South Glastonbury Historic District
The South Glastonbury Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
South Glastonbury is a village or neighborhood in the southern part of the Town of Glastonbury, across the Connecticut River southeast of Hartford, Connecticut. The South Glastonbury Historic District embraces the village center and streets in the immediate vicinity of the village center, including civic buildings, churches, stores and residences.
The area was settled in the 17th century, although no houses remain from that century. Of the 80 structures in the South Glastonbury Historic District, 15 date from the 18th century, 33 from the 19th century and 32 from the 20th century. Seventeen structures less than 50 years old are considered not to contribute to the historic and architectural significance of the district, 63 structures do contribute and there are three vacant lots. A wide range of architectural styles from Colonial times to the present day is represented in the district The three styles with the largest number of examples are Colonial with 13, Greek Revival with 10 and Queen Anne with 8. The South Glastonbury Historic District occupies approximately 75 acres.
The first thoroughfare in the district was High Street, the route followed by travellers headed eastward after crossing the Connecticut River by ferry from Wethersfield, in mid-17th century. The Methodist and Congregational Churches were built on High Street in the 19th century, and it was the site of the district school. Main Street, running north-south along an Indian trail, followed soon after. The corner of High and Main streets is an important intersection. Today the block of Main Street south from High to Water streets is the scene of most activity within the district, due to the location there of Post Office, bank, stores, restaurant and Episcopal Church. Water Street, another old thoroughfare, is the southern leg that competes the triangle of High, Main and Water streets, the triangle that is the village center.
Roaring Brook flows westward through the South Glastonbury Historic District and then turns north on its way to the Connecticut River. High and Water streets converge at a bridge over Roaring Brook on the western boundary of the district. The district stops at this point because the brook forms a natural, visual boundary marking the edge of the center village. There are significant historic resources on the west side of the brook that may be suitable for separate study.
The South Glastonbury Historic District extends north from the intersection of High and Main streets along Main Street to include the Welles/Shipman/Ward House at 972 Main Street, a carefully detailed house from 1755, and four other contributing houses. Beyond the district on the west side of Main Street is an area now in course of development, and on the east side is woodland. Beechwood Lane, north of High Street, and Park Place, west of Main Street, are omitted because they are mid 20th-century developments.
The district extends east along Hopewell Road to include 24 and 36 Hopewell Road, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, to St. Augustine's Catholic Church which makes both architectural and ethnic contributions to the district. Beyond the church is an area of open land on the north side of Hopewell Road, while on the south side of Hopewell Road, Glazier Drive is a new development.
On the south, the district extends below Water Street on the west side of Main Street to include four 18th and 19th century houses, which are followed by woodland. The east side of Main Street across from these houses is omitted because only a restaurant and woodland are found there.
The South Glastonbury Historic District boundary could have been drawn to omit several non-contributing structures near the intersection of Water and Main Streets, i.e., 1 and 3, 7, 19 and 23 Water Street and 868 and 882 Main Street. To have done so would have been to omit important segments of the streetscape at the heart of the village center. Accordingly, it seemed better to include these non-contributing structures and maintain the visual logic of the district.
A somewhat similar concern was felt with respect to the number of structures that have been covered with aluminum and vinyl siding, usually to resemble clapboards in appearance. While no statistical data is at hand for ranking the percentage of such houses in this district in comparison with others, the use of such siding obviously has impacted this district. The position has been adopted for purposes of this nomination that the use of such siding has not, overall, impaired the image of historic fabric or the sense of the village setting as a whole.
The South Glastonbury Historic District reflects changing architectural styles over a period of three centuries with examples built during the years from the first half of the 18th century to the last half of the 20th century. The older and newer buildings exist side by side, for the most part in harmony with one another, and from them can be read the history of architectural styles and the history of development in this small rural community that from the 1650s has steadily served the commercial and residential functions of the village center.
Three principal historic phases have left their imprint on the development of South Glastonbury. The first of these was the era of Colonial settlement. The second was the period of nearby 19th-century industrial activity. The third is the late-20th century encroachment of Hartford's suburbia upon the community.
The land occupied by the town of Glastonbury on the east side of the Connecticut River, originally was part of the Town of Wethersfield, settled in 1634, whose center was on the west side of the river. The meadows of the east bank were attractive for farming from the first, and families were living there from the 1650s. Toward the end of the century, these people petitioned the General Court of Connecticut to be set apart as a separate town, pleading that travel to Wethersfield for church meetings was an undue hardship. Upon the granting of their petition, the Town of Glastonbury was established in 1693.
