Fairfield’s prominence brought many important visitors to town, including President George Washington, who recorded his October 16, 1789 visit in his journal. The newly inaugurated president of the United States likely spent the night at Samuel Penfield’s Sun Tavern on his tour surveying damage from the Revolutionary War. The destruction from the 1779 burning was so widespread that it was still evident ten years later when Washington wrote: “The destructive evidences of British cruelty are yet visible both in Norwalk and Fairfield, as there are chimneys of many burnt houses standing in them yet.”
Sun Tavern was among a handful of taverns in town that were newly built at that time, replacing structures that had been destroyed by the British. At the time, it took two days to travel from New York to Fairfield by carriage on the Boston Post Road, so travelers needed a place to stay overnight and refresh their horses. The Sun Tavern was a lively establishment where Samuel Penfield provided much needed food, drink and lodging. Sun Tavern was also a popular meeting place for lawyers and judges attending court next door. Local farmers and sea captains, along with mill and shop owners would have enjoyed a beer or cider and a plate of oysters here as well.
The Sun Tavern closed its doors by 1818. Over the next 160 years the building became a private residence to pastors of First Congregational Church, New York City businessmen and a stage actor and his family, who used it primarily as a summer getaway. By the 1970s, the structure had fallen into disrepair.
Peter Burr, chief justice of the Superior Court of colonial Connecticut, built the Burr Homestead around 1732. He passed it on to his grandson Thaddeus Burr and his wife Eunice Dennie Burr after their marriage in 1759. In 1775, the Homestead sheltered Dorothy Quincy, fiancée of patriot leader John Hancock, after she fled from the Battle of Lexington, where on April 19th the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired. She remained in town until Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, joined her.
On August 23, 1775 Reverend Andrew Elliot of First Congregational Church married the Boston couple at the Burr residence. Local lore tells that, before the wedding, a young Aaron Burr came to visit his second cousin Thaddeus and pay his respects to Miss Quincy.
On July 7, 1779, the American Revolution came to Fairfield. British troops led by General Tryon came ashore from ships on Long Island Sound. Many of the town’s men, including Thaddeus Burr, were away fighting or working on behalf of the patriot cause when Fairfield was attacked and set ablaze.
Families fled inland, but Eunice Burr remained at home. General Tryon, who had visited with the Burrs, sent a guard to protect Eunice. Despite his assurances, Eunice wrote in her diary, British soldiers ransacked her house, destroyed furniture, stripped the silver buckles from her shoes, then set the Homestead ablaze.
Not to be defeated, in 1790 the Burrs hired Daniel Dimon, a Fairfield architect and carpenter, to build a new house based on plans sent to them by John Hancock of his own Boston residence.
The present house was built on the original foundation.
In the mid 1800s the Burr Homestead was enlarged and remodeled into a 15-room Greek Revival mansion with a stately colonnaded porch and classical details.
Today the mansion is owned by the Town of Fairfield and managed by the Fairfield Museum; it can be rented for events.
Elizabeth Alden ran a tavern that served military and political advisers visiting Governor Trumbull and the Council of Safety, as well as many soldiers, merchants, and citizens traveling the busy highway crossroads in Lebanon’s center.