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Round Hill Historic District


The Round Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Round Hill Historic District is a small crossroads village at the intersection of Round Hill Road and John Street which encompasses most of the local historic district of the same name. It is situated in the center of the "back country" as this part of Greenwich is known, which is bordered on the west and north by New York State, on the east by Stamford, and on the south by the Merritt Parkway.[1] The Round Hill Historic District evolved from about 1728 through the early twentieth century but its present appearance reflects the influence of the Colonial Revival movement as well as some internal relocation of historic resources. Though all but one of the resources contribute to its historic character two of the four principal buildings, a church and a former schoolhouse, were moved within the district during the nineteenth century. The two other principal buildings are residences, which together with associated structures, three garages and a cottage, and a nineteenth-century cemetery, complete the district.

The First Church of Round Hill on John Street is the focus of the district. Now facing south from a slight rise on the northwest corner of the intersection, the white clapboarded church was originally completed in 1828 on a site directly across the road at the southwest corner. It was moved to its present location in 1871 when a tower and steeple were added. Extensively remodeled about 1925, it now displays a pilastered pavilion with a fanlight in the flushboarded pediment. The ridge of the projecting pavilion is lower than that of the main block but they are joined by a continuous denticulated frieze. Part of the tower, which was retained and elaborated as the base of a new spiral now rests on the pavilion roof. On three sides of the tower, which is capped by a projecting modillioned cornice and a panelled parapet with decorative urns at each corner, are arched louvered openings flanked by doubled pilasters. The side walls of the main block contain tall round-arched multi-paned windows with tracery while the facade windows are double-hung sash with flat lintels and projecting cornices. Among the changes to the interior at this time was the installation of box pews and a gallery across the rear of the sanctuary. There have been a number of additions since the church was moved, which all took place in the twentieth century. Jackson Hall (date unknown), which served as a sabbath school when it was located across the street, attached as the west wing. Several rear additions connect to a large school built in 1962. Across the street from the church is Round Hill Cemetery, once part of the original churchyard and partially bordered by the old church foundation. Laid out in the 1820s, the cemetery has marble headstones which generally date from the nineteenth century. The east section nearer this road (the former church site) is still in use as a columbarium.

The oldest house in the Round Hill Historic District, the Brown-Kenworthy House, is found immediately west of the church and now serves as the parsonage. The two-story gabled main block with a side-hall plan was built about 1800 but the much earlier saltbox wing on the west dates from about 1728. The latter part, only one-room with a loft, has a partially exposed stone end chimney with a beehive oven in an exterior wall. There is a low modern addition joined to the house at the rear of the saltbox. Otherwise unadorned, the main facade displays a Palladian doorway with fanlight that may date from the Federal period as believed, but more probably is a twentieth-century revival feature. Farther west is a house built in the 1850s which has had several additions and was remodeled in the 1920s in the Colonial Revival style (5 John Street). On the same property is a smaller cottage (7 John Street) of this style and a large modern garage.

The Round Hill District School is now part of a house situated south of the cemetery. Its gable-to-street main block on the right may incorporate a small c.1750 one-room school which was moved onto this site about 1828 from its original location, near or on the triangular-shaped island at the intersection. (Today the site contains a kiosk which resembles those used here in earlier times to post town notices.) Still serving as a school, this section was enlarged to its present form by 1850 and the wing was added. When district schools closed in Greenwich in 1925, the building was sold and converted to a residence. The cupola was removed and the interior divided into two floors. The original facade fenestration, two tall windows flanking a central double-door, was changed to the present configuration. A closed-bed pediment, which was flushboarded, was removed to accommodate the present second-floor windows and a fanlight installed at the gable peak. Eaves and rakes were detailed with mutules, which display a pattern of drilled holes. Narrow eave sash is found throughout. Other additions were made to the rear of the schoolhouse portion and a gambrel-roofed garage, which now contains living quarters on the second floor, was built to the northwest, next to John Street (456 Round Hill Road).

