The Waddingham Mansion
Exactly Where was It?
Note: We are grateful to Steve Hildrich for his extensive research on this subject, and for sharing this part of the story with us.
It may be hard to imagine today, but from some years before it was completed about 1889, until it burned down under suspicious circumstance on Oct. 16, 1902 [or 1903], [the borough of] West Haven [of the town of Orange] was the site of one of the largest and most palatial homes – the show place of New England – the imposing 44 room, 50-plus feet tall WADDINGHAM MANSION.
Wilson W. Waddingham was a brilliant entrepreneur, born in Canada, who made his money in the American West in gold and cattle, once owning what was then the largest ranch in the United States at over 1,000,000 acres – larger than Rhode Island. He attests to this fact in a document at Yale’s Beinecke Rare-Book Library.
A July 12, 1889, “New York Times” article describing the mansion said that it had been sold to a retired Army Major, after several failed efforts to sell. Unless the major was a millionaire on the side, he could never have afforded this mansion. In fact, the 1894 and 1895 City Directories at the New Haven Public Library show Wilson Waddingham as still the resident owner. Not until the 1897 Directory does it show him as having “removed to Philadelphia.” The address had no number: the City Directory states merely “Elm Street, across from Third Avenue.” This address makes no sense today, but as explained later, it did then.
Advertising in those city directories showed the capital of all the banks in New Haven at that time, as a matter of pride: not one bank listed, including both the First and Second New Haven National Banks and Union Trust, had more capital than $500,000., an enormous sum at the time. That was the cost to build the Waddingham Mansion. One story says that Mr. Waddingham even successfully sued his second building contractor for fraud – double charging with subcontractors. According to the Brief History of West Haven, by Harriet North et al., 1986, the first contractor was found dead with the money in a secret passageway beneath the Mansion.
Stephen Hildrich was privileged to know probably the longest lived witness to have seen the great copula of the Waddingham Mansion come down in the huge fire that burned for days, unable to be extinguished by the primitive fire-fighting equipment of 1902. Lydia Pastore, age 12, later Mrs. Lydia Brown of 642 Third Ave. believed she was standing where her house was later built when she saw the fire destroy the mansion. She owned her house (with her late husband) from the day they were married about 1912, for 81 years, until she died at 103 in late 1993, the oldest member of the First Congregational Church of West Haven at the time. Hildrich learned all this talking to her on a visit to show off his baby daughter Rachel in early 1993. At least some members of the Hildrich family lived in the “Brick Row” at 665 Third Av., a few houses across from Mrs. Brown, for 61 years [from 1935] until all moved out in 1996. Many of the bricks in the Brick Row came from the Waddingham Mansion, according to Mrs. North and other sources.
Unfortunately, Hildrich did not have the foresight at the time to ask Mrs. Brown exactly in what direction she was facing, and about how far she was standing from the mansion when she saw the top of the copula come down. THAT IS: WHERE EXACTLY WAS THE MANSION?
To be continued-