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

Spring Pot Luck Supper
Friday, April 21st, 6:00 p.m.

   The East Lyme Historical Society Spring Pot Luck Supper will be held at the Kari-Hill Post VFW, 39 Columbus Avenue in Niantic.  Please join us and bring your favorite dish or dessert to share. Social Hour starts at 6:00 p.m., followed by good food and lively conversations during dinner.

   We are pleased to have Vic Bautsch and Tommy Coletti as our guest speakers for the evening. They are the authors of A Journey to the Gallows, a look into the life of Aaron Dwight Stevens of Norwich. Stevens enlisted in the 1st Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers at a very young age, and served with them in the Mexican War. He later joined the elite Dragoons, where he was charged, among other things, with mutiny, and sentenced to hard labor at Fort Leavenworth. Eventually, under a different name, he joined the 2nd Kansas Militia, where he met John Brown. Find out what happens when the two join forces and the impact they made on our country.

   The Spring Pot Luck Supper is free and open to the public. We look forward to seeing you there!

William Orlando Lee
William Orlando Lee

   The East Lyme Historical Society recently received these pictures of William Orlando Lee, descendant of Thomas Lee, from Orlando's great, great grandson, Ronald Albert Lee. The following excerpt from Descendants & Ancestors of Charles and Fanny Crandall Lee: A Lee Tree, by Reverend Earl Lee Smith, tells us some of his interesting story:

   William Orlando Lee, fifth child of Charles and Fanny Crandall Lee, was born 15 December 1828 at Cuyler, Cortland County, New York. He died 17 May 1915 at South Haven, Van Buren County, Michigan. He married 1st Caroline Campbell, who was born in 1829, probably at Covington, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. She died in 1903. He left her about 1870 and married Anna Hurlbut, who was born ca. 1842 in New York State. She died 1 November 1895 of Brights Disease, in South Haven, Michigan. William married 3rd 11 March 1898 Isadora Fink (Mrs. Maken). Isadora was born 25 December 1849 in Indiana to Reuben J. and Lucinda Armmense Fink. She died 28 December 1899 with cancer of the uterus. William married 4th 11 November 1900 Eliza Webster (Mrs. Horton). She was born 18 January 1852 in Ontario, Canada to John and Margaret Lang Webster. She died with diabetes 14 December 1911.

   William is buried at the Lakeview Cemetery in South Haven, Michigan beside his second wife, Anna. His third wife, Isadora is buried on the other side of Anna. On the other side of William his adopted daughter's four year old son is buried. Eliza, his fourth wife is buried in the Lakeview Cemetery beside her first husband. Caroline, his first wife and mother of his children, is buried in the Gray Cemetery, Covington, Pa.

   When William Orlando Lee left his first wife he changed his name to Orlando William Lee, for reasons I have not attempted to document, though I have some suspicion as to why. William and Anna adopted a daughter, Lettie, who married W.J. Minter. Anna's obituary stated that she had been married for thirty-two years. It does not state if she had been married previously or not. She married William in 1863. The story is that he left to fight in the Civil War.  After the war was over he came back home for a short time and left.  There are no Civil War records to verify his service. It is also strange that a veteran, who lived until 1915 would not have drawn a Civil War pension. There is no G.A.R. marker on his grave, nor i s he pictured with the Civil War veterans in the South Haven museum. After the death of either his second or third wife, he invited his first wife and children to join him in Michigan. Caroline turned him down; however, his eldest son, Charles did join him there.

William Orlando Lee in frock coat and tall hat

   William is listed in the 1850 census of Covington, Pa. as a blacksmith; however, he did not stick to that trade.  He went into the hotel business at Covington, and apparently ran it as long as he stayed there. Land records indicate that William came to South Haven i n 1888, but they do not indicate where from. He is listed in the South Haven City Directory as a fruit grower. However, his main enterprise was that of operating a health resort hotel,"The Lee Park Resort." South Haven is a town on the shore of Lake Michigan. He retired about 1905. Isadora was a guest at the resort when he married her. Lee Street in South Haven is named in his honor.  He lived at 709 Lee Street. The house is now owned by a relative of his fourth wife, Eliza, Miss Evelyn Webster. It is still a legend in South Haven, of how in his old age he took up an old black frock coat and a tall black hat, and was often seen walking about the streets of South Haven.

