Historic Structures

Captain William Webb Wakeman House, Southport Connecticut

Date added: April 12, 2011 Categories: Connecticut House Greek Revival

William Webb Wakeman was born in Southport on June 19, 1799, the son of Jesup Wakeman, an eminent citizen of the community. In addition to owning a general store in Southport, Jesup also operated a line of boats out of Mill River Harbor, he served as one of the first directors of the Bridgeport Bank in 1807 (until 1822), he was actively involved in the Turnpike Company which laid the first major through-way between New York City and New Haven, and he was a principle proprietor of a large tract of Firelands in Ohio's Western Reserve, a part of which is now the village of Wakeman, Ohio. Upon his death in May 1884, Jesup left an estate of $120,000.

As a young man, William worked with his father in his commercial and trade enterprises. He acquired his own vessel early in his career, and gradually accumulated a line of trade vessels, sailing between New York and Georgetown, then later to Savannah, Georgia and Galveston, Texas. By mid-century he was involved in the East Indian and China trade under the firm name of Wakeman, Dimon & Co. He built and owned a line of steamships during the late 50s, and was commissioned by the Federal government during the Civil War to transport troops and equipment. The firm name was changed to Wakeman, Gookin & Dichinson, and finally to W. W. Wakeman & Co. Post-Civil War steamship trade was heaviest between New York and Savannah, and Wakeman concentrated his line on this route. In addition to his investments in the merchant trade, he was an original trustee of the Southport Savings Bank and an incorporator of Oak Lawn Cemetery.

Captain Wakeman married Mary Catherine Hull in 1833. After his death on April 19, 1869 at their New York City residence, Mrs. Wakeman lived in the Rose Hill mansion until 1880.

The original house consisted only of the rectangular porticoed section. The main block is two stories with attic and partially exposed basement and measures thirty feet (three-bay northwest front) by forty feet. A timber mortise-and-tenon frame is covered by flush horizontal butt-boarding on the front facade and clapboarding on all other facades. The structure's elegant appearance is created primarily by the two-story front portico. Supported by four fluted columns, the capitals and entablature are similar to Minard Lafever's "Composed" order which he printed in his hand book The Modern Builders' Guide (1833). In keeping with Lafever's design, the Corinthian capitals are carved in an acanthus leaf and rosette motif and the entablature is composed of two smooth fascias and a very delicate, simple cornice- The gable pediment is ornamented with a Palladian-shaped window opening of a small window flanked on each side by a pair of fluted pilasters supporting a Greek cornice and a semi-circular fanlight -with keystone. The main entry is framed by side-lights and a fixed glass transom.

The interior is laid out in a side stairhall plan with double parlor on the east side and a small room behind the stairs. The opening between the parlors is framed by deeply carved roll molding with corner blocks in an ornamental seashell motif. All doorways in the main section are trimmed in a similar fashion. The main stair in the entry hall curves up to the second floor and has very simple, delicate balusters and newel.

The tvo-story ell section, built at a right angle to the original block, was added sometime at mid-century. A lithograph of the Wakeman residence In D. Hamilton Kurd's History of Fairfield County (1881) pictures the house with the two-story ell and porch. This section is quite plainly appointed on the exterior. Aside from the smooth cornice at the principal eave and the thin, plain cornice over each window opening, the only decorative feature which stands out is the sawed wooden porch balustrade. The ell now serves as the main dining room and kitchen.

The Southport "Chronicle" reported on December 30, 1901 that "Mrs. William Wakeman's home is undergoing radical changes." What these changes included is difficult to determine. One possibility is the addition of the enclosed porch at the northern end of the ell.