A Botched Bank Robbery, the Lady in Black, and a Mysterious Headstone: The Strange Tale of 'XYZ'

  
A Botched Bank Robbery, the Lady in Black, and a Mysterious Headstone: The Strange Tale of 'XYZ'

Erik Ofgang

You could easily walk past the small gravestone a hundred times without noticing it. Standing silent sentry in a quiet corner of the Fountain Hill Cemetery in Deep River, just across from the portion of the cemetery reserved for pets, it is hard to find and easy to miss. But after Stephen Gencarella, professor of folklore studies at the University of Massachusetts and the resident folklorist at the Connecticut River Museum, points it out to me on a recent morning, it’s impossible to look away.
The block tombstone is strikingly spare and lacking in details, its faded gray surface a blank slate except for three letters, “XYZ.”
The man buried beneath the marker and the stories surrounding him have woven their way into local folklore over the last 100-plus years, Gencarella says. It all began in 1899, when a report surfaced that the Deep River Savings Bank had been targeted for a bank heist. Flush from the ivory trade that made Deep River a wealthy town at the turn of the century, the bank reportedly had more than $1 million in its holdings. To protect this fortune, the bank hired Harry D. Tyler as a night watchman. This move proved fortuitous, as in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, between 1 and 1:30 a.m., four men attempted to rob the bank. Spying the would-be bank robbers mid-act, Tyler fired at one of them with a shotgun, killing him. Unidentified, the man was buried in town with a grave marked, for unknown reasons, only with the letters XYZ.
From this real-life occurrence, several legends were born.
According to some accounts, after the botched heist, the grave of XYZ was visited each year by a beautiful woman in black until the late 1940s. She would take a train to Deep River, then walk to the graveyard and leave a wreath of flowers, or a single rose, depending on the account. Then she would walk back to the train, all without speaking to anyone. What her relationship was to the slain criminal is unknown. In some versions she is his sister, in others a lover. According to some, it was the Lady in Black, as she had come to be known, who wrote Tyler and asked him to bury the slain criminal with a grave marked XYZ.
The accounts of the Lady in Black might be apocryphal. The earliest mention of her that Gencarella has found is an article published in the Deep River New Era on Nov. 3, 1939. That article noted that it is “a matter of common report that for several years following the daring bank attempt, a woman dressed in black would get off the train at the Deep River depot, walk down the tracks and up into the cemetery by the back way and visit the grave of XYZ, leaving a bouquet of flowers on it. The woman was never stopped, followed or otherwise investigated, and her relationship with the dead robber has never been learned.”
Gencarella says, “It’s plausible that someone did visit the grave at one point, but it’s pretty clear the legend of her visitations took a few decades to take hold.” In later accounts, he adds, “there is remarkable diversity regarding when she came, December or spring, what she brought, whether she spoke to residents, when she stopped coming, etc. — all reasons to think that her visits were just folklore in the first place, of course.”
There are other problems with the story as it’s been passed down. For instance, in 1900 the XYZ bandit was identified as Frank Ellis, alias Frank Howard and Tommy Brent, a known bank robber, in a report by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The report noted that the identity of his three accomplices had also been determined but they could not prosecute them because they lacked evidence from the crime scene.
Gencarella says no one picked up on this, “and reports for the next century continued to claim he was never identified. This obviously helps make the story a mystery and adds to the legend.”
Today, at the site where Deep River Savings Bank once stood, is a Citizens Bank. Though the building has been rebuilt since 1899, it has a display about the XYZ robbery.
XYZ’s grave marker, which has been replaced twice, most recently in the 1960s, continues to inspire local folklore and attract interest. In the 1990s, children made nighttime trips to the grave, where some claimed to see an apparition of the woman in black. There was also a local legend that you would be haunted by the ghost of XYZ if you said his name three times fast.
During our visit, Gencarella explains that in the most recent iteration of the legend, young people leave coins on the grave so as not to be cursed by XYZ. These coins and other small trinkets are plainly visible atop the grave and spilling over onto the ground around it. It is cold and there is snow on the ground and, quite fittingly, a thin layer of mist, adding to this distinctly Connecticut mystery.
This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Send us your feedback on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag, or email editor@connecticutmag.com.

The Senior Writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the author of "Buzzed: Where to Enjoy the Best Craft Beverages in New England" & "Gillette Castle." His next book is with Penguin Random House & he is an adjunct professor at WCSU & Quinnipiac University.

Whistle Stop Cafe in Deep River Offers Big Flavors from a Small Space


Whistle Stop Cafe in Deep River Offers Big Flavors from a Small Space
Erik Ofgang

There are small neighborhood restaurants, and then there is the Whistle Stop Cafe in Deep River. This postcard-worthy restaurant in the heart of downtown is about as quintessential a neighborhood spot as they come.
Open for breakfast and lunch, the cafe is housed in a one-story building with green shutters and a sign above the door with a cartoon egg holding a spatula. Inside there is one room with a few tables and a small counter overlooking the griddle. It’s got the cluttered but rich-with-character feel of a used bookstore, with some tight, but not cramped, train car ambiance thrown in, and the place is brimming with quirkiness. (To get to the bathroom, you have to walk outside and around the corner to the back of the restaurant.)
As we settle into our seats, conversations are underway among diners at other tables and staff members. Then the food starts arriving. One specialty, the cinnamon bun French toast ($5.75) is every bit as decadent as you’d expect. A knockout special called the Green Sausage Benny ($12.95) comes with housemade herb sausage and spinach topped with two poached eggs, each with a golden liquid yolk, and a side of home fries.
All the dishes have a home-cooked feel, which is no accident. Owner Hedy Watrous is passionate about using local, organic and nutritious ingredients. During our meal, she offers us home fries made from an unusual type of sweet potato grown and recently harvested by a friend.
“We don’t serve soda,” she says, explaining that she doesn’t want to offer something that unhealthful on her menu. Speaking of health, Watrous is a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and also owns a healing center in Deep River called the Eastern Arts Center. At Whistle Stop, she offers a variety of “healing teas” that she selects for each season. We don’t try tea on our visit, but locals say she is able to recommend teas to go with a specific mood or meal with the skill of a sommelier.
The restaurant celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018, but Watrous’ connection to the space goes back even further. Her grandparents first opened a restaurant at the spot shortly after Prohibition. They operated it through World War II, before selling it.
Watrous grew up in Deep River but lived for a time in Key West, Florida, where she co-owned an Italian and French restaurant and nightclub. In the early ’90s she moved back home to care for aging family members when she happened upon the restaurant her family had once owned. On a whim, she asked the owners if they would ever consider selling the restaurant, and they told her it was for sale. That night she met with them for dinner. During the meal, she bought the restaurant.
 Today, in addition to breakfast and lunch daily, Watrous hosts cooking classes where traditional Chinese medicine and diet advice is interwoven with culinary techniques. She also hosts several charity dinners each year and has raised funds for various local and international nonprofits.
And she has no regrets about her sudden decision to buy the once-and-current family business. “I love it,” she says, adding that it’s a great outlet for her creativity.

