Island’s life recalled in Allyn book
By Barbara Reed
Day Staff Writer November 26, 1979
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
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
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.”