Capen-Clark Historic District
The Capen-Clark Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. 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 Capen-Clark Historic District is an area, primarily residential in character, situated in the northeast section of Hartford. It is generally bounded by Capen Street and the Spring Grove Cemetery on the south, Main Street on the east, and Enfield Street on the west. The core of the Capen-Clark Historic District is Capen and Clark Streets, and those streets immediately adjacent which are architecturally similar in character to these two.
The Capen-Clark Historic District primarily consists of one- and two-family houses, from the second half of the 19th century, ranging from 1 1/2 to 3 stories in height, a few triple deckers from the turn of the century, and some 3-story brick apartment buildings of the early 20th century. Buildings of different styles and periods are thoroughly mixed, as the Capen-Clark Historic District developed gradually in an irregular pattern. Three major periods of residential construction are represented in the district, which contains about 134 buildings. They are:
In addition, there are some eight modest Greek Revival houses from the 1850s and early 1860s scattered along Capen, Clark and Elmer Streets.
The Capen-Clark Historic District also includes an institutional complex at the corner of Capen and Clark Streets consisting of a former public school, now an arts center, a church, two houses that now serve as parish administrative buildings, and a former rectory, now a home for girls. A few commercial buildings stand on Capen Street near Garden and Barbour Streets. The boundaries of the Capen-Clark Historic District are drawn to include those streets or sections of streets which, 1) have a significant concentration of post-Civil War buildings dating from the district's early development and 2) have integrity of siting, scale, and materials; that is, which are historically coherent and visually related to the main part of the district. The delineation of specific boundaries will be discussed in the description of individual streets below.
Capen Street is the heart of the Capen-Clark Historic District. It has the highest concentration of post-Civil-War era houses of any street in the district, and a coherent streetscape with few intrusions. Moreover, many of the houses are architecturally distinctive. The Capen-Clark Historic District begins near Main Street, and excludes the two vacant lots at the corner. The first block of Capen Street preserves an over-all post-Civil War appearance. On the north side is a row of fairly large buildings set back from the street. Included in this row are a number of distinctive buildings. Three Civil War-era houses stand along the north side of the block. Two (#36-38 and #60) are of a standard, Foursquare vernacular Italianate Hartford type with ornamental bracketed porticos and deeply overhanging cornices. At number 62-64 is an imposing Second-Empire double house with paired two-story bay windows, a bracketed cornice and a mansard roof whose gabled dormers feature intricate wooden ornament; at #s 44 and 46 are the Ely houses, two quite monumental wood-frame apartment buildings in the fanciful early Colonial Revival style, whose large size is relieved by projecting bays and dormer windows. Typical of the late Victorian period is their distinctly non-classical arrangement of classical forms, including columned porches and pedimented windows.
The buildings on the south side of the block are more densely sited and are Queen Anne and Italianate in style. The middle section of Capen Street (between Clark and Barbour Streets) is more open, flanked by Spring Grove Cemetery on the south side and the playground of the J. C. Clark Elementary School on the north, which is set off by a metal fence. The only buildings in this block are two wood-frame Queen Anne-Colonial Revival houses, part of the St. Michael's Church complex at the corner of Clark and Capen Streets (#s 98-100 and 102-104).
The block from Barbour to Martin Street is distinguished by a row of six Italianate houses on the south side of the street with the characteristic overhanging eaves and bracketed doorways. On the north side are 19th-century cottages, mostly brick in construction; buildings of this type characterize the street as far west as the two brick Queen Anne houses at the corner of Garden Street (#s 210-212 and 216-220). The major exception is #194, a brick and concrete one-story commercial building. On the south side of Capen Street, west of Garden Street, are two buildings representative of the earliest development in the district, with a strong visual connection to the rest of the street: #221, a frame Greek Revival house in good original condition, and #225, an Italianate house with asbestos siding. Directly opposite are two gable-ended cottages, one built in 1926 (#324), and the other built ca. 1875 (#232). The Capen-Clark Historic District ends with these buildings. Just beyond are two undistinguished, one-story modern structures (#s 233 and 234-236). To the west on Capen and to the north on Enfield and Garden Streets are vacant lots and buildings dating from the 1920s and 1930s, marking a change in historical and visual character, and thus creating a district boundary.
The southern end of Clark Street, near the intersection of Capen Street, is similar in character to Capen Street. On the east side, as far as Nelson Street, are closely-sited buildings, generally modest in character and largely dating from the 1870s, 80s, and 90s, with a mix of styles. The school building and church on the west side are sympathetic in appearance and feeling. The church is particularly noteworthy. The striking building is based on early Renaissance northern Italian examples, and its design is dominated by two square campanile. The facade of cream-colored brick has a rusticated ground floor; above an arcaded entranceway is a fine rose window.
