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The Dwights of Dwight Avenue

Called Franklin Street on earlier maps as it was the main road south to Franklin Iron Works and later Franklin Springs, today’s Dwight Avenue was named that after 1878. Why is it known today as Dwight Avenue? Who were the Dwights?

The Dwight story begins, at least in more recent times, with Yale President Timothy Dwight(1752-1817) whose mother was Mary Edwards, daughter of colonial religious leader Jonathan Edwards. (Jonathan Edwards, the younger, came to Clinton in 1791 and helped start the Society of Clinton, the predecessor to the Stone Presbyterian Church).

President Dwight served Yale from 1795 to 1817 and was the dominant figure in the established order of Connecticut throughout these years, a staunch Calvinist and an ardent Federalist.

Timothy’s son Benjamin Woolsey Dwight(1780-1850) graduated from Yale College in 1799 and studied medicine under Drs. Rush and Physic in Philadelphia. He practiced medicine in Catskill, New York between 1803 and 1805 when poor health caused him to end his brief medical career. He suffered his entire life from asthma, which, he found, was aggravated by his answering night calls of his patients.

In 1805 Dr. Dwight moved to New Haven, Connecticut where he engaged in the crockery business with the firm Belden, Dwight and Company, but he left shortly and had a business, Dwight, Palmer, and Company, in New York City until the War of 1812 depressed business conditions.

Dr. Benjamin Woolsey Dwight had these children: Theodore William Dwight(1822), Benjamin Woodbridge(1816), Sophia(1818), Mary(1824), Edward(1827), and Elizabeth(1831 in Clinton).

Dr. Dwight was an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Catskill and was active in giving Bible instruction on the Sabbath. He also was “fond of addressing the colored people of the place, regularly on Sunday evening, in a neighboring school house, where they gathered in large numbers to hear him.”

From 1813 to 1816 he lived in New Haven and married Sophia Woodbridge Strong in 1815. In 1817 he returned to Catskill and stayed there as a hardware merchant until he moved to Clinton in 1831. Dwight bought 80 acres and built the home at 83 College Street. His lands extended south and east to the current Franklin Avenue area. Dwight served as Hamilton College Treasurer until his 1851 death. His wife’s brother was Hamilton Professor Theodore Strong. Benjamin Woolsey Dwight is buried in Sunset Hill where his gravestone reads, “born Northampton, Mass. February 1780, died Clinton May 18, 1850, treasurer of Hamilton College.”

After Dr. Dwight died his home at 85 College Street went to his son, Theodore, who lived there when in Clinton. Theodore also bought 87 College Street around 1855, but probably never lived there.

Yale President Timothy Dwight had another son, Sereno Edwards Dwight, (1786-1850) who studied at Yale. (For the record six of the first seven Hamilton College presidents were Yale graduates.) He was Chaplain of the U.S. Senate and in 1817 was pastor of Park Street Church in Boston where he remained ten years. Ill health forced him to resign and return to New Haven where he occupied himself in writing the life and editing the works of Jonathan Edwards, the elder, which were published in 1829.

With another brother, Henry, Sereno opened a school in New Haven on the plan of a German gymnasium in 1828, but left four years later when he was chosen Hamilton College President in 1832.

To recap then in 1831 Dr. Benjamin Dwight moved to Clinton, bought an 80 acre farm and became Hamilton College treasurer, and in 1833 his younger brother Sereno became the third Hamilton President. The brothers Dwight held the top two administrative positions on the Hill for only a brief stint as Sereno resigned after two years due to poor health.

In Hamilton College A History 1812 1962 Walter Pilkington relates the financial and curriculum problems the second Hamilton President Henry Davis’ term had seen with heavy debt being a troubling situation. Sereno Dwight took the presidency with full knowledge of this, it would seem, as his brother was then Hamilton treasurer, succeeding the late Othniel Williams(builder of the Alexander Hamilton Inn as a private home between 1825 and 1830).

Sereno Dwight was paid $1000 per year, provided a house, and $4.00 for each student up to an enrollment of 200. Dwight, according to Pilkington, was “a tall, dignified and learned person, considered by many to be the handsomest man in America.” He was popular on the Hill and was “a knowledgeable instructor and a splendid orator.” His life had been made miserable for many years by “salt rheum” from the after effects of a mercury treatment for a lung fever contracted in early manhood.

Pilkington relates that Sereno was not told the full story of Hamilton’s financial plight so he spent much time raising money, but was not completely successful. Sereno was frustrated with Hamilton’s deteriorating money problems and considered abandoning the Clinton location and moving to Utica.

This proposal caused a violent reaction from Clinton, and the Board of Trustees rejected it whereby Dwight presented the Board with a “vitriolic letter of resignation.”

While Sereno Dwight was now out of the Clinton picture in 1835 two sons of Dr. Benjamin W. Dwight became prominent in Clinton: Theodore William Dwight and Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight.

Theodore William Dwight was born in Catskill, New York in 1822 and moved with his family to Clinton in 1831. Theodore went to Hamilton College and graduated in 1840. Dwight taught at Utica Academy in 1841 at a salary of $400.00. A comment in a document from the Utica Academy stated, “does not intend to make teaching a permanent profession.” He took a law degree at Yale and then returned to teach at Hamilton between 1842 and 1858, the last few years being head of Hamilton’s Law School. In 1858 he was invited to establish a department of law at Columbia University in New York City where he was Columbia’s only lecturer in law for the next 14 years. 85 College Street to the right built in 1831 by Dr. Dwight.

Columbus University has an inscription on the East Gate in his memory. In New York City the Dwights lived at 43 Lafayette Street, 41 East 49th Street, and for many years, at teh Brevoort Hotel on lower 5th Avenue.


Information in this article is as correct and factually accurate as possible. If you notice a fact that you believe is incorrect, please let us know. Comments are always welcome.

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