Sylvester B. Butler Family

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Sylvester & Eva Butler


Sewall Tolbert Butler

Family Information

Sylvester Benjamin Butler: born July 26, 1892. died February 7, 1970
Eva Lutz Butler: born November 13, 1897. died January 20, 1969

Married: August 4, 1919

Sewall Tolbert Butler: born August 25, 1920


Short biography of Sylvester Benjamin Butler

[Some photos of Sylvester Butler]
[Sylvester's voice and piano]

Compiled by David Butler (grandson) from recollections of Sewall T. Butler (son) and Jacqueline W. Butler (daughter-in-law). May 1989. Additional information comes from Sylvester's files and letters. See his Letters from New Jersey and in the army.

Sylvester Benjamin Butler was born July 26, 1892 on "the plains" in Cromwell, CT. His parents were George Sylvester Butler, a nurseryman and horticulturist, and Carrie Savage Butler, daughter of Ralph Bulkley Savage and his wife Sarah Strickland Savage. Sylvester was the oldest of three children: a brother Ralph Savage Butler and a sister Lucinthia.

In a note in the "45 year record" of Yale College, he tells how his father gave him a small plot of ground to cultivate when he was about nine years old, with the agreement that the plot could get bigger each year so long as it was kept up and in good condition. The promise was faithfully kept and the love of gardening was something that remained with him well into his retirement.

He belonged to one of the first classes that attended Nathanial White school of Cromwell and graduated from Middletown High in 1909. In the fall of 1909 he began studies at Yale University in New Haven CT, where he majored in History and joined the Zeta Psi fraternity. He graduated from Yale in 1913. Other classmates of the Class of 1913 included Cole Porter (composer-lyricist), Alonzo Elliott (Composer of "There's a long long trail A'winding" and Averell Harrimann (Governor of New York). While at Yale he was witness to the 1910 appearence of Halley's Comet. He often told his grandchildren about watching the event from East Rock and the roof of Preston Hall, and how he hoped to be around to see it again in 1986.

On the occasion of his 50th College Reunion in June of 1963, I accompanied him to the event. As we drove to New Haven along Rt. 17, in his robin's egg blue Lark Studebaker, he told me how that was the same route that his Dad and he had taken, by horse and buckboard with his trunk loaded on the back, when he had gone off to school in the fall of 1909.

The summer before his senior year he worked for The Pope Manufacturing Company of Hartford, CT. He worked as a clerk in their accounting department. After college, he worked for a three years at Landers, Frary and Clark, a hardware manufacturer of New Britain, CT. Working first as an office assistant and later in cataloguing and sales work.

Sylvester went to New Jersey in August, 1916 to teach history and mathematics at Pleasantville High school. His letters go into great detail describing his work as well as his hopes and aspirations during this time. Among other activities he helped coach the Pleasantville High football team. While teaching there he met Eva Lutz (a student who graduated in 1917). Eva was a "protegee" of one of his fellow teachers, Gertrude Tolbert.

In May 1917 he joined the army and entered officer's candidate school at Plattsburg NY. He graduated with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in August of that year. He was assigned to the 301st Supply Train at Camp Devens in Ayers MA, where he rose to 1st Lieutenant and then to Captain in May of 1918. At first he was in charge of Company C, but later became adjutant to Major June in the train's Headquarters. While in Bridgeport CT, where the train was picking up trucks to bring back to Devens, he was in a motorcycle accident. Another man was driving the motorcycle and Sylvester was in the sidecar.

He was sent to France in August of 1918 just three months before the armistice that ended World War I. The Supply Train was first stationed in St. Amand-Montrond in Department Cher, but they moved to Le Havre, Nevers and Poitier during their stay. After Major June was transferred to a position in the Army of occupation, Sylvester became commanding officer of the Supply Train, which remained in France until June of 1919.

He returned to Connecticut after the war in June of 1919, and began looking for employment and planning his wedding. He married Eva Lutz August 4, 1919 in the town of Cape May Court House. They honeymooned at Lake Winnipasaukee in New Hampshire.

