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Gifts for body, mind, and spirit

The Mitchell Isolation Hospital on Colman Street in New London was completed in 1914, thanks to a $100,000 donation by Annie Olivia Tiffany Mitchell. Today the hospital is gone, but its former nurses’ dormitory still stands on Walden Street.

In the 19th century, healthcare, such as it was, was provided in almshouses and private homes, but at the start of the 20th century, hospitals commonly filled that role. New London had several. They were badly needed because smallpox was still an issue, tuberculosis was common, and the 1918 pandemic was just ahead.

Annie Tiffany (1844-1937) was the daughter of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Company, the famous jewelry empire. She came from a talented and wealthy family.

Charles, who was born in Killingly, wasn’t too interested in his father’s cotton mill. In 1837, he borrowed $1,000 from his dad and headed to New York City to open a small gift and stationery store. The first few days’ sales brought in $4.38, but spectacularly better times lay ahead.

For one thing, in the mid-1800s, Europe was rife with social unrest, forcing cash-strapped aristocrats to sell off their precious gems. Charles astutely snapped them up and began to offer high-end jewelry. If you have a diamond ring with the stone elevated by 6 prongs to maximize the light, you can thank Charles for this innovative design. By mid-century, Charles had opened branches in Paris and London, and by his death, he’d turned a small town boy’s dream into the most famous jewelry store in America.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Charles’ son and Annie’s brother, was an artist, an interior designer, and creator of breathtakingly beautiful stained glass. At first, he experimented with glass from jelly jars and cheap bottles because inexpensive glass had impurities that could be used to aesthetic advantage. In time, he established his own glassworks, and his studios grew to employ several hundred artisans, including a team of talented women. Hiring women was counter to societal norms and angered male employees, but it was a smart business decision because the women did gorgeous work. Clara Driscoll headed Tiffany’s Women’s Glass Cutting Department and designed many of the studio’s signature floral lamps.

Louis enjoyed widespread recognition. Mark Twain hired his firm to design the first floor rooms in the author’s Hartford home, and President Chester A. Arthur commissioned them to redecorate the White House. Louis exhibited Tiffany Studio lamps at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and won a gold medal for a stained glass window at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Best of all for New Londoners, a number of the artist’s masterpieces are right here in the city. Louis was a frequent summer visitor at the Pequot Colony enclave, and fittingly, the Pequot Chapel on Montauk Avenue has two Tiffany angel windows.

Another local house of worship, Saint James Episcopal Church on Federal Street, has five Tiffany windows. Their Lawrence window in the south transept may have been donated by the Tiffanys or perhaps more likely by the descendants of Joseph Lawrence, for whom Lawrence Hospital (now L+M) was named. Together these windows have an awesome impact.

At the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, you can view a permanent Tiffany exhibit, anchored by “Come Unto Me,” a window acquired from the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New London. The collection includes three other windows, as well as paintings, lamps, and glassware.

If you’re feeling blue, viewing these exquisite masterpieces will fill your heart with joy.

New London benefits from yet another Tiffany legacy. Annie and her husband, Alfred Mitchell, had homes in New York, Jamaica, and New London. After they died, their grandson, Alfred Bingham, advocated for donating their New London property to the city for Mitchell College. He said he didn’t care about the money; he wanted his grandparents’ beautiful estate to be used for a worthwhile purpose.

Annie’s husband, Alfred, had his own adventurous life, and one of their daughters married the politician and explorer Hiram Bingham. Next month, more about this remarkable family.

Note: The Pequot Chapel is open between May and October. As of mid-December, St. James’ sanctuary was closed because of COVID, but Lyman Allyn is open.

 

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