Tag Archives: colonial stamford

Lost Legends of Stamford

 

Halloween 2020 is upon us folks and this year has certainly proved to be an interesting one (so far!). However, even with all of the craziness of these past months, we still come together whether virtually or at home to celebrate the wonderful holiday that is…Halloween.

I’ve had a tradition here on WOTM of writing about the legends, lore and twisted tales of Stamford in hopes of getting more and more of you interested in our history so that we can help preserve what is left of it.

History doesn’t have to be boring, in fact, it can be downright creepy! So what a fun way to learn about our past, pique some interest and help keep the stories alive.

As I’ve said in past editions of this series, these are but snippets of time. While the research that goes into these pieces is extensive, (and the full writings will hopefully be coming in a different form one day), these passages are here to allow you the reader to get a peek into our past. All folklore comes from somewhere and I’ve taken it upon myself to find their origins…or at least…try my best to do so.

So let us get to it…Welcome to the Lost Legends of Stamford!

from my personal collection

The Addicted; The Insane; The Exhausted: Once upon a time, Lock City was home to several sanitariums. When I first started doing the research on this topic, I thought there were only two. But the more I dug into the subject, the more I found that there were at least 8 documented hospitals labeled sanitariums here in our fair city.

Not going to lie, there was so much information that my original write up for this post could easily have been its own entity. However, these facilities have a disturbing history. So whether you checked into the “elite” Dr. Givens Sanitarium with its tennis and croquet courts, views of Long Island and the Sound and (my personal favorite quote from their advertising), where the “climate is free from extreme heat in summer, and is exceptionally mild in winter” or were sent to the Stamford Town Farm aka Poor Farm/House or Alms House (depending on the writing)…these hospitals were not the luxury vacation spots that some tried to mask themselves to be.

In the case of the Dr. Barnes Sanitarium alone, there were reports of suicides and sudden deaths of some patients who were admitted for one ailment but died of something completely different. In a strange twist to this place, their head physician, Dr. Frances Lawless, passed away by taking a sleeping potion and then died at Grand Central Station. The facility had such a creepy vibe to the local residents that parents would sometimes use it as a threat to their kids by saying such things as, “shape up or I’ll send you to Dr. Barnes”. I dont’ know about you, but that would certainly have made me do MY homework!

The Stamford Town Farm was a notoriously sad place as it was a town run facility that housed the poor, the sick, the ‘crazy’ and those who were substance abusers. Patients were often referred to as ‘inmates’ and there were many, many deaths which unfortunately included several infants. There was even the murder of the superintendent Mr. James Parker of the House when in 1898, according to newspaper articles, after Mr. Parker went to break up a fight between two female patients, one took an iron bar and smashed him in the head killing him. This was not a place you would wish anyone to be in but was all that was available at the time for those who had nothing but were in need of ‘treatment”.

Remember too that in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s medicine was much different than it is today. Lobotomies, electric shocks and restraints as well as experimental drugs were often performed and used on those who were deemed “insane” and these inhuman treatments were unfortunately all too common. There were reports of escapes from Stamford Hall with a few making it all the way to New York City.

Oddly, these Stamford facilities also had a run of fires as well. Dr. Wiley’s on Palmer’s Hill was destroyed by a fire in 1911; Dr. Gray’s on Strawberry Hill was also destroyed by a fire in 1931 and in this case, there was the added tragedy of the death of patient Alice Emerson in the fire. Dr. Given’s place also had a couple of fires including one in 1900 and the other in 1910. No deaths were reported or massive damage done, just part of the history of the property.

This leads us to what was left behind. Some say that where there were tragedies or sudden deaths, spirits linger. Many who perished at the Poor House, were buried in the Potter’s Field nearby without proper markers but rather numbered markers stripping what was left of their dignity away even in death.

While I have previously written about the Potter’s Field location, where the Givens facility was, (lower Ridges area from Lord & Taylor, Long Ridge and up to Roxbury Rd), there are stories of strange happenings in the buildings from those who worked in the offices built on the land where the Santiarium once stood. Shadows, things being moved, noises and more have been reported. Same can be said for those who live near the former Dr. Barnes site. Also of note, Dr. Givens himself is buried on the former grounds of his namesake Sanitarium.

