Yesterday Janet and I decided to take a walk around the Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut, here in Groton. On our way to the entrance of the campus we spotted a white heron and I tried to get a picture of it… When I inadvertently got too close, it decided to fly over to the other side of the salt pond.
Avery Point was named for Captain James Avery (1620-1700), who was born in England, came to the colonies with his father, fought in King Philip’s War, and was an early settler of New London and Groton, Connecticut.
The college campus itself was originally a 70 acre seaside estate owned by Commodore Morton F. Plant (1852-1918), a yachtsman and financier, who in 1915, was noted for giving $1,125,000 to the founding of Connecticut College for Women (now Connecticut College) in New London. Plant’s property on Avery Point was eventually acquired by the University of Connecticut in 1969.
Besides his home at 1051 Fifth Avenue [NYC], Commodore Plant owned Branford House, a magnificent estate at Eastern Point Colony, three miles from Groton, opposite New London, on the east bank of the mouth of the Thames [River].
(The New York Times, November 5, 1918)
First we strolled along the Sculpture Path by the Sea, where we took in the sparkling views of Eastern Point, New London, New London Ledge Lighthouse (above), Pine Island, Bluff Point and Groton Long Point.
The path led us by an impressive view of the 31-room mansion called Branford House, which was built in 1903, and then on to the Avery Point Lighthouse, the last lighthouse built in Connecticut in 1943. The lighthouse stopped being used in 1967 and fell into disrepair. Funds were raised by the Avery Point Lighthouse Society and in 2001 restoration began and in 2002 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Now I’ve lived in Groton for several decades and I knew there was a little art gallery somewhere in Branford House, but since it is open only for a few hours on only a few days of the week, and because there are no signs indicating where one might enter the building, I have never managed to visit it.
Well, as we were examining all the architectural details on the outside of the building we discovered an unlocked door. Pent up curiosity pulled me in and Janet followed. There were several huge empty rooms, which I believe people have rented for functions like weddings… We poked around, admired the breathtaking views, enormous fireplace, and dark, intricately carved paneling, and eventually came to a grand staircase. Even the white ceiling (see last picture) had detailed paneling! Climbed the stairs and, what-do-you-know? We were in the lobby of the well hidden Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art! Alexey von Schlippe (1915-1988) was a painter and a professor of art at UConn’s Avery Point campus.
The current exhibition is a collection from the Latin Network for the Visual Arts. After viewing the colorful artwork of various current Latin artists, we noticed a very narrow staircase with marble steps! Again curiosity pulled me to go down them to what seemed to be a coat closet and another doorway to the main rooms again. Came away wishing I could get a floor plan somehow – I think it would be fascinating to see how the rooms and hallways were arranged and what each room was used for.
I should add as a footnote that Project Oceanology is also located on the Avery Point Campus. This marine science and environmental education organization offers lighthouse expeditions, oceanographic research cruises and seal watches to the public, other things I’d love to do one of these days.