Upcycling Stonington History

Located waterfront in Stonington Borough, the historic, former schoolhouse at 25 Orchard Street is now luxury condominiums. Apartment 11 is currently for sale, with an asking price of $1.25 million. Broker Thomas Switz represents the seller.
Located waterfront in Stonington Borough, the historic, former schoolhouse at 25 Orchard Street is now luxury condominiums. Apartment 11 is currently for sale, with an asking price of $1.25 million. Broker Thomas Switz represents the seller.

Stonington Borough has the distinction of being the first in Connecticut to be incorporated in 1801. Some 30 years later, the railroad came to town, and with it, manufacturing. Prosperity and a growing population inspired the district voters to appropriate $25,000 to build a grand new school that would consolidate three smaller area schools.

In 1887, Architects Atwood W. Brayton and Lorenzo H. Lamb were commissioned by the town. Their vision called for a late-Victorian Second Empire style, with a tower for the school bell presiding over the mansard roofline. The school opened just a year later in 1888, with 326 pupils across all grade levels.

By 1903, Stonington was bustling with community and commerce. The American Velvet Company, a foundry, and a boiler factory had all opened for business. A Portuguese fishing fleet operated from the village's docks. The school's student population had grown to more than 600, prompting the local newspaper, the Stonington Mirror, to publish an editorial. In an August 15, 1902 column, Editor Jerome Anderson, Jr. wrote, "More room is absolutely necessary."

The town appropriated another $25,000 and commissioned New York City Architect Wilson H. Potter to build an addition that was in keeping with the architectural style of the original building and could accommodate 400 additional students — and so it functioned until the late 1930s.

By 1939, a new high school opened in Pawcatuck, and the Stonington Borough School was re-tasked as an elementary school.

The building was added to the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places in August 1978, just five years after serving its final day as a community elementary school in 1973. Two fires — one in 1973 and another in 1974 — forced the school's permanent closure. The Town of Stonington listed the building for sale, with the hope that it could be refurbished and become residences, and that's precisely how its story continued.

Restored and renewed

Real estate broker Thomas Switz, of Mystic-based Switz Real Estate Associates, has some personal history with "the Borough School." His father attended the high school. His mother taught second grade at the school, and Switz himself was a resident of the building for a number of years.

More recently, Switz has been engaged as the listing broker for Apartment 11, a two-bedroom condominium currently listed for $1.25 million. "You have some really pretty views out to Little Narragansett Bay," Switz said. "And this home has been completely remodeled."

His clients, Mark Renfrow and James Eckerle acquired the property several years ago as a coastal retreat from their primary residence in New York City.

"We'd always intended it to be more of a getaway, but during COVID, we certainly spent almost all of our time there, because we live part-time in New York, and it was nice to have the option of not being in New York during that period," Renfrow recalled.

This particular condo is situated on the second floor of the former schoolhouse, a secure building. It affords one-level living with elevator access, the listing agent pointed out.

Renfrow, a New York City-based interior designer, completely transformed the 2,298-square-foot residence. For example, there had been a raised platform in the living room, used to designate a den area. That was removed and new oak hardwood was added to match.

A center support beam in the main living area was necessary, but an eyesore, so they designed a clever "cube" around it that could also house a TV and a printer, tucking them away when not in use. The living room also has a cozy wood-burning fireplace.

The kitchen was expanded into the living area. An island with seating creates a lovely perch for casual dining, for use as a serving area when entertaining or as prep space for cooking. The main kitchen area has custom cabinetry, marble backsplashes, granite counters and appliances by JennAir, and it's separated through an archway from the island. "So, the cook can be out amongst people or kind of hidden back there, too," Renfrow said.

The owners even carefully considered wallcoverings, studying swatches for some time. The grass cloth they chose for the entry foyer and hallway is a nod to Stonington's natural coastal beauty and a subtle way to add texture to the walls.

The owners have especially appreciated some of the property's amenities. When guests paid visits, they've been able to leverage an apartment in the building that's available for short-term lease, expressly for owners' guests. They've also thoroughly enjoyed the dock and imagine the new owners will, too. It has slips that accommodate up to 13-foot boats, and residents are welcome to drop in their canoes or kayaks.

"We were out there a lot in the summer," Renfrow said, recalling parties and dockside dinners. He commented on the light in Stonington, which residents and visitors appreciate. It has a special quality. The dock looks out across the water, past Sandy Point to Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

"The light on Watch Hill from that vantage point is just beautiful," he said.

When Renfrow and Eckerle first visited Stonington at the invitation of a friend, they dined a Noah's, a local favorite. "We fell in love with it," he said. "Years later, when we were considering buying a second home, we said, 'What about Stonington? That was awful cute.'"

Realtor Thomas Switz knows firsthand Stonington's idyllic appeal. He spoke about witnessing the Borough School's evolution: "To be able to save a beautiful building like this and to provide 20 families the opportunity to live on the water in Stonington is truly special."

Apartment 11 at 25 Orchard Street was remodeled and redesigned by co-owner Mark Renfrow, a New York City-based interior designer.
Apartment 11 at 25 Orchard Street was remodeled and redesigned by co-owner Mark Renfrow, a New York City-based interior designer.
The condominium’s kitchen has marble backsplash, JennAir appliances, custom cabinetry and granite counters
The condominium’s kitchen has marble backsplash, JennAir appliances, custom cabinetry and granite counters
The renovation work included an expansion of the kitchen by reclaiming some of the open-plan living area and adding an island with seating.
The renovation work included an expansion of the kitchen by reclaiming some of the open-plan living area and adding an island with seating.

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