Way Back When … 1908
Published 12:00 am, Friday, February 23, 2018
Driving through Fairfield several iconic places feature the Jennings name: Jennings Beach, Jennings Road, Jennings School and more. The Fairfield branch of the Jennings family, pictured here in 1908, was founded in 1650 when Joshua Jennings came to Connecticut. Over the next three hundred years, his descendants would become an indispensable part of Fairfield society.
Not much is known about the Jennings family during the years of 1675-1780, but members of the family were active in the farming industry. Captain Abraham Gould Jennings lived between 1781 and 1852. As a youth, Captain Jennings made several trips to the Orient, as well as a groundbreaking trip around Cape Horn. He was also highly involved in a high spirited chase with the British Navy during the War of 1812. He eventually settled down in Fairfield with his wife, Anna Burr, whom he had married in 1807. Together they reared a group of children including: Augustus Gould Jennings (b.1814), Isaac Jennings (b. 1823) and Oliver Burr Jennings (b. 1825).
Jennings Brothers was founded in 1860 by Augustus and Isaac. The company was originally founded in order to manufacture paper, but in 1867 they began to produce Japanese Paper Ware. These specialty patented products were “molded out of one piece of hemp fiber under heavy hydraulic pressure.” Afterwards, they were painted and and varnished to resemble Japanese lacquer. Augustus went on to become a driving force in the Fairfield community. Captain Isaac was a devout Episcopalian and sailed around the world. He also represented his town in the state legislature. His son Charles held several jobs after the demise of Jennings Brothers including selling wooden bowls, operating the Henry H. Perry Insurance Agency and was the treasurer of the Southport Savings Bank.
Oliver Burr Jennings (b. 1825) spent his youth in Fairfield before moving to New York City to open a dry goods business. During the gold rush, O.B. moved to California where he opened another general store. Jennings married Esther Judson Goodsell and had several children. He later partnered with William and John D. Rockefeller to form Standard Oil. Jennings moved back East and his family divided their time between the Jennings’ homestead in Fairfield and 48 Park Avenue in New York City. O.B. was also a philanthropist who helped pay for the paving of several Fairfield roads and he co-founded the Fairfield Public Library and the Fairfield Beach Company.
Annie Burr Jennings (1855-1939), O. B.’s daughter, was born in San Francisco but spent a great deal of her life at Sunnie-Holme in Fairfield. She created Sunnie-Holme out of two houses that had been built by John B. Steenbergen in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1914 she established the Audubon Birdcraft Sanctuary and in 1916 bought a home on Unquowa Road to give to the Town for use as a high school. Annie also donated sixteen acres of beachfront property for public use. She led the woman’s anti-suffrage movement in Fairfield and a crusade against FDR’s New Deal. Annie died in July 1939, two months before Fairfield’s tercentenary.
Walter Jennings (1858-1939) was also born to O. B. and his wife in San Francisco. He spent most of his life in Fairfield and attended Hopkins Grammar School and Yale University. Walter dedicated his life to philanthropic works and divided his time between Fairfield and Burrwood, his estate in Oyster Bay on Long Island. Another daughter of O. B.’s, Esther Brewster Jennings, was born in San Francisco on Dec. 6, 1861. She married Hugh Dudley Auchincloss on November 19, 1891. Esther divided her time between Dormy House, Sasco Hill and Hammersmith Farm in Newport, RI. She died on April 21, 1913.
Oliver Gould Jennings (1865-1936), son of O. B. Jennings, was a charter member of the Fairfield Historical Society and the original building was named for him. He served as President of the Historical Society, the Fairfield Memorial Library, the Board of Fairfield Trust Company, the Fairfield Beach Company and the Resident Town Council. He was said to control the local Republican Party. Oliver also paid for the paving of several roads in Fairfield, donated acres of land to the town, paid for renovations of the Episcopal Church and created the Improvement Association of Fairfield & Vicinity. Their goal was to eliminate mosquitoes in the Fairfield area. In 1906 Oliver spent one million dollars to build a mansion named Mailands, a French chateau that sat on seventy-six acres. After his death in 1936, the Jesuits took ownership of the property and turned it into Fairfield Preparatory School. Today is it Fairfield University’s McAuliffe Hall.
Oliver C. Jennings was born on August 28, 1863 to Horace and Helen Jennings. He attended school in Fairfield and then went into the meat business with his father. In 1866 he opened up a butcher shop and from 1874-1893 ran a grocery store in Fairfield.
Have you ever wondered about your family’s history? If so, the Fairfield Museum & History Center’s next History Bites Lunchtime Lecture is for you! At “Getting Started with Genealogy,” to be held Wednesday, February 28 from 12:30pm to 1:30pm, Dr. Elizabeth Rose, Library Director at the Fairfield Museum, will talk about how to start researching your family’s history using the Museum’s records and online. Betty Oderwald will talk about the standards that are used by lineage societies like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the U.S. Daughters of 1812. The program is free for Museum members with a $5 suggested donation for non-members. Please bring a bagged lunch. Beverages and dessert will be provided.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org. The Fairfield Museum relies on funding from individuals, corporations and foundations. The Museum is especially grateful for leadership support from the State of Connecticut, Town of Fairfield and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.