West Granby Historic District
The West Granby Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The West Granby Historic District, located in Granby, Connecticut, is approximately three miles west of the town center. The West Granby Historic District includes all of the extant resources associated with the historic village of West Granby, which was laid out and settled beginning in the early 18th century. Most of the properties front on Simsbury Road between its intersection with Firetown Road, at the southern end of the district, and termination at Hartland Road at the north end. Simsbury Road parallels the west branch of Salmon Brook, which played a significant role in the 18th and 19th century economic life of the village because of the mills that harnessed its waterpower. The West Granby Historic District's physical features are an important part of its identity. Salmon Brook narrows into the rocky Muggins Gorge just north of the site of West Granby's first grist mill (c.1742). West of the brook is hilly, while to the east the land rolls gradually upward to the east and is divided into open fields and pastures recalling the West Granby Historic District's agricultural past. Few acres are now in active cultivation.
The West Granby Historic District contains 150 resources, 113 (75%) of which contribute to its historical significance. Together with dwellings and barns dating from c.1760 to 1940, these include fieldstone walls marking the boundaries of original 1734 land grants, the foundations of 18th, 19th and early-20th century mills, and the West Granby Cemetery (1811). Non-contributing resources include the West Granby United Methodist Church (1976) and several modern residences.
With few exceptions, all of the principal buildings are residential; the outbuildings consist primarily of barns and garages dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. Examples of architectural styles represented include the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate. Many houses and most outbuildings are plain and functional.
The built resources retain their historic appearances to a considerable degree. Alterations are generally limited to non-original synthetic sidings and replacement windows; some buildings also received later additions. A number have tin roofs, some of which may be original. All of the contributing resources are wood-framed, and most have clapboarded walls and brick or granite foundations. Two stories is the typical building height, although there are a few one-story homes and outbuildings. The buildings are scattered both in clusters and randomly, with relatively few modern intrusions.
The four houses identifiably in the Colonial style share the characteristic five-bay rectangular plan, chimney centered in the roof ridge, clapboard sheathing, and central front entrance. The most stylistically ambitious is the Sadoce Wilcox House (c.1787). Encasing the front door, which is set under a six-light transom, is a molded surround embellished with a pulvinated frieze and slightly projecting denticulated cornice. A matching dentil band decorates the eaves. A simpler design is the James Huggins House (c.1790), 70 Hartland Road, which has an unusually wide front door casing topped by a splayed lintel. The one-story wing, distinguished by its flared roof sheltering a front porch, appears to be original and housed a tavern c.1800.
Significant Greek Revival modernizations occurred at the Colonial-style Nahum Holcomb House of Broad Hill Farm (c.1790). The front entrance, for example, was recessed, surrounded with sidelights and a transom, and set within a stylish surround of pilasters and entablature. The long rear wing was a typical 19th century addition. Extensive changes and additions have altered the West Granby Historic District's single one-story Colonial building, the c.1760 Thaddeus Hayes House at 34 Simsbury Road.
Of the West Granby Historic District's three Federal-style buildings, the c.1820 Harlow Wilcox House, 29 Simsbury Road, is singular because of its front doorway, the most elaborate of any in the district. A molded semi-elliptical arch frames the door, sidelights, and fanlight with arched glazing. The arch, in turn, is flanked by pilasters and set under an entablature highlighted by a frieze decorated with triglyphs and a cornice with mutules. On West Granby Road, the c.1790 Joab Griffen House displays the characteristic pedimented side gable with radial-glazed semi-elliptical fanlight and attenuated doorway surrounds.
With six examples, the Greek Revival is the best represented style in the West Granby Historic District, and the most diverse and sophisticated. Three-bay facades with off-center front entrances and pedimented front gables containing rectangular windows are the rule. At the Pettibone/Cone House at 15 Simsbury Road, elaborate Greek Revival detailing embellishes the c.1820 main block. The front entrance casing is highlighted with bull's-eye blocks, sidelights and transom with geometric glazing, pilasters channeled in a curvilinear profile, and a full entablature with denticulated architrave. Complementary detailing marks the roofline entablature and front tympanum window. The front door, with eight compound panels, is a feature found at most of the Greek Revival houses.
Distinctive, skillfully executed Greek Revival doorways abound. At 134 Simsbury Road, the c.1830 Anson Holcomb House displays elongated Greek key corner blocks and a central over-panel with raised diamond molding. The geometric small-pane glazing of the tympanum window is even more intricate than that found in the doorway glazing. The diamond motif appears in the transom and sidelight glazing of the Trumbull Wilcox House at 50 Simsbury Road (c.1850).
Unique among the Greek Revival buildings in the district is the Carlton Holcomb House of c.1845. Only one-and-one-half-stories in height, its features offer the most fully developed expression of the style and the clearest allusion to the temple form. The detailing is perhaps disproportionately grand for the scale of the house; heavy paneled pilasters turn each corner of the L-plan building, supporting a wide entablature with small rectangular attic windows in the flat frieze. Spanning the side wing is a recessed portico supported by an imposing single fluted Doric column, originally one of two.
