eBay Tuesday: Pre-1912 New London City Hall

Postcard shows how the municipal building used to look

Searching for items related to New London on eBay typically brings up a variety of postcards of city scenes. The scenes are usually pretty familiar: the Harris Building, Parade Plaza, Union Station, Ledge Light, or other picturesque places. This week's item caught my eye because something is clearly a little off with City Hall.

The postcard is offered by user 88wsop888 and portrays City Hall next to the largely unchanged Harris Building. City Hall itself, however, is devoid of the pillars on the State Street facade and is otherwise a little blander than it appears today.

Francis Caulkins' History of New London Connecticut gives a brief but informative record of how City Hall arrived on the scene. Construction began in 1854 and was completed in 1856. It turns out the less than impressive first appearance was by design, as Caulkins declares the Italianate style building to be "constructed of polished free stone, and not deficient in grandeur, though planned with reference to municipal service rather than for ornament." 

City Hall replaced a dwelling house formerly occupied for about 80 years by the Law family. The post office once occupied the basement, which might seem a little dismal but Caulkins claims the space managed to be "elegant and commodious." The whole structure, designed by architect W.T. Hallett, was done at a cost of $10,000 for the lot and $33,000 for the building.

The present appearance was a result of a 1912 renovation by New London architect James Sweeney. According to New London Main Street, the purpose of the new Beaux-Arts exterior was to allow the building to "have a more appealing presence amongst the flourishing commercial district of the early 20th century." Other factors were also taken into consideration, including the need for more space for municipal offices as the city's population increased as well as improved protection from fire for city records.

Though parts of the original building remain, the renovation involved an extensive overhaul; City Hall "was gutted and turned into virtually a new building." A ceremony took place in November of 1912 to lay the new cornerstone, which included a copper box containing the City Charter, information on the committee to renovate City Hall, some small change, and numerous other items.

The auction ends at about 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday. The starting bid is $3.25, and shipping is an extra 75 cents.

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