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The History of the Allis-Bushnell House

View of Allis-Bushnell House on the Boston Post Road, Madison

The Allis-Bushnell House stands on the north side of the Boston Post Road between the E. C. Scranton Memorial Library on the corner of Wall Street and Scotland Avenue. The house was originally built as a one-and-a-half-story building, with two large rooms in the front and a smaller kitchen and “chamber” (bedroom) in the rear. Upstairs were four small rooms tucked under the eaves. It is not known when the roof was raised in the front of the house to create two full stories on the street side of the house. The Victorian-style addition on the east side of the house was probably added at some time after the Civil War.

The property on which the house stands was part of a 94.5-acre tract of land which, in 1697, was sold by a John Hopson to Major Robert Thompson, who lived in England and was a friend of the Reverend Henry Whitfield. (Whitfield had earlier sold Thompson all the property he had acquired while living in Guilford.)  The present-day boundaries of this tract of land are approximately Wall Street on the west, Boston Post Road on the south, Railroad Avenue on the north, and Lovers Lane on the east.  When Major Thompson died, the land was divided amongst his heirs and stayed in the Thompson family (all in England) until 1772.  As this part of Madison grew, the residents became increasingly inconvenienced by the fact that this large parcel was owned by an absentee landlord; some residents were especially frustrated that a road could not be cut through the Major’s land to connect what is now Horse Pond Road to the present-day East Wharf Road. 

On January 17, 1768, Nathaniel Allis Sr., a resident of East Guilford, with several other men, appealed to the New Haven County Court, asking that a road might be laid out on the land belonging to “William Thompson of Old England.”  A jury was assigned to lay out “a hwy four rods wide” through the Thompson property to the “gate leading to the rock or landing of East Guilford.”  Today we know this road as Scotland Avenue.  The court required a payment of twenty pounds, seven shillings, be paid to Mr. Thompson for taking his land. (This judgment is an early case of eminent domain!)     

A few years later, in 1772, probably after much negotiating by lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the 94.5-acre tract was finally jointly sold to four men of East Guilford, including Nathaniel Allis Sr.  The property was then divided, with Allis acquiring several lots of land along the block where the Allis-Bushnell House now stands, as well as fifty acres of property across Scotland Avenue where, in 2015, the Hammonasset Service Station stands.

By 1774 the property was owned by Samuel Brown and David Landon, brothers-in-law who were wealthy merchants in Guilford. Brown and Landon owned the sloop Polly and likely had dealings with lumber, either for export or for shipbuilding and/or house building.  When they sold the land to Aaron Blatchley in 1785, the deed mentioned that the property was “on the Publick Road near the place where the lumber has usually been landed.” 

Historic plaque and national register of historic places marker

The stretch of road between Wall Street and Scotland Avenue/East Wharf was known as Boston Street from early in the community’s history. The first house built in this area was diagonally east across the street from the Allis-Bushnell House. (The property, privately owned in 2017, looks like an empty lot at the present time.) This early house, built around 1760, was the home of Captain Ichabod Scranton and his wife Chloe Scranton (see the story of our Smallpox Burying Ground). Nathaniel Allis Sr. built his house somewhere on the fifty acres of the northeast corner of Scotland Avenue and the Boston Post Road around 1772 after the division of  Major Thompson’s land.  It is not surprising that Allis chose this location near Captain Scranton, as his own wife, Hannah Scranton, was the sister of Captain Ichabod Scranton and had other family in the area. 

Development in the “Boston Street” area began about 1785 when Aaron Blatchley purchased two lots on the north side of the street. By 1789 Blatchley had built a house on each lot (one being the Allis-Bushnell House and the other now # 897 Boston Post Road on the corner of Scotland Road). About this same time, a house was built between the two Blatchley houses for Ichabod Scranton Jr., son of Captain Ichabod and Chloe Scranton (now # 869 Boston Post Road, the home of a William Raveis real estate office.)  In 1789 Benjamin Wilcox built his house on the south side of the street (# 826 Boston Post Road).  A few years later, in 1794, Phineas Meigs built a new house on the northeast corner of the Boston Post Road and Wall Street, where the E. C. Scranton Memorial Library now stands.

