Buckingham Square Historic District
The Buckingham Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 with a boundary increase listed in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from copies of the original nomination documents. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Situated two blocks south of Hartford's central business district, the 19th century Buckingham Square Historic District is surrounded by active City institutions, which include the South Congregational Church and Hartford Federal Building. Two blocks on Main Street form the commercial part of the district, while extending west from Main Street one to one-and-a-half blocks are three residential streets: Linden Place, Capitol Avenue, and Buckingham Street.
Within the Buckingham Square Historic District, Main Street presents a consistently-scaled facade with its four-and five-story blocks of rhythmic fenestration. At the southern end of the district, the small Buckingham Square Park establishes a definite boundary, while the massive curved corner and turret of the Linden Block strongly define the northern limit. Corner turrets on the Hotel Capitol and The Linden punctuate the entrance of Capitol Avenue and Linden Place into the main road. As one enters the side streets of townhouses, the scale becomes more personal: the cornice line is lower and buildings are divided into vertical units of two or three bays that express the scale of domestic activity.
The Main Street buildings still fulfill the functions for which they were built, housing stores and restaurants on the first floor and residences above. Though the side streets are now mostly rooming houses, they are still almost exclusively residential. Five of the rowhouses on Capitol Avenue, numbers 11 and 19-25, are being extensively renovated as middle-income apartments; rehabilitation is still feasible for many other buildings in the district.
Minor intrusions are formed by three apartment houses from the 1920's, numbers 36-46 Capitol Avenue, whose facade lines do not interrupt the rowhouse progression; another apartment house stands at the rear of 367 Main Street and is visible only from Whitman Court, a back lane. The Connecticut Department of Children and Youth Services at 345 Main Street, a modern two-story building, presents a more serious intrusion of scale, material and style; the boundary lines are drawn so as to exclude it from the Buckingham Square Historic District.
The 19th century streets cohere closely in style, proportion, and material. All of the buildings are of brick construction, ornamented with stone, wood, or metal. Turning first to the side streets, whose buildings date from an earlier period than those of Main Street, there are four distinct blocks of rowhouses, originally comprising seventeen single-family houses, and two double houses. Built between 1863 and 1879, they display variations on the Italianate style. All twenty-one houses have three stories with high brownstone foundations and ornate entrances approached by steps; some are faced with Portland brownstone. Most of the houses which have not yet been rehabilitated are poor to fair in condition.
The first of the houses to be built were those of the West-Tryon block of 1863, on 52-56 Capitol Avenue at the northeast corner of Hudson Street. The block once had eight attached houses, but today only the eastern three remain because of the lengthening of Hudson Street in 1918. The brownstone-faced houses once had iron balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows and carving on window lintels and porticos. Today only parts of the entrance porticos remain, and the stone is somewhat spoiled. A storefront has been added to number 52.
The two brick double houses now known as numbers 82-84 and 90-100 Buckingham Street came next, in 1865. They were probably once twins, but today only the latter retains its overhanging cornice, cast-iron window hoods, and classical entrance portico. The hoods of the central third-story windows are too wide, indicating that the houses were designed by builders who used prefabricated elements. Number 90 also retains its original iron fence and balustrade.
The second block to be built was the monumental seven-house row of 1865 which fronts Buckingham Square. A photograph of about 1915 (Connecticut Historical Society) shows the whole block with its now-lost window shutters and entrance canopies. These wooden canopies projected above the doubled doorways, creating entrance porches. Though the entrances have all been altered, the bracketed cornice and cast-iron window hoods remain on all seven houses.
The Gilbert brownstones at 11 -25 Capitol Avenue were built in two sections. The first was completed in 1871 and consists of four attached houses at the corner of Whitman Court and Capitol Avenue (numbers 19-25 Capitol). At the first floor are pedimented entrance porticos, while the third story takes the form of a Second Empire mansard, with round-headed wall dormers. Three more houses, numbers 11-17, were built in 1879 between the first section and the Hotel Capitol. These last three have bow-fronted facades and flat roofs, and instead of the foliate, classical ornament typical of the Italianate style, their cornice and entrances have angular High Victorian Gothic detailing. Of all the townhouses in the Buckingham Square Historic District, the Gilbert brownstones are in the best state of preservation. The entrances and window enframements are complete, as well as all but a small section of the cornice. At this writing, numbers 11 and 19-25 are undergoing renovation, including restoration of the facades and of interior features such as mantelpieces and woodwork. At this writing, five apartment units have been completed.
