Smith-Harris House, c. 1845
Thomas Avery House
(Smith-Harris House)

   East Lyme is also home to the Thomas Avery House, a c.1845 Greek Revival farmhouse on the National Register of Historic Houses. Also known as the Smith-Harris House, the house is located at 33 Society Road, Niantic.  You may contact the museum by phone at 860.739.0761 or email at [email protected].

   The Smith-Harris House Museum opens to visitors in June for the summer season. It will be open Friday through Sunday, noon to 4:00 p.m., through August. (Closed July 4th weekend.) Tours are every hour on the half-hour, starting at 12:30 p.m.; last tour at 3:30 p.m.  A 45 minute guided tour of the farmhouse demonstrates the family and agricultrual lives of the Avery, Smith, and Harris families through the 1840s and into the mid-20th century. Discover what East Lyme was like around the time of the Civil War and afterwards. Suggested donation of $5.

   For more information, visit:

The Smith-Harris House Museum

82 Plants Dam Road, East Lyme
Samuel Smith House

   East Lyme’s most recent historic acquisition, located at 82 Plants Dam Road, East Lyme, is recognized on the National Register of Historic Houses as the Samuel Smith House, c.1685, with additions in 1735 and 1812. It is currently being developed as a living museum of the 17th century. For more information, visit:

Samuel Smith House

Historic House Museums

   Sixteen historic house museums in Southeastern Connecticut have joined together to create a trail brochure, highlighting the stories of the region’s growth from European settlement in the 1600s to industrial expansion in the 1800s and beyond.

   To learn more about this exciting project, visit:

Historic House Museums of Southeastern Connecticut

East Lyme Cemetery Listings

   In the fall of 1934, under the auspices of FERA and the WPA, and with support from the Connecticut State Library, the inscriptions of each East Lyme cemetery were copied and included in the Hale Collection of Cemetery Inscriptions.  We have posted the inscriptions, by cemetery, at:

East Lyme Cemetery Records

   Listings for veterans, through the Spanish American War, may be found at:

East Lyme Veteran Burials

News from the East Lyme Public Library Archives

   Do you enjoy looking at old newspapers and reading articles and ads? In the East Lyme Library Archives we have a number of papers anywhere from 25 to 75 or more years old. We also have bound copies of the old Niantic News starting in 1952. (These are great fun to read!)

   Many of these papers are getting quite fragile. Starting in January, we will be looking at them to find and copy articles and ads about East Lyme. We especially are looking for the business ads. Some places are still in business, while others are only a memory.

   If you would like to help, or just want to see them, stop by the Archive Room at the East Lyme Public Library, Society Road, Niantic, any Monday from 10:00 a.m. to noon.

A Special Memento of the Thomas Lee House
Limited Edition Pens

A portion of the replaced beam

   In 2014, when the beam in the 1660's East Chamber of the Thomas Lee House was replaced, a small portion of it was saved. Some of the wood has been used to create beautiful pens engraved with "Thomas Lee House ca. 1660".  These limited edition pens will be treasured gifts available first to our members.

   You will have your choice of a regular ballpoint pen for $50 or a fountain pen, with ink and a kit to convert it to a ballpoint, for $60.

   Each comes with a display box and a letter about it.

   For an order form click here.

Ballpoint pen

Fountain pen with conversion kit

Our Mission

The purposes and objectives of the Society shall be:

   1. To engage in educational, archival, research and exploration activities and to support such activities that will increase knowledge of and engender appreciation of the history of the Town of East Lyme and its heritage.

   2. To encourage the preservation and restoration of the town’s historical assets, such as houses, structures, burying grounds, early artifacts and other things associated with the town’s origin and history.

   3. To determine and develop year round historical programs and implementation of same. These programs and activities shall include the period of colonial history and may include all periods of American history and other history.

   4. To cooperate and participate with other organizations for similar purposes and objectives, both within and without the town.

   5. To establish the Thomas Lee House Preservation Committee to ensure the protection and preservation of the Thomas Lee House as an American heritage, wherein books, documents, pictures, furniture, tools, implements, artifacts and other articles associated with the history of the Thomas Lee House and the family are housed.

Thomas Lee House
Dedication of the Thomas Lee House, 1914
Dedication of the Thomas Lee House, 1914

   The Thomas Lee House (c. 1660) is one of the oldest wood frame houses in Connecticut still in its primitive state.  The Lee House is listed on the National Register of Historic Houses, and is open for tours during the summer months. Learn more about the Lee House at

About Us

Take a Virtual Tour of the Lee House.

