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Bunnell family papers

Call Number: MS 1149

Scope and Contents

The Bunnell Family Papers contain correspondence, diaries, legal and financial records, writings, memorabilia, and pictorial material which document the lives of four generations of Bunnell and Sterling family members living primarily in Connecticut and New York. The papers highlight the Yale academic careers of Sterling Haight Bunnell, Frank Scott Bunnell, and John W. Sterling; the respective architectural, engineering, and teaching careers of Rufus W. Bunnell, Sterling Haight Bunnell, and Frank Scott Bunnell; and the Civil War service of Rufus W. Bunnell and Henry T. Plant. The activities of female family members as mothers, wives, and daughters, and the travels of family members to the southern and western United States, Europe and Hawaii are also documented. The papers were the gift of Mrs. Catharine Detweiler from 1972 to 1987, and Mrs. Jonathan Pincus in 1974. The eleven and one-quarter linear feet of material is arranged in six series: I. Correspondence, 1789-1958; II. Diaries, 1776-[1930?]; III. Personal, Household, and Business Records. 1758-1924; IV. Writings, 1832-1950; V. Scrapbooks, Albums, and Memorabilia, 1858-[1953?]; and VI. Photographs, Prints, and Drawings, 1849-1907.

The bulk of Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, dates from 1858 to 1933. Early correspondence (1789-1857) includes a 1789 letter to Dr. William A. Tomlinson from an aspiring physician who describes his medical training in San Croix. Letters dated 1822 to 1850 are those of Tomlinson and Plant family members, including an exchange of letters between Catharine T. Plant (future wife of Captain John William Sterling) and her brother William, concerning their mother's death.

The majority of the letters dating from 1856 to 1869 document the experiences of the Captain John Sterling family, particularly those of Catharine Mary, John W., and Cordelia Sterling during their respective absences from home to attend school in New Haven and New York. Letters between Catharine and John W. Sterling reveal the extent to which the latter depended on his sister for advice and assistance in his studies at Yale. (A listing of John W. Sterling letters, which formed the major part of accession number 86-M-52, appears on page 10. While it is not a complete list of all John W. Sterling letters within the Bunnell Family Papers, it will enable researchers to access the majority of his letters within the collection.)

The early career of Rufus W. Bunnell is documented by a number of letters he received in Charleston, North Carolina from his stepmother, and by letters received by Bunnell between 1859 and 1909, during his partnership with E. Richard Lambert.

Bunnell's Civil War service (1862-1863) is documented in correspondence between Bunnell and his stepmother and his sister Diantha. Copies of additional letters received by Bunnell during this period are contained in Bunnell's Civil War diary in Series II.

In thirty-one letters to Catharine M. Sterling, her uncle Henry T. Plant describes his experiences as a surgeon in the Union Navy between April 23, 1862 and October 26, 1865. Plant served on monitors, ironclads, and wooden vessels, many of which were engaged in blockading Charleston, South Carolina and in the assaults on Fort Sumter, Morris Island and other Confederate fortifications in Charleston Harbor.

Letters dating from the late 1860s to the 1890s concern events within the households of the Bunnell and Sterling families. These events include the death of Captain Sterling (1866), the marriage of Rufus W. Bunnell and Catharine M. Sterling, and the births and childhoods of the three Bunnell children, Sterling Haight, Frank Scott, and Catharine Sterling Bunnell. In letters to his brother James and other family members, Rufus Bunnell describes his activities in the architectural firm of Lambert and Bunnell.

Accounts of the travels of Cordelia Sterling are contained in her letters from Europe (1872, 1876), Ohio (1874) California (1878, 1884-1885, 1890), New Orleans (1884) and Central America and Hawaii (1890). The visits of Rufus Bunnell family members to relatives in Minnesota, Ohio and New York State, and their travel to New Orleans, Louisiana are also described in their letters to Catharine T. (Plant) Sterling and Cordelia Sterling with whom they lived in the Sterling Homestead in Stratford after their marriage.

The academic and social lives of Sterling Haight Bunnell at Yale Sheffield Scientific School (1888-1991), Frank Scott at Yale College (1890-1894) and Catharine Sterling at Bryn Mawr (1894-1897) are related in their correspondence with each other and their parents. Letters written between family members and friends (1891-1900) also document Sterling's work as a draftsman in Buffalo and Lockport, New York and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Frank's teaching assignments in Mount Holly, New Jersey, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Chicago, Illinois. Letters of Catharine S. Bunnell at the turn of the century describe her pursuit of a writing career in New York City while working as a copyholder and editor. Correspondence between Frank Bunnell and his Yale classmates Edward (Ned) Reddington and Charles Hall concern their post graduate activities.

