The Mansion at Lauralton Hall
The Victorian Gothic “Mansion” dating back to the Civil War is the parent structure of the four building complex that now comprises Lauralton Hall. It presently houses the Development, Admissions and Alumnae offices and several classrooms. Built in 1864 for Charles Hobby Pond, a wealthy descendent of a Colonial Milford family, the “Mansion” was originally called “Island View,” presumably because of its tower view of Charles Island, a summer resort, which in those days was not obstructed by foliage or buildings. “Island View,” as it was originally constructed, was an early Victorian farm. The farm offices—namely, the barn, slaughterhouse, and water tower were behind the main building.
The picturesque appeal of the Victorian-Gothic style “Island View” is achieved principally through much variety and irregularity in its design. The building is seen as a solid mass, its parts being held together by the massive roof, the sturdy granite wall and the encircling cornices. The dominant features are a high French mansard roof and two towers, one square and the other round. The long winding drive up to the house enables the visitor to catch a glimpse of this impressive architecture.
Convenience was stressed in the homes of the 1860s. The library and the parlor opened into the central hall by means of sliding doors. This hall housed the main staircase reserved for the adult members of the family, while the back stairs provided access from the servants’ rooms to the kitchen offices where a door led to the farmyard.
Concern for convenience rather than for symmetry brought about the proximity of the kitchen to the serving room and the dining room. Adjoining the dining room was the library, where the men would retire after dinner to discuss business matters and politics. The parlor, which provided the women with some respite from the household tasks, was far removed. To assure father’s privacy in business matters, his office was provided with a separate entrance.
On the second floor, individual bedrooms were accessed by the stair hall, so that no room was used as a passageway to another. Although some of the second floor has been converted into classrooms, the colorful mantels with their Dutch imported tiles provide us with an idea of what used to be. Bathrooms were very large and tile was used on the floor and walls. The nooks and corners of the attic were used for storage space. One such storage compartment housed the camphor chests of by-gone days.
“Island View,” as it was built by Mr. Pond, breathed an attitude of warmth and family life. It was beautiful in its simplified and refined irregularity. In this, it is characteristic of an early Victorian age.
In 1889, the property was sold by the Pond heirs to Henry Augustus Taylor, a New York financier. He renamed it Lauralton Hall after his mother and deceased daughter, both of whom were called Laura. This name is symbolized in the many laurel wreath motifs that are etched into glass windows and impressed on plaster carved throughout the building. As the Roman symbol of victory, the laurel wreath is also accorded with the Taylor family motto: “Consequitur quod quonque petit” or “He attains whatever he seeks”.
Mr. Taylor did extensive remodeling to Lauralton Hall at this time. The round tower and the classical veranda were added and the interior was also greatly changed. The richly carved mahogany staircase centered in the sumptuous and dimly lit entry hall is an addition made by Mr. Taylor. The stairs, supported on either side with two massive Corinthian columns, move gracefully in spiraling forms toward the circular stained-glass skylight. The parlor and library were redecorated in the Classic style. These were just some of the changes made by Mr. Taylor.
Lauralton Hall, the home of Mr. Taylor, was the residence of a wealthy man. Heavier in its aspect, it is more showy and richer in decoration than “Island View.” It is characteristic of a later Victorian style. In 1905, Mr. Taylor sold the estate to the Sisters of Mercy of St. Bridget’s Convent for $35,000. When Mother Mary Augustine Claven purchased the property, the Taylor Family requested that the name “Lauralton Hall” be retained. Lauralton suited the sisters very well because “Laura” in Greek means “a corridor of rooms set aside for academic pursuits or contemplation.” However, the word “Fides” was added to the family motto so that the school’s motto became “Faith attains whatever it seeks.”
In 2011, Lauralton Hall was listed on the State Register of Historic Places by the Connecticut Historic Preservation Council and was also added to the Federal Register of Historic Places.
Opening in 1905, the first class at Lauralton Hall numbered 25; in 1906, the first graduating class consisted of four young women. Today, there are 460 girls enrolled in the school as day students in grades nine through twelve.