Irish Immigration to Avon – A Forerunner To An Incidence of Cultural Prejudice at the Pine Grove School House In West Avon, 1876 (Part 2)

Author: Janet M. Conner,  Avon Historical Society     (Part 1 was previously published on March 1.)

History of the Pine Grove School House, Harris Road and West Avon Road, Avon, Connecticut

The little, white painted school house, built in 1865, sits on its original foundation on the corner of Harris Road and West Avon Road in Avon, Connecticut.  The word ‘quaint’ is all-encompassing when looking at this well-preserved historic relic.  Other adjectives come to mind like ‘picturesque’, ‘charming’ and ‘bucolic’ to describe this gingerbread trimmed, one-room school that functioned until 1949.

Fig. 6: Pine Grove School House, map

It is located in the former District #7, one of the divisions Avon was divided into to locate schools depending on population to educate children.  Alice Holmes Thompson wrote that in the May 1865 session of the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, a resolution was passed as follows: “Upon the petition of O. L. Woodford and others, inhabitants of the towns of Avon and Farmington, in the county of Hartford, praying for the incorporation of a School District from portions of the third and fourth districts of Avon, and of the Unionville school district of Farmington, be it resolved that such a district shall be created.” Since Avon began as a farming community, with three working farms even today, the students were the sons and daughters of local farm families.

The exterior of the building exhibits some Victorian features with its high peaked roof line and hand-cut wood detailing.  There is a single-entry door in the front but, once inside the entryway, there is one door to the right for the boys and one to the left for the girls.  The pupils were also seated on separate sides in the classroom.  There is an original iron sink with a hand pump where children washed their hands.  Potable water was drawn from the neighboring farm’s spring in a bucket and children drank water ladled into a tin cup, according to Thompson.

The interior of the school, though simple, was the newest and most modern of the buildings in the seven school districts with two outhouses.  The original high ceiling is curved and covered with tin painted white.  As the heat from the stove rose, it was reflected back to warm the students.  The wood burning bench stove in the center is an excellent match to the original and is vented to the outside via a large stove pipe.  There are four chalkboards.  One is an original ‘blackboard’ made of boards painted with Japan black.  The others are made of slate and known as slate boards.  There are neat rows of desks that represent changing styles of numerous decades of different sizes.  Some have adjustable legs to accommodate growing children.  At one time the school used double desks and one is on display.  The teacher’s desk is a reproduction of one found in a photograph taken in the school in 1912.  It was built in Riverton, CT by the Hitchcock Chair Factory. Many of the artifacts within the schoolhouse such as books, teacher’s hand bell, and globe vary in time periods.  “The school was constructed and equipped at a cost of $1,538,” according to Frances L. Mackie.

The Pine Grove School House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and is a part of a designated Historic District.  This includes the school house and five neighboring farms that are still extant.  These farms and farmhouses include Sunrise Farm, the former Marcus Thompson farm, the former Ephraim Woodford farmstead, David Rood farm and Isaac Woodford farm.

The Pine Grove School House has withstood the march of time with restoration and preservation undertaken by the Avon Historical Society.  Many former students of the school have very fond memories of attending there and some of the old-timers came for the 150th year birthday celebration of the school house in 2015.  We, at the Society, consider the school house a treasured gem.  The instance of cultural prejudice against the Irish immigrants was a regrettable episode in this school’s complex and remarkable history.  Many one-room school houses have fallen into disrepair and have disappeared from our historic towns. They exist only in the collective memories of their eldest citizens.  We, at the Society, invite you to step back in time to immerse yourself in the bygone days of early education in Avon.  The Pine Grove School House is open for tours from June through early September on Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. with a Society docent to answer questions.


Mackie, Frances L. Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1988.

Thompson, Alice Holmes. “Pine Grove School, Seventh District, Avon, Conn.,” The Lure of the Litchfield Hills, December 1953.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Howard, Nora O. Avon (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing Co. 2000.

