Thomas Avery House c. 1845
also known as the
33 Society Road
East Lyme, CT
Averys, Smiths, Harrises
and the Town of East Lyme
The Smith-Harris House is an excellent example of a Greek Revival house, a style found throughout New England and the Midwest between 1820 and 1860.
For 110 years, the house was owned by members of the Avery and Smith families, all of whom were descendants of Christopher Avery and Nehemiah Smith, early settlers of Groton, Connecticut. The house was first built for Thomas Avery in 1845, and it passed to his son William in 1869. William's widow sold the house to his cousin, William H. H. Smith in 1877.
By the 1890s, the farm was being managed by Smith's younger brother, Herman W. Smith and nephew, Frank A. Harris. In 1900, these two men married sisters Lula and Florence Munger, and the two couples shared the house. William deeded the house to his brother and nephew in 1921, and continued to visit until his death in 1927.
Smith and Harris farmed the property for over sixty years. Smith died in 1951. In 1955, his widow and Harris sold the house and 103 acres of farmland to the Town of East Lyme for $34,000. Harris died soon after the sale, and the two widows continued to live in the house until they required the care of a nursing home.
After their deaths, the house was boarded up, and was a frequent target of vandalism. The Town had purchased the land for municipal purposes, and, regarding the House as an "attractive nuisance", considered tearing it down.
A group of concerned citizens rallied to protect the property, citing it as an important relic of the Greek Revival style that should be preserved. A committee was appointed to oversee its restoration, and, on July 3, 1976, the first floor of the house was dedicated as a town museum.
Since then, the Smith-Harris House Commission has been created by the Town to oversee the property, and the Friends of Smith-Harris House have been incorporated to support the Commission in its work.
The Smith-Harris House Commission and the Friends of Smith-Harris House work in tandem with each other to position the Avery, Smith, and Harris families in the historical framework and cultural knowledge of East Lyme. This includes the development of continued research into the families' history, and demonstrating relevance to the lives of East Lyme residents today through educational programs provided for the community. Both organizational branches actively strive to collaborate with the East Lyme Historical Society/Thomas Lee House and the Samuel Smith House as integrated partners to deepen the sense of connection to East Lyme history as it creates a sense of belonging and understanding of modern life by encouraging residents and visitors to participate in the study of the past.