Sunday, February 7th, 2:00 p.m.
Niantic Community Church, 170 Pennsylvania Avenue, Niantic
Ross and Mary Harper of PAST (Public Archaeological Survey Team) will discuss their recent findings at the Samuel Smith House, on the National Register of Historic Places, and one of East Lyme's historic house museums. Parking is available on site. Admission is free, but donations are always welcome.
A few months ago mention was made of the Archive Group working on documenting old mill sites in East Lyme. Eighteen sites have been located so far, the last found being a sawmill on the lower east side of the Four Mile River. We have filed and inventoried the information and it is available for viewing in the Archive Room of the East Lyme Public Library, Mondays between 10:00 a.m. and noon. More information will be added to these files as we gather it.
Our next project is to document the original nine schoolhouses in East Lyme. We are fortunate to have photos of a few of them. Starting in the 1880s, the town Annual Report listed each district and the progress for the year. It also listed the number of children, teachers and their pay,and many interesting events. We are developing a file for each school, with information about it. If you know of any stories of any of these schools, we would very much like to add them to the files. Please contact us here.
Elizabeth Kuchta, East Lyme Library Archive Supervisor
A preservation funding resource has been developed and is now available on the East Lyme Historic Properties Commission page of the Town of East Lyme website.
The Preservation Grant funding Resource provides general information about grants and identifies major sources of funding. Because annual criteria, deadlines and amounts change, website contacts for each source are also provided to enable individually focused current updating.
While experienced organizations and municipalities may have accessed such sources, this resource provides information across a variety of interest areas, all related to preservation, and can be especially helpful to those groups newly searching for financial support. It is a service the Historic Properties Commission enthusiastically provides.
You can find this information at Preservation Grant Funding Resource.
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:
Fifteen seniors from the East Lyme High School Anthropology Class were busy this fall at the site of the barn foundation to the east of the Thomas Lee House. The barn burned down in the 1950's but earlier had been used for cows and farming.
Their teacher, Willard Reed, had them set up a grid and then scrape the soil searching for artifacts from the farm. They also did some test pits around another foundation. Items that were found were put in plastic bags and labeled to be taken back to the lab at the high school. There they will clean the items and try to figure what the item is and how it was used.
Each fall and spring a class goes out into the field in different areas of town looking to uncover the past. Over the years they have been to the Lee House a couple of times and also across the street at the original site of the Little Boston School. Some of the items that were found there are displayed in the school. In the spring we hope to have some of the items that were found this year on display.
The shingling of the Lee House was finished in early November. With only one day of rain the job was quickly done. The chimney was also repaired and new flashing was put around its base.
The Society has been watching the roof on the house, knowing that in a few years it would need to have new shakes. This past spring it was noticed that there were some very small leaks starting and we couldn't hold off any longer. On Oct 19th, the removal of the old roof shakes began. After removing the old shakes some of the battens were found to be in much worse shape than we thought, and also would need to be replaced.
In conjunction with on-going renovations to the Thomas Lee house, a limited excavation was conducted along the south cellar wall during the last week of June. This area was selected due to the proximity of the bulkhead entrance and the hope that a higher traffic pattern would result in more artifacts. The area was laid out in 3’ grid squares and troweled down, with the grid contents sifted through a ¼” screen.
Over 600 artifacts were recovered, cleaned, and cataloged. The majority of the items consisted of nails, broken pieces of window glass, and lumps of coal. Some of the more interesting finds included: a bone button, numerous pottery fragments, and various animal bones and teeth. In addition to the digging and screening activities, the entire cellar floor was inspected with a metal detector. That resulted in the recovery of a .69 caliber musket ball and a round pewter decorative piece.
It was noted during the dig that the cellar floor consisted entirely of sand with numerous clam and oyster shell fragments throughout. It was initially assumed these shell fragments were the remains of colonial era meals. Further digging revealed complete shells that were much too small to be of dietary value. Test pits were dug to a 3’ depth in an attempt to determine the extent of the sand base and its relation to the cellar wall construction. The cellar walls (constructed of fieldstone) were essentially laying on grade or 1 course below the surface. The sand base continued past the test pit depths. This indicates the area was at one time sea floor and the builders dug down to the desired depth to lay the foundation stones. One is left to speculate on whether the house location was chosen based on the easy digging and drainage or if it was by happy coincidence.
Much has already been written about the architecture and inhabitants of the Lee house, but, beyond the items listed in surviving will documents or the generic descriptions of the known aspects of colonial life, little is known about the actual possessions of the former inhabitants. Each recovered item represents a story and provides a tangible link to a past time. Work continues to fully document the dig and to make the results available via this website. Anyone with an interest or experience with identifying artifacts is invited to contact the author at [email protected].
Below are pictured some of the artifacts recovered from the Lee House cellar dig earlier this summer.
Thanks to Dr. Jo Michaelson of the Montville Animal Hospital and State Archeologist Dr. Brian Jones for their assistance in identifying the pig's tooth and ceramic fragments respectively.
We're making progress with item identifications, but still have a ways to go. If there is anyone out there with experience in animal taxonomy who can help with bone fragment identification, please contact the author at the address above.
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 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!