This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Send us your feedback on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag, or email editor@connecticutmag.com.
Erik Ofgang: The Senior Writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the author of "Buzzed: Where to Enjoy the Best Craft Beverages in New England" & "Gillette Castle." His next book is with Penguin Random House & he is an adjunct professor at WCSU & Quinnipiac University.


About Town: Deep River


About Town: Deep River
This small town charms with a walkable center, mom-and-pop gems and maritime heritage
Erik Ofgang

In this new monthly feature, we take a closer look a what makes a community in our state a great place to visit or live in.
Talking to people in Deep River, one thing becomes immediately clear: people here really love their town.
 “You can live in Deep River and not have a car,” says Hedy Watrous, long-time resident and owner of the downtown breakfast-and-lunch spot Whistle Stop Cafe.
As Watrous and others note, the small town — it had 4,629 people as of the 2010 Census — has a picturesque downtown that is eminently liveable and walkable with a variety of shops, restaurants and essential businesses, including two banks and a classic hardware store, the Deep River Hardware Co. Deep River’s real-world functionality is only the beginning of what attracts people to this Connecticut River town that is bordered by Chester to the north and Essex and Westbrook to the south.
Originally part of the Saybrook Colony, which formally joined Connecticut in 1644, the town incorporated as Saybrook in 1859 and was renamed Deep River in 1947. Initially a shipbuilding and quarrying town, Deep River, along with Essex, became a leading ivory importer between 1840 and 1940 when as much as 90 percent of the world’s ivory was imported by two companies: Pratt, Read & Co. in Deep River and Comstock, Cheney & Co. in Ivoryton, a village in Essex. Primarily used for piano keys, the ivory trade made Deep River a wealthy town, earning it the designation of “the queen of the valley.” Today, the role the ivory trade played in the hunting and killing of elephants is acknowledged with a plaque and statue of an elephant outside Town Hall on Main Street, and the town’s deep connection with its past manifests in historic homes, buildings and a variety of attractions.

Food & drink
If you’re in the area, make sure to spend time in Deep River’s downtown. Here you can eat breakfast or lunch at neighborhood breakfast spots such as Whistle Stop Cafe (108 Main St., 860-526-4122, facebook.com/whistlestopcafect) and Hally Jo’s (65 Main St., 860-526-8838). (People in town rave about the pancakes at Hally Jo’s.) Other options include the Red House (158 Main St., 860-526-2600, redhousect.com), a restaurant with a sleek, red-hued, rock ’n’ roll-inspired decor specializing in American cuisine, craft cocktails and beer. Calamari’s Tavern (75 Bridge St.) is a beloved local dive bar with an old-school vibe that has been owned by various members of the Calamari family since 1933.

Historic attractions
The site of Deep River’s shipbuilding industry and the spot where ivory arrived in town, Deep River Landing is now a beautiful river park. It is also home to the Becky Thatcher Riverboat and a vintage train station that is a stop on the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, one of the quintessential Connecticut attractions. Speaking of quintessential Connecticut destinations, Gillette Castle is visible across the river. Held the third Saturday of July, the Deep River Ancient Muster is billed as the oldest and largest gathering of fife and drum enthusiasts in the world. An eye-catching, red-brick building at 150 Main St., the Deep River Public Library was built in 1881 as a private residence. Today, the building’s Queen Anne-style of architecture and rumors of hauntings make it a favorite for visitors. The Grave of XYZ at Fountain Hill Cemetery is a story unto itself. (Read about it in The Connecticut Files on page 120). The Deep River Historical Society is housed in the Stone House at 245 Main St., which dates to 1840. A visit to the historical society provides visitors with more details about Deep River’s compelling connections with the past.
Shopping
In between eating, you can stroll up and down the main street, taking in some of the historic spots mentioned earlier and checking out storefronts like Alicia Melluzzo Fine Artist & Framer, a gallery and frame shop (124 Main St., 860-539-2529, aliciamelluzzo.com), or at stylish men’s clothing store Anchor & Compass (163 Main St., 860-322-4327, anchorandcompass.com) and its sister store for women, Compass Rose (4 River St., 860-322-4523, facebook.com/compassrosedeepriver). Sage Novak, owner of Anchor & Compass and Compass Rose, takes great pride not only in the high-quality items she stocks but in the visually appealing way she presents them. At Anchor & Compass, alongside hats and fine belts, you’ll find books with their covers facing out, which Sage says makes them more eye catching. Sage takes pride in adding human touches to the shopping experience. “I love being part of the fabric of town,” she says.

Living Here
Deep River attracts residents with its combination of on-the-water charm, affordability — the median household income was $69,861 as of 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — and good schools. Because Route 9 runs through town, it is commutable to cities like Middletown (about a 20-minute drive), New Haven (about 35 minutes), Hartford (about 38 minutes) and New London (about 27 minutes). Property owners can also keep a boat at a mooring on the river for no extra cost.

