West End Historic District
The West End Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. 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 West End Historic District lies to the south, southwest, west, and northwest of Walnut Hill Park, a large open greensward with curvilinear paths in the heart of New Britain. The neighborhood forms a distinct edge to the park and essentially forms its western and southwestern border. Generally the West End Historic District is bounded on the north by West Main Street, on the west by Lincoln Street, and on the south by Hart Street. Included are many of the properties on Park Place; properties on Lexington Street from number 10 to the park; all of the properties along Vine Street; several properties on Liberty Street at the beginning of Forest; all of the properties on Forest Street; many of the properties on Lincoln from 139 Lincoln to the southern end of the street; all of the properties on Sunnyledge Street; properties from 246 to 405 Hart Street; all of Woodbine Street; all of Murray Street; and 1 Adams Street. These properties form an important and dense edge of residential development which has a primary relationship to the western end of Walnut Hill Park. The neighborhood is known as the West End.
The West End Historic District contains a significant portion of the city's best-preserved Late-Victorian and early twentieth century domestic architecture, including dwellings designed in the Stick, Queen Anne, Shingle, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Mission, and Craftsman styles. The area contains 156 buildings, mostly single-family residences. Of these, 151 buildings contribute to the West End Historic District. All but five of the buildings within the West End Historic District are contributing. The West End Historic District survives with considerable architectural integrity and character.
For example, the Victorian Gothic/Eastlake inspired house at 25 Vine Street (c.1875) is two stories with a hip-roofed front porch supported by narrow turned columns, bracketed end gables, and decorative gable screens. Houses in a similar taste survive at 16 and 18 Vine Street.
Queen Anne houses with corner towers, projecting bays, and decorative porches stand at 19 Forest, 57 Forest, 138 Lincoln, 178 Lincoln, 49 Lexington, and 55 Lexington Streets. The latter (c.1885) is of brick with brownstone sills and lintels. The house has decorative porch railings, tiled roof crestings, decorative shingle-work, and gable half-timbering.
Shingle style and Colonial Revival houses form a large percentage of the neighborhood. Excellent examples include the gambrel-roofed house at 24 Forest Street with its mix of bevel and shingle siding, and round-arched Palladian windows. Davis and Brooks-designed houses in this style within the West End Historic District follow a similar theme with low gambrel roofs, projecting pedimented entry bays, shed dormers, and inset porches in a transitional Shingle style-Colonial Revival taste. The neighborhood also boasts many imposing flank gable, symmetrically balanced, clapboard-clad Colonial Revival residences. Notable examples are the Davis and Brooks-inspired or designed houses at 77 Forest, 83 Forest, 123 Forest, 154 Lincoln, and 69 Lexington streets. The latter house is a 2-1/2 story hip-roofed mass with a central projecting pediment carried by a two-tiered Ionic column-supported porch. Dormers in the roof have scroll pediments. Cross gables in the roof of this house define projecting bays on the side elevations, one of which has a two-tiered set of Palladian windows. In addition to these Colonial Revival examples are two wooden mansions executed in the style at 33 Sunnyledge and 388 Hart Street. Both houses, designed by Davis and Brooks, have imposing entry porticoes. Classical Revival and Renaissance-inspired variations on the Colonial Revival theme are carried on large houses at 123 Vine Street and 9 Sunnyledge. The former is a 2-1/2 story stuccoed house with a 3-bay entry porch supported by fluted Ionic columns. The entry is flanked by round-arched windows. The roof is of Spanish tiles. The house at 9 Sunnyledge is an asymmetrical 2-1/2 story stuccoed mansion designed by Davis and Brooks with twin 2-story bays, multi-paned and leaded windows, and chinoiserie decoration.
Large Tudor Revival houses predominate along the southwestern edge of Walnut Hill Park. Here at 286 Hart Street is a finely detailed Tudor Revival house built of irregularly fired and unevenly coursed brick, creating a rich wall texture with a medieval quality. The flank gable roof is broken by a cross gable with a low sweeping asymmetrical roof line. Downspouts are decorative. The corbeled chimneys have chimney pots. Other large Tudor Revival houses survive at 244 Hart, 245 Hart, and 246 Hart Street. The Tudor house at 242 Hart is unusual in its suggestion of authentic half-timbered work within its asymmetrical gable ends; the irregular novelty brickwork and half-timbered stucco work create a sense of enlargement over time. Window sash is in casements with metal muntin bars and multi-paned glazing. Gables have large plain bargeboards, wood pendant brackets, and finials. The chimneys have decorative chimney pots. The large 2-1/2-story stuccoed house at 32 Sunnyledge has detailed half-timbered work, including plain bargeboards, bracketed jetties, carved bosses, and bracework. The brick chimneys are flared and corbeled.
