Sherman Historic District
The Sherman Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. 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 Sherman Historic District encompasses the center of the Town of Sherman, a community in northern Fairfield County on Connecticut's western border. Situated at the junction of State Routes 37 and 39, the Sherman Historic District includes the historic district established by state enabling legislation and contains 64 contributing and non-contributing resources. The majority of the 57 (89%) contributing resources are houses and their associated outbuildings, including a nineteenth-century hat shop. Several schools, a town hall, a library, a store, and a former church complete the Sherman Historic District.
Because of the linear settlement pattern, most of the resources are located along the route of a former turnpike, Route 37, the main street of the town, and Old Greenswood Road, now a dead-end street, at the southern end. Several streams run through the Sherman Historic District, including Sawmill Brook, which feeds Lake Candlewood, a man-made reservoir to the southeast of the district. Water-powered industry was located along this brook in the nineteenth century. Some of the Sherman Historic District's major buildings face each other across the highway near the intersection of Sawmill Road which enters from the southeast near the head of the district. They range in age from about 1800 to 1926 and are representative of several stages of the town's architectural and institutional development. From the Federal and Greek Revival periods of the early nineteenth century are the circa 1800 David Northrop House and the Hawley Store. Also located there are the 1886 Town Hall and the 1926 Sherman Library, the latter built on the site of the eighteenth-century Fuller Tavern and one the last historic buildings to be constructed in the district. The only major change in the Sherman Historic District has been the lowering of the roadbed of the highway as it runs uphill past the cemetery and an elevated knoll overlooking the town, the site of Center Church and Center School. This site has always been the location of the town's meetinghouses and today a modern town hall is located there outside the district.
Just south of the Hawley Store are two of the oldest remaining houses in the Sherman Historic District, the Perry Briggs House (7 Route 37 Center) and the Potter/Hawley House (5 Route 37 Center). The Potter/Hawley House is a classic five-bay Colonial probably dating from the mid-eighteenth century. The builder is unknown but William Potter, an early nineteenth-century owner, is probably responsible for the Federal doorway with sidelights, The northwest corner of the Perry Briggs House was one of the earliest stores in town. The house was enlarged to its present Cape-style form about 1790 and displays a wide frieze pierced by small narrow windows, a feature in common use in the district until about 1850.
Several other houses in the Sherman Historic District influenced by the Federal style include the circa 1835 Isaac Hatch House across the street (6 Route 37 Center). It is possible that this house was first constructed as a one-story cottage with its Federal doorway flanked by reeded pilasters in place before the second story was added. There is an elaborate cornice along the eaves and the rake, with triglyphs, mutules, and diamond-patterned curved molding. Another Federal style house with the same ridge-to-street configuration is the David Northrop House on the other side of the Old Town Hall to the south (10 Route 37 Center). The center chimney is indicative of its probable late-eighteenth-century date. It has retained the side porch on the south elevation but the facade porch was recently removed to reveal the wide Federal-style entranceway with an oversize leaded transom and sidelights. A more conventional Federal style house, built by the same family on the side of a hill at 6 Route 37 East as it ascends out of town, is the Dr. Northrop House. Style features include the pedimented coved portico and the fanlight in the pediment and over the door. The side ell has been extended to the west.
The Greek Revival style was expressed in the Sherman Historic District with differing forms and levels of style. Typically the Center Church utilized the temple form, albeit a very simplified gable-roofed version (7 Route 39 North). The building is now the Sherman Playhouse; the steeple has been removed and there is a large gable-roofed rear extension for the stage. The style reached an exceptional level in the Jennings House, which is distinguished by its massive pediment, with an outsize triangular window, extending over a two-story open porch (4 Route 37 Center). A similar pediment was used in the Hawley Store diagonally across the street and is found in at least one other house in town outside the district (3 Route 37 Center). The pediment and the full second story of the store extend over the facade porch. The tall second-story windows break the line of the frieze and may be late-nineteenth-century replacements.
