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Americans, it nevertheless was adopted by them with much enjoyment, and was a favorite song during the Revolutionary War some twenty years later. The G. W. Hunter house on the high bank, a little further up the •ivenue. was the Congregational parsonage ninety years ago; and here occurred a historical calamity, the destruction of the oldest records of the First church, containing the births, and marriages of its early members. The precious volumes, stored in a wicker basket in the attic, were reduced to rags by rats. Rev. Roswell Swan, pastor 1807-1819, died in this house and was buried in the Towii House Cemetery. The meeting house, which was burned in the Revolution with its steeple, bell and broad stone steps, stood on the site of Mrs. W. G. Thomas's residence. Rev. Mr. Swan's church, which succeeded that one, stood on the lower end of the Green until the present edifice was built in 1849. A relic of the old church, the lantern which lighted the vestibule, is owned by Mr. C. A. Quintard. In this building "Parson Hall" preached a little later, under a sounding board hung over the high pulpit which was just large enough for the preacher; if a visiting clergyman assisted at service he had to sit outside.
To a broad flat stone under a great elm tree, came the carriages of the parishioners from a distance; among them Joseph Marvin's from Westport and Miss Phoebe Comstock's from Comstock Hill, accompanied by her white-haired slave Onesimus, the last slave held in Connecticut, because he had refused his freedom. For fifty years he never missed a Sunday in his place.
Miss Comstock, or "Aunt Phoebe" as everyone called her, might have adopted a certain text in Galatians for her own, "Rejoice, for the desolate hath more children than she which hath a husband"; because, in the course of her life, she adopted no less than thirteen boys and twenty-six girls, orphans, keeping them until the boys were old enough to be apprenticed and the girls to marry or become housekeepers for other people.
Some of Aunt Phoebe's boys became well-known in the world as men. Her home in northern Norwalk was famous as a ministers' tavern for visiting clergy, nor did she fail to cheer the lot of her pastor by sending him presents of poultry and other farm delicacies; while the poor of the parish were not neglected. In 1878, nearly fifty years after Miss Comstock's death, there was an auction of her household effects, the account of which makes a collector envious. Old dishes were sold, and furniture, among which was the Tryon chair (now owned by the Rev. C. M. Selleck), spinning wheels, and all the paraphernalia of colonial housekeeping, hand-woven coverlets and linen, besides attic treasures innumerable. The Noah Wood house on East avenue was the parsonage in Dr. Hall's dav, and he wrote his three books, "The History of Norwalk," "The Puritans and Their Principles," and "Infant Baptism" in its front upper room. A town house, used as a guard house during the Revolution, stood on the site of our present old town house, which was burned in 1779 and replaced by an uncouth-looking structure which came to a violent end one night some forty years later, at the hands of a mob of young blades who called themselves "Ensign Andrews." On its ruins our own "Old Town House" was built, which is not so very old after all, since it was built in 1835. It is one of the oldest brick structures in town, however; the old bank on Wall street (Dr. Walter Hitchcock's office) being the first, two houses in Rowayton next and the Town House fourth in age; all of them the work of Lewis Raymond, mason and builder. The Town House used to be the only public hall in Norwalk and it served for other gatherings than elections and town meetings. It was used by the Baptists during the late thirties before they had a meeting house of their own. School exhibitions, lyceum lectures, and the Washingtonian temperance meetings of sixty years ago, when total abstinence was a new idea, were held in the Town House. On one occasion the volunteer fire company of popular young men filed up to the desk in a body to sign the pledge. The glib Mormon apostles preached their doctrines from the Town House platform, winning a few converts, in the days of Joseph Smith.
Col. F. St. John Lockwood's beautiful lawn is the site of a notable colonial home, that of Commodore John Cannon, whose ships plied between Norwalk and the West Indies just before the Revolution. Few people today are aware of the important carrying-trade which existed at that time, when hams, horses, staves, hoops, flour, butter and earthenware were exported, and sugar, molasses and liquors imported. The Cannon house was spacious, with a great chimney in which a whole ox might be roasted, besides affording room for game and poultry on spits, and kettles hung from swinging .cranes, tended by the negro slaves. The house, surrounded by a fine orchard, its bountiful table furnished with plate and old Canton china, was the sort of home about which a novelist would delight in weaving tales. It was burned by Tryon in 1779 and the valuables which could be hastily gathered were hidden in the chimney or secreted in the well. Three of John Cannon's sons built Nofwalk homes, the eldest, named after his father, built the house now occupied by C. O. C. Betts on the Green. It was first built in 1773 and destroyed by the fire six years later, but it was rebuilt almost immediately. Though somewhat changed in its outward appearance since then, the hall and front portion of the house are almost the same as they were originally. In the drawing-room the quaint painting of the New York Battery over the high colonial mantel imparts a distinctive touch of a by-gone day. The house on Mill Hill, known until recently as the home of Miss Julia Lockwood, was built by Samuel Cannon just after the Revolution. Col. Buckingham Lockwood purchased it for the family homestead about seventy years ago. Mr. Selleck's history contains a picture of the house as it looked originally with a gabled roof.
