Monday, March 26, 2018

Hillside's Palliser Homes

The Hillside neighborhood has some of the most ornate homes in the city. Developed during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hillside was home to Waterbury's wealthiest residents: factory owners and upper management, bankers and financiers, attorneys and judges, real estate developers, and business owners.

Although most of the houses were built for families, some were built for the unmarried daughters of industrialists. One such house, on Hillside Avenue, was built for Mary L. Mitchell, a widow whose brother, Charles Benedict, built a mansion for himself right next door.

The architect for both houses was Palliser, Palliser & Co., a Bridgeport-based firm that specialized in "cottages." During the late 1800s, the term cottage was used to describe the Queen Anne or stick style, no matter how large or grand the house might be.

House and floorplans from advertising brochure
for Palliser's New Cottage Homes, c. 1888.
This house was built in Peekskill, NY.

 The Pallisers published their architectural designs as pattern books during the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. Copies of their publications are available for free from Others can be accessed online from Hathitrust.

The design books include floorplans and elevations, decorative trim details, ceiling ornaments, fireplaces, and even furniture.

The best-known Palliser building in Waterbury is the house built for Charles Benedict, known today as the Benedict-Miller House, which later became part of the UConn-Waterbury campus and is now part of the Yeshiva K'tana campus.

Benedict-Miller House, 32 Hillside Avenue
Photo taken in 2006

The Benedict-Miller House was part of a complex of homes overlooking Waterbury on Hillside Avenue designed by Palliser, Palliser, & Co. during the late 1870s and early 1880s. Houses for Mary Mitchell and her brother Charles Benedict, along with a carriage house and a greenhouse, were built in 1879. They shared a grand driveway accessed from Buckingham Street.

Nelson J. Welton, a local politician, judge, and City Engineer, hired Palliser, Palliser, & Co. to build his house, to the west of Mary Mitchell's house, in 1883. His driveway entrance was on Pine Street, with a carriage house just before the main house. The Nelson J. Welton house was showcased in Palliser's New Cottage Homes design book, published in 1888.

Detail of the 1899 map of Waterbury showing, from left to right, the Nelson J. Welton house, Mary Mitchell house, and Charles Benedict house (Benedict-Miller House).

Charles Benedict

Charles Benedict and Mary Lyman (Benedict) Mitchell were the children of the brass giant Aaron Benedict (1785-1873). Aaron Benedict started out as a button maker in 1812, specializing in buttons made from bone and ivory. Eleven years later, he founded the A. Benedict company, which manufactured gilt brass buttons. The business did well until 1837, when a national financial panic started a massive recession. Aaron Benedict's company eventually stopped production for three years; in 1843, it was reformed as Benedict & Burnham, Waterbury's first joint stock corporation. (For more on Aaron Benedict's partner, Gordon W. Burnham, see my earlier post).

Benedict & Burnham flourished, becoming one of the largest brass manufacturers in Waterbury. Several companies were created by them, including Waterbury Button, Waterbury Watch, Waterbury Clock, and American Pin.

Aaron Benedict's wife was Charlotte Porter, daughter of Abel Porter, who is credited with starting the Waterbury brass industry in 1802. Abel Porter's company eventually became Scovill Manufacturing. The Porter, Benedict, and Scovill families were all connected by marriage as well as by business: Charlotte Porter and Aaron Benedict's daughter Charlotte married Scovill M. Buckingham, nephew of the Scovill brothers for whom that company was named.

Charles Benedict succeeded his father as the head of Benedict & Burnham. An older brother, George, died in 1862 following a brief illness. A third sister, Frances Jennett, died in 1830, when she was a teenager.

Charles Benedict married Cornelia Johnson in 1845. The couple had four children: Amelia, Aaron, Charlotte, and Cornelia. Their live-in household staff included a cook, a waitress, and a maid. Daughter Charlotte married Gilman Hill, secretary for Waterbury Brass Co.,  and the couple lived with her parents.
Charles Benedict
Portrait published in The Town and City of Waterbury, Volume II

Charles Benedict had little opportunity to enjoy the grand mansion built by Palliser for him on Hillside Avenue. He died in 1881, just as the house was being completed. His obituary noted that he was one of the wealthiest and most prominent men in Connecticut. The entire city was shut down for his funeral -- factories, banks, and stores were all closed.

