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The ABCs Of Newtown: H Is For (Mary) Hawley, Part One



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“The ABCs of Newtown” is a series tying each letter of the alphabet to something in Newtown. This week we begin looking at the woman whose foresight for her hometown a century ago changed it in a very positive way, especially within The Borough.

Mary Elizabeth Hawley has been celebrated as The Benefactress of Newtown for just over a century. Her gifts to town began well before her death in May 1930, and her generosity continues to help this town’s residents learn, gather, and honor the dead through the creation of a public school, a town hall, and an expanded cemetery, among other offerings. Her example of honoring ancestors through the naming of important locations in their memory is a constant reminder to respect our ancestors.

Newtown needs to remember this woman, who lived a very quiet life in a beautiful home in the center of town for 75 of her 90 years on this earth. We need to remember her kindness and generosity, done “unselfishly and unceasingly for the good” of Newtown and its citizens, The Newtown Bee noted in her obituary.

“In all her benefactions and public gifts,” the newspaper further noted 92 years ago, “Miss Hawley has shown a fine sense of appreciation and discrimination. Although furnishing the means to accomplish all these great undertakings, Miss Hawley at no time has assumed a dictatorial attitude…”


Mary Hawley was the first child born to Sarah (Booth) and Marcus Hawley, on August 22, 1857. She was a descendant from one of the oldest families in New England.

Mary’s father, Marcus Clinton Hawley, was born in Bridgeport in 1834. He was a businessman with a very successful hardware store in Bridgeport.

“Sensing the needs of an expanding nation, he made a fortune in hardware and agricultural implements,” Mae S. Schmidle wrote in Newtown, Connecticut, published in 1989 by the League of Women Voters. “He foresaw the development of the West and invested accordingly in railroads, steamship lines, and water works.”

Marcus was the eighth generation in descent from Joseph Hawley, who sailed from England in 1650 and settled in Stratford.

At one time, Marcus Hawley was president of two railroads, a steamship company, and a major water company.

Mary’s mother was Sarah (Booth) Hawley, daughter of Cyrenius H. Booth, a noted physician in mid-19th Century Newtown. Sarah and Marcus were living in Bridgeport when Mary was born on August 22, 1857.

Mary was the only girl born to her parents, and their only child to survive into adulthood.

The couple had a son, William B., who died in 1864 at the age of 4; and Harrie C., who died in 1870 at the age of 3.

Sarah and Marcus’s third child, a son, William E., was born in 1865.

Marcus, Sarah, Mary and William moved to Newtown in 1872. Sarah had convinced her husband to move following the death of her father in 1871.

The Hawleys moved into the former home of Cyrenius, at 19 Main Street, which had been extensively renovated and nearly doubled in size ahead of their arrival. What has been used as a reception area in recent business incarnations of 19 Main Street would have been the parlor when the Booth and then Hawley families resided at the circa 1820 house.

William was 7 and Mary was 15 when the family moved to Newtown.

William died in 1880, just 15 years old. Mary was 23.

Failed Romance

Mary reportedly “had little to do with the social circles of young people in Newtown,” according to a July 2005 Newtown Bee feature. Hawley was “a quiet young lady, somewhat stout and heavy-featured like her father,” the paper further noted.

Mary and her mother regularly attended Trinity Episcopal Church; Mary also taught Sunday school there. Marcus Hawley was a member of Newtown Congregational Church.

In spring 1884, Mary met “the enthusiastic, popular young interim minister” of the church, the Reverend John A. Crockett. Crockett was filling in for one year, after Trinity’s pastor accepted an offer to travel in Europe for an extended period. A romance blossomed between the two, and a year later another unexpected event happened.

On June 4, 1885, Mary and Rev John traveled with Sarah and Marcus, Mary’s parents, to New York City. Mary, then 28, and John were wed, according to Newtown Remembered: An Oral History with Town Historian Dan Cruson, “in a very small wedding down on Wall Street with only her parents there. They were married in a side chapel.”

“The couple left for an extended honeymoon in Europe, and it is here that tales diverge,” Nancy K. Crevier wrote in The Newtown Bee in 2005.

Several weeks after the wedding, however, Mary returned from Italy to Newtown with her parents, and without her husband. Different sources cite different reasons, but the outcome was the same: the marriage was over.

Mary reportedly fell ill while on the honeymoon; John reportedly failed to care for her (or even show concern, according to some records), so she wrote to her parents and begged them to join her.

Upon her return to Newtown, “Mary Hawley stayed mostly out of the public eye and remained silent on the curious, short-lived marriage and breakup. It being the Victorian era, there was some amount of gossip and scandal surrounding her abrupt return,” Crevier wrote.

In his oral history referenced earlier, Cruson said the family “never talked again about the marriage.”

Townspeople did, of course.

