With August almost here, it’s a good time to revisit this seasonal story from last summer, updated for 2014. Enjoy!
It’s pretty common knowledge among New Haveners that the large, white farmhouse located at 325 Lighthouse Road in Morris Cove is some sort of historical landmark.
But did you know that it was burned by British troops in 1779?
On a warm though decidedly less fiery afternoon in early June, the New Haven Museum opened the Pardee-Morris House’s doors for the 2014 season. The occasion was marked with a day of activities fusing past and present including lawn games, a flag-raising ceremony commemorating the installation of a brand-new flagpole and guided tours of the historic home.
As you’ll discover if you take such a tour—visiting the house is free and open to the public on Sundays between 12 and 4 p.m. through August 24th—there’s a lot to learn, and, keeping pace with its varied past, the 6,000 square-foot home is still evolving. That evolution includes hosting a number of entertaining events throughout the summer, from concerts to lectures.
“I want it to grow,” says Michelle Cheng, former Education Director at the New Haven Museum. In the past, educational efforts were focused exclusively on the colonial period, she says. “I want it to go beyond that.”
The homestead was indeed built during colonial times—sometime between 1744 and 1769, according to not quite exacting historical records—by an uncle of Amos Morris, who then inherited the house. William Pardee, “a descendant” of the Morris clan, acquired the home in 1915 from another Morris inheritor, and, by their surnames combined, the Pardee-Morris House got its present title.
Likely the most dramatic tale from the house’s long history is that British attack of July 5, 1779, when British troops, in an effort to “draw out the rebels” in colonies to the south, sailed into the Long Island Sound, sneaked onto land and set the Pardee-Morris House, as well as several other structures in the area, alight.
The soldiers planned to burn the entirety of New Haven, but things didn’t go accordingly, says Cheng. Ill-prepared for July in New Haven, the redcoats wore heavy wool suits, making them tired and slow and allowing other parts of the city to prepare and fight back. As a result, the city’s damages and losses only amounted to a handful of homes.
The Pardee-Morris House experienced much happier times when, sometime after the Civil War, and having long been rebuilt post-fire, it served as a boarding house during summers. Guests enjoyed the nearby beach and amusement center on Lighthouse Point.
When William Pardee purchased the house in 1915, he added some “modern conveniences”—like a bathroom on the second floor. He later willed the house to the New Haven Colonial Historical Society, now known as the New Haven Museum.
The Society arranged for the house to be restored by J. Frederick Kelly, who literally wrote the (okay, a) book on the subject (Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut), and who worked on the project from 1937 until his death 10 years later. It was subsequently furnished and toured as a colonial home with a caretaker on the premises, until the mid-2000s when a basement flood required the removal of the house’s furniture. The house’s rooms have been largely empty since.
But there’s a benefit in that, says Cheng. Unlike many historical homes that are copiously roped-off to preserve the furnishings, visitors to the Pardee-Morris House can get up-close to view the structure’s bones and scars—how it was built (and rebuilt). “You can see how it grew over time. You can see from the inside how that happened,” she says.
In addition to those regular Sunday afternoon hours, numerous special events have been held. Lectures on topics from beekeeping to historic preservation have dotted the summer schedule, and the free Twilight Concert series, on select Wednesday evenings, showcases local and regional musical acts on the lawn. Bring a blanket or lawn chairs to the two remaining shows of the summer, featuring bluegrassy “mountain music”-makers Cricket Tell the Weather at 7 p.m. tonight (a reschedule from an earlier rain-out) and singer-songwriter Pat Keogh delivering tales and tunes with his acoustic guitar at 7 p.m. on August 13. New Haven Museum folks open the grounds at 6 p.m. each of those nights, offering tours of the building ’til 8.
With the house’s summer season over in less than a month, there’s no time like the present to take them up on it.
325 Lighthouse Rd, New Haven (map)
New Haven Museum: (203) 562-4183
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.