While I personally have no doubt that those who perished are hoping to be remembered in some way, the question is, just how far is their reach? Stone from the Dr. Barnes site was used to create such roads as Oaklawn and Belltown. Poor Farm stone was also used in the roads creation project in North Stamford…so it makes you wonder then doesn’t it? Did their already restless souls attach themselves to the very earth they once stood on which is now distributed around the city? Or by the scattering of these stones, were their spirits released and set free? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was the latter?

photo credit: national maritime historical society

A Pirate’s Life For Me: After travelling around the world, taking treasure, ships and even lives, the infamous pirate, Captain Kidd sailed the waters of Long Island Sound. Thinking he would be granted clemency, he was tricked into going up to Boston, where he was ultimately captured and arrested in 1699. Before he made it up to Massachussetts, he set sail from New York where he traveled the Sound burying treasure along the way so as not to have it all in one place for his enemies to find. The most famous of rumored spots is Charles Island in Milford. However, there are stories that he made a stop here in Stamford to bury some of his riches. 

There is also there is also a connection to Stamford involving Major Selleck and his warehouse along the water. The man received goods and treasure brought to him by “one Clarke of this town from Kidd’s sloop and lodged with Selleck,” which added even more to the Captain Kidd legend in our area.

While exact locations have not been found, who knows? Maybe the next time you venture out to one of our beaches or take your metal detector out for a spin, you may just come upon some extra special treasure that Kidd had hoped would be buried forever!


The Legend Laddins Rock: On the western edge of Stamford lies Laddins Rock. While Rosa Hartman Park and Laddin Rock Sanctuary are combined on Stamford/Old Greenwich land, it once was all Stamford property. Thankfully it survived a possible development proposal years ago, something not often done these days. This is a good thing as it is legendary for having a bit of a haunted reputation.

The legend behind the ghosts dates back to the 1640’s…not too long after Stamford’s founding in 1641.

The story goes that after the first round of Dutch settlers took over Manhattan, another group came up to this area to settle on the land. A man by the name of Cornelius Laddin brought his wife and daughter with him and moved into a little colony on what is now, the Waterside area of Stamford. The Native Americans who lived here were feeling very cheated by those who were now making this area their home. Often over bargaining, bartering and taking advantage of the Natives, these settlers created a hostile atmosphere while buying and taking away more land for their own.

According to the story, the Indians had enough and decided to “exterminate the little colony” where Laddin’s family lived. While Cornelius was working in the field, he saw smoke coming from the area where his home stood. Thinking of his family, he rode towards the colony and found many dwellings had been set ablaze. When he got to his own house and after securing his horse, he went inside where his wife and child were. He then barred all the windows and got his gun ready to protect his home and family from possible attack.

As the Natives approched his home with flaming torches, he picked them off one by one, shooting them as they got ever closer to his dwelling. Finally, the Indians teamed up and approached the home in a group. They used a log as a battering ram and broke the door down. His gun failing him now, he was at a great disadvantage. His extraordinary wife called to him and said, “fly husband fly! They will surely respect our sex” and with that, she begged for him to escape and out of the back of the house where his horse was waiting for him and she hoped he would bring help back with him.

Unfortunately, as soon as Cornelius was making his departure in the back, the battering of the front door commenced and with it, came the brutal killings of Laddin’s wife and daughter before his very eyes. The Natives were swift with their tomahawks and they were killed within seconds. Laddin had no time to mourn as the Indians instantly turned their attention to him and began the pursuit to kill the husband/father who had just lost his everything.

Cornelius Laddin, rode his horse to the top of the rocky cliff and realizing he had no other choice, had the animal charge to the edge and the two went over the side and plunged to their deaths.

