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Norfield Historic District


The Norfield 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. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Norfield Historic District is a small community located in southwestern Connecticut in upper Fairfield County. Clustered around the intersection of the Norfield and Weston roads (the latter State Route 57), it comprises the institutional center of Weston, Connecticut and contains 25 institutional and residential buildings and their associated structures. Of these, nine (36%) are non-contributing primarily because they are less than 50 years old. The non-contributing houses are generally stylistically compatible and maintain the scale of their historic neighbors, especially 51 Norfield Road, which is a 1968 interpretation of a Colonial house. The Norfield Historic District includes a historic district established pursuant to state enabling legislation and was enlarged to include two related buildings at the north end (1A and 1B Hedgerow Common). The rural historic character of the area is conveyed by several barns and the stone walls which border most of the residential properties.

Both historic and modern institutional buildings are grouped together along the north side of Norfield Road. The most prominent is the Norfield Congregational Church (64 Norfield Road), the centerpiece of a church-related complex. To the rear is the 1840 Middle District School, enlarged and remodeled for use as the church parish house, and a modern educational building. The school, which was built as a one-room gable-to-street building, displays a modern open cupola with a bell. When the building housed the volunteer fire department after the school closed in 1931, a similar feature with a fire siren was in the same location at the front of the ridge. The additions to both side elevations are recent; the wing to the northeast is extensive and includes a garage. The broad doorway with its transom and narrow pilasters also is a recent alteration. Beyond the church to the northeast is a Colonial Revival style parsonage built in 1916 (1A Hedgerow Common) and its associated garage/apartment building (1B Hedgerow Common). Formerly accessed by a driveway which passed through an opening in a stone wall on Norfield Road, it is now reached from Hedgerow Common, a new street to the northeast.

To the southwest of the church complex are two more institutional buildings, both non-contributing, the 1953 Weston Town Hall and 1963 Library (56 Norfield Road). The front portion of the town hall is Georgian Revival in style and has a slate roof. There is a large addition at the rear. The library is a stone and glass building of modern design.

The wood-frame church, which was built on a granite foundation in the Greek Revival style in 1830, has been remodeled several times. The steeple tower rises from the projecting pavilion of the facade which interrupts the pediment of the main block and contains the main entrance. The steeple was first replaced about 1890 after a storm had destroyed the original and rebuilt in 1987. The square base of the tower is presently surmounted by a two-stage tower: octagonal drums with louvered openings capped by blind fans and topped by a spire. The round-arched window with tracery in the face of the tower base is a later feature. Heavy modillions are displayed throughout on the cornices and pediments of the building. The walls are sheathed with wood shingles with a narrow exposure and from a distance appear to be clapboarding. A large six-sided bay on a concrete foundation has been added to the rear elevation. The window sash containing many small lights was installed both here and in the school during recent remodelings.

The rest of the Norfield Historic District resources are either residences or associated outbuildings. The four contributing principal residences are wood-framed and utilize granite foundations. Several have retained their associated barns which date from the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

The Samuel Rowland House across from the church is an imposing building constructed about 1840 (65 Norfield Road). Originally a ridge-to-street gable-roofed structure with a Greek Revival style doorway, it was remodeled in the early twentieth century. At that time the wings on either end of the building and the roof dormers were added. The latter are connected by railings and display double windows. A large barn and a small early twentieth century house complete the property, which is bordered by dry laid stone walls.

Four houses are located at the intersection of Norfield and Weston roads. The oldest building in the Norfield Historic District, part of the former Weston Boarding School, also known as the Jarvis Academy, stands at the east corner of the intersection and was built in 1795 in the Federal style (47 Norfield Road). Its main block displays a transitional Federal/Greek Revival doorway, with a leaded transom and sidelights, and fanlights in the gable peaks; the side ell has a flushboarded facade. Immediately across the street on the north corner is another later transitional building built about 1830, the Eliphalet Coley House (48 Norfield Road). The pediments of the end elevations are clapboarded and contain shallow fanlights with a keystone, the latter features probably a twentieth century addition along with the Colonial Revival style facade porch. The two other houses at this intersection were built by the same family and are both Colonial Revival in style. The 1910 Willis Banks House, located on the south corner (45 Norfield Road), has a Federal Revival style entry portico with a coved ceiling which shelters a main doorway with leaded sidelights. The Florence Banks House across the street (46 Norfield Road), although non-contributing because of its 1948 construction date, is consistent in scale and style. Banks Onion Barn owned by the same family completes the Norfield Historic District.

