The Joshua Hempsted House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted form a copy of the original nomination document. [‡] The Joshua Hempsted House is located within the Hempstead Historic District.
The Joshua Hempsted House (Joshua Hempstead House), though now located a mile from the river in the center of New London (11 Hempstead Street), was originally very nearly on the waterfront. Truman's Brook ran only thirty feet from the house and spilled into Shaw's Cove only a quarter of a mile away; now it flows through an underground conduit.
The Joshua Hempsted House is a frame, two-and-one-half story building which is clapboarded on the outside. The front of the house has two gables. The one to the west is three stories tall and projects from the center of the building forming a completely enclosed vestibule or porch. This is an unusual feature for a seventeenth century house, as are also the sliding casement windows installed at the second floor level of the gable on the west. The window openings are narrow. The older section of the house has casement windows at all three levels. There is a great central chimney.
The Joshua Hempsted House is unusually long. In its position facing south, its two-foot overhanging cornice, its heavy framing, and primitive lines, the house still shows its early date. The first section, built on the west end had a single summer beam running from front to back. The foundation is of quarried stone. Some of the rough drill marks can still be seen. Originally it was an end chimney house with a "one-room plan," that is it had one room, the keeping room, and a hall on the first floor; a bed chamber and hall on the second floor. Within this oldest section the sills extend into the first floor room, as do the rude corner posts, the end girts, and the summer beams. The roof was very steeply raked — fifteen inches to the foot — and there was a wide dormer on the south front. Investigation has disclosed the foundation of a two-storey porch of 17th century origins which projected from the front and a vast 17th century fireplace within the lean-to section of the rear.
Some of the more recent changes in the house include new shingles for the roof and a new chimney top, the return of the roof of the oldest section to its steep rake, and the rebuilding of the stone chimney in the interior.
The Joshua Hempsted House is one of the oldest houses in Connecticut. It is architecturally and historically significant. It has been the source of several architectural studies, especially those of Kelly and Isham, because within it the stages of development of the 17th century house have been traced; and it has an interesting history because the chronicle of the Hempstead family is bound up with the history of New England.
Authorities disagree as to the name of the builder of the house and the date on which it was erected. Isham says the western part of the house was built in 1647, Trowbridge suggests 1644. According to publications of the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society the western and oldest part of the house was built in 1678 by Joshua Hempstead, the father of the diarist Joshua Hempsted. Actually this diary which covers the years 1711 to 1758 is the source of information which provides important evidence for scholarly conclusions about the house, as well as being a storehouse of the detail of life in New England.
The significance that the Joshua Hempsted House had in the researches of architectural historians as a paradigm of the evolution of early colonial houses is somewhat altered by the discovery in the nineteen fifties of the 17th century kitchen lean-to in the rear of the oldest part of the house. Now instead of being considered "typical" it is viewed as an unique example of a seventeenth and eighteenth century dwelling.
In 1781 during the Revolutionary War the house fortunately escaped burning by the British. By not setting the Hempsted house afire the British demonstrated their appreciation for a feast which although prepared for a family reunion, was instead appropriated by a British officer and his men. Later in the nineteenth century the Joshua Hempsted House was used as a station in the underground railway. The last of the Hempstead descendants to occupy the house was Anna Hempstead Branch, a distinguished poetess. After her death in 1937 the house was purchased by the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, Inc. of Connecticut. It was restored in 1956-57 and is now a museum, open to the public from mid-May through mid-October each year. In its present restoration the society has emphasized the differences between the seventeenth century and eighteenth century parts of the house.
Isham, N.M. and Brown, F.A. Early Connecticut Houses. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Kelly, J.F. The Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
The Connecticut Antiquarian. Bulletin of the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, Inc., Hartford, Connecticut. Volume VI, No.1 (June, 1954); Volume VIII, No.2 (December, 1956); Volume X, No.1 (July, 1958).
White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, Vol. X, No.2, p.5.
‡ Constance Luyster, Connecticut Hitorical Commission, Joshua Hempsted House, New London, Connecticut, nomination document, 1970, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.