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Curtisville Historic District


The Curtisville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. 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 Curtisville Historic District is a small, densely settled residential and industrial neighborhood. It is located just to the west of upper Main Street in the northwest corner of Glastonbury. A major meander of the Connecticut River lies to the west and south of the district and comes within one tenth of a mile of its southwestern boundary. The historic resources are concentrated along a loop formed by Naubuc Avenue and Pratt Street; both streets connect to Main Street on the east. Modern intrusion and woodland on the western side of the district have been excluded, creating a district of irregular form. A nineteenth-century industrial complex, which contains five brick buildings, is set back from Naubuc Avenue on the south bank of Salmon Brook, which runs through the district from the northeast to the southwest to the Connecticut River.

Twenty-eight of the 119 resources in the Curtisville Historic District are non-contributing: one altered historic house, 12 modern houses, 14 modern garages or outbuildings, and a remodeled church which has lost its integrity. The contributing resources are primarily residential dating from 1788 to 1929.

The present appearance of the Curtisville Historic District reflects its historic development from the late eighteenth century through the 1930s. The recent modern intrusion in the area includes post-World War II housing and a small 1992 development at the west end, the latter excluded from the district. Some of the houses have new sidings, ranging from asphalt and asbestos shingles to modern aluminum and vinyl, but most have retained their characteristic form, massing, and important architectural features, especially doorways and porches. A number have retained their period outbuildings, which include nine animal and tobacco barns and a number of early-twentieth-century garages. The factory complex has also undergone modern alteration, principally the blocking of windows and the addition of fabricated metal shed additions.

Settlement in the Curtisville Historic District dates from the late eighteenth century when the area was farmland and agricultural products were shipped from nearby wharves in Keeney Cove on the Connecticut River. The earliest houses are all five-bay, ridge-to-street buildings, basically a colonial form which persisted up until about 1840, often modified with Federal or Greek Revival style features. Most display large center chimneys, although a few have a center-hall plan such as one at 96-98 Pratt Street that displays a Federal style portico.

Beginning in the 1830s, Greek Revival doorways and porticos were also common original or added features, as exemplified by a group of similar houses at the west end of Naubuc Avenue. They have full pediments in the gable ends and corner pilasters, as well as entrances of this style. The Benjamin Hale House at 146 Pratt Street is another example of Greek Revival style remodeling. Built about 1788, it was redesigned with a number of style features, including a trabeated doorway, with a full entablature, and atypical fluted window surrounds with corner blocks.

The Greek Revival form and style were also a major influence in workers' housing in the district. Early examples, small single-family cottages probably built by the Curtis Manufacturing Company, simply have the gable-to-street orientation and the relatively shallow pitch of the roof that are commonly associated with early examples of this style. Later larger examples, usually displaying the full pediment of this style, were built after 1863 by the industrial successor in the village, the Connecticut Arms and Manufacturing Company. They have a taller, more narrow form, usually with a three-bay facade. The two types are located near the factory on Naubuc Avenue.

Other company-built housing in the Curtisville Historic District includes an individual example of the Carpenter Gothic style, constructed for the mill agent in 1863 on the eastern border of the mill yard. Its decorative form and features, including bargeboards on its steeply peaked gables, contrasts markedly with the adjacent factory buildings and the utilitarian company tenements built nearby by 1900. The latter houses are all long ridge-to-street buildings with gable roofs. The best-preserved example of this type stands to the rear of the mill agent's house.

Individual vernacular buildings were constructed in the district through the rest of the nineteenth century by tradesmen, farmers, and skilled workers. Most are Victorian vernacular types that display elements of the nineteenth century styles. Although a number of smaller single-family houses of this period are found in the district, especially along the south side of Naubuc Avenue, a duplex built by Alfred Phelps in 1896 is representative of the larger vernacular houses in its cross-gable plan and extensive veranda (56-58 Naubuc Avenue). Several stores built in this period have a residential appearance and display facade pediments. This feature is found on both the house (130 Pratt Street) and store (138 Pratt Street) built by bootmaker John Sellew.