Sylvester taught 1 year at Middletown high. While in Middletown Eva apparently "collapsed in the street". She was taken to the hospital in a child's red wagon. The collapse put in jeopardy her pregnancy. All came through okay and Sewall Tolbert Butler their only child was born August 25, 1920 in Plymouth, CT. He was named for Sam Sewall (Sylvester's roommate at Yale) and Gertrude Tolbert (Eva's mentor and a teacher from Pleasantville High).

In September 1920 Sylvester became Principal of the high school in Terryville, CT. In his personal files is a document, dated April 1920 and signed by Ralph C. Jenkins, offering him the job for $2000 for the year. He worked there for 3 years.

From 1923 to 1926 he was Superintendent of Schools for Litchfield, CT., where he instituted several forward looking programs, including overhauling the teachers salaries. He was thwarted in an attempt to implement a "six - six" policy named for the concept of having 6 years of grammar school and 6 more for junior high. It was this defeat that caused Sylvester to turn in his resignation and look elsewhere for his future.

In 1925 he edited and co-wrote a book called, "The 301st Supply Train in the World War" published by Enquirer Print of Litchfield, CT. At least two copies have survived and helped to provide information for building the AEF section of this web site.

Next the family moved to Suffern NY where Sylvester was the Director of the Ramapo Valley Country Day School for the 1926/27 school year. The house they rented there had formerly been owned or lived in by Dan Beard, a man who had strong ties to the early days of Boy scouts.

In 1927 they moved to New York City where he taught History part-time at the Ethical Culture school and attended Columbia to get his Masters Degree. Sylvester stayed only one year but Eva, who was teaching at Bentley Elementary school, and Sewall stayed for a second year.

In 1928 Sylvester moved to Groton where he became Superintendent of the 1st and 8th School districts. (These included Col. Ledyard, Groton Heights and Eastern Point schools.) In 1931 he became the first Superintendent of the whole Groton School district. According to a newspaper article announcing this news, his salary would be $3700. He remained in this position until his retirement in August, 1956.

In 1935 he was appointed general chairman for Groton's observance of the Connecticut Tercentenary. Both he and his wife, Eva, were active in the preparations.

Eva bought the old James Woodbridge house on Gallup Hill Road in Ledyard in September 1941. She paid about $2800 for 2 houses and 13 acres. In succeeding years she acquired the two barns and nearly 100 acres. In 1939 she could have bought the house and barns and acreage for about $1900 but was talked out of it by Sylvester. Instead Eva went to University of New Mexico and studied for two years. When she returned even though the price had risen on the property, she went ahead and bought it from the Chapman family.

The S. B. Butler School of Ledyard was named for Sylvester shortly before his retirement. It opened its doors just before the 1953-1954 school year. Interestingly it had similar problems with a lack of desks and chairs as he had experienced in his first school in Pleasantville NJ. After retirement he worked as a fiscal consultant for the town of Groton. As an interesting aside the S. B. Butler School is mentioned in the 1990 film "Flatliner."

After his retirement, Slyvester had this to say about his career: "School's been out for me just a year. While it kept, the job was most of my life, which proverbially makes any one a dull boy. But, heavy as its pressures were, in an expanding community beset with financial problems it was never dull to me as a participant. Satisfaction in the eventual fruition of plans and emergence of solutions to insoluable problems had to be tempered with a realization of areas of incompleteness. But the personal rewards were rich especially in the kindness and goodwill of associates, constituants and friends, and most treasured of all, heart-warming flashbacks from students through the years. As for regrets, suppose we just say that it takes some of us a lifetime to acquire anywhere near the degrees of maturity, balance, and sense of proportion needed to meet all occasions. [And] learning too slowly that barks are indeed worse than bites."

Sylvester was a member of the Lions Club, serving as Deputy District Governor. He was also a member of the American Legion serving as Treasurer of Groton post #114 and as Commander of the 5th District, Department of Connecticut. He was also active in All Souls Church (Unitarian-Universalist) of New London where he held a number of positions including trustee, president and treasurer.