Family correspondence written during the early twentieth century pertains to the marriage of Sterling Bunnell to Rebecca L. Peterson, the births of their children Charles (1901) and Elizabeth (1904), the marriage of Frank Bunnell to Katharine Day (1904), and the births of their son Richard Day (1906) and daughter Catharine (1910). The deaths of Catharine Tomlinson (Plant) Sterling in 1905 and Rufus Bunnell in 1909 are also documented in family correspondence.

The experiences and impressions of Bunnell and Sterling family members during their travels to Bermuda (1905), Europe (1905, 1906, 1907-1908), and Egypt and Greece (1906), are described in their correspondence. After the death of Rufus Bunnell in 1909, his wife Catharine often traveled in the winter with her sister and the daughter of a family friend who was employed as her sister's companion, Alice Dean. Her destinations included Europe and Algeria (1910), Nassau (1913), and California, which she visited every year from 1915 to 1926 after her daughter married and moved to the Los Angeles area. The correspondence between mother and daughter, as well as that between Catharine Tomlinson Bunnell and her brother Frank, provide descriptions of transcontinental rail travel and rural and urban life in California. Nineteenth and early twentieth century California life is also detailed in letters from extended family members Henry Plant, Cordelia Sterling Waterman and James Bunnell. The April 23, 1906 letter from Henry Plant to Catharine S. Bunnell describes an earthquake experienced at Saratoga, California.

While no immediate family members served in the armed forces during World War I, discussions of the war and its effects at home and in Europe are contained in the family correspondence. In letters written while on a business assignment for R. Martens & Company in 1917, Sterling H. Bunnell describes his experiences in Russia during the Revolution, and his return to the United States via Siberia and Japan.

Post World War I correspondence is of a routine nature, documenting the day-to-day lives of family members. The academic and early careers of Richard Day Bunnell and Catharine S. Bunnell, the marriage of Richard to Elizabeth Wood, and subsequent birth of their daughter Patricia are described. The deaths of John W. Sterling (1918), Catharine M. Bunnell (1931), Katharine D. Bunnell (1940) are also discussed.

Correspondence dating from 1940 to 1958 pertains to the activities of Frank S. Bunnell and his children and grandchildren, his sister Catharine, and his genealogical research of the Day family.

Series II, DIARIES, contains the diaries of Frank S. Bunnell from the years 1891 through 1904. The brief entries describe daily academic, career and social activities. In addition to entries describing his day-to-day experiences, the diary of Rufus W. Bunnell's year of Union Army service in Louisiana (September 1862 to September 1863) contains detailed drawings of campsites and buildings, photographs, letters and clippings. His travel diaries describing New Orleans (1897), Bermuda (1905) and Europe (1907-1908) are also within the series. A compilation by Rufus Bunnell of notes taken during the early years of his partnership with E. Richard Lambert describes the activities in their architectural office. Also included in the series are Cordelia Sterling's European travel diaries from 1872 and 1876 and extracts from daybooks of Tomlinson and Plant family members.

Series III, PERSONAL, HOUSEHOLD, AND BUSINESS RECORDS, consists of the personal and household records of Catharine Mary Sterling Bunnell, Rufus W. Bunnell, and Frank S. Bunnell, and financial records relating to Lambert and Bunnell Architects. Early Tomlinson family records included in the series are wills (1773, 1840) and a marriage contract (1758).

Series IV, WRITINGS, contains a number of short articles relating to architecture written by Rufus Bunnell, as well as his reminiscences of a 1907-1908 European tour, and his experiences in the southern United States. In two typescripts, The Life of William Rufus Bunnell, and an untitled autobiography, he provides detailed accounts of family history and 19th century social and political commentary. His autobiography relates his experiences during his early architectural career. Also included in the series are student notebooks of Catharine T. (Plant) Sterling and Cordelia Sterling; issues of The Stratfordite, a newspaper published by Sterling and Frank Bunnell between 1885 and 1886; genealogical notes on the Bunnell, Day, Haight, and Strong families; and an illustrated description of the ascent of Mount Vesuvius in 1872 by the author, J. G. Shearman, Cordelia Sterling, and others.