Immediately to the north, the new J. C. Clark Jr. Elementary School is not included in the boundaries of the Capen-Clark Historic District; however, because of its siting well back from the street, it is not obtrusive. A visual connection is made between the southern and northern sections of Clark Street through the Italianate houses on Clark Street's east side, #s 104, 116, and 130, intermixed with apartment buildings. Around the intersection of Judson Street, both sides of Clark Street are dominated by three-story apartment buildings. They are built of yellow brick with Colonial Revival and/or Art Deco styling. There are also four three-decker frame buildings on the west side. Judson Street to the west has similar early 20th-century buildings; however, as they are not distinctive, and there are no post-Civil War buildings on the street, it has not been included in the district.
The northernmost part of Clark Street is dominated by buildings similar to those of the southern end: small, detached houses of the Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne styles. This part of the street has a charming, distinctive character derived from closely-sited buildings similar in scale and period. This character is terminated abruptly at the end of the street by the modern firehouse at the west corner lot and a vacant east corner lot. There is little visual or historical connection maintained with Westland Street, and the northern boundary is thus delineated.
Elmer Street and Main Street
Elmer Street is closely related, historically and visually, to Clark Street. With the exception of modern two-story townhouses (#s 54-64) designed closely in scale to the rest of the streetscape, the street has exceptional historical coherence and integrity. The large, two-family houses primarily date from the late nineteenth century and are Queen Anne in style. They are sited close together on a hill, with earlier Greek Revival, mansard-roofed and Italianate houses clustered toward the east end on either side of the street. This character is maintained as far as the adjacent corners of Main Street. Two brick Queen Anne houses on Main Street to the south and two brick Italianate buildings to the north carry the line of buildings around the corner and exhibit a post-Civil War character similar to nearby Elmer Street. The Capen-Clark Historic District boundary is drawn to include these four buildings on Main Street; beyond them are early 20th-century structures not consistent with the theme of the district.
Of the side streets which intersect with Capen Street, two, Barbour and Martin, have notable buildings consistent with the theme of the district. On the west side of Barbour Street are two turn-of-the-century commercial/residential buildings (#122 Capen Street and #7-9 Barbour Street) with good original clapboard and shingle siding. Three turn-of-the-century buildings with fine wooden detail, such as turned porch posts and gable peak starbursts, stand immediately beyond. Past a modern apartment building (#45) is a group of four post-Civil War buildings. Particularly notable are the Italianate (#57) and Second Empire (#57 1/2) houses which have some elaborate decorative features, such as the wrought iron balconies on #57, and cupola with spire on #57 1/2. Because of the quality of these buildings, and because they are clearly visible from the south end of Barbour Street (the apartment building is set well back from the street), they are included in the district. Beyond them is a vacant lot and a row of early 20th century apartment buildings not related to the significance of the Capen-Clark Historic District.
Martin Street possesses a less coherent streetscape than other sections of the district because of vacant lots and modern apartment buildings. However, at its southernmost end, by Capen Street, it has a high concentration of post-Civil War buildings, some of exceptional interest. Near Capen Street is a group of late Italianate and Queen Anne brick houses, single and multi-family. The apartment buildings on the west side between this grouping and Capen Street are modern. They are, however, similar in height and materials to most of the early buildings, and are not obtrusive. The Capen-Clark Historic District line is drawn to include two exceptional Victorian cottages with small towers (#s 37 and 43), and a 1 1/2 story Second Empire house (#53) on the west side of the street; and to exclude the large modern apartment buildings on the east side of the street (#s 54 and 64). The remainder of the street is of an early 20th century character, and not included in the district. With the exception of a 1 1/2-story cottage with a triple row of arched windows across the facade (#78) (not included) , the buildings were built after the period of the district's significance, and have little distinctive architectural detail. The visual breaks caused on the west side of the street by the vacant lot after #53 and on the east side by the larger-scale apartment buildings do not justify extending the boundary further north.
The final street contiguous to Capen Street is Garden Street. With the exception of the corner buildings which front on Capen Street, Garden Street is lined with early 20th century apartment buildings with no representatives of the district's post-Civil War or Queen Anne development, and consequently is not significant according to the theme of the Capen-Clark Historic District.
The Capen-Clark Historic District streets and buildings uniquely illustrate the post-Civil War and turn-of-the-century suburban residential development of the Northeast neighborhood of Hartford. The Capen-Clark Historic District includes the first streets laid out in the area in the 1860s, and numerous houses which were constructed immediately thereafter. The streetscapes also contain significant vernacular infill building from the 1890s and early 1900s. Moreover, within the district's boundaries are some of Hartford's best examples of vernacular Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, and Queen Anne buildings, especially on Capen Street. The Capen-Clark Historic District is important for the unusual integrity of its streetscapes in relation to the neighborhood as a whole. The district illustrates in microcosm the 50-year development of the larger suburban neighborhood of Northeast, with each development stage associated with larger patterns of immigration, industrial growth, and urban development in Hartford.
In the mid-19th century, the northeast district was sparsely settled and largely open land. Spring Grove Cemetery was laid out in 1845, acting as a natural barrier to pre-Civil War suburban development, which was concentrated in the areas closest to downtown.