From the 1650s the way to get from Wethersfield to Glastonbury was by ferry, which is still in operation. Upon debarking from the ferry in Glastonbury, travelers heading east followed a road that became High Street in South Glastonbury. To go north, toward the principal section of Glastonbury, one turned left at the intersection of High and Main streets. Thus, from the South Glastonbury was an intersection on a well-traveled route, Bates Tavern at 58 High Street was catering to the travelers' needs before 1747.
Gristmills and sawmills were essential to early settlement. Roaring Brook flowing westward through the district provided the water power necessary for such mills east of the district and at the junction of High and Water streets. A dam and pond existed at this location until washed out by floods in the 1930s.
Although South Glastonbury was the first section of the town to be settled, the first church was built well north of the district. In 1837-38 South Glastonbury built its own Congregational Church on High Street. At the same time the Episcopalians built St. Luke's on Main Street, and the Methodists in 1828 had already constructed their edifice on High Street. The construction of these substantial buildings complemented and went hand-in-hand with the development of substantial manufacturing facilities on Roaring Brook west of the district for which the district served as community and trading center. The 1869 atlas shows that Bates Tavern has become Charles Bates Hotel, with the school and a store on the same block. Five stores and shops and the Post Office were on the block of Main Street between High and Water streets while three shops and a store were on Water Street. Textile mills along Roaring Brook attracted Irish immigrants for whom St. Mary's of East Hartford established St. Augustine's as a mission in 1878. It became a separate parish in 1902.
In the early part of the 20th century most of the mills disappeared. An exception was a feldspar mill at the western end of High Street behind 124 High Street, on the site of an old gristmill. But the feldspar mill is now gone and activity generally in South Glastonbury declined until the 1970s and 1980s. Recent years have brought an increase in residential real estate development in the area due to the pressure of outward expansion of suburban Hartford. In the South Glastonbury Historic District, the effects of the pressure are primarily visible on the Main Street block between High and Water streets, now almost entirely non-residential. The Post Office is still in this block, with many stores. The bank in the Joseph Tryon House, 879 Main Street, has gone to considerable effort to maintain outside appearances, and the Masons and Episcopalians continue to keep their structures as though there were no changes in the neighborhood. The former Episcopalian rectory, however, has been moved back to become 890 (rear) Main Street, and other old houses have fared worse by being demolished. Two such structures still show on the town map, although in fact they are no longer there. 869-871 Main Street was demolished to provide more parking for the enlarged commercial building, 875-885 Main Street, and 901 Main Street was demolished to provide room for an addition to the fire station.
Houses built by the early settlers up to the time of the Revolutionary War were typical post-and-beam, mortise-and-tenon, gable-roofed structures centered on a huge chimney stack that provided heat for the two main rooms on either side and the kitchen in the rear. The district is fortunate in having 13 houses from this period, probably built as home lot houses by farmers. The jewel of the baker's dozen is the Welles/Shipman/Ward House at 972 Main Street where elaborate detail and fine craftsmanship are outstanding. Starting with the foundations of brownstone ashlar the house displays superior characteristics throughout, including a double, paneled, front door framed by fluted pilasters and frieze with triglyphs, 12-over-12 windows with pulvinated friezes and dentil courses and a roof-line cornice supported by modillion blocks.
The Samuel Brooks House at 807 Main Street displays the similar basic features of 2-1/2 stories, five bays and stone foundations with clapboard siding. It also has the overhang of second story over first on front and side elevations, a construction peculiarity that is without satisfactory explanation in the literature on Colonial architecture. Moreover, it has an added 1-1/2-story wing to the right that carries the house into the 19th-century, Greek Revival style. The wing has pilasters at the northern corners and horizontal, 3-pane windows in the frieze under its eaves, making a good example of a house that successfully joins two styles. Early houses continued to be modified throughout the 19th century, a further example being 835 Main Street, whose portico is supported by turned posts, a feature often associated with the Queen Anne style.
Another house of unusually fine architecture is the Post/Pratt House at 938 Main Street. Again, two styles of architecture are involved, the Federal and the Greek Revival, but in this case as a transitional style built at one time, rather than separate styles for two sections. The Federal features of this house include the portico with coved ceiling that protects the doorway with semi-elliptical fanlight, the frieze that breaks out over the corner pilasters and the elliptical window in the deeply recessed pediment. Among the Greek Revival characteristics of the house are its basic shape and mass, a 2-1/2-story, gable-roofed, 3-bay block, the simple corner pilasters and the use of the gable end of the front elevation as a pediment.
