'Yankee thrift': Groton home incorporates bits of 19th century luxury steamboat
Groton — Inside a Groton Long Point home, with dark wood floors and light streaming in through the windows, are constant reminders of how an earlier generation traveled.
Banisters on the stairs, rectangular paneling above the living room fireplace and the white frill trim adorning the dining room mantelpiece are all from the City of Worcester, a Norwich line steamboat built in the late 1800s.
A door from the luxury liner, with an elaborate handle, now connects the home's dining room and basement. A white corner cupboard, its bottom drawers secured with hinges to prevent them from falling out while the ship was in transit, is still in use.
The original homeowners incorporated these and other adornments from the ship when they built the house in 1916 with lumber salvaged from the ship, according to Jeffrey and Linda Krulwich, the current owners. The house, described as a "classic shingle and stone craftsman home," at 7 and 9 Cross St. is now up for sale for $750,000, according to the listing.
City of Worcester
According to the book "Steamboat Days" by Fred Dayton, the City of Worcester steamer — which carried passengers from New York to southeastern Connecticut — was constructed in Wilmington, Del., in 1881 by the Harlan and Hollingsworth Company for the Norwich and New York Transportation Company. The "iron side-wheeler," dubbed the "Belle of the Sound," was 340 feet long with a 2,500 horse power engine and the capacity to hold 700 people and 110 tons of freight.
"The interior decorations were expensive, the saloons being finished in hard woods of all kinds, and much was inlaid, and this was the second steamer to have electric lights," Dayton wrote.
The Sept. 22, 1881, edition of The Day reported that the new steamer, which had “received a fresh coat of paint and came off the dry dock in excellent order,” made the trip from New York to southeastern Connecticut “in the remarkable time of 6.52” hours.
At that time, steamboats not only cut down on travel time but also offered an experience where passengers could relax and have dinner or drinks, all while in transit, explained Paul J. O'Pecko, vice president of research collections and director of the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport Museum.
The Norwich line advertised its City of Worcester as being "without any exception the fastest, most elegantly fitted steamboat on the Sound," according to "A Maritime History of New York," a New York City Works Progress Administration Writers' Project first published in 1941.
Author Roger Williams McAdam wrote in "Salts of the Sound" that when the City of Worcester arrived in New London, the steamboat's whistle at times could be heard from Norwich, and the sound earned the honor of being "the most musical whistle in New York harbor" in a contest run by a New York publication.
At 6 p.m. Nov. 16, 1882, the steamer was involved in a collision in the East River in New York, when it ran into the side of a barge carrying sugar, according to The Day's archives. The barge sank and seven people who were on it drowned as a result, with only the captain being able to be saved, while the City of Worcester "received but slight injuries," the newspaper reported. The cause of the accident was unknown at the time, but it is thought "that the force of the tide was miscalculated."
In January 1890, the ship, which was carrying 1,300 bales of cotton in the fog, came "ashore on Bartlett's reef." About a week after the accident, The Day ran an article reporting that "Steamer City of Worcester is now safe at anchor in 'Green's harbor,' within a stone's throw of Captain Scott's residence, where she can be carefully examined and repaired sufficiently to admit of being towed to New York for hauling out on the dry dock."
The ship again sank in New London Harbor after striking a reef on May 28, 1898, but the "passengers were removed" and the ship was raised, according to "Shipwrecks Along the Atlantic Coast" by William P. Quinn.
Despite this accident and running aground two times before — including the Jan. 1890 accident — the ship survived for years and ultimately was dismantled in 1914, author Robert Owen Decker noted in "The Whaling City: A History of New London."
A Jan. 1, 1914, advertisement in the Norwich Bulletin lists a host of items and furniture from the City of Worcester that went for sale in Stonington, including mahogany and brass bedsteads, chairs, desks, lounges, mirrors, crockery and "700 live goose feather pillows."
At least one other home in the area, located in Stonington, also has adornments from the steamer, O'Pecko said.
Susan Tamulevich, executive director of the New London Maritime Society, said there's a long tradition of marine salvage and, save for a major disaster, "it only makes sense to reuse good materials."
"There are quite a number of houses in the area which have made good use of salvaged goods from all manner of boats," Tamulevich said. "The steamships in particular were beautifully crafted. Salvage companies and divers like T. A. Scott risked their lives to bring up ships that sank to the bottom of the seas and reclaim the materials."
Salvaged items, such as a mirror from the steamship Stonington at the Custom House Maritime Museum in New London, are potent reminders of historic maritime events and "our thrifty Yankee character," she said.
Linda Krulwich said that when she walks around the house and sees the adornments from the steamship, it's a constant reminder of how people lived in generations past and of progress in transportation.
"It just reminds you of the history of the people before you," she said.
"It's character. It's charming. It's history, just to have that story to tell," said Dave Thomas, agent with William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty.
When looking at old photographs of elegantly dressed people on the luxury liner, it's not hard to imagine that one of them could have run their hands on the railings or been in the room with the cupboard.
"To think that these pieces were touched by travelers of that generation is pretty incredible," Thomas said.