Significance

The Round Hill Historic District, which slowly evolved over almost two centuries, is a significant illustration of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century institutional development in the particular socio-economic context of back country Greenwich. During the early twentieth century, when the district no longer served an agrarian population, it became the locus of a totally new community of affluent suburbanites. The district effectively embodies this latter period, capturing some of the various levels and manifestations of the Colonial Revival movement, thereby achieving most of its architectural significance.

Historical Background and Significance

Greenwich was the westernmost of Connecticut's coastal settlements. Because of its peripheral location and proximity to New Amsterdam, it was the target of competing jurisdictions in the early colonial period. Though it was first settled in 1640 by Englishmen, who were acting as agents for the New Haven Colony, it also had a high proportion of Dutch settlers and came under Dutch rule in 1642. After the conflicting claims of Holland and England to Connecticut were resolved in 1650, Greenwich, apparently under duress, returned to the New Haven fold. At that time it was considered part of neighboring Stamford. In 1665, shortly after the New Haven colony was subsumed into that of Connecticut, the General Court at Hartford officially declared Greenwich a township, but the final settlement of its boundaries was delayed by border disputes with New York at least until the end the century.

By about 1725 there was a farming community in the "North West," as the back country was then known. It included some of the descendants of the first English settlers, as well as some families originally from New York, producing a large enough population for a district school at Round Hill by 1750, one of nine in town at that time (456 Round Hill Road). Among the first outlivers was Samuel Brown II (1689-1750), the son of Samuel Brown of Rye, New York, who received a royal grant of 1000 acres there. Samuel II built the saltbox in the district on John Street. The house passed down to his eldest son, Samuel III. Since he also inherited the Rye property, he sold the Round Hill property in 1762 to his brother, Nehemiah, a tavernkeeper and one of the principal farmers here.[2] It is said that Nehemiah and his brother, Roger, eventually owned more than 700 acres in Greenwich. The house remained in the family well into the twentieth century, when it was sold for use as a parsonage by the Kenworthys, who were related to the Browns by marriage.

Round Hill Road was an integral part of an extensive north-south transportation system that connected back country farmers with coastal ports. Their principal market was New York City, with a scheduled packet boat from Mianus as early as 1692. By 1725 regular packet service also was available at Cos Cob and Rocky Neck, the other ports in Greenwich. By 1802 stagecoaches, which ran from the Borough of Horseneck, the old part of town on the coast, through Stanwich to upstate New York, quite probably passed along Round Hill Road. Potatoes were the first major market crop for the farmers of North Greenwich, followed by apples after the Civil War. Cattle were raised for meat and also provided leather for a number of shoemakers. Although packet service ended in 1890, larger freight boats, as well as rail service, were available in the early twentieth century to ship other farm products such as hay, poultry, and butter.

Even though an eighteenth-century survey map of town shows most rural roads bordered with dwellings by the 1770s, the established Congregational Church did not have a secure foothold in the back country. Not only was there no meetinghouse in Round Hill, it was not actually part of an established parish. The people here could attend services in Old Greenwich near the coast or at the Stanwich Congregational meetinghouse, which was located to the east on the road to Bedford, New York. (The Stanwich Parish encompassed the northeast part of Greenwich and the northwest part of Stamford.)

Although the Congregational Church was not disestablished in Connecticut until 1818, dissident sects broke away and formed their own churches in the eighteenth century, especially in more rural areas. Such was the case in the Greenwich back country. Nehemiah Brown had been baptized as a Baptist in 1770 and by 1773 there was a Baptist church near the western border of town at Glenville. There were even a few Quakers here as indicated by the early name for John Street, Quaker Ridge, so named because it ran to the home of Friend John Marshall. Soon after 1800 Methodists were meeting in the Round Hill schoolhouse and area households, but they were not officially organized before 1826. That year they made plans for the construction of their church on land provided by Benjamin and Jonathan Husted (aka Heusted), who lived nearby. The Husteds had figured prominently in Greenwich history since the seventeenth century. Angell Husted led the list of 12 proprietors who submitted to New Haven's jurisdiction in 1656 and in the 1800s, Benjamin Husted and other family members were associated with the district.[3] The churchyard cemetery was also laid out about this time, with one of the earliest gravestones that of Nathaniel Husted, who died in 1826.