On Main Street, four large buildings were put up from 1875 to 1895 between Linden Place and Buckingham Square. These blocks display a representative range of commercial styles from the period and are in fair condition. Four to five stories in height, they have storefronts on the first floor and apartments above.
Between Buckingham Street and Capitol Avenue on Main Street, and separated by an empty lot, are a commercial block and a hotel which both display the date 1875. Built of brick with limestone and wood trim, they have tall, narrow proportions. The McKone Block at 357-367 Main Street is High Victorian Italianate in style. Three semicircular pediments appear in the bracketed and modillioned cornice, and within each pediment is a circular medallion with the date 1875. At ground-floor level, some of the Corinthian capitals of the cast-iron storefronts are visible, though most of the original storefronts, as in other district buildings, have been masked by aluminum or plastic.
North of the McKone Block, at the southwest corner of Capitol and Main, is the Hotel Capitol, a blend of the High Victorian Gothic and Second Empire styles. On the ground floor, brick pilasters banded with limestone provide a Ruskinian polychromy, while on windows, cornice and dormers is Eastlake-inspired incised decoration in wood and stone. A slate-patterned mansard covers the fifth-story attic. Especially striking is the corner treatment, an attenuated version of the Second Empire pavilion motif. The northeast corner of the building is cut off at a 45 degree angle to the facade, and cantilevered from this face are wooden balconies at the second, third, and fourth stories. Rising from the roof above is a tall dormered cupola with a double-curved mansard roof culminating in a copper pinnacle.
Crossing Capitol Avenue, the Heublein Building at 407 Main Street is a five-story Roman brick block in the Renaissance Revival style, built between 1889 and 1895. Rust-colored brick is used for string courses and quoins, while at the top is a flat copper garlanded frieze and cornice.
The Linden Block, next door at 427 Main Street, was completed in 1891. Constructed of brick and red sandstone, this early apartment house is Richardsonian Romanesque in style. Rock-faced masonry appears in the window lintels and sills, and on the wide arcade applied to the five-story facade. Between each window level is a broad band of red and black diaper work. On the cast-iron storefronts, a few of the columns with their Romanesque acanthus capitals are still visible. Ranging along a parapet at the roofline are squat copper turrets. At the northeast corner, a vast flattened arch swings around the curving wall; atop this corner and set behind the parapet is a circular belvedere with a copper roof whose spreading curve is a reflection of the Hotel Capitol cupola.
Connected to the main block by a wide arch (now filled in) is a row of bow-fronted apartment units on Linden Place. Between the three bowfronts are wide rock-face arches at the third story and open balconies recessed underneath. Over the bays, copper roofs and crenellated gables create interest in the roofline. This section, with its rowhouse-like vertical divisions, echoes the streetscapes of Buckingham and Capitol Avenues.
Buckingham Square preserves a fine urban neighborhood of the second half of the 19th century with its commercial-residential blocks, spacious townhouses and small park. The Buckingham Square Historic District's harmony of brick and stone, uniform cornice and facade lines, and consistent human scale form an architectural unity unusual to Hartford.
Also included within the Buckingham Square Historic District for visual protection are several areas with buildings from complementary periods. On the south side of Buckingham Street are four brick buildings in fair condition dating from c. 1850-1900. The Morris Building at 73-77 Buckingham Street is a three-story Palladian Revival apartment building from about 1900. Next door at 83-85 is a single-family house from the same period with a Dutch gable banded and coped with limestone. The next two buildings date from about 1850 and are connected by a one-story 20th century addition. Number 91-95 is a modest two-story Greek Revival house while 101-109 Buckingham is a three-story Italianate block with simple bracketed wood cornice. Its first story is entirely altered by a 20th century storefront.
The Holy Trinity Church and rectory stand at 41 and 53 Capitol Avenue. Built in 1915 and originally called the Lithuanian Church of the Most Holy Trinity, the building is of simple Romanesque style with two square towers flanking the central entrance. Its rectory is a two-story Queen Anne residence with corbelled ornament and an altered entrance porch. On Whitman Court are two apartment buildings from the 1920's, numbers 1 and 3-5.
Buckingham Square is a 19th century urban ensemble whose commercial buildings and townhouses are important examples of the Italianate, High Victorian and Richardsonian styles. The Buckingham Square Historic District is situated in one of the most historic sections of Hartford, and preserves a moment of the city's 19th century urban development. Subject of a significant proposal for urban restoration in 1974, it is an important site for residential and commercial renovation because of its proximity to the Central Business District, and the quality and period consistency of its architecture.
