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Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District


The Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. 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 Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District is located in the Saugatuck River Valley in the Town of Weston. A narrow linear residential district approximately .7 of a mile in length, it extends almost due north along both sides of Lyons Plains Road, which lies about 50 feet above the Saugatuck River that borders the district on the west. The Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District generally encompasses and expands upon two existing local historic districts established in 1980. Although most of the historic properties are components of the local Bradley Edge Tool District, three historic architecturally compatible properties at the north end that comprise the local Lyons Plain District are also included.

The Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District contains 39 contributing and non-contributing buildings and one contributing industrial site. The 19 contributing houses in the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District were built between c.1820 and 1925 and include at least six workers' houses. Associated contributing secondary structures include barns and sheds, some converted for modern use as garages or garage apartments. The nine non-contributing buildings include five houses, three of which were built after 1945, and five outbuildings.[1] Except for one stone garage, all the buildings are wood-frame construction, generally sided with clapboard. Most of the historic houses have stone foundations.

The residential appearance of the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District has changed very little over time. Existing outbuildings have been converted to residential use and a few new houses have been constructed but historic scale is maintained. Historic and modern setbacks are similar because of the terrain. Since the lots on the west side of the district slope steeply at the rear, houses here are sited on the level ground quite close to the road. On the east side, where the slope is more gradual, houses are set into the hillside and somewhat farther back from the road. Some of the historic properties are bordered with low fencing and/or stone walls but more recently, higher privacy fencing has been installed along the roadway, generally on the west side.

The majority of houses date from the nineteenth century and were generally built within a relatively narrow time frame the antebellum period associated with industrial development here just before the Civil War. The Gershom W. Bradley House on the east side of the street (115 Lyons Plains Road) has been dated at 1832, but it may have been constructed earlier. Its later Colonial Revival style veranda wraps around what appears to be a five-bay center-chimney Colonial. A turned spindle course and balustrade connect the slim columns of the veranda and a pediment break in the porch roof frames the main entrance. The Greek Revival doorway, which projects forward from the plane of the facade, has a broad transom and sidelights. Other changes to the house include a two-story, balustraded bay window and small wing, both on the south elevation, and possibly the fanlights with key blocks in the gable peaks. The low stone wall in front of the house is capped by a row of grindstones, industrial artifacts found on several properties in the district.[2] The evolution of the house at 99 Lyon Plains Road is less obvious, particularly since the house and most of its appendages have stone foundations. Part of this house may be eighteenth century, as indicated by the tax assessor's records, but the main block, which has a three-bay ridge-to-street gabled form and a simple Federal doorway, appears no earlier than 1820.

Two other houses constructed for factory owners or wealthy farmers have a similar plan and form derived from the Italian Villa style and near-flat roofs, with extended overhangs. Built in a partial cross-plan with a cubic main block, they have narrower three-bay sections that project from the facade. The well-preserved 1859 Miles Bradley House in the center of the district (110 Lyons Plains Road) is an exceptional example of Italianate architecture; its most unusual feature is the double bulls-eye windows in the wide frieze board under the eaves. Sawn scrollwork elaborates the flat openwork supports of the veranda, which extends across the facade and returns on either side to the main block. Tall floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto the porch have decorative shouldered lintels and contain fixed transoms over doubled, three-pane vertical sash. The slightly earlier and similar Osborne House at the north end of the district (145 Lyons Plains Road) may have originally been embellished in the Greek Revival style, but an earlier doorway surround was covered when the new Colonial Revival portico was added. It is pedimented with a coved ceiling and supported by slim double columns. During later remodeling, about 1950, additions were constructed on either side of the projecting portion of the facade; the one on the left is two stories in height and set flush with the original front of the house.

A number of smaller vernacular houses were also built in the decade before the Civil War. Five that have been identified as tenant or boarding houses for factory workers are located on the west side of the street. Though they have been altered to some degree, most have the gabled form and ridge-to-street orientation of workers' housing characteristic of mid-nineteenth century industrial villages in Connecticut. They have three- or five-bay facades and six-over-six windows. Although several were embellished in the twentieth century, originally they displayed limited detail. Some have the original narrow six-pane windows under the eaves often found in cottages of the period that have a low second story (such as, 130 and 134 Lyons Plains Road). Another such example, located at the rear of the Miles Bradley House (110 Lyons Plains Road), may have housed domestic help rather than factory workers. A private residence of this type, which was built by Curtis Wood on the east side of the road about 1845, is strikingly similar, but with its Greek Revival portico, is more stylish (135 Lyons Plains Road). Here the attic windows are the narrower three-pane type that slide into framed openings in the walls. Similar windows are also found on the wing of another house, which has a gable-to-street orientation and pronounced cornice returns (114 Lyons Plains Road). Another type of workers' housing is demonstrated by two, possibly slightly later, examples at the south end of the district, which were built with five-bay facades, center chimneys, and centered facade entrances (88 and 94 Lyons Plains Road). During substantial remodeling in 1937, the latter feature was removed at 94 Lyons Plains Road and replaced with a bay window.

