History of the House


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Ebenezer Clark constructed the house about 1725, possibly as early as 1684, and sold it to John Humphreville upon his marriage to Rebecca Clark in 1730.  The house construction was a two-over-two post-medieval post and beam structure with a summer beam for added support.  Descendants of Ebenezer owned the house until 1788 when it was purchased by sea captain Thomas Ward and his family. After the Captain's death in 1839, the Wards lived in the house until they sold it to Susan Perrin in 1861.

During this time, a shed was built across the back of the house, giving it the traditional saltbox shape. A large cooking hearth dominated the new addition.  Also at this time, the two original first floor rooms were remodeled in the Georgian style. Various members of the Ward family lived in the house until it was purchased from Henrietta Heitmann by Charles Elliott Pickett in 1909.  Mr. Pickett added the sunroom/library to the west side of the house.  In 1865 William Wallace Ward and Israel K. Ward were among the founders of the New Haven and West Haven Horse Rail Road Company which ran a horse drawn trolley between Elm Street in West Haven and New Haven. In 1894 it was consolidated with the Winchester Avenue Railroad Company, by which it became known. 


In 1868 Louisa Ward Heitmann purchased the house and in 1897 ownership passed to her daughter Henrietta, a businesswoman. Henrietta Heitmann added a wing to the house,which she used as a dame school. She also raised the shed to a full two stories and added a porch to the front of the house. Henrietta Heitmann was involved in several other business enterprises, including the schooner Charles F. Tuttle.  


In the 20th century, the house was occupied by several families in succession. In 1919, Marie and Philandro  Armstrong may have covered the clapboards with shingles. In 1922 Marie Gouin Armstrong opened an antique shop called “The Stepping Stone,” In 1936, the Dwight Hamilton family rented the house from new owner, George E. Hodson and opened a tearoom, the Hamilton House . During the 1940s, the house was owned by the Fennessy family. In those years, the hearth room was remodeled as a “colonial restoration.”

Dr. and Mrs. Nicola Milano owned the house from 1949 to 1995. During this period, the house was modernized with upgraded electricity, additional bathrooms and a modern kitchen. However, the basic structure of the house was left intact.


The Milano family gave the house to the Natioinal Trust for Historic Preservation in 1995. In that year, the Ward-Heitmann House Museum Foundation bought the house for the purpose of restoring it as a “living museum” for the people of West Haven and the surrounding area. The house has been made structurally sound and new heating/cooling, electrical wiring and security systems have been installed. On the second floor, several interior walls of a relatively modern era have been removed to expose the massive stone chimney around which the house was built and to allow the early period (c.1725) north wall of the house to be visible. All five fireplaces have been restored and can be used for hearth cooking and crafts such as candle-making.


Restoration work on Henrietta Heitmann’s schoolroom led to an archaeological dig beneath the floor. Many artifacts detailing the lives of the families who lived in the house have been unearthed are on display in the museum’s display room.  A paint study has revealed the exterior and interior colors used in the house over the centuries. These colors have been used in the restoration.


In the fall of 1999 a shoe was found beneath the floor of a closet on the second floor of the House.  It is 7-1/2 inches long, hand-sewn and very worn.  With it was found a blue and white ceramic sherd.  More than 2000 similarly concealed shoes have been found in England and Europe.  About 200 have been found in the United States.  Our shoe is listed on the concealed shoe list of the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery  (England). 


In September 2004 a cache of 36 Brown Bess type musket flints and one pistol flint was found beneath the floor boards of the second floor of the House, between an original outer wall and the chimney. From their size (approx. 1” x 1-1/4”) it can be determined that the flints were for military use and date to the period of the American Revolution. In some of the flints small amounts of chalk are embedded, showing that the flints were knapped from the cliffs of Dover, England. More flints were later found beneath another board close to the others. From the way the original flints were lying, it is probable that they had been in a pouch. Remains of mouse-nibbled fabric and several buckles were found. According to CT State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, the cache is the largest found anywhere along the East Coast.  Research is being conducted to find out why the flints were placed there.

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On January 8. 2003, The Ward-Heitmann House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


 

More historical information can be found at the following websites:

Links to civic organizations:

  • City of West Haven
  • West Haven Public Library
  • West Haven Chamber of Commerce
  • New Haven Chamber of Commerce
 

 

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