519 Boston Post Road
For a very long time, stories have circulated that the Talcott Bradley House is the haunt of at least one spectral visitor—and its new owners can confirm that odd occurrences distinguish this wee house from many others along the Boston Post Road.
While the Talcott Bradley house is said to have been built in 1760, some features of the house, such as its chamfered beams, mantle, and woodwork, indicate that construction may have occurred at an earlier date. Some say that the house may date from “a generation earlier,” so perhaps it was built as early as 1740. The builder is also uncertain. It may have been built by Talcott’s father, Deacon Ashbel Bradley, the first known owner of the house, or by his grandfather Benjamin.
The house features three fireplaces and has an exceptionally steep roof pitch, creating a spacious attic, which contains a hidden space large enough to accommodate a person. This well-preserved home, recently sold and repainted in its familiar red color, is architecturally significant as a fine local example of colonial-era housing stock.
Born in 1799, Talcott himself did not begin to inhabit the house until 1831, a good while after his father’s death in 1817. He was a well-known fisherman in the area and was known to use a conch shell to announce the return of the coastal schooners that carried Madison produce to New York City. He owned a considerable amount of land along the shore between East Wharf and West Wharf—and he sold one of his lots to a Mrs. Dexter from Michigan, who built Madison’s first summer cottage in 1867.
Two of Talcott's three sons and his son-in-law Samuel Willard were killed in the Civil War. The MHS owns the coffin plate of Talcott's oldest son, John Tibbals Bradley, born in 1827 to Eunice Bradley. She died during the following year at the age of 20, just a year and half after her marriage to Talcott. John was a second lieutenant in the Union Army when he died of wounds sustained at Hatcher’s Run, Virginia.
William also later died in service, survived by his parents, his brother Henry, and their two sisters, Margaret and Emily. When William enlisted, he was in the fine company of their sister Margaret’s husband, Captain Samuel Willard. As the two young men left Madison, in the same regiment called Scranton’s Guards, Margaret asked Samuel to look after her brothers. As related by a direct descendant, Margaret told her husband to “keep them close and not let anything happen to them.”
At Antietam, where Henry also fierce firefight that took the lives of more than 22,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, Samuel kept William directly behind him in the heat of the battle. William Bradley caught his brother-in-law in his arms when Samuel was struck by the bullet that ended his life. Antietam remains the bloodiest single-day battle in American military history.
In a letter to Margaret that proved to be his last, Samuel wrote,
"I do not regret that I have fallen in defence of my country; I have loved you truly and know that you have loved me, and in leaving this world of sin I go to another and better one, where I am confident I shall meet you. I freely forgive all my enemies, and ask them for Christ's sake to forgive me. If my body should ever reach home, let there be no ceremony; I ask no higher honor than to die for my country -- lay me silently in the grave, imitate my virtues, and forgive all my errors. I prefer death in the cause of my country, to life in sympathy with its enemies."
Six days after the battle, Talcott Bradley helped lay his son-in-law to rest in Madison’s West Cemetery. Margaret, then childless, left Madison to join a missionary group in Eastern Europe. There she befriended a young woman with two children; when the woman died, Margaret adopted those children—a boy and a girl—and returned to Madison.
Henry survived his Civil War service, although his obituary reveals that he was wounded in the battles at Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, and was imprisoned at Libby Prison. The father, Talcott, lived here in this little red house until 1880; his daughter Emily, who married William Morris Wilcox, was the first in a long line of Wilcoxes to own the house thereafter.
It is believed that John’s mother, Eunice, may haunt this house, although she never lived here. The figure of a young woman has been seen at the foot of the stairs at the front of the house. Dressed in colonial attire and wearing a close-fitted bonnet, she appears in the dim morning light and vanishes when approached. It is not known whether she ever appeared to Talcott’s second wife, Margaret, mother of the younger two sons and two daughters. Recently, the newest owners heard some unexplained opera music in the vicinity of the front rooms of the house, as well as a clearly audible oration in a male voice, presumably practicing some reading: A sermon? A theatrical piece? We may never know who exactly haunts these halls.
In the 1920s, the house became the headquarters and, on occasion, the dormitory of the well-known Jitney Players, who produced theatrical performances on the home’s lawn in the summertime—that is, when they were not traveling around the country in a vehicle described as “an old jalopy,” putting on plays for other audiences than the townsfolk of Madison. At that time, the house was owned by Alice and Bushnell Cheney, the founders of the troupe. Their efforts contributed to the beauty of this home’s expansive woodland gardens, characterized by pathways, native rhododendrons, and a performance barn. Among the patrons of the first subscription season in 1931 were Connecticut Governor Wilbur Cross and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.