The Waddingham Mansion
Way back in the 1950s and 1960s, Lorraine Wood Rockefeller was a reporter for the Town Crier. Her stories of Old West Haven were bound into a booklet published in 1987, and treasured by many. She was born in 1918, the same year that Arthur Travis became “fire chief of the central fire companies.” One day she happened across Mr. Travis during his daily walk from his home on Washington Avenue over to the firehouse, which was then a part of the Town Hall. His narrative of the Waddingham Mansion fire was a product of that meeting:
“The Waddingham Mansion was a big fire, he went on to say, and destroyed one of the town landmarks, that would have been in 1902. Finished in 1889, the house stood on Elm Street, there are apartment houses there now. The house was empty at the time, but I don’t remember what caused the fire. It sure was a shame to see it burn.
“This building was valued at $500,000, contained 44 rooms and was often referred to as ‘the showplace of New England.’ It was erected by Wilson W. Waddingham and it was said that he discovered a goldmine in the Black Hills of South Dakota and that he was a partner in the Emma Mine. The dividends paid by the mine helped build his West Haven residence. Mr. Waddingham, a ‘Cattle King,’ was a large landowner in New Mexico. His estate, bounded on Elm Street, Second Avenue, Fourth Avenue and Wood Street was sub-divided into building lots after the fire.
“The doors and walls were of solid mahogany with panels of highly polished curly maple. There were elaborate European hammered bronze chandeliers and inlaid floors with many valuable paintings throughout the mansion.”
“This was in a period when fire apparatus was horse drawn, fire hydrants were few, and there were only a few of the old ‘crank handle’ fire boxes around with which to signal a fire in the days before telephone service became widespread. When a blaze was reported, a runner was dispatched to the First Congregational Church on the Green to notify the sexton to toll the bell, thus signaling a fire. In this way, much valuable time was lost; often by the time the volunteer firemen and their horse-drawn apparatus arrived at the scene of the fire, there was nothing left to save. Such was the case with the Waddingham Mansion.”
To be continued-