A number of similar one-story Capes were built in the Greek Revival style throughout the Sherman Historic District. They include the 1846 Charles Pepper House at 11 Route 37 Center and the earlier George Woodruff House at 10 Old Greenswood Road. The Pepper House has an unusual recessed doorway, while the Woodruff House displays a more typical pilastered entrance with a high entablature. Both houses have bold cornice returns and small attic windows in the frieze, as does the contemporary house to the immediate north of the Pepper House. A similar form is found in another Woodruff House along Sawmill Brook at 3 Sawmill Road and the White House at 1 Route 37 East. The latter is part of a small non-contributing commercial complex which consists of several renovated outbuildings formerly associated with the house. Despite its circa 1830 construction date, the Woodruff House has a Federal doorway.
Early water-powered industry contemporary with the residential development in the period is represented in the Sherman Historic District by two surviving buildings. One dating from 1845, the Edwards' Hat Shop on Old Greenswood Road is relatively unchanged. It is associated with the Hatch/Edwards House across the street built in the late eighteenth century (8 Old Greenswood Road), The other historic industrial building is the Jennings Feed and Lumber Mill on Sawmill Brook at 8 Sawmill Road, which has been converted to a residence but has retained much of its original form and its high rubble foundation along the brook.
By mid-century the town's architecture began to reflect the influence of the Victorian period. Houses were remodeled and open facade porches with machine-turned posts were added to earlier buildings. The few new houses built in the district were taller and narrower, often constructed with intersecting gables and displaying machine-made detail. The Osborne House is an example of the remodeling of a Greek Revival cottage in this period (20 Route 37 Center). The earlier style features, the frieze, attic windows, and Greek Revival style doorway, are almost obscured by the addition to the rear and the elaborate wraparound porch with its distinctive bracketed corner drops. More extensive remodeling of the Sherwood House in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has hidden an earlier house, now a rear wing (14 Route 37 Center). Although the new main block addition was renovated with Colonial Revival style detailing, its height and narrow plan indicate that this section was built much earlier, probably about 1860. A facade porch from that period has been removed. One of the few houses to retain a Victorian porch in the district is the Ephraim Hatch House (22 Route 37 Center). Here the porch posts reflect an Italianate influence, but the house itself with its twin end chimneys and possible Federal doorway may predate the porch. One of the simpler Victorian houses built at this time in the district was the Richmond House at 5 Sawmill Road. With imbricated shingles in the gable peak of the facade as its only detailing, this narrow house with its extended wing sits between the road and the brook.
Although there was no historic residential development in the Sherman Historic District in the twentieth century, the period is represented by two institutional Colonial Revival style buildings, the Sherman School (2 Route 37 Center) and the Sherman Library (1 Route 37 Center), the only historic brick buildings in the center. Only the very front section of the school is the original 1937 building. Numerous and extensive additions have taken place since that time. The gambrel-roofed library was built in 1926 with Palladian windows in the end elevations. A large addition was added in 1960 to the rear. A nineteenth century barn behind the library was originally associated with the Fuller Tavern which occupied the library site until 1912.
The Sherman Historic District is significant as a representative village center that demonstrates the patterns of settlement and socio-economic development common to daughter towns in Fairfield County. An exceptionally cohesive and well-preserved district, it contains domestic and institutional architecture in the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, vernacular Victorian, and Colonial Revival styles which illustrate the growth of the community between about 1740 and 1937.
When the population dispersed inland during the second stage of settlement in Connecticut, new villages were founded. Although some in Fairfield County remained crossroads villages, others became fully developed centers of incorporated towns. A few of these new town centers were clustered around a green, replicating the pattern of the parent town; the majority evolved linearly, like Sherman, but had an institutional focus. Generally these centers were established near a water course, which provided power for grist- and sawmills, and later in the nineteenth century, agrarian-based industry.
