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Set to the west of Main Street and included in Durham’s Historic District, the John Swathel House is surrounded by open fields ina primarily residential neighborhood.
Characteristics of the Georgian style are the twin interior brick chimneys and center-hall plan. Original features include the tripartite Palladian window over the main entry and the more Federal-period fanlights in the gable ends. The facade door, surmounted by a delicate leaded fanlight, is protected by a gable-roofed, cove-ceilinged portico.
supported by attenuated Doric columns. Twelve-over-twelve sash are featured throughout and the first-floor windows are capped by cornice window heads. A 2 story ell and single-story addition extend from the western elevation. Heavily victorianized in the late nineteenth century, the present owners have restored the interior and exterior to their original appearance.
Facing east onto Maple Avenue, this 2 1/2 story, five-bay, Georgian-style house has a wood-shingled ridge-to-street gable roof and sits on a sandstone foundation. John Swathel built this clapboarded post-and-beam-framed dwelling in 1824 and possibly incorporated a smaller and older dwelling house into the present structure.
In 1822 John Swathel purchased a large lot of land with buildings known as the “Talcott Place.” Professor William C. Fowler states in the History of Durham that Swathel
tore down the house of Hezekiah Talcott and rebuilt a new home on the lot. The Grand Lists of Durham indicate that Swathel built the house between 1823, when he owned one building (Swathel’s Tavern) valued at $1,800, and 1826,when he was taxed for two dwellings at $3,700. John Swathel (1773-1857) was born in Haddam and moved here with his family at the age of ten. In 1797 he married Phebe Sears (1776-1841) by whom he had ten children: Hanna, John, Phineas, Margaret, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Margaret II, Phineas, Phoebe, and William. Swathel started farming at an early age and in 1794 purchased a quarter of the stage line company that ran between Springfield and New Haven. In 1802 he purchased the large tavern located at the corner of Main Street and Middlefield Road (no longer extant).
Durham, being located on the shortest inland route between New York and Boston, became a popular stopover for travelers. The Swathel Tavern prospered and soon became the busiest tavern in town. A founding member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Swathel was active in local political affairs, serving as a town representative for many years. Tradition asserts that Swathel’s wife Phebe went insane after her children had grown and he was forced to keep her locked in the tavern’s attic because of her violent ‘fits. Later Swathel built his wife a small cottage just to the west of the tavern, where she spent her remaining years. Shortly before his death Swathel sold the house to his daughter Mary Ann Fowler, the wife of Horatio N. Fowler. Mrs. Fowler willed the house to her daughter Mary F. Gatzmer, and the house remained in the Gatzmer family until 1922.
The John Swathel House is one of Durham’s finest examples of Georgian-style architecture.