History Revisited: Groton’s summer resort hotels a thing of the past
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two articles providing some historical information about four large summer resort hotels once located in the Eastern Point area of Groton.
Last week’s article provided a short account relating to the early stages of development in the Eastern Point area of Groton, in the mid-to-late 1880s, which made it one of the most popular summer vacation resort areas in southern New England.
In the late 1830s, Albert L. Avery, the largest land owner of property in the southwest portion of the Town of Groton, had a vision of establishing a recreational and summer resort on land located on the edge of the Thames River facing Long Island Sound.
In the mid-1840s, Avery persuaded former whaling captain Silas Fisk, who operated a small rooming house in the area called the “Fisk House,“ to increase the size of the house to accommodate a greater number of vacationers. With the two additions Fisk added to the house, it could now accommodate up to 70 guests. Renamed the “Ocean House,” it quickly became one of the most popular summer resort hotels in the northeast.
The Ocean House remained under the (intermittent) proprietorship of Fisk, his wife Julia, and members of both of their families, until the unfortunate drowning of Fisk in 1781. Roswell Edgcomb, the brother of Julia Fisk, took over ownership of the Ocean House shortly after the death of captain Fisk.
Immediately after taking ownership of the Ocean House and, with the demand for lodging at Eastern Point continuing to increase, Edgcomb built an additional hotel a short distance from the old hotel. The newer hotel, named the Edgcomb House, was twice the size of the old Ocean House and could accommodate 125 guests. With both hotels now in operation, a little over 300 rooms were now available for vacationers.
In the mid-1880s, brothers Albert P. and John D. Sturtevant, wealthy businessmen from Norwich who owned several mills in Connecticut and a popular hotel in New York City, became financially interested in further development of the Eastern Point summer resort. The Sturtevants purchased a considerable amount of property at the point and divided it into 50 building lots on which they built several “gingerbread style” summer cottages.
In 1885, the Sturtevants purchased the Edgcomb House and several parcels of land surrounding it. The hotel was renamed Fort Griswold House. Work began to renovate and remodel the old Edgcomb House and incorporate it into a new addition that doubled the size of the building.
The new hotel was four stories high with a frontage of 206 feet. Facilities on the first floor included a lobby and reception area, a large parlor room with open fireplaces, men’s smoking and reading rooms. There was a 50-foot by 90-foot dining room for adult guests and a smaller, separate dining room for nurses and children.
A total of 175 guest rooms, all identical in size and construction, were located on the upper three floors. When necessary, heating arrangements could be provided to approximately 100 of the rooms.
Of interest and, a little hard to fathom in today’s world, was that the hotel boasted all of the rooms were connected to the hotel office by electric bells, and 85 of them by speaking tubes.
To provide accommodations for additional guests, the Sturtevants also added a new brick, five-story wing at the rear of the old Edgcomb House portion of the new hotel. The newly remodeled hotel, with its two large additions, could now provide rooms for upwards of 300 guests.
In addition to the need for rooms for vacationers, it was also necessary to provide living spaces for the many workers at the hotel. This problem was solved rather quickly when the old Ocean House was removed to the rear of the new hotel and divided into a number of buildings to be occupied by the help.
After the death of Albert P. Sturtevant in 1893, control and oversight of the Fort Griswold House became entangled in legal issues relating to his estate. Unfortunately, this caused the upkeep of the hotel to slowly diminish.
In 1903, Morton F. Plant, a wealthy businessman who had inherited millions of dollars from his father’s business ventures in railroads, steamship and resort hotels in the South, built his summer mansion, the Branford House, at his Avery Point estate property at Eastern Point.
Within a few years of coming to Groton, Plant, who had himself built a summer resort hotel in Clearwater, Florida, took a keen interest in the ownership of the waning Fort Griswold House.
In June 1905, Morton Plant purchased the Fort Griswold House, its contents and the various properties surrounding it.
With money being no object due to his wealth, in conjunction with his crew and wide ranged knowledge of construction trades, Plant developed a plan to demolish his recently purchased hotel at the end of the summer vacation period in September and replace it with a new and modern hotel in time for the opening of the new summer season the following June.
Knowing that most building trade work was accomplished in the summer months and that there would be an abundance of tradesmen seeking work during the summer months, he signed contracts with those companies which did not have work scheduled for the winter. Also, realizing that comforts of workers meant better results, Plant arranged for lodging in New London and provided the services of a steamer boat to transport them to and from the work site in Groton.
By the time the Fort Griswold House stopped operation on Sept. 4, 1905, all building contracts had been signed and materials and equipment were being delivered on site. By mid-September, much of the old hotel had been demolished and, by Sept. 30 over 150 men were busy building the new and improved hotel.
On June 28, 1906, some 225 days since the closing of the Fort Griswold House, Plant’s new Griswold Hotel opened for business. Over 400 people attended the grand opening of the new 250-room hotel.
Services and amenities available at the new four-story hotel were too many to describe in the confines of this article.
The popularity and desire to stay at this new hotel became enormous and, within a brief period of time, it was necessary to build additions to accommodate the demand for rooms. A new wing was added on the south side of the hotel in 1907, an annex built in 1910, and an additional floor was added to the main hotel in 1916. Ultimately, the Griswold possessed 400 rooms with a capacity for at least 500 guests.
Over the next 50 years The Griswold was considered to be one of the best summer resort hotels on the Atlantic Coast. During its heyday, the hotel was a prime location for many business, military and professional organizations to hold conventions.
Unfortunately, demands for maintenance and upkeep became financially unsustainable and the Griswold Hotel closed its doors for the last time in June 1967.
Ultimately, the hotel and associated properties were purchased by Pfizer, Inc. and the hotel was razed in 1969. The land on which the hotel once sat subsequently became the property of the Town of Groton, which in turn converted the land into three golf holes on the town-owned Shennecossett Golf Course.
The history surrounding the hotels previously located at Eastern Point certainly contributed to making this portion of Groton a prime location to spend the summer months. Details concerning the various and notable activities at the Griswold Hotel will certainly make for an interesting subject for a future article.
Note: Barbara Nagy contributed to the Eastern Point hotel articles.
Jim Streeter is Groton Town historian.
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