Island’s life recalled in Allyn book

By Barbara Reed

Day Staff Writer   November 26, 1979 

MYSTIC James H. Allyn knows Masons Island like the palm of his hand. And his recently published book, “Major John Mason’s Great Island,” is proof of this. But this knowledge is also evident when Allyn talks about the island, a tract of about 300 acres off Rt. 1. And, as Allyn talks, one can easily imagine the pastoral scenes he remembers when he and his family first came to the island for summers.

Born in New London and raised in the Jordan Village section of Waterford, the 68-year-old Allyn came to the island with his parents in 1912 when he was four years old. His family first lived near the gatehouse entrance to the island — now considered by many as one of the more exclusive residential areas in Southeastern Connecticut.

Allyn accepts the reputation the island has attained. But, he says, it is a bit overplayed. He and his development company have purposely seen to it that the island’s rapid growth over the years has included building lots with varying price levels. That, period - and the years before - is the basis of Allyn’s book, a compilation of historical data that is enriched by the kind of research seldom applied with so much care.

Allyn, for instance, is candid about much of the printed word that is often taken as “gospel truth.” He notes in the book’s introduction that he has taken much care to check facts. “Word of mouth stories I have noted as such,’ even when printed, since I have found them the least reliable of sources.”

He also treked over remote sections with thick underbrush, uncovering rambling stone walls, ditches and marshes that go back to the early settlement days of the Masons.

Major John Mason, whose statue stands at the corner of Pequot Avenue and Cliff Street naturally is a principal character in Allyn’s book which relates the famous Pequot battles. Major Mason, deputy governor of the Connecticut Colony in New England’s early settlement years, acquired what was then called “Chippechauge of the Great Island” on Sept. 11, 1651. What is now known as Masons Island was given in recognition of the deputy governor’s victory over the Pequots. Allyn writes his story about the Indians with a com­passion and understanding that will not surprise those who remember him as a younger man who often marched in parades, attired in Indian regalia. He is also recognized by many because of a tastefully simple, gold ring he wears in one ear lobe.

The book takes readers through seven generations of the Mason family. Allyn says that the story of the site - used mainly for farming in early years - goes from the first settlement in 1654 through a high period of prosperity between 1760 and 1830, to its decline after the opening of the West. And, he notes, the last old Mason, suitably named John, died in 1917. “The family always clung to farming, and its fortunes rose and fell with the farm. They were never wealthy, as compared to the shipping and whaling families, but for three generations were ‘well off.’ They owned good farm land, for New England, and some built substantial farmhouses like several of their neighbors in the town,” writes Allyn.

Allyn remembers the last Mason — a tall, bearded man who often preferred to be unencumbered by shoes. His photograph is including among many, some by the well-known George Tingley, that are featured in the book.

“Major John Mason’s Great Island” reflects the kind of knowledge, love and pride that could only come from a man who has lived with his topic.

He and his wife, Emily, live in the house Allyn’s father built In 1930, carefully copying the dimensions of the fireplace in the old Mason house. The house has been home to the Allyn’s and two sons - State Rep. Rufus Allyn, D-Stonington, and Louis Allyn of Longmeadow, Mass.

Allyn’s roots with Mystic, the state and the island are deep. A former state representative, he followed a tradition set by ancestors — one that makes his son, Rufus, the fifth generation in the family to be in the same state office.

He says he likes to trace the footsteps of the Masons, especially in winter when be walks to the end of the point “where the cold wind off  the water bends the brown dry grass, and the blue-gray waves break white on the rocky shore.”

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