Wright, Peter. Avon (Then and Now). Intro. Nora O.Howard. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.


Building Peace after the Revolution: William Spratts and Old Gate Mansion

Author: Teresa Lewis


Figure 1 Cowles House, built 1780-1782. Picture taken 1942, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

Today, many historians are attempting to revise Connecticut’s revolutionary history by presenting a more complete historical picture, including the plight of loyalists and prisoners of war in New England both during and after the conflict. During the war, many loyal Tories were imprisoned in jails located in central Connecticut, including one at Farmington (Gilbert, 287). One such prisoner was William Spratts. Unlike many other loyalists and British soldiers, however, Spratts stayed in the United States following the end of the Revolution. As an architect, he created many of the historic homes in Connecticut still in existence today. His story and architectural contributions reveal what happened to those left in the United States who were not a part of the patriot victory.

William Spratts was a Scottish soldier in the British Royal Artillery.[1]  Serving in General Burgoyne’s army during the Battle of Saratoga, Spratts was imprisoned in Hartford and Farmington after the artillery’s defeat. Following his release in September of 1780, William was contracted to complete the Barnabas Deane House in Hartford. Spratts was commissioned afterward to build an addition on a home on Main Street in Farmington in 1782. The first home on this site was originally built in 1690 by William Hooker, but the origins of the renovations that were finalized in 1782 were disputably commissioned by either Isaac Bidwell or by Solomon Cowles for his son Zenas (“Old Gate,” 8). Either way, Spratt’s architecture was known for its Georgian style, including a “seven bay façade” that is “decorated with an elaborate entry made up of four Ionic columns.” (“Old Gate,” 2). The house features a pedimented pavilion and ornate details, features that had not been widely used prior to this period (Elliot, 39).

Figure 2 The Gate at Old Gate Mansion, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

One significant aspect of Spratts’ work in Farmington is the gate that provided the namesake. On the gate, there is a Buddhist symbol for peace called a Manji, often mistaken as the Nazi swastika symbol. The choice of using the symbol reflects a growing popularity of Asian designs in architecture in the early 19th century. There are no records regarding the choice to add the symbol to the gate. Whether it was the decision of the homeowner or of Spratts himself, the symbol can be interpreted to represent the desire for stability and peace following the Revolutionary War, both between the loyalists and patriots, but also between British soldiers living in the colonies.Connecticut’s traditional revolutionary history highlights the heroic deeds that supported the patriot cause.

In addition to creating one of the best known houses in Farmington, Spratts is credited with having built the house of Julius Deming, a prominent merchant in Litchfield (“Julius Deming,” 1). Similar to Farmington’s Old Gate, “The Linden” features a post-revolutionary Georgian style that attempted to separate itself from the pre-Revolutionary simplistic and functional fashions.  Julius Deming was so impressed by Spratts’ work that his cousin Gen. Epaphroditus Champion hired him to copy Deming’s house in 1794.

In his personal life, William was married in 1782 to Elizabeth Seelye, daughter of Justuce Seelye, and had seven children (Elliot, 40). The architect went on to build several additional houses and public buildings in the years before his death including the Champion house in Colchester, the Litchfield courthouse which burned in 1886, and finally the Town Meeting house of Georgia, Vermont. Spratts subsequently married three times, had thirteen children and moved to Vermont, spending his final days there until he passed in 1810 (Georgia Town History, 260).

Spratts represents an overlooked perspective by contemporary historians. While most loyalists and British soldiers returned to England and other territories, Spratts stayed to create a new life for himself, becoming a successful architect and raising a family following the war. His imprint on American architecture is still present today throughout Connecticut. His story provides a glimpse into the details of what happened to those who did not win the Revolution.

For further reading, see:

“Prisoners in Farmington,” The Farmington Historical Society. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Brandgee, Arthur L. and Eddy N. Smith. Farmington, Connecticut, The Village of Beautiful Homes. Charlottesville: Library of the University of Virginia, 1906.

