Saturday, January 7, 2023

Chicory Hill

On December 10th 1926, Leonard Cline and his second wife Katharine Gridley (who were married only a month earlier on November 9th) purchased a large amount of land in rural Mansfield, Connecticut, to the north of Willimantic.

On December 23rd, The Willimantic Chronicle reported on the sale by the Tryson Real Estate Agency of “Koulaga place on Wormwood Hill, Mansfield, seventy-five acres of land with buildings, to Leonard and Katharine Cline of New York City.” The land had also been known as  Knoll Crest, but the Clines renamed it Chicory Hill.

Cline sent a small photograph of the house at Chicory Hill to his ex-wife, Louise, and their two children, Mary Louise and Leonard III. Cline wrote: “This is the house, perhaps 200 years old. All hand-hewn oak beams, doors of one plank, hinges and latches hand-wrought, four fireplaces and a huge Dutch oven. I built half the furniture. White roses around it; and in front an ancient haunted orchard.” 


On May 10th, 1927, Katharine Gridley Cline signed a quitclaim deed that released to her husband and his heirs “all her rights of dower and other interests” in the property. Less that one week later, in the early hours of May 16th, a tragic event happened that changed the entire trajectory of Cline’s life.

Wilfred Irwin, who was staying with Cline at Chicory Hill, was wounded by a shotgun after a drunken quarrel. When the authorities arrived, Cline was found carrying the shotgun. Irwin was taken to a nearby hospital, but he died some hours later, and the State of Connecticut, looking into the matter,  charged Cline with first degree murder. The trial began in September 1927, but ended abruptly after four days of jury selection when Cline pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to one year in jail, with a $1,000 fine.

Cline spent his sentence in the Tolland Jail. His second wife Katharine deserted him, and Cline re-converted to Catholicism—he had first converted to Catholicism in his youth, but in his college days at the University of Michigan he had become atheist. Cline was released from jail two months early, his sentence shortened for good behavior. On July 15th 1928, he returned to his home at Chicory Hill, where some friends had arrived to assist and support him.

On August 31st, he received three special visitors, his ex-wife, Louise, and their children Mary Louise and her younger brother Leonard. I believe these two small photos of the home at Chicory Hill were taken then.

Sixty-some years later Cline’s daughter reminisced about that summer at Chicory Hill: The house had a little entry, and a square staircase. There was a large middle room, a massive stone fireplace and a dutch oven. To the left there were two adjoining rooms, one used as a bedroom, the other as a sitting room or office. The house had no plumbing. On one side of the house was a carriage entry, covered to pull in a wagon. (Her father wanted to expand the house on this side.)  There was an old barn down the hill, with a stone foundation and a wooden top.

At some point in the latter half of 1928, Cline reconciled with his first-wife, and they planned to remarry after Cline could achieve some financial stability. Louise and the children returned to Baltimore, and in late November or December 1928, Cline went to New York City, where his friend Henry Luce, whom Cline had known in Baltimore, had given him a job on Time magazine.

While in jail Cline had made plans to turn Chicory Hill into a kind of artist’s colony, with writers, poets and artists in residence, but the idea never came to any fruition. Cline died of heart failure in mid-January 1929. Chicory Hill was sold to pay off some of the large debt he had left behind.

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