Monroe Center Historic District
The Monroe Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Monroe Center Historic District is located in the highest section of the Town of Monroe. The topography is rugged and winding roads following natural contours radiate from the central green. The Monroe Center Historic District is centered about the Monroe Center Green, a triangular open space. Structural development is not dense, but rather the district is characterized by scattered buildings on large, informally landscaped grounds. Most buildings are located near roads and the land away from the roads is largely undeveloped.
The Monroe Center Historic District's boundaries coincide with those of a locally legislated historic district except for the addition of the town hall-library and a small parcel of land north of the house at 320 Wheeler Road. This house, a good example of mid-18th century Connecticut vernacular domestic architecture, is the oldest building in the district. The Monroe Center Historic District includes the entire historic village center. Its southern boundary is clearly defined by State Route 110, a 20th century road. Other boundaries are determined by the last 18th or 19th century house which is within the area of today's village. Outside of the Monroe Center Historic District boundary are suburban housing developments erected on land which earlier had been open fields.
Approximately 60 principle buildings and a number of barns, garages, and other outbuildings are located in the district. About one half of these buildings were erected before 1900. Two are two-story houses with central chimneys and rear lean-to which were built between 1750 and 1775 (320 and 299 Wheeler Road). Eight other buildings were erected in or before 1800. One of these is a barn now converted into a residence (75 Fan Hill Road). Fifteen exciting buildings date from the period 1800-1850. Only three buildings in the Monroe Center Historic District were erected during the second half of the 19th century.
A typical building in the Monroe Center Historic District is a free-standing frame house. It has either painted white clapboard or unpainted shingle siding. It is a one- or two-story rectangular building with a gable roof. It is either three or five bays wide and may have a side or rear wing. It is set back from the road about 30 to 50 feet in a spacious informally landscaped yard and shaded by large trees. Often a picket or stone fence defines its property line. Its fenestration is regular and its proportions are typical of late-18th and early-19th century American architecture. Even many of the 20th century houses in the Monroe Center Historic District fit this description of a typical building since most are restrained designs in one of a variety of Colonial Revival styles.
Most buildings in Monroe Center are conservative vernacular design which are distinguished by their fine workmanship and simple dignity. Most have little applied exterior decoration, several Federal period houses do have notable exterior detailing such as the bonnet hood over the entrance to 47 Fan Hill Road and the columnar porches of 29 Fan Hill Road and of the distinguished brick house racing the green (754 Monroe Turnpike). While the district does not contain any examples of exuberant late 19th century architecture, several houses do have picturesque porches added during the late 19th century.
The green is bordered on three sides by some of the larger and most architecturally interesting buildings in the Monroe Center Historic District. The three large houses on the east side are fine examples of Greek Revival, Federal, and late 18th century domestic architecture. St. Peter's Church at the south is a fine Federal period church with notable exterior woodwork and a graceful belfry. Its design is attributed to David Hoadley. The nearby Masonic Lodge erected in 1904 has an impressive columnar portico. The Congregational Church built in 1847 at the north side of the green is a good example of the vernacular early Gothic Revival style with buttressed tower. Unfortunately the brick Neo-Georgian style town hall-library complex built in 1972 on the west side of the green is set too far back from the road and has too horizontal massing to be an effective visual enclosure for this side of the green.
Since there are only two jarring intrusions in the Monroe Center Historic District — the transformer of the Connecticut Light and Power Company and St. Jude Parish Center (a large boxy 20th century structure) — the ratio or intrusions to buildings in the district is only 1:30. Fortunately, both intrusions are landscaped so that their visual impact from the road is minimal.
Current uses in the Monroe Center Historic District are predominately residential, except for governmental and religious buildings on three sides of the green. The nursery on Moose Hill Road and the real estate office on Shelton Road do not intrude on the overall residential, character. The only industrial structure, the electricity transformer, is hidden.
Earlier uses were more varied. For instance, the southwest wing of the house at 172 Old Tannery Road was a general store and post office from the late 18th century to the 1940's. (This wing was originally a freestanding building which was attached to the Isaac Moss House in 1896). A carriage shop and blacksmith business was at 44 Pan Hill Road and a hatter's shop, in 1846, at 11 Church Street. The early taverns and tannery no longer stand. Several homes have houses, schools or academies. Recently the East Village Schoolhouse built about 1790 was moved into the Monroe Center Historic District. This building has been restored and functions as a museum.
There are a few unfortunate 20th century additions and alterations, but in general buildings are restored, little altered, have compatible additions, or are compatible 20th century structures. All structures are occupied and excellently maintained. A number of older buildings were destroyed when the town hall-library complex was erected in 1972. There is considerable preservation interest in the community. Local historic district legislation has been in effect since 1969. Interesting examples of adaptive use include two barns which have been converted into residences.
The area which is now the Monroe Center Historic District was the nucleus of Monroe even before the town was established in 1823. Since 1764 when the New Stratford meetinghouse was erected on what is now the northern part of the green, this hamlet has been the governmental and residential center of the surrounding area. Between 1784 and 1823 it was one of the dual centers of the town of Huntington. The green on June 30, 1781, was the site of a locally important Revolutionary War event.