   If you have any Lee Family photos or stories you'd like to share, we'd love to have them. Contact us at:

[email protected].

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.

   These pens have been selling fast. There is a very limited number left, so if you haven't ordered one act soon.

   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 #6: October 2016 House Dig
by Rod McCauley

   This past fall, in an effort to keep the foundation drier by controlling rainwater, we had a gutter installed on the roof along the backside of the Lee house. In conjunction with the gutter, the contractor installed dry wells at the southeast and southwest corners of the house. A dry well essentially consists of a precast concrete “box” with an inlet for the incoming rainwater to flow into and outlets for the water to be distributed out into the surrounding ground in a controlled manner. The installation of the dry wells required the contractor to use a piece of construction equipment to dig 2 pits, each approximately 4’ x 4’ square and 4’deep and connected to the gutter by a gravel filled trench.

   Being mindful of the potential for archaeological artifacts to be located near the house and wanting to spare any such items from the proverbial “wrecking ball”, Society President Norm Peck, Town Historian Liz Kuchta, and myself conducted a limited dig the evening of October 6th.  Using shovels, hand-trowels, and a ¼” mesh sifting screen, we dug out the trench and drywell pit at the southwest corner of the house (identified as pit 1 in the accompanying site diagram). Time limitations precluded any examination of the southeast corner (pit 2). After 2-3 hours of digging and sifting, we stopped due to the loss of daylight. The time turned out to be well spent, as we had accumulated a box-full of artifacts.

   The next day, the contractors started their work. Liz was on-site and recovered a broken bottle, the top from a glass electrical insulator, and a couple pieces of plastic dug from pit 2. Although the pit 2 items turned out to be from the 20th century, they still help illustrate the history of the house. After the work was completed, a pile of excess soil was left in the tree line behind the house. I scanned the pile with a metal detector. In addition to numerous audio signals indicating the presence of ferrous metal (note the large quantity of nails shown in the accompanying artifact wrap-up photo), the detector registered a non-ferrous signal that resulted in the recovery of a coat button made from “tombac”. Tombac is a French word for a brass alloy that was commonly used for the manufacture of 18th century buttons and its use continues for various products today. Due to its relative resistance to corrosion, tombac is sometimes referred to as the stainless steel of its day. Recovered items made from tombac often retain a shiny appearance that can be confused with silver.

   Among the recovered artifacts were some brick/mortar fragments that were co-located in the southeast corner of pit 1 at a depth of 18-26”. That depth was deeper than any other recovered items and extended well into the subsoil, which consisted of sand. Readers may recall from a previous article, relating to the cellar dig of June 2015, that the cellar floor consisted of sand to a depth greater than I was able to dig.  Taken together, this demonstrates the underlying subsoil of the property consists of sand from a depth of approximately 1 ½ ft to greater than 10 ft.  The brick fragments were unmarked, but had very square and uniform edges and corners, indicating that they were not hand-made. Closer examination of the mortar revealed an embedded nail partially protruding from it. Upon removal, the nail was found to be square headed, indicating a manufacture date roughly prior to 1880. Based on the as-found description of the items above and knowing that sand is a required component for mixing mortar, I will submit the following hypothesis: A pit was deliberately dug to access the sand to mix the mortar, a masonry installation/repair job was completed, the remaining materials were discarded and buried into the existing pit. Coupled with some basic house structural history, we can come up with three possible scenarios:

1.) The remains were part of a fireplace reconfiguration project to accommodate coal fired stoves during the early to mid 19th century.

2.) The remains were part of a mid to late 19th century repair to said fireplaces and/or chimney.

3.) The remains (using reproduction nails) were part of the early 20th century house renovations by the Historical Society.

   After the dig, several evenings were spent at the kitchen table sorting, cleaning, and counting. In the end, we recovered well over four hundred artifacts and we’ll do a follow-up story to illustrate and identify them.

   If you’d like to try your hand at Lee House archaeology, make sure you mark August 18, 2017 on your calendar. The East Lyme Historical Society will be hosting a “Family Dig” with Connecticut State Archaeologist Dr. Brian Jones. We intend to excavate a previously unexplored area around the house. Who knows what treasures are waiting to be found?

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!