Huntington Center Historic District
The Huntington Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. 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 Huntington Center Historic District, which encompasses the original colonial settlement of the Town of Shelton, is situated in the valley of Means Brook, the main branch of the Farmill River. A linear district about three-quarters of a mile in length, it extends from Ripton Road on the north and south along Church Street to include the Huntington Green and the Huntington Cemetery. As the Huntington Center Historic District continues south along Huntington Street, the land slopes down on the east to Means Brook and rises to the west. Historic properties on either side of the Farmill River near its conjunction with Means Brook form the southern terminus of the district.
There have been some changes to the roads in the Huntington Center Historic District. According to the 1868 map, lower Church and Huntington streets were once wide enough to include the present deep setback on the west side, now occupied by wide grass verges and a secondary paved access road to the properties there. The earlier roadside boundary, which probably dates from the colonial period, is still marked by stone walls and mature trees in front of the houses. Increased traffic, largely generated by a modern shopping plaza that replaced several historic properties on the east side of upper Huntington Street (outside the district), has been accommodated by a new traffic pattern. There is now one-way traffic on upper Huntington and Church streets, thus eliminating an earlier portion of Shelton Road (present-day Route 108) that once ran diagonally across the Green (the present path of the walkway). The footpath or road that separated the commons from the cemetery is now paved to complete the counter-clockwise traffic flow around the Green.
The Huntington Center Historic District contains 74 contributing and non-contributing resources. The 50 contributing resources (68 percent of the total) include the two historic sites mentioned above, an industrial site, two churches, and houses dating from the early eighteenth century to 1942, along with their associated outbuildings. Among the non-contributing resources are several modern houses and garages, a fire station, and a modernized historic school.
The Huntington Green, which was laid out about 1717, occupies a third of an elongated 4-acre triangle at the head of the district. Once the town commons and training grounds for the local militia, today this informally landscaped community park is organized on a diagonal axis marked by a brick footpath (the former roadway), with shrubs and trees on either side. A 1975 bandstand is located near its center and the Curtis Memorial Fountain has been relocated to the northeast corner. A cast-metal structure, it consists of a sculpture group of a female warrior on horseback and attacking lion, with animal watering troughs at the base. A schoolhouse, which once stood on the southeast corner, was relocated to 150 Huntington Street for use as a residence.
Most of the rest of this historic triangle contains the Huntington Cemetery (c.1740-1880) which is immediately adjacent to St. Paul's Episcopal Church at its northwest corner. Brownstone, slate, granite, and marble gravestones, some with segmental or tombstone arches, are lined up in north-south rows, interspersed with the occasional nineteenth century stone obelisks. A number of gravestones that date from the last half of the eighteenth century display winged death heads, a rather late manifestation of this early Puritan symbolism. Among the typical early nineteenth century markers, simply designed with a bas relief of a book or the tree-of-life pattern, is an exceptional 1812 marble gravestone completely elaborated with Masonic symbols. A metal rail fence sets off the cemetery from the bordering streets and a modern Colonial Revival firehouse located at the southern apex.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, depicted in an 1832 (or 1836) woodcut, is one of a complex of structures facing Church Street historically associated with the religious life of the center. The only historic building on the east side of the street, the church was designed in the Federal style and dates from 1812. Its gabled facade incorporates a central two-stage bell tower, surmounted by a balustraded octagonal belfry with a dome. Federal detailing includes the pedimented main entrance with fanlight at the base of the tower, which is surmounted by a pilastered Palladian window under a broken arch, detailed with a dentil course. The single fanlight and the oval window above may be early twentieth-century embellishments. Other church properties across the street are a large 1939 Colonial Revival Parish Hall (25 Church Street) and the 1841 rectory (31 Church Street).
The Gothic Revival style Huntington Congregational Church faces the Green from the west side of Church Street (17 Church Street). Built about 1890, it is the fourth edifice erected by this denomination in the general vicinity. Typical lancet or pointed arches of this style frame most of the fenestration. An almost free-standing bell tower located at the left front corner contains an arched entrance and is capped by a pyramidal roof. Similar open arches are found on three sides of the belfry. The facade, which is sheathed with patterned shingles in its broad gable, displays a large tripartite stained-glass window, with bold tracery at the upper level.