An exceptional example of the Italianate, currently [1992] being restored, was built in 1865 by one of the Welles family, which had interests in cigar making and shipbuilding in the area. Although using the villa form, it has a prominent hipped roof and displays porticos and porches that are highly detailed in this style (82 Naubuc Avenue).

The Colonial Revival style was popular in the Curtisville Historic District for several types of housing in the early twentieth century. Duplexes, as well as individual houses, were built in the Foursquare hipped-roof form, along with gambrel and gable-roofed examples of this style, the latter often displaying pediments more reminiscent of the Queen Anne style. Duplexes at the east end of Naubuc Avenue were built by Richard Wooldridge and also on Parker Terrace, an area laid out for development by 1900 (11-13 and 17-19 Naubuc Avenue; 10-12 Parker Terrace). The Colonial Revival was also chosen for the Grange Hall built at 47 Naubuc Avenue in 1929.

At the Pratt Street entrance to the district is a distinctive single-family Foursquare house built in 1911 by Sherman Risley, a tobacco farmer (48 Pratt Street). It is distinguished by the turreted dormer on the front slope of the roof and its degree of Colonial Revival detail, including the oval key-blocked window at the second floor of the facade, the dentil course defining the two levels, and the small widow's walk at the center of the hipped roof.

The existing factory buildings were constructed of brick and brownstone between 1863 and 1870 (122 Naubuc Avenue) Two detached buildings now joined together face Naubuc Avenue and illustrate changes in factory construction in this period. The original block of the west end, which may incorporate an earlier structure, has a front facing gable with a corbelled pediment. It has brownstone lintels and sills, a material also used for the lower story wall, where brownstone blocks have pecked surfaces and chiseled margins. At the east end, a long two-story factory built by 1880 has a the more typical brick-pier construction, but it still utilizes segmental brick arches over its larger paired windows. At the center of its facade is a large stair tower, square in plan, with a hipped roof. To the rear are two more contemporaneous brick buildings, one of which incorporates a polygonal brick stack. The former mill office, also of brick, is set closer to Pratt Street.

Significance

The Curtisville Historic District is significant as a cohesive entity which illustrates the history of the village from 1780 to 1930, a pattern of development that was typical in rural towns of the upper Connecticut River Valley where industry and agriculture often prospered in tandem. Although few houses are individually distinguished, the architectural significance of the district lies in its broad range of representative styles and types, which includes fully realized examples of nineteenth- and twentieth-century domestic architecture, often built by wealthy farmers, as well as simpler vernacular houses built for and by the workforce at the village factory.

Historical Development

The broad fertile alluvial plain of the Connecticut River Valley brought settlers to the region in the early seventeenth century. The first settlements at Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor were all located on the west side of the river, but by 1700 cattle were grazed on the broad meadows of the east side and settlement soon followed. The settlers of Naubuc, later to become known as Glastonbury, who came to the area from Wethersfield, soon divided up the land into large strips extending eastward from the river and built their homesteads on the first river terrace, generally along the path of present-day Main Street.

In the late eighteenth century, their large farms had been divided among their descendants and settlement began to the west of Main Street in the great Meadows. Farmhouses were built by men such as Benjamin Hale (146 Pratt Street) and members of the Welles family, the beginning of the community later known as Curtisville. Because of the proximity of the Connecticut River, these farmers not only had a ready market for their produce at the wharves on Keeney Cove at the outlet of Salmon Brook, but they also harvested the fish in the annual runs of shad, salmon, and alewives. River captains and coasters who made their home in the district included Asabel Keeney (179 Pratt Street). Other early maritime activities there included shipbuilding and a ferry at the foot of Pratt Street. Like the more well-known ferry in South Glastonbury, it transported goods and people across the river for more than a century.

