Saturday, April 25, 2009

Monroe historian seeks to preserve the past

The power had been cut to the Harral-Wheeler Mansion on Golden Hill in Bridgeport. In the darkness of the grand, Gothic-style house, Edward Nichols Coffey, then 19, armed with a flashlight, stood guard.

"I was one of a group of people trying to save the mansion," Coffey, now 70 and Monroe's town historian, said recalling that time in 1958. "But, at 2 a.m., some days later, the wrecking ball came."

He said he also testified before the state Legislature to press for preserving the grand house. It was willed to the city by Archer Wheeler, when he died in 1956. He was an heir to the Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine factory fortune.

The castle-like house with pinnacles and towers had been built in 1848 by Henry Harral, a city mayor, who died in 1854 of tuberculosis. Wheeler's father, Nathaniel Wheeler who created the sewing machine factory in Bridgeport in 1856, bought the house in 1866.

"Sam Tedesco had promised to save the mansion when he campaigned for mayor in 1957," Coffey said. " But, a week after he took office after beating Mayor Jasper McLevy in his re-election bid, Tedesco ordered its demolition."

All that is left of the mansion today, aside from renderings and photos, is a reconstructed bedroom in the Smithsonian and part of a parlor preserved in the Barnum Museum.

Coffey said this whole episode left a permanent impression on him that led him to work in various ways throughout his life to urge people to learn about and respect their past as well as preserve historic buildings.

Read the rest of the article on Town Historian & St. Peter's parishioner, here.

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