The original Congregational parsonage (11 Ripton Road) north of the Green is one of five Colonials in the district. Built in 1734, it has a center-chimney plan, a five-bay facade, and an added or integral rear ell. Typically, its second-floor facade windows are tucked under the eaves. This characteristic early feature is found on other houses of this period, most notably a three-bay Colonial saltbox at 144 Huntington Street, reputedly the oldest house in the Huntington Center Historic District. Said to have been constructed about 1710, it has a one-room-deep plan with an integral kitchen ell under a steeply pitched rear roof. Another example is the 1725 Hawley-Curtis House, which is set well back and above the west side of Huntington Street (191 Huntington Street). Although there are alterations to facade windows and a number of rear additions, the main block still has an early eighteenth-century appearance.
At least one of this group may have achieved its present form later in the century. Such is the case with the Josiah Wheeler House, a Colonial with a central-hall plan and an exceptionally long five-bay facade highlighted by a Greek Revival doorway (120 Huntington Street). A lean-to ell extends across only part of the rear elevation. The DeForest-Rudd House, which faces the Green, is a center-hall Colonial built about 1770, now owned by the Congregational Church (11 Church Street). Its central doorway with sidelights dates from the Federal period.
Sections of several other houses date from the colonial period, including the schoolhouse that now serves as the main block of the house at 150 Huntington Street. Local tradition holds that the present left wing of the nineteenth century farmhouse at 135 Huntington Street was built in the mid-1700s.
Federal and Greek Revival style houses are well represented in the Huntington Center Historic District. Among them is the house built by miller John Thompson at the south end of Huntington Street. Located just north of the bridge over the Farmill River, it overlooks a dammed millpond to the south and there is another millpond at the rear (199 Huntington Street). Its side-hall Federal doorway flanked by sidelights and narrow pilasters is surmounted by a large fanlight, with an eagle centered in its elaborate tracery. A delicate pedimented Federal portico shelters the similar entrance of the Elias Hall House across the street (190 Huntington Street). It too has a decorative fanlight with an eagle motif at the center. Both houses have later Victorian-period porches on the south elevation.
Evidence of historic industry are found nearby on both sides of the Huntington Street bridge over the Farmill. River. The stone foundation of an outbuilding associated with the Thompson House (199 Huntington Street) rises from the streambed of the Farmill River, just below the dam there. Similar dry-laid stone walls form vertical riverbanks on the east side of the bridge, a historic industrial site which may have been a cider and/or turning mill. Other uses of the site included a wagon shop. An old building is perched above the high stone wall on the north bank, where there are arched openings at the base of the wall for an underground tailrace. On this same property is a residence which is a modern replies of a mill (200 Huntington Street).
One of the earliest Greek Revival style houses in the Huntington Center Historic District (155 Huntington Street) was probably built by Gould Judson. It has the pedimented temple form common to this style but displays a fanlight with keyblock in the tympanum, which may have been added at the same time as the Colonial Revival style veranda. St. Paul's Rectory is an unusual example of this style (31 Church Street). Although it has the form of a three-bay Colonial, the wide frieze board under the eaves and centrally located door surround are characteristically Greek Revival.
The Thomas Clarkson House (212 Huntington Street) and the Obadiah Hyde House (20 Ripton Road), which are located at either end of the district, are later expressions of the Greek Revival style. Similar in form with shallow hip roofs, they display frieze boards under the eaves, pierced with narrow attic windows.
Among the few houses constructed near the end of the nineteenth century is a Queen Anne on lower Church Street (57 Church Street). Its cross-gable plan and the Stick style definition of the sheathing, which includes clapboarding and imbricated shingles in the gables, is a combination often found in this style. The veranda has a pediment over the entrance, brackets, turned posts, and a spindle course.
The Colonial Revival first appeared in the Huntington Center Historic District about 1890. At this time, a veranda of this style was added to the Shelton House, a c.1792 Colonial (112 Huntington Street). Supported by slim columns, which are grouped on either side of the projecting pedimented entrance, it wraps around to a small addition at the rear. The stylistic update also included the second-story bay window on the facade. Another veranda of the same style and period with single round columns is found on the Gould Judson House (155 Huntington Street).
The present Congregational parsonage at the lower end of Church Street is a 1926 Neo-Greek Revival structure, said to be a replica of an earlier house on the site (47 Church Street). A recessed trabeated doorway with sidelights dominates the five-bay facade, which has a garlanded frieze under the eaves, the latter a twentieth century style feature.