In total, 15 townsfolk lost their lives in the massacre that day while others were able to flee and escape with their lives. So who is it that haunts these woods? Is Cornelius Laddin still in mourning over the death of his heroic spouse and child? Are those who perished that day unaware that they have left this earth? And what of the horse? He too is a victim! I guess we will never know the answers to these questions, but we can honor their memory by remembering what happened that tragic day oh so long ago.

photo credit:  wikipedia

The Great Escape: Halloween and famed magician/escape artist Harry Houdini are synonymous together. Almost impossible to believe that it’s been so long since his passing, his death occured on Halloween 94 years ago today after attempting a new stunt while suffering from a ruptured appendix and peritinits. 

Becoming a master debunker of sham psychics who could only pretend to contact the lost and take money from those desperate to contact loved ones, he made it a mission in his life to expose those guilty of fraudulent activity. Even so, Harry had a famous ‘death pact’ with his wife Bess that after he passed, she would hold a seance every year for 10 years on the anniversary of his death to try and make contact with him. He even gave her a secret phrase that only she knew so she would know if anyone was trying to scam her. Since his death occured on Halloween, it was almost a perfect day to hold these seances for the next 10 years as it is the belief that the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest on that day. But alas, Bess did not get the phrase she had waited a decade for and never again tried to conjure up her husband’s spirit.

So where is the Stamford connection you are asking? It turns out that the Great Houdini had a house here in North Stamford! After being diagnosed with an illness a few years earlier, Harry had decided he wanted a place to ‘rest’ a bit and bought a large farm on Webbs Hill in 1904.

Houdini’s stay in Stamford was short-lived and he sold the farm a year later. He had hopes of using the home as a place of rest for himself, his wife and his mother. But “rest’ and ‘farm’ don’t necessarily go hand in hand and his plans for the land had him working quite hard. But why the sale? He was no stranger to hard work and even considered a job here in the city at the Yale and Towne Lock factory. (Who better to work on such locks as the master escape artist himself?!)

The original 1830 saltbox home that housed Houdini and his family had burned down in the 1960’s leaving only a fireplace, foundation and chimneys, but there are original structures that are still on the land that are supposed to have been there when Houdini lived on the hill. There is now a replica of the original home in its place.

According to an old Stamford Advocate article and Stamford historian Renee Kahn, his home was just down a bit from the resting place of Webbs Hill namesake Nathaniel Webb and his three wives, all named Esther. Could it be that the man of mystery and magic had some visits by those who came before him? Perhaps they were not happy when Webbs Hill was nicknamed “Weiss Hill” in honor of Houdini’s given name Erich Weiss, which he used to sign for the land.

While Houdini kept diaries, there is no documentation from his writings that any seances had been performed at the Stamford home during his time there but it is certainly fun to imagine him doing so! I for one am keeping the illusion alive…and Houdini was certainly all about illusions. 

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Thank you for helping me keep this tradition alive and more importantly, for helping to keep Stamford history alive! Let’s keep helping to preserve it as best we can!!

To read my previous Halloween posts here on WOTM:

Legends and Lore of Stamford (WOTM Halloween 2019)

Twisted Tales of Stamford (WOTM Halloween 2018)

The Stranger Side of Stamford (WOTM first in series 2015)

Featured in Ignacio Laguarda’s Halloween piece for CT Insider in 2019!

Bonus info: 

Houdini Museum — more information on the Stamford house.

Stamford History Center — Stamford roads project

Stamford Historical Sketches  — While months of research went into these pieces, as soon as I caught the Laddin’s Rock story in this 1922 book, I knew I had to share it. If you are interested in learning more about Stamford’s history, this is a great place to start. Full disclosure, this link is an Amazon affiliate link and helps to support this site. 

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#wotm #keepitlocal #stamfordhistory #stamfordct #learnwhereyoulive

#halloween #keepitspooky #stamfordhistorycenter

Twisted Tales of Stamford

“Ghosts are history demanding to be remembered.” — Jeff Belanger

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Whether skeptic or true believer, all ghosts, legends and tales have to come from somewhere and most times, they come from our past. Founded only 21 years after the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, Stamford has a storied history and with it comes a whole lot of stories just waiting to be told.