Georgia Town History, Volumes 8-11. Town History Committee. Madison: University of
Wisconsin, 1974.

Gilbert, G. A. “The Connecticut Loyalists.” The American Historical Review 4, no. 2 (1899):

Warren, William. William Sprates and his Civil and Ecclesiastical Architecture in New England. New York: Columbia University, 1954.

Elliott, Tom. “Master Builders/Planemakers of the Federalist Period Part 1: William Spratts.” The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc. 63, no. 1 (03, 2010): 39-41.

[1] Spratts’ name has been disputed by several scholars. The spelling used in this blog is based on the spelling from Joseph Loring’s letter to Governor Trumbull, where he is mentioned as “William Spratts of the Royal Artillery.”

The Derrin Farmhouses of Avon, Connecticut


Author: Janet M. Conner, Avon Historical Society

The Avon Historical Society has leased the Derrin farmhouse, located at 249 West Avon Road, and one acre of land on which it is situated from the State since 1996. It is open for tours during the summer months at no charge.

A history of the house is detailed in a 2014 Historic Resources Inventory. A deed for the house, dated September 24, 1766, conveying the property to Lucy Page, says that “39 acres of land in the Town of Farmington together with 1/3 part of the house and barn thereon standing….part of a farm of land containing 103 acres owned by me [John Page of Branford] and the said Stephen Darin [husband of Lucy Page, John Page’s father] and is undivided and lies on the West side of the River, against Nod.” The earliest section of the Derrin farmhouse predates 1766. Experts were consulted to examine the construction of the house, including support beams in the basement and the foundation, and have dated the additions to the house as c. 1810.

According to the Town of Avon 1997 Architectural Survey, “…the house appears to date from the period 1830-1860, when the gable-end-to-the-road orientation and Greek Revival detailing were prevalent. If the date refers to the present house in whole or in part, an earlier house must have been substantially remodeled or else incorporated into a later 19th century dwelling…” The house remained in the Derrin family throughout the nineteenth century.Slide1The house is also listed in the Historic Buildings of Connecticut.  “The house is located in Horse Guard State Park and is owned by the State of Connecticut Military Department for the First Company Governor’s Horse Guard, which is based across the street. The house is currently being restored by the Avon Historical Society.”

The Derrin family is an old one in Connecticut. According to the The New England Historical and Genealogical Register: “Ephraim Darwin was admitted a planter at Guilford, Dec. 11, 1672 and had his portion of land out of the third division, according to his list of estate. The rocks at the head of Fair Street, Guilford, were long called Ephraim’s Rocks, after him.” [Ephraim’s son Daniel Darwin was the father of the Stephen Darwin (Darin) who married Lucy Page in the 1766 deed mentioned above.]

The Derrin family history illustrates well the varied occupations of Connecticut residents and their connections to other places. In a letter to their parents written in 1841, Dan Derrin and Ammi Derrin detail their adventures to Arkansas and the Cherokee Nation. They were selling clocks and surviving by their wits. But they also looked forward to returning home to Avon and building or adding on to houses. “We have been thinking if you see cause to make some addition to the old house or build a new one, we will help you along with it when we get home. The reason why we write is that if you should all be well, you can be making some arrangements for the same as it takes time to build to advantage such as getting timber for joists, studs &c. & for the frame. There is nothing like having everything ready when a job is to be completed. When commencing the plan, you can adopt as you please for your own convenience. Brother Ammi has drawn a plan up. He puts it in [the letter so you] can see what his views is. But I think some other plan would be as convenient & less expensive – or at least not as long as he has drew the plan.” Trading in horse flesh and eating squirrels and wild turkeys had perhaps run its course.