Greenwich grew rapidly in the first half of the nineteenth century, from 3,801 in 1830 to 5,040 by 1850. Although most people lived nearer the coast, clearly there was also an increase in the farm population as well, since the Round Hill District School was enlarged by 1850 (456 Round Hill Road). In 1871, after the church was moved across the road to its new site purchased from the Brown family, a "lobby" and Victorian steeple were added to what had been a simple frame structure. Presumably the "lobby" was located within a facade tower. At this time, the interior was refurbished and fitted out with a Victorian pulpit.

By the early decades of the twentieth century, the back country population, once composed only of farmers, included city dwellers who came here to buy old houses or convert large farms to country estates. Many of the newcomers were members of New York's financial and social elite. Although the suburbanization process intensified later in the century, even the initial stages of residential development of the rural back country brought profound changes to Round Hill.[4] With the decline of farming, local established institutions in the district became moribund. By 1900 attendance had fallen off markedly at the Round Hill Methodist Episcopal Church. Although it was "circuited" with another church of this denomination on King Street in the borough, membership continued to decline and it closed its doors in the early 1900s. It was soon followed by the Round Hill District School, which closed in 1925. Soon after the church reopened in 1920 as a non-denominational community church, district residents led an effort to restore the building. When the church and other buildings in the district were remodeled in the Colonial Revival style, the early nineteenth-century crossroads village of Round Hill was virtually recreated as a suitable symbol for a wholly new social structure. No longer an institutional center for a rural agrarian population, the district became the center of a new community composed of affluent commuters and seasonal dwellers, as well as people who worked on the larger estates.

Architectural Significance

Incorporating one of the oldest surviving houses in rural Greenwich, the Brown-Kenworthy House on John Street has considerable individual architectural significance. Because of its superior integrity the saltbox portion is an exemplar of early eighteenth-century rural architecture. Since most such examples have either been subsumed into full-size Colonials or been torn down, few of these modest end-chimney one-room dwellings have survived to this degree. Here the later addition, now the main block, leaves most of the building intact, as does the more recent modern ell. Its exterior oven is a particularly notable feature, one rarely found in houses of this period. Were it not for this dwelling, the historic architecture of Round Hill would primarily reflect the stylistic evolution of the early twentieth century.

As much a social movement as an architectural style, the Colonial Revival was a symbol for many Americans of a return to the stability and values of an earlier day. As in most of the rest of the suburban Northeast, the Colonial Revival quickly became the style of choice in Greenwich. While baronial castles and Tudor mansions often graced huge estates from the shore to the back country at the turn of the century, by the 1920s, Colonial Revival houses and institutional buildings, especially as expressed in the amplified revivals of the Georgian and Federal styles, were a common sight. Even today it is the preferred style for the large houses built in the neighborhood surrounding the district, often on minimally zoned 4-acre lots.

The Colonial Revival is fully expressed in the remodeling of the First Church of Round Hill. In 1919 architect William F. Dominick of Greenwich, a member of the church, drew up the plans. The transformed exterior, which eliminated most traces of the Victorian period, is a generally well-proportioned and particularly graceful expression of the Federal style, with perhaps one caveat. Though appropriate to period, the extreme attenuation of the steeple is somewhat at odds with the bulk and massing of its tower base. Other features, such as the tall round-arched windows with multiple small panes and tracery on the side elevations, also serve as reminders that an older church has been revitalized. Although this type of window was commonly employed in ecclesiastical as well as institutional Colonial Revival architecture, the fenestration of the facade is quite unusual for this style. Despite the overall formality of the building, the type and placement of the pavilion windows produce an almost residential effect, perhaps a deliberate attempt on the part of the architect to relate the church to its residential country setting. The later additions are compatible in detail and set well to the rear, leaving the church as a commanding presence on its corner site.

