Heritage Trail Guide
Stop #1 - The Thomas Hawley House (c.1755)
Along the Stepney Heritage Trail is the Thomas Hawley House (c.1755) located at 514 Purdy Hill Road. It is one of two properties in Monroe listed on the National Registry of Historic Properties.
The Thomas Hawley house is a rare survivor from the earliest era of Stepney’s settlement. It is also a reminder that until the mid-1900s most Monroe residents made their living by farming.
Modern Monroe was originally the northern part of Stratford, which had been settled in 1639. In the early 1700s descendants of Stratford’s original settlers, Thomas Hawley among them, carved farms out of the wilderness acres in the north end of town. Hawley was 21 when he built this large house, in the traditional “saltbox” style, around 1755. Thomas Hawley was a grandson of Joseph Hawley, one of the original settlers of Stratford, who purchased most of the present town of Monroe from the Paugusset Indians in 1671. Thomas was born at the old family homestead in Stratford Center.
In 1761, 48 men from north Stratford, including Thomas Hawley, submitted a petition to the Connecticut General Court for permission to form their own religious parish. The nearest meetinghouse, as Congregationalists called their house of worship, was more than three miles away. This made it difficult for residents of north Stratford to comply with the Connecticut law requiring everyone to attend all-day worship services on the Sabbath.
The Connecticut General Court granted their request, and in 1762 created the New Stratford Ecclesiastical Society. In 1823 this society became the Town of Monroe.
Thomas Hawley played a role on the home front in the war for American independence. He served on the Committee of Inspection appointed in 1776 to “keep watch and ward” in Stratford, of which Monroe was then still part, and which bordered the vulnerable Long Island coast.
Records show that as late as 1800 Thomas Hawley owned two slaves. Slavery had existed on a small scale in Connecticut since the 1600s, but never took root and flourished here as it did in the South. By 1800 the vast majority of the state’s black residents were free. They had been manumitted (or freed) by their owners, bought their own freedom, or been liberated by a law designed to gradually eliminate slavery in Connecticut. By 1810 Thomas Hawley no longer owned slaves.
Thomas Hawley died in 1817 at the age of 83, leaving nearly 150 acres of land. An inventory of Thomas Hawley’s estate at the time of his death shows a house valued at $160.00, a slave house at $10.00, and a barn at $130.00. David Hawley was the beneficiary of his father’s estate. His descendants lived in his house for another century. In the 1920’s, F. William Behrens, mayor of Bridgeport from 1923 to 1929 purchased the Thomas Hawley house as a summer home.
Today the Hawley House is one of Monroe’s outstanding historic structures and a classic example of an 18th-century Connecticut saltbox.