Mission-Craftsman styled houses are represented by three large and unusual residences at 32 Forest Street, 212 Lincoln Street, and 91 Lexington Street. Presumably built by a local contractor, William E. Hine, as his own house, 32 Forest Street is an eclectic and quirky blend of stylistic influences common throughout the period. Features include a massively supported entry porch with oversized Doric columns. The house is 2-1/2 stories and has multiple gables with flared shingle returns. The house at 91 Lexington Street is similar in a Craftsman transitional style. The house at 212 Lincoln Street is a 1-1/2-story Bungalow styled house with fine Craftsman detailing. It features a gable-roofed entry porch, flared and bracketed eaves, and boxed columns.
The development and site planning of the West End Historic District corresponds to the Walnut Hill Park plan and the relationship of interior park roadways along the park's western edge. Here neighborhood streets converge from a traditional grid to access the park's circulation system at key intervals in an intentionally designed system with the major neighborhood streets running north and south or substantially parallel to the park's borders. The pattern of development includes the platting of large house lots with ample front and rear yards. The streetscape of large setbacks allows for front lawns and individual landscape plantings. The houses share a similar setback from wide tree-lined streets throughout the district with well-established plantings and mature trees.
To the west and southwest of the West End Historic District the street grid runs primarily perpendicular to the edges of the park. Here the grid changes as the topography drops to a lower terrace level below the park. These areas were the locus of later early-to-mid-20th century domestic development as the initial West End neighborhood expanded after World War I and later after World War II. On the south side of the park, to the south of Hart Street, the topography drops off precipitously to another residential area developed at a later time.
The West End Historic District is significant as a large and intact collection of sophisticated domestic architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries located in a uniform pattern along tree-lined streets. In site planning and orientation, these homes reflect the leading design philosophies for residential development at the time, including those of Frederick Law Olmsted who championed the suburban ideal and designed Walnut Hill Park nearby. Of the 156 historic buildings within the West End Historic District only 5 are non-contributing. The West End Historic District is a physical representation in architecture and site planning of the affluence and taste of New Britain's early twentieth century industrial leaders. Heavily influenced by the latest building trends, here the managers, executives, and owners of the nation's leading manufacturers of domestic and commercial building hardware (locks, latches, window fittings, door knobs, radiators) as well as the city's leading local retail business-owners and professionals built their homes on the edge of Walnut Hill Park's greensward, designed by Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Lining the shaded streets of the district, are many distinctive and well-preserved examples of regionally popular Late Victorian styles: Stick, Queen Anne, and Shingle styles; as well as the popular styles of the early twentieth century: Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Craftsman. The quality of craftsmanship in construction, use of fashionable local hardware by company executives, and the integrity of the resources contribute to the collection's regional importance.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries New Britain was known as the "Hardware City of America." In the years 1890-1900, New Britain took the lead in the number of patents in the state in terms of the ratio of new patents to city population. It was a city of invention and innovation. During the period New Britain accounted for one-sixth of all the hardware output in the United States or an amount equal to the combined productions of Chicago, New Haven, and Philadelphia. The city's industrial expansion began prior to the Civil War, but greatly increased during and after the war into the late nineteenth century. Production of hardware and small metal products resulted in a high value-added industrial economy generating larger profits than soft goods industries and considerable expendable income.
The primary focus of development in the West End area, Walnut Hill Park was laid out in a series of evolutionary steps beginning in the early 1870s. Located three blocks west of the central business district, the park encompasses approximately 90 acres. The area, including the present West End neighborhood, was cleared pasture land in the 1850s. In 1856, 80 acres of the present park were purchased from local farmers by industry leaders and private individuals, including Henry E. Russell, Sr., Cornelius B. Erwin, George Landers, Sr., and Frederick T. Stanley. The group formed the Walnut Hill Park Company to undertake development of the park and hired Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to design and install it. In 1870 Olmsted, Vaux and Co. presented their general plan for the park in a series of written recommendations and descriptions, including suggestions for the laying out of Hart and Vine Streets. Not all of their suggestions were carried out but the general layout was developed. Houses were sited according to the design philosophies espoused at the time by Olmsted and his followers.
By the 1880s the land adjoining the park on the western and southern edges was owned in large part by Henry E. Russell, a primary park benefactor and, by 1869, chairman of the park commission. Between 1884 and 1908, individual house lots were platted along the streets running parallel to the park including Hart, Vine, Forest, and Lincoln Streets. Park Place and Lexington Street were platted earlier.