A realistic incident of Norwalk's day of terror, in connection with the corner house, known as the Bissell house, is related in Hall's history. It was then the home of Thomas Belden, and his housekeeper in a fever of anxiety about the property in her care, ran hastily across the Green to consult with Mrs. William St. John, whose home stood where Morgan avenue joins East' avenue, when the alarm guns were fired. It was Saturday night, July 11, 1779, and Mrs. St. John was preparing her bread for baking in the brick oven, when Mr. Belden's housekeeper came running in: "Are you going to stay?" she asked Mrs. St. John. "No," was the answer, "I am going out of the way." "Well," responded the other woman, "I shall stay, I will go to Gov. Tryon and plead for the house. When he was Governor he stayed with us over night with his attendants and horses. I will tell him we are friends of the Government." Mrs. St. John responded with a spirit of true New England thrift, "If you are going to stay, take my dough"; and Mr. Belden's housekeeper went back across the Green with the burning oven wood and loaves of bread ready for baking, while Mrs. St. John made preparations to go to the woods with her family. Gen. Tryon, sitting in his tent next morning on Grumman's Hill, which was "all red with the British," that day, listened to the housekeeper's plea and sent a file of soldiers to protect the Belden house and, though the flames had started, they put out the fire. In 1816 the house was bought by Clark Bissell, Esq., an eminent Connecticut lawyer, who was Governor of the State in 1846-49, and it remained in his family until the death of the Rev. S. B. S. Bissell, a few years ago. The present Congregational parsonage looks very modern, and yet a portion of it is very old. In anteRevolutionary days it was an inn kept by John Betts. Here Franklin stopped on one occasion, and here lodged the elegant Madam Van Home and her two beautiful daughters in the summer of 1779. When the British soldiers set fire to St. Paul's Church, which was directly opposite the inn on the Green, Madam Van Home hurriedly ordered her coach and she and her daughters went to Fairfield, from whence they embarked for their home in Flatbush, where they were protected by the British officers, notwithstanding their own allegiance to the American cause.
Leaving the vicinity of the Green we will now go to Cannon street; here we find a house near the sawmill which is a perfect picture of an old Norwalk home, in the Josiah St. John house, built about 1770. Mrs. St. John was a New Canaan girl, and at her hospitable fireside many of her friends from New Canaan and Fairfield drank tea in the days when the tax made patriots use small teacups. Good Mr. Moses St. John, her fatherin-law, used to remonstrate with Mrs. Josiah about it, even it is said, trying to prevent the making of tea by emptying the boiling water from the kettle in his zeal, but that did not diminish her hospitality. The Camp place at East Rocks was built by James Cannon, the third son of Commodore Cannon. We glance at the Rocks as we go, remembering their part in Norwalk's history, silent witnesses still in existence of the battle in 1779 when Capt. Betts with fifty Continental regulars and a few militia resisted a superior force of the enemy for several hours.
Tradition says that the wounded were carried to the Whitney house on upper Main street which stood on the present site of Avison's market, and was torn down in 1864. On France street is the old Betts homestead, the birthplace of Hezekiah Betts from whence he went out to fight in the Revolutionary War in 1780. The original house was very old even then, having been built in 1660, by Thomas Betts, 1st. That structure was burned, but the present one is built around the old chimney. In Winnipauk, on the east side of Main street, not far from the Fair Grounds, is the Jonathan Betts house which was built just after the Revolution by Elijah Gregory who served a few months in the army. The old family burial plot once occupied the southwest corner of Main street and the New Canaan road, though its gravestones have long since disappeared.
At the corner of Main street and Union avenue is a house which dates from 1760, when it was built by Uriah Selleck, grandfather of Mrs. W. K. James, at about the time of his marriage to Hannah Smith, of Stamford. The house is now the home of Mrs. Kate P. Hunter. Its once sloping roof has been cut off at the rear and an extension added, and its shingled sides covered with clapboards; but otherwise this Revolutionary home is little changed.
We notice another Revolutionary home on the corner of Main and West Main streets, in the Benedict house now owned by Mr. Charles Seymour, though we must use a discerning eye to discover its age under its modernized exterior.
There is an interesting tale concerning the Hezekiah Rogers house on the corner of Cross street. In 1789, Jesse Lee, the early apostle of Methodism in New England, came to Norwalk one June day to preach his first sermon in Connecticut. He had some reason to expect that the Rogers house would be opened for the meeting, and word had been sent around among those interested to assemble there. At four o'clock Mr. Lee arrived on horseback, only to find that Mr. Rogers was away from home, and in his absence his wife hesitated to open the house to a public gathering. An old lady living in the next house was asked if she would allow the meeting in her orchard, but she objected that the people would trample down the grass. At last, Jesse Lee assembled his audience under an apple tree by the roadside and preached his sermon from the text "Ye must be born again." Such was the beginning of Methodism in Norwalk. The next house is distinguished as the home of Charles Robert Sherman, father of the Hon. John Sherman and Gen. W. T. Sherman, prior to the removal of the family to Lancaster, O., in 1810, where the two famous sons were born some years later. The Shermans