The Schools
Elementary School: Deep River Elementary School — greatschools.org rating:7 out of 10
Middle School: John Winthrop Middle School — greatschools.org rating: 9 out of 10
High School: Valley Regional High School — greatschools.org rating: 7 out of 10
John Winthrop Middle School and Valley Regional High School are part of Regional School District 4, comprising Chester, Deep River and Essex.
Real Estate
These are examples of homes available for $250,000 to $300,000, according to Mark Reyher, of Reyher Real Estate:
1,900-square-foot Cape • 6 rooms • 4 bedrooms • 2 baths
1,700-square-foot Victorian • 7 rooms • 3 bedrooms • 1½ baths
3,100-square-foot Colonial • 9 rooms • 4 bedrooms • 2½ baths
Like anywhere else, as you get closer to the water, the price goes up. Currently, options range from:
$475,000 • 2,650-square-foot contemporary • 6 rooms • 3 bedrooms • 2½ baths
$2.175 million • 8,000-square-foot, waterfront Colonial • 11 rooms • 4 bedrooms • 4½ bathrooms • 5 fireplaces • Boat dock

This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Send us your feedback on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag, or email editor@connecticutmag.com.

Erik Ofgang

The Senior Writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the author of "Buzzed: Where to Enjoy the Best Craft Beverages in New England" & "Gillette Castle." His next book is with Penguin Random House & he is an adjunct professor at WCSU & Quinnipiac University.

Mt St. John's

MT. ST. JOHNS SCHOOL

By John William Tuohy

Sitting majestically high above the banks of the Connecticut River in Deep River is the enormous building and expansive property that once housed the Mount Saint John’s School. 

Saint John’s story began in 1904 with the founding of the St. John’s Industrial School on a parcel of land in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of West Hartford. The school, it was actually an orphanage, was run by the Sisters of Mercy, an order begun in Ireland in 1831 dedicated to helping poor women and children across the world.  Four members of the order arrived Hartford, via stagecoach, in May 1852 and were the first congregation of women religious to serve in the Diocese of Hartford, which then included both Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Thomas Galberry, who would become the Bishop of Hartford, had requested the Sisters to come to his burgeoning Diocese to assist the tens of thousands of Irish who were arriving into New England.

Galberry was an interesting man. He was born in Naas, County Kildare, Ireland, in 1833 and brought to the US at age three, with the family eventually settling in Philadelphia. There, the Young Galberry was a witness of the violence committed against the church by members of the Native American Party (The Know-Nothings) and the atrocities left an indelible impression on the young man.  He saw Catholic churches burned to the ground and witnessed the breathtaking discrimination placed against the Irish.


He entered the novitiate of the Augustinian Order at Villanova, January 1, 1852, at age 16.  Galberry, who was always sickly and rarely knew an extended time of good health during his short life, was described as “Of serious, but not morose disposition, of placid temperament, a painstaking, conscientious student…..he was given to retirement and solitude, which was evinced in his love for long walks in the beautiful neighborhood of Villanova……a gentle and modest lad, who avoided anything like harshness or anger — -always cheerful, collected and studious." '

After holding a series of posts from New York to Massachusetts, he was appointed Bishop of Hartford in February of 1876. It was a job he didn’t seek or want, largely because of his poor health and on March 15, 1875, he sailed to Rome to decline the post, but Rome insisted he take the position and he obeyed.  

As the fourth Bishop of Hartford, Galberry quickly realized his diocese, like most others at that time in the United States offered precious few schools or orphanages for Catholic boys and he was determined to fix that problem. With his assistance, the Sisters of Mercy had purchased the Villa located on South Quaker Lane in West Hartford, “An attractive and substantial structure” in West Hartford in September of 1877, and in 1883 a wing was added to the main building to accommodate the increasing number of pupils.


The Bishop asked the sister if they would begin the process of opening a temporary home for parentless boys within the property and they agreed and in about 1879-1880 the home for boys was opened. The enormous responsibility for organizing St. Augustine's school at the Villa was handed to Mother M. Angela and later, in 1900, was taken over by Sister M. Genevieve. Both did an outstanding job. The Villa was thoroughly modern for its day and was surrounded by extensive grounds meant to give the boys, who were mostly from the crowded tenement slums, room to exercise and run freely.


The school could easily accommodate about seventy boys between the ages of four and fourteen, a large population at the time.  The property boasted “Everything conducive to the health, happiness and advancement of the pupils receives constant and conscientious attention. The discipline is maternal and uniform and the course of instruction thorough and extended. In such a healthful atmosphere as this, the boy gains in physical vigor and at the same time has his mind cultivated by a carefully planned system of education.”


As for Bishop Galberry, in his brief time as Bishop of Hartford….less than twenty months……Bishop Galberry founded the Connecticut Catholic Newspaper, (The Catholic Transcript.) confirmed 10,235 Children and increased the number of priests in the tiny, wobbling diocese by seventeen.  However, overcome with illness, on October 10, 1878, he set out for a rest at his beloved Villanova College. However, he was suddenly taken ill on the train from a with hemorrhages and died later that evening. He was 45 years old.


The very capable Michael Tierney followed as the fifth Bishop of Hartford and more than anyone else, he is responsible for creating Mount Saint John’s school.  Born in Ireland but raised in Norwalk, he was ordained in May of 1866. Bishop McFarland immediately made the young priest his chancellor and the rector of his cathedral. Tierney was a force unto himself. He visited every parish and every school-room in his diocese at least once a year, a tedious journey in those days.  


During his episcopate, he confirmed 85,000 children and administered to every one of them the total-abstinence pledge. (“The Pioneers pledge) He was a strong advocate for literature and education and enlightened Catholic populace. A tireless builder at a time when the church in Connecticut needed a builder, it was Tierney who funded the creation of Catholic hospitals Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury and Willimantic. He brought in the Sisters of the Holy Ghost and the Little Sisters of the Poor to help create and run numerous charitable institutions. Tierney saw that there were few resources within the church available for the needs of young Catholic men. He acted quickly and built St. Thomas's Seminary and authorized the creation of St. John's Industrial School for boys within the framework of St. Mary's Home for the Aged run by the Sisters of Mercy. 



