Nichols Farms Historic District
The Nichols Farms Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Nichols Farms Historic District is a residential area located along Huntington Turnpike and Shelton Road in the southeastern corner of the Town of Trumbull. The Nichols Farms Historic District comprises approximately 104 acres and 140 resources. The resources are 134 buildings, one object, and five sites. There are 51 major buildings that contribute to the historic and architectural significance and 19 non-contributing outbuildings, 30 contributing outbuildings, and 34 non-contributing outbuildings. The object, contributing, is a fountain. The five sites are the Nichols Green, contributing, and four vacant parcels, non-contributing.
Of the 51 major contributing buildings, three date from the 18th century, 27 from the 19th century, and 21 from the 20th century. Their breakdown by styles is Colonial 7, Georgian 1, Federal 1, Greek Revival 14, Italianate 5, Queen Anne 3, 19th-century Vernacular 1, Colonial Revival 8, Bungalow 1, American Foursquare 1, Dutch Colonial Revival 5, Tudor Revival 3, and 20th-century Vernacular 1.
The activity center of Nichols Farms Historic District is the intersection of Huntington Turnpike with Shelton Road and Unity Road, near the Green, churches, library, and school. Huntington Turnpike is the major north-south artery. Shelton Road branches off from it to the northeast, forming a triangular space that is the Green. The Green is the site of a small concrete monument with lettering "Town of Trumbull — 1797" and a boulder with two bronze tablets bearing the names of World War I and II soldiers. To the north of the Green is the Methodist Church, a modern building. To the south of the Green is the Episcopal Church, also a modern building. The Episcopal Church was relocated from Jerusalem Hill, two-blocks south, at the time the Merritt Parkway was constructed in 1941. Next door to the church is the Fairchild-Nichols Memorial Library, a public library in the Colonial Revival style donated by two of the Nichols Farms Historic District's old families. Nichols School, southwest of the library on Priscilla Place, is a 1-story brick building in the Colonial Revival style with a red tile roof of Spanish Colonial Revival influence.
Houses in the Nichols Farms Historic District are pleasantly spaced from one another along tree-lined highways, some closer to the street than others. The greatest density is found south of the Green along the west side of Huntington Turnpike and the north side of Priscilla Lane. The oldest house in the Nichols Farms Historic District probably is the Andrew Nichols House, 1832 Huntington Turnpike, dating from the 18th century. It has been altered by addition of front and side porches, shingled siding, and removal of the central chimney. Other examples in the oldest group of seven are, as is the Nichols House, 5-bay central-entrance plan, with the exception of 1821 Huntington Turnpike, which has four bays. Its Greek Revival portico is added and its arched attic windows are also probably a 19th-century feature. The Reuben Fairchild House, 1837 Huntington Turnpike, is a Georgian variation on the same plan, but with twin chimneys and simple Classical Revival details. The house at 74 Shelton Road with Federal semi-elliptical attic window in its 3-bay gable end toward the street completes the pre-Greek Revival style grouping in the district.
The architectural style represented in the greatest number of houses, 14, in the Nichols Farms Historic District is the Greek Revival, reflecting the industrial activity in the district during the period of this style's popularity. Again, as in the case of the Colonial-era structures, the Greek Revival houses generally have been altered, but are, nonetheless, clear examples of their type.
The largest and finest of the Greek Revival houses are 1918 Huntington Turnpike and 154, 169-71, and 170-172 Shelton Road.
1918 Huntington Turnpike is impressive for the tall fluted columns of its wrap-around porch and for its cupola. On the south side elevation there is a late 19th-century 5-sided bay that is covered with fish-scale shingles. The G.B. Ambler House, 154 Shelton Road, is unusual in the Nichols Farms Historic District for its balustrades on both the porch and main roof lines.