Among the last historic houses in the Huntington Center Historic District are two Federal Revivals that completed the streetscape west of the Green about 1930 (5 and 15 Church Street). A small Colonial Revival Cape and a Tudor Revival were built on the east side of Huntington Street about the same time (130 and 174 Huntington Street). The last historic house in the Huntington Center Historic District was a Cape erected at the beginning of World War II (154 Huntington Street), a style and form that were also utilized after the war. The other popular postwar style, the Ranch, represented by several houses in the district, includes nearly identical examples on either side of Sorghum Road, which are mirror images of each other (121 and 131 Huntington Street). Like other modern houses on the west side of the street, they are sited to maintain the original historic setback there.
The Huntington Center Historic District is a well-preserved representative illustration of the historic and architectural development of a Connecticut colonial parish center. Through a constant process of renewal and change, it evolved into a bustling nineteenth century village. In its final historic evolution as an early twentieth century residential suburb, the district has retained much of its historic appearance. The highlights of the district's well-preserved collection of domestic and ecclesiastical architecture include a group of very early Colonial houses and later fine individual examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, and Gothic Revival styles.
Historical Background and Significance
The village of Huntington is now part of the Town of Shelton, which is located on the west side of the Housatonic River. About five square miles in area, the town and the neighboring communities of Trumbull and Monroe were once part of Stratford. When Stratford, one of the largest colonial settlements on Long Island Sound, was established in 1639, the proprietors also claimed almost 150 square miles of interior upland, an unsettled wilderness to be held in common as a land reserve for future generations. Within a short period, however, it was divided and distributed among Stratford proprietors, and by the late 1600s, a few people laid claim to grants in the Huntington area, the northernmost part of the reserve. Many were drawn to the area between the Farmill River and its Branch (the earlier name for Means Brook), a fertile region with considerable waterpower potential. By 1717 this community of scattered farmsteads had grown large enough to support its own Congregational Church society. With the approval of the General Assembly, the governing body of the colony, the new parish of Ripton was founded. It was named for a town in Yorkshire, England, the birthplace of Daniel Shelton, one of the largest landowners in the new parish. In 1789 Huntington was incorporated as a separate town. New Stratford, a second parish in the northwestern part of town, became the Town of Monroe in 1823.
Since a nucleus of a settlement with a commons was already in place in the geographic center of Ripton Parish (the present district), it is not surprising that a site nearby was selected for the first meetinghouse. It was erected in 1723 on Fanton Hill (outside the district), northwest of the present church. The first Congregational minister, the Reverend Jedidiah Mills, was ordained the following year. As an inducement to settle in Ripton, he was awarded 100 acres by the Town of Stratford and the parish provided 80 pounds in cash and labor for the construction of his house, the Colonial saltbox that still stands at the head of the present Green (11 Ripton Road). Among the other domestic survivors of the parish period are the saltboxes at 144 and 191 Huntington Street. The latter house was erected about 1725 by a member of the Hawley family who also had a gristmill nearby on the Farmill River.
About 1740 an Anglican church was erected on the site of the present St. Paul's Episcopal Church and the adjacent cemetery was laid out on church land. Even though the Church of England had a considerable following in western Connecticut, a church of this denomination right in the center of a parish of the established Congregational church was a most unusual occurrence. By 1774 the Congregationalists literally reasserted their state-supported dominance by building a second larger meetinghouse at the head of the Green (east of the minister's house), where it remained in use until it burned down in the 1830s. Until the American Episcopal Church was founded after the Revolution, Anglicans in Connecticut were served by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Church of England missionaries who included the Reverend Christopher Newton, appointed to serve in Huntington in 1755. The first schoolhouse in the district, erected on the commons about 1750, completed the parish's institutional development (150 Huntington Street).
There was a colonial gristmill on the upper reaches of the Branch (outside the district) and the Farmill River was dammed at several points, but the industrial potential of these streams was not fully realized until the nineteenth century. The resulting prosperity was reflected in the number of houses that were built or remodeled in the district at that time. The earliest were the Federal style houses built by John Thompson (199 Huntington Street) and Elias Hall at the southern end (190 Huntington Street). The sophistication of these houses, one of which was directly associated with early industry, as well as the construction of the new finely appointed St. Paul's Church a few years later, was a clear indication of the wealth of the community.