New Britain's continued expansion in the manufacturing of hardware products in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries spurred the development of large residential districts ranging from the park edge to the south, southwest, and west. Within the West End Historic District, corresponding to the southern and western borders of the park, a full range of popular domestic architectural styles was incorporated into large homes, many designed and built for New Britain's hardware industry executives.
Architecture and Site Planning
The architecture of the West End Historic District represents a valuable collection of intact examples of domestic design during the period of significance. Located along tree-lined streets with generous setbacks, the houses of the district are individually representative of the sophisticated and restrained taste of their owners as well as collectively important in number and integrity for their representation of model neighborhood character and site planning at the turn of the century.
Several regionally known architects were employed within the West End Historic District to design houses for affluent clients who were connected to popular currents in exterior and interior architectural tastes through their affiliations with building hardware design, both functional and decorative. The architecture of the West End Historic District, as a whole, reflects a refined sense of simplicity and understatement marking the district's development within the early years of the twentieth century. The West End Historic District contains many dwellings designed in transitional Colonial Revival styles as well as Tudor, Foursquare, and Craftsman designs. It represents one of the largest concentrations of domestic architecture of the period within Connecticut's Central Valley region comparable to neighborhoods in Hartford (Prospect Avenue Historic District) and New Haven (Prospect Hill Historic District). Many of the houses feature the most stylistically advanced interior and exterior decorative hardware of the period which, corresponding to a growing trend away from Victorian decorative tastes, is in a simplistic and refined Aesthetic, Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, or Federal Revival style. Much of the hardware was manufactured locally in factories operated by house owners.
The West End Historic District was laid out in a series of streets parallel to the edges of Walnut Hill Park with an intersecting grid providing access to various park entry points. The houses were built to ideal setbacks from sidewalks and within treed streetscapes which remain intact, now with the maturity in vegetation envisioned by the area's original developers and homeowners. This landscape context further enhances the concentration of domestic architecture within the district as a designed neighborhood with considerable integrity.
The work of at least two professional design firms is represented in the West End Historic District. Davis and Brooks (F. Irwin Davis and William F. Brooks), a local architectural firm, produced many homes for company executives during the period in the West End neighborhood. Their partnership began in New Britain and later moved to Hartford in 1901. The free classical spirit of the Queen Anne and Shingle styles and the popular national trend in the Colonial Revival spurred by the nation's centennial and the classicism of the World's Columbian Exposition (1896) created interest in New Britain in Colonial and Classical revival architectural expressions. One of Davis and Brooks' early commissions is a Colonial Revival mansion at 32 Lexington Street within the West End Historic District. Another large house in a similar style is located at 166 Lincoln Street. The mansion the firm designed at 33 Sunnyledge is an exemplary expression of the Colonial Revival style with its semicircular entry portico. An early Davis and Brooks designed house at 43 Liberty Street (c.1895) employs cross gambrel roofs with decorative shingled end gables. Other examples of the Colonial Revival include several shingled gambrel-roofed dwellings with Shingle style features such as the L-shaped house at 169 Vine Street designed by Davis and Brooks. This house was enlarged to Brooks' designs by subsequent owners and later purchased by William Brooks, the principal partner in the firm, and occupied by him until his death.
The Davis and Brooks architectural firm was a leader regionally in the Beaux-Arts, Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival styles, executing numerous commissions in Connecticut, including Hartford's Municipal Building. Major civic buildings designed by the firm in New Britain include the New Britain Public Library, a landmark Beaux-Arts edifice, and the Palladian Erwin Chapel in Fairview Cemetery. The West End neighborhood became the locus for many of Davis and Brooks designed houses. Here the firm and later William F. Brooks alone completed numerous commissions for the second and third generation of New Britain's leading entrepreneurial families and industry executives. William F. Brooks (1872-1950) lived in New Britain from 1897 until his death. He graduated from Columbia University School of Architecture and worked in the offices of Ernest Flagg of New York City before moving to New Britain.
Owners and executives connected with The Stanley Works were especially committed to the Davis and Brooks firm. In the early twentieth century Stanley Works executives lived in nearly two dozen of the residences of the West End neighborhood. Many of these houses were designed by the firm in transitional Colonial Revival styles. The house designed by Davis and Brooks at 77 Forest Street is a large 3-bay, 2-story gable-roofed Colonial Revival built in 1911 for Ernest Pelton, a vice president of The Stanley Works. It has a central recessed entry with Ionic columns in antis supporting a wide entablature. Other features include second floor jetties with brackets and a rear two-tiered porch. George P. Hart, president of The Stanley Works in 1915, owned the Davis and Brooks designed Colonial Revival house at 7 Woodbine Street overlooking Walnut Hill Park. E. Allen Moore, who succeeded George P. Hart as chairman of the board at Stanley in 1923, lived in a large Davis and Brooks designed Colonial Revival mansion (at 33 Sunnyledge). This house is an excellent example of the Georgian Revival style with its entry portico, gabled pediment, and hipped roof. Edward N. Stanley, a scion of the Stanley family and a director of The Stanley Works, lived at 69 Lexington, another high-styled Colonial Revival house designed by Davis and Brooks with a massive two-tiered entry porch. James E. Cooper, a Stanley vice president and company legal counsel (in 1920), lived in the Dutch Colonial Revival styled house at 115 Vine. Charles B. Stanley, the company treasurer in 1901, lived at 61 Lexington. These houses are within a short walking distance of each other.
