Calkins Family Association purchases, hopes to restore ancestor's Norwich house
Norwich — Descendants of the 17th century owners of a house that stands on a 1659 original settlement plot saved the house from imminent demolition and hope to restore it as a library, education center and small museum.
The Calkins Family Association, a genealogy history group with members throughout the country, purchased the Hugh Calkins House at 232 W. Town St. from the O’Connell family for $120,000. The group took immediate steps to shore up the house and is raising money for the purchase and restoration.
“We knew it was for sale,” association President Nanette Calkins Armstrong of Sedona, Ariz., said Wednesday. “We’re just a small group. There was just no way we thought we could buy this.”
But in early March, association member Melissa Calkins of Quaker Hill contacted Armstrong with the terrible news that the house was slated for demolition.
“When they said they were going to destroy it, we said, ‘No, no, no, no, we’re not going to let that happen,'” Melissa Calkins said.
The association put a $5,000 deposit on the house, and a member loaned the group the remaining $115,000 to purchase the property outright. The deed was filed May 21 in the Norwich city clerk’s office, and the group wasted no time on its first steps to preserving the house.
Melissa Calkins said Miller Trucking of Preston donated the use of a large waste bin, and volunteers pulled out moldy carpet and debris damaged by the leaky roof. Mark Holdridge donated a heavy-duty roof tarp on the rear roof and shored up a ceiling to make it safe to work in one of the most damaged rooms. No longer will Calkins call the house “the Calkins indoor water garden,” she said.
Melissa Calkins was to meet with historic preservation architect Lyn Smith on Thursday to discuss what it will take to restore the house. A GoFundMe page, at bit.ly/calkinsgfm, has been launched, and the association is seeking large and small donations on its website, calkinsworld.org — "How about $16.59 or more?" the donation request states. Donations can be made by sending a check payable to CFA treasurer: Maggie Calkins, 3345 N. Park Blvd., Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.
Association members visited the house in 2000, when it held a Calkins/Caulkins family reunion in Norwich. Armstrong remembered going into the dirt and rock cellar and reaching up to touch an overhead beam.
“And I said: ‘Oh my goodness, Hugh touched that beam,’” she recalled.
The house was built on the 1659 land plot of John Pease, one of Norwich’s original settlers. The family believes the house dates at least back to the 1660s. According to information provided by the Norwich Historical Society, which assisted the Calkins Family Association with its effort, the house was owned by Hugh Calkins II in about 1683. Hugh’s second wife, Lois Standish, was the granddaughter of Capt. Miles Standish of the Mayflower settlers.
At least six generations of Calkins have lived there and members of the family served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
City Historian Dale Plummer, who said the current house more likely was built about 1720, said the house’s biggest significance dates to the 1740s. Hugh Calkins, grandson of the original settler, led a bitter religious separatist movement away from the established Puritan church at the Norwichtown Green.
In her book “History of Norwich,” 19th century historian Frances Manwaring Caulkins wrote that the New Light Brethren repeatedly challenged points of religious doctrine with the Rev. Benjamin Lord, and in 1745, the 13 dissenters were suspended from the church.
“The leaders in this movement were Hugh Calkins and Jedidiah Hide; and the first Separate meetings were held at the house of the former,” Caulkins wrote, “near Yantic bridge at the west end of the townplot.”
The Separatists refused to pay local taxes to pay for the Norwichtown church’s operations and upkeep. Some were imprisoned and violence erupted when the legislature sided with the original church, Caulkins wrote. Plummer cited their actions as a prelude to the concept of religious freedom.
Armstrong, the association president, said work will be slow to restore the house and open it to the public. The group plans to remove the dormers added later to restore the original appearance. The association will enlist the help of the Norwich Historical Society, the Connecticut Historic Preservation Office and the private group Preservation Trust. She also plans to write to neighbors in the Bean Hill National Historic District and to city government and political leaders to introduce the association and outline the group’s plans.
“We could not have taken this step without assistance from the Norwich Historical Society,” Armstrong said.
“We’re very, very pleased,” Norwich Historical Society Executive Director Regan Miner said Wednesday. “It’s the Historical Society’s plans to help the Calkins Family Association with the restoration process and be partners in the initiative. We’re guiding them through the proper channels, connecting them with the right people at the state level to get the project funded and ensure the historical integrity of the structure is preserved.”
Miner said the historical society’s goal for the past few months has been to find a buyer for the house to save it from demolition and restore it for reuse.
“We’re very thrilled the Calkins Family Association purchased the property and plans to restore it,” she said.