Significance

The Norfield Historic District comprises a group of stylistically integrated exceptionally well-preserved buildings that form a significant architectural entity which illustrates the development of the Town of Weston from 1795 to about 1920. A representative nineteenth century rural town center, the Norfield Historic District reflects its period origins through Federal and Greek Revival architecture and achieves added significance for its Colonial Revival architecture, particularly those buildings which were remodeled in this style in the early twentieth century.

Historical Significance

Weston was first settled about 1725 as part of the northern section of the Town of Fairfield. Although extensive land was set aside for a common when the area was first surveyed in 1682 and again in 1714, no village developed around the common land. Instead two separate communities were settled in the long lots to the east and west, the parishes of Norfield and North Fairfield. Both parishes established their own church societies prior to the Revolution: Norfield in 1756, North Fairfield in 1762. Since neither society had enough members or resources to support its own town, in 1787 they banded together to petition the legislature to become a town. After several rejections, largely due to the opposition of Fairfield, the parent town, both societies were incorporated together as the Town of Weston. This alliance lasted until 1845 when North Fairfield broke away and became the Town of Easton.

With a dispersed population of subsistence farmers and lacking a traditional common, the Norfield Society was slow to develop its institutions or to find an institutional focus for its town center. The majority of settlers in Norfield came from the Greens Farms Society in Fairfield, present-day Westport, and settled throughout the area on isolated farms and in small villages along both branches of the Saugatuck River. Until 1757, the inhabitants attended church in Fairfield proper with the usual problems of distance and travel during the winter months. After receiving permission to build their own meetinghouse, dispute arose about its location. Even after the county court settled on the location and a building frame was erected, many society members still objected and the new frame was moved to a second location. Although it served as the meetinghouse until after the Revolution, this building was never completely finished. By 1788 even that location was not satisfactory and the town finally began to coalesce around the crossroads in the present district where land already had been donated by Thaddeus Burr for a "parade" and schoolhouse. A second church building was constructed in 1785 near the site of the present-day church on land donated by Samuel Rowland. His son, Samuel S., later built a house across the street (65 Norfield Road, Samuel Rowland House, c.1850).

Norfield Center really began to develop in the early nineteenth century when many of the district's resources were constructed. New town buildings included, in addition to the present-day church, a town hall and grange, as well as a district school. The old town hall burned to the ground in 1951 and was replaced with the present building. Two new houses were built after 1830 and the earliest house (1795) in the district became part of the boarding school in 1835 which flourished until 1888. At its height the property contained a dormitory, an academic building, and a gymnasium; all were destroyed by fire in 1915. Between 1896 and 1905, the remaining eighteenth-century house served as the grange hall.

The growth of the town center reflected a brief period of prosperity in Weston generated by some limited agricultural and industrial development. The soil of the area was not conducive to the growing of crops, and a lack of transportation facilities kept the town from participating in commercial agriculture. Peddlers did carry farm products to the coastal towns but the town was bypassed by major turnpikes and the railroad, and thus was prevented from reaching any of the principal markets, such as New York City. In fact most roads remained unpaved in town until well into the twentieth century; the Weston Road was not completely paved until 1937. The lack of transportation facilities was a limiting factor in industrial, development as well, although water-powered mills in the area, especially in the Lyons Plains and Valley Forge sections, processed farm products and timber, the latter a major town resource. However, by 1880, most mills and factories were closed and the percentage of farmers in town had returned to its 1840 level. A small edge tool company, an outgrowth of the earlier limited iron industry which relied on the locally produced charcoal, was the major exception and remained open until the building burned in 1911.

