Joseph Dwight Chaffee House

Joseph Dwight Chaffee House –  Circa 1901

Joseph Dwight Chaffee, founder of the Natchaug Silk Company, was born in 1847 in Mansfield, where his father had operated silk mills at Chaffeeville for more than 50 years.

Colonel Chaffee bought “the most desirable building lot” in Willimantic in 1889 and built this house in an eclectic Queen Anne style with wrap-around verandas, a pavilion and porte-cochere, capped by a square Italianate tower and weathervane sporting a capital “C”.  The veranda posts and spandrels combine to form Victorian adaptations of classic Greek columns.  The classical elements continue with dentil moldings, patera buttons, grid-work in the main gable, “stick-style” X-supports and fish-scale shingles.

The main staircase of two types of cherry wood, with bronze newel-post lanterns and cherry wood paneling, cherry wood doors and floors, inlaid dining room floor and quarter-sawn oak paneling, are distinctive.  The two main mantelpieces display their original porcelain tile surrounds of raised bas-relief design including sunflowers, Italian grotesques, a lyre, dragonflies, and hunting and fishing scenes.  Many of the original bronze fittings for the windows and doors are intact, as are the dramatic newel posts converted from gas lamps.

Most of the work on the house has entailed removing 110 years of old paint, restoring the wooden clapboards and fish scale shingles, and installing a new roof in 1997.  The ceiling on the verandas is southern heart pine, rare today, restored after four years of removing blue paint and applying four coats of spar varnish.  The interior woodwork has required rubbing through the smoky 1950’s varnish back to the original 1890’s finish, sometimes using water and fine sandpaper, or rubbing and polishing compounds.

The new owners bought the house in May of 2001 and have been working since then updating mechanical systems, doing structural repairs and remodeling the kitchen and downstairs bath.

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