Two modest gambrel-roofed Colonial Revival dwellings designed by local architect Walter P. Crabtree at 74 Forest Street and 96 Forest Street were featured by Ladies Home Journal magazine (November 1905) as model houses at the time of their construction for less than $3000. The Dutch Colonial Revival house at 96 Forest Street is an L-shaped, shingled, gambrel-roofed dwelling with a picturesque porch supported by Tuscan columns. Crabtree (1873-1962) established a practice in New Britain following an association (from 1901-1904) with architect William H. Cadwell. Crabtree's work in the city includes the Elks Club (a 1911 Beaux-Arts design at 23 Washington Street), and the neo-medieval Bethany Covenant Church on Franklin Square (1920).
The West End Historic District contains notable examples of transitional Tudor Revival, American Foursquare, Classical Revival and Craftsman style domestic architecture. The Tudor Revival house at 32 Sunnyledge is a distinctive example of the style, with half-timbered projecting gables featuring large medieval chimneys and leaded glasswork. The Tudor Revival house at 294 Hart Street has an eclectic blend of crafted brickwork and half timbering, as if the building had been enlarged over time.
The house built for Herbert H. Wheeler, the secretary of the Union Manufacturing Company at 28 Forest Street is compact, half-timbered, and displays Craftsman features typical of the transitional architecture of the period. It is cross-gabled with a projecting gable-roofed entry porch supported by square-cut posts and flared brackets. The lower body of the house has clapboard sheathing; the upper body is shingled with half-timbered end gables.
The house at 32 Forest Street built in 1910 by William E. Hine, a local carpenter and builder, is an eclectic blend of Late Victorian and early twentieth century stylistic influences of the period. The house is multi-gabled and shingled with a massively supported entry porch featuring short, oversized Doric columns. Here Shingle style and Craftsman influences combine in a complex design.
The house at 123 Vine Street is a stuccoed mixture of Classical Revival and Renaissance Revival influences. Features include a 3-bay entry porch supported by Ionic columns above which is a parapeted balcony. The entry is flanked by round-arched windows. The roof resembles Spanish tile.
Twenty-four houses within the West End Historic District are associated with the owners, executives, and managers of the Corbin and Russell & Erwin companies, which merged in 1902 to become the American Hardware Corporation. William H. Booth, the assistant general manager of the Corbin Cabinet Lock Company (an American Hardware division), lived at 87 Forest Street in an imposing Colonial Revival house. Albert N. Abbe, secretary of the P.& F. Corbin Company and a purchasing agent for the American Hardware Corporation, lived at 109 Vine Street, a shingled, gambrel-roofed Colonial Revival house. Abbe later became a director and president of the American Hardware Corporation. Charles B. Parsons, a general manager of P.& F. Corbin and later a vice president of American Hardware, lived in a large half-timbered Tudor Revival house at 302 Hart Street. Benjamin A. Hawley, a vice president of American Hardware and general manager of the Russell and Erwin division in New Britain, lived at the Tudor Revival house at 312 Hart Street. These important houses form the southern boundary of Walnut Hill Park on Hart Street.
Nearby on Hart Street lived Howard S. Hart, a founder of New Britain's Hart and Cooley Manufacturing Company and later Fafnir Bearing Company. Hart's house at 324 Hart Street is an imposing rambling, asymmetrical Tudor Revival mansion. Next to it is the former home of Norman P. Cooley, a business associate and cofounder of Hart and Cooley and of Fafnir Bearing Company. This house, at 330 Hart Street, is an imposing and eclectic blend of Craftsman, Mission, and Colonial Revival influences.
Other owners and company executives of New Britain's leading factories lived within the West End Historic District. In addition to those already listed, companies represented include North & Judd; New Britain Machine Company; Union Manufacturing; Humanson and Beckley; and Landers, Frary, and Clark, among others.
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† Richard C. Youngken, Newport Collaborative Architects, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, West End Historic District, New Britain, Hartford County, CT, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.