Eventually, the time came to move St. John's Industrial School from its temporary grounds in West Hartford. But where to put the new school that was so desperately needed? The answer came from Monsignor Thomas Duggan, the Bishops Vicar General.




Daniel Duggan and his wife Elizabeth lived at the foot of a hill in Deep River Connecticut, known locally as Duggan’s hill. Although Daniel Duggan ran a farm on the property, the land was actually owned by his brother, John Duggan, a Catholic priest station first at Colchester and later to Waterbury.


The family lived at 125 Kirtland Street, at the bottom of the hill, the property still stands. a 750 foot, 3 bedroom home known then and now as the Nathan Southworth homestead. (Kirtland Street was laid out in 1792 by Nathan Southworth)  The home was later donated to Mt. St. Johns as was the historic Captain Calvin Williams house at 131 Kirtland. Mt. St Johns sold 125 Kirtland in 1982. Its owners since then have included renowned Author Richard Conniff and the Hogan’s, a family noted for their service to the United States Navy. The entrance to St. John’s would be built to the right of the property. At that time, a narrow dirt road led up to the top of Duggan’s Hill, it would eventually be replaced by a wide and winding road that even today gives some of the best views of the Connecticut River and neighboring Gillette’s Castle.  A second narrow dirt road, a wagon road, led to the landing where the David Humphreys ran a sawmill and shipyard.


The couple had five children, Lizzie and Maggie, who would eventually become school teachers in Deep River, Jeremiah (called Jerry) would take up farming with his father and continued to work at St. John’s until the late 1940, tending to the farm animals.   Mary Duggan entered the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph and spent her entire career at St. John’s.  Mary and Jerry would live out their years at 101 Kirtland Street. Thomas, later Monsignor Duggan, who, as a teen, created ivory piano keys in a local shop.


Thomas Stephan Duggan, born in Deep River on December 26, 1860, attended local schools and later entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City Maryland and then to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton Massachusetts. He was ordained in 1892. In 1904 he was appointed Curate of Hartford Cathedral and later, on June 22, 1910, Vicar General of the Dioceses. A multi-talented, man for all seasons and historian as well as a gifted and prolific writer, he was founder and the first editor of the Catholic Standard and author of The Catholic Church in Connecticut.   


Duggan, “A big, august, forbidding" man who called everyone “Captain”  was known to give away his money. He was said to rarely walk away from a fray, was widely recognized as one of the finest orators in the state and a man who “wields a facile pen.” It was assumed by most people in the known in Hartford that Monsignor Duggan would take over as Bishop Tierney’s successor when Tierney died in 1908, but for reasons unknown he wasn’t.    


It was Father Thomas Duggan who, at the request of Bishop Tierney, arranged for the gift of the land of Duggan’s Hill, which holds one of the most commanding views of the Connecticut River anywhere in New England, to the Dioceses.  The school would eventually encompass 112 acres, about half of that cleared property.

Father Duggan died on November 11, 1895, and is buried, fittingly enough, in the so-called “Duggan Cemetery” in which is the only grave site. The cemetery is located on the grounds of St. Patrick's Church in the Brooklyn section of Waterbury, where he was the first rector. It is the smallest registered cemetery in the state and can be seen from Route 8.

Father John Duggan actually donated the Deep River land to the care of the newly formed office of the Roman Catholic Protectorate for Boys which was administrated by the Bishops office. But the gift was not without controversy. Other members of the Duggan family in Ireland, England, Canada and the American Midwest sued Father Duggan’s estate, valued at $20,000 (About a half million dollars) to stop the land and money from being given to the office for the Protectorate for Boys. 

A Waterbury judge was forced to executed the will as Duggan had written it but delayed dispersing the land for ten years, As a result, the land on Duggan’s was contributed to Mt. St. Johns School in two grants in 1906 and 1907. The first was 65 acres - bound north by Saw Mill Cove and east by the railway line (Then owned by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad). The second grant of 5 acres was bound north by Saw Mill Cove, east by the Connecticut River, south to the Railroad. In 1954 and 1955, the estate of Margaret P. Duggan gave additional lands to St. Johns as well as ownership of the Old Stone House.

Father Duggan had purchased the lands, just over 90 acres, from the estate of the heirs of Captain Calvin Williams in 1860 and completed a second purchase for the remaining land in 1869 and 1878 which included all of the property “south by the highway from Deep River Village to the Steamboat Landing, & west by Captain John Saunders” 

An interesting side note to the property is that a portion of it, the south end about where a complete baseball field is today, was once a farm owned by a runaway slave named William Winters (1808-1900). He took the surname, Winters, to protect his identity from slave hunters. Winters was born into a slave family and worked on a Virginia plantation until he was sent to Richmond where he was sold to a South Carolina cotton plantation for $550. There, Winters and another young slave ran away on a stolen horse “one of us rode the horse while the other ran beside it, and in this way, we changed about until morning.”

After three weeks of riding at night to avoid capture, they crossed the Rappahannock River by stealing a boat and made their way to the plantation where Williams was born and raised. The plantation owner was a kindly man who took them in and protected them for several weeks. 

The plantation owner learned that bounty hunters had been set on the boys and knew they had to move north to be safe. The only safe route north was by boat, but there were few boats headed that way and for the next three months they lived in hand-dug caves near the plantation until they were able to stow away on a ship headed north to the slave free states. The captain discovered them but, according to Winters, “he was a kindly man” and when they arrived, he gave them “a good meal, and two loaves of bread, and told us how to get out of the city and start north.”

They eventually arrived in Philadelphia, they went to New York and then to New Haven where he was told to travel to Deep River and see either Deacon Reed or Judge Warner. He was assured that both men would help him.