The years immediately following the Civil War were prosperous ones in Hartford. Firearm and machine tool manufacturing grew rapidly during the period, and the insurance industry also matured. Urban population grew, as did small business that served both the industries and the population. With central Hartford becoming increasingly built up due to consequent development demand, outlying areas like the Northeast section became more attractive for residences. The attractiveness of this relatively cheap, undeveloped land was enhanced by the extension of the Hartford and Wethersfield Horse Railway on Main Street to Capen Street in 1869. Capen Street was accepted as a city street in 1867, Martin Street in 1866, Barbour Street in 1869, and Clark Street in 1873. These were just inside the boundaries of the City of Hartford (as distinct from the Town of Hartford), whose city line was drawn at about Westland Street in 1869.
In the 1860s through the 1870s the population of the Capen-Clark Historic District was largely Anglo-Saxon and German, and middle class in occupation, with professions ranging from office workers employed in the downtown to craftsmen and small businessmen like butchers, grocers and a telescope maker, who worked from their own homes or nearby.
The character of housing development in the area was similar to that in other Hartford suburban neighborhoods of the period. The most popular house type was Hartford's ubiquitous Italianate, usually 3 stories in height and constructed of brick. Decorated by wide overhanging eaves and by plain or elaborate bracketed doorways, these are simple and graceful suburban buildings. Also popular was the mansarded style, a style, interestingly enough, more prevalent in the middle-class north neighborhoods than in upper-class areas in other parts of the city. Simple cottages, usually L-shaped in plan, were another popular type, with decorative wooden porches or wooden scroll-sawn decoration, readily available from local millworks. Other buildings of the period were more fanciful, notably the small cottages on Martin Street, #s 37 and 43. Buildings of the post-Civil War era survive throughout the Capen-Clark Historic District, with notable groupings on the south side of Capen Street, lower Martin Street, and on the north and south ends of Clark Street.
The national economy underwent a depression in the mid-1870s and early 1880s, causing a major slump in local machine and gun industries. Real estate activity in Hartford slowed considerably; in the Northeast district it came to a virtual standstill. By the late 1880s, however, Hartford's industry was beginning to recover. Hartford had experienced a significant influx of immigrant groups, especially of Irish origin. As most of the neighborhoods close to downtown were largely developed, Northeast was a prime target for expansion. The streetcar system was expanded through the late 1880s and into the 1890s, and new streets were laid out to the north and west of the district's original core. A great deal of new building occurred, much of it speculative, both on the new streets and on the as yet undeveloped lots of already existing streets. The typical building of the period was the large, commodious, picturesque house in the Queen Anne style. A significant group of this type is concentrated on Elmer Street.
The most interesting buildings of the turn of the century are at 44 and 46 Capen Street, built in 1898, two of the earliest examples of apartment buildings in Hartford. The buildings, whose architect unfortunately remains unknown, are indeed among the four or five most outstanding Hartford examples of high-style Queen Anne design.
Between 1898 and 1913, the building boom continued unabated, with several Irish and Jewish contracting firms active in the area. While individual Queen Anne houses continued to be built, multi-family buildings became increasingly popular, including triple deckers, heir to the tradition of the square 3-story Italianate. During the later teens and early twenties, larger brick apartment buildings (such as those on Clark Street), continued the development foreshadowed in the 1898 apartment blocks on Capen Street.
Around the turn of the century an Irish community was firmly established in the neighborhood, and St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church was built in 1900. In the years following, a group of Italians also arrived and joined the parish. A school was built on Clark Street in 1927, now the Artists' Collective.
In the 1920s, development continued in the streets peripheral to the core of the district, and the district underwent further ethnic changes as large numbers of Jews settled in the north neighborhoods. Substantial residential construction, however, was rare through and after the 1930s. After World War II, Northeast Hartford became a prime residential area for upwardly-mobile, middle-class, black families, and in the 1960s for many blacks displaced from the center city by urban renewal.
The Capen-Clark Historic District records in its streetscapes its role as home to successive immigrant groups as they moved from the city center to the suburbs, and the successive popular forms of middle-class suburban housing. The Capen-Clark Historic District itself encompasses the earliest streets of the suburban Northeast neighborhood. There is an important concentration of post-Civil War houses, and a number of buildings of individual architectural distinction. Moreover, the Capen-Clark Historic District has solid infill of continuing later development of the Queen Anne and early Colonial Revival styles, in integrated and cohesive streetscapes. The Capen-Clark Historic District is a microcosm in which all the elements of the history of Hartford's Northeast neighborhood are recorded.
Kummer, Merle, ed. Hartford Architecture, Volume Three; North and West Neighborhoods. Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Architecture Conservancy, City of Hartford, 1980.
† Barbara Ann Cleary, consultant and Merle Kummer, asst. director, Hartford Architecture Conservancy, Capen-Clark Historic District, Hartford CT, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.