Worthington Ridge Historic District
The Worthington Ridge Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Worthington Ridge Historic District is a linear concentration of mostly 18th and 19th century buildings on narrow, tree-lined streets, located along the top of a ridge that rises some 50 feet above an unnamed brook to the east; the principal thoroughfare in the district, Worthington Ridge, takes its name from this landform. The Worthington Ridge Historic District also extends several hundred feet west of Worthington Ridge along Farmington Avenue, Hudson Street, and Sunset Lane. Most of the major buildings in the Worthington Ridge Historic District are residential, although Worthington Ridge's historical role as the institutional center of the Town of Berlin is also depicted in such buildings as the 1774 meetinghouse, the 1831 Worthington Academy, and the 1884 Brandegee Hall/Berlin Town Hall. The area's one-time local commercial prominence is represented by several houses that once served as taverns, hotels, or stores.
There are 118 resources in the Worthington Ridge Historic District, of which 94 (80 percent) contribute to the district's significance. There are 80 major buildings and 36 barns and garages; sheds are not counted. The remaining resources are the pergola (one structure) and the obelisk (one object) that comprise the Berlin veterans' monument. All the buildings are 2-and-1/2 stories or less and the great majority are of wood-framed construction, although prominent examples of brick construction are also present. The predominant architectural styles in the Worthington Ridge Historic District are New England Colonial (i.e., the timber-framed, center-chimney house and its variants), Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian, with smaller numbers of other styles including Gothic Revival and Gothic-influenced Victorian, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Bungalow.
The New England Colonial, Greek Revival, and Federal buildings were all built close to the street on generously sized lots. Later buildings often filled in the ample yards between these older houses. The barns in the Worthington Ridge Historic District were either built or remodeled to their present appearance in the 19th century, even when they are part of a property centered on an earlier dwelling. Mature deciduous trees mark the curblines throughout the district and are found in many yards.
The Worthington Ridge Historic District is set off from its surroundings by distinct visual breaks to the north and east, where post-World War II highway construction on Route 72 and the Berlin Turnpike (Route 15), as well as highway-related development, have interrupted the earlier-established character of the streetscapes. The southern boundary was delineated to include both sides of Worthington Ridge as far south as buildings from the period of significance predominate. The western slope of the ridge that forms the spine of the Worthington Ridge Historic District was unbuilt upon until recent decades, providing a clear distinction between the post-World War II subdivisions that are excluded and the older buildings that are included.
The Worthington Ridge Historic District as a whole can generally claim a high degree of integrity, a circumstance that owes much to the presence of a local historic district with substantially the same boundaries as the district described in this document. The houses erected in the last 50 years fit into, rather than disrupt, the historical character of the district: they have the same scale as the earlier buildings and use similar materials, and they follow the pre-existing placement pattern. Many of the historic buildings have been altered, but except for one barn that was converted to a residence (153 Sunset Lane), all retain the massing, roofline, and sufficient architectural detail to preserve their historical appearance. Typical alterations include the application of modern siding materials over original clapboards; and additions to the side or rear.
Worthington Ridge Historic District is significant because its buildings embody the distinctive characteristics of several important architectural styles, including New England Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic, Late Victorian, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival. The Worthington Ridge Historic District features an unusually large number of well-preserved New England Colonial, Federal, and Greek Revival buildings, a concentration of state-level significance. The buildings include several outstanding examples of their types, such as the Worthington Meetinghouse, one of fewer than a dozen colonial meetinghouses that still stand; the David Sage House, an 18th-century dwelling notable for the elaborate Georgian detailing of its principal elevation; and the Elishama Brandegee House, a Greek Revival house with the full panoply of characteristic features including flush-boarding and the complete Ionic order. The Worthington Ridge Historic District is also significant for its important roles in the history of Berlin: a principal residential area in the agricultural community of the colonial period, and the institutional and commercial center of Berlin through the mid-19th century. As railroad and industrial development in other parts of town caused the commercial function to move elsewhere by the late 19th century, and as the civic-institutional function moved in the 20th, Worthington Ridge evolved into a sedate neighborhood where many of the town's wealthiest and most prominent citizens made their homes.
