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11 Craw Avenue
 
The William J. and Josephine Craw House, 1872

 

This wonderful Gothic Revival structure with its three-story watchtower was built by Richard L’Hommedieu in 1872 for Captain William Jarvis Craw, an oysterman born in 1830. He had grown up in Rowayton at 103 Highland Avenue. His father LeGrand was also an oysterman, and his mother Mary Raymond Craw was part of the extensive Raymond family of Norwalk.

As one of the original class of four members of the Yale Analytical Laboratory in the newly established course of Chemistry, William was appointed Assistant in Applied Chemistry in 1849 and held the position until he left the school in 1853.

He then became a chemist at the Hampden Paint Company, in Springfield, Massachussets, but after two years, serious health issues forced him to give up his job and return to Rowayton.

Being compelled to choose an open-air life, he entered the oystering business and became, in time, the owner of extensive oyster grounds and captain of his oyster steamer Josephine. His scientific knowledge and trained habits of observation enabled him to achieve success and to solve many problems that arose in the development of the oystering industry. Through his business life, botany, which had been a favorite study from boyhood, remained his pastime.

Seven years after building his house [1], Captain Craw married Josephine Chapin. Josephine had been a missionary for five years before her marriage. She and Martha Mandeville arrived in Vellore, South India, to serve as "assistant missionaries" in the Arcot Mission of the Reformed Church in America. Although the mission would have preferred receiving ordained men, the male missionaries welcomed them in the anticipation that the young women would be valuable as visitors among Indian women and as assistants in the female seminary where Christian young women were being educated to become wives of Indian catechists and teachers. Eventually these two enterprising women were were to open two schools in Vellore for Hindu girls which were an immediate success.

After their marriage in 1879, Josephine became the proprietor of “Mrs. Craw's Store” located at 101 Rowayton Avenue. Captain Craw's oystering business was an enormous success, but for more than 40 years, his life was an increasing struggle with a very painful disease, the nature of which was never known. According to his obituary, Captain Craw was held in high esteem both among his

neighbors and his fellow oystermen for his "sterling integrity." He cared deeply for the social welfare of people from all walks of life, and he and his wife were very involved in outreach done by their church, the Congregational Church of Darien.

The Craws had been married for almost twenty years when William died on October 26, 1897. In 1903, the widowed Mrs. Craw was elected president of the board of the brand new Rowayton Library and subsequently rented a room in her former store to the library as its first home. Mrs. Craw’s “room” served as the library for 23 years.

The Craw house stood out among the simpler oystermen’s homes in the neighborhood, not just because of its lovely architectural details but also because of the luxury it offered its inhabitants; included in these novel amenities were a lily pond and a caretaker. The captain and his oyster business partner John L’Hommedieu [2] (who conveniently lived at 6 Crockett Street) ran their operation out of their oyster house just a short distance from both their homes on Rowayton Avenue adjacent to the Community Dock.

 

The civic-minded Mrs. Craw also donated the land for the new Rowayton Baptist Church which was built on Rowayton Avenue adjacent to the Raymond Cemetery and dedicated in 1905. She later gave use of the property surrounding her house to a “Rowayton-on-the Sound” camp for girls founded in 1916 to teach them wireless telegraphy, and eventually, aviation where they practiced flying in biplanes from the top of a hill down to the beach. With World War I imminent, the girls aspired to be messengers and guides.[3]

In its heyday, the house was surrounded by an apple orchard that ran all the way to Roton and Rowayton Avenues and to Crockett Street on the northern side. As late as the 1940s, the house was easily visible from the Sound and from the Raymond Cemetery next to the United Church, and the owners at that time (the Hetzel family) decided to create a beacon “for both ships and villagers and to show the children their way home at night.” They fashioned a huge wooden star adorned with electric lights and affixed it to the top of the tower. Until 1978, the star, which was made out of old ice hockey sticks, was lit at dusk during the Christmas season. The visibility of the house from town and the River worked the other way around as well: it is said that Captain Craw would mount the steps to the tower to keep an eye out for poachers on his oyster beds.

 

The Hetzels, who lived at 11 Craw for over 30 years, reported evidence of spirits living in the house. The sound of footsteps could clearly be heard moving along the 2nd story hallway, entering a room, and then retracing their steps. The ghosts seemed to bear no menace and were thought to be Captain and Mrs. Craw returning for a visit.

 

In 1922, the widowed Mrs. Craw hired architects at Samuel W. Hoyt, Jr. Company to draw up plans to develop some of her property, including the creation of two new roads, Drum and Richmond. Mr. Hoyt had also developed sections of Vincent Place and Covewood Drive. After Mrs. Craw’s death in 1926, the Craws' niece Jenny sold the house and property, four acres of which were purchased to build new homes, many of which were built from Sears, Roebuck kits.

Mr. and Mrs. Craw are both buried in Raymond Cemetery on Rowayton Avenue where their gravestone, a large stone with a quill, is visible from the road.

[1] It is believed that Captain Craw also built the house next door #15.

[2] John was the brother of the builder of the Craw house, Richard L’Hommedieu.

[3] New York Times, July 11, 1916.

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William and Josephine Craw

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3 generations Mary Alice Holman her Aunt

Three generations: Mary Alice Holman, her Aunt Josephine Chapin Craw,
Kittie Carpenter Holman, and Mary
TenBroeck Moses 

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