A few years back around Halloween, I decided to write a post about some locals legends that may or may not have been widely known. From ghosts at Fort Stamford to the creature in the Noroton River to Stamford’s own Witch Trials, it was possibly the most popular post I’ve ever done and I swore to do it again. Which brings me to today…

Halloween 2018 is once again upon us and there are still so many tales to be told. And while my intention was still to tie these stories in with our history, this year I put the call out to Stamford residents asking them to give me some direction and send me their own story ideas: Were they told not to go near a certain house as a kid? Is there an ‘unwanted’ guest in their home? Or maybe they heard a local park had some extra visitors, among others. While it got off to a slow start, in the end the response was overwhelming! I was sent so many messages, emails and comments that it was truly hard to narrow it down to just a few for this piece. But rest assured, the rest will NOT go to waste and it seems that because of the response, a new project may be in the works (stay tuned!).

In the meantime, let’s get to why we’re here now. If you are a regular follower of WOTM either here on the site or on social media, you know that I am passionate about our local history. So why not have fun learning more about it while celebrating that which is Halloween?

Now remember, these are but snippets. It took a lot of willpower not to add more stories and include more details for the stories I chose to include here. Hopefully you will enjoy this piece and maybe get you excited for more!

Now, let’s get to it as we begin with the obvious for this holiday…

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Halloween and Shippan:  This is interesting as there are a couple of stories about how a park was formed: One reads that on Halloween night in 1906, Stamford Mayor Homer Cummings cast the deciding vote to allow 95 acres of Shippan to be bought and turned into a public beach after there had been interest in having a local public park. Halloween Park as it was known included a 9 hole golf course and a big, beautiful pavillion. Halloween Yacht Club was formed later in 1926 and is still in operation today on the park’s west side. The other story reads that the City of Stamford took title to the Cummings property on Halloween Eve of 1926 (not 1906 in a vote)  and the name stuck. Either way, we now know it as Cummings Park and we have it today to enjoy because of our late former Mayor.

To learn more, check out: A Maritime History of the Stamford Waterfront

(Postcard image courtesy of Stamford History Center)

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Dantown: When you think of a ghost town, you normally think of someplace out west where there were gunfights in saloons over shots of whiskey and dancing girls. But did you know that there is a ‘ghost’ town that lives below the surface of the Laurel Reservoir? Dantown, once located in the North Stamford area where Stamford, Pound Ridge (think Scot’s Corner) and New Canaan meet was once a bustling community of basket weavers. The heavy duty baskets were used in for oyster and clamming gathering in local waters, for picking fruit in the local orchards as well as coal and more. There were many families involved in the business and handcrafting of each piece and the baskets were well known even in New York City. They also produced shoes, cider and potatoes and there was even a school for the town’s children Named after Francis Dan who settled in the area in 1684, those who lived there harnessed the power of the Rippowam to use for their mills. They flourished until around the early 1900’s when it went into full decline. In 1923, the local water company dammed up the river, flooding and submerging the town creating the 256 acre reservoir we still have today. When there is a drought, you may be able to see some of the remains of the once thriving town but other than that, the only reminder of what was still there are now just the street signs that bear its name. Dantown; Stamford’s own Atlantis.

Rezo Waters with son Ernest c.1900

(photo credit Stamford History Center)

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The House of Stamford Hill: On a corner of Cascade Road there lies a beautiful home that dates back to Revolutionary times. The 1780 House or Woodpecker Ridge Farm as it’s sometimes known was built by the Augustus Weed Family in the area that was once Chief Ponus’ private hunting ground. The house stayed in the Weed family until 1927 and then changed hands a few more times over the years. But in 1955 a couple purchased the house and noticed they weren’t alone. It is said that there were sightings of a figure of a Native American in the kitchen, unexplainable music coming from an upstairs bedroom and moving shadows in the parlor area among other things. In 1964, the couple was getting ready to sell the house and called in legendary paranormal investigator and author Hans Holzer to investigate. They stated that they never felt threatened but rather wondering more what the visitors wanted. Mr. Holzer brought a psychic medium with him and during the time(s) they spent at the house they had quite a number of experiences there themselves. They were able to contact quite a few spirits including a Revolutionary War soldier as well as several entities who came through the medium. What I personally found interesting about this story is that this one was submitted to me by quite a few! So apparently the legend continues. To read more about Hans Holzer’s investigation you can find it in his book: Ghosts: True Encounters from the World Beyond

(photo credit: mysticartdesign pixabay)

Just a side note: Also on Cascade Road lies the home of baseball legend Jackie Robinson. I’ve been curious if anyone has had any experiences in his home. While the house looks like an old farmhouse type, the original #42 had it built for his family in 1955 and he lived there until he passed in his home in 1972.