   Several of our volunteers work to maintain the East Lyme Archives, a collection of documents and photographs in the East Lyme Room of the East Lyme Public Library. If you would like to know more about this program, you can read about it at

East Lyme Archives

Little Boston School House
Little Boston School House

   The first record of a school in the area of the Lee House dates to at least 1734. The present building was erected on land donated by Elisha Lee. In use until 1922, the building was eventually moved to its present location, next to the Lee House. It was donated to the East Lyme Historical Society in 1926. Learn more about the Little Boston School House at

About Us.

   Anthropology students from East Lyme and Ledyard High Schools, under the direction of James Littlefield and Dr. John Pfeiffer, conducted an archaeological study of the site of the original Little Boston School House. Their results can be found at:

Anthropology @ ELHS

Reports from the Field
by Rod McCauley

   Earlier this summer, I took a trip to the Niantic Center School, with the intention to spend an hour or two with my metal detector.  Based on previous experience, I figured I’d do well to find an old mercury dime or buffalo nickel. While searching the school-yard, the detector registered a solid audio signal for a non-ferrous target, 4-6 inches in depth. I dug down and uncovered a coin-like object roughly the size of a half dollar. Initially unable to determine what the object was due to weathering and caked on soil, I gently rubbed it between my fingers. I was then momentarily stunned to find myself looking at a ...SWASTIKA...This thing was some sort of token with an actual swastika on it!!

   I immediately thought of William Colepaugh, Niantic’s very own, authentic Nazi spy, who grew up nearby on Old Black Point Road and attended this very same school in his younger days. I cleaned the token some more to determine just exactly just what it was. I saw the words “GOOD LUCK” under the swastika and “MEMBERSHIP EMBLEM OF THE DON’T WORRY CLUB” above. I saw other symbols between the legs of the swastika, items typically associated with good luck: a horseshoe, a wishbone, a four-leaf clover, and some sort of runes or hieroglyphs. These words and symbols served to further confuse the matter for me, so I cleaned off the opposite side to obtain more information.

   More words were revealed. Around the perimeter it said “J. A. CLORAN REALTY COMPANY NORWICH, CONN”. In the middle it said, “YOU SHOULD BUY PLEASANT VIEW BEACH LOTS WESTERLY, R.I.”. At this point, I was satisfied that I hadn’t found some sort of Nazi “decoder ring” dropped by Bill Colepaugh, but beyond the obvious issue of reconciling how the ultimate hate symbol could be associated with good luck, questions clearly abounded: How did this thing get here? Who or what was the J.A. Cloran Realty Company? What were the Pleasant View beach lots in Westerly? What was the Don’t Worry Club?

   Although we’ll probably never know how the token ended up in a schoolyard, with the help of the internet I was able to find out the following: According to its Wikipedia entry, the word swastika has been in the English language since the 1870’s, with origins in the Greek and Sanskrit languages. The symbol itself has been around for several thousand years, associated with numerous cultural/religious groups throughout recorded history. It is considered a “sacred and auspicious symbol” in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It has also been found on a 12th century mosaic in the St. Sophia church in Kiev, Ukraine and a 1910 painted ceiling in the Church of St. Laurent in Grenoble, France. Numerous swastika decorated artifacts ranging from a 6th century BC Greek coin, to an iron-age Germanic hair-comb, an Ashanti (West African) gold-weight, and many others have been recovered around the world.

   Wikipedia goes on to say that by the early 20th century, the swastika was in use worldwide and regarded as a symbol of good luck and success. It was used as an early symbol of the US Army’s 45th Infantry Division, a 1909 boy’s basketball team from Oklahoma, and even had a town in Ontario, Canada named after it. The Nazi usage we associate the symbol with in modern times had its origins with the archaeological work of Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered the symbol in the ancient city of Troy during excavations in the late 19th century. Schliemann associated the symbol with early migrations of “Proto- Indo-Europeans” and theorized they were connected with similar symbols found on ancient pots from Germany. The symbol was then appropriated by various “Aryan race/Master race” theorists such as Alfred Rosenberg and then adopted by Hitler’s Nazi party. The evil that followed is obviously much documented and beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that whatever the original meanings of the swastika were, it is permanently stained in the context of modern, western culture.