The Franklin P. Ambler House, 169-171 Shelton Road, is another square house with paneled corner pilasters and fluted Doric columns for its wide porch. In contrast, the E.P. Nichols House, across the street at 170-172 Shelton Road, has Ionic columns in its porch, with the further interest that the side porch with attenuated Ionic columns is a sensitive 20th-century addition.
Some of the Greek Revival houses have Italianate features that may be original components of their construction or may be alterations. It is not always possible to separate these two sub-types; 38 Shelton Road is a case in point, where the 3-bay spacing and frieze are Greek Revival but the paneled-posts-on-pedestals of the porch are Italianate, perhaps added but perhaps original in view of the date of c.1860 associated with the house. The bracketed roof overhangs of 1721 and 1727 Huntington Turnpike, on the other hand, clearly place them in the Italianate style. An Italianate house was built on the John B. Nichols property, 1773 Huntington Turnpike. This parcel of 40 acres is the last of the farms in Nichols Farms to remain as open land.
The Italianate style in turn was followed by the Queen Anne at the end of the 19th century, but since the period of industrial prosperity had passed by then, the rate of building activity had declined and examples of the Queen Anne style number only three. 1896 Huntington Turnpike is the largest and most spectacular; its high hipped roof and big round corner tower proclaim its identity in the imaginative, asymmetrical world of the Queen Anne.
During the 20th century, most construction in the Nichols Farms Historic District has been in one or another variation of the Colonial Revival style. The Dutch Colonial Revival style is well represented by five houses. 85 Shelton Road has the gambrel roof, pent roof, across the first story, 5-bay facade, and classical details associated with the style. 1865 Huntington Turnpike has the flared eaves of Dutch origin and round Colonial Revival porch posts, but the relationship of the wide porch to the mass of the house and the roof, and the wide dormer in the front roof slope, suggest Bungalow influence, adding yet another combination to the many combinations of architectural styles found in the district.
Nichols Farms has one industrial building, a machine shop, at 15 Center Road on the site of a stone carriage factory. The frame building was constructed in 1917 as a community hall, has 2-over-2 windows, and is now covered with vinyl siding to resemble clapboards. It retains its original shape, mass, fenestration, and general appearance.
When the cast-iron fountain was placed on the Green in 1895, it had gadrooned basins on either side. The fountain was moved across the street to the traffic island at the intersection of Unity Road and Huntington Turnpike in 1931 and again in 1970 north to the John B. Nichols property. The bunnies now seen in the basin were added at that time. The fountain was given to the community by the Peet family.
The architecture of the buildings in the Nichols Farms Historic District is significant because it includes many good examples of a wide range of styles from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that stand together in their original relationship to one another, free of intrusions. The Greek Revival style houses are outstanding. The architecture reflects the influences of three stages of economic development, the original agricultural settlement, the 19th century industrial activity, and the 20th century function as a suburb of a large city.
Settled as a farm in the late 17th century and devoted to agriculture in the 18th century, the Nichols Farms Historic District developed early in the 19th century as an industrial community. By the end of the 19th century it had begun to function primarily as a suburb of Bridgeport, as it does today. The 18th and 19th century architecture and history of Nichols Farms, now evident in its domestic buildings and open space, are the source of the cohesiveness and significance of the Nichols Farms Historic District.
Abraham Nichols, son of a founder of Stratford, ventured into North Stratford in the 1680s to begin farming in the district. He did not settle there at the time, but returned a few years later with members of the Fairchild and Curtiss families to take up permanent residence. The three family names are still prominent in the Nichols Farms Historic District. The Town of Trumbull was split off from Stratford and incorporated in its own right in 1797. The first First Selectman was James Nichols.
In that same year, 1797, Benjamin Fairchild sold a farm of 19 acres with house and barn for £460 to John Nichols. In the deed, recorded in Stratford Land Records at volume 26, page 502, the farm is described as being "in said Stratford at a place called Nichols Farm," indicating that the name for the community was already in use at that time. The price is an indication of the productivity of the land. John Nichols and his descendants worked the land, added to it, and maintained the farm until John B. Nichols, Jr., died in 1951. Since that time the farm has been operated for the public benefit as a park by the Nichols Improvement Association. The fact that one of the farms in the community has survived as open space gives strong visual evidence of the district's history and adds to understanding of Nichols Farms' history and development.
