I love summer…and a little history on the Winchester legacy

Posted by Jane Paradis on

FINALLY, it’s summer. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me say that this winter was a little challenging – weather was HORRIBLE, and it made starting a business a little lonely. Today, the sun is shining and winter feels like ancient history. With the sunnier longer days, I’m feeling confident as the business grows and reflective on the things we have done that are moving our new brand forward. With this new-found confidence I have been thinking a lot about my grandmother Jane Winchester, and I’m starting to think she would be proud of the company we are building. Here’s a little bit on my summers on the Winchester compound with my grandmother Jane Winchester…

[My namesake, Jane Winchester Lovejoy]

I grew-up in Augusta, GA and WOW was it hot in the summer. My dad was a professor at the local college, and my mom stayed home, so we escaped the southern summer and drove north to Branford, CT to the Winchester compound to spend our summers. I know that sounds crazy, a compound – but I can’t think of many other words to describe it. When my great (x3) grandfather Oliver Winchester started the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, it was based in New Haven, CT. Oliver was married to Jane, that name then skipped a generation, and her granddaughter was Jane Winchester (my grandmother), and then Jane skipped another generation…and that’s me.

[The Big House]

The family built a summer house nearby in Branford. At first there was ‘the big house’ for the entire family…but as the generations grew they needed homes for more. So what did they do? They burned down the 24 bedroom mansion (literally just burned it down) and built houses for all of the siblings, one of which was my grandmother Jane Winchester. Her house sat in the same spot of the great house, on a peninsula surrounded by rocks and water – the best view of long island sound. We call this private area Johnson’s Point, and by my count today there are about 8 homes owned by family, all sharing common property of boat barns, giant floating docks for swimming, a breakwater to jump-off in high tide, a couple small beaches and of course -  a tennis court. It is a magical place.

[My grandmother at the helm for a summer cruise, my mother, brother and me]

As a kid, we spent July and August in Johnson’s Point. My grandmother Jane gave my parents (as a wedding gift) their own house on the other side of the point, a quick walk down the road and over a foot bridge across the marsh. My cousins all lived in houses along the way. Everyday was the same-ish…we ate breakfast quickly on the porch overlooking the sound. My mother made us crepes filled with strawberries – it was heaven. We would then RUN down and grab our bikes (big wheels when we were little) and head to gather our cousins. Johnson’s Point is gated and very very private – so we could roam freely. Our entire day revolved around the tide. When the tide was high we went to the beach. When the tide was low we went to the dock. We made sandwiches that we ate at the beach, we would run across the rocks and find tide pools, and we would swim until our lungs were filled with salt and it hurt to take a deep breath. Parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and my grandmother – and her generation of great aunts and uncles – would gather for cocktails to watch the sunset. Goldfish crackers and black cherry soda was served for the kids as the adults has plenty to drink…we kept running and playing on the rocks until we were dragged home. Have I used the word magical? Because it really was like no other.

[my grandmother Jane Winchester dressed for cocktails]

One of my favorite occurrences was when the tide was high it the afternoon and all of the older cooler cousins would meet on the giant floating dock for swimming and waterskiing. My cousin Teddy would take everyone out in the whaler, he was my idol – and my grandmother Jane would come down and swim with me from the beach to the dock. We would have at least three generations together enjoying summer.

There was always someone playing tennis. The red clay tennis court was the spot for generations of Winchesters to get WAY more competitive than necessary. My grandmother Jane played almost every day, and I still think of her every time I put on my white tennis skirt.

At least once a summer we would open the giant doors of the boat barn and have a square dance, and we would stay-up late and dance. Fourth of July meant cook outs and bottle rockets and someone grabbing the Winchester ‘tennis ball gun’ (clearly a custom piece!) that we would shoot at sailboats in the sound.

The lessons I learned at Johnson’s Point are vast. I caught minnows and squished white jelly fish in my cousin’s hair. I watched my older cousins fish at sunset and bring in massive (to me!) Bluefish. My Dad steamed lobster in seaweed on the rocks that my cousin Trip had caught that day. I learned to play tennis. I learned to ride a bike. I learned to forget completely about school and tv and any ‘normal’ life. My cousin Grace taught us a song to sing on the guitar. We went sailing. We learned to water ski.

Most of all, I learned about family. The idiosyncrasies – for sure – but the respect I had for the eldest generation was a building block for who I am today. My grandmother Jane and her sisters ruled the roost. They were very strong women. They were active in tennis, in swimming, they lead the troupe of family through traditions. They were the strongest women I could ever know. And I wanted to be like that.

[My grandmother Jane WInchster and me]

My summers changed when my parents got divorced and we didn’t get to Johnson’s Point as much. Not long after my grandmother was killed by a drunk driver and – lots changed. While I wish much of it didn’t go down the way it did, it does not overshadow the absolute love I have for that magical place, my family there and my amazing grandmother Jane.

[Tiffany plate passed to all Jane Winchesters]

I plan on writing a blog about our family history, which is seriously incredible, but I thought it was best to start with a little bit on my namesake and hence the name of my company. As Jane Winchester the company grows, I plan to continue to build on my family name, and make my grandmother…and great great (x3)  grandmother Jane Winchester very proud.

If you are interested in reading a little more about the Winchester’s, check out this article from Town & Country:


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