Buckingham Square occupies a central place in early Hartford history. Main and Buckingham Streets were laid out in the original settlement of the town; a map of 1640 shows a number of houses in the area, which was immediately south of the Little (or Park) River. It was at the intersection of these two highways that in 1670 a dissenting group from the First Church put up a meetinghouse; until 1827, their meetinghouse stood in the center of the present Buckingham Street and extended out into Main Street. When the present church building was erected on a site further south, the old site was laid out as a park. This park, now known as Buckingham Square, was approved by a Town Meeting in 1830. Buckingham Street was named after Joseph Buckingham, treasurer of the colony, and son of the second pastor of the Second Church. Of the fine Georgian homes which once stood on this part of Main Street, nothing remains, but still standing across the street is the Butler-McCook House of 1740, already on the National Register of Historic Places. Until recently, a house from the 1820's stood within the district at 373 Main Street, one of the oldest buildings in Hartford and a last reminder of the early origins of the neighborhood. The brick double house, known as Dailey's Market, burned on April 18, 1976, shortly after architect Thomas Tramont had obtained an option to buy and renovate the building.
The Buckingham Square Historic District as it is preserved today is a result of the rapid urbanization accompanying Hartford's industrial growth of the mid-nineteenth century. Partly because of its importance as a center of firearms manufacture, Hartford grew tremendously at the time of the Civil War; the city's insurance industry also came of age during this period. The area north of the Little River developed as the central business district, while areas immediately south of the river became increasingly dense residential neighborhoods. During the 1860's speculative builders filled these southern districts with double houses and rowhouses; the building trades themselves had become more industrialized with the growing use of prefabricated cast-iron elements and machine-carved stonework. In a short time Hartford was transformed from river village to industrial city.
Buckingham Square has the highest concentration of these original rowhouses remaining in the city, all of them completed between 1863 and 1879. Early residents of Buckingham Street were insurance clerks and merchants who worked downtown; among them was James B. Colt, brother of pistol manufacturer Samuel Colt. Wealthier businessmen and professionals moved into the more spacious brownstones of Capitol Avenue. In the West-Tryon block lived Nathan M. Waterman, once General of the State Militia, while in the Gilbert brownstones were State's Attorney William Hammersley and Frank S. Brown of the Brown Thomson Department Store, and one of the builders of the Linden Block.
Andrew B. West, an enterprising young carpenter, and Henry R. Tryon, a mason, built the first of the houses in 1863, on the north side of Capitol Avenue (then known as College Street). Tryon, who advertised plain and ornamental cornices, centerpieces, panel and architrave enrichments, was probably responsible for the brownstone exteriors, while West did the interiors. No specific designer has come to light for any of the other houses, though the builders are known. Andrew B. West formed a partnership with William S. White in the construction of the row on Buckingham Square in 1865. The strong appeal of park frontage is revealed in the inflated price of $10,500 which one house brought in 1866.
Willis S. Bronson & Co., tinners, roofers and pipefitters, initiated construction of the double houses at 80-100 Buckingham Street in 1864-65. Double houses of this period and type were so common in Hartford that architect William C. Brockelsby wrote in 1886 of the "outgrowth of the speculative double brick house, of which so many pairs were at one time erected...threatening to drive out what humble attempts at architecture were striving for a place in public estimation."
The brownstones on the south side of Capitol Avenue were built by John W. Gilbert, who lived in number 21. The four western houses with mansard roofs (19-25) date from 1871, the three bowfronts at 11-17 from 1879. These houses are especially significant today as the site of the restoration efforts of architect Thomas Tramont.
The Italianate style, loosely adapted from the domestic architecture of Renaissance Italy, dominated the American cityscape of the 1860's. The Hartford houses display a conservative version of New York's fashionable brownstone architecture; the lintels of the West-Tryon block, for example, have a scallop shell motif reminiscent of 18th century designs. When the High Victorian and Second Empire styles superseded the Italianate in the 1870's, Hartford's builders responded slowly. The Second Empire brownstones (1871) of the Gilbert block are actually of standard Italianate design on the first two stories; Second Empire elements appear only at the third story, in the mansard roof and dormers. A transition to the more angular High Victorian Gothic is seen in the bow-fronted brownstones next door. Incised geometric patterns appear in places where foliate forms are found in Italianate houses: entrance arches, consoles, and roof brackets. The angular, vertical emphasis relates these last houses stylistically to the McKone Block and Hotel Capitol of 1875, buildings of the second stage of the district's development, the large commercial construction of Main Street.