The Monroe Center Historic District is important in urban history since it retains its 18th century New England town plan consisting of a central green and radiating irregularly laid out streets following natural contours. Architecturally the Monroe Center Historic District is significant since it has well-preserved vernacular buildings dating from about 1750 to the present. It has several Federal period buildings of architectural distinction. The two intrusive structures are hidden by landscape features and most 20th century buildings are restrained designs which are compatible with the earlier architecture. The Monroe Center Historic District has the ambiance of an undisturbed, pre-Civil War New England village.
Although the town of Stratford in 1671 purchased from the Paugusset Indians claims to the area which is now the town of Monroe, the first settlers did not come to the region until the first decades of the 18th century. Settlement was gradual; not until May, 1762 did the region have sufficient inhabitants to merit its own ecclesiastical society. "Bushy Ring," the current green, was chosen to be the site of the first meetinghouse and the center of the community. Here was the highest point of land in the parish and a crossroads.
The first meetinghouse, which has been replaced, was erected about 1764. The open land to its south (now the Monroe Center Green) became the local meeting place although then the land was privately owned. It was called "the place of parade" since it was a drilling place for soldiers.
A number of buildings had already been erected in the vicinity before the meetinghouse was built. One of these, the Ichobod-Enoch Lewis House at 320 Wheeler Road, still stands. It is a good example of an 18th century vernacular Connecticut house of the two-story, central chimney type with rear lean-to. The nearby house at 299 Wheeler Road is another similar example of unadorned Georgian domestic architecture. This house was the home of Robert Lewis, a Monroe patriot who served as a Revolutionary War soldier and gave his life for the cause.
The hamlet was the location of a festive Revolutionary War event. On June 30, 1781, six hundred of Rochambeau's troops under the command of General Duc de Lauzan camped on the sloping meadow just southeast, of the village green. That night a dance was held on the green for local residents and the foreign soldiers.
After the Revolutionary War the village entered a period of considerable growth. In April, 1784 the green was formally established when Captain Joseph Moss and Innkeeper Nehemiah de Forest gave part of their homelots to the parish of New Stratford. New Stratford and the neighboring parish of Ripton were separated from Stratford in 1789. They became the township of Huntington with dual centers. In the 1800's the Monroe and Zoar Bridge Turnpike was laid out. It passed on the east side of the Monroe Center Green and survives as state Route 111.
During the Federal period a number of fine examples of vernacular architecture were erected in the Monroe Center Historic District. Several of these buildings are very conservative designs which have closer kinship to local pre-Revolutionary War Georgian architecture than to sophisticated Adam style American architecture. For instance, the Isaac Moss House built in 1785 facing the Green is an unadorned two-story, central chimney frame house which is very similar, except it does not have a lean-to, to the two Lewis houses on Wheeler Road. The Hezekiah Bailey House, a one-story, central chimney house built about 1801, is another Federal period house with characteristics of earlier architecture. More typical of fine Adam style provincial architecture are the Samuel Wheeler House at 29 Fan Hill Road and the Cyrus Beardslee House facing the Green. Both have columnar porches with arched ceiling. The Beardslee House is distinguished by the high quality of its design and by its red brick walls. It is one of the few brick buildings in this district largely composed of frame houses. St. Peter's Episcopal Church erected from 1802-1807 has been attributed by J. Frederick Kelly to David Hoadley, a self-taught Connecticut architect. The rectangular church with integral tower supporting an open octagonal belfry has a Palladian window above its frontispiece main doorway. Although, all remains an important example of Federal period ecclesiastical architecture in Connecticut.
In 1823 the parish of New Stratford became a separate township and was named Monroe in honor of President James Monroe. The village which had grown up around the meetinghouse became Monroe Center.
Local builders were conservative and no Greek Revival temple-form houses or even Greek Revival houses with columnar porches are found in Monroe Center. Instead, pre-1850 houses are distinguished by their quality of workmanship, their pleasing proportions, and their dignified simplicity of design.
In 1847 the Green was enlarged to the north when the existing Early Gothic Revival style Congregational Church was built on a site north of the earlier meetinghouse. Roads were rearranged so that they went around the green, rather than through it.
Monroe Center was a sleepy, small village during the second half of the 19th century. Only three buildings in the district were erected during those years. The hamlet's only example of exuberant eclectic late 19th century architecture, the Town Hall built in 1897, was demolished for the new town hall-library complex built in 1972. However, a number of houses have wings and porches dating from the late 19th century.
The 20th century brought growth to Monroe Center. It became a residential community for the surrounding area. Fortunately commercial development was focused south of the nucleus of the historic hamlet, which became increasingly residential. Earlier buildings which have houses stores, shops, or animals ware converted to residential uses. Many new houses have been erected in the 20th century, but most of these are unobtrusive designs in varying Colonial Revival styles. Several are fine examples of their type. The Masonic Temple with its pedimented portico is an impressive building in the Georgian Revival style.
In 1969 the Monroe Center Historic District was established to preserve the character of the area through architectural controls.
"Report of Monroe Historic District Study Committee." March 31, 1969, typewritten. Copy filed at Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, Connecticut.
Edward Nickels Goffey, A Glimpse of Old Monroe, Derby, CT: Monroe Sesquicentennial Commission, 1974.
J. Frederick Kelly, Early Connecticut Meetinghouses. New York: Columbia, 1948, vol.1, pp.321-324.
J. Frederick Kelly, Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut, 1924, reprint ed., New York: Dover, 1963, pp.139, 147-148, plate XXIV.