The West Granby Historic District contains Bungalows at 3 and 11 Broad Hill Road (c.1917 and c.1920, respectively), as well as many vernacular buildings of various ages. The Bungalows have the requisite broad gable roofs and exposed roof rafters; the former is decorated with knee brackets, while the latter has a long recessed front porch. 16 Broad Hill Road (c.1842) and the Granby Tennis Club Pavilion (c.1907), also on Broad Hill Road, show the modest pretensions and range in size of the vernacular buildings, with their typical gable roofs and sash windows in various glazing patterns. Their original uses, however, in some cases were distinctive; 175 Simsbury Road (c.1877), now altered, was the District No. 9 Schoolhouse, while 43 Simsbury Road (c.1812) was an early industrial shop.
Wood-framed barns of many sizes, shapes, and ages form an important part of the West Granby landscape. The most architecturally distinguished, at 143 Simsbury Road, has Italianate-style round-arched apertures and cupola from the mid-19th century. Broad Hill Farm, 115 Simsbury Road, with its extensive concentration of outbuildings, presents a cross section in features and farm-related uses from the 19th and 20th centuries. Among them are long gable-roofed early-20th century tobacco sheds characteristic of the Connecticut River Valley, and a c.1935 Wisconsin dairy barn (note 1).
The West Granby Cemetery (c.1811) contains grave markers in the varied materials, styles, and proportions of 19th and 20th century funereal art, and is the resting place for most of the village's inhabitants since its founding.
Historically, the West Granby Historic District was a bustling and vital center of Granby industrial life during the first half of the 19th century, typical of the evolution of many small rural communities throughout New England with access to waterpower. Architecturally, the West Granby Historic District forms a locally distinctive concentration of late-18th and 19th century buildings, in a landscape with strong historic visual integrity. The buildings document the village's long history, with sophisticated examples of Colonial, Federal, and Greek Revival styles being especially well represented. Stone walls survive from the earliest settlement, while small mill shops and barns, some of architectural pretension, document the important role of water-powered commerce and agriculture in community life.
West Granby was part of the lands acquired by the original English proprietors of Simsbury, Connecticut, in 1670. With the exception of a few small parcels granted in the early-18th century, the area that is now West Granby was divided up for individual ownership based on two surveys, the first in 1723 and the second in 1734 (note 2). The new owners traded and speculated in the land, only a few of them actually farming. Rocks cleared for farming were gathered and made into stone walls, many of which survive and mark lot lines from original land grants. Roads were laid out but their paths changed; Simsbury Road and West Granby Road assumed their present routes in 1794, not long after Granby was incorporated as a separate town in 1786.
After the Revolution, access to waterpower was a spur to commercial growth throughout New England, and West Granby was no exception. Efforts to harness the west branch of Salmon Brook, which had begun with a c.1742 gristmill years before, mounted. Small mills were built at various spots, the owners typically damming the brook to increase the force of the water flow. One of the most ambitious was James Huggins, who arrived in 1784 and built a gristmill, a shop to make wire for wool carding, a trip hammer shop, and a gin distillery. His c.1790 home at 70 Hartland Road served as an inn for travelers on the stage road from Hartford to Albany. Brothers Thaddeus and Alpheus Hayes opened a clothiers shop, with fulling mill, dye works, and dressing shop. Grist and sawmills, and a hatter's shop, were a part of this emerging enterprise. Farmers Nahum Holcomb and Sadoce Wilcox, working the better soil farther south in the district, built substantial new homes at 115 and 143 Simsbury Road (c.1790 and 1787, respectively).
By the early-19th century, West Granby had become a distinct community within Granby and arguably the town's most important commercial center. Almost half of the Granby commercial establishments identified in an 1819 survey were located here, the rest being divided among the villages of Granby Street and North Granby, and scattered other sites (note 3). West Granby had its own church (Methodist) and general store.
At the same time, West Granby, like New England generally, was experiencing major problems that brought growth almost to a standstill. Floods, freakish cold weather, harsh competition from European imports, and deteriorating soils were taking their toll. The story of the small mills along the brook was one of occasional success but more typically failure, the same mill site often witnessing a succession of owners. Many people, especially the young, abandoned the area, leaving for jobs in the growing cities and expanding textile industries, or for the promise of fertile lands out West.
Yet from the mid-1820s through the 1840s, the community achieved greater prosperity as a spirit of revival took hold. This new attitude expressed itself in local social reform movements, the construction of an impressive Methodist church (1845) in the Greek Revival style, the opening of the West Granby Academy (1842) with an emphasis on a "moral" education, and the emergence of new business ventures. These enterprises included Silas Cone's scythe factory, a rebuilt gristmill, a wagon factory, and a shoe shop. A few of these shops survive, including a building that was part of the Hayes clothiers works. Extant foundations along the brook document others, such as the succession of shops operated by members of the Fancher family at one site across from the cemetery.
