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Willcox-Scranton-Miner House

circa 1789 ♦ 826 Boston Post Road

The original part of the Willcox-Scranton-Miner house was built about 1789 by Benjamin Bradley Willcox. Architectural historian James Sexton, Ph.D., feels that the house was constructed as a one-and-a-half-story house and that sometime after 1815 it was raised to the present height of two stories.

Benjamin Bradley Willcox, son of Thomas and Freelove (Bradley) Willcox, was born on February 3, 1759, and died on October 2, 1806. He married Mary Todd, daughter of Timothy and Abigail (Crane) Todd, born October 9, 1763. Mary was the niece of East Guilford’s second minister, Rev. Jonathan Todd. Benjamin would have been about thirty years old when he built the house, and Mary was a few years younger. Several of their children were born before the house was built, and the others were probably born in the house. Unfortunately, Benjamin must have run into some sort of financial difficulties by 1801 when he mortgaged the property. A few years later, in 1803, he was forced to sell the house with the mortgage unpaid. In 1805 Benjamin’s nephew Curtis Willcox purchased the house from his uncle, paid off the mortgage, and then sold the property to Jonathan Scranton, who had grown up in the house next door to the east. Benjamin died a few months later at the age of forty-seven.

At this time, the part of the Boston Post Road between Wall Street and East Wharf was known as “Boston Street” and was populated mostly by Jonathan Scranton’s family. Jonathan was the son of Theophilus and Abigail (Lee) Scranton. He was born on October 10, 1781, and died on July 27, 1847. He married Roxanna Crampton, daughter of Ashbel Crampton, on January 27, 1805. They had eight children, all probably born in the house; six lived until adulthood. Jonathan was said to be a “prominent member of the church in Madison [and] a constructor of breakwaters and wharfs, and a Farmer.”  The couple sold the house in December 1832 and moved to a location outside of town. Only a year later, Roxanna Crampton Scranton died at the age of forty-four. She was known in her life “to exhibit the purity and excellency of the Gospel.” In October 1834, Jonathan remarried, and he and his new wife, Jemina Platt, moved back to the old neighborhood and purchased the house almost directly across from the house where Jonathan had raised his children.

The next owner of the house, Charles M. Miner, was about twenty-eight years old when he purchased the property in 1832. Charles (born on June 15, 1803, in Saybrook, CT) was the son of John S. and Desire (Pratt) Miner. Although Charles owned the house, he and his wife Sophia and their family are listed as living in a different part of Madison on the 1840 Census Record. (They are not found on the 1850 Census Record for Madison, but Sereno Scranton and Henry Scranton, known to be neighbors, are also not listed. Possibly the census taker missed a few houses on the south side of the highway.) By 1860 Charles Miner and his family are found as living in the house at 826 Boston Post Road.

It is said that Charles Miner and his father came to Madison around 1820 from Westbrook, where two generations of Miners had been shipbuilders. The Miner Shipyard in Madison was located at East Wharf, where the family built about seventy-five ships.  William Miner, son of Charles, later joined the family business and was the major designer. Several fine examples of his half models can be seen at the Annex of the Allis-Bushnell House, the house museum of the Madison Historical Society.

Due to their speed, several ships built by the Miners were used as blockade-runners during the Civil War. The business gave employment to many Madison men, as well as others from the area. Sadly, a terrible fire in 1890 destroyed the shipyard as well as several ships that were in the process of construction. A few years before the fire, Charles M. Miner had mortgaged his house, his right in the shipyard, and all of his tools.  Most likely, after the fire, he could not find a way to repay the mortgage. A few days after the tragedy, the house was sold. Charles M. Miner died on September 16, 1890, at the age of eighty-seven. His son, William, went to New London where he continued to build ships at the Charles Berry yard.

On June 25, 1890, the house came into the hands of Charlotte Beecher Bushnell Watson, wife of G. S. Watson. The Watsons lived in New York City at the time of the purchase, but Charlotte had probably known the house from her childhood. Charlotte was the daughter of Cornelius Bushnell, promoter of the USS Monitor and the Union Pacific Railway. Her grandmother was Chloe Scranton Bushnell, sister of a previous owner of the house, Jonathan Scranton.  Although the Scranton and Bushnell families of this part of the Boston Post Road had moved to other areas of the country, they returned in the summer to Madison, where many had inherited or purchased homes. At her death in 1938, Charlotte Watson left the house to her son Cornelius Bushnell Watson of Winnetka, Illinois.

The house was sold in 1947 to Alice and Hyman Birnbaum. The Birnbaums lived in the house until their deaths, and their estate sold it to the current owners, Patricia and Robert Miller.

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