The Boothe Brothers—A Stratford Story of Wealth, Generosity, and a Touch of Scandal!
by Andréa Byrne
Two of the last descendants of The Booth family were David Beach Boothe and Stephen Nichols Boothe, born two years apart shortly after the end of the Civil War.
The brothers were born in their family Homestead, which was built in 1820 over the original foundation from 1663. It was vastly remodeled by the brothers in 1913-1914 and still stands, serving now as the Museum for Boothe Memorial Park.
As staunch abolitionists, the family had restored the ‘e’ to their names to distance themselves from John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
David and Stephen grew up working hard on their family farm, but following the Industrial revolution they became involved in a variety of business and property adventures.
They began to create and build some 22 buildings on their remaining 32 acres of land, and when they died (Stephen in 1948, David in 1949), it was found that they had willed all of their wealth, buildings, and land to the Town of Stratford if the town would maintain it and open it as a free park for the public.
To say that the buildings are unique is an understatement. The Redwood building was erected in 1932 from 4’x6′ redwood planks, the first redwood shipped east of the Mississippi River through the Panama Canal. David said, “Fancy architects have come to gawk, and we never went to architecture school.”
They also recreated a Blacksmith shop, Windmill, Clock Tower, an Outhouse, Trolley Station, Miniature Lighthouse, a Sunken Garden which they used for Sunday sermons and other events, and many old barns once used on the farm. A building called the Bell Tower was unfortunately taken down by the town in 1972, but was so odd — it was “neither round, nor square, nor plumb”— that it made it into Ripley’s “Believe it or Not.”
In the 1980’s, the Friends of Boothe Park was formed to help the town restore and develop the park and its buildings to what the Boothe brothers wished it to be. With the hard work of dozens of volunteers over the years, many barns and other buildings have been opened and other structures have been added, such as a beautiful Rose Garden and a Toll Station Plaza from the Merritt Parkway.
A Boy Scout rebuilt David and Stephen’s beloved Bird House, which is occupied by birds today and is a joy to see. Other Scouts have done projects that enrich the park in so many ways.
The site is very popular and used for picnics, visits to the museum buildings, winter sports, special events, weddings, school programs, meetings and social events, as well as a way to spend the day in peace, quiet, and reflection strolling the grounds. With fall colors on their way, you might want to keep that in mind.
What a gift we have been given by two very generous and ingenious men: the Boothe brothers.
Oh, yes! The scandal! Here’s just a tidbit: When David was in his early 50’s he married Ruth Norton, a distant cousin half his age. Stephen was away at the time and when he returned, he was not pleased. It caused a rift between the brothers and Ruth, with bitter words and accusations flying this way and that and landing on the front pages of the newspapers. David and Ruth divorced within three years.
Stephen, however, had secrets of his own, but to find out about those and how the brothers reconciled, you’ll need to stop by the museum to pick up a copy of Red, White and Boothe, the marvelous full pictorial story of this incredible place and these whimsical and fascinating men. The book was created with love by The Friends of Boothe Park.
The Boothe Memorial Park and Museum are located at 5774 Main Street Putney. The park is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the museum is open seasonally Tues. and Fri., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Call (203) 381-2046 to verify museum hours.