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

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

Fall Pot Luck Supper

Friday, October 16th
6:00 p.m.

   Join us on Friday, October 16th, at the Niantic Bay Yacht Club, 8 Shore Road, Niantic, for our annual Fall Pot Luck Supper. The evening will begin at 6:00 p.m. with a BYOB social hour, followed by the dinner. Bring an entree or dessert to share with old and new friends!

   James Littlefield, author, local historian and regular contributor to the Post Road Review, will be our featured speaker. He will present "From the Ground Up...An Archaeological Perspective," sharing some of his recent finds.  He will also read some short selections from his latest book, History Matters.

   The evening's activities are free and open to the public. And the food is delicious!

Thanks to All the Lee House Guides

   With the close of the 2015 season, I’d like to thank all the people who volunteered their time to act as guides at the Lee House and to share this year’s visitor demographics.

   We had 289 guests logged in (221 adult and 68 children. We had visitors from Washington D.C., 13 states (Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode island, Texas, and Wisconsin), and 2 foreign countries (Turkey and France). We had 8 Lee descendants and 1 descendant from the Matthew Marvin family (Matthew’s brother, Reinold, married the daughter, Phoebe, of Thomas Lee II) sign our guest book.

   Again, a BIG THANKS to all and hope to see you again next year!!

Rod McCauley

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

Thomas Lee House Cellar Excavation June, 2015
Thomas Lee House cellar, bulkhead entrance
Thomas Lee House cellar, bulkhead entrance

   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.

Brass artifact, Thomas Lee House cellar
Brass artifact, Thomas Lee House cellar

   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.

The dig in progress, June 2015
The dig in progress, June 2015

   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].

East Lyme's Historic Mill Buildings
Up-down sawmill, grist mill and dam on Latimer's Brook
Up-down sawmill, grist mill and dam on Latimer's Brook

   Grist mills and sawmills are among the first buildings that people would erect upon the settlement of a town. The Monday morning East Lyme Public Library Archive group has been working on mapping out and documenting the many mills that were in the area now called East Lyme. Including the grist mill on East Pattagansett Road at Bush Pond, erected in the 1690's, and the mill on Hope Street (which many of us remember), there are at least fifteen mills that have been located in town, with the possibility of more.

   Old town records, deeds, newspaper articles and photographs have been searched to find these mills. Many are gone with no trace of their existence. The remains of a few can be found where the dams used to power the waterwheels are still in place. Some are remembered by place names such as Mack's Mill Cemetery and Oil Mill Road.

   If you are interested in finding out about this project or where these mills were located, you are welcome to stop by the East Lyme Public Library Archive room on Mondays between 10:00 a.m. and noon. If you have information on a mill, or have the remains of one on your property, we would love to hear from you!

Liz Kuchta, East Lyme Library Archives supervisor

Orlando Lee Family Portraits
Herman F. Lee
Herman F. Lee

   Three large portraits of Lee family members were donated to the East Lyme Historical Society by Mrs. Linde Hendrickson of Long Island. Mrs. Hendrickson is a 12th generation descendant of Thomas Lee. The portraits are of Orlando E. Lee (1808-1857), his wife Lydia A. Miller Lee (1807-1885), and their son Herman F. Lee (1835-1864).

   Orlando, of the 7th generation of Thomas Lees, was born in what is now East Lyme. He and Lydia A. Miller, daughter of Anson Miller, were married in 1834 in the Congregational Church where they were very active. Soon after that they moved to Staten Island, where Orlando became a very prosperous business man.

   After Orlando Lee's death, and the untimely death of their son in 1864, Lydia returned to the village of Niantic.  She owned a house at the corner of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and was once again active in the church. She donated much to that church, including a parcel of land on Lincoln Street for the construction on a new church building in 1879. Gravestones for Orlando, Lydia, and Herman are located in the Old Stone Church Burial Ground at the intersection of Riverview and Society Roads.

   These portraits, which were painted in 1851, are now hanging in the East Lyme Town Hall in the lower conference room.

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!