The last two mid-nineteenth-century houses in the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District are a Cape built by Francis Smith (95 Lyons Plains Road) and a three-quarter house built by Samuel Lockwood (139 Lyons Plains Road). Both have been enlarged but the original form of the Lockwood House is more readily discernible.

Although many houses and barns in the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District were remodeled in the early twentieth century, there was very little new construction at that time. The few houses that date from this period include a separate new cottage on the property at 94 Lyons Plains Road, built at the time of the remodeling of the earlier house there, and the two houses at 105 and 146 Lyons Plains Road which were built in the 1920s but so completely modernized that they are no longer contributing. 104 Lyons Plains Road is reported to be a late eighteenth-century barn that was remodeled in 1941. Another at 111 Lyons Plains Road was a nineteenth-century barn which has been remodeled several times and now displays a recessed doorway and facade wall dormers. It also is possible that 140 Lyons Plains Road at the north end of the district was originally an outbuilding. Although dated at 1925, its vertical siding and tall gabled form suggest an earlier carriage house or barn, which possibly was once associated with the Osborne House across the road.

The Bradley Edge Tool Company buildings burned down in 1911. According to the historic map of 1867 and several later historic photographs, the factory complex, consisting of at least four separate buildings, was then situated below the dam, bordered on the west by the river itself, and on the east by a long open stone-walled race. Evidence of this race, as well as stone building foundations, is still visible on the site.[3]

Significance

The Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District encompasses a significant representative residential community that developed in association with rural industry in Weston's Saugatuck River Valley. Historically associated with the town's largest producer of metal products, the Bradley Edge Tool Company, it contains a high concentration of well-preserved mid-nineteenth-century residences, including a number of local examples of rural workers' housing. Of particular architectural significance are the well-preserved vernacular expressions of Greek Revival and Italianate domestic architecture associated with factory owners and farmers in the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District.

Historical Background and Significance

The Town of Weston, which once included the neighboring Town of Easton, evolved as a parish and daughter town of Fairfield. Following the historical pattern of most other second-tier towns along the coast, for almost 100 years the Weston area remained a largely unsettled land reserve unclaimed by Fairfield proprietors. Long after their descendants pushed north about 1740 along the principal watercourses, the Saugatuck River and its tributaries, Weston remained a dispersed community. Commons were laid out in 1682 and again in 1714, but no village center emerged. Instead, scattered settlement took place on the long lots to the west and east of the commons, which later developed into the two parishes of Norfield and North Fairfield. Although the rugged terrain was not ideal, most people were farmers and soon colonial mills were established along the rivers and creeks. Until a separation process was initiated in 1755 with the granting of winter preaching privileges, Fairfield remained the center of religious life; Norfield Parish became a separate ecclesiastical society in 1756, soon followed by North Fairfield in 1762. Despite Fairfield's opposition, and after extensive petitioning of the General Assembly, Norfield combined with North Fairfield to become Weston, which was incorporated as a town in 1787. Easton was set off as a separate town in 1845.

Although Weston remained a farming community, small industrial villages began to coalesce around earlier colonial mill sites and became the focus of the town's seven school districts in the nineteenth century. There had been an iron forge at Valley Forge to the north on the Saugatuck River since the late 1700s and the town became noted for its metal industries. By the time of the Civil War there were a number of other smaller iron foundries, often operating in conjunction with saw- or gristmills. Manufacturing was well-established by 1850, with a total of nine factories. In addition to the production of edge tools by two members of the Bradley family, other factories produced hats, buttons, shirts, and cigars. Makers of wagon parts and planing mills were also in business. At that time, however, the largest employer was still an agrarian-based industry, the tannery known as William Bradley & Son.

The industrial district on Lyons Plains Road developed between 1834 and 1870. In 1834 Gershom W. Bradley (b.1804) established the business in an abandoned comb factory. (An earlier axe factory run by his father was located farther north on the river at Valley Forge.) Bradley either built his house across the road from the factory at that time or remodeled an existing structure (115 Lyons Plains Road). Following a disastrous flood in 1854, the factory was rebuilt by his son, Miles Bradley, who assumed control of the business and probably enlarged the dam. His imposing 1859 villa was built on a site overlooking the company (110 Lyons Plains Road).

In addition to the usual farm and garden tools, the Bradley company became noted for its ability to produce a wide range of specialized cutting tools, many for the Southern plantation market. Of the more than a dozen types of woodcutters' axes which were produced, several were designed to be used in Southern pine forests, which produced turpentine. The firm also made knives and machetes used in the production of cotton and sugar. Only imported English and Norwegian steel was used and the grindstones came from Nova Scotia; these products were shipped to the port at the mouth of the Saugatuck (now in Westport) and carried by ox carts or wagons to the factory.

By 1860 the company employed 40 workers, many living in the firm's tenant and/or boarding houses built in the previous decade on the west side of the road. Of the ten workers' houses standing in 1867, six were clustered south of the factory; three are now part of the district (88, 94 and 114 Lyons Plains Road). Two located north of the factory have also survived (130 and 134 Lyons Plains Road). A possible sixth example was located on the same property as Miles Bradley's house (110 Lyons Plains Road).