Sylvester died in February 1970 as the result of a car accident on Shewville Road in Ledyard CT. His wife Eva had died one year eariler of a heart attack. He was survived by his son Sewall, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

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Eva Lutz Butler

[Some photos of Eva Butler]
[Hear Eva speak]
[Eva's obituary]

[Excerpted from articles by Carol W. Kimball in The Day of New London, CT]

Historian Eva L. Butler was a remarkable woman, and I was privileged to count her as my friend. She came to Groton in 1928 when her husband, S. B. Butler, was appointed superintendent of Eastern Point and Groton Heights Schools. At the time Connecticut was making plans to celebrate its Tercentenary and she was swept into a maze of preparations.

Involved in research to determine the town's oldest houses she developed a notable map called "Old Homes and Home sites of Groton" showing those existing before 1800 and illustrated by her sister, Catherine Lutz. The map is in print in a map portfolio published in 1976 by the Mystic River Historical Society.

During the Tercentenary, Mrs. Butler interested a group in establishing the Fort Hill Indian Memorial Association, constructing a replica of an early settler's home at the summit of Fort Hill where the Pequot sachem Sassacus had his fort in 1637. The place operated as a museum displaying Indian artifacts and colonial relics.

As a result of her interest in local Indians, Eva became involved in some of the first archaeological excavations at Fort Shontock, Poquetannock and Ledyard. She studied at the Universities of Pennsylvania and New Mexico, and worked at the Robert Abbe Museum on Mt. Desert in Maine.

This tireless woman became acquainted with local Pequot and Mohegan Indians. Her photographs and notes are preserved at the Indian and Colonial Research Center in Old Mystic.

After the Butlers purchased the old James Woodbridge house on Gallup Hill in Ledyard, she taught extension courses there for Eastern Connecticut State University. Her classes were popular with teachers and included local history, nature study, archaeology, mythology and colonial literature. She and her students often prepared authentic colonial meals over her large fireplace.

Somehow, she found time to establish a Children's Museum in New London, which evolved into the Thames Science Center. She later founded the Tomaquag Indian Museum in Ashaway, Rhode Island, where her large artifact collection was displayed.

Eva believed history should be written only from primary sources, and she early convinced me of that. She did not drive a car, but her many friends gladly took her to town halls and libraries for research.

Copious notes about her discoveries eventually filled more than two thousand loose-leaf notebooks, stacked in confusion on makeshift shelves lining the walls of her home. She was fond of typing her material on bright purple carbons for a copying machine, rolling off dozens of duplicates. Some of these she distributed to her students. Others were filed in appropriate notebooks. Fortunately this ardent historian required little sleep and could devote long hours to her work.

She prepared concise summaries of all entries in the early volumes of New London and Groton Town Hall for their first volume.

Collections in the State Library at Hartford from the file on private controversies to probate records were investigated and were grist to her mill. She was fascinated with the Winthrop papers, a collection of letters written through the years by and to John Winthrop and his family. She found them at the Massachusetts Historical Society and carefully transcribed all that were pertinent to this area.

Friends constantly begged her to publish her work, but she would reply that she had not yet learned all there was to know about her subject. She had a horror of perpetuating errors in print as has been done in the past by careless historians. Besides, she was probably too busy answering requests from information from others who were writing books. She was always ready to help friends and strangers alike.

Sad to say, she published little in finished form except for a few articles and a children's story ("Two little Navajo's dip their sheep"). She is listed in the Library of Congress for "Uses of birch-bark in the Northeast" (1957) by Eva L. Butler and Wendell S. Hadlock. (E98.I5 B88) and "Along the shore," 1930 (QH1 .B84). Besides these few publications, she issued mimeographed titles herself from time to time. This was a great loss to our knowledge of local history for now we have only her working notes and unfinished writings which, without her own vast knowledge, are difficult to interpret.