“I walked all the way.” Winters explains, “And [was] so frightened I hid in the woods when I saw a team of men coming along the road. I traveled the old stage road from New Haven to Deep River and in going through Killingworth I stopped at the tavern kept by Landlord Redfield but was driven away…...When I came to Winthrop, I did not know which road to take and could not read the signs and a woman I asked drove me away, but called out, ‘Take that road,’ and pointed to it.”


In Deep River, Winters located Deacon George Read, a prominent civic leader and businessman, who gave him the name of William Winters and told him to never reveal his true identity and gave him a long white wig, which he wore for most of the rest of his life. Still, Winters was relatively safe in Deep River, described as “a sort of out-of-way location and all Abolitionist.”



 After passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 requiring northerners to capture and return escaped slaves, Winters left for New Bedford, Mass. where fugitives were safer than in Connecticut. He remained there for 12 years and returned to Deep River in 1862, with the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation.


Eventually, after the Civil War, a Deep River minister wrote letters to help Winters find his family in the south. His sister Nancy and other family members followed him to the Deep River area. Winters became a businessman, real estate investor and caterer and purchased land on the south end of Duggan’s hill (Then called Williams Hill) where he planted apple orchards and experimented with growing cotton and tobacco. William Winters died at the Hartford Hospital in 1900 at the age of 92 and is buried in Fountain Hill Cemetery.
After the land was officially given to the Diocese, on September 17, 1907, an unusually warm day, a special train, arriving in Deep River at 1:30 at the foot of the school main driveway, brought 120 guests, mostly priests from virtually every city in the state. The price of the train ticket from Hartford and New Haven was one dollar.

 The Bishop of Hartford, Michael Tierney, who was born in Ballylooby Ireland, spoke, followed by the energetic Monsignor John Synnott of Baltic, President of Saint Thomas Seminary in Hartford and later rector of St. Peter’s Church in Higganum and Rev. John Gregory, a Waterburian and the son of Irish immigrants and who would serve as Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford in 1920.  

The foundation of the new school was blessed while students from St. Thomas seminary performed Gregorian chant (Miserere) and the boys’ choir of the Hartford Cathedral sang “America” during the laying of the school cornerstone.  At 2:00 PM, a banquet was held at the Riverside Lodge, which was later used as the Convent building and still stands today. The meal was served by Long Caterers of Hartford and cooked by Chefs Louis Schastz and Thomas Doud of Hartford. The menu included soup, scalloped oysters, chicken, roast beef, ham, lamb, potato salad, coffee, ice cream, and cigars. At 4:15 the group walked back down Duggan’s hill and took a scheduled 4:00 train back to Hartford.



It would be another two years before the building was completed and ready for students and staff but at the end of 1909, the imposing building on the west side of the Connecticut River was ready. The completed building was designed by John J. McMahon (1875–1958) of Hartford. McMahon, the son of Irish immigrants, was a Hartford native who created many of the state's Catholic Churches and schools. Between 1901 and 1942, McMahon's architectural works in Connecticut alone included 24 major churches, 23 religious and public schools, 12 rectories, 11 convents, 6 institutional buildings, and 17 minor church projects.

 The finished property, laid on a single sheet of concrete, is four stories high.  The building is 100 feet wide and 74 feet long and made of fieldstone and finished with brass, granite and brick trimmings with a slate roof. The tower is 112 feet high from ground to the tip of the cross at its point. The tower trimmings are brass and has an open cupola which affords one of the most magnificent views in all of New England. The formal stairs in the front hall are 38 by 48 feet. Iron fire escapes and escape ladders made of steel running down the front of the building from the tower were never installed.  All of the ceilings were covered in ornamental metal.



 The basement, which was intended for full use, has a grade that was completed in such a way that a series of windows allows light into every corner. The front porch, originally referred to in its architectural name, the loggia, is 20 by 44 feet and made of reinforced concrete.


The original main corridor on the first floor, which runs north and south, on the first floor was eight feet wide. All of the floors were originally built of 3x4 yellow pine joists and covered in heavy asbestos paper (making the floor semi-fireproof, the ceiling on the 4th floor was also covered in asbestos paper) covered in two inch thick furring strips and then covered in pine wood although Roman red tile was used in some areas as well. All interiors partitions are made with brick and terra cotta and supported by streel. In the original layout of the building, the first floor housed the school library, administrative offices, the children’s dining area, the staff and teacher dining area and the kitchen.


The school would be as an agency of the Diocese of Hartford and would eventually be administrated by the Xaverian Brothers, an order dedicated to Roman Catholic education, who, at the invitation of Bishop Tierney, the Xaverian Brothers came to West Hartford to run an industrial school inside the Sisters of Mercy’s complex at Hamilton Heights in West Hartford that was originally run by the Christian Brothers for a very short time.



The building that McMahon designed is near identical to the administration building (The original building) of the Xaverian Brothers other school for boys, also named St. John’s, in Danvers Massachusetts, which was also constructed in 1907 on property that had also once belonged to a large Catholic family.)

By 1904 the order, which arrived in the United States in late 1860s, had opened boy’s schools in New York, Baltimore Louisville, Massachusetts, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  The Xaverian’s also operated the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore where, in 1902, Babe Ruth, age 7, was enrolled with over 600 other homeless boys. The boys at St. Mary’s were trained to become tailors, printers, painters, florists, steamfitters and farmers. Mount Saint Johns would be based on the St. Mary’s model.

Bishop Tierney, who had guided St. John’s into existence, would die October 5, 1908, and would never be able to witness his accomplishment. But thanks to his efforts, over 6,000 otherwise homeless boys have called Mt. St. Johns home since the school’s doors opened. 


That same year, 1908, The Rev. Michael Lynch schools first Pastor and administrator hired first layperson to work on the property, a local woman named Lottie Edsall who was hired on as the parish housekeeper. Her salary would be paid for from a fund created by State Senator Garvan left the school $1000 in 1912. (About $25,000 in today’s value) As generous as the Garvan gift was, St. John’s was growing and needed a contagious source of funding. Recognizing that need was the Reverend Joseph Nilan, a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, who had been appointed bishop of the Diocese of Hartford and was consecrated on April 28, 1910. The Diocese he inherited included 375,000 Catholics, 350 priests, 1,253 nuns, eighty-two parochial schools for 3,500 students and an array of other institutions.