Anglo-European settlement in the area comprised by the present town of Berlin began in earnest during the last quarter of the 17th century, when a group of families from Farmington moved to the region. (The area was part of the town of Farmington at that time.) They were attracted by the alluvial soil of the small valleys between the area's basalt ridges. The settlers cultivated the low-lying land between the ridges, but they built their homes on higher ground, removed from the threat of flood. The boggy nature of the lowlands was reflected in the name of the parish that the settlers formed in 1705 — Great Swamp Society. Worthington Ridge Historic District encompasses one of the two ridgetops that held concentrations of houselots set off in this period; the other cluster, Kensington, was on the next ridge to the west. The creation of the Great Swamp Society attracted additional settlers from the neighboring towns of Wethersfield and Middletown, and in 1733 the community built a new meetinghouse near the present center of Kensington; the parish comprising the two ridgetop clusters also adopted Kensington as its name. Over the next 25 years the parish outgrew the meetinghouse, and disagreement over where to locate a new building touched off a 14-year dispute between the two clusters. After a state-appointed arbitration board settled the argument by establishing two societies in 1772, the residents of the eastern ridge finally built a meetinghouse, which marked the beginning of the civic and institutional role of Worthington Ridge. (The parish was named at this time, after a Col. Worthington, who had helped mediate the dispute.) The Town of Berlin was established in 1785, taking portions of Farmington, Wethersfield and Middletown; the town meeting rotated among the new town's parishes, convening periodically at Worthington Meetinghouse.
The Hartford and New Haven Turnpike of 1798 followed the street known today as Worthington Ridge, encouraging the growth of stores, taverns, and other commercial businesses. These enterprises, such as Fuller Tavern, Loveland Tavern, and the Berlin Hotel (all extant), either occupied existing houses or buildings that resembled the New England Colonial or Federal houses characteristic of the area. The turnpike also augmented Berlin's early prominence as a center of tinware production, providing easier access to materials and markets for the established makers, and encouraging others to produce trade goods. In the early 19th century, many houses on Worthington Ridge had a room or a dooryard shop devoted to making products for out-of-state sale: Lewis Edwards' bookbindery (695 Worthington Ridge), Joseph Booth's hatmaking shop (820 Worthington Ridge), and Blakeslee Barnes' tinware shop (857 Worthington Ridge), among others. The Hartford and New Haven Railroad, completed in 1839, passed through New Britain and Kensington, to the west of Worthington Ridge, and the lack of rail service precluded any further substantial growth in Worthington's commercial and manufacturing activity. Later businesses on the ridge, such as the 1862 Galpin Store and the 1884 Brandegee Hall, served the immediate local market and had little or no role in extra-regional trade.
The neighborhood's institutional role in Berlin, already established by the meetinghouse, was expanded in 1800 when several leading citizens founded the first Worthington Academy (801 Worthington Ridge). Like the taverns and tinshops, the Academy did not depart from the structure and appearance of residential architecture, and when the second Worthington Academy went up in 1831, the first Academy became a private home. The second Worthington Academy not only continued private education on the ridge, but also housed the district court. (The building had a variety of uses after the Academy closed in 1870, until the town bought it to house a branch library.) When the parish erected a new church in 1850, the Town of Berlin bought the 1774 meetinghouse and divided it into two stories, using the second floor as a full-time town hall and the first as a district school. Town offices moved to Brandegee Hall in 1906, and the entire meetinghouse was used as a school until the state declared it unsafe. In 1974, the construction of a new town hall near Kensington ended nearly 200 years of local government on Worthington Ridge.
In the early 20th century, Worthington Ridge's stately dwellings and quiet tree-lined streets (and the decline of commercial bustle) made the area attractive to many of the town's wealthier citizens. Charles M. Jarvis, a principal in the Berlin Iron Bridge Company and a founder (in 1901) of the Berlin Construction Company, two nationally prominent bridge-building firms, built his 1907 Tudor Revival mansion at the corner of Worthington Ridge and Sunset Lane. George Prentice, who developed the metal zipper and ran a Kensington factory that made millions of these fasteners, built his elaborate Colonial Revival home on the ridge as well. These men were two of the most prominent of those who contributed to Worthington Ridge's identity as Berlin's address of distinction, a role it continues to serve today.