The twentieth century did see some modest growth in the district as evidenced by the Colonial Revival style houses built in early 1900s, the beginning of what later became a full-fledged trend all over Fairfield County: the unprecedented growth of the rural suburbs, especially after the completion of the Merritt Parkway in 1938. In Weston these affluent newcomers comprised 88% of the growth in the post-war period, from about 1000 in 1940 to 9200 in 1978. Many commuted by train or automobile to New York, including business persons, well-known writers, painters, and actors. New houses were constructed but many older buildings in town were renovated, some in the Colonial Revival style, including several in the district in the early part of this period. A greater demand for community services resulted in the building of the new town hall and fire station as well as a public library in the district. The Middle District school finally closed in 1931 and new schools outside the district were built. Prior to 1963, when the public library was constructed, it was located in the Hurlbutt School, and the volunteer fire department was housed in the former district school building.

Architectural Significance

Much of the significance and cohesiveness of the Norfield Historic District is derived from its similarities of scale, materials, and design. This architectural integration was achieved over time by the repetition of similar architectural elements, some original to the buildings and others the result of historic remodelings, especially in the Colonial Revival style. This shared building history also demonstrates the extensive influence and underlying spirit of the Colonial Revival, a major twentieth-century architectural movement. A number of affluent Connecticut towns were revitalized in the early twentieth century. Town centers such as Weston's were transformed and idealized as typical New England towns. In this state, the trend began in Litchfield where the predominate stylistic renovation is Georgian in character. This pattern was followed in Weston, even though this architectural style generally predates the age of the district.

The most prominent example of the Colonial Revival phenomenon is the Norfield Congregational Church (64 Norfield Road). Although it reveals it early nineteenth-century associations and its Greek Revival origins in its pediment and the shape and orientation of the building, the church has a Georgian Revival appearance today. Alterations which contributed to this stylistic transformation and add architectural interest and significance to the building include round-arched openings, multi paned windows, projecting pavilion, and heavy modillions.

Most of the contributing historic houses in the Norfield Historic District display similar but less extensive alterations dating from the twentieth century with the exception of the 1795 house associated with the Weston Boarding School which is in its largely original condition (47 Norfield Road). Its transitional doorway, with its finely detailed leaded transom and high entablature, is an outstanding example of early nineteenth century craftsmanship. The only change to this house over time has been the removal of the late-nineteenth century porch which appears in an 1880 engraving of the school complex.

Both Greek Revival style houses in the district were skillfully remodelled in the twentieth century. Compatible Colonial Revival style architectural elements were added to these houses without compromising their basic form and integrity, producing a graceful combination style. The Samuel Rowland House is a prime example of this building history (65 Norfield Road). Alterations to the main block of this imposing house include the pedimented dormers and the tripartite window in the end gable peaks. The exceptionally fine doorway with its leaded transom and sidelights, along with the basic shape and form of the main block, still reveal its mid-nineteenth century construction date and its Greek Revival stylistic origin. The six-over-six sash, although probably not the original material, is appropriate to the style and date of the house. The remodeling of the Eliphaphet Coley House is more restrained and generally more in keeping with its stylistic origins (48 Norfield Road). The only change to the main block appears to be the keystoned fanlight in the Greek Revival end pediment, the latter feature a common element of houses built in that period. The Colonial Revival porch is clearly an addition, one that does not obscure the basic lines of the house. The Coley House also displays an original period configuration in the sash pattern.

Houses constructed in the twentieth century in several vernacular interpretations of the Colonial Revival style extend this architectural theme and make their own contribution to the district. Although they display more variety of form than the other buildings, they still utilize some of the district's common design elements. These range from the fanlight of the Norfield Church Parsonage (1A Hedgerow Common) to the coved ceiling portico and fan of the Willis Banks House (45 Norfield Road), architectural features in use in the Norfield Historic District since the early nineteenth century and repeated in the remodelings of the twentieth century.

The essentially rural heritage of Weston is displayed in the barns and stone walls of the district. The Onion Barn is an exceptional artifact with its framing and some of its original siding intact. The several barns associated with houses are well-maintained classics of their type, the gable-roofed new England, barn with vertical siding and rubble foundations.

References

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

Report of the Historic District Study Committee of the Town of Weston, Connecticut, n.d.

  1. Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Associates, Ltd. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Northfield Historic District, Weston Connecticut, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Norfield Historic District Map

Street Names
Hedgerow Common • Northfield Road • Route 57 • Weston Road

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