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

   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.

   For the past few years, we have been preparing for the installation of a hand-hewn beam in the second floor East room of the house, to replace the original, but badly deteriorating, one. To learn more about this project, and what you can do to help, visit

The Beam

   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

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, and is open for tours on weekends throughout the summer, or by appointment the rest of the year. You may contact the museum by phone at 860.739.0761 or email at [email protected].

   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

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

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.

Celebrating 100 Years of the Thomas Lee House Museum

   The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Thomas Lee house by the East Lyme Historical Society in order to protect and preserve it for future generations. The Society will be recognizing this anniversary with several events over the coming months. As details are confirmed, we will be sure to share them with you. Until then, we will be posting photos of the house as it looked at the time of purchase, and as the needed repair work was undertaken. We will also post some news articles that were written about the house at the time of the purchase. The first few of these can be found on our new page:

100th Anniversary

   In her account of the origins of the Thomas Lee House Museum, given on June 9, 1915, Miss Celeste E. Bush, Secretary of the East Lyme Historical Society, also spoke about the fundraising efforts (reported in The Day, June 10, 1915):

   "The hoped for help came; we applied to the chairman of the old house committee of the Society of Colonial Dames, who recommended us to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Their secretary, Mr. Appleton, came on and saw the house and pronounced it well worth saving. Mr. Seymour of the Society of Colonial Wars, engaged Norman W. Isham, the great authority on colonial houses, to examine and report on the house, and his report being favorable, these three societies gave us $200 each. Other contributions, largely from Lee descendants, brought the sum in hand up to $1,000, which was ready well within our 90 days' option.

   "The $500 in excess of the cost price was so nearly enough for the necessary repairs that it seemed wise to contract a small debt, about $100, which we hope either by our own efforts or the generosity of friends who have not as yet contributed, to meet at an early date. And we are anxious to relay the old well, which has begun to cave in and to build a protecting fence against the destructive forces of the souvenir hunters who dig out the flowers from the lawn.

   "We do not call this begging; we are offering a share in the best we have. We have not saved the old house for ourselves, but for the state, the nation and posterity. We do not welcome you to our house, but to your house.  Here you may come as freely as we to meditate on the quarter-of-a-thousand years in which this house has been contemporary."

   This is an exciting year for the East Lyme Historical Society. To have been able to save such a wonderful building, and to have maintained it in nearly-original condition for 100 years, is an achievement we owe to the support and hard work of our members and the community around us. We look forward to celebrating this remarkable anniversary, and hope that you will join us!

News from Our Neighbors

Smith-Harris House Museum

Wednesday, October 29th, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Fiendish Folklore: Spooky Tales from Niantic and Beyond

   Come for the treats, stay for the tales! As part of the Town of East Lyme's "Trick or Trunk" Halloween program, the Smith-Harris House Museum will be offering a special program perfect for families and anyone who enjoys folktales. The first floor of the House will be candlelit, and storytellers will share spine-tingling local and regional folktales. The "Trick or Trunk" program, which occurs annually on the grounds of the Smith-Harris House Museum, is a safe Halloween trick-or-treat alternative event sponsored by the East Lyme Youth Services Department of Parks & Recreation.  The Fiendish Folklore program is free and open to all ages. For more information, please visit:

The Smith-Harris House Museum

Griswold Bicentennial Committee and the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center

Saturday, November 1st, 10:00 a.m. to Noon, rain or shine

Vampire Folk Belief in Historic New England

   As part of Quinebaug Shetucket Heritage Corridor’s “Walktober”, Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, Office of State Archaeology, will lead a walk through an area of Connecticut’s Quiet Corner steeped in history and folklore. In 1990 a couple of very surprised young boys discovered two skulls at the site of a new gravel quarry in eastern Connecticut. Dr. Bellantoni and others were called in to investigate what turned out to be a forgotten colonial family cemetery. One grave in particular caught their eye: someone had arranged the burial in an unusual way. This led to further investigation involving archaeology, forensics, genealogy, and folklore that produced the theory that the cause for the oddity in the burial was the belief that its occupant was a vampire. Vampire folklore was rampant in New England from 1780 to the 1890s, and a combination of disciplines helps archaeologists today discover more about peoples’ attitudes towards health and healing during this period. As was learned, a real public health issue was to blame.  This walk takes place in Jewett City (map will be mailed to participants) and is limited to no more than 70 people. Advance registration is required, and the event is free. Children ages 12 and above are welcome, but must be accompanied by an adult.  For more information, please visit:

Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center.

Prudence Crandall Museum

Sunday, November 2nd, 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.

November Tea

   It's time once again for the annual November Tea at the Prudence Crandall Museum. Reserve your tickets now and join us on November 2nd for a delicious assortment of tea sandwiches, tea and other goodies as well as an exciting performance by actress Stephanie Jackson of her a one-woman dramatic presentation "They Called Me Lizzie... From Slavery to the White House". This play presents the true life story of Elizabeth Keckly, dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln. Tea will be held at the John Carter House at 5 South Canterbury Road, Canterbury. Seatings will be available at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. The performance will begin at 2:00 p.m. and will be held at the First Congregational Church of Canterbury, 6 South Canterbury Road. Reservations are required as seating is limited. For more information, please visit:

Friends of Prudence Crandall Museum

Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center

Saturday, November 8th, 10:00 a.m. to Noon

Exploring Connecticut’s Towns–Portland!

   In each of Connecticut’s 169 towns, the relationship between the State’s natural and cultural history plays out in unique ways.  From the indigenous peoples arriving after the glaciers receded and the European explorers and settlers establishing colonies in the New World, to the innovators of the industrial revolution leading to the present day, Connecticut is steeped in history. Join us as we explore Connecticut’s towns and learn about the people and environments that have shaped and continue to shape the Constitution State.

   The third town in the series is Portland, a small community with a huge history. The brownstone industry began in colonial times and reached its peak in the mid 1800s. Many buildings, monuments and landscapes feature its distinctive dark sandstone. This tour will include the National Historic Landmark Brownstone Quarries, local examples of brownstone architecture and gravestones, and a unique historic landscape.  The removal of 1 billion cubic yards of stone created sheer cliffs and dramatic topography, which bring the stories of immigration, the industrial revolution, and even the Works Progress Administration to life.

   Despite its prolific use and fame, half of the stone excavated from the three pits never left town. Portland has the most Connecticut River frontage in the State and was continuously transformed over hundreds of years as unsalable stone, or ‘slag’, was used to fill in the flood plain, shifting the shoreline 200 feet towards Middletown. Later, the area was covered by wharves, cranes, and a factory that prepared ornate facades to be re-assembled in New York, Boston, and other cities. To the north, the need to ‘dump’ resulted in the Riverfront Park, a remarkable “40 acre sculpture.” As it looks to the future, the community is looking to capitalize on the significance of these resources, and expand their impact.

   Susan Fiedler of the Brownstone Quorum will describe changes to these historic vernacular landscapes over time, and aspects of preservation planning. Bob McDougall will describe what life was like for the thousands of men working the quarries and their families, and how this heritage influenced the development of the town. A 1.5 mile walk will loop from the Park, on to Brownstone Avenue, up Silver Street, along Main Street, and down Middlesex Avenue. This includes a vertical grade change of about 300 feet. There will be an optional hike around the Park trails, which are narrow with short steep inclines. Advance registration is required (directions will be sent to participants), with a fee of $15 ($10 for Museum members). Children 8 and above are welcome and must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, please visit:

Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center.

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 700 unique visitors and 10,000 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!