The saw- and gristmill associated with the Roswell Hawley House flourished for much of the century. By 1868 it was run by Lewis Curtis, a dealer in flour, feed, grain, and rock salt, who lived in the Hawley House (191 Huntington Street). A sorghum mill farther upstream was associated with a Federal/Greek Revival house on the west side of Huntington Street, probably built by mill owner Gould Judson (155 Huntington Street). After the Civil War, John Thompson's cider mill was run by George Thompson (probably his son), who also had a store nearby (200 Huntington Street). Thompson also manufactured saddle trees (wooden frames for saddles), as did the firm of Inman & Powell in the shop now attached to the former school (150 Huntington Street).
Among the economic and social enterprises in the Huntington Center Historic District was a general store, located in an addition to the Reverend Mills House (11 Ripton Road). Josiah Wheeler enlarged his house to include a ballroom on the second floor (120 Huntington Street). Hezekiah Rudd, who had married Maria Deforest, ran a select boarding school for boys in the Deforest home until 1833 (11 Church Street). At that time he donated the property to the Congregational Church, which built a new edifice next door. After that church burned down, it was replaced by the present structure (17 Church Street).
With the damming of the Housatonic River in 1867, a new era began in Huntington. The industrial and political focus shifted from the center to the east side of town, where an entire manufacturing village developed along the power canals of the dam. This community became Huntington's major population center and is the seat of municipal government today. In 1919 the town was renamed Shelton in honor of Edward N. Shelton, the prime mover for the dam project, probably a descendant of Dr. James Harvey Shelton, who had lived in the center (112 Huntington Street).
In 1890 the Congregationalists were able to build a fine Gothic Revival church in Huntington Center (17 Church Street) and a large new brick school was erected that year (41 Church Street), but the pace of residential development declined. The Shelton House (112 Huntington Street) and the Gould Judson House (155 Huntington Street) were remodeled with Colonial Revival style verandas by the turn of the century, but there was little new residential construction in the district until after World War I.
In the new wave of development that took place about 1930, newcomers to the district built a few houses in the styles of that period, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Bungalow, and many residents constructed garages for their automobiles. With the last historic house in the district, a Colonial Revival Cape, erected in 1942, the district was well on its way to becoming a center of an extensive residential neighborhood, a process that accelerated after the war and continues to the present.
Much of the architectural significance of the Huntington Center Historic District is found in the domestic and ecclesiastical architecture clustered around the Huntington Green and Cemetery, a significance enhanced by the temporal depth and integrity of this historic setting. Virtually undisturbed by more than 200 years of contiguous growth and stylistic development, these ancient sites still recall the settlement period of the parish and convey a distinct sense of time and place. Since the early 1700s, the cemetery has been the burying ground for inhabitants of the district; there the presence of the past is most vividly conveyed by the iconography and craftsmanship of the headstones. That the cemetery has survived in the town center and so near the Green is a rare circumstance. By the late 1800s, often at the behest of village improvement societies, many such graveyards were moved to sequestered landscaped cemeteries away from town centers. Throughout its evolution from a commons to the suburban park of today, the Green has remained the center of the community. Limited modern amenities and appropriately restrained, simple landscaping contribute to the historic integrity of this space.
Undoubtedly, the most architecturally significant and well-preserved resources in the Huntington Center Historic District are its stylistically diverse churches. The balanced verticality and delicate Federal detailing of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, so typical of the early 1800s, makes a strong contrast to the broad asymmetrical massing and Gothic articulation of the Congregational Church, underscoring the dramatic stylistic changes that took place in the nineteenth century and providing a dominant and eclectic focus for an otherwise very architecturally conservative district.
In their simplicity of form and understated classical detail, the houses nearby reflect this essential conservatism. As it did throughout the district, the colonial form persisted regardless of period, and stylistic parameters were defined by limited architectural detail, qualities often found in Connecticut's vernacular architecture. Indeed, pure style is rare. Most domestic buildings in the Huntington Center Historic District are local interpretations of any given style and may incorporate stylistic changes and additions from later periods. Such remodeling often enriches architectural history; in a few cases, it has altered basic form.