Benedict-Miller House, c. 1890
Collection of Mattatuck Museum

Charles Miller Family

After Charles Benedict's estate was settled, his grand mansion was sold to Charles Miller, one of the founders of the Miller & Peck department store in downtown Waterbury. Miller, like Benedict before him, was one of the wealthiest men in Waterbury, largely due to his investments in the brass industry as well as his success as a dry goods merchant. During the late 1890s, Miller successfully sued for control of the Randolph-Clowes brass manufacturing company and became president of the company in 1904. Miller died in 1917; his estate was the largest ever probated in Waterbury, valued at $3.7 million.

Charles Miller, c. 1910
Published in The Metal Industry, September 1910, p. 399

Miller was married twice. His first wife, Abigail Welton, died in 1860. He remarried soon after, to Sarah Eliza Benton. Their first daughter, born in 1866, was named Abby Mitchell Miller, in memory of Charles Miller's first wife. Tragically, Abby died in 1872. Another daughter, Bessie, died in infancy.

Charles and Sarah Miller had four other daughters, Lucretia, Sarah (Sallie), Margaret, and Elizabeth, and one son, Charles.

In 1891, Miller filled the greenhouse with orchids, purchasing the George W. Cheesman orchid collection, consisting of 700 plants of 500 different varieties (Hartford Courant, 23 April 1981).

 The family typically had four servants living in the house with them in any given year, usually three women who worked inside the house, and one man who worked as the gardener.

Daughter Sallie Benton Miller, born in 1875, married another industrialist, Ralph Smith of Smith & Griggs. She later purchased a home in the Adirondacks, where she became legendary for her bootlegging during Prohibition, sneaking liquor in from Montreal. She set up a speakeasy in her basement, where she had installed a bar salvaged from the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1930. Sallie Smith is also known for her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Her home in the Adirondacks is now a bed & breakfast. (Washington Post, 29 November 2007)

The Miller's daughter Margaret, born in 1885, never married and lived in the Benedict-Miller House most of her life. In 1940, she shared the enormous home with two Irish servants: a cook, Hannah Quinn; and a maid, Sarah Hannan. In 1952, the City of Waterbury purchased the property for use as a college campus and convinced UConn to relocate its Waterbury branch there.

Benedict-Miller House
Photo taken in 2006

Mary Mitchell

Mary Lyman Benedict Mitchell was the longest-lived member of her family. She died in 1911 at the age of 91. Named for her paternal aunt, Mary Lyman Benedict married John S. Mitchell in 1838. Her husband worked at Benedict & Burnham and rose quickly up the ladder, becoming the principal business manager. The couple had one son, Charles Benedict Mitchell, who was born in 1840. Tragically, their son died in 1854. They had no other children.

In 1846, John Mitchell developed a chronic disease which left him unable to continue working in the Benedict family business. Instead, he took up floriculture, filling his greenhouses with flowers. One of the first trustees of Riverside Cemetery, John Mitchell helped select many of the landscaping features. During the 1840s and 1850s, the Mitchells lived with Mary's parents, Aaron and Charlotte Benedict, in their house on South Main Street.

John's health eventually improved enough for him to start his own company manufacturing gas fixtures. Mitchell, Vance & Co., founded in 1855, was based in New York City. John and Mary moved to Westchester County, NY in 1863, although Mary still spend a significant portion of her time each year with her parents in Waterbury. John's health eventually deteriorated; he died in 1875.

Following her husband's death, Mary returned to Waterbury to live next door to her brother Charles in their Palliser-designed homes on Hillside Avenue. While her brother's house was grandiose and commanding, Mary's house was nestled into the hillside, partially hidden by carefully placed trees.

Mary Mitchell's House, 54 Hillside Avenue, c. 1900
Collection of Mattatuck Museum

In 1880, Mary shared her home with Mary Acheson, an 18 year old student who left soon after, and three Irish servants: maid Alice Foster, cook Annie McMeaney, and coachman John Priestly. The coachman, as was typical for the era, lived in an apartment that was separate from the main house.

Mary Mitchell's cousin, Sarah L.W. Nash, moved in with her sometime around 1886. Mary Mitchell and Sarah Nash appear to have been life-long friends as well as cousins.

Mary’s circle of friends included Georgeanna “Georgy” Muirson Woolsey Bacon, one of the first women to train as a nurse with Dorothea Dix, along with her sisters, Eliza and Jane Woolsey. Georgy helped found the Connecticut Training School for Nurses in New Haven. She left a small amount of money to Mary in her will.