The widow of Ammi G. Derrin, Sarah (nee Woodford) (d. 1872) lived in the house up to her death. It is unclear if ownership passed on to one of their sons, but no one occupied it thereafter. In the mid-1950s, the farmhouse and property were owned by the Governor’s Horse Guard and it became the caretaker’s house.

The Avon Historical Society, by securing grant money and with the use of volunteer labor, has worked these many years to refurbish the old farmhouse including a new roof, partial electrical, and heating system. The house is furnished sparsely to represent the early farming days in the town’s history.

Recently, a 30 foot deep stone well was found under the oldest section of the house. This may yield some interesting information to add to our knowledge base. Also, in 1995 the State Archaeologist at the time, Nicholas Bellantoni, conducted a one day dig around the foundation of the house and recovered 635 artifacts. Some of these are actually items once owned by the Derrins over many generations. It was the opinion of the archaeologist, based on the finding of quartz and flint, that Native Americans may have lived on the property thousands of years ago.

Former Derrin House located at 289 West Avon Road, Avon, Connecticut

The current owners of the home at 289 West Avon Road, John and Chrissie D’Esopo, who began its restoration in 1985, believe that the oldest section of their home dates to c. 1760. This section, which still has its original hearth for cooking and heating, is located in the center of the dwelling. In the historic records from the Marian M. Hunter History Room at the Avon Free Public Library [credit: Betty Morton and Herbert Buttles, Nov. 1978, Land Records III] the owner at that time Mr. Laird (1978) “….understands that the ell of the house was moved from an academy and attached to this house. [This is believed to have been the Avon Academy located on the corner of Country Club and West Avon Roads today].


According to the Town of Avon 1997 Architectural Survey: “This house is one of the best-preserved examples of Greek revival architecture in Avon, highly unusual for completely retaining appropriate sash, exterior siding, brick chimney, and all its characteristic Greek Revival features.” “…[The features] are all typical of the way that rural house carpenters sought to make a farmhouse convey the sense of an ancient Greek temple.”

“According to the old maps [1855, 1869], the house was the home of Daniel Derrin, a farmer and one-time Whig representative to the State legislature. Derrin reported owning 149 acres in the 1880s.” During his time in the legislature Daniel Derrin was interested in educational policy, a priority of the Whig Party in the state.

Genealogy: Daniel D. Derrin was the brother of Ammi G. Derrin (249 West Avon Road farmhouse) and was born about 1816. They were the sons of Timothy and Polly Goodrich Derrin. Daniel married Mary L. Jacobs and they had two children: Lizzie C. born 1861, and Winfield Scott, born 1863. Winfield was the last Derrin owner listed in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Like his father, Winfield was interested in education, and he served on the Board of Education for the State of Connecticut.

 299 West Avon Road, Derrin farmhouse (no longer extant)

The file record at the Marian M. Hunter History Room at the Avon Free Public Library [credit: Betty Morton, The Avon Story, Land Records Group III] contains two old maps, an 1855 map marked Wd. Derrin [Winfield Scott Derrin] and an 1869 map marked J. H. Derrin (Jairus). This house was reputed to have burned down and was located South of today’s 299 West Avon Rd.

According to the federal census of 1850, Jairus H. Derrin, the son of Stephen (1759) and Mabel Dorman, was born in 1813.  He died on December 5, 1872 at the age of 59. He is buried West Avon Cemetery, Avon, CT in a separate grave from the Derrin obelisk.

Further reading:

Bickford, Christopher. Farmington in Connecticut. Phoenix Publishing, 1982.

Howard, Nora Oakes. Catch’d on Fire: The Journals of Rufus Hawley, Avon, Connecticut. The History Press, 2011 (from the journals of a prominent minister who lived in the early nineteenth century).

MacKie, Mary Frances. Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story. Phoenix Publishing, 1988.

‘Spared and Shared’ – Old Letters Spared from Obscurity:

*Pen and Ink rendition of the Derrin Farmhouse credit: Deb Key Imagery