STONINGTON — With light refracting through original wavy panes onto old wooden floors, a family’s history could be felt on Monday among the rooms of a 1787 house in the Borough.
The house is one of six featured in “Behind Stonington’s Doors: Every House Tells a Story,” the Stonington Historical Society’s walking tour of historic homes taking place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Peter Perenyi and his wife, Sharon Lynch, have been living in the house full-time since last year but he’s been visiting on and off since 1941, when his grandparents lived there.
“Just about everything was here before,” Perenyi said, surveying the built-in bookcases in the living room that held a variety of books, photographs, and art objects. “This is what an old house looks like that has not been torn apart and completely remodeled.”
The house was originally owned by the Rev. Nathaniel Eels, who served both the First and Second Congregational churches, and later occupied by his sons Joseph and Benjamin Eels.
“This is what the era was like, really. It was rather primitive compared to buildings in the 19th century with higher ceilings,” Perenyi said. “It was built by ship’s carpenters.”
Among other objects, the house is full of books, which reflect the literary legacy of the Perenyi family.
His grandmother was the novelist Grace Zaring Stone, who published under the pseudonym Ethel Vance. She wrote the anti-Nazi novels “Escape,” “The Cold Journey” and “Winter Meeting,” among others, and several of her books were made into movies. Perenyi’s mother, the author Eleanor Perenyi, moved to the house in the 1960s. She is known for her biography of Franz Liszt. She also wrote “More Was Lost,” a memoir of her life, and “Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden.” That book was inspired by the house’s garden, which she designed.
Since moving in, Perenyi and Lynch have made a few changes: reupholstering chairs, rearranging furniture and updating the kitchen. But the look of the place and most of the objects that came with the house remain.
“Every corner of it, for me, suggests family history. I know where people got things, from our trips, Sharon and I, our family’s trips abroad, times when they lived abroad and in this country,” he said.
Because the garden sits adjacent to the former rail line passageway that traveled to Stonington’s docks, it also holds memories of a bygone era, Perenyi said.
“The steam engine came down to Longo’s Dock, chugging right past our garden wall and spewing cinders and smoke,” he said. “We even found an old railroad spike in the garden.”
Pointing to a beam that divides the living room in half, Perenyi said some emergency work had to be done to shore up the house.
“That is a steel beam,” he said. “The wall that once divided this room was a bearing wall and that was exactly where we put three different bookcases in the different rooms and they all converged on that point.”
The front hall also originally had a curving staircase that had several hidden spaces behind it, which might have been part of the Underground Railroad, Perenyi said.
Living in a historical house, the discoveries continue, he said.
“I’m living with a lot of family history, a lot of personal history and a lot of ‘history history,’” he said. “It’s full of curiosities. I think every corner of it and the things in it hold the eye with interest.”
Tickets for “Behind Stonington’s Doors: Every House Tells a Story” are $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. Tickets are available at www.stoniningtonhistory.org, the Capt. N.B. Palmer House, the Old Lighthouse Musuem and Tom’s News.
For more information call 860-535-8445. A shuttle bus will be available for two properties located outside of the borough.