 In 1913 Bishop Nilan organized a group of Hartford based business men to help further develop St. John’s. The group named itself the Saint John’s Industrial School Improvement Association and set dies at $100 per member (About $2500). Its chairman would be Patrick McGovern who tripled the original membership of 40 to over 150 in less than two years. The group’s annual dinner raised $25,000 for the school. (About $500,000 today)
The school’s chapel, located on the second floor, would provide seating for 150 persons. Opposite the chapel, on the south side of the building was the library and study hall. These rooms were later converted into the director’s office, the nurse’s office and a third room off of the staircase was the infirmary. On the west side of the second floor is the visiting chaplain’s apartment which later became the director living suite.


Two rooms on the south side of the third floor were designed as living areas for the schools teachers and the large room overlooking the river was a community living area for the staff. The rooms to the west were to be used for storage and the four rooms to the north were the classrooms.


The children’s dormitory was located on the spacious fourth floor and would house 60 children.  The third floor provided sleep over room for visiting parents and the second floor was the infirmary, chapel and director’s office and apartment. The first floor housed the library, boys dining hall, teacher dining room (attached to the south of the boys dining hall) a kitchen and office space for the staff.  The 4th floor would continue to be used as a dormitory until the Duggan wing was built in 1953 when two new dormitories were built. The “Upper dorm” as it was called housed bots between the ages of ten and 12. The “Lower dorm” was for boys 13 to 15. Both dormitories has eight large rooms that slept four boys each. Older boys were housed on the 3rd floor in semi-private rooms.  


 The building was surrounded by 50 acres of grass land and forest with another 30 acres which was also donated at a later time by the Duggan family who granted the school the original 50 acres. 

Mount Saint Johns was built on the Duggan farm and family gifted their livestock to the school as part of the land gift. The animals were kept in a large barn and a series of pens located at the East side of the property across from the convent. Although some of the pens remains even today, the barn was demolished in the early 1960s. Livestock remained on the farm until the late 1940s when automation in the food industry made an abundance of fresh food at affordable prices available to the American public.


  A small pool was opened in the basement located where the schools laundry pick up room was located and later the music room (The first large room on the left of the basement hall way).

On October 24, 1916, when the school housed 116 boys, the St. John Association took out a bank note for $15,000 to build a new chapel as well as an indoor recreation room boys to play in during inclement weather. By the end of the year, the group would raise $35,000 for the improvements (about $803,000). This was also the year that the schools chapel would have a new Chaplin, Rev. John A. Mahon and a new director, Brother Jerome of the Xaverian order. At this point, the school was almost exclusively used for the placement of homeless children of European extraction, mostly from the Hartford area.

 “The school” according to one history of the Xaverian order “never came up to expectations, the only industry was printing, for the simple reason that it is erroneously thought that buildings, men, and boys constitute an industrial school. Equipment, tradesmen to teach, and money to supply all, are often not taken into consideration when the plan is conceived.……As the boys' orphanage was overcrowded, Bishop Nilan, successor to Bishop Tierney, decided in 1919 to close the industrial school and use the building as an orphanage.”  Actually, documents from Hartford to the Order show that funding was only lacking because the school was under populated, and the Bishop preferred to put the funding in place when the school was at its expected capacity. 

In place of the Xaverian’s, in 1919, Bishop Nilan gave administration of St. John’s to the Sister of St. Joseph of Chambery. Initially a French order, the Sisters arrived in Connecticut in 1885 and established themselves in the town of Danielson. Four years later, at the request of the Bishop, the Sisters moved to Hartford with a mission to train teachers and nurses.   At Mt. St. Johns, the sister would not only administrate the school, they would care for the children and teach them as well. There was good reason for the change.

 By 1919, the focus on child care began to shift away from institutions and back to the family and the state stepped away from institutional care by providing financial and other relief to families to enable them to stay together. However, the shortage of free foster homes combined with the personal and psychological problems of the individual children, most of whom were traumatized by their conditions, and the inadequacy of a proper state run placement system resulted in a sizable portion of low income children  still needing to be institutionalized. The population of these places swelled during the Great Depression and increased again during World War II, however after that, starting in the mid-1950s, the state began to place more children in foster homes. The populations dropped and the children in institutions like St. John’s and other places stayed for shorter periods of time, about two and half years on average.

The provision of care established during this time integrated an all-inclusive approach. Treatment interventions were achieved by “spiritual motivation reduced in practice to everyday living; coordinating intellectual progress with moral, physical and social development; preventive and corrective health measures; supervised recreation and broad opportunities for cultural development and individualized training in the principles of social adjustment”. By then the school was home to 120 boys, ages 8-16, mostly from the inner cities, almost exclusively Catholic and European ethnic in origin, although the school had an open door policy to races and creeds.

There were, on average, just 12 boys enrolled at St. John’s in late 1919 with 87 new arrival cases pending.  The cost of housing a boy at the school that year was $12.00 a month (About $207.00). The schools gross receipts were $17,794, with expenses running $24,664.00 a year.

The boys spent five hour a day in class and the rest of the day “dedicated to the pursuit of useful occupations with a responsible allowance for recreation” which included training six boys per year in the printing craft, the school had its own printing office. The boys also farmed 12 acres of vegetables.

 Up until this point, the school was legally called St. Joseph’s Asylum Industrial School, a name change that took place sometime after 1907 from Saint John’s Industrial School. However, the name never took hold and the school had always been referred to simply as St. Johns. A special act of the State General Assembly Committee of Incorporations agreed to officially change the name by a special act in 1921. Another name change would come in 1964 when the schools official designation was changed from St. John’s to Mount Saint John’s.