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Stamford Town Center: Yes, you read that right. There have been many stories over the years from directories being upset in their holders when no one was there, voices in the elevators and even the vision of a lady in red running. No one knows exactly who (or what?) is doing all of this. The mall has somewhat of a tortured history that sadly, includes a few folks taking their lives there. But as we all know, the mall, no matter how ugly, was not always there and like any area, has a history. The streets were not the bustling and congested nightmare they are today. Horse and buggy was the way to travel for many years and an investigation done and found that a woman had been hit by one in the area back in the day. Some of the activity did begin after some mall renovation happened and it’s known that happens many times in places where renovations have taken place; it tends to stir the pot. As someone who years ago experienced the rattling of closed store gates there myself, I have to admit, that mall can be one creepy place.

Dr. Francis Rogers in front of his home, depicting carriage life downtown on the corners of Cottage & Atlantic Streets.

(Photo credit: Stamford History Center)

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Cove Island Park: Originally called “Bishop’s Cove” this is quite simply my favorite spot in Stamford. If you follow WOTM on Instagram and go through the pics, you will find dozens taken down there. But like all of Stamford, it’s roots can be traced back for hundreds of years. The island and the surrounding water, including Holly Pond has gone through several incarnations. One of which was the now legendary, Cove Mills. The mills along the water there began in 1792 as a tidewater gristmill. They evolved over the years changing with the times and growing to its peak in 1890 when it grew to 70 acres with 500 employees and became a textile dye company. On February 19, 1919, a great fire took out the entire factory after a small fire started in the acid storage room. The irony of this was the fact that they claimed that the 25 building complex was ‘fireproof’. It was said that 100 employees were still inside the building when the fire took place. Now having stated that, it does not say if they got out or became casualties of this tragedy. You can still see remnants of the factory today if you look carefully. The old ice house is near the playground. There are bricks that can be found in the dirt and of course there is the iconic old bridge foundation as you come in from the parking lot. There is also incredibly large, rusted pipe segments that become visible at low tide and have become a reminder of how massive the structure once was. It is said that to this day, there are reports that the smell of smoke from the fire with a distinct scent can still come to life now and then. There have also been shadow figures seen walking around the park grounds and beach area. Are these folks who perished in the fire? Maybe. But again, so much history has happened there, anything is possible.

Large pipe structure seen at low tide at Cove.

(Personal photo.)

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I hope you’ve enjoyed these new Twisted Tales of Stamford. Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many more to tell and my goal is to be able to bring them all to life for you in one way or another.

I would very much like thank all of you who sent me your stories and requests and allowed me to interview you. This has been a long time coming and I’m so grateful for the outpouring of support this idea has gotten.

If you like this piece and know of more stories of Stamford you’d like to see in a future piece, please feel free to let me know: onthmenuct@yahoo.com  Subject: Twisted Tales

Connecting the past with the present is so important; and the past, needs to be remembered.

Keep Halloween Local Stamford!

Dedicated to Dantown

(photo courtesy of  Tom Ryan and Stamford History Center)

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#wotm #keepitlocal #knowwheretogo

#twistedtales #learnwhereyoulive

#stamfordhistory #happyhalloween

 

Victorian Tea at the Stamford History Center

Stamford, CT— A Victorian Tea will be held at the Stamford History Center on Sunday, November 12th from 1:30 – 4 pm.  Guests will have the opportunity to view the Center’s current exhibit prior to the serving of tea.  This year’s speaker, Michele McEwen, is Stamford’s first female firefighter. Ms. McEwen will share her story. The current History Center exhibit,  Stamford  on Fire, commemorates the legacy of Stamford’s various Fire Departments over time.  The exhibit will be open to guests from 1:30 – 2 pm.