In 1896, Mary donated $5,000 to establish an endowment at Waterbury Hospital to provide a free bed for eye and ear patients. She would later be a major donor to the construction of a new building for Waterbury Hospital, which opened in the fall of 1911. In 1904, she contributed to the fund for the creation of the Elton Hotel. She was a life member and patron of the New Haven County Anti-Tuberculosis Association.

Mary Mitchell House, 54 Hillside Avenue
Photo by Randy Clark, 2007, for Houses of the Hillside Neighborhood, available from the Mattatuck Museum

Mary Mitchell died on April 19, 1911 and was buried at Riverside Cemetery. She left bequests to the American Home Missionary Society, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Congregational Association, the Congregational Education Society, the American Missionary Association, the American Seaman’s Friend Society, the Waterbury YMCA and the Waterbury YWCA, the Waterbury Industrial School, Waterbury Hospital, Riverside Cemetery Association, the Waterbury Day Nursery Association, the Congregational Church Building Fund of NY, and the Congregational Church Society of Waterbury.

Mary also left bequests to family, friends, and employees. John Reardon and Frederick Chatfield, who was her coachman, were bequeathed $500 each provided they were still in her employ at the time of her death. Other beneficiaries were Rev. John C. Davenport ($2,000); Ruth Sloan ($300); Elizabeth E. Davis, widow of Lenthel S. Davis ($1,000); Mary Terrill, daughter of her cousin Mary Davis ($2,000); Nelson J. Welton, executor of the estate ($500 plus reasonable charges); Mary Mitchell LeMoyne of NY ($2,000 and a diamond ring). The bequests included some property: Sarah L. Moore of Waterbury received Mary Mitchell’s piano, pianola and its music, and $5,000; and Dr. Caroline R. Conkey received the house and lot at 21 and 23 Hillside Avenue, as well as $5,000.

Mary Mitchell House, 54 Hillside Avenue
Photo by Randy Clark, 2007, for Houses of the Hillside Neighborhood, available from the Mattatuck Museum

Sarah L. W. Nash

Although born in Albany, NY, Sarah’s family was from Waterbury. She was the daughter of William and Fanny (Porter) Leavenworth and granddaughter of Abel Porter. Sarah married Benjamin Pierson Watrous of Albany, NY at St. John’s Church in Waterbury in 1839. Benjamin Watrous died in 1853 and was buried in Waterbury.

Sarah married Frederick Nash in 1855. They moved first to Ohio, then to Vermont after the Civil War, and then back to Waterbury in 1882. Frederick died in Montreal in 1886, after which Sarah moved in with Mary Mitchell. Sarah had children, and normally widows would be more likely to move in with their children than with another widow. However, Sarah may have preferred to stay in Waterbury, and she and Mary were presumably close friends.

Sarah appears to have lived with Mary until her death in 1907. Sarah’s will left all of her money, possessions, and her stock in the Blake & Johnson Manufacturing Company to her “dear daughter” Mary T. W. Graves.

Nelson J. Welton Family

The third Palliser house on Hillside Avenue was built in 1883 for Nelson J. Welton, the City Engineer who oversaw the creation of Waterbury's first sewer system and the construction of several reservoirs. Welton was also active in politics, serving as Town Clerk, City Clerk, Probate Judge, and State Representative.

Nelson J. Welton House, 86 Hillside Avenue, c. 1900
Collection of Mattatuck Museum

Nelson Welton married Frances (Fannie) Rosalba Phillips during the late 1850s. The couple had only one child, a daughter named Ina, who died in infancy. Without children of their own, the Weltons frequently shared their home at various times with other relatives, including Nelson's nephew. Frank R. Welton, and cousin Catherine Beers.

After the death of his wife in 1900, Nelson Welton hired a housekeeper to oversee the running of his home. Nelson died in 1917, after which the house was sold to Dr. John Sinclair Dye and his wife, Lucy Starkweather Wade Dye.

The Welton house has been modified since its original construction; today it has more of a Colonial Revival appearance, thanks in part to a modification of the front porch in the 1920s.

Front Hall, Nelson J. Welton House, 86 Hillside Avenue, c. 1890
Collection of Mattatuck Museum

Nelson J. Welton House, illustrated in Palliser's New Cottage Homes

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