cadre of militia defenders on the heights overlooking the Thames River here in the only major battle of the war in Connecticut. Arnold sacked the town and New London across the river.
This is where our walking tour will take place, in a small sliver of the town of Groton, about 12 square blocks. We’ll start at one of the two museums in town, where there is abundant parking down byhe Thames River and a view of the Gold Star Bridge, a pair of steel truss bridges that are the longest span in Connecticut...
154 Thames Street
Rufus Avery built this home overlooking the harbor around 1800 for his sons and their families. It remained in the family for almost 200 years. The house received its Italianate make-over around 1870. The last owner, Joe Copp, took over the property after his parents died in 1930. Joe would live here 61 years until he died at the age of 101. Joe kept the house virtually unchanged and his “living time capsule” became a natural for a museum, which it is today.
TURN LEFT AND WALK DOWN THAMES STREET; THE WATER WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT.
Captain Rufus Avery House
142 Thames Street
Rufus Avery was on watch at Fort Griswold the morning of September 6, 1781 and was the first to spot Benedict Arnold’s British fleet approaching. This center hall Colonial house was built in 1787 by Henry Mason.
Parke Avery House
137 Thames Street
Parke Avery was one of the builders of Fort Griswold but at age 71 he was too old to take the field in the Battle of Groton Heights. He sent his six sons to the defense of the town on September 6, 1781, two of who died in battle. The house was newly built at that time, a Cape Cod style. It picked up a second story in the mid-1800s with the Italianate brackets seen today. The shipyard of the Ferguson family operated below the house in the late 1800s.
Amos Prentice House
108 Thames Street
Dr. Amos Prentice built this house in 1782; the previous year he had been the physician who ministered to the would Americans at Fort Griswold. Another roomy center hall Colonial structure, the second floor projection and entrance porch are clearly 19th century Greek Revival additions.
Noyes Barber House
88 Thames Street
This hipped-roof 1810 house house belonged to Noyes Barber, one of Groton’s most successful merchants. He was a major in the War of 1812 helping defend the Connecticut coast. After the warhe entered politics and served seven consecutive terms in the United States Congress beginning in 1821. He was defeated in a bid for an eight term and died in Groton in 1844 at the age of 63.
TURN LEFT ON BROAD STREET, HEADING UP THE HILL.
James A. Latham House
41 Broad Street
This early Victorian cottage from 1856 received a touch of the Carpenter Gothic style as expressed by the steeply pitched rooflines with elaborate scrollwork bargeboards on the eaves.
James A. Morgan House
50 Broad Street
This house was built for James A. Morgan in 1875. With its prominent French-inspired mansard roof it is the best example of the Second Empire architectural style in Groton Bank.
Charles Cook House
55 Broad Street
This house from 1843 displays the clean, geometric lines of the Greek Revival style.
Groton Heights Baptist Church
72 Broad Street
This is the second meetinghouse for the Groton Bank Baptist Church which was founded in 1843. The new Italianate structure 1872 featured the trademark square tower, bracket eaves and window hoods. In 1887 the church’s name was changed to the Groton Heights Baptist Church.
Captain Waterman Z. Buddington House
91 Broad Street
Captain W. Z. Buddington was in the coastal and West Indies trade and later the insurance business. His three sons were also sailors and all three were lost at sea. When Buddington purchased this property in 1844, it covered nine acres. Here he built the only brick house on Groton Bank, in the Greek Revival style.
Captain Ebenezer “Rattler” Morgan House
115 Broad Street
Elisha M. Miner, a Groton Bank architect and builder, constructed this house for Captain Ebenezer Morgan in 1851. Although twenty years past the era of Federal architecture he gave the house Federal-style touches such as symmetrical proportions and lightly caved trim details. In 1865 Morgan completed a legendary whaling excursion that netted him more than $100,000 in 14 months. After that he moved to a much larger house a block away. He appears to have acquired the nickname “Rattler” because of his rapid speech and “rattling good stories” that he could tell. Morgan’s next adventure took him to Alaska where, in 1868, he raised the first American flag on Alaskan soil. It is said he and his crew collected 45 thousand seal skins. Morgan was a principle in the Alaska Commercial Company and secured a lucrative monopoly lease for the company. When he died in 1890 his estate was valued at $1 million.