Series V, SCRAPBOOKS, ALBUMS, AND MEMORABILIA, contains postcards, programs and other ephemera collected by Rufus W. and Frank S. Bunnell. Additionally, there are miscellaneous newspaper clippings and memorabilia and a notebook listing the contents of a library of an unidentified individual.

Series VI, PHOTOGRAPHS, PRINTS AND DRAWINGS, contains engravings, photographic prints, and daguerreotype portraits of Sterling family members, and Yale class photographs of Frank S. Bunnell. Items in folder 390 including a small number of architectural drawings document work of Lambert and Bunnell Architects.

NOTE: Dates and notations on documents throughout the collection, with the exception of those found in brackets, were made by family members, and have been retained for the assistance which they may provide the researcher.


  • 1772-1958


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown, though much of the material in this collection is likely in the public domain. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Catharine S. Detweiler, 1972-1987, and of Mrs. Jonathan Pincus, 1974.


Arranged in six series: I. Correspondence, 1789-1958. II. Diaries, 1776-[1930?]. III. Personal, Household, and Business Records. 1758-1924. IV. Writings, 1832-1950. V. Scrapbooks, Albums, and Memorabilia, 1858-[1953?]. VI. Photographs, Prints, and Drawings, 1849-1907.


11 Linear Feet (25 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, legal and financial records, writings, memorabilia, and pictorial material which document the activities of four generations of Bunnell and Sterling family members living primarily in Connecticut and New York. Correspondence, diaries, writings, and memorabilia document the Yale academic careers of Sterling Haight and Frank Scott Bunnell and John W. Sterling, the Civil War service of Rufus W. Bunnell and Henry T. Plant, and the travels of family members to destinations including the Southern and Western United States, Europe, and Hawaii. Correspondence, legal and financial records, diaries, and pictorial material document the respective architectural, engineering, and teaching careers of Rufus W., Sterling Haight, and Frank Scott Bunnell. The activities of female members of the Bunnell and Sterling families as mothers, wives, and daughters are documented by material thoughout the papers.

Biographical / Historical

Rufus William Bunnell was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on February 11, 1835. He was the son of William Rufus Bunnell (1806-1872), a Bridgeport area woolen manufacturer and mill owner, and Sarah E. (Haight) Bunnell of Meredith, New York. Upon Sarah Bunnell's death during Rufus's early childhood, William Rufus Bunnell married Cornelia Sterling.

Rufus William Bunnell attended Bridgeport schools, and in 1852 entered the Bridgeport office of Chauncey Graham, carpenter and architect, where he was trained in drafting and surveying. In 1854 he entered the architectural office of Albert C. Nash, who had studied with the prominent architect Henry Austin. While working in Nash's office, Bunnell met his colleague and future partner E. Richard Lambert. In July of 1855, Bunnell joined Chauncey Graham's architectural office in Trenton, New Jersey as chief draftsman. In September of that year, he moved to Toledo, Ohio to enter the architectural office of Frank J. Scott. He became partners with Scott in January of 1857. In 1858, Bunnell returned East and worked as an architect for a brief time in the office of Woollett & Ogden, Architects, Albany, New York, and in the Bridgeport surveying office of E. R. Lambert (father of E. Richard Lambert).

Through colleagues, Bunnell learned of an architectural position in Wilmington, North Carolina, and in May of 1858 he joined the office of James F. Post. In 1860 he returned to Bridgeport where with E. Richard Lambert he formed the partnership Lambert and Bunnell, Architects. In September of 1862, Bunnell volunteered for the Union Army, and served in the Civil War for one year in Company I of the 23rd regiment, primarily in New Orleans, LaFourche, and Brashear City, Louisiana.

Upon returning to Bridgeport, he resumed his association with E. Richard Lambert, which continued until 1901 when Lambert became ill. In 1901 Bunnell opened an office in his home in Stratford, Connecticut. He died in Stratford in February of 1909.

During his career, Bunnell designed numerous private residences and public buildings, including the Bridgeport Hospital and the Bellamy mansion in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In 1869, Bunnell married Catharine Mary Sterling (1840-1931), daughter of Captain John William and Catharine Tomlinson (Plant) Sterling of Stratford, Connecticut, and sister of Yale benefactor John William Sterling (1844-1918) and Cordelia Sterling (d. 1931). Her father was the son of David and Deborah (Strong) Sterling and brother of Cornelia (Sterling) Bunnell, second wife of William Rufus Bunnell; her mother was the daughter of David and Catharine (Tomlinson) Plant. Catharine Sterling Bunnell attended the Stratford Academy as well as finishing school in New Haven, Connecticut.

