Congress Street Historic District
The Congress Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 with a boundary increase listing addendum in 1992. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from copies of the original nomination documents. [†, ‡] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Congress Street Historic District is comprised of Congress Street, one block long, running south from South Green, 325 yards to Morris Street. South Green is the center point or hub for a number of streets, including Congress Street, Maple Avenue, Retreat Avenue, Jefferson Street, Park Street, Main Street, Wyllys Street and Wethersfield Avenue. Specifically, Congress Street lies between Maple Avenue and Wethersfield Avenue as they converge on South Green and is a "back street" to both of these avenues.
On the west side of Congress Street are five single houses, six double houses, one apartment house and one structure designed to be commercial on the ground floor and residential on the upper floors.
On the east side of Congress Street are five single houses and ten houses for residences of two or more families. Two of these are large enough to be called full-fledged apartment houses; seven are of the "perfect six" type, housing two families on each of three floors.
All of the buildings are of red brick with the exception of two frame and one brick/frame on the east side. All of the brick houses are three-story transitional Greek Revival/Italianate with projecting flat roofs, columned porticos with Ionic or Corinthian capitals, and flat arched windows with sandstone lintels and sills.
The commercial/residential building and the multiple dwellings and apartment houses were all built not later than about the second decade of the twentieth century. Thus, the street is all of a piece for scale, proportions and materials, there being no high-rise, no glass bricks, no filling stations, no neon lights. Even the sidewalks are flagstone.
The building line has been well maintained and the spacing between structures is even and in cadence.
At present (April, 1975), the buildings are in fair shape, about half of them serving residential purpose; the other half are waiting execution of the Congress Street Plan.
This residential backwater lies within easy walking distance of downtown, surrounded on the north by South Green, on the east and west by busy Wethersfield and Maple Avenues; on the south by the South End residential section of Hartford and closely adjoined on the west by the very large medical facilities of Hartford Hospital and Institute for Living.
Congress Street Historic District is significant because it is an in situ example of a modest nineteenth century residential street with its fabric wholly unimpaired by destruction or intrusion, located in center city, and now about to be sensibly rehabilitated.
The street was laid out, accepted by the city, and deeded to the city in 1854-1855. James H. Ashmead led the group of property owners who were involved in this transaction with the city. An incomplete study of the land records at the office of the Hartford Town Clerk shows sale of parcels of land at this time, that is, land only, thus indicating that all or most of the houses were built starting in 1855.
Houses were built first on the west side of the street because here were building lots in their own right as contrasted to the situation on the east side of the street where the Congress Street frontages were the back yards of the mansions on Wethersfield Avenue. With an occasional exception, the east side of the street was later to develop, and it was here that empty land (former back yards) could later be found for the several "perfect six" and apartment houses of the early twentieth century.
The three-story bricks with flat projecting roofs, twin pillared classic porticos, red brick masonry and simple detail were in the standard mode of the late 1850's and 1860's and perhaps a little retardataire. While exact information on who designed and built these houses has not yet come to light, the overall situation suggests that they were built on speculation by real estate developers/contractors. None of the first residents were carpenters, masons or builders, thus eliminating the idea that the houses were first constructed by a professional builder for his own use. Design of the houses closely resembles others of quite similar design known to have been built in the city a decade earlier, for instance, on Lewis Street, thus adding to the implication that, instead of having been designed individually by professional architects, the houses were built according to established well-known designs in the public domain. Speculative building of this type is known to have been in progress at this time in the Congress Street part of the city, notably by the firm of H. & S. Bissell. Indeed, Bissell, as a speculation, put up the Day-Taylor House at 81 Wethersfield Avenue and at that time the building lot ran through to Congress Street, including the lots on which now stand the buildings at 58-60 Congress Street and 64-66 Congress Street.
The integrity of the street as a whole cannot be overemphasized. The spacing, proportion, and rhythm of the buildings, relative uniformity of the materials and of the building heights make for a whole that is unique. The brick solidity of the neighborhood is accented by the presence on the east side of the street of one turn-of-the-century frame dwelling which can be classified under the broad Queen Anne umbrella, plus on the southeast corner of Congress and Morris Streets, a house suggestive of the Shingle style with red brick for the first floor and shingle expanses for the second floor and roof, which was constructed in late 1890's.
The best of the apartment houses is the Argyle at #10-12 Congress Street, built in 1908 of red brick, with broached and fine pointed sandstone trim for window surrounds and quoins. This structure is built in a handsome U-shape which provides excellent lighting for its comfortable six room apartments.
Several men of local importance have lived on Congress Street. In the 1860's, Francis Pratt lived at 39, and Amos Whitney at 33. During these years they started a machine shop which was many years later to become famous for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft engines produced by United Aircraft, now Connecticut's largest employer. In the 1870's, James B. Shultas president of the Hartford County Mutual Fire Insurance Company, lived at #3 (now #71) on the corner of Morris, while next door lived Henry C. Dwight, subsequently to become Mayor. At the other end of the street in the imposing home now known as #2 was Stephen Marston of the C.T. Marston & Company Lumber, who was followed in this home by Dr. James Campbell, Jr., president of the Board of Health.
On the whole, however, this was not a street of prominent citizens. Indeed, indication to the contrary is clearly given by the assessments for real estate taxes. For instance, in 1858, the house known as #17 Congress Street, which was one-half of a duplex, was assessed for $2,800. Number 19, a single house, was assessed for $3,200. In the same year the Albert Day House on Wethersfield Avenue, whose back yard extended to Congress Street, was assessed for $16,000. The residents in 1858 included a pistol maker, a harness maker, a clerk of the Probate Court, a gold beater and an organist, which are all modest occupations.