Among the houses around the Green that set the architectural tone for the district is the home of the first Congregational minister (11 Ripton Road, Rev. Jedidiah Mills House, c.1734), a fine well-preserved example of Connecticut's unadorned colonial architecture, as is another house on the west, a later Colonial that displays a Federal doorway (11 Church Street, DeForest-Rudd House, c.1770). The limited use of classical detail to elaborate a colonial form is shown by the Episcopal Rectory, a modest but well-preserved Greek Revival style house (31 Church Street), and the nicely detailed Neo-Greek Revival of 1926 that now serves as a Congregational parsonage (47 Church Street). In both of these buildings the doorway surround is the primary architectural feature.
The colonial architecture of the Huntington Center Historic District is especially important. Most of the houses date from the early eighteenth century, presenting a relatively rare opportunity to reconstruct the layout of an early parish. Even though their large home lots have long since been divided and developed, the locations of these buildings and those around the Green still recall the dispersed linear pattern of the village. Of particular significance is the c.1710 Colonial at 144 Huntington Street, one of the oldest houses in the Huntington Center Historic District. This saltbox has exceptional integrity of form and materials. Others along Huntington Street have been remodeled over time. For example, the Josiah Wheeler House (120 Huntington Street), built about the same time, was obviously extended and its doorway dates from the Greek Revival period. There have been some alterations to the Hawley-Curtis House (191 Huntington Street) and one late eighteenth-century house was remodeled in the Colonial Revival period (112 Huntington Street, Shelton House).
The limited diffusion of the Federal style in the Huntington Center Historic District produced the Elias Hall House (190 Huntington Street) and the John Thompson House (199 Huntington Street). Their gabled colonial forms are elaborated with finely detailed doorways with fanlights and delicate tracery, a similarity that suggests the hand of the same builder. The fine pedimented portico on the Hall House, a rare surviving feature in the district, is exceptional in its own right. While not displaying the extreme attenuation that often characterized the Federal style in more urban areas, it was the height of style in the district for houses of this period.
Among the many examples of the Greek Revival style in the Huntington Center Historic District, the well-preserved Gould Judson House stands out as the only one to utilize the gable-to-street temple form, the more common expression of this style in both rural and urban settings. Fully detailed with a gable pediment and broad frieze boards, it features a Greek Revival doorway which may once have been sheltered beneath a stylish portico, removed when the Colonial Revival style veranda was added.
As demonstrated by two late examples of the Greek Revival style in the Huntington Center Historic District, the Obadiah Hyde House (20 Ripton Road) and Thomas Clarkson House (212 Huntington Street) that bookend the district, the use of a cubic form often associated with the Italian Villa style appears to be a real concession to stylistic development. However, upon closer examination, it is clear that both these well-preserved houses consist of Colonial half-house forms capped by shallow hipped roofs, and elaborated with Greek Revival features. That the doorway of the Clarkson House does not have the typical wide frieze and cornice found on most Greek Revivals in the district suggests that part of the entablature was removed.
The overall cohesiveness of the Huntington Center Historic District is exceptional, especially considering the relatively high rate of non-contributing resources. There are several reasons why the introduction of modern domestic and institutional architecture has had little effect on its historic appearance and integrity. Historic setbacks are maintained throughout, especially along the west side of lower Church and Huntington streets, thus preserving the continuity of these streetscapes. For the most part, new institutional construction is compatibly styled and suitably scaled. A case in point is the design of the 1965 firehouse with its Neo-Colonial features. The similar styling of St. Paul's Parish Hall and its orientation on the lot across from the Green reduce its impact on the cohesiveness of the historic architecture there. Although the shopping center lies outside the Huntington Center Historic District, the considerable potential impact of its presence is mitigated by an unobstrusive scale and design that relate well to the rural residential setting. In addition, its visual impact is buffered by the trees and landscaping of the Green.
Barber, John W. Connecticut Historical Collections. New Haven, Connecticut: Durrie & Peck and J W. Barber, 1836.
"Initial Report of the Shelton Historic District Study Committee," 1979.
A Pictorial History of Shelton, Connecticut. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Herff Jones 1987.
SOS! (Save Outdoor Sculpture) Survey, 1993.
Town of Huntington, Fairfield Co. Conn., 1868 (historic map).
† Jan Cunningham, Cummingham Preservation Associates, LLC and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Huntington Center Historic District, Fairfield County, Connecticut, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.