Mystic's iconic Stone House getting new lease on life
Mystic — Ninety-one years after fire gutted the Stone House on Quoketaug Hill at the crest of Pequot Trail, the local landmark is being restored.
For decades, all that was left of the mansion built in 1825 by banker Elias Brown, a town selectman and member of the General Assembly, was the granite skeleton. Everything else was obliterated in a Nov. 4, 1924, fire. A historical account of the property reports that the Stanton brothers, early settlers and businessmen in town, bought the Stone House from Brown in 1855 for $10,000.
Today, descendants of the Stantons are rebuilding the Stone House. They plan to complete the restoration by the spring of 2016 and use the property for family outings and as a VRBO (vacation rental by owner.)
"It has been a dream, and the dream is coming true," said Anne Collier, 86, of Mystic and New York City, who inherited the property with her brothers from a grandmother in 1963. Decades later, when her brothers pushed to sell, Anne Collier refused, and in 1998 Quoketaug Hill Farm LLC was formed by cousins Anne Collier, Elaine Bogue and Greg McCue, with the latter two buying out the Collier brothers.
Their intent was to keep the property and one day possibly restore the Stone House, which has been in the family for 160 years.
Initially, relatives and friends contributed sweat equity, meeting for work parties on the 7-acre property and conducting "archaeological digs" to clean out 80 years of ash and rubble that filled the basement.
But a lack of funds deterred any serious restoration until two years ago, when Elaine Bogue decided she was either going to sell her shares or rebuild the Stone House.
"We all wanted to keep it. But money has always been tight," said Bogue, who lives in Massachusetts, where she is a mechanical engineer.
Today, Bogue is the primary owner of the property, with Collier, and Bogue's business partner, Joanne Krawczyk, who joined the LLC in 2014 and brought an infusion of cash to it.
Most weekends now, Bogue and Krawczyk are at the property, checking on work that has been completed during the week and doing whatever they can to help move the restoration forward.
Some of the work is being paid for by the owners, and the rest through bank financing. All told, Bogue said, the final investment will be about $1.3 million.
"I'm proud I own it, and I want to keep it," she said, explaining that the property holds fond memories for her and many relatives who grew up nearby on Quoketaug Hill.
The ongoing work has attracted attention, with many passersby stopping to ask about the Stone House and the restoration.
"It's like everybody owns this house, everybody has a stake in it," Collier said. "They're all so interested and have been interested for so long."
The granite structure has now been refortified, with a new basement poured and repairs made to the interior walls. The inside has been framed, two chimneys added, the cedar roof almost finished, and windows are going in.
With steel work completed for separate verandas on two floors, the three-story home will boast six bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms, six fireplaces, a gourmet kitchen, formal dining room, living room and a great room on the top floor offering sweeping views across Mystic to Fishers Island Sound.
More than a decade ago Old Mystic architects Mercer & Bertsche drew up plans to restore the Stone House to its glory days, and as much as possible, Bogue, her relatives and hired contractors are rebuilding the home to its original likeness.
"We've always had the desire to move forward, and the plans are a beacon to look towards a goal, " said cousin Michael McCue, who has been working as carpenter at the house. "We're no longer like Don Quixote jousting at windmills."
"I've always wanted to keep this place, for my mother," said Anne Collier, on a recent visit to the Stone House. "This property has been in the family since 1855."
It's a family project, she explained, adding that her job is "the cleaner," tidying up after contractors who leave sawdust or other dirt behind.
Over all the decades that the property just sat, Collier said it was always a special place for family, who gathered there for reunions.
"Those of us who loved the place kept it up as much as we could," she said, adding that a local farmer hayed the property and others did some landscaping.
Now, with the renovations well underway, the place is getting even more attention.
The Stone House has its own Facebook page, with more than 400 friends who get regular project updates and occasional tidbits about the long and rich history of the property.
New York City artist Peter Marcus was renting the place in 1924 when the ruinous fire occurred. Marcus was out at the time, with just his cook at home as flames consumed the Stone House.
While the five Stanton brothers bought the Stone House, it was one of their four sisters, Abby Jane, who married Giles Williams, who would be the one to pass the property and others at the top of what is now called Pequot Trail down through generations of her family. Abby Jane Williams drowned in a fire aboard the steamer Erie, which sank on Lake Erie en route to Chicago on Aug. 9, 1841. Her daughter, Josephine, would marry a Cottrell (the family founded Cottrell Lumber Co. in Mystic) and in 1865 they had a daughter, also named Josephine. That Josephine, who married silk merchant George Walworth Middleton, would live until 1963 (she was 98 when she died) and leave the Stone House to her granddaughter, Anne Collier, and her siblings.
"The house has always been a source of dreams for so many people, which I've found out since we started work on it," said Elaine Bogue, who is Collier's cousin on her mother's side. "For us, for family, it is a gathering place, but it's a community property, too. We own it, but we're happy to share it."
On a recent walk-through of the Stone House under construction, Bogue paused on the third floor to marvel at the view out the expansive windows.
"The view is unbelievable," said Michael McCue. "I've worked in million-dollar houses on the shore but never saw a view like we have here. On clear days you can reach out and grab Fishers Island, or Long Island, and on really clear days you can see Block Island."
McCue, who like his cousins, grew up across the street, is matter of fact about the long journey he and his relatives have been on to resurrect the Stone House.
"It was a nice place to hang out when we were young, but in old age, we thought, wouldn't it be great to restore the edifice," he said. "It was always a hope, but it was like chasing a boat in a tide. It just got away. ... Now, all the credit goes to Elaine (Bogue) for stepping up, and to Anne (Collier) for holding out."
Bogue is excited for the project to be finished but realistic about the time and investment that is still required.
"We're hoping to be completed by May 2016," she said, adding that each of the six bedrooms will be named for an ancestor, like the Stanton or Cottrell rooms.
"I just hope that everyone gets to enjoy it," she said. "We have to pay the mortgage, but we want people to enjoy it. It's just going to be fabulous when it's done."