When the children of Captain Ichabod and Chloe Scranton reached adulthood, the Scranton property was divided to provide building lots on both sides of the street for members of the family, and the residential and commercial area filled in with houses and buildings. 

Ownership of the Allis-Bushnell House

Aaron Blatchley 1785-1789

Wooden nesting boxes, colonial kitchen

It is not known why Aaron Blatchley built two houses in the same area at about the same time, and it is not known which house was built first.  We do know from the 1790 Federal Census record that Blatchley was living in the house on the northwest corner of the Boston Post Road and Scotland Avenue when the census was taken. The Allis-Bushnell House was built at some time between April 23, 1785, when Blatchley purchased the four acres of land, and December 16, 1789, when he sold the property with a “dwelling house.”

A clue might be found in the changing circumstances of the neighborhood. Sixty-nine-year-old Nathaniel Allis Sr. and his son Nathaniel Allis Jr. moved to Shelburne, MA, to live near Allis relatives. On December 31, 1785, Allis Sr. sold his homestead property on the northeast corner of Scotland Avenue and the Boston Post Road to Moses Blatchley, Aaron’s older brother. On the same day, he sold the opposite corner lot to Aaron. It is thought that possibly Moses converted the Allis house into a tavern. It is a possibility that Aaron lived in the Allis-Bushnell House and a few years later moved to the corner house when the opportunity was presented. Perhaps there was some sort of commercial advantage to living at the relatively new intersection of Scotland Avenue/East Wharf and the Boston Post Road across the street from his brother’s tavern.

Collection of painted and glazed stoneware jugs

Aaron Blatchley was born on April 6, 1750, the son of Moses and Huldah (Munger) Blatchley. On October 17, 1769, he married Prudence Grave, the daughter of David Grave and Temperance Dudley. The year he purchased the property for the two houses on Boston Street, Aaron would have been thirty-five years old and the father of two sons, Martin and Curtis.

Aaron may have been a carpenter because deeds for the Allis-Bushnell House say that the house was “built by Aaron Blatchley.” However, this description might refer to the fact that he commissioned the house. It was hoped that a check of Blatchley’s 1826 probate record might confirm the carpenter theory if house-building tools were listed in his inventory.

These records revealed that his estate could not be closed because “at the time of his decease, [he] was possessed of a claim against the United States known as the French Spoliation Claims.” The estate of his son Martin (who died in 1847) had the same problem. The date on both probate records was 1886. This tells us that the Blatchleys were involved in a trade venture during the quasi-War between the United States and France between 1797 and 1801. Either a ship they owned—or their merchandise on a ship—was captured by the French. Settlement of these claims went into the early twentieth century.

Elisha Mann and John Henderson 1789-1791

Colonial kitchen fireplace with cooking utensils

Aaron Blatchley transferred the deed of the house to Elisha Mann on December 16, 1789. A week later, Mann sold the house to John Henderson (Mann’s father-in-law), who owned the house until January 29, 1791. It appears that Mann was a “go-between” in the deal, but a careful examination of the 1790 Federal census record tells us that Elisha Mann and his family were probably living in the Allis-Bushnell House, near neighbors of Aaron Blatchley and Benjamin Wilcox. John Henderson, official owner of the property, lived in a different part of town in 1790, probably in the Green Hill Road/Horse Pond Road area. The 1800 and the 1810 census records list Elisha and Sarah (Henderson) Mann as living in the Green Hill Road vicinity not far from John Henderson.

On January 29, 1791, John Henderson sold the east half of the house and half of the property to Elisha Mann. Witnesses to this deed were Lyman and Elizabeth Munger. A few days later, on February 2, 1791, Elisha sold his east half of the house to Lyman Munger. Henderson retained ownership of the west side of the house for another year.

