The Swain-Harrison House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
On the Boston Post Road approaching Branford from the west there is a long strip of commercial establishments giving a very unscenic impression. Before entering the rather quaint business district surrounding the old green, however, there stands a row of very old houses, of which one on the left is the Swain-Harrison House [now known as the Branford Historical Society's Harrison House Museum & Barn] located at 124 West Main Street (U.S. Route 1).
Built about 1680, it now sits 35 feet back from Route 1 facing south. It is a two and a half story, dark red-painted, clapboard salt box with a central stone chimney, typical of homes built in the late seventeenth century in New Haven County. Five bays are widely spaced along the main facade giving it a very broad appearance which is further emphasized by a plain first floor overhang and box cornice. Two other overhangs are found on both gable ends above the second floor.
The original house was planned with two rooms on each floor, but probably between 1730 and 1740 a lean-to was added forming the salt box roof line. This lean-to was built to accommodate a large kitchen behind the chimney and provided enough space for a small bedroom at one end and a pantry at the other end.
Being very characteristic of late seventeenth century Connecticut homes, the Swain-Harrison House assumes a very modest, yet dignified appearance, which if it doesn't immediately attract attention, makes the approach to Branford green most charming.
The land upon which the Swain-Harrison House was built is just a small part of the six acre (or more) parcel of land granted by the town of Branford to Daniel Swain in 1679. It is probable that the following year Daniel Swain built the original two and a half story clapboard house now standing on about two acres of that original grant. When he died in 1697, Daniel Swain's heirs sold the house and property to Nathaniel Harrison, deputy of the Assembly and Justice of the Peace, hence the name Swain-Harrison House.
Daniel Swain was a well-respected Branford citizen of large estate. In 1677 he was appointed townsman (now the position of Selectman) of Branford and was also amongst a group chosen to establish a church there.
If the house that Daniel Swain built seems modest for a man of his position in Branford, it can be understood if the architectural atmosphere of the late seventeenth century is considered. At this point in time immigration from England had tapered off so the latest styles from abroad were less well-known. Carpenters were accommodating themselves to new resources and began to modify their English traditions, and, since commerce had yet to flourish, creating great wealth, as it did in the nineteenth century, the emphasis was on a more practical, plainer house design. The lean-to was, generally, added later to make room for a growing family, though, occasionally it was built as part of the original home.
Seen in this light the Swain-Harrison House is an illustrative result of late seventeenth century Connecticut attitudes. For this reason and because it is one of the finest seventeenth century homes in Branford, the Swain-Harrison House [Harrison House Museum & Barn] deserves much recognition.
Corbin, Francis Harrison, Five Generations of Connecticut Harrisons New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, 1916.
Isham, Norman M. and Brown, Albert F., Early Connecticut Houses, The Preston and Tounds Co., Providence, Rhode Island. 1900.
† Christine B. Brockmeyer, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Swain-Harrison House, Branford, CT, nomination document, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.