Heritage Trail Guide
Stop #6 - The Ira Penfield House and Carriage Factory (c.1760)
Just across Route 25 from the Andrew Barnum Curtiss House stands the Penfield Homestead, circa 1760, located at 59 Crescent Place and owned by Jason and Jessie Gariepy.
This was the home of Ira Penfield, who for many years helped run the carriage factory founded by his father, William. Built in the eighteenth century, it was originally a “saltbox” house with a center fieldstone chimney. This chimney is one of three of its kind still remaining in Monroe. The chimney is unique in that it serves five fireplaces and a beehive oven located throughout the first and second stories to the house. Stone steps built into the upper portion of the chimney leads to the homes attic. A hipped roof was added to the front fašade early in the nineteenth century. The building had a ballroom and probably served as an inn early in its history. A barn was erected on the site about 1800 and still remains today with all of its original openings.
Ira Penfield was working in the family carriage business by 1860. In 1862 he enlisted as a Union soldier. Captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863, and held prisoner at Libby Prison, he was paroled (traded for a southern soldier) two weeks later. Ira Penfield lived to be 94. His grave can be found in the Birdsey’s Plain/Stepney cemetery located at 28 Pepper Street.
Sometime after Ira’s return from the war, he added a wing to the Penfield house for a private academy. Many parents were increasingly unhappy with the education offered by the public or “common” schools. Those who could afford it often sent their children to the private boarding schools springing up around the state.
These academies were often located in rural communities that touted the benefits of fresh air and the pleasant country environment. In Monroe, which a writer in 1835 noted was “generally considered unusually healthy,” at least five private schools were established between 1828 and 1884. They attracted students from outside Connecticut and even from abroad.
Located down the road from the Ira Penfield House, at the northern intersection of Crescent Place and Main Street stood the Penfield carriage factory. This location was one of Monroe’s largest nineteenth-century industrial sites. William Penfield built his factory on the Bridgeport-Newtown Turnpike (today Route 25). Many of the wagons, coaches, and carriages he manufactured rolled down the turnpike to Bridgeport. There they were loaded aboard vessels and many were shipped south for sale to wealthy planters.
Construction of the Housatonic Railroad and the Stepney Depot, not far from the Penfield factory in 1840, made receiving supplies and shipping carriages to Bridgeport even faster and cheaper. The Penfield firm flourished. By 1860 the factory produced 50 carriages valued at a total of $15,000 — a small fortune in that era.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 cut off the Southern market for carriages. But the firm, now William Penfield & Son, remained busy turning out a new product: gun carriages for the Union armies.
The Penfield factory was still making carriages as late as 1880. But along with Monroe’s other manufacturing enterprises it inevitably fell victim to the competition of the more modern factories that sprang up in burgeoning cities during the last decades of the nineteenth century.
Today the Ira Penfield Homestead is a private residence and no longer is being used as a private academy and while the carriage factory no longer remains at the end of Crescent Place, these properties remain Stepney landmarks as an example of Stepney’s military and personal involvement in the Civil War. For more information about Ira Penfield and his Civil War experience contact Nancy Zorena at the Monroe Historical Society that has in its possession numerous copies of letters Ira wrote to his wife while serving the country during the Civil War.