New Fairfield was established with permission of the General Assembly meeting in New Haven in 1707, but it was not until 1729 that purchase of the land from the local Native Americans was formalized in a deed. Incorporated in 1740, the township, 14 miles long and about six miles wide, was located north of Danbury and bounded by New York State on the west and New Milford on the east. Settlement began sometime before 1750 in the northern half, the area which later became Sherman, but was then known as the Upper Seven. Two historic resources that remain in the Sherman Historic District from the settlement period of the eighteenth century, when Sherman was still part of New Fairfield, are the Potter-Hawley House at 5 Route 37 Center and the Hatch-Edwards House at 8 Old Greenswood Road. Part of another house may have been the town's first store (7 Route 37 Center).
The Upper Seven, with a population of 150, was set off from New Fairfield as a separate town in 1802, first called New Dilloway, and later Sherman for its most distinguished citizen, Roger Sherman, who had a shoemaker's shop in the town outside the district, according to local tradition. Sherman is known as the only man who assisted in the drafting and signed all four of the documents that established the United States: the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Federal Constitution.
The first meetinghouse in the Upper Seven, or the New Fairfield North Society, was built on the knoll in the district which is the present day site of the Center Church. A second building, built in 1789, which served the community until 1836, was replaced by a third building north of the town center. The present Center Church, also known as the Union Church, was built the following year partially in protest of the earlier relocation. Services were held there by several Protestant denominations.
The first of several educational institutions in the Sherman Historic District is the 1853 District School located next to the church on the hill above town (7 Route 39 North). At one time 100 pupils were in attendance. In 1915 it was chosen as a model rural school and used to train teachers from the Danbury Normal School. Among its distinguished alumni was Philo P. Stewart, co-founder of Oberlin College in Ohio. A private school, known as the Sherman Academy, which first met in a store on the site of the present Town Hall (outside the district), moved to the second floor of the Greek Revival style Hawley Store located at the intersection of Route 37 and Sawmill Road. Charles Andrews, a governor of Connecticut (1879-1881), once taught at this academy. The Sherman Library, built on donated land in 1926 on the site of the former Fuller Tavern (1 Route 37 Center), and the present consolidated school, built in 1937 for the elementary grades (2 Route 37 East), were twentieth century institutional additions to the district. Pupils from Center School attended high school in New Milford, as they had since 1923.
Unlike many inland towns. Sherman had access to distant markets for its agricultural and industrial products in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Sherman-Redding Turnpike (Route 37) was built about 1803. A turnpike which ran from Pawling to Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River in New York was extended in 1820 by Sherman residents to New Milford. Sherman particularly benefitted from its proximity to New Milford. By 1840 a train ran from there to Bridgeport giving Sherman's farmers access to coastal towns and New York City. By 1845 dairy farming and the raising of sheep, swine, and beef cattle were major farming occupations. Sheep were raised for wool, but cattle and sheep were often driven to New York for sale. Corn, wheat, potatoes, and hay were also sold or traded.
A number of early industries were located in the district along Greenswood and Sawmill brooks. In 1845, at the hat factory building which still stands at 8 Old Greenswood Road, Boss Edwards manufactured 600 hats valued at $1,500. Charles Pepper manufactured carriages and coffins at the rear of his property (11 Route 37 Center) and ran a steam sawmill behind the Perry Briggs House (7 Route 37 Center) to make plow handles for Southern markets. Further downstream were agrarian-based industries associated with the production of leather. The tannery owned by Relivo Fuller may include some of the outbuildings now associated with 1 Sawmill Road. Water was piped to his bark mill across the road on the site of 2 Sawmill Road. Other water-powered mills nearby were the Jennings Mill (8 Sawmill Road), which has been converted to a residence, and George Woodruff's grist and cider mill (no longer extant). George (1st) lived across the street (3 Sawmill Road); his grandson, Dr. John N. Woodruff, who took over the mill, was a state senator, judge of probate, and town clerk. He later bought the Northrop property at 6 Route 37 East.
Residential development in the Sherman Historic District in this period reflected the general prosperity and population growth of the town in the early nineteenth century. Town wide, Sherman's population, estimated at about 150 in 1800, had grown to 948 by mid-century. Most of the resources in the Sherman Historic District were built in this period, many serving town functions. Before the Town Hall was constructed in 1886 (8 Route 37 Center), local trials were held, probably for misdemeanors, in rooms at the David Northrop House (10 Route 37 Center). The Hawley Store was a polling place and the site of the post office in the late nineteenth century. Earlier, the post office was located in the Charles Pepper House (11 Route 37 Center) and in the twentieth century, in an addition of the Northrop House.