TURN RIGHT ON MONUMENT STREET.
Groton Congregational Church
162 Monument Street
In 1702, after many years of having to cross the Thames River to attend services in New London or travel to Stonington, the Groton congregation constructed its first church, about 35 feet square. This is fourth Congregational Church and the first on this site, having been built in its 200th year in 1902. The English-style church was built of stones taken from localities connected with the history of the church and town.
Bill Memorial Library
240 Monument Street
Frederic Bill was born in Groton and spent a long career that took him to Canada and New York City in the publishing business and in the importation and manufacture of linen goods. He retired to a farm in Groton in 1873 near the mouth of the Thames River where he lived until his death. In 1888 Bill funded the library in the memory of his two sisters, Eliza and Harriet, and selected the first 1700 books. The Romanesque-style building was designed by Stephen C. Earle of Worcester, Massachusetts and constructed of Stony Creek granite, trimmed with Maynard freestone, and finished with a red slate roof. It was dedicated on June 18, 1890 and enlarged in 1907 by Bill to include a small natural history museum.
Monument Street and Park Avenue
The Groton Monument, soaring 134 feet high from a hilltop, was dedicated in 1830 to the victims “when the British, under the command of the traitor, Benedict Arnold, burnt the towns of New London and Groton, and spread desolation and woe throughout this region.” A tablet on the monument, that predates the Bunker Hill Monument as the first battlefield monument of its kind, bears the names of the defenders.
AT THE END OF MONUMENT STREET, WALK INTO FORT GRISWOLD.
Monument Street and Park Avenue
Late in August 1781, with General Washington marching to Virginia and the Revolutionary War’s conclusion, Benedict Arnold, now in the employ of the British crown, proposed a diversionary strike on New London, a major storage depot in his native state of Connecticut. Lt. General Henry Clinton placed 1,700 men under his command and Arnold set sail on September 6, 1781. Two forts protected New London at the moth of the Thames River; the sparsely garrisoned Fort Trumbull on the west bank and Fort Griswold, with 140 militia under Lt. Colonel William Ledyard, occupying the stronger position here, east of the river. The British split their force, Arnold leading the western invasion and Lt. Colonel Edmund Eyre commanding the assault on Fort Griswold. Around 9:00 a.m. Arnold landed and easily displaced the two dozen men at Fort Trumbull, who fired one volley, spiked their cannon and fled. Eyre did not have such easy going. he struck the fortress from three sides but met such heavy fire from the defenders that the British had to retreat, losing Eyre to a mortal wound. A second assaulting force was thrown back and finally the British stormed the falls in desperate fighting. After 40 minutes of bloody work, Ledyard ended the gallant defense by offering his sword to Lt. Colonel Abram Van Buskirk of the 3rd Battalion of New Jersey Tories. Van Buskirk, according to American accounts of the battle, accepted the sword and thrust it through Ledyard’s body. The Americans reported more than 70 men being murdered after the offer to surrender. Arnold completed his raid by setting New London afire and destroying over 100 buildings. He had achieved no military objective in this, the last important battle in the North, and further discredited his once outstanding record. Today portions of the earth and stone fortifications remain in the 17-acre park.
LEAVE FORT GRISWOLD BY RETURNING TO THE ENTRANCE AT MONUMENT AND PARK STREETS AND TURN LEFT, WALKING DOWN THE HILL THROUGH A SMALL PINE GROVE TO THE END OF FORT STREET.
Ebenezer Avery House
Fort Griswold, end of Fort Street on south side
This 1750s center-chimney Colonial house was along the waterfront at Thames and Latham streets during the attack on Fort Griswold. The British left many of the wounded defenders at this house, including Ensign Ebenezer Avery. It was later relocated to the park in 1971.
WALK DOWN THE HILL ALONG FORT STREET AND TURN RIGHT AT THAMES STREET. WALK THROUGH THE SMALL COMMERCIAL SECTION OF TOWN TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.