Pawcatuck teen writes book about 19th-century Victorian and the people who lived there
Stonington - Last year when 15-year-old Connor Beverly of Pawcatuck was making his daily ferry trip to the Fishers Island School, he met classmate Grace Timmons, who lives with her family in an ornate gingerbread-style home at 140 W. Broad St. that was built by the wealthy Frankenstein family.
Soon after, the budding historian was searching eBay for historical items such as Pawcatuck postcards when he came across a package of century-old letters sent to Sally Frankenstein (1889-1972), who grew up in the house. Also in the package were 300 negatives, half of which were taken in Pawcatuck, Watch Hill and surrounding area.
The collection, which offers insight into life in Pawcatuck from 1896 to 1910, had been put for sale by a person who rented the house in the 1990s.
Beverly snapped them up for $300 and they became the starting point for a project which has resulted in him recently publishing an impressive hardcover book about the Eastlake Victorian and the people who lived there called "On the Corner of William and West Broad: A True Example of Aristocracy in Pawcatuck."
The 108-page book designed by Beverly is chock full of photos and text he wrote. Timmons, whose family is the sixth to own the house, took many of the current photos of it.
"I just wanted to do justice to the history of this house," Beverly said last week while sitting in the courting room of the house with Timmons. "No one really knew about it. People drive by this house all of the time and think 'Oh it's just Pawcatuck, it's not the borough or Mystic.' But the history here is just as important."
Beverly said he gets his love of history from his late grandfather Bill Higgins who ran the former Higgins Pharmacy in Pawcatuck with two of his brothers.
"I wanted to continue his love of history," he said.
In 2011, Beverly wrote a chapter of the history of St. Michael Church which was done to celebrate the parish's 150th anniversary. In July of 2012 he founded the Pawcatuck History Page on Facebook.
Beverly, who would someday like to be an architect working in historic preservation, said he enjoys trying to educate people about the history of Pawcatuck.
"I just like seeing how people lived, what things looked like, what was where and how things have changed," he said. "It's important to keep and preserve some of these things," he added.
He added, There's more history here than people think. I wish I could find out about every house on the street."
Beverly found that the house was designed by famed English architect Charles Eastlake and built in 1887 for Lewis Frankenstein and Fanny (Moss) Frankenstein, who received the land from her father who owned a large farm in Pawcatuck. Moss Street, which Beverly found was the site of horse races into the 1920s, is just one block from the Frankenstein house.
Lewis Frankenstein, who died at 47, owned a very successful dry goods store in downtown Westerly. The Frankensteins had three daughters, one of them Sally, who grew up to be a dietitian and artist. The entire family is buried in Riverbend Cemetery in Westerly.
The Frankensteins were a wealthy family that employed a maid and cook, took vacations to Europe, dressed in fine clothes and played tennis in their backyard court. The home has intricately carved wooden bannisters, trim and wainscoting.
Beverly said that when Timmons and her mother, Karen Ward, a former Day employee, learned of his interest in Pawcatuck history, they asked if he knew anything about their 11-room house they have lived in since 2008. He did not but just two weeks later he came across the letter for sale.
"I'm always putting money aside for something like this because it's so rare to come across," he said about the collection.
Last October, he had an idea that the collection and house might make a good subject for a book and his mother Laura encouraged him to write it. He tracked down Dixon Hemphill, the 88-year-old son of Sally Frankenstein's sister Elisabeth, who was able to tell him more about the house and identify people in the photographs. He also talked to other owners of the home such as Robert and Isabel Manson who restored it to its original condition in the early 1980s after it had been turned into an apartment house. He also talked to Maureen and Wayne Chastain who operated the Sage House bed and breakfast in the home from 2000 to 2008.
The book can be purchased for $55 by messaging Beverly on his Pawcatuck History Page.