July 23, 2019

Connecticut River Museum Receives USDA Loan to Purchase Samuel Lay House

Pictured (from l-r) at the front entrance of the Samuel Lay House is CRM Vice Chairman Peter Prichard, State Representative Phil Miller, USDA Area Director Mary Grasso, Essex First Selecman Norm Needleman, USDA State Director Jay Healy, CRM Executive Director Jerry Roberts, U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney and CRM Chairman Maureen Wiltsie O’Grady. Photograph taken by Susan Daniels

Essex, CT – On Monday, September 24, representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture were at the Connecticut River Museum to officially present a Community Facilities Loan in the amount of $900,000 for the purchase of the Samuel Lay House located at 57 Main Street, Essex, adjacent to the Museum’s 67 Main Street property.   Jay L. Healy, USDA State Director, MA/CT/RI, and Mary Grasso, Area Director, Rural Development, along with United States Congressman Joe Courtney, State Representative Philip Miller and Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman attended the brief ceremony and toured the property with Connecticut River Museum Executive Director Jerry Roberts, Chairman Maureen Wiltsie O’Grady and Vice Chairman Peter Pritchard.

Built in 1732 on the site of the original 1648 Robert Lay Homestead, the 3400 square-foot house, 1000-square foot carriage house and .8 acre of land represent several significant stories in the history of the town, the state and the nation.  In addition to overlooking the site of the village’s original colonial wharves, the grounds were also the landing area for the 1814 British Raid on Essex and the house was the target of British gunfire and entry.  It is one of the 24 properties that make up the State Register of Historic Places’ British Raid on Essex Battle Site District, a designation that was approved by the State of Connecticut Historic Preservation Council in April as a result of intense research and community coordination led by Museum officials over the past two years.

The Samuel Lay House located at 57 Main Street in Essex, CT. Photograph by Jerry Roberts

The home’s historical features include original wood plank flooring, a center chimney with open hearths, and visible posts and beams.  It has served as transient dwelling for seamen and boat builders, as the original location of the Dauntless Club, and most recently as a private dwelling.  It came on the market over a year ago, launching museum trustees, administrators and elected officials into acquisition and development efforts.   The end result was the application and approval of a United States Department of Agriculture Community Facilities Loan which are given to develop essential community facilities in rural areas and towns of up to 20,000 in population.  Loans are available to public entities such as municipalities, counties, and special-purpose districts, as well as to non-profit corporations and tribal governments.  The current interest rate is 3.5% and the term for real estate can be as long as 40 years.

The acquisition, which is scheduled to close by September 28 , will more than double the Museum’s educational campus as well as increase its footprint as a heritage destination.   The space will enhance capacity for school groups and public programs, create more opportunities for special events and festivals, and significantly increase public access to the historic waterfront.   It will also build a stronger foundation for the Museum’s in-process submission for federal battlefield recognition by the National Park Service.

According to Executive Director Jerry Roberts, “The purchase of the Lay House is an important milestone in the evolution of the Connecticut River Museum. Not only does it double our educational campus and green space, it secures the future of this important dwelling that was built in 1732 on a site which has been occupied since 1648.  Just 28 years after the landing of the Mayflower in Plymouth, the Lay family built the original colonial wharves which established Essex as a seaport trading with the West Indies and as a ship building center where over 600 vessels would eventually be built.”

The Connecticut River Museum, founded in 1974 and housed in a National Register 1878 steamboat warehouse, is a private, non-profit organization with the mission to lead in the study, preservation and celebration of the cultural and natural heritage of the River and its valley.   More information can be found at www.ctrivermuseum.org or (860)767-8269.

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