In 1863 the first horse-drawn streetcar appeared on Main Street. By 1880 street railways extended into the outlying parts of Hartford, making Main Street accessible to a growing population. The consequent rise of land values along the lines demanded an increase in the height and density of buildings: one house lot on Main Street brought over $29,000 in 1873. Patrick McKone, who built the McKone Block on that lot in 1875, so overextended himself that in 1876 he declared bankruptcy; he retained possession of the property until 1882 when he was forced to turn it over to the State Savings Bank. Another venture of the same year and same block on Main Street, the Hotel Capitol, fared no better. James G. Wells built the hotel on the site of his former home in 1875, but in 1882 he also lost the property to the bank. Perhaps part of the reason for failure was that neither Wells nor the next owner, William Morgan, managed the hotel himself. Morgan, an undertaker whose firm was located on the first floor, did not even own the hotel furnishings; they were the property of the managers. One manager, Helen F. Swann, in fact used the furnishings as security for a $3,200 loan from landlord Morgan, and for the loan arrangement of 1886 the town records list every item in the hotel, from window shades to cooking pots.
The next block of Main Street, between Capitol Avenue and Linden Place, was completely built up by 1895. Hartford hoteliers Gilbert and Louis Heublein built the Renaissance Revival building at Capitol Avenue between 1889 and 1895. The Linden Block next door, an early apartment house, opened in 1891 . Designed by F.S. Newman of Hartford and Springfield, and built by retailers Brown and Thomson, The Linden soon became a fashionable business and residential address. There is even record of families from Capitol Avenue brownstones moving into the new "apartments for light housekeeping."
The two sections of Main Street, one completed in 1875 and the other in 1895, are architectural counterparts; the buildings reveal a generational change in taste. The Heublein and McKone Blocks are both builder-designed commercial blocks with the rhythmic fenestration and prominent cornices typical of the whole period, yet the contrast between the McKone's extravagant verticality and the later building's classical squareness offers insights into the Academic Reaction of the 1890's. Similarly, The Linden is a Richardsonian Romanesque version of the Hotel Capitol, a residential block with corner siting and an angle tower. The Hotel Capitol combines Second Empire elements with the angular verticality of the High Victorian Gothic, while The Linden is more massive, capturing the monumental composition as well as the Romanesque detailing of H. H. Richardson's style. The profile of its wide turret echoes that of the Hotel Capitol, confronting the other's aspiration with its own solidity.
Buckingham Square is unique in Hartford: a 19th century urban neighborhood complete with private houses and commercial blocks. Within its borders are revealed the tastes of three past generations, while surrounding it are active contemporary institutions. Neighborhood renovation has already begun on Capitol Avenue; its completion could prove the viability of preservation to the whole region.
Anonymous, "Living Downtown," Exhibition Catalogue, Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1974. (The Linden)
Hartford City Directories, Hartford: Elihu Geer, various volumes starting 1862.
Hartford Courant, 17 February 1890, 24 April 1890.
Hartford Town Clerk, Land Records, various volumes starting 1861.
Photograph Archives, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.
Tramont et al., "Buckingham Square: An Urban Restoration Proposal," Hartford: on file at Hartford Architecture Conservancy, June 27, 1974.
Trumbull, J. Hammond, Ed., Memorial History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1884, Boston: Edward L. Osgood, 1886.
Washburn, A. and Buck, H., A History of Hartford Streets, Hartford: Municipal Art Society, Bulletin 9, 1911.
The amendment to the original National Register listing of the Buckingham Square Historic District is to alter the boundary of the district to include an additional property known as Stoneleigh at 248-250 Hudson Street.
Stoneleigh is a three-story, 35x54-foot, brick building of six apartments built in 1907 to the design of George Zunner. It faces west on Hudson Street and is the second Building south of Buckingham Street. It occupies most of its small lot, which is 40x70 feet in size. The brick is laid up in common bond. Foundation walls are brownstone ashlar with a chiseled brownstone water table. The lettering STONELEIGH is incised in the brownstone lintel of the doorway.
The building's architectural characteristics of merit, reflecting the influence of the then-popular, eclectic Neo-Georgian style, are concentrated on its street elevation. The central entrance once had a porch with a pediment, its former position now indicated by an outline on the wall. A key to its probable appearance is given by the pediment with heavy moldings over the tripartite window above. The porch, according to a 1927 building permit for its repair, had a 4x10-foot marquise (probably of iron) covered by glass and supported by two chains.
Left and right of the entrance are three-story, three-sided, wooden bays. The sash are 4-over-l with the upper window divided into four vertical lights. The tops of the muntins of these lights interlace to form diamond-shaped panes reminiscent of the leaded pattern of Colonial casement windows. Recessed, panels fill the spaces below the windows.