Lyman Munger 1791-1792

Front hallway looking onto the Boston Post Road

The February 2, 1791, deed selling the east part of the house to Lyman Munger is interesting because it gives us a good description of the house. Munger’s share of the house included “the east front room and bedroom and milk room with the chamber above and the cellar below.” There is no mention of a kitchen. If the Mungers were to live in only half of the house, where would they cook? Most deeds giving ownership to several owners usually detailed the use of the kitchen and the use of the stairs to the second floor and the cellar. Most likely the arrangement of owning half the house was for financial purposes and whoever lived in the house had use of the kitchen.

During this period of time, it was not uncommon for more than one family to live in the same house, although the families were usually related in some way. The Mungers don’t seem to be related to either the Henderson or Mann families, but they were certainly not strangers. Lyman Munger grew up on the property next door to the Henderson farm.

Lyman Munger was born on October 24, 1755, in East Guilford, the son of Wait and Lydia Kelsey Munger. His father’s sister, Huldah, was the mother of Aaron Blatchley, which means that the two men were first cousins. In 1775 Lyman enlisted (at age sixteen) in Captain Stephen Hall’s Company from Guilford and later served under Andrew Ward and Captain Daniel Hand. His father also served during the Revolutionary War and was said to have died while in service in 1777.

About 1782 Lyman married Elizabeth Coe, the daughter of Jedediah and Elizabeth Wilcox Coe. (Elizabeth grew up in a house that still stands at 164 Horse Pond Road.) Lyman and Elizabeth had three children: William, Ferdinand, and Betsey. All three children were probably born before Lyman Munger purchased the Allis-Bushnell House, since they are found on the 1790 Census Record.

It is not known where the Lyman Munger family lived at the time the 1790 census was taken, but they are listed on the same page as Elizabeth’s father, Jedediah Coe, which would indicate that they probably lived in approximately the same part of town, in the Horse Pond area. (John Henderson and later Elisha Mann lived in this same area.)

Elizabeth Munger died on April 29, 1792, a little over a year after they purchased the east part of the house. In July of that year, John Henderson sold the west portion of the house to Joseph Wilcox 2nd, a resident of Killingworth (Clinton) who very soon after sold his half to Lyman Munger, giving Munger full ownership of the house on November 14, 1792. During the time that he owned the Allis-Bushnell House, Munger added a “merchants shop” to the property. Within a few years after selling the Allis-Bushnell House, Munger took a second wife, Eunice Parmelee, and sometime before 1800, they moved to the Rochester, New York area. Munger, who had inherited his family house, sold the home to his unmarried brother, Jeheil Munger, with his promise to take care of their mother.

Nathaniel Allis, Jr. 1793-1825

Federal style dining room

Only four years after moving to Shelburne, Massachusetts, the Allis family decide to return to East Guilford and take up residence near their old family homestead. They purchased the Allis-Bushnell House on October 26, 1793. Nathaniel Jr. brought a new wife, Abigail Bushnell, back to East Guilford, and it seems that Nathaniel Sr. had also re-married. (The 1800 Census Record for the East Guilford area lists the right age and sex for all of the Nathaniel Allis Jr. family, but an older couple is also found on the record. A letter written in 1799 by Abigail Bushnell Allis to the Allis children mentions their “Grand Dadda and Mamma they are feeble and we can not Expect them to be otherways in there declined state of life, they desire there love to each of their GrandChildren.”)

Probably the youngest four of the six Allis children moved into the house with their parents and grandparents. (The two oldest daughters were married and no longer living at home.) By 1800, the youngest daughter, Rebecca, and the only boy in the family, Pierce, were the only Allis children living in the house. Sadly, at age nineteen, Pierce drowned in Long Island Sound. Nathaniel Allis Sr. died March 4, 1804, at age eighty-seven. (It is not certain what happened to “Grand Mamma.”)