The resourceful Father Francis J. Kuster became the schools superintendent in 1921 and would remain in that position until his death in 1936. Born and raised in Connecticut, the son of French immigrant parents, Father Kuster in high regard in the Connecticut River Valley, he was once the curate at St. Joseph, in nearby Chester and was in demand as a speaker at war bond rallies across the state during the First World War. He had been Curate at St. Joseph’s in Bristol before being transferred to the Connecticut River Valley where he rebuilt Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Essex after a fire destroyed it in 1925. He then transferred to St. Joseph’s in Chester where he doubled the number of parishioners.
Father Kuster wrote in the school’s annual report in 1928;

 “The school had cared for 129 boys that year, including 38 new admissions and fifty boys left the school, two for foster homes and 49 were returned to their parents or guardians. The school’s official capacity was 95 boys. The school now has eight primary grades with 7 boys graduating that year.  We purchased playground equipment for the first time consisting of a see-saw, a slide, chute, a jungle gym and a sandbox (Which was located where the outdoor basketball court stands today) All of this, plus the annual Christmas dinner and gifts, was paid for by the Saint John’s Improvement Association, which is now in its twenty first year serving the boys of Mt. St. John’s.  The best and the latest motion picture films are shown weekly in the recreation hall, one of two recreations halls now available to the boys, both of which are furnished with games, books, Victrola’s and a radio. Otherwise, in the good weather, the boys play football and baseball or go swimming in the creek. The school also has a uniformed twenty-two piece orchestra which is very popular in the local community and is invited to play at most public social functions and parades in the area. The children’s health is looked after by a Sister of St. Joseph who is a registered nurse. (The Sister of St. Joseph ran St. Francis Hospital in Hartford)  Otherwise, Doctor Chase of Deep River is the physician on call to the school. In all, Dr. Chase treated 12 boys that year for various illnesses.  Dr. Larson, the local dentists visits the school every Saturday afternoon. A home like atmosphere pervades this institution “Birthday parties were held once a month and presents were provided and much thought is given to the cultural development of the boys.”

 He also boasted about the boy’s requirement to read at least one new book per month, at night, in their spare time from the school extensive library on the first floor (Now the director’s office) where monthly subscriptions included Popular Mechanics, Catholic Messenger, The American Boy, Youth’s Companion, Schoolmates, Current Events, Illustrated Current Events, Geographical Review, The Country Gentleman, and the Sunday Companion     


Father Kuster had been ill for the last decade of his life and his passing proved a heavy loss for Mt. St. John’s because, as Monsignor Duggan pointed out, St. John’s was “Always taxed beyond its capacity in boys needs and funding”

And he was right of course. As Father Kuster noted in 1930 that “Some boys arrive to the school malnourished are placed on a special diet and all the boys are weighed and measured every month in that regard. Underweight boys are fed lunch at 10:30 and 12:00 and dinner at 3 and 6 o’clock.”

Bishop Nilan, a stalwart supporter of St. John’s and its mission, ordered additional living quarters added to the school existing structure which was so badly needed. In 1932 there were 156 boys at St. Johns, including 25 new admissions and 35 were returned home. Films, a popular pastime with the boys and the staff alike, were shown every Sunday night and the boys had built an artificial skating rink on the ground. This was also the year that the school introduced the tradition of Thursday night picnic dinners on the sprawling front lawn.
Three years later, in 1935, there were 76 boys at the school, with 44 admitted that year and 25 returned home.

“A Boy Scout program has started,” wrote the school's administrator “and in the summer the Saint John’s troop takes a ten days camping trip up to the Green Mountains. The boys have built a Scouting club house and camp site at the river’s edge and in the better weather, the troop camps out each weekend.  Other clubs included the harmonica band with 35 members, the tap dancing club with 29 members, juggling club with 16 members, the tumbling club with 20 members, the 15 piece Mount Saint John’s Marching Orchestra continues to be popular as does the annual Amateurs Night which hosts 25 performers from within the boy’s ranks.  Also that year, the pig pen was repaired, sand was placed on the ball field replacing the harder dirt, and the coal burner was improved as were the water pipes. Dr. William Joyce of Middletown, who donated his services to the school, fitted nine boys for glasses and paid for glasses out of his own pocket and at Christmas, the Elks of Middletown provided each boy with a Christmas gift and the Conklin Bell shop of East Hampton provided each boy with a hand crafted bell. (Dozens of bell manufacturing companies operated in East Hampton form 1800 up until the mid-1950s)

There was a long and warm relationship between the parishioners of St. Joseph’s parish in nearby Chester and Mt. St. Johns. Hundreds of St. Johns boys received their First Holy Communion and Confirmations at St. Josephs.

 Father Kuster was followed as Chaplin by Father David Reed, also of St. Joseph’s and in turn, Father Reed was followed by Patrick Killeen who served by St. Josephs and St. Johns, in fact Father Killeen resided in retirement at the school for many years.


 According to the annual report by Sister Maria Florentine, the Sister Superior and director at St. John’s through most of the 1940s, St. John’s “completed a very successful year if success is measured by the amount of happiness bestowed upon others or the help to given to those who might have otherwise gone astray. It should be noted, every boy’s birthday was recognized and celebrated at Mt. St. Johns.”

 Ninety-five boys lived at the school in 941, almost all of them from broken homes. Sixty-two were admitted during the year and another thirty-six returned to their homes. A half a dozen boys graduated from the school that year entered the military. 

In 1942, tuition to St. John’s was $36 a month for the 168 boys at the school that year and war time rationing was in effect. Sister Florentine reported that “This year has been one of difficulty and sacrifice. The needs of the boys have increased because of the restlessness of the times. The fundamental needs of the children have not changed in wartime but mounting pressure on adults have made for a great increase in emotional tensions in children”
She reported that the school was plagued with personnel, food and clothing shortages as well “The ever present financial problems” and that 73 boys were admitted to the school and 85 boys were returned to their homes, yet “application for placement far exceed our facilities and we are loathe to admit children unless we can give them the specialized care they need” Lessening the burden of war rationing is the fact that the school still has a productive farm and livestock on the grounds tended to by hired hands trained by Jerry Duggan.
According to Sister Florentine, by 1944

 “some 1,177 boys had passed through St. John’s since it opened in 1907. In mid-1944, the school band, the pride of St. Johns, is now 32 pieces strong. The boys are taught dancing and social decorum from local housewife volunteers and a series of dances were scheduled for the year ahead with the school’s popular Swing band performing. In September of that year, a youth counsel was formed allowing the boys to have their say in how the school is run.”

