Passers-by in the 1970s sometimes saw one or the other of the Isham sisters, then in their 90s, standing impassively at a window of their handsome three-story Italianate villa that stands just north of I-84 in downtown Hartford.
Soon enough, Julia Isham, then Charlotte, no longer came to the window. The house itself became a lonely spinster for a time, but now it its been revitalized, brilliantly matched to a new neighbor.
The Isham-Terry House was built in 1854 at a time when the northern part of downtown was becoming home to the carriage trade. So it was in 1896 when Dr. Oliver Isham, a bachelor, bought the 15-room mansion for his home and practice and moved in with his teenage sisters, who cared for him and served as his receptionists. The sisters somehow endured the highway construction and urban riots of the mid-20th century.
Connecticut Landmarks, nee Antiquarian & Landmarks Society, acquired the home and opened it for public tours for a time, but had to close it in 2006 due to plumbing and heating problems. But city officials did a smart thing. They provided a grant to repair the pipes as part of the new public safety complex being built next door and will use excess fuel cell capacity from the police-fire complex to provide heat and hot water to the historic home.
The house is fascinating for its eclectic 19th-century architecture, its period furnishings and family curios, and — because the family did little to it after the 1920s — for the tableau it preserves almost perfectly of upper-middle class Hartford life in the first years of the 20th century. It is well worth a visit, and will now be available for group functions. Hopefully it will help start a revitalization of the area north of the highway that once was part of downtown and should be again.
The house reopens this weekend; it will be open for tours today from 1-4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thereafter it will be open Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. through December. For more information see http://www.ctlandmarks.org
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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