   According to a blog posting by Robert Bruce Stewart dated 06-15-15, the Don’t Worry Movement was started by musicologist, Theodore Frelinghuysen Seward, who published a series of Don’t Worry themed books from 1894 to 1898. Seward apparently had a vague philosophy about rescuing “the essence of Christianity from all the layers of dogma built up over the previous 2,000 years”. An interesting local connection to Seward is found in his Wikipedia entry, which states he was an organist in a New London, Connecticut Church in 1857. Apparently the movement didn’t gather much momentum until 1901, when an author and newspaper editor in Atchison, Kansas named Edger W. Howe, used it to promote circulation of his newspaper, The Atchison Globe.  Howe claimed he was inspired by a local butcher named Charlie Poehler and started a Don’t Worry Club, complete with rules and bylaws. The Club became somewhat of a national fad, akin to hula-hoops or pet rocks of later generations, with chapters springing up across the country. A 1905 edition of The Strand magazine (volume 30, pgs. 447-448) has an article regarding a Philadelphia chapter that boasted 75 members, weekly meetings, and a ladies auxiliary. Some clubs lasted into the early 1930’s, whereupon they appeared to fade away with the rigors of the Great Depression and the new Nazi association with its “Good Luck” symbol.

   Joseph A. Cloran and his J. A. Cloran Realty Company of Norwich have been a little more elusive so far, with only some cryptic entries in state records and the Norwich Bulletin newspaper. I’ll list them in chronologic order: 1909 – Pg. 42 of the Connecticut Treasurer’s Report, J.A. Cloran Realty Company paid a $25.00 General Revenue Corporation Capitol fee. February 11, 1909 – Norwich Bulletin lists Joseph A. Cloran as suffering a $150 loss due to a fire in the Shannon building. March 12, 1909 – Pg. 1177 of the Special Acts & Resolutions of the State of Connecticut, J.A. Cloran Realty Company filed a Certificate of Incorporation. September 24, 1910 – Norwich Bulletin lists Joseph A. Cloran as being involved in the sale of land on Asylum Street in Norwich. October 17, 1917 – Norwich Bulletin lists Joseph A. Cloran as being involved in the sale of three lots in Washington Park in Norwich.

   My Pleasant View research started off by asking a co-worker, who is a life-long resident of Westerly, if she had ever heard of it.  She responded by saying, “Oh yeah, the hotel down by the beach”. A Google Map search showed the Pleasant View Inn on the beach side of Atlantic Avenue and the Pleasant View Cottages off Shore Road on the north side of Weekapaug Pond. I made a personal visit to the area and found the aforementioned locations. I tried to envision what the area was like in the early 20th century, but modern commercial development in the Misquamicut area has made that task all but impossible. At this point, I must admit the rest of my visit consisted of a fruitless search for Taylor Swift’s Watch Hill mansion and enjoying the State beach and its sparse, post Labor Day crowd. During on-line research, I found a Westerly Sun newspaper story, dated April 10, 2014. The story pertained to an on-going lawsuit filed in Kent County Superior Court over a lack of public beach access. The suit describes Sound View in the early 20th century as a 2 ½ mile stretch of land from the State beach to the Weekapaug Breach way. The suit further states the area was being developed by a R.W. Perkins and four other property owners. The area was served by a trolley run by the Winnapaug Company, coincidentally also owned by Perkins. The suit described J. A. Cloran as marketing the property and being associated with the trolley company as well.

   General on-line inquiries showed that tokens were a very common form of advertising in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the Don’t Worry Club and the association between the swastika and good fortune are generally unknown today, I found countless photos of tokens with those symbols and club references, advertising everything from clothing to whiskey. One would imagine that there were many embarrassed business owners with the advent of the Nazi regime. I don’t remember if I found the buffalo nickel or mercury dime I was initially hoping for that day at the school, but I hope you’ll agree the token and its converging back-stories are considerably more interesting.

Your Support is Important!

   The East Lyme Historical Society owns and maintains the Thomas Lee House and Little Boston School House, offers educational programs to the community throughout the year, works to provide access to historical materials through its publications, archives, and website, and is always ready to work with other groups to help foster understanding and appreciation of the history of our town.

   And we do it all as volunteers!

   The generosity of our town and our members is greatly appreciated. Time, energy, and dollars donated are put immediately to work.

   If you are currently a member, THANK YOU! If not, please consider joining us. You may download the Membership Form here, or print the Membership Form page here, and mail either one to us, or you can contact us at:

[email protected]

   Donations are always welcome.

   And please remember: all of our programs are open to the public, free of charge. We welcome your participation!

BUSINESS OWNERS: Become a Business Member of the East Lyme Historical Society for only $50 a year. Members receive a free listing on our Business Directory page, with a link to their own sites, as well as being mentioned in our newsletters. Our website is currently attracting over 900 unique visitors and 14,000 hits each month, from all over the country, and from around the world. Many of them are in the process of planning trips to our area, and would be interested in the services you provide. Local residents will recognize your generosity, as well.

INTERESTED IN BEING A VOLUNTEER? The Society is busy year-round, with a calendar full of events to plan and execute, and a substantial property to maintain. We are always looking for people to get involved. If you have ideas, would like to help organize future activities, or want to be a more active member of the society, let us know. We'd be thrilled to hear from you!