The Nichols Farms Historic District has no streams with falls and therefore no waterpower for industry. Nonetheless, as early as 1784 Eben Fairchild began the manufacture of saddle trees, the wooden forms for saddles, in a venture that prospered. In 1818 a branch was established in Bridgeport. In 1825 Isaiah Peet and Franklin P. Ambler became members of the firm, and the business was bought by Ambler in 1844. The production facilities, of which no trace remains, were located north on Shelton Road just beyond the district boundary but the handsome Greek Revival Ambler houses remain standing in the district.
Carriages were made by Nichols & Son, catering to the Southern states, a business that came to an end with the Civil War. The business reorganized as Nichols, Peck & Company and specialized in carriages for Australia. From 1873 most production was carried out in Bridgeport. In the district, the factory was located on Center Road.
While many houses in the Nichols Farms Historic District are good examples of their types, especially several of the Greek Revival structures, the architectural significance of the district arises more from the breadth and range of the styles than from the exceptionally high quality of the work. The only famous architect associated with the Nichols Farms Historic District's 19th-century structures is Alexander Jackson Davis, and his church burned. Nonetheless, the range of styles, the state of preservation, and the absence of major intrusions collectively impart a substantial degree of architectural significance to the district. The absence of intrusions, which permits the houses to be observed and appreciated in substantially their original relationship to one another, is especially important.
During the period of Nichols Farms settlement, 5-bay central-chimney central-entrance Colonial houses commonly were built. 1832 Huntington Turnpike, possibly the oldest house in the Nichols Farms Historic District, fits this norm, with added front and side porches. The 2-1-2 rhythm of the windows in the front elevation contributes to its sense of age. 1681 Huntington Turnpike and 1810 Huntington Turnpike are additional examples in the style. These houses usually had a basic 5-room plan around the massive central chimney and were built as farmhouses. A derivative of the first houses was the twin-chimney plan, found in the district at 1837 Huntington Turnpike in a 4-bay example. Its portico has a shed roof, a feature repeated in houses built in later years.
The Greek Revival and Italianate styles were in vogue during the Nichols Farms Historic District's period of 19th century industrial development and prosperity. Fine houses in these styles collectively form the Nichols Farms Historic District's most architecturally significant resource. The 3-bay Greek Revival house at 1705 Huntington Turnpike combines Doric columns with a shed roof in its portico. Three houses close to one another on Shelton Road are graced with classical tetrastyle porches. They are 154 Shelton Road, 169-171 Shelton Road, and 170-172 Shelton Road. The classical balustrades of the porch and main roof of 154 Shelton Road make it unique in Nichols Farms.
The low hipped roofs of several Greek Revival houses were carried over into the later Italianate style. In addition to the Sheldon Road cluster, the Greek Revival houses at 23 Center Road and 1918 Huntington Turnpike have this feature. 1918 Huntington Turnpike further suggests the Italianate by its roof monitor. At 38 Shelton Road a larger monitor and paneled porch posts supported by pedestals clearly announce the Italianate style. Other typical combinations of Italianate features are present at 1713 Huntington Turnpike — bracketed roof overhang and arcaded wrap-around porch) and 1773 Huntington Turnpike (hipped roof and wrap-around porch).
In Nichols Farms, as elsewhere, houses tended to change over time, with the alterations sometimes taking on architectural significance in their own right. Three examples of significant changes through additions of Queen Anne features are worth mention. 1727 Huntington Turnpike has the bracketed roof overhang of the Italianate style with a wrap-around porch of turned wooden components, made possible by the technology that supported the Queen Anne style. At 1745 Huntington Turnpike the original Greek Revival house was enlarged by the addition of an apsidal bay covered with imbricated shingles. The shape of the apsidal roof is dependent upon know-how associated with the balloon frame, a shape that was entirely out of the question in the post-and-beam construction of Greek Revival and earlier houses. The house at 1918 Huntington Turnpike, impressively sited above and back from the road, is a strong statement of the Greek Revival style, yet seems graciously to accept a 5-sided bay covered with imbricated shingles of the Queen Anne mode.