The industrial potential of Salmon Brook, which had provided waterpower for saw and colonial grist and sawmills, was first recognized by Oswin Welles, who manufactured wooden ware there until about 1846. He also ran a cigar factory on or near the site of the present industrial complex. Frederick and Joseph S. Curtis, brothers from Hartford, built an extensive factory for the manufacture of German silver products, including flatware, hollowware, and spectacles. They maintained an office in Hartford but lived in the district; Frederick in a house at the western end of the village (286-288 Naubuc Avenue), which he may have remodeled in the Greek Revival style; Joseph, a skilled silversmith, in a similar house of that style at the eastern end where he continued to live even after the company failed (89 Pratt Street).

An oil painting of the village has survived. It was executed about 1855 by James Rabbeth, Jr., a London-born artist who married a local Glastonbury girl.[1] Titled Curtisville, which tends to confirm the historic name of the village, it is a panoramic bird's-eye view of the area looking north from Naubuc Avenue to include Pratt Street, revealing the extent of industrial and residential development at that time. To the extreme left of the painting the Connecticut River with ships under sail is depicted, demonstrating the continued importance of the maritime trade. The relatively treeless landscape has an ordered quality, enhanced by the primitive style of the artist, which clearly conveys the romantic mid-century belief in the beneficence of industry. Depicted are fenced-in kitchen gardens and small areas under cultivation behind the houses. Apparently the larger farms were on the perimeter of the village. Some of the existing houses on both streets are recognizable, and include workers' houses on Naubuc Avenue on either side of the factory entrance, each with its own privy at the rear of the lot, as well as several of the larger extant colonial houses on Pratt Street.

The focal point of the painting is the factory complex, consisting of several large buildings with attached and detached sheds, suggesting that, quite typically for this period, the various industrial processes were carried out in separate buildings. It is known that one of the larger factory buildings was used for the plating process, accomplished by the use of a series of large batteries to electroplate the silver on baser metals, principally German silver, an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. Another building may have housed the rolling department which had been installed by this time. In the first years of operation, the alloy had to be hauled by wagon to Waterbury for this process.

The Curtis Company, like most industry of the period, was undercapitalized and by 1860 was insolvent. It was reorganized by Thomas Vail, who continued the manufacture of Britannia ware and silver-plated products. Vail also took over the former Frederick Curtis House at 286-288 Naubuc Avenue. With the advent of the Civil war, he reorganized the firm as the Connecticut Arms and Manufacturing Company. It was noted for the production of rifles as well as a single-shot pistol. By 1869 the company's assets were valued at $88,000, which included, in addition to the factory buildings, 13 dwellings and a store. The houses included the former Curtis workers' housing and at least three boarding houses and several late Greek Revival style houses constructed during the war (98, 106, 114 and 132 Naubuc Avenue). The company also built the mill agent's house next to the factory (62 Parker Terrace Extension). A return to peacetime production of metal products after the war failed to save the company from bankruptcy in 1869.

Briefly known for a period as the American Silver Company, the firm was bought out in the early 1880s by James B. and William Williams, brothers connected with the family that owned the famous Williams Soap Company in Glastonbury. The success of their new firm, known as the Williams Brothers Silverware Company, can be measured by its longevity. It remained in business until after World War II, employing about 100 workers, most of whom lived in the area. The tenements and other company-owned workers' houses continued to be rented by employees but some boarded at homes in the area, including those of Hannah Williams (266 Naubuc Avenue) and John Alford (278-280 Naubuc Avenue). One of the skilled workers. Joseph Parker, laid out new streets, Parker Terrace and its extension, and built large duplexes which he rented out to fellow employees (10-12 and 27-35 Parker Terrace). William Meyers, the company's shipping clerk, built a modest house west of the factory about 1890 (256 Naubuc Avenue).

By the late nineteenth century the community contained a representative mix of occupations. Although industry was the largest employer, commercial farming, river-based commercial operations, and a few trades prospered. Tobacco barns in the district are remnants of the thriving tobacco farms that were successful from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. Several fine houses were built by men associated with this agricultural specialty. Commercial gardens, later known as "truck gardens," were another mainstay of the economy, fostered in part by the ready availability of river transport. Barges and steamboats made regular stops at the Pratt Street wharves, carrying freight and passengers. John Hale of Curtisville, a leader in commercial gardening, also had tobacco fields and orchards in the area. He promoted the building of the Grange Hall in the district (47 Naubuc Avenue) and helped found the Connecticut Agricultural School at Storrs, now the University of Connecticut.