In 1810 Rebecca married Thomas Anderson Jr. of Lyme, Connecticut. The young couple probably lived in Lyme until 1815 when Nathaniel Allis deeded the west part of the house to his son-in-law. Thomas and Rebecca had two children: Laura (born in 1811, probably in Lyme) and Samuel Pierce (born about 1816, possibly in the Allis-Bushnell House.) Nathaniel Allis and his wife, Hannah, died within a few days of each other in February 1825, leaving the east half of the house to Thomas and Rebecca. In December of the same year, the Andersons, as sole owners of the whole house, sold the property and probably moved back to Lyme.

Daniel Hand chest, green parlor

Nathan and Chloe Bushnell 1825-1858

Nathan Bushnell Jr. was born on July 18, 1779, the son of Nathan Bushnell and Ester Lord of Saybrook, CT. On September 21, 1805, Nathan married Anna Chapman, also of Saybrook; their first daughter, Electa Ann [spelling taken from the probate record], was born a year later. In 1807 the young family came to East Guilford and purchased the house on the northwest corner of Scotland Avenue and the Boston Post Road from Aaron Blatchley. The family grew with the births of Elizabeth M., William C., and Henry Lord Bushnell. Unfortunately, Anna died on July 17, 1821 at the age of forty-two, leaving her husband to care for the children.

Nathan did not have to look far for a second wife. Chloe Scranton Judson, the daughter of Theophilus Scranton who lived across the Boston Post Road, was a widow of fifteen years with a daughter, Charlotte Matilda Judson. Nathan and Chloe married on January 18, 1823, and the couple quickly had two more children, Mary Judson and Nathan Townsend Bushnell. Needing a larger home, the Bushnells moved into the old Allis house, across the street from Chloe’s parents. The couple purchased the house on December 26, 1825, for the sum of $1,300. This also included 19.5 acres, a barn, and other buildings. Cornelius, the last child born to the couple and the one destined for the greatest notability, was born in the house in 1828.

Nathan Bushnell died on July 9, 1857, leaving the house to his children. Cornelius Bushnell purchased the family homestead from his siblings and paid off the debts associated with his father’s estate. His mother, Chloe, continued to live in the house until her death in 1873 at age ninety.

Cornelius Bushnell and His Heirs 1858- 1920

View of Victorian tearoom, Portrait of CS Bushnell

After the death of Chloe Bushnell, the family used the house as a place to gather in the summers. It is said that Nathan Townsend Bushnell, brother of Cornelius, lived in the house on and off. The 1880 census record lists another brother, Henry Lord Bushnell, living in the house. In 1900, Erickson Bushnell, son of Cornelius, is listed as living in the house.

After the death of Cornelius Bushnell in 1896, the house was rented to a number of families for a residence as well as for commercial operations until 1917. The April 7, 1910, Shoreline Times printed a story saying that “the old Bushnell House on Boston street has been thoroughly overhauled and put in excellent repair by the owner and will be occupied early in June by Mr. and Mrs. W. Hart and daughter, Susan J. Hart.” The story went on to say that Miss Hart “proposes to engage in a new enterprise this summer the nature of which will be unprecedented in Madison—a tearoom—where all who wish may drop in for light afternoon refreshments and where passing automobile parties may find satisfactory meals.”

In 1917, the newly formed Madison Historical Society began leasing the property as a home for their collections and as a meeting place. The Bushnells only asked that the Society pay the taxes on the property. When the Society decided to buy the house from the Bushnells, members, summer friends, native Madisonians living away from town, and town residents liberally added to the purchase fund. The sale of the house and 0.56 acres of land, by the heirs of the Bushnell family to the Madison Historical Society, took place on July 13, 1920.

The building was used as the headquarters of the Madison Historical Society until 2010, when the administrative offices were moved to Lee's Academy. Currently, the property is open to members and to the public every Wednesday throughout the year from 1 to 3 pm--and on other occasions for special events, programs, and exhibits.

Credit: This history was originally researched, documented, and written by Lynn Friedman, former chair of the MHS Historic Preservation Committee. This account of the history of the house as we know it was last updated in Fall 2012.

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