The final 19th century style represented in the Nichols Farms Historic District is the Queen Anne. The house at 1896 Huntington Turnpike is characteristic of the style. Its high main roof, large round tower with conical roof, gables, and imbricated shingles all bespeak the Queen Anne.
Houses often were moved during the 19th century. The question of how many houses in the district have been moved at one time or another is unanswered, but one, 1944 Huntington Turnpike, is known to have an addition that was moved to the site. The addition is post-and-beam mortise-and-tenon construction, probably older than the Italianate structure to which it was attached. 1734 Huntington Turnpike was close to the road, but was moved back to its present location decades ago.
Construction in the Nichols Farms Historic District continued into the 20th century when, after industry declined, the community began to function as a suburb of nearby Bridgeport. Good examples of 20th century architectural styles are found at 5 Priscilla Place, Bungalow; 26 Priscilla Place, American Foursquare; 1708 Huntington Turnpike, fanciful Colonial Revival; 1708 Huntington Turnpike, 80 Shelton Road, and 85 Shelton Road, Dutch Colonial Revival; and 1698 Huntington Turnpike, Tudor Revival/Cotswold. The last is a well-designed house and garage that enjoys fine integrity.
In addition to considering the styles represented in the Nichols Farms Historic District, it is useful to note the styles that are missing, whose absence tells something about the history of the district. There are no houses in Nichols Farms in the Stick style or Shingle style. These styles were in high fashion toward the end of the 19th century after the manufacture of saddle trees and carriages had declined and there no longer was economic growth in Nichols Farms to support construction of fine new houses in the latest fashion.
Also missing from the Nichols Farms Historic District is any remnant of its 19th century industrial architecture, at least some of which was in stone, a different material from other buildings. The machine shop at 15 Center Road, however, does have an industrial function, the only building in the district now to do so, and is, therefore, important as a reminder of the force that fueled the Nichols Farms Historic District's years of greatest growth and development.
Beach, E. Merrill, Trumbull: Church and Town. Trumbull: The Church of Christ in Trumbull, 1955.
Beers, F. W. Atlas of Fairfield County, New York: 1867.
Burton, Katherine. "A Brief History of Trumbull, Connecticut," in Trumbull Souvenir Booklet. Trumbull, 1925.
Cronin, David A., ed. Town of. Trumbull, 1734-1935. Trumbull: Tercentenary Historical Committee, 1935.
Everst, Rev. Haynes L. "Historical Sermon," in Trinity Parish Chronicle 1 (Dec. 1901)1.
Nichols Farms. Trumbull Historic District Study Committee. Trumbull: 1977.
Seeley, Dorothy M. Tales of Trumbull's Past. Trumbull: The Trumbull Historical Society, Inc., 1984.
________ letter, undated, to Elmer D. Keith, in W.P.A. Census of Old Buildings folder at Connecticut Historical Society library, Hartford.
Stratford Land Record, volume 26, page 502, June 7, 1797.
Todahl, Margery A., ed. History of Trumbull, Connecticut, Together with a Survey of the Town Government and an Exposition of the Town Offices. 1939. Typescript at Fairchild-Nichols Memorial Library, Trumbull.
Trinity, Nichols, 1848-1970. Trumbull: Trinity Episcopal Church, 1970.
Wachenheim, Lora M. Freer. Trumbull Churches and People. 1960.
Wilson, Lynn Winfield. History of Fairfield County, Connecticut, 1639-1928, v1. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1929.
† David F. Ransom, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Boston Post Road Historic District, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.