Many of those who plied their trade on the river lived in the district. George Sellew, a merchant shipper, lived at the west end of Naubuc Avenue; a relative, Sidney Sellew, was a mariner, who, with his family, shared the Risley duplex on the eastern end of Pratt Street (61-63 Pratt Street). Philo Phelps, who had a store in the district (187 Pratt Street) and lived in his father's house near Main Street, was a coaster and continued to run the family coaling dock. Another store was run by Joseph Sellew, a bootmaker (138 Pratt Street).

Although the railroad never came to Glastonbury, local land transport was provided when the trolley line was established on nearby Main Street. By the 1930s automobiles were in common use, as evidenced by the number of garages built in the district in this period, and trucking had largely replaced river transport. The local fire department kept its trucks in a garage at 256 Naubuc Avenue until it moved to Main Street and occupied what had been the district school for the village.

Architectural Significance

Despite the presence of some modern residential intrusion, the variety of residential architecture in the Curtisville Historic District clearly conveys a sense of historical development. The historic functional diversity and exceptional temporal range of the district are evident in the many types of buildings and a variety of styles and forms not often found in an industrial village.

Some of the architectural variety was produced by the survival of local farming, even after Curtisville became an industrial village. Although there are no mansions of company owners, continued agrarian prosperity produced a number of fine stylish houses which have been preserved or restored, and raise the level of significance of the district. The Italianate house built by the Welles family (82 Naubuc Avenue), one of the most recent examples of restoration, is a distinctive version of this style which is enhanced by generous stylistic detail. Others like the Colonial Revival duplexes at 10-12 Parker Terrace and 11-13 and 17-19 Naubuc Avenue and the Sherman D. Risley Foursquare at 48 Pratt Street are also exceptionally well-preserved and maintained and make a considerable contribution to the streetscape. Another highlight of individual significance is the well-preserved Carpenter Gothic cottage built by the Connecticut Arms Company, an unusual style for a house built by industry.

The Curtisville Historic District also contains a notable body of workers' housing. Many of these are well-maintained and often have their original sidings, as do a number of the more modest private homes of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The latter group, although generally simply vernacular interpretations of period styles, extend the generally middle-class range of the district. They are often embellished with porches or other Victorian detail.

Although some of the historic houses have inappropriate sidings or minor alterations, they all still convey their period associations. None of the contributing houses have lost their basic form, and several have retained fine stylish doorways; some, such as the Federal portico at 96-98 Pratt Street, rival those found in the Glastonbury Historic District on Main Street. In some cases, the removal of earlier types of synthetic sidings would more clearly reveal fine details around windows and doors, such as are found on the Benjamin Hale House, which also is distinguished by a Greek Revival style doorway (146 Pratt Street).

Endnote:

[1]James Rabbeth, Jr, "Curtisville," Collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, c.1855, reproduced in Retrospect: A publication of the Glastonbury -Historical Society, No. 10. February, 1948. Another charcoal and pastel drawing depicting just the factory has survived. It was drawn by Richard Ritcher about the same time but it is less informative. The later artifact is in the collection of the Glastonbury Historical Society.

References

McNulty, Marjorie Grant. Glastonbury: From Settlement to Suburb. Glastonbury, CT: The Historical Society of Glastonbury, 1983.

"Early Manufacturing at Curtisville." Retrospect, Number 10, February, 1948. Glastonbury, CT: The Historical Society of Glastonbury.

Historic Resource Survey. Historic Resource Consultants, 1990.

Map: Baker & Tilden. Atlas of Hartford City and County. 1869.

† Jan Cunningham, consultant, Cunningham Associates, Ltd. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Curtisville Historic District, Glastonbury, CT, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Curtisville Historic District Map

Street Names
Naubuc Avenue • Parker Terrace • Parker Terrace Extension • Pratt Street

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