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

Labor Day Weekend Flea Market
Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

   The Flea Market season at the Thomas Lee House Museum comes to an end on Labor Day Weekend. We've had some great vendors this summer, and most of them will be back in September. Please take a little time out of your busy holiday weekend to stop by. There will be bargains too good to pass up!

Elisha Way's Powder Horn
Elisha Way's Powder Horn
Liz Kuchata and Sharon Powalka, July 1, 2017

Liz Kuchta with Sharon Powalka (r), July 1, 2017

   We were delighted to have Sharon Powack and her husband from North Granby, Connecticut, visit the Lee House on July 1st. They brought with them a gift for our collection. It is a Revolutionary War powder horn that belonged to Elisha Way, who lived in our section of Lyme.

Elisha Way gravestone

 

 

 

 

 

   Way served in Lt. Lay's Company from Lyme. After his mother died his father married Polly Lee, a descendant of Thomas Lee. Elisha died in 1842 at the age of 85 and is buried in the Old Stone Church Burial Ground on Society Road in East Lyme. The horn is on display in the case in the Judgment Hall of the Thomas Lee House Museum.

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 #7
by Rod McCauley

A Connecticut Coin with a Local Connection

   At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1781, Americans found that fighting King George’s “Redcoats” was in fact, just the beginning of the numerous challenges to be faced in the establishment of our new republic. One of the legacies of onerous English laws pertaining to currency and trade was a severe shortage of coinage to conduct general commerce and an economy widely based on barter, in which goods were assigned arbitrary monetary values and exchanged without any cash actually changing hands. This situation was exacerbated by the extended negotiations (bickering?) between the former colonies while they debated and finally approved our Constitution in 1789. The original Articles of Confederation (1781) gave Congress the sole right to regulate the alloy and value of coins, but also gave the States the right to strike coins. With the Constitution approved and the federal government reserving the sole right to mint currency, it still took until 1792 for the newly established U.S. mint to start producing coins.  Even after that, shortages continued to be acute (particularly in rural areas) and foreign coinage made from silver or gold continued to be legal tender until 1859.

   In the absence of a Federal mint, several states took full advantage of their right to strike coinage, including Connecticut. In 1785, four gentlemen petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly to authorize the production of copper coins. Permission was subsequently granted and production soon started in New Haven. Connecticut coppers, as they are now known, were widely circulated and continued to be produced until 1788.  According to CoinFacts.com, over 350 distinct varieties are known to exist today.

   Now that the reader is probably wondering where all this is going,we’ll flash-forward a couple of hundred years to a local park.  While metal detecting one morning, I found an extremely worn copper coin about the size of a modern dollar coin.  Making a specific identification was going to be difficult, as only vague shapes in the center and a few perimeter letters were visible. To compound the issue, this particular size was ubiquitous to numerous coins of the era, starting with the English King George copper pennies 1727-1820, continuing with various pre- and post-colonial copper coins made both in the US and England, and finally used on U.S. large cents/half-cents made from 1793-1857. With the assistance of a flashlight, magnifying glass, and reference books, I was able to identify this coin as one of the aforementioned Connecticut coppers, but was unable to identify a date or specific variety.

Discovered coin-front view Discovered coin-back view

Discovered coin
front and back views

Preserved example of Connecticut coin

Preserved example of Connecticut coin

   While researching the coin, I learned that one of the four gentlemen originally granted permission to strike coins in 1785 was named James Hillhouse. From my kids competing in high school track, I know that the state indoor championships are run at the James Hillhouse High School in New Haven. I checked Wikipedia and learned that Hillhouse (1754-1832) was a prominent citizen of New Haven who served as a Captain in the Governor’s Foot Guard during the Revolution and later became a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate.  Hillhouse is further credited with being active in city beautification programs and planting large quantities of elm trees, leading to New Haven’s nickname of “Elm City”.

   Finally, I learned that Hillhouse was born in Montville to William Hillhouse(1728-1816) and Sarah Griswold (1728-1777). This last piece of biographical information made things start to get interesting from a local perspective and I continued looking at Hillhouse’s family tree. Via internet search and the Vital Records of Lyme, Connecticut 1665-1850 I found the following: Sarah Griswold was the daughter of John Griswold (1690-1764) and Hannah Lee (1695-1773). Hannah Lee was the daughter of Thomas Lee II (1639-1704) and his second wife, Marah DeWolfe (1655-1724).  What started as an attempt to identify a crusty old coin turned into a genealogy research project with an unexpected ending, or, perhaps more accurately, an unexpected beginning. Who would have guessed that the great-grandson of the builder and namesake of the Thomas Lee house would have been instrumental in the minting of our state’s post –revolutionary coinage?

   Note: While researching this article, I heavily consulted A Guide Book of The United States Mint by Q. David Bowers and published by Whitman Press as part of their Red Book series. In addition to being an internationally recognized numismatist and author, Mr. Bowers is a trustee of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Historical Societies and the town historian for his hometown of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  His books, while obviously oriented to numismatic purposes, contain a wealth of information on American history.

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

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!