The creation of Lake Candlewood in 1928 had a major impact on Sherman in the twentieth century. The largest man-made lake in the state, it was 14 miles long and flooded over 8 square miles, including the village of Leach Hollow in Sherman and one-third of the best farmland in town. The graves from the Leach Hollow Cemetery were moved to a site in the district on Sawmill Road. The lake was created to provide electric power, but with 60 miles of lake front, it became a seasonal resort, reversing the population decline in Sherman, which had reached a low of 350 by 1921. So many cottages were built near the lake starting in the 1930s that Sherman instituted one of the first zoning laws in the state in 1937. By 1954 the year-round population had not only doubled, but rose to 1,200 during the summer season, Today, Sherman continues to attract seasonal residents from out-of-state, including several from New York City who have renovated houses in the district.
Many factors contribute to the cohesiveness and integrity of the Sherman Historic District. Few historic buildings have been lost over time and there is little modern intrusion to detract from the historic setting. Physical changes have had minimal impact. The focal point of the district remains on the knoll. Although the original buildings there were replaced by the present nineteenth-century church and school, the elevated site has retained it original colonial function. Despite the diversion of the highway at the lower end of the district, Old Greenswood Road and its resources remain as the former route of the old turnpike.
A rich variety of vernacular institutional and residential buildings line Sherman's roads, establishing the Sherman Historic District's historic character and tracing its development. The Federal style is the first stylistic influence in the district. Even the earliest building, the Potter/Hawley House (5 Route 37 Center), which dates from the mid-eighteenth century, displays a fine Federal doorway. Of later buildings of this style, two of the best examples were built by the Northrop family, where again the detailing is concentrated at the main entrance. The doorway of the David Northrop House at 10 Route 37 Center with its exceptionally large and distinctive transom and sidelights anticipates the Greek Revival style. The finely detailed portico of the Dr. Northrop House at 6 Route 37 East is a more conventional interpretation, which may be the only example of an original entrance porch in the Sherman Historic District.
Two exceptional buildings with different functions are individually significant and distinctive examples of the Greek Revival, the predominant style in the district. Both the Jennings House (4 Route 37 Center) and the Hawley Store (3 Route 37 Center) are distinguished by their unusual and similar pediment windows, perhaps designed by the same local builder, yet unknown. Of particular significance is the group of contributing vernacular Greek Revival style houses. Found throughout the district, they have a similar Cape form and most display the small attic windows which are characteristic of this type of modest dwelling. In addition to their similarities of scale and materials, the extensive repetition of a similar form and style contributes to the Sherman Historic District's cohesiveness and underscores the importance of the early nineteenth century in the town's development.
Although the Old Town Hall and the few houses that were constructed in the last half of the nineteenth century display neither the detailing nor complex massing that was typical of this period in urban areas, as a group they provide historic architectural continuity to the district. A rare historic resource that functioned in this period is the Edwards' Hat Shop (8 Old Greenswood Road). It is significant because of its integrity of setting and largely unaltered condition.
The brick institutional buildings of the early twentieth century which complete the Sherman Historic District and reflect the renewed prosperity of Sherman in this period quite typically utilize the Colonial Revival style. The Sherman Library (1 Route 37 Center) is significant as a gambrel-roofed type, a form more common to domestic buildings of this style, but obviously used here to maintain the scale of the streetscape.
Giddings, Allie Hungerford. A History of Sherman; Records and Recollections. Sherman: The Sherman Historical Society, 1977.
The Sentinel Houses, Sherman, Connecticut. Sherman: The Sherman Sentinel and The Sherman Historical Society, 1978.
Town of Sherman — Fairfield Co., Conn. New York: F.W. Beers, A.D. Ellis & G.G. Soule, 1867.
† Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Associates, Ltd. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Sherman Historic District, Sherman, CT, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.