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

What's New at the Archives

   Looking for a place to go for a couple hours to cool off? Come to the East Lyme Room at the East Lyme Public Library on Society Road, Monday mornings between 10:00 a.m. and noon, and see what we have been doing.

   At present, we are working on the Veteran's Memorials in East Lyme, documenting when they were put up and any information we have about them. Do you know the 5 different areas in town that have or are memorials? We are also working on lists of all who served, from the French and Indian War through the Spanish American War. Did you know that 14 men from East Lyme died in the Civil War? Did you know that two sisters from here served as nurses during the Civil War? There are many more stories of the men and women from this town who served. stop by the Library and learn more!

Historic Places and Open Spaces Bike and BBQ Fundraiser
Volunteers Needed!

   A new East Lyme fundraising event planned cooperatively with the Department of Parks and Recreation and East Lyme's Eliminator Cycling Club, is taking place on October 1, beginning and ending at Rocky Neck State Park. A committee has been working hard in the development of this event.

   Volunteers are needed from each of the four organizations that will receive funds from this event. Volunteer opportunities are:

Help Set-up at Rocky Neck : 6:00 a.m: 3
Biker Registration/check in at Rocky Neck: 7:00 a.m.: 6-10
Bell ringers and enthusiastic cheer leaders: afternoon/end: many
Miscellaneous supportive roles at Rocky Neck and at the three historic houses

   To volunteer, please contact one of the following by September 12th:

Thomas Lee House: Betty Murphy, [email protected], 860-739-2732
Samuel Smith House; Susan and Bob Ramsay, [email protected], 860-730-4721
Smith-Harris House Museume: Dick McDonald, [email protected], 860-739-0149

The First Submarine

   This year as Groton, Connecticut, celebrates 100 years of submarines at the naval base, the East Lyme Historical Society also remembers that 240 years ago a great grandson of Thomas Lee piloted the first submarine. During the Revolutionary War, David Bushnell of Saybrook built the Turtle submarine and took it to New York harbor, where some of the British Fleet was. On September 6th, 1776, with Ezra Lee at the controls, they tried to attach a device to the British ship Eagle and blow it up. This failed, but was enough to scare the Fleet out of New York Harbor. You can read more about Ezra Lee here.

History Expo in Groton

   On Saturday, September 24th, from 1:oo to 4:00 p.m., a History Expo will be held at the Groton Public Library, 52 Newtown Road, Groton.

   Over 25 local historical organizations, museums and groups will have displays. The East Lyme Historical Society will be there, and it is a great time to see what other groups have and are doing. Groups will also be selling their books and other items.

   Come to Groton and see what our neighbors are doing.

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

A Tale of Two Buttons

   Since conducting a limited dig last summer in the Lee house cellar and then experiencing the difficulty of trying to accurately identify the recovered artifacts, I’m beginning to acquire an understanding of just what professional archaeologists have to deal with on a much larger scale.

   Consider item 1. Even though a layman like me could see it’s a button, I really didn’t know when it was made or what it was made from. It certainly looked old and the thread holes had an asymmetrical, handmade appearance, but was it a genuine 18th century Lee family artifact or a 20th century workman’s drop? Was it made from bone, horn, or an early type of plastic? It seemed very polished for bone and what about those circular marks on each side? From my machinist days, I know they look very similar to the tool marks left by engine lathes during an operation known as “facing”.

   I initially guessed the button was made from bone and constructed a mental picture of an 18th century Lee ancestor losing it off his shirt while toiling at cellar chores via lantern or candlelight. I then started with some internet research. Based on the photos I saw of items made of early plastics like bakelite, casein, or catalin, I began to suspect the button was made from one of those materials and was therefore, relatively modern. I also saw that a comprehensive reference book was priced significantly beyond my budget.

   I was then fortunate enough to meet George and Gretchen Gauthier, noted button collectors (experts in my humble opinion) and board members of Groton’s Avery-Copp House Museum. The Gauthiers graciously invited me to their home for what turned into a 2 hour crash course on buttons. George examined the button with a jeweler’s loupe and stated it was definitely made from bone. He pointed out the a series of darker spots randomly scattered on the generally lighter base material and identified them as “canalicular” marks, which are the remains of the blood vessels that run through live bone. He looked at the aforementioned circular marks and identified them as machine made. He told me the marks indicated the button was probably made from the mid to late 19th century, when manufacturers obtained large quantities of bones from slaughter houses and the use of machine tools became common in the manufacturing process.

   We had less success identifying item 2. I initially thought it was a so-called “dandy button” made from pewter during the colonial era. After some cleaning, the Gauthiers examined it carefully, looked through their references, and compared it with known examples in their own extensive collection. They could not find a match and were of the opinion that the notches running axially around the perimeter on one side were too symmetrical to be hand-made. Assuming that the item is a button, the notches would be decorative in nature and on the front.  The center of the back side should therefore contain a sewing loop known as a “shank” for attachment to clothing. While it is not uncommon for the shank to break off, there is still generally a nub present to indicate its former position. The one small dimple located where the shank should have been could just as easily have been caused by corrosion. The metal itself has a crusty gray appearance. It lacked the white patina often associated with pure lead or the green patina common to copper. Beyond a simple magnet test confirming the metal was non-ferrous, we were unable to determine its composition.

   Although the origin of these two items and the story of how they ended up in the Lee cellar will most likely never be fully known, one could make the case that the bone button was once on a piece of clothing worn by the last Lee family member to occupy the house, Osbert Lee.  Land records show Osbert transferring ownership to Dr. Thomas Lee in 1857, but Dr. Lee is believed to have built and resided in the “Lee cottage” located next door. Without further evidence, I can’t confirm item 2 is a button or what it’s made from. But, if the base metal is in fact pewter, that would place its manufacture back into the 18th century and tie it to any number of Lee family members. Readers are encouraged to examine the accompanying photos and share their views.

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!