The English first settled on the western side of the mouth of the Connecticut River but it did not take long for the settlers to wander to the east bank. The town of Lyme was set off from Saybrook on February 13, 1665. The first settler, Matthew Griswold, took the name from the port in England from which he had sailed, Lyme Regis in Dorsetshire. Or so it is assumed.
Old Lyme has always been shaped by the sea. Among the early industries were fishing, shipbuilding and the manufacture of salt, of which Old Lyme was the state’s only supplier. At one time, it was said, every house in Old Lyme was occupied by a sea captain.
Those industries are all gone from Old Lyme, which was separated from its fellow Lymes in 1855. The sea captains are all gone, too. In their place are artists and tourists. The artists first came when Miss Florence Griswold opened her boarding house doors to a group of artists in 1899 and founded the Lyme Art Colony. The tourists come every summer when the year-round population of the town doubles.
Our walking tour will travel down Lyme Street and come back again, all under leafy circumstances; if we have to see a town twice we could do no better than the classic New England town of Old Lyme...
Florence Griswold Museum
96 Lyme Street
Samuel Belcher, architect of the First Congregational Church, designed this late Georgian-style mansion for William Noyes in 1817. Captain Robert Griswold purchased the house for his bride in 1841. The family’s fortunes reversed, however, as a result of the Civil War and the invention of steam-powered vessels. To survive financially the Griswolds turned their home into a school and eventually a boarding house. In the 1890s daughter Florence Griswold would come to open her family home to artists searching for a quiet country retreat where they could rejuvenate their spirits and find sources of inspiration. The group was known as the Lyme Art Colony and Miss Florence’s boardinghouse became the center of Impressionism in America.
LEAVING THE MUSEUM PROPERTY, TURN RIGHT, CROSS UNDER I-95 AND WALK DOWN THE WEST SIDE OF LYME STREET.
84 Lyme Street
Here is another creation of Samuel Belcher, executed for John Sill in 1817. Sill was a notorious customs runner who had secret closets built into the house to conceal contraband. After he was arrested in 1820 on charges related to his shady dealings, he was forced to sell the house. It was purchased in 1822 by Charles Johnson McCurdy, a 24-year old Lyme native, Yale graduate and lawyer. He entered politics serving in both as state representative, where he was Speaker of the House, and in the senate member, where he was president of the senate Later he was a superior court judge; McCurdy lived all his 94 years in Lyme. The Georgian house sports a symmetrical facade and chimneys and a graceful Palladian window with a louvered fanlight. Now owned by the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, the Sill Gallery displays student projects.
Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts
84 Lyme Street
The Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts was founded in 1976 by Elisabeth Gordon Chandler as a figurative academy for the teaching of sculpture, figure drawing, and painting dedicated to the fine arts. The Lyme Academy College is the sole fine-arts-only art college accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Old Lyme Fire Department
69 Lyme Street
When the Old Lyme Fire Department was formed in 1923 they borrowed from Dutch architecture to fashion a gambrel roof for their fire house.
Old Lyme Grange Hall
55 Lyme Street
The existing Grange building was originally the Old Lyme Gun Club (built in 1885) and was moved from Maple Lane to its present location in 1928. The rear portion was added in 1928 after the building was moved. Old Lyme Grange #162, the local branch of America’s oldest surviving agricultural organization dating to 1867, was organized in 1905.
Memorial Town Hall
52 Lyme Street
The existing Town Hall in the Colonial Revival style was dedicated on November 11, 1921. The old Town Hall was immediately to the north and was bought by the Masonic Lodge and moved to its present location at 20 Lyme Street. The building, constructed at a cost of $40,000, honors Old Lyme residents who served in America’s foreign wars.
49 Lyme Street
The first primary school in Old Lyme was constructed on this location in 1895; it was replaced with this stone Colonial Revival building in 1934. Note the symmetry of the design and the pre-Revolutionary War-style 12-over-12 windows.
Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library
2 Library Lane at Lyme Street
This handsome Colonial Revival library was constructed in 1898 with funds provided by Charles Henry Ludington, a New York lawyer who would become an executive with the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia. The Old Lyme Free Library was started in 1866 but had become dormant for several years before it was revived by the Ladies Library Association, which was incorporated by the state. The land was the birthplace and former home of Phoebe Griffin Noyes and was given to the library by her heirs. An expansion in 1995 doubled the size of the building and blended seamlessly with the original dark brick and stone trimmings.
Hiram G. Marvin House
33 Lyme Street
This crisp home built for Hiram G. Marvin in 1824 spans the Federal and Greek Revival eras of architecture. The fanlight in the gable is a hold-over influence from the Federal age and the triangular entrance portico would be a familiar sight on Greek Revival homes in the coming decades. While not the oldest or most important house in town it was the first to display an historical plaque from the Historic District Commission.
Daniel Chadwick House
31 Lyme Street
This 1830 Greek Revival home sports a widow’s walk on the roof. The sea captain in question was Daniel Chadwick, from a prominent family of mariners. His son, also Daniel, pursued his livelihood on land, carving out as estimable career in the law. In 1859 he was a member of the House of Representatives. In 1866 he was appointed State’s Attorney for New London County, which office he filled until 1876. In 1880 he became United States’ Attorney for the district of Connecticut, which office he held until his death. He was a government director of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, a member of the Republican National Committee, and a delegate to the Chicago Convention of 1880 where James Garfield was nominated to run in place of sitting President Rutherford B. Hayes, a Yale classmate and personal friend of Chadwick’s, who chose not to seek re-election.
Christ The King Church
22 Lyme Street
This church was built by the Baptist Society in 1843. In 1923 the property was transferred to the town’s Episcopalian congregation who sold it in 1927 to the Catholic church for a single dollar. It was the site of Christ the King Church until 2007 when it was purchased by private owners when the congregation moved down the street.
20 Lyme Street
Part of this building was originally the old Town Hall that was built in 1877. It was moved to this location to serve as a lodge hall in 1919.
9 Lyme Street
Boxwood has seen many lives since it was built as a two-story house with a large porch in 1842. In 1890 it was transformed into a boarding school for girls and a third story added. Later the building was converted into a hotel and, in 1958, into apartments. Through it all the original cupola was retained but the clapboards on the third story were replaced by bricks.
Samuel Mather House
5 Lyme Street
The success of Captain Samuel Mather’s trading ventures in the West Indies is indicated in this considerable gambrel-roofed house, built around 1790. The house is now the Parsonage of the First Congregational Church.
John McCurdy House
1 Lyme Street
This house, much larger and altered today, may have been built as early as 1700. In 1753 Scotch-Irish ship merchant John McCurdy bought the house. A prominent patriot, McCurdy hosted both George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette in this house. John McCurdy was the grandfather of Judge Charles Johnson McCurdy, who lived in the home in his later years. The handsome broken-pediment doorway dates from the middle of the 18th century and is one of the few Connecticut doorways of this type that survive in place.
First Congregational Church
2 Ferry Road at Lyme Street
This is the fifth meeting house for the congregation that traces its beginnings back to 1665. The first three had been constructed on a local prominence known as Johnny Cake Hill. When the third church was obliterated by lightning in 1815 land was purchased here from the Parsons family. The cornerstone form the previous church was salvaged and laid on June 10, 1816 on which Samuel Belcher constructed the church that became a favorite subject of the Lyme Art Colony painters. After it burned to the ground in 1907 it was rebuilt with the help of the local art colony.
YOU HAVE NOW REACHED THE END OF LYME STREET. TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.