William Rufus and Catharine Sterling Bunnell were the parents of three children: Sterling Haight (b. 1871-1959), Frank Scott (1872-1959) and Catharine Tomlinson (1876-1955).


Sterling Haight Bunnell was born in Stratford, Connecticut on January 30, 1871. He attended Bridgeport High School and received the Bachelor of Philosophy degree in mechanical engineering from the Yale Sheffield Scientific School in 1891, and a graduate degree in mechanical engineering from Yale in 1893. In his early career, Sterling Bunnell worked as a draftsman. He held positions with E. & B. Homes, Buffalo; Holly Manufacturing Company at Lockport, New York; Farrell Foundry & Machinery in Ansonia, Connecticut; and Twin City Iron Works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In November 1899 he became engineer and manager of the Cochran Company at Lorain, Ohio, producers of small refrigerating machines. Subsequently he held positions with Watertown (N.Y.) Engine Company (1904-1907); Griscom-Spencer company, a marine repair and jobbing business (1907-1910); Clinton H. Scovell & Company, accountants and engineers of Boston (1911); and Griscom Russell Company for whom Bunnell worked as engineer-in-chief (1911-1916). From 1916 until 1918, Bunnell was chief engineer for R. Martens & Company, a business headed by British cabinet member Lord Rhondda and managed by Richard Martens. Bunnell worked as an independent consultant from 1918 to 1928. From 1928 until 1932, he worked for the industrial department of National City Company of New York, investigating the operating and financial conditions of industrials. In 1935, Bunnell became the secretary of the consulting firm George S. Armstrong and Company, Inc. of New York, and retired from the firm as vice-president. He died September 13, 1959.

Sterling Bunnell was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Franklin Institute, and the Yale Engineering Association. He was the author of Cost-keeping for Manufacturing Plants (1911) and Industrials...their Securities and Organization (1923).

In 1900 Sterling Bunnell married Rebecca Lapham Peterson, daughter of Charles and Jennie Gray (Lapham) Peterson of Lockport and Syracuse, New York. Their marriage produced two children, Charles Sterling (b. 1901) and Elizabeth Lapham Bunnell (b. 1904).


Frank Scott Bunnell was born in Stratford, Connecticut on October 2, 1872. He was educated at schools in Bridgeport and New Haven, and graduated from Yale in 1894. Following his graduation, he taught for one year at Mount Holly Academy, Mount Holly, New Jersey, and from 1895 to 1898 was classical master and assistant principal of the Minneapolis Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He pursued and was granted a Masters degree by the University of Minnesota in 1897. During the academic year 1898-1899, Bunnell was an instructor in Latin at the Lewis Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He began the graduate program in Greek at Yale in 1899, and received the Ph.d. in 1903. He was classical instructor at Staten Island Academy, New Brighton, New York during the academic year 1902-1903. In 1903 he was appointed instructor in Greek at Norwich Free Academy, Norwich, Connecticut, a position which he held until his retirement in 1933.

On June 30, 1904 Bunnell married Katharine Steele Day, daughter of Richard Day and his late wife Catharine Amelia (Smith) Day, of Toledo, Ohio. They were the parents of two children, Richard Day (b.1906) and Catharine Sterling (b.1910). Richard Day Bunnell attended Phillips Academy and Yale College. He married Elizabeth Wood in 1928. They were the parents of a daughter, Patricia (b. 1929). Catharine Sterling Bunnell attended Wellesley College and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Katharine Day Bunnell died in 1940. In 1954 Frank S. Bunnell married his second counsin, Susan Plant. He died in 1959.


Catharine Tomlinson (Bunnell) Mitchell was born in Stratford in 1871. She attended Bryn Mawr (1894-1897) and studied journalism and literature at Yale (1896-1898). While pursuing a writing career, she worked as a copyholder and editor for a number of New York publishing houses including The Century Company.

On January 23, 1915 she married James Mitchell, a childhood friend of her parents. She and her husband moved to Torrance, California where James Mitchell was involved in agriculture and oil businesses. They had no children. Catharine T. (Bunnell) Mitchell died in Stratford, Connecticut in 1955.

For charts outlining the genealogical relations of the Tomlinson-Plant, Haight, and Sterling families, please consult theGenealogical Charts.

Guide to the Bunnell Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Susan Brady with Bonney MacDonald
June 1989
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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