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Branford's Summer Hotels

by Jane Peterson Bouley

 

 

            “ Only ten miles from New Haven, surrounded by noted islands, the most beautiful and picturesque on the Coast, Ocean Views, grand scenes, glorious breezes, splendid boating and fishing, no mosquitoes, flies or malaria”…and the summer visitor is much tempted by the advertisement from the Shoshone Inn on money Island in Stony Creek.

            Branford’s summer resort era began before the Civil War and reached its peak by World War I. twenty summer hotels graced the Branford shoreline and attracted many visitors throughout the country for visits that last a few days or the whole summer. Travelers came by horse and wagon, train, trolley, automobile or by one of the several steamers that sailed the coast between New York, New Haven and the east shore. Branford’s summer hotels had many things in common yet each had its own character.

            A trip on the trolley from Holyoke, Massachusetts to Branford took eight hours. From the New Haven Green the trolley swayed across the meadows in East Haven and stopped at the Waiting Station in Short Beach. Across the street was Short Beach’s only year round hotel The Arrowhead. The hotel was built in 19111 by Emma Treat Beers and was named by the well known poetess Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Many people returned every year and some noted visitors included: Greta Garbo, Walter Winchell, Harold Stassen, Sinclair Lewis, and Jack London. The 30 room hostelry was also a center of activity for the Short Beach community. The Arrowhead did not survive the depression but the building still stands today and is known as the Arrowhead Apartments.

            A short way down the trolley line on Main Street in Short Beach was the Granite Bay Hotel. Built in 1905 it had an expansive view of the beach and Green Island and was noted for its dance floor where Rudy Valee and Guy Lombardo entertained. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1958. Continuing east was the Double Beach house. This early hotel was built about 1840 by Malachi Linsley and later expanded to include a snack bar, bowling alley, and baseball fields. The hotel catered to day trips and picnic outings and was a private beach club in the 1950’s. The land was sold in 1980 to Echlin Manufacturing Company, which built its corporate headquarters on the site.

            The trolley continued along the shore to one of Branford’s earliest hotels the Branford Point House. Purchased by George Parker in 1885 the complex included a three story main building with a ballroom, several guest cottages, and a bowling alley. Dr. Frank Parker bequeathed the property to the Town of Branford in 1912; the hotel was razed and today is our town beach.

            Stony Creek had by far the most summer hotels and there were several on the islands such as the Harbor View Hotel and Sachem House or Shoshone Inn on Money Island, and the Pot Island Hotel or Thimble Island House on Pot Island. Many of the hotels had several names during their history. The Brainerd House stood on main Street in Stony creek (now called Thimble Island Road) and was started in 1866 by John and Esther Brainerd. The hotel served fresh seafood and vegetables and was a popular spot for Sunday dinner. The family even erected a windmill to provide indoor plumbing. The hotel business did not survive the depression. Today the building is a private residence.

            The Flying Point Hotel was built in 1868 and was the largest hotel in Stony Creek accommodating 128 guests. In 1882 it cost $2.50 a day to stay at the hotel. From 1924 until 1933 it was the home of a local acting group the Parish Players. After suffering financial problems the hotel was demolished in 1942. The Three Elms House was owned and operated by the Coe-Maynard-Madiera family from 1854 until 1916. A sweeping porch was built around three huge elm trees but when the elm trees died the locals called the hotel “The Three Stubs.” The inn still stands as an apartment building at the corner of Three Elm Roads.

            The most well known of Stony Creek’s summer hotels was the Indian Point House. Ebenezer Coe built the hotel in 1854. He was succeeded by his daughter Martha Maynard and granddaughter Alice and her husband Charles Madiera. The hotel was noted for its oysters and clam bakes, beautiful views, tennis courts and croquet. After 90 years of operation the hotel burned in 1964.

            In Pine Orchard was the noted Sheldon House. The complex was run by three generations of the Sheldon family and had five acres with 500 feet of waterfront. The hotel was famous for its French cuisine, formal dining, and beautiful house gardens. The Sheldon House also catered to families who rented the bungalows or could watch a movie in the “What Not Cottage.” After 120 years of continuous operation the property was sold in 1960 and torn down. One bungalow remains as a private residence.

            The trolley brought visitors to one of several hotels in Indian Neck. The Montasco Inn was opened in 1904 on Limewood Avenue and could accommodate 70 guests at a cost of $8 per week. Nearby was Rice’s Limewood Grove House. Just down the street was the Waverly Hotel built in 1928 on the site of the old Indian Neck Theater. Many local activities were held at the Waverly including the annual Halloween parade until the building burnt in 1975.

            On Linden Avenue in Indian Neck stood Branford’s most famous hotel the Montowese House. Known as the “The of Queen of the Sound” it was built by William Bryan in 1866 and was operated by the Bryan family for 96 years. The hotel could accommodate 250 guests. This popular hostelry offered fabulous food, relaxation, boasting, swimming, horse riding, golf, tennis, water skiing, dancing, and an expansive view of the sound. Fortunately all the guests had left for the season when the ’38 hurricane hit and the hotel lost 300 trees on the property. The wood was used to build the Montowese Playhouse which operated for many years. Some of the famous guests who stayed at the Montowese House were Mark Twain, Dean Atcheson, Thorne Smith, U.S. Vice- President James Sherman and Agnes DeMille. The hotel closed and was torn down in 1965 signaling the end of Branford’s summer hotel era.

            Also on Linden Avenue was the Owenego Inn which was opened by David Lounsbury in 1847. A large annex was built in 1867. The Owenego is still in operation today after 147 years of serving the public.

            Visitors came to Branford to enjoy the gracious hospitality, good food, excellent views, and the unique character of its summer hotels. A number of hotels were destroyed by fire or did not survive the depression. The automobile changed forever the summer resort industry. Local hotels could not accommodate large numbers of cars and visitors were no longer content to spend the summer in one location. Most notable the Sheldon House, Indian Point House, Montowese House, and the Owenego served the public for a combined 355 years and have earned their place in Branford history.

 

 

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