Most of the 18th-century houses in Worthington Ridge Historic District feature some degree of formal architectural elaboration, while few illustrate the plainest rendering of the timber-framed, center-chimney house. The colonial agricultural prosperity of the area, and its commercial and institutional roles in the early national period, engendered a concern for appearance (and provided the ability to pay for it) that is evident in the Georgian entry of the Asahel Hart House and especially the detailing of the David Sage House. The Worthington Meetinghouse also exhibits a remnant of its original Georgian detailing in its west-facing entry, although this building is most notable for its mere survival.
The Federal style is represented in several variations, including the symmetrical brick houses of Jesse Hart and Samuel Porter, and the asymmetrical timber-framed Lewis Edwards House. The latter dwelling features the slender pilasters and fine moldings characteristic of the Federal style, although it also demonstrates the transition to Greek Revival architecture in its gable-front siting and flush-boarded pediment. Fully realized Greek Revival dwellings include 840 and 850 Worthington Ridge. The former, the Dr. Elishama Brandegee House, has the stockily proportioned portico that is typical of the style, along with many features seen only on more elaborate examples, such as the fully flush-boarded facade set off by monumental pilasters, and the full application of the Ionic order.
The Worthington Ridge Historic District features fewer late-19th century than early-19th century houses. The boxy-shape, flat roof, bracketed cornice, and arched openings of the Italian Villa style characterize dwellings at 783 and 873 Worthington Ridge, as well as 110 Sunset Lane. The Queen Anne is represented by, among others, the Charles A. Gillin House, with its characteristically complex plan, massing, and roofline; its textural complexity achieved by the combination of clapboards and several types of shingles; and its lavish use of sawn and turned ornament, especially on the porch. The most striking late-19th century building in the Worthington Ridge Historic District is Brandegee Hall, an 1884 Late Victorian Gothic commercial building that was later used as the town hall. Its size (sufficient to hold the roller-skating rink that was one of its original uses) dwarfs the neighboring houses, but the abundant use of Gothic-inspired wooden ornament on the facade mitigates any sense of overwhelming mass and softens the difference in scale between Brandegee Hall and its neighbors. The board-and-batten attic story that ends in a sawtooth valence, the prominent peak-bracing, the pointed-arched attic light, and the balcony with a rail of cutout slats all contribute to the somewhat busy, Gothic character of the building.
The single example of the Tudor Revival, the Jarvis House is a tour-de-force of its style, with richly textured surfaces of cobblestone, stucco and half-timber, and dark-stained staggered shingles; a profusion of intersecting gables with dormers on every side; and casement sash. The formal, Georgian-inspired Prentice House, is the most elaborate example of Colonial Revival in the Worthington Ridge Historic District, but simpler examples are also found, such as 1152 Worthington Ridge, with its jerkin-headed roof and Tuscan-columned porch.
While many of these buildings have outstanding architectural significance as rare survivals or exceptional examples of their type, the Worthington Ridge Historic District's importance exceeds the sum of its parts. The juxtaposition of buildings of different periods, in different styles, and of different original uses, provides a window into changing taste and evolving building methods, and represents two centuries of diverse and changing lifestyles on Worthington Ridge.
Brandegee, Emily S., comp., Historical Papers of Berlin, Connecticut Berlin: privately published, 1928.
Burpee, Charles W., History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 3 volumes. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1928.
North, Catherine M., History of Berlin, Connecticut. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse and Taylor Company, 1916.
Atlas of Hartford City and County. Hartford: Baker and Tilden, 1869
Map of Berlin with the School Districts. Hartford: S. Moore, 1857.
Map of Hartford County, Connecticut. Philadelphia: H. Smith, 1855.
Berlin Assessor's Records, Berlin Town Hall.
Berlin Land Records, Town Clerk's Office, Berlin Town Hall.