Two Lost Souls—A Granby Haunting

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18 East Granby Road, taken down in 1998 to build the Medical Center

Where do spirits go when their home is destroyed? An early 19th century dwelling at 18 East Granby Road was torn down late in 1998. Former residents of the house shared their home with two ghostly beings—a young man in his twenties and a little girl about eight or nine years old.

The Salmon Brook Historical Society was called by a tenant wondering if “anything ever happened in this house.” When asked for clarification, she admitted to being a bit un-nerved at seeing someone who wasn’t really there. Belief in ghosts was antithetical to her religion, philosophy and logical mind. And yet, “I saw reflected in the mirror a young girl with long, dark-blonde hair. She was wearing an ankle-length ecru muslin dress, gathered at the waist, and high laced black boots. She looked very sad.”

The other apparition was described as a young man dressed in black and carrying something. Evidently the figure of the man was not very distinct, and his face was hard to see. But the little girl was very clear.

A panicky description of the encounter with the little girl, brought this calm response from another tenant, “Oh her.” He had lived in the house for about eight years and had seen the figures about a dozen times. He was rather casual about the whole experience. There were several apartments in the old house and he had lived both upstairs and downstairs. The girl had been seen on both floors, but the man was only seen downstairs.

Not all of the tenants or visitors saw the resident spirits. Belief in ghosts was not a prerequisite to a sighting. The two figures never did anything and seemed rather benign. But who were they? And why were they still in the house?

The house at #18 had been dated by a state survey as probably built between 1800 and 1820. It was a clapboard, center chimney house with a stone foundation, and two and a half stories high. It had been changed, remodeled, and added on to through the years. One fireplace lintel was dated 1834, but that could have been added later.

The first known owners of the house were William Lewis and his wife Harriet Pettibone. They were married 12 August 1805 in the First Congregational Church. Contemporaries called them “very pious people.” Harriet was the daughter of General Chauncey Pettibone and Theodosia Hayes, who lived south of the present South Congregational Church in a large Colonial home (now gone). 

After their marriage, William and Harriet rented a house from Henry Gillette, but in 1809, William Lewis purchased land on East Granby Road from his father-in-law, Chauncey Pettibone. The four-acre parcel cost $97, and no house was mentioned in the deed. There may have been a house on the property, or perhaps the house was built around 1809.

William and Harriet had no children. They did have a girl (perhaps a relative or a servant) living with them in 1810 and 1820. She was in her teens in 1810. In 1820, a small boy under the age of ten, was also in the household. He was probably Picton Hillyer, Harriet’s nephew. Andrew D. Hillyer was married to Harriet’s sister Betsey. They lived next door at 8 East Granby Road. The Granby School or Academy was located between the two houses.

Andrew D. Hillyer, a lawyer, died in 1816 of typhus. He was only 36 years old. William Lewis was made the guardian of the four fatherless children; Richard, Andrew, Picton and little Betsey. It is very likely that several of the children lived with them at different times. Young Betsey Hillyer was not the ghostly child, because she died at the age of 34.

The entire neighborhood was closely related. Harriet’s grandfather, Ozias Pettibone, lived at 4 East Granby Road. A little to the north was Harriet’s Aunt Sybil Pettibone who was married to Joshua R. Jewett. Harriet’s father Chauncey, her Aunt Jane Jewett, and her sister Clarinda Holcomb all lived on Salmon Brook Street. William’s brother James lived on the corner. With all these relatives nearby, there were probably many young girls in the house, but there is no record of any who died there.

The only Lewis child who died young in Granby was Lura Minerva Lewis, William’s six-year-old niece. Lura was the daughter of James Lewis and Lura Barber and died in 1845. James Lewis, brother of William, lived on the southwest corner of Salmon Brook Street and North Granby Road. Lura cannot be the sad little spirit, because the Lewis home was owned by someone else before 1845.

William and Harriet Lewis were probably living in New Haven by 1830, because they were not listed in the Granby census. The house in Granby may have been rented to someone. They always provided a home for a Yale student during their residence in New Haven. They also educated Walter and Mary Ann Clark and Walter became a minister. When William died and Harriet was in financial need, Walter and his sister would not help her. William Lewis died in 1836, age 54, and for the rest of her long life (to age 93) Harriet had to rely on the kindness of family for a place to live.

Harriet sold 18 East Granby Road, described as four acres, dwelling house and buildings, to Sylvester Barnes in 1838, for $710. Sylvester was the son of Samuel Barnes 2nd and his wife Patty. He had just one brother, Allan. Sylvester was only 21, and unmarried, when he bought the property. In 1840, Sylvester and a woman aged 50–60 (probably his mother) lived in the house. Two years later, Sylvester died at the age of 25. He was buried in the old Baptist Cemetery in Granby. It is possible that his restless spirit was the one wandering on the first floor of his old home. The cause of his death is not known. It may have been a sudden illness or an accident.

The Barnes family then sold the house to Orville Griffin in 1845. Orville was born in 1819, the son of Aristarcus and Jael Griffin. He was married twice, first to Elizabeth H. Jones (1813-1873) and then to Louisa Rodgers (1837-1908). No children were born to either of Orville’s wives. Salmon Brook Historical Society files indicate an adopted son named Walter LaFleur, but nothing is known about him, and he is not in the census records.

Orville Griffin died in 1900 and his executor sold the property to Hubert L. Cowles, who later owned a general store on Hartford Avenue. Hubert and his wife Edith had two daughters, both alive in 1930. In 1906 the property changed ownership again and was sold to Frank Devnew, who sold it to his son Philip Devnew five years later. None of the Devnew children died young. The Devnew men were blacksmiths, and later had a garage and car dealership, located in the former Masonic Hall building.

The first three owners of the house had no children. The next three owners had children, but no early tragic deaths. 

However, the available information tells an incomplete story. Any of the families could have had young relatives living with them. Many times, young children from poor families, some as young as eight years old, were sent to live with and work for, other families. If a child was in the house and died between census taking, there is no way of knowing. Friends or relatives could have been visiting. The house could have been rented to someone for a time. None of these possibilities would ever show up in official records.

Any house that is nearly 200 years old, has had many things happen in it. The historical society files do not show any violent deaths in #18. Generally, in a small town, most violent or tragic deaths were noted somewhere—often on the gravestone.

The young man seen in the house may be 25-year-old Sylvester Barnes. The identity of the sad little girl remains a mystery. Perhaps their spirits wander because they died too young, their lives unfinished.

Through the years, many different people have lived at 18 East Granby Road. I wonder how many of these residents were aware they shared their home with two others.

They seem to be gentle spirits, without malevolence. There was no poltergeist activity, no mysterious rocking chairs or unlocked doors. And the question is still unanswered, where will they go now that their home is gone?