While the street on the one hand did have stability, witness the fact that two families were on the street for 45 years and one family (Condron) for 57 years; at the same time the street accommodated itself to Hartford's incoming nationalities. Augustus Fiege was there in 1865. Fifty years later, Motto, Weinstein, Eckersen, Beaudet, Mintz and Fitzgerald were neighbors of Rollings, Cowlishaw and Goodel. Today, Gonzales and Vasques have joined Dufresne, Podgorsky and Jones, A poignant statement of this ambience is in the lettering at the cornice of the flatiron building at the corner of Wyllys Street, which proudly reads, "NICOLA MOTTO BLDG." Mr. Motto was a dealer in fruits and confectionery in the 1890's.
Congress Street presently is the subject of a substantial program for preservation and restoration under a plan of the Hartford Redevelopment Agency and a HUD redevelopment plan. The Hartford Architecture Conservancy has completed for the Hartford Redevelopment Agency the Congress Street Plan pursuant to which the Redevelopment Agency has applied to HUD for a change in the redevelopment program, so that an historic area renewal may be undertaken in the Charter Oak-South Green Redevelopment Area of which Congress Street is a part. A developer is being sought for Congress Street who would restore the houses in full or in part for resale to owner-occupants or as condominiums. At present, the Hartford Redevelopment Agency is proceeding with acquisition of the properties on Congress Street, including apartment houses and the flatiron commercial building, already owning about 40% with summer, 1975 as target date for completion of acquisitions after which restoration by the developer is expected to commence.
Boundary Increase July, 1992
The boundary of the Congress Street Historic District includes an additional contiguous structure, 54-56-58 Maple Avenue.
The Congress Street Historic District consists of buildings on Congress Street, which is one block long, and of buildings at the beginning of Maple Avenue. The Congress Street Historic District was developed in mid-19th century as a satellite to Wethersfield Avenue. A great boost to the development of this portion of south Hartford came in 1856-1857 when Colonel Sam Colt built his estate, Armsmear, at 80 Wethersfield Avenue. The James Ashmead House, 65 Wethersfield Avenue, and the Day-Taylor House, 81 Wethersfield Avenue, promptly followed. The area was established as a fashionable residential neighborhood.
The back yards of the large houses on the west side of Wethersfield Avenue extended through to Congress Street. Congress Street benefitted from the establishment of gracious homes on Wethersfield Avenue with construction of smaller houses. In the late 1850s, a row of single and double Italianate homes was constructed on the west side of Congress Street.
The east side of Congress Street was built up later as the land, formerly the back yards of Wethersfield Avenue properties, became available. Several small apartment houses were built at the south end of the block toward the end of the century, while early-20th century apartment houses were constructed at the north end of the block.
Commercial buildings form a part of the Congress Street Historic District at the southern point where Congress Street and Maple Avenue intersect. The commercial buildings extend south through 24 Maple Avenue. Next after 24 Maple Avenue comes the building which is the subject of this amendment, 54-56-58 Maple Avenue.
All the buildings in the Congress Street Historic District are similar in size (modest), setting (close to the street and to one another), materials (red brick, usually with brownstone foundation and trim), style (Italianate, in most cases), and age (late 19th century/early 20th century).
Constructed in 1861, 54-56-58 Maple Avenue is an enlarged version of the typical Italianate double house such as those on the west side of Congress Street. Instead of one family on each side of a common wall, it has a tier of three apartments on each side of a common stairway. The central wooden porch, still with its slate roof, is elaborated with turned posts and sawn brackets, while the roofline cornice of dentil course, modillions, and crown molding is sheet metal.
South of 54-56-58 Maple Avenue is an empty lot, then a new apartment building.
The building at 54-56-58 Maple Avenue contributes to the significance of the amended Congress Street Historic District because it is contiguous to the established district and is compatible in age, materials, mass, and architectural style to other buildings in the district.
Constructed of red brick with brownstone foundation and dressing, 54-56-58 Maple Street exhibits the same building materials as the comparable row of double houses on the west side of Congress Street. The roof overhang with prominent modillion course and cornice molding is characteristic of the Italianate style, while the turned posts and sawn brackets of the front porch are details in the Queen Anne style which was gaining in popularity at the time the house was built.
The owner for 35 years in the 19th century, Augustus Fiege, lived at 27 Congress Street, the property directly abutting 54-56-58 Maple Avenue.
Atlas of the City of Hartford. Connecticut. Springfield, Mass., L. G. Richards & Co., 1896, Plate II.
Atlas of Hartford City and County, Hartford, Baker & Tildan, 1869.
City Atlas of Hartford, Connecticut, Philadelphia, G. M. Hopkins, C.E., 1880, Plate Q.
Commemorative Biographical Record of Hartford County, Connecticut, Chicago, J.H. Beers Co., 1901 (biographical sketch of James Babcock Shultas, half owner of United States Hotel, president Hartford County Mutual Fire Insurance Co.).
Assessments, Hartford 1858 and 1865, State Library, list of taxable property.
Hartford City Directory, various editions 1855 and later.
Hartford Town Clerk, Land Records, various volumes starting 1854.
† Charles J. Strickland, Congress Street Historic District Boundary Increase, Hartford, CT, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
‡ David F. Ransom, architectural historian and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Congress Street Historic District Boundary Increase, Hartford, CT, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.