Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles providing some historical information about four large summer resort hotels once located in the Eastern Point area of Groton.
This photograph, taken prior to 1885, depicts the first hotel in the Eastern Point area of Groton. The three-story house in the center of the photograph was built prior to 1845 and was called the Fisk House. After the additions were added to the left and right of the house in 1846, it became known as the Ocean House.
A few months ago, John Steward, a good friend and fellow contributor to the Times, contacted me while gathering information for an article he was writing about the Griswold Hotel and a small nightclub named the Prospect Ville, both of which were formerly located in the Eastern Point section of Groton. While relaying some of the history and my personal recollections about these establishments, I could not help but recall the vast amount of history that has probably been forgotten concerning the early development of the Eastern Point area of Groton. Beginning in the mid-1800s and continuing for a period of about 100 years, it was considered one of the most popular summer resort locations on the Atlantic coast.
This circa 1870 photograph shows the Edgcomb House, the second hotel built at Eastern Point in Groton.
One of the major contributors which made Eastern Point a popular attraction for summer vacationers were four hotels that once adorned the Thames River shoreline near Long Island Sound.
Early historical accounts of Groton, going back to the late 1700s, reflect that, for the most part, the large area of Groton located in the southwest portion of the town, abutting the Thames River, was comprised mostly of undeveloped farmlands. In the early years, most, if not all, of the land there was owned by the Avery family.
In 1837, newly married Albert L. Avery, son of Asa L. Avery, built a house on property he had obtained from his father at Eastern Point. In 1842, having a vision of establishing a watering place and summer resort at this location, he purchased an additional 600 acres of land from his father. At the time there were only two houses on Eastern Point: the one that Avery had built for him and his wife, and a small “rooming house” of sorts, owned and operated by whaling Captain Silas W. Fisk.
In pursuit of his quest to develop a summer resort at Eastern Point, Avery persuaded Captain Fisk to purchase additional land to add two additions to his rooming house to accommodate a greater number of individuals seeking a quiet location to vacation by the sea. In 1846, the Fisk rooming house, which was previously referred to as the Fisk House, was now capable of accommodating up to between 60 and 70 guests and was renamed the “Ocean House.” The (mostly) three-story hotel was located on the river’s edge, facing Long Island Sound, and was located on the west side of what is now called Shore Avenue. There was a small gazebo in the front yard of the house where many occupants would spend the evening enjoying cool breezes off the Sound.
A promotional letter, appearing in the Aug. 2, 1851, edition of the Hartford Courant, best described Mr. Fisk’s hotel in this way: “The Ocean House is located most favorably for the sea breezes, bathing, sailing and fishing. Its table is loaded down with enough of every kind of sea and land food that the markets of this city afford – Persons in want of a quiet retreat from the bustle of business, to rest and recruit their energies and health, can find no better place than this house.”
In August 1850, Fisk married Julia A. Edgcomb of Groton, who quickly became an able co-attendant of the seasonal Ocean House.
In an interesting turn of events, by 1854 Captain Fisk’s passion for whaling had taken personal precedence over his managing the Ocean House and he agreed to captain a whaling ship in the Pacific Ocean. Records reflect that he remained working as the captain of the whaling ship North Star until he drowned at sea in February 1861. His wife Julia ran the seaside resort hotel during the summer months, assisted by her parents and her brother and sister, as well as her husband’s parents and siblings, all of whom lived nearby.
Out of extreme loneliness and devotion for her husband, Julia accompanied him on two lengthy whaling trips – the first for two years in 1855 and 1856, and the second in 1859 through 1861. Care of the captain’s and Julia’s three young children, as well as the running of Ocean House, were left to family members of both Julia and the captain.
By the early 1870s a large number of summer cottages had been built at Eastern Point. The addition of these cottages, in conjunction with the building of a new and improved road along the river leading to Eastern Point, were rapidly bringing to fruition Albert Avery’s dream of fashioning Eastern Point into becoming a summer resort.
Shortly after the death of Captain Fisk, Roswell Edgcomb, brother of Julia Fisk, became the owner of the Ocean House and Julia, as best as can be determined, no longer had an active interest in the daily operation of the hotel.
With the ever increasing popularity of summer vacationing at Eastern Point, the Ocean House, with its limited number of rooms, and summer cottage rentals located in the surrounding area, were consistently booked to capacity throughout the summer months. It became obvious that there was a definite need to increase the inventory of rental spaces to accommodate the demand of summer vacationers at Eastern Point.
Roswell Edgcomb subsequently pursued his idea of building a new and larger hotel a short distance to the southeast of the Ocean House. Work on his hotel, which was to be named the Edgcomb House, began in September 1871 and it was ready for occupancy the following June.
The new hotel, which was twice the size of the Ocean House and could accommodate upwards of 125 guests, was four stories high with larger rooms than those at the Ocean House. The front of the new hotel faced the Thames River and the windows in each guest room afforded a view of the Thames River.
Wording on an advertisement handout card reads as follows: “Edgcomb House offers the public a First Class House, with Gas, Telegraph, Fine Sea Bathing, Good Sailing, Fishing, and Romantic Drives.” To the bewilderment of this author, I was surprised to see the advertisement boasting in bold lettering “AND NO MUSQUITOES.” After all, I have personally spent a considerable amount of time in the evening along the Thames River at Eastern Point and on many occasions cut my stays short thanks to those pesky little critters.
Roswell Edgcomb continued to operate both the Edgcomb House and Ocean House until the summer of 1885 when they were both purchased by the wealthy AP Sturtevant of Norwich.
After selling the hotel, Edgcomb, for a period of 10 years, captained the ferry boats Uncas and Ledyard crossing the Thames River. In 1897 he was appointed as postmaster for Groton and worked in that position for 15 years until the Groton post office was discontinued and taken over by the New London post office.
Shortly after purchasing the Edgcomb House and Ocean House, AP Sturtevant conceived and pursued his own ideas of a new hotel. That hotel would become the third to be located at Eastern Point. Details about his new hotel and a fourth and final one, The Griswold Hotel, will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article.
Jim Streeter is Groton Town historian.