Sunday, April 2nd, 2:00 p.m.
The East Lyme Historical Society Winter Lecture Series concludes with an afternoon with Ruth Ann Bramson as she talks about a place we all know but can't visit...Plum Island. Her book, A World Unto Itself: The Remarkable Plum Island, New York, explores the history of the island, from discovery to what it is today.
Please join us at the Niantic Community Church, 170 Pennsylvania Avenue, Niantic. This event is free and open to all.
Limited Edition Pens
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.
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.
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
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
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
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:
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?
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:
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!