Having weathered the crucial formative years of the antebellum period, a time when many rural companies failed, and the loss of its principal market during the Civil War, the Bradley firm continued to prosper for several decades. But its later history was one of decline, a pattern experienced by most surviving rural industry in this period. Many similar ventures had gone under due to lack of capital or been absorbed by their competitors. By contrast, urban-based industry, with its unlimited access to transportation and raw materials, including coal for steam-powered turbines, was flourishing, especially in coastal cities of Fairfield County. For a time companies in towns nearer the coast, such as the Bradley firm in Weston, were able to remain in business, but they faced an increasingly complex and competitive national marketplace.

By 1880 capital investment in Weston industry as a whole had declined by two-thirds and employment was back to the level of 1850. Although Bradley's was still the leading company and remained in business into the early twentieth century, its heyday was essentially over. Forced to charge more for its tools because of higher transportation costs and restricted by seasonal limitations of waterpower, only the quality of product and an extraordinary degree of specialization kept it in business. The number of workers dropped from a high of 70 in 1870 to only 40 in 1880. It was no longer profitable to try to run a water-powered factory during the winter months and production had already been reduced to eight months of the year. By 1882 the business was taken over by two other sons, Dewitt and Gershom W., known as G. Warren to distinguish him from his father. Like Miles Bradley, DeWitt was a son of Gershom Senior's first marriage; G. Warren was one of a second family of five from his marriage in 1853 to Mary Goodsell of Westport. After DeWitt died in 1909, G. Warren sold the firm to the Adams and Staples Company, the owner when the factory was destroyed by fire in 1911.

After World War I, Weston was becoming a suburb. Farming and industry, the town's historic mainstays, had all but disappeared, especially after completion of the Merritt Parkway, which passes through Westport just south of town. No longer sustained by industry, the district became exclusively residential. Newcomers to Weston began to buy up existing houses here and others were constructed in the 1920s. Many buildings here were enlarged or remodeled, a process that started in the 1930s and continued into the 1970s and 1980s.

Architectural Significance

The Bradley Edge Tool Historic District is a significant architectural entity that still conveys its historic period and function. Despite the overlay of twentieth-century remodeling, the essential architectural integrity of this industrial village has been preserved. Its historic ambiance is expressed in a range of building types and styles that clearly evoke the nineteenth century. There is a high percentage of contributing buildings and limited modern intrusion. Much of the new residential construction in the area is located outside the boundaries of the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District. Set well back from the road on the hillside to the east, it does not visually intrude on the historic streetscape of the district.

Because of their architectural integrity and degree of style, the Curtis Wood House and the Miles Bradley House are individually significant. Quite different in form and scale, they are the best examples of vernacular architecture in the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District. The well-preserved Wood House, with its perfectly scaled Greek Revival detailing, is an outstanding example of a period rural cottage (135 Lyons Plains Road). The more imposing Bradley House, which still proclaims the status of its owner/builder by its scale and level of style, has exceptional integrity (110 Lyons Plains Road). All of its unusual detailing and original materials have been preserved. The associated period outbuildings and open historic setting add to its significance.

As a group, the workers' houses add to the architectural range of resources within the Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District. Although all have undergone some degree of remodeling or embellishment, their original simple gabled forms can be easily discerned. Most have retained original materials and the typical window configurations associated with this type of residence. Among the best-preserved examples are the neighboring houses at 130 and 134 Lyons Plains Road

Endnotes

  1. Dates used for houses were taken from tax records and/or name plaques and generally confirmed by observation in the field. However, the area has never been formally surveyed and, with the exception of one historic map, there is little documentation available.
  2. These artifacts are what remain of the originally much larger two-ton grindstones used for sharpening the tools at the Bradley company.
  3. Although the owners are to be commended for leaving race walls and/or foundations intact, the construction of the residence here (118 Lyons Plains Road) on what appears to be the location of the factory buildings has reduced the site's archaeological potential. Fortunately, the history of the company, including descriptions of the manufacturing process, has been exceptionally well-documented in primary and secondary sources. See Thomas J. Farnham, Weston: the forging of a Connecticut town, 1979.

References

Farnham, Thomas J. Weston: the forging of a Connecticut town. Canaan, New Hampshire: Phoenix Publishing for the Weston Historical Society, 1979.

Hurd, D . Hamilton. History of Fairfield County: Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis and Co., 1881.

Report of Weston, Connecticut Historic District Commission: Proposed Bradley Edge Tool District, n.d.

Report of Weston, Connecticut Historic District Commission: Proposed Lyons Plains District, n.d.

Town of Weston, Atlas of Fairfield County, Connecticut. New York: F. W. Beers, 1867.

† Jan Cunningham, consultant, Cunningham Associates, Ltd. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District, Fairfield County, CT, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Bradley Edge Tool Company Historic District Map

Street Names
Lyons Plains Road

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