Elm Street Historic District
The Elm Street 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.
Elm Street Historic District in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, is a residential area running for two blocks west from the center of town. The Elm Street Historic District leads from Silas Deane Highway/State Route 99 on the east up the hill to the intersection with Chapin Avenue and Ashwell Street and on for an additional block along Elm Street/SR 160 to Grimes Road. The right of way for the street is unusually wide, and contains three rows of mature shade trees. Examples of a series of architectural styles line the street. The styles represented, and the number of houses in each style, follow:
Colonial, 3; Georgian, 1; Greek Revival, 3; Italianate, 2; Queen Anne, 1; Queen Anne/American Foursquare, 2; American Foursquare, 5; Bungalow, 4; Colonial Revival, 6; Tudor Revival, 1; Cape, 3; Vernacular, 4.
All buildings in the Elm Street Historic District are frame, with the exception of the brick non-contributing resource at 45 Elm Street, which is the only intrusion.
The highway right of way is approximately 80 feet wide, while the distance between houses, across the street from one another, is 140 feet. There is a row of shade trees in the front yards, behind the lot lines, on both sides of the street, and a row of trees in the center of the right of way. The roadway is to the south, in the swale of the right of way, between the center and southern rows of trees. There is one pedestrian walk on the north side lot line.
Three Colonial houses are clustered at the top of the hill near the intersection of Elm Street with Chapin Avenue and Ashwell Street. The oldest is the Eliel Williams House, 82 Elm Street, built in 1769. It is a large 37'x26' five-bay central-chimney building with 12-over-12 windows, wood-shingled siding, and no apparent alterations. Across the street at 79 Elm Street, the Dr. Calvin Chapin House, 1785, which is covered with clapboards and has a double door, exhibits the Georgian features of twin chimneys and denticulated course under the eaves. Significant 19th-century alterations include an Italianate front porch, 2-over-2 windows, and a three-sided bay on the east elevation. A third five-bay house in the Colonial style, 103 Elm Street, 1808, is on a foundation of brownstone blocks. Its transom of six tombstone lights is probably original, while the 2-over-2 windows are not.
Chronologically, the next in the series of architectural styles in the Elm Street Historic District is the Greek Revival, of which there are three examples. While the style flourished from ca.1825 to ca.1850, the Elm Street Historic District's trio of buildings all date from near the end of that period. All three are in the version of the style which has three-bay gable end toward the street, with the gable end treated as a pediment or with eaves returns. Both 31 Elm Street and 150 Elm Street have front blocks that are relatively well preserved, with typical pilasters flanking the front door of 31 Elm Street and, less typically, the pediment window of 150 Elm Street. The front porch of 43 Elm Street, on the other hand, has Victorian-era embellishments of turned and sawn posts and brackets and small drop finials.
The Italianate house at 93 Elm Street, 1860, continues the configuration of three-bay gable end toward the street from the Greek Revival style. However, the bracketed overhangs of both the porch and principal roofs, the porch's square posts on pedestals, and the molded jambs and flat caps of the windows all clearly identify the house as an example of the Italianate style, little altered over the years. A large 19th-century barn with vertical siding is also on the property.
Two examples of houses transitional from the Queen Anne style to the American Foursquare style are 122 Elm Street and 157 Elm Street, both built about 1910. Since the year is late for Queen Anne and early for American Foursquare, the eclectic design of the houses accurately reflects ongoing contemporary evolution in architectural fashion. At 122 Elm Street the classical revival features strongly expressed in the columned porch and the pedimented tower are typical Queen Anne, while the overall boxy mass under high hipped roof is characteristic of the American Foursquare. Similarly, at 157 Elm Street a two-story three-sided bay under pedimented gable roof on the east side elevation is the Queen Anne feature, while the hipped roof with hipped-roof dormer in the front elevation clearly defines the American Foursquare.
Five other houses in the Elm Street Historic District, 18, 26, 174, 185, and 188 Elm Street, are more straightforward examples of the American Foursquare style. They date from 1906 to 1928. Large 1-over-1 sash are the predominate window pattern, character-defining to the style. 174 Elm Street and 185 Elm Street share the feature, unusual for the American Foursquare style, of three-sided bay or oriel at the second-floor, evocative of 19th-century practice.
The Elm Street Historic District records the popularity of Bungalows as part of the Arts and Crafts movement during the early 20th century with four houses built in the years 1916-1919. In the first, 102 Elm Street, the typical combination of wide front porch and shed-roofed dormer is executed in the vocabulary of the Colonial Revival: the porch has round columns and windows are 12-over-1. More typical Bungalow treatment is found at 138 Elm Street in the brick foundation, shingled siding, shingled porch parapet, and west side elevation embellished by diamond glazing under pent roof and by Arts and Crafts roof brackets. The stucco siding of 166 Elm Street sets it aside from the other Bungalows. The stucco envelope is complete, even including the porch parapet and porch posts.