“This has fascinated people in town and it generated stories, many of which I will not repeat because they are simply scurrilous,” Cruson said. “This is not folklore as far as that’s concerned. It was just an idle mind making a real scandal where there probably wasn’t one.”

Marcus Hawley died in 1899, leaving several million dollars to his wife and daughter.

Mary did not file for divorce from her husband until the following year — 15 years after the failed marriage. Cruson believed Mary did not want to go through with the filing, but also felt that it was due to the era in which she and her mother were living that forced Mary’s hand.

Had her marriage survived, the custom of Victorian times would have dictated that Mary’s belongings and inheritances would have become her husband’s property.

After the death of Marcus, Cruson felt “Sarah must have sat [Mary] down and said ‘Look, you’ve got to go through the divorce as painful as it may be, because otherwise if you die, he inherits your entire fortune.”’

After much research, Cruson uncovered the divorce deposition and learned the divorce was granted based on cruelty and desertion.

Ram Pasture, Hawley School

Sarah Hawley died in 1920, at the age of 90. Mary, then 63, became, as Crevier described her, “a wealthy spinster.”

After living for years under the rule of a mother described as extremely frugal — the two women reportedly patched clothes that could (or should) have been replaced, shunned many modern home improvements, and even continued to travel by horse and buggy — Mary purchased some modern clothes, a telephone, and even home improvements including a tiled bathroom.

Additionally, the family carriage horses Samson and Dewey were replaced by an automobile, a Pierce-Arrow car, for Mary’s daily excursions.

“Miss Hawley seemed to have had a little fun at last, taking daily drives and extended motor trips with new-made friends,” according to the 1975 League of Women Voters book Newtown, Past and Present.

Mary also inherited the 12.5-acre Ram Pasture, which had been in her mother’s family for at least two generations.

According to a late 1980s letter in The Newtown Bee from Howard Steck, son of Charles Steck, the proprietor in the 1920s of Steck’s Nursery, which adjoined Newtown Cemetery, Mary Hawley made at least one visit to the nursery in 1929.

According to the younger Steck, “The purpose of Miss Hawley’s visit was to unveil a plan to transform the Ram Pasture into a park with rose arbors, flower bordered garden walks, lawn areas and park benches, similar to the rose gardens of Hartford on a smaller scale.”

Plans for the garden “were progressing nicely,” according to Mr Steck’s letter, but before the project could become a reality, Miss Hawley died.

It was not disposed of in her will, however, so it went with the rest of her undistributed estate to Yale University.

In 1920, the town’s academy building burned under mysterious circumstances. On the advice of friend and financial advisor Arthur T. Nettleton, Mary Hawley financed the construction of a joint elementary-high/consolidated school, which became The Hawley School, at 29 Church Hill Road.

The gift was initially declined when taxpayers were reportedly afraid that the cost of coal to heat the building would be unaffordable. Once Mary offered to pay for the heating coal, the offer was accepted. Construction was completed in 1922.

Mary made sure, in a deed signed three years later, that provisions were made to have the school building and grounds maintained.

The school was considered one of the most advanced school buildings in the state at the time, featuring central heating and a state-of-the-art chemistry lab and full auditorium for community meetings. The building — which was named for Marcus and Sarah Hawley, not Mary — was also completely fireproof.

Nettleton also encouraged Mary to consider ways her money could further enhance her hometown.

Next week: A benefactress emerges.


Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

The first of a two-part installment in "The ABCs of Newtown" begins a look at the life and legacy of Mary Elizabeth Hawley.
Mary Elizabeth Hawley has been celebrated for her generosity to Newtown and its residents for over a century. A grand portrait of “Newtown’s Benefactress” was commissioned by residents, and unveiled one year after her death. Created by Frederick Lester Sexton, the portrait hangs in The Mary Hawley Memorial Room at Edmond Town Hall. —Bee Photo, Hicks
Pink booties in a display case near the main entrance of Cyrenius H. Booth Library are part of the library’s permanent collection. They belonged to Mary Elizabeth Hawley, whose generosity and family fortune made it possible for Newtown to build its first free public library 90 years ago. —Bee Photo, Hicks
This portrait of Mary Hawley — then Mary Hawley Crockett — was created by an Italian photographer in 1885 while the 28-year-old was on her honeymoon in Italy.
When completed in 1922, The Hawley School at 29 Church Hill Road was one of the most advanced school buildings in the state at the time, featuring central heating and a state-of-the-art chemistry lab and full auditorium for community meetings. The school was among the earliest gifts by Mary Elizabeth Hawley to her adopted hometown. —Bee Photo, Hicks
Built in the wake of a fire that destroyed Newtown Academy, The Hawley School was one of the most advanced school buildings in the state when it was completed in 1922. Among the required checkpoints for the new building: it had to be fireproof. —Bee file photo
The Hawley School was named in honor of Marcus and Sarah Hawley, the parents of Town Benefactress Mary Elizabeth Hawley. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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