Reflecting this confidence and expansion, fine new homes were raised. Blacksmith Trumbull Wilcox was among those who built in the fashionable Greek Revival style (50 Simsbury Road). Even Carlton Holcomb, a modestly successful shoemaker, felt capable of building himself a Greek temple (68 Simsbury Road, c.1845) upon his marriage to the valedictorian of the West Granby Academy. West Granby's commercial importance in town remained firm, according to an 1845 survey (note 4).
Unfortunately, once again the people of West Granby were frustrated in their efforts to improve the community. By the 1850s, competition from steam-powered businesses in the cities was strangling some local shops, depressions in 1837 and in 1857 brought ruin to others, and vigorous young people continued to move away. When the Civil War ended, orders for locally made carriage wheels came to a halt.
From the 1860s onward, West Granby, and the town as a whole, settled into a long period of decline. West Granby never regained its former vitality. The commercial shops along Salmon Brook gradually failed and fell into ruin, and farming resumed its former role as the economic lifeblood of the community. For decades, little new construction occurred. The last major facility built was the Simplex Manufacturing Company, c.1900, an isolated case (note 5). Recreational fishing along Salmon Brook attracted anglers in increasing numbers around the turn of the century, prompting one resident to build a small camp on the gorge. Only a few homes have been built in this century, all modest in scale and style.
Tudor Holcomb (1886-1978) and Laura Holcomb (?-?), sibling descendants of early settlers, were significant exceptions to this trend who achieved prominence and financial success. Combining Tudor's schooling in the emerging late-19th century scientific methods of farming and Laura's bookkeeping skills, they turned the family's failing Broad Hill Farm into a modern, and model, agricultural enterprise. Tudor Holcomb pioneered among Connecticut farmers in switching from growing broadleaf tobacco to shade-grown, to his considerable profit, and in irrigating and fertilizing his crops. The farm's prize herd of Guernsey cattle achieved recognition as the state's first milking operation run completely on electricity.
The West Granby Historic District displays a strong sense of its history because most of the historic resources, both built and natural, survive. Buildings spanning most of its long period of significance (1734-1940) are present. The streets closely follow their historic routes, and old fieldstone walls and rows of trees still mark property lines. Distinctive topographical features of the West Granby Historic District (Salmon Brook, the rolling hills, cultivated fields, and forests) remain unobscured by change or modern development.
Architecturally, the buildings in the West Granby Historic District display the range in quality and style that one would expect from an area of its age and significance. Buildings of architectural pretension and more modest vernacular designs may both be found. The Sadoce Wilcox House presents an archetypical late-18th century plan with a facade of considerable distinction. Despite many alterations, the Harlow Wilcox House of c.1820 has a Federal-style front entrance displaying a level of craftsmanship that is completely unexpected for a rural locale. Yet the most impressive are the Greek Revival houses because of the variety of their skillful glazing and woodworking designs, and their distinctive front doors.
The West Granby Historic District's barns, likewise, include a stylish mid-19th century Italianate example at 149 Simsbury Road, and an extensive array of fine Colonial Revival examples at Broad Hill Farm. More modest buildings, whether residential or farm-related, display typical vernacular features of their times. Plain, gable-roofed houses with few decorative details, from throughout the 19th century, are common, as are barns with flushboard sheathing and rubble foundations.
The resources in the West Granby Historic District are also significant because they clearly convey its long history and changing fortunes. Fieldstone walls marking the lot lines set out in the 1734 survey bear witness to the early settlement. Greek Revival style homes of greater distinction and number than those from any other period in the district, and collectively of higher quality than anywhere else in Granby, are reminders of the village's industrial preeminence locally in the first half of the 19th century. Economic decline thereafter is evident from the small number of buildings, all of little pretension, erected during the rest of the century. Agriculture's historic and continuing role as an economic anchor for West Granby is confirmed by the fields, pastures, and many barns and outbuildings. The Broad Hill Farm's impressive complex of farm buildings stands as witness to the Holcombs' success as farmers during the 20th century.
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Tyler, David. Statistics of the condition and products of certain branches of industry in Connecticut for the year ending October 1, 1845. Hartford: John L. Boswell, 1846.
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West Granby Methodist Episcopal Society. Records, 1844-1900. (In collections of Connecticut State Library, Hartford).
Williams, Mark "The Excommunication of James Huggins," Collections of the Salmon Brook Historical Society, Vol. II. Granby, Connecticut: 1980.
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†† Gregory E. Andrews, consultant, with Mark Williams and John F. A. Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, West Granby Center Historic District, Granby CT, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.