Rounding out the Elm Street Historic District's houses in sequence of architectural styles, five of the six Colonial Revival examples were built in the 1920s, the sixth in 1934. The first, 56 Elm Street, 1920, is atypical for the style because of the two wall dormers on either side of a diagonally glazed second-floor window (which lights a walk-in closet). Another, 88 Elm Street, ca.1925, is Dutch Colonial Revival with flared gambrel roof and pent roof at first floor. Several have the sunporch at one side characteristic of the style. An additional three houses in the Cape subset of the Colonial Revival are the customary well-proportioned one-floor houses with dormers in the gabled roof.
Construction of houses effectively converted the earlier agrarian land along Elm Street into a town streetscape, but as recently as the 1940s, within the memory of two long-time residents, Elm Street backyards accommodated goats, chickens, ducks, and horses. A pasture occupied the space behind the house at 53 Elm Street, where the property then was a 25-acre parcel. The Elm Street Historic District's buildings visually support a sense of the neighborhood's past.
Elm Street Historic District is part of a 17th-century Connecticut River town which expanded westward from the point on the Connecticut River where an early ferry was established. It is significant architecturally because within its boundaries are good examples of a wide range of representative architectural styles, several in an excellent state of historic preservation, with historic spaces between the buildings still maintained. These buildings and spaces provide a valuable record of the development over time of an agricultural area into a town streetscape.
Historically, Rocky Hill was part of Wethersfield, one of the first three Connecticut River towns settled in Connecticut, ca. 1635/1640. Wethersfield's "Lower Community," as Rocky Hill was known, got its start in 1650 at the river landing which still is a terminal for the ferry across the Connecticut River to Glastonbury. The ferry began running ca.1655, and is said to be the oldest ferry in continuous operation in the country. The rocky hill was, and is, a stone outcropping along the river north of the ferry.
For decades the Lower Community played a secondary role to the activity center of Wethersfield to the north. But when the Connecticut River changed its course, ca. 1700, Wethersfield harbor no longer could accommodate larger river craft, while the Rocky Hill landing could. Rocky Hill therefore came into its own with shipping and shipyards, leading to recognition that it was a community in its own right. Recognition took the form of establishment by the Connecticut General Assembly, in 1723, of a separate ecclesiastical society for the area, called Stepney Parish. As Stepney Parish proceeded to develop into the town of Rocky Hill and the town continued to grow, agricultural land such as bordered Elm Street was built up in a manner common in Connecticut towns.
Major roads running in the east-west direction, such as Elm Street, were laid out in the Rocky Hill area at the end of the 17th century. Elm Street shows on the earliest maps. Road width claimed by the town was up to 20 rods (330 feet), much of it often used for town purposes such as grazing. Rights of way 330 feet wide no longer exist, since most streets have assumed 20th-century size and appearance. Elm Street is one of the few to retain a sense of the original width and an asymmetric location for the roadway based on topography rather than traffic engineering.
As in all colonial Connecticut towns, the most prominent citizen in Rocky Hill was the minister. The best known of the early ministers of Stepney Parish was the third incumbent, Dr. Calvin Chapin (1763-1851), whose house survives at 79 Elm Street, corner of Chapin Avenue. While his house is sometimes referred to as the parsonage, Stepney Parish did not own a parsonage (Stiles, p.844); the house was the property of Dr. Chapin. He purchased it from the estate of his predecessor in the pulpit, the Reverend John Lewis, in two transactions. In 1795 he bought a two-thirds interest in dwelling house, barn, and other buildings for $333 pounds, 10 shillings, from the guardian of minor Lewis children (Wethersfield Land Records, volume 21, page 74, May 25, 1795). In 1799 he bought the remaining one-third, this time defined as eight acres, from Eunice Lewis, widow of the Reverend John Lewis, with appropriate reference to the right of widow's dower, for consideration of $300 (WLR, 21/531, December 9, 1799).
The Town of Rocky Hill was incorporated in 1843, during Dr. Chapin's term of service. In addition to church affairs, he was actively involved in building Academy Hall, 1803, still standing on Old Main Street near the First Congregational Church. Both the academy and the church are located between the original ferry site and Elm Street, testifying to the force of growth and expansion which soon was to influence the change of land use along Elm Street from agricultural orientation to town streetscape.
Under Dr. Chapin's contract with the ecclesiastical society