September 2, 2013 01:05AM
By NANCY LAVIN
Sun Staff Writer
STONINGTON — For many high school students, summer vacation is a time for sleeping late, soaking up the sun and socializing with friends.
Sophomore Connor Beverly spent his summer a bit differently. The 15-year-old Pawcatuck resident may have bypassed the 6 a.m. alarm and still gone to the beach, but he was also hard at work putting the finishing touches on his recently published book, “On the Corner of William and West Broad: a True Example of Aristocracy in Pawcatuck.”
The book documents the history of the iconic house at that address, which caught Beverly’s attention as he rode past it while he was growing up. The exterior of the 1887 Victorian structure is intricately designed and unusually colored, and the interior has retained much of its original woodwork, flooring and fireplaces.
Beverly’s interest in local history predates this project. “My family was always pretty involved with the town,” he said, explaining that many of his family members owned businesses, including Higgins Pharmacy and Shea’s Office Supply. “I wanted to carry on that tradition.”
Beverly started by collecting local history items, mostly postcards, about two years ago.
In March 2012, however, a chance encounter started a series of events that led him to become an author.
Soon to finish his final year at St. Michael School, Beverly was touring a prospective high school on Fishers Island, N.Y. His tour guide and “ferry buddy” was fellow Pawcatuck resident and Fishers Island School freshman Grace Timmons.
“Even though we lived in the same town, I’d never seen her before,” said Beverly. “But we became friendly very fast. And then I found out where she lived.”
Timmons and her family had moved into the house on West Broad Street four years earlier.
Beverly remembered a specific time when Timmons’ mother, knowing his interest in local history, asked him if he knew anything about the house. At the time, Beverly did not.
Fast forward to that June, when Beverly stumbled across a $300 package of old letters and photos on eBay written to Sally Frankenstein, whose parents were the first owners of the house.
Beverly bought the collection, which included 120 letters and more than 300 photo negatives, intending to add them to his growing collection.
“It was definitely my biggest purchase for my collection,” he said. “At first, I didn’t plan to publish the letters, because they were very rare.”
Beverly said he soon changed his mind. “People pass by this house every day,” he said. “I thought, ‘I bet it would be really neat to write a book about it.’ So I did.”
Beverly and Timmons, who had started dating, began trying to decipher the letters, some of which featured “atrocious handwriting,” according to Timmons.
From the letters and photos, Beverly learned about the Frankensteins, who owned most of the property around West Broad Street. At the time, it was farmland, and the Frankensteins divided the property into lots. They built a house on one of the lots, presumably as a wedding present for their daughter, Fanny, Beverly said. Fanny and her husband were the first official owners of the house, and the deed remained in Fanny’s name. Sally was one of Fanny’s three children, and lived in the house growing up.
Beverly noted that the Englishman Charles Eastlake, one of the most famous architects of the era, was the designer; the house today stands as one of only two in Connecticut that are considered “Eastlake Victorians,” a style known for its lacy ornamental details.
Beverly traced the ownership of the house as it passed down from the Frankensteins to several other owners. With the exception of the Frankenstein family, none of whom are alive, Beverly was able to contact and interview almost every owner of the house.
“They all got back to me, and gave me a lot of really helpful things,” he said. “It was just a matter of collecting the information. That’s the hard part. The writing’s easy.”
Ownership of the house changed hands numerous times, but most of the early owners did not make major changes to the architecture or interior design.
In the 1970s, however, a man from Portugal bought the house and completely remodeled it, painting the house white with a red roof and allowing tall trees to grow around the house. “It was really not nice looking,” Beverly said.
In the early ’80s, another couple, named Manson, bought the house and have been credited for completely restoring it to its original form.
After being restored, the house became something of an icon in Pawcatuck.
It was featured in Washington Trust commercials, and a local dollhouse maker used it as a model, Beverly said.
It wasn’t until the ’90s that a renter found the letters and photos in a desk inside a closet, more than 85 years after they were written.
Beverly said the “aristocracy” of his subtitle refers to the “rich architecture” of the house, and also to the original owners. “They were pretty classy people,” Beverly said.
As one of the wealthiest families in the area, the Frankensteins named all of the streets on their property after their children, such as William Street.
The house’s third floor was originally created as living quarters for “the help,” and when Mrs. Frankenstein died, her obituary was included in The New York Times.
Beverly said the dramatic differences between the way people lived then and now are particularly interesting to him. He said he hopes the people of Pawcatuck feel the same.
“If people can connect with something in history, I really think they’ll like it,” he said. “The history of Pawcatuck is very important, but it’s often overlooked.”
Beverly has also started a Facebook page about the history of Pawcatuck, which includes photos and information about the items in his history collection. He said he is proud to share the story of the house on West Broad Street with the people for the same reason.
“I hope that what I’m doing is beneficial to the town, because that’s why I do it,” he said.
Timmons said, “Now, when people ask me about my house, I can just give them the book.”
Since Beverly self-published the book at the end of July, he has sold about 25 copies at $55 each.
He said he hadn’t intended to charge so much, but the large number of photos increased the cost of production.
Beverly said he would like to take “a little time off” before starting his next writing project, but he already has several ideas in the works, including a history of old movie theaters in the town.
“On the corner of William and West Broad” is available for purchase by contacting Connor Beverly at email@example.com, or by visiting the book’s Facebook page.