Hospitalized with a heart attack in April 1965, she began to worry about the disposition of this valuable source material. A group led by Harry W. Nelson; poet, artist and retired teacher from Fitch High School in Groton; and Eva's special friend Mary Virginia Goodman formed the Indian and Colonial Research Center, Inc. From the town of Stonington they obtained the unused 1856 brick building in Old Mystic that once housed the Mystic National Bank. (See article below.) They have been restoring it ever since. The original officers of the corporation included Philip Perkins, treasurer; Jessie W. Kohl, corresponding secretary; and Carol W. Kimball, recording secretary.

With a $2000 grant from the Bodenwein Public Benevolent Foundation and muscle power and good hard work on the part of Harry Nelson and architect Sanford Meech, shelving was installed, furniture painted and a heating system provided. From the old farmhouse in Ledyard, thousands of notebooks and manuscripts and hundreds of printed volumes were moved to their new home.

By the summer of 1966, the center was in full swing, staffed entirely by volunteers, ready to help anyone interested in Indian lore, local history, genealogy, historic photographs and other phases of Americana. The organization, which now numbers over two hundred members, has preserved these papers making the Eva Butler library available for public research.

Eva Butler died in 1969 but her work goes on, a vital community resource supported not only by its members but by grants from local foundations and service clubs. A collection of Indian artifacts has been added to the original library, and an educational program has been developed by the staff for the benefit of area schools.

Some additional memories

by Jacqueline Butler Zeppieri (granddaughter)

My grandmother, Eva Lutz Butler, definitely preferred to be out-of-doors, having a lifelong interest in nature, botany, birds--every kind of natural science. She took us grandchildren on scores of woodland walks that she had enjoyed so much herself, pointing out plants and their names, and bringing home gallon jugs of pollywogs so we could watch them turn into baby frogs. Being a naturalist, of course she made sure they all went back to their pond as soon as the science lesson was completed. She recorded bird songs and helped us learn to identify the many birds in the Ledyard woods and fields surrounding her home. She let us help with Colonial candle-making using bayberries. We children were given pieces of string which we dipped into coffee cans of the wax mixture she had made. We were instructed to dip our string and then march once around the large downstairs of her home (built in 1732) through four rooms circling a massive fireplace, singing "Dip, Dip, Let it Cool," before dipping again and repeating the process.

I know she loved to ice skate as a young girl. It's mentioned many times in her letters. Being the oldest child and a daughter, though, I don't think she was what we think of as a tomboy. She knew how to crochet and knit and I remember her putting a "Lazy-Daisy" embroidery stitch on a little blanket while she baby-sat with us, about 1950.

She was unconcerned about "lead-time" when she wanted to do something. Sometime in the '60's she published a general invitation to the public and members of the Tomaquag Indian Museum to come for a Blueberry Festival--a meal with blueberry pie for dessert. Around the same time that most of the guests were arriving she sent my sister and me out to pick blueberries to make the pies! I have blanked out how we did it, but knowing my grandmother I have no doubt that eventually there were indeed blueberries pies for the festival. She was definitely a positive thinker.

The Mystic National Bank building

Built in 1856, the bank had closed when banking ceased in the village in 1889. Title to the sturdy brick bank with attached carriage shed passed to the town of Stonington. Situated in the heart of the village, it was used as a district voting hall until construction of a new Old Mystic elementary school in the early 1960s. No longer needed, the old bank stood empty and forgotten.

Officials at Mystic Seaport noticed the barred windows of the little brick structure and proposed to move the building down the road to the museum grounds where it would rechristened Ye Olde Jail. Led by Mrs. Jack Bucklyn, Old Mystic residents protested. For more than a century the old bank has been important to the village scene and they hated to see part of their heritage depart from Main Street, especially under false colors. The metal window bars had been installed after an attempted bank robbery in the 1870s and although tramps were occasionally locked up overnight in the district hall, the building was never a jail.

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Eva Lutz Obituary