A 1945 report by the State Child Services Division of Child Welfare critiqued 28 institutions tending to destitute children and found that over a third restricted admission by race or religion.  Mount Saint John was not among those places. In fact, in all of its history, the school has never had any restrictions on race, creed or national origin nor was the Catholic faith ever imposed on the children not baptized into the church.  Children were accepted based on need. It was that simple.

With war rationing loosening towards the end of 1945, the school was able to build a small pool the basement located where the schools laundry pick-up room was located in the 1950s and 1960s and later the music room.  

During that time the school was home to the Reverend Donald David Lynch, SJ. Lynch was born to a troubled family in New Britain Connecticut in 1929 but was orphaned by age 12 when he entered Mt. St. Johns in 1940. He graduated class valedictorian and entered Fairfield Preparatory as a member of the school's first graduating class. He became a Jesuit on July 30, 1946. He earned a PhD. in the classics and became a professor emeritus of English literature at Fairfield University in 1961. In 1963, Father Lynch led the famed underdog “Fairfield Four” (John Horvath, John Kappenberg, Joseph Kroll and George Greller) to three consecutive wins over older, more prestigious colleges, on the nationally-televised General Electric College Bowl a popular quiz game show broadcast live nationally on the NBC television network. The wins brought national recognition to the University along with a total grant of $5,000. Later, Father Lynch created the software program The Shakespeare Library which is still in use today. He retired due to illness (He was a lifelong victim of diabetes) Noted for his affable nature, it was said of him “Most notable during his time at Campion was his steadiness of temper, his cheerfulness, and continued enthusiasm for his own computer work and his interest in others and their work, along with his sociability and lively reception of visitors. A visit with Don was an upbeat and energizing experience and the nursing staff would easily have voted him the Best Patient of the Year.” Father Lynch died at age 74 on January 25, 2003.

During the late 1940s, psychiatry and social work began to develop a greater respect and influence, paving the way for the development of residential treatment programs. By the 1950’s these programs began to resemble the modernized version of Residential Treatment Centers. Keeping in line with national trends, Saint John’s School evolved from a “Home for Boys” into a Residential Treatment Center.

At about the same time, in 1953, the Diocese of Hartford (which at that time comprised the entire State of Connecticut) was divided into three dioceses, and Mount Saint John had come under the jurisdiction of the newly created Diocese of Norwich, as did all Catholic facilities in Middlesex, New London, Tolland, and Windham counties.

The first Bishop of this new Diocese, Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan, immediately undertook the substantial building and renovations at the institution to be named The Thomas Duggan wing. The new wing would cost $250,000 (About $2,300,000 today) and would house a complete, full sized gymnasium named for Bishop Reilly, a school with six classroom and two administrative offices and two dormitories which allow the school’s 92 boys to move out of the cramped living quarters on the fourth floor.  The Duggan Wing was completed and was dedicated on October 25-26, 1957.

 In 1958, Bishop Flanagan also appointed Father Kenneth Macdonald as the school Executive Director. Father Macdonald served would serve in that position for 35 years. Although the Sisters of St. Joseph no longer administrated the school, members of the order remained in teaching positions there until 1969 and continued to live in the convent building which still stands on the East side of the property. 
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Father Macdonald completed his philosophy and theology studies with the Passionist Fathers (The Congregation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ) in preparation for ordination to the priesthood. He was ordained in Union City, NJ on February 27, 1943. He was assigned as chaplain of Mt. St. Johns in 1955 and officially named its director in 1959 by the Most Rev. Bernard J. Flanagan, the first bishop of Norwich.

Under his leadership, Father Macdonald sent staff to graduate school for their Masters degrees in Social Work and many became licensed Social Workers. Ultimately, therapeutic treatment was provided through a network of services that were established. In 1958, following the opening of a large addition to the original building to house new dormitories, classrooms, and a gymnasium/auditorium.

From the late 1960s to June of 2013, Mount Saint John functioned as a Residential Treatment Center providing services to boys from all areas of Connecticut. Macdonald Hall was dedicated on Monday, October 18, 1993. The hall has 30,000 feet of administrative offices and living space. The former dormitories in Duggan Hall were remodeled into classrooms and a learning center that holds a science room, a math center an art room and a computer learning center.

 The school was now home to 77 boys, down from the 120 or so that lived there in from the 1950s through the 1970s. The day to day lives of boys had changed radically by then. Macdonald hall housed six living units which housed 11 to 12 boys each and offered a communal dining area, a small kitchen where breakfast was served. Lunch still served in the main dining hall, but diners were served in the units in a family like setting. The central laundry was gone, and the boys were trained and do their own laundry in their housing units.   In 1997, the school was given a $5,000,000 renovation, much needed after 90 years in continuous operation.

 Father Macdonald retired from Mount Saint John School on December 199o and living on the grounds of the Holy Family Motherhouse in Baltic, died July 18, 1991, in Rorvik, Norway, while on vacation. He was seventy-five years old. In 1988, during a celebration marking the school's 80th anniversary, Father Macdonald, Saint John’s director for over 35 years, was presented with the Norwich Diocesan Patrici-Anne Award for distinguished service by the Bishop Rev. Daniel P. Reilly of Norwich.

"He distinguished himself as a priest, in serving the homeless and the downtrodden, in ministering to the alienated and by comforting the neediest of our brothers," Bishop Reilly said. "He gave himself wholeheartedly to his responsibilities and inspired all who knew and served with him."


After 104 years in operation, the residential program at Mount Saint John’s closed on June 2011 and the Clinical Day School, the Academy of Mount Saint John’s, was opened, serving adolescent boys and young men.