Two outstanding pure Greek Revival structures are the Episcopal and Congregational churches, built simultaneously in 1837-38, one of brick, the other frame. St. Luke's Episcopal Church has a fine portico noteworthy for its use of two brick piers with two fluted, wooden columns. Episcopal 19th-century churches in Connecticut tend to be in the Gothic Revival style, one of the first being the 1828 Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford by Ithiel Town. Perhaps 1837-38 was too early for the more sophisticated or at least newer stylistic development to reach a country village like South Glastonbury. The contemporary Congregational Church was quite different from its Episcopal neighbor, not only in material, being frame rather than brick, but also in design, having no portico whatsoever. Both churches, however, are graced by tall 20-over-20-over-20 windows on their side elevations. The Gothic Revival style later did make its presence felt in South Glastonbury in the Carpenter Gothic structure of St. Augustine's Catholic Church mission of 1878.
While at the Samuel Brooks House, 807 Main Street, the Greek Revival was the new style of the wing added to an older style, at 902-904 Main Street it is the original Greek Revival style house to which an addition is made a later style. At 902-904 Main Street the addition is a wraparound front porch in the Italianate mode. The turned posts and double C-curve sawn brackets with finials help support a cornice with solid sawn brackets. Roof brackets between the porch posts are terminated with drop finials in a carefully thought out and striking composition of the late 19th century, designed long after the popularity of the Greek Revival style had ended.
A combination of many styles is found at 892 Main Street. The hipped roof and roofline cornice of the main block suggest Georgian or Georgian Revival intentions while the horizontal windows in the frieze of the section of the house in the angle of the ell are Greek Revival in derivation and windows of the Queen Anne, 3-sided bay on the right have flat, stylized surrounds inspired by the Neo Grec. But the chief distinguishing feature of the house is the completely intact, wraparound front porch that displays superb craftsmanship in sawn and turned woodworking. The ensemble of frieze of bulbous spindles, sawn brackets, turned posts, two-stage arcaded railing and pierced porch skirt is a design outstanding for its quality and integrity.
Houses of more conventional design were built toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Two fine Queen Anne examples are found at the western end of High Street. 94 High Street (1899) is a large, 3-story structure with important roofs, irregular shape fish-scale shingles and the then fashionable 1-over-1 windows of large panes. Although the house has suffered inroads on its integrity through loss of porch and balconies, it enjoys the significance of relating the district to nearby industry through ownership of the house by the superintendent of the woolen mill. 107 High Street (1907) is more nearly intact and displays the familiar Queen Anne characteristics of second-floor shingles flaring over first-floor clapboards and 3-sided bay capped by a projecting gable on the side elevation.
Houses built on into the first quarter of the 20th century include the Georgian Revival, hipped-roof structure at 983 Main Street (1910) with wooden shingles on its roof, and the American Foursquare house at 994 Main Street (1924) with typical hipped-roof portico, hipped-roof dormer and glazing of small panes over single large pane.
Building activity of recent decades in the principal commercial block of Main Street between High and Water streets has brought unfortunate demolition and some insensitive alterations and new construction. The design approach to alterations at 878-882 Main Street is epitomized by the sign on the front of the building reading "Ye Old Barber Shoppe" while the "Mansard" roof of 868-874 Main Street reflects equal mistreatment of historical theme. Across the street, on the other hand, the old houses at 865 and 879 Main Street have been adapted to commercial use with retention of their historic exterior architectural features and the big, new building, 875-885 Main Street with its simple lines, gable roof and clapboard siding meets the community's late-20th century requirements in a sensitive and contemporary manner.
The South Glastonbury Historic District reflects changing architectural styles over a period of three centuries with examples built over time from the first half of the 18th century to the last half of the 20th century. The older and newer buildings exist side-by-side, for the most part in harmony with one another, and from them can be read the history of architectural styles and the history of development in this small community that from the 1650s has steadily served the commercial and residential functions of the village center.
Clark, Rheta Am, et al, camps., "The South Glastonbury Library," n.d., available at the library.
Goslee, William S. in Hammond Trumbull, ed., The Memorial History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1884, Boston, Edward L. Osgood, 1886, v.2, pp.205-228.
McNulty, J. Bard, "The Welles-Shipman House in Glastonbury, Connecticut," The Connecticut Antiquarian, XIX (December 1967) 2, pp.14-19.
McNulty, Marjorie Grant, Glastonbury from Settlement to Suburb, Glastonbury: Historical Society of Glastonbury, 1983.
† David F. Ranson, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, South Glastonbury Historic District, Glastonbury, CT, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.