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Exploring Newtown’s Historical Places: Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden



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Discover the past and present of some of Newtown’s lesser-known historical sites in The Newtown Bee’s new series that is dedicated to retracing the role these places once played in the town and what they stand as today.

Formerly: Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden

Currently: Big Buddha Cigar Lounge

Location: 27 Hawleyville Road in Hawleyville

When was it built or established? According to town records, the two-story building was built in 1850.

What is its historical significance? In June of 1928, a local entrepreneur named William Upham (1880-1949) purchased the building located on the west side of Route 25, just north of the railroad tracks, to use as a tea house, which were common attractions for that time period.

On the same road, he had opened The Upham Food Products Plant years before, where he manufactured his invention of the tea ball (the predecessor to the tea bag) and made a significant fortune.

In A Mosaic of Newtown History by Newtown Historian Daniel Cruson, it revealed that “His father had been the United States Tea Commissioner under presidents Cleveland and McKinley, which explains William Upham’s later interest in tea and its packaging.”

Mr Upham became well-known in Newtown for his businesses, as well as from living on the corner of Hanover Road and Dinglebrook Lane with his wife in what people referred to as “The Chateau.”

In the 2003 article “Sleepy Hawleyville Was A Lot Livelier 100 Years Ago — The End Of Land’s End Road,” The Newtown Bee reported that Mr Upham was even responsible for putting in the connector road from Hawleyville to Route 6.

“In truth, Upham was really the one who put Hawleyville on the map,” Mr Cruson said in the article.

Part of that positive reputation came from the spectacular draw of Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden, a place he created to house his extensive collection of Japanese and Chinese antiques and furniture.

“It consisted of a modest private dining room, a reception area, an oriental gift shop, and to the west was an enclosed dining porch which overlooked the pond. The landscape was further enhanced by electric lights which were placed all around the pond and bridges to create a stunning effect at night. It was Upham who was responsible for bringing electricity to Hawleyville in 1928, first for his tea house and factory and then for anyone else who wanted to hook up to the lines,” A Mosaic of Newtown History describes.

There were also rowboats and canoes onsite for patrons to enjoy and bath houses for those who wanted to change into bathing suits and sit outside on the sandy beach.

In 1930, the pond was extended and an island was built for an 18-hole miniature golf course, because, as Mr Cruson told The Newtown Bee, Mr Upham was “a miniature golf fanatic.”

The golf course was considered one of the largest in Connecticut at the time, and since it was outdoors and could not be played at during the wintertime, Mr Upham purchased a larger building to house an indoor 18-hole miniature golf course.

The Tea Garden remained a popular local landmark in town throughout the late-1920s and early-1930s.

“It was a hobby, however,” A Mosaic of Newtown History states, “and whether he just grew tired of it or whether it began to lose money in the depth of the Depression, he closed the whole complex only a couple years after the indoor golf course was finished.”

What occupies it today? Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden may have closed more than 80 years ago, but its building still stands. Today, it is home to the Big Buddha Cigar Lounge, owned by Newtown resident Bryan Roth.

The business has been open since 2010 and sells more than 400 cigar choices, cigar accessories, pipes, tobacco, and vintage tobacciana.

“Cigar smokers in Western Connecticut not only have a place to purchase cigars… but a place to enjoy them as well,” its website states. “Big Buddha consists of a retail shop, a public smoking room, and a membership lounge.”

Over the years, Big Buddha Cigar Lounge has kept its location’s legacy alive by offering both a unique hobby and attraction for residents. It also hosts community events in Hawleyville, including a recent fundraiser for The Avielle Foundation that took place earlier this summer.

Interested in learning more about a specific historical place in Newtown? Send suggestions to features reporter Alissa Silber at alissa@thebee.com or call 203-426-3141.

William Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden opened in June of 1928 and became a popular attraction for residents. Inside the building was a tearoom along with Mr Upham’s collection of Chinese and Japanese furniture and antiques, while outside included an oriental garden. —Images of America: Newtown 1900 to 1960 photo
What was once Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden back in the late-1920s/early-1930s, is now Big Buddha Cigar Lounge in Hawleyville. The view from the backyard, on August 28, shows the building, far right, as well as a fire pit with seating and the original pond that now has lush greenery around it. —Bee Photo, Silber
Big Buddha Cigar Lounge, 27 Hawleyville Road, currently occupies the former Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden site that closed more than 80 years ago. —Bee Photo, Silber
Inside Big Buddha Cigar Lounge is an archway that pays homage to the property’s past by displaying a variety of framed old photographs that show what the building and land originally looked like. —Bee Photo, Silber
An old photograph framed at Big Buddha Cigar Lounge appears to show the interior of William Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden with his many antiques. —Bee Photo, Silber
William Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden had a tearoom with seating for guests, which is presumed to be shown in this old photograph now on display at Big Buddha Cigar Lounge. —Bee Photo, Silber
The view from the back deck of Big Buddha Cigar Lounge in Hawleyville shows seating as well as the pond that was once a main focal point of Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden design. —Bee Photo, Silber
William Upham extended the lake outside his Japanese Tea Garden, pictured here circa 1930, and created an island with an 18-hole miniature golf course. The island was connected to the mainland by rustic bridges. —Images of America: Newtown 1900 to 1960 photo
At William Upham’s Japanese Tea Garden in Hawleyville, he constructed one of the largest miniature golf courses in Connecticut on an island in the lake, as seen here in 1930. —Legendary Locals of Newtown photo
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