After 224 Years, Townshends Selling Estate

History is for sale for $2.25 million on the East Shore — along with a whole lot of room for overnight guests of mulitple species.

The sale price is for the 26.25-acre Raynham Estate fronting at 709 Townsend Ave.

One of New Haven’s most prominent families has owned that property since 1797, when local merchants Isaac and Kneeland Townshend bought it. The Townshends constructed the main six-bedroom, two-and-half story Colonial home, now on the Federal Register of Historic Places, in 1804. The sprawling grounds include carriage and caretaker’s houses, a gazebo, and plenty of nature for a builder to destroy replace with new condos or rental properties.

The property stayed in the Townshend family’s hands, and remained a single-family residence, through more than two centuries of change in New Haven.

The last of the civic-leader Townshends, Doris (“Deb”), died this past August at the age of 98. (Click here to read in her obit about some of her many community responsibilities.) Her husband Henry died in 2012.

Now the heirs are selling the property. (Wiggin & Dana attorney David Kesner, agent for the trust that assumed ownership of the property after Henry’s death, declined comment for this article.)

The city assessor’s database — notorious for appraising and taxing properties at a fraction of the value they end up selling for — appraises the estate’s worth at $1.085 million.

Zillow began listing the estate this week at the $2.25 million asking price.

If some recent bidding wars in town are any indication, offers may come in higher.

“That sounds cheap in today’s market,” noted one close observer of the market who’s familiar with the property. “Some developer’s going to scoop that up in a minute.”

Anstress Farwell of the Urban Design League recommended that the eventual buyer preserve “a rare historic and cultural resource of national significance.”

“Like the East Shore’s historic lighthouse, Raynham has been a vivid and cherished landmark —  a beautiful vista from land and harbor, for almost two centuries,” Farwell argued.

“The Gothic Revival house is an outstanding example of its type. The romantic Gothic facades were built around the original Federal style home. Beautiful detailing from this earlier period can still be seen inside the house. The house and its historic setting, including its mature landscape with champion trees, original barns and outbuildings — all in excellent condition — makes this a place where a serious effort to find a buyer committed to its preservation is imperative.”

Preservation Trust’s Elizabeth Holt said the group is foremost concerned that the property and house not be “physically divided and/or altered without respect to its history and significance.” She spoke of “endless and creative” possible uses, “such as an event space.”

Melissa Bailey File PhotoChuck Mascola, a lifelong East Shore resident and former alder, said he was “shocked” and ”disappointed” to see the house go on the public market without restriction.

He recalled chatting with the late Henry Townshend about the property’s future. Townshend had at one point expressed an intent to donate that property to the New Haven Colony Historical Society, Mascola said.

Now Mascola fears that “an irresponsible and insensitive development” will “destroy” the property.

“I had hoped for a continuation of what is such an iconic part of the East Shore of New Haven: Private ownership by people who are stewards of the land,” Mascola said. “I realize that might be unrealistic in this day and age.”

Tags: Townshend estate, Raynham Estate, open space, Deb Townshend

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posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 3, 2021  6:00pm

Paul, your statement about the assessor’s database is overblown.  As the two linked stories indicates, recent sales prices of two classes of properties have been consistently well above their appraised values – large apartment complexes and parking lots in or near downtown. But as the data Tom Breen has compiled shows, this has not been the case for single family homes and small multifamily properties. Generally, their sales prices have been consistent with their appraisals, adjusted for inflation as measured by the CPI. And the gap between current sales prices of apartment complexes and parking lots and the appraisals conducted almost five years ago does not mean the appraisals were flawed. In the interval, a number of large parking lots have become far more valuable apartment complexes. Developers are paying above appraised value for the lots because they think can make money, by building similar complexes or complements to 100/101 College Street.

Razing the main house would be a huge loss. A less destructive (and potentially profitable) alternative would be converting it to high end condos or apartments, analogous to the conversions of the Red Cross building and Church of the Redeemer. And as Esbey notes, there are many options for the remainder of the property.

Apriori and Bipartisan, the city can’t properly maintain the parks it has now, in large part due to dramatic reductions in staffing. And while there are several parts of the city that are definitely short of open space, the East Shore is not one of them (although its parks could use some TLC).

posted by: Heather C. on June 4, 2021  4:32pm

Turn it into a State park like Gillette’s Castle
and use and maintain the house as a historical time capsule museum like they do at Gillette, but also make it available to rent out for weddings and events like they do at the Lighthouse Carousel
Turn it into a B&B/hotel that can be rented for events like weddings and conferences, with the grounds and the house remaining and maintained as is and preserved as a national historical treasure and the grounds as open green space like the deal that Quinnipiac Medical School (formerly BCBS campus) made with the Town of North Haven where residents can walk freely on the grounds.