The sense of history is palpable enough in New London that it's easy to absorb some sense of the city's connection to figures such as John Winthrop, Benedict Arnold, and Eugene O'Neill. But there are plenty of people who have a major influence on municipal affairs without gaining as much notice, and it would be easy to describe James A. Rumrill as one such person.
This week's item comes from a January 1879 issue of American Architect and Building News and features the plan for Rumrill's waterfront villa. The seller, stcroixarchitecture of Stillwater, Minn., says it's a bit of a rare piece since the magazine didn't have very large circulation numbers and rarely included colored plans.
The home was designed as the summer getaway of Rumrill, a railroad executive working out of Springfield, Mass. The hometown paper gives a remarkable picture of Rumrill's life in his obituary, saying he was "an accomplished Christian gentleman with whom even a casual meeting was always a great pleasure." Beyond that, he was also a fan of art, an amateur actor, and a Harvard University graduate.
As for his professional life, Rumrill earned a law degree and embarked for a time on a legal career before joining his father-in-law in the railroad industry. The 1879 plans might well presuppose a generous salary in the field, as Rumrill became the vice president of the Boston and Albany Railroad in 1880. He held positions in a number of other lines over the years as well, including the New London and Northern. He may have even had some influence in the construction of in 1887. It all made him "one of the wealthiest residents in Springfield."
Rumrill also had a clear philanthropist streak as well, becoming part of the Springfield library's association for 35 years and helping manage the city's hospital. When he died at the age of 72 in 1909, much of his money went toward philanthropic causes including the establishment of the James A. Rumrill Scholarships for graduate students and undergrads from schools in seven Southern states. In 1927, Rumrill's daughter made a gift toward a new Waterford library in remembrance of her parents. "Mr. Rumrill was for many years president of the Springfield Library and both Mr. and Mrs. Rumrill were keenly interested in public affairs in the Town of Waterford and for years maintained their summer home in our township, where they were long known as public spirited citizens and where they are now lovingly remembered," the minutes stated.
Indeed, although the plans say the house was built for Rumrill at New London and contemporary sources described him as a summer resident at the city, he was also said to be part of the summer colony on Great Neck. "Mr. Rumrill was one of the best known locally of the many summer residents, and the news of his death was received here by his many friends with profound regret," the local notice in said. Last year, the Friends of Harkness had a talk on Rumrill describing him as a "Harkness neighbor," and indeed the map of includes a site labeled as the "Rumrill stable."
The architect who drew up the plans was also quite influential. Eugene C. Gardner, another Springfield resident, designed numerous hospitals, mills, schools, and train stations across the nation. Gardner also served some time in the state legislature and was working on a biographical history of Massachusetts when he died in 1915 at the age of 78.
The seller says the plan measures nine inches by 13 inches, and the piece itself is a little larger because it's shrink-wrapped onto a mat boarder and foam core backing. The starting bid is $59, and shipping is an additional $7. The auction ends at about 5:52 p.m. on Wednesday.