The Victorian Tea itself will be a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Enjoy beautifully arranged sandwiches and baked goods along with steaming, fragrant tea served in elegant china tea cups.  Tickets are $20 each for members, $25 for the general public.  Send your check and contact information to the Stamford History Center, 1508 High Ridge Road, Stamford 06903.  Tickets can be purchased through the website, stamfordhistory.org.   Questions may be addressed to info@stamfordhistory.org or 203-329-1183.

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About the Stamford History Center

The Stamford History Center, the municipal historian of Stamford, is an educational and research institution whose primary functions are to collect, conserve, interpret, and share artifacts and information relating to greater Stamford, to engage citizens in the telling of their stories. The organization, located at 1508 High Ridge Road, is dedicated to preserving regional history and our varied cultural heritage. We provide opportunities for our community to understand and experience the past through our library, the presentation of exhibits and displays, lectures, demonstrations, special events, participatory programs, and tours of the unique Hoyt-Barnum House, built in 1699

For more information, call us at 203-329-1183, “Like” us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/StamfordHistoricalSociety or visit our website at www.stamfordhistory.org.

Experience Colonial Stamford at the Hoyt-Barnum House!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Tom Zoubek, 203-246-6941

EXPERIENCE COLONIAL STAMFORD AT THE HOYT-BARNUM HOUSE

The Stamford History Center invites everyone to come and visit Stamford’s oldest dwelling, the Hoyt-Barnum House. Recently restored in its new location, the siding on the house now brings us back in time to how it originally looked when it was built in 1699.

While many may be familiar with the red paint that graced the house after a 1960s restoration, the History Center did tremendous research and work in making sure the house would look very much as it did when it was originally constructed. Of course, any home that survives for more than 300 years will experience cosmetic and structural changes influenced by fashion and maintenance needs.

When you take a tour of the house, you will get to view rarely seen artifacts plus 18th and 19th century pieces of furniture from the Center’s vast collection. You’ll see your old favorites as well as items that can now be touched and handled. An advantage of taking the self-guided audio tour is that you can control just how much or how little detail you’d like to learn about the property. And don’t miss out on the introductory video which was produced by Stamford’s own David Klein of DEK Creative (with help from CT Humanities Council funding). Such a proud collective of Stamford folks helping to preserve Stamford’s history!

Tour days and times for the Hoyt-Barnum House, now located at the Stamford History Center at 1508 High Ridge Road, are Thursdays and Fridays at 12:30pm, 1:30pm & 2:30pm and Saturdays at 11am, 12pm, 1:30pm & 2:30pm. Be sure to visit: http://stamfordhistory.org for more details.

SHC is also happy to announce the return of “Tales of Horror and Death” just in time for Halloween! Taking place on October 26th and 27th, there will be 3 tours each evening at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm. Come and hear interpreters tell the tales of what horrors our City’s founders faced in the 17th & 18th centuries in their day to day lives. You will also hear about the story of Stamford “witch” Elizabeth Clawson, who was the subject of Stamford’s own Witch Trials in 1692!

Space is limited so get your tickets early and please note, this graphic program is intended for ages 12 and up. Tickets are $15 a person and $10 for members. Please see the SHC website’s event calendar to reserve your place for this awesome spooky event.

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About the Stamford History Center

The Stamford History Center, the municipal historian of Stamford, is an educational and research institution whose primary functions are to collect, conserve, interpret, and share artifacts and information relating to greater Stamford, to engage citizens in the telling of their stories. The organization, located at 1508 High Ridge Road, is dedicated to preserving regional history and our varied cultural heritage. We provide opportunities for our community to understand and experience the past through our library, the presentation of exhibits and displays, lectures, demonstrations, special events, participatory programs, and tours of the unique Hoyt-Barnum House, built in 1699

For more information, call us at 203-329-1183, “Like” us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/StamfordHistoricalSociety or visit our website at www.stamfordhistory.org.

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#wotm #keepitlocal #stamfordhistorycenter #stamfordct #stamfordhistoricalsociety

#hoytbarnumhouse #halloween #colonialstamford #keepitspooky #learnwhereyoulive