At the roof line above the bays there is a heavy Doric frieze with triglyphs, guttae, mutules and a dentil course, under a projecting cornice with cyma corona — the whole executed in sheet metal. A wooden balustrade in three sections divided by brick piers rises above the roof line.
On each side elevation of the building there is a section of brick wall toward the front, for the chimney, then two windows close together, and five more windows. The windows are 6-over-1 with segmental brick lintels and brownstone sills.
On the rear elevation doors and windows open onto a three-story wooden porch with projecting, central stairway, the stairway and porch railings having been covered with aluminum siding.
Stoneleigh is presently  being rehabilitated in accordance with the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Historic Preservations Projects.
The architectural style, proportions and building materials of Stoneleigh relate well to those of other buildings in the Buckingham Square Historic District. Brick and brownstone were the principal 19th-century building materials of the community, as seen in the district, while the 3-story height and rectangular shape are consistent with the nearby buildings on Buckingham Street. Stoneleigh is one of the few architect-designed buildings in the Buckingham Square Historic District.
During the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century, hundreds of three-story, six-family apartment houses, locally referred to as "Perfect Sixes," were built in Hartford to provide low- and middle-income rental housing. Many of these buildings were constructed to standard designs while more sophisticated examples, such as Stoneleigh, were individually designed by architects. George Zunner and Burton A. Sellew were prolific designers in this idiom, as documented in the tabulations published in the three-volume Hartford Architecture series of the Hartford Architecture Conservancy. Zunner and Sellew practiced together briefly in a short-lived partnership in 1908. Zunner designed Stoneleigh for Charles F.D. Leigh (hence the name, Stoneleigh), a local real estate investor. The contractor was W.J. Simms, and the estimated cost, according to Building Permit No. 272, dated May 20, 1907, was $11,000.
Stoneleigh followed the standard plan of Hartford "Perfect Sixes" of two four-room apartments on each of three floors, with central entrance, bowed fronts, and rear porches and stairs, executed in the standard building material of red brick. The architectural embellishment of the street elevation of Stoneleigh gives it individuality. The bows are built of wood rather than brick, which is unusual. In addition, Zunner used classic detailing associated with the Georgian Revival style of architecture in conformity with the popularity of this mode throughout the country at the time. Following the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, whose architects returned to classical sources after the romantic revivals of the 19th century, Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, and Beaux Arts Class eclecticism swept the country. George Zunner was in step with the contemporary trend and expressed the preferred architectural style of the day in Stoneleigh, the "Perfect Six", at 248-250 Hudson Street in Hartford.
The original boundary line of the Buckingham Square National Register Historic District was drawn to encompass key 19th-century residential properties in a section of downtown Hartford. These properties included the brownstone-front houses on the north and south sides of Capitol Avenue, the brick row houses facing Buckingham Square and three important buildings on Main Street. The Main Street buildings are the Hotel Capitol, a residential building, the McKone Building, a mixed commercial-residential structure, and the Linden, a large apartment house.
In addition, the Buckingham Square Historic District included several early-20th-century apartment houses, the Holy Trinity Church, and some infill structures. The four buildings at the southwest corner of the district, built from 1850 to 1900, were included "for visual protection." These are the buildings on the south side of Buckingham Street extending eastward from the corner of Hudson Street, adjacent to Stoneleigh.
Stoneleigh is the first building on Hudson Street south of this corner, a three-story residential structure. Constructed soon after the turn of the century, it belongs with the grouping included in the district because its age, size, mass and materials make it complementary to buildings in the district.
At the time the Buckingham Square Historic District boundary originally was drawn, there were rows of buildings on both sides of Hudson Street and a large 19th-century school on the west side of the street. Perhaps it was considered that Stoneleigh belonged with these buildings, rather than with the district.
The situation has now changed, through demolition. The fronts of the two lots on Hudson Street next to Stoneleigh have been cleared, the four lots across the street are vacant and the Wadsworth Street School has been demolished. These spaces create a relationship in which Stoneleigh is adjacent to and visually part of the Buckingham Square Historic District. This district stops with Stoneleigh, whose size, mass and materials are consistent with those in the district. Accordingly, the district boundary is re-drawn to include this property.
Hartford Land Records and Building Permits.
Hartford Architecture, Volume Two: South Neighborhoods, Hartford Architecture Conservancy, 1980.
† Merle E Kummer with David F Ransom, Hartford Architecture Conservancy, Buckingham Square Historic District, nomination document, 1976 and David F. Ransom, Consultant and John F. A. Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Buckingham Square Historic District Boundary Increase, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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