Johnson Home in Norwich to close after more than 100 years as a residence for ‘retired ladies’
Norwich ― After more than a century of providing an independent living home for “retired ladies,” the Johnson Home at 100 Town St. at the Norwichtown Green will permanently close in the near future.
The home’s board of directors had been working for the past nine months with officials at the Eliza Huntington Home, a similar facility on Washington Street, on a possible merger that could saved the historic Johnson Home.
But that plan fell through last week.
The two facilities’ boards held a joint meeting Wednesday, and the Johnson Home’s seven-member board voted unanimously to close the facility that had been incorporated in 1907, board President Pamela Collelo said Monday.
“We had the feasibility study completed, and with the amount of upgrades, changes to the home the state would now require if the two were to merge, the merge is not going to happen,” Collelo said. “We came to the very difficult decision at the board meeting Wednesday that we will now have to close the Johnson Home.”
The home’s acting administrator, Tina Yeitz, who also is the administrator of the Huntington Home, said the Johnson Home’s eight residents and their families were informed Thursday and Friday of the plan to close as early as the end of December. The timing of the closure, however, must follow state Department of Social Services protocols and cannot be finalized at this point, Yeitz and Collelo said.
Yeitz said she contacted officials at DSS and the state Department of Public Health Monday and sent official letters of intent to close to family and residents Monday.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure everybody is going to be placed accordingly,” Yeitz said. “We will work with the state ombudsman very closely to make sure the ladies are placed as closely as possible to their choice and to make sure they will be involved in that process.”
The future of the home came into question in February, when Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order requiring all residential care staff be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus took effect. The Johnson Home’s administrator at the time and other staff resigned when the mandated vaccination deadline approached, Collelo said.
“It was tough during COVID in general,” she said.
The home has a capacity of 14 residents, but when the merger talks started in February, officials at the two facilities decided not to accept new applications given the uncertainty of the merger. The Eliza Huntington Home now is at its capacity of 22 residents and could only offer a waiting list to Johnson residents, Yeitz said.
The merger fell through mainly because the state would have required extensive renovations and upgrades to the historic three-story Johnson Home triggered by new ownership, Collelo and Yeitz said.
The home is located within the Norwichtown Historic District, requiring special approval for exterior renovations visible from the street, Historic District Chairwoman Regan Miner said. She said renovation projects might be eligible for state historic tax credits through the state Office of Historic Preservation.
Collelo said the future of the building has not yet been decided. The Johnson Home board will meet after Thanksgiving to review the home’s charter and incorporation papers before deciding the disposition of the building.
The home sits on the site of the former Azariah Lathrop Tavern, but the Johnson Home building appears to date back to the mid-1800s, city Historian Dale Plummer said.
According to a write-up on the history of the building provided by Miner, who also is executive director of the Norwich Historical Society, the tavern was partially destroyed by fire in the early 19th century.
In 1829, the Union Hotel Co. purchased the property and erected the current brick building on the tavern’s original stone foundation. The hotel became a boarding school and the property eventually was deeded to the First Congregational Church across the street.
In 1889, Maria Johnson decreed that her wealthy estate be used to create a home for “aged and needy Protestant women,” the write-up stated. The Johnson Home, Inc. bought the former hotel from the church for $1 to serve that purpose.
The home opened in 1907, eventually accepting residents of any religion.