Another manifestation of the Colonial Revival movement was the remodeling of older houses or other buildings in this style. The conversion of the schoolhouse to a period residence is a prime example in the district, a remodeling somewhat more constrained by the form of the original structure (456 Round Hill Road). Arthur Downes, a well-known builder in Greenwich who bought the school, was faced with a considerable challenge, the insertion of a second floor while maintaining the original Greek Revival pitch of the roof. Although the remodeling was clearly intended to have a colonial flavor, hence the elaborate mutules and fanlight, in fact, the recessed wing with narrow windows under the eaves, a feature repeated on the side elevations of the main block, recalls the massing and fenestration of a Greek Revival farmhouse.

Whether remodeled or built in Colonial Revival style, the rest of the residential components play a complementary role and contribute to the Round Hill Historic District's architectural significance. They are generally less detailed. For example, at the remodeled farmhouse at 5 John Street, features such as half-round windows are almost the only exterior vestige of the style. The Colonial Revival cottage nearby, once part of a larger farm estate to the north, is similarly restrained in its detail (7 John Street). While not definitely dated, the doorway surround with fanlight applied to the Brown-Kenworthy House on John Street also evokes the early twentieth century.

Endnotes:

  1. Below the parkway is known as mid-country. Because many of the great estates are located there, during the design stage of the parkway, residents succeeded in having it re-routed, creating the loop here that runs about four miles north of the original planned course.
  2. In 1761 Nehemiah was authorized by the Connecticut General Assembly to keep a public house and "retail strong drink" (location unknown).
  3. Since there were several Benjamin Husteds in Greenwich who were civic leaders at mid-century, it is not known which one was associated with the church at Round Hill. Benjamin W. was a selectman in 1855 and in 1857 Benjamin J. was a constable and Benjamin F., a justice of the peace and assessor. Others of the family have confirmed associations with the district. Silas Husted was a school visitor here and in 1879 Dr. Nathaniel Husted compiled the semi-centennial history of the Round Hill Methodist Episcopal Church.
  4. Although only five percent of the farmland in Fairfield County was still in production in 1990, considerable land in Greenwich remains undeveloped. According to a recent New York Times article (2/19/95), in addition to land utilized for golf courses and country clubs, more than 5000 acres is preserved as open space. However, many of the larger early twentieth-century estates have been subdivided. Among them are "Chieftains, owned by two generations of the Gimbel family, and Conyers Farm, a extensive gentleman's working farm of 1300 acres. Its mansion house was demolished when the estate was divided into 60 building lots.

References

Commemorative Biographical Record of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Chicago, J. H. Beers & Co., 1899.

Cunningham, Janice P. Historic Preservation in Connecticut Volume I: Western Coastal Slope: Historical and Architectural Overview and Management Guide. Connecticut Historical Commission, 1992.

Mead, Daniel M. A History of The Town of Greenwich, Fairfield County, Conn., with Many Important Statistics. New York: Baker & Godwin Printers, 1857.

Mead, Spencer P. Ye Historie of Ye Town of Greenwich County of Fairfield and State of Connecticut. Harrison, New York: Harbor Hill Books, 1979. (Reprint of earlier edition New York, Knickerbocker Press, 1911.)

"Proposed Historic District at Intersection of Round Hill Road and John Street." Town of Greenwich, Historic District Study Committee, 1987.

"Report with Respect to the Addition of 5 John Street to the Round Hill Historic District." Town of Greenwich, Historic District Commission, 1990.

Jan Cunningham, Consultant, Round Hill Historic District, Fairfield County, CT, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Round Hill Historic District Map

Street Names
John Street • Round Hill Road

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