1820s-1960s. Archive of Two Leading Connecticut Families, 1820s-1960s
1.5 feet of correspondence, legal and financial documents, genealogical materials, notes, publications and photographs
Generally Good to Very Good condition with some staining and edgewear to several aged documents
This collection documents two leading families of New Haven, Connecticut, the Pitkin family and the Russells.
According to Doris B. Townshend’s “The Streets of New Haven: The Origin of Their Names” (1984), Pitkin Street, named for the Pitkin family, was “for a long time the oldest privately owned street in America.” It exists today as the pedestrian Pitkin Plaza. William Pitkin (1635-1694) emigrated from England in 1659, and was the first Attorney General of Connecticut. Following generations of Pitkins were also officeholders and leaders; William Pitkin II was a prosperous businessman and politician, whose son William III (1694-1769) was the 31st governor of the colony. William IV was elected a member of the United States Congress in 1784. Pitkin Glassworks was established in 1783 and held a 25-year monopoly on the manufacturing of glass in Connecticut. Samuel L. Pitkin, born in Hartford in 1803, was the Adjutant General for the State of Connecticut from 1837 to 1839. William R. Pitkin (born in 1877) and his brother James Sherman Pitman (1882-1950) managed the extensive family real estate business in New Haven; James was also a well-known author about yachting.
This collection holds sketches, designs, and proposals for Pitkin Street and various buildings in New Haven. There are receipts, contracts and correspondence concerning the street’s establishment and other construction and business ventures of the family. Some items of note include a double-sided handwritten letter from “Your loving father” James S. Pitkin to “My dear Will” with sketches of buildings on “Pitkin Place,” an early (1854) New Haven City Gas Light Company bill, and probate papers for the estate of Captain Abraham Bradley (with a section to Mary Ann, widow of Samuel L. Pitkin) of 1874. Bradley was a Yale College graduate who listed his various employments as “a surveyor of land, master of a vessel, selectman, town treasurer, representative in the state legislature, justice of the peace, a zealous Whig, captain in the Revolutionary War, judge of the court, town clerk, and something of a scribbler in prose and verse.” There are dozens of letters from the 1820s to the 1960s, as well as lovely mounted photographs, and handwritten, typed and transcribed family genealogies. The archive contains a New Haven Fire Marshal’s Office License and Permit to erect a brick addition to Pitkin Street of September 1904, fantastic letterhead of William R. Pitkin, Attorney at Law, and an 1891 typed letter with a great map of New Haven on its verso. There is a 1901 indenture between James Pitkin of Boston and the city of New Haven, allowing him to occupy a salesroom and workrooms in the tailoring and clothing business, as well as land warranty deeds belonging to William R. Pitkin in the 1910s.
The other family documented in this collection stems from William Russell, who emigrated to New Haven in 1637. His descendants include the Reverend Noadiah Russell (one of the ten founders of Yale in 1701 and a trustee of Yale College from 1701 to 1713) as well as William Huntington Russell (1809-1885). In 1836, William Huntington Russell opened a private preparatory school for boys which would become known as the New Haven Collegiate and Commercial Institute. He was reported to have foreseen the Civil War and introduced a very thorough military drill and discipline into his school, eventually lending his students to the Union army. Known as a highly knowledgeable man in military affairs, Russell was hired to organize the Connecticut militia. He later co-founded the Yale University “Skull and Bones” secret society. Later Russell progeny include Frank Henry Russell (1878-1947), Yale graduate, aviation pioneer and the first General Manager of the Wright Brothers Company; and Frank Ford Russell, Yale wrestling champion, rower with the famed Yale Eight crew that won the 1924 Olympics, and later president of the National Aviation Corporation.
The archive holds photos of William Huntington Russell as well as clippings on his military institute and the “Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the Collegiate and Commercial Institute in New Haven, Conn. for the Year ending July 26, 1869.” There is an obituary sketch and a small publication on Talcott H. Russell (1847-1917), “a son of the founder of the famous Russell School” who was “for many years a distinctive figure at the New Haven bar.” Talcott, who ran the Russell metallurgy company, was married to Geraldine Whittemore Low and their two sons, Philip Gray and William Low Russell, were both petroleum geologists. The collection holds the family history of Geraldine Whittemore Low Russell, records from Mary Ann Whittemore’s family bible of 1814 and a Yale Commencement Program from June 1941 in excellent condition with a Yale button attached to it. There’s also a great program for a baseball game between Harvard and Yale of that same year.
The collection further contains handwritten letters, notes and family histories, a few Christmas cards, and pamphlets for the Navy Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There is also a handwritten letter from “Grandad” to “Billy,” dated July 1962 in which he lists “the ways I used to have fun when I was a boy in New Haven,” but we’re not sure which of the two families this man belonged to.
A rich and varied archive full of data on two leading families of New Haven, Connecticut. A collection of Pitkin family papers are held at the New Haven Colony Historical Society, and a few records pertaining to the Russell metallurgy company are at Yale.
More scans upon request. Item #717