LOST MANSFIELD # 22: THE CONNECTICUT SOLDIERS’ ORPHANS’ HOME.
In 1865, Edwin Whitney purchased the homestead of his father-in-law, Deacon Salmon Barrows. He modified and enlarged it to serve as a boarding school. The new school opened that September with 30 students enrolled but on November 11, it was destroyed by fire. The perpetrator was a 9-year-old boy who, unhappy at being sent away to school, set it a fire within five hours of his arrival.
With proceeds from insurance and settlement of a lawsuit brought against the family of the young arsonist, Whitney rebuilt the school. In the spring of 1866, he learned that a site was being sought for the Connecticut Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home. Moved by the plight of children left orphaned by the Civil War, he decided to donate the nearly completed boarding school and its associated lands to the state for this purpose. The orphanage opened in October 1866, with Edwin Whitney serving as its first superintendent and his wife as its matron. Sadly, less than a year later, an epidemic broke out in the orphan home, sickening most of the residents and resulting in the death of Mr. Whitney, his 11-month-old daughter, and two of the orphans. Mrs. Whitney was sickened but survived, giving birth 6 months later to Edwina Whitney, named in memory of her father.
The Connecticut Soldier’s Orphans’ Home continued to operate into the spring of 1875. By that time most of the soldiers’ orphans had reached the age limit for state support. Over its nine years of operation, the orphanage had provided care and education for 153 children. Upon its closure, the building and its associated lands reverted to Edwin Whitney’s widow, in accordance to the terms of his gift to the state.
In March of 1878, Minerva Whitney sold the property to Augustus Storrs. The former orphanage and its associated 50 acres were part of the property that Augustus Storrs offered to the State of Connecticut to establish the Storrs Agricultural School. His brother, Charles added $5,000 in seed money. Their gift was accepted on April 21, 1881 and the future University of Connecticut was born.
The former orphan home became the first building of the Storrs Agricultural School. It was renamed Whitney Hall, in honor of Edwin Whitney. At various times during its long history, it housed classrooms and laboratories and served as student and faculty living quarters. It was torn down in 1932. Today its site is marked with a plaque near the intersection of North Eagleville Road and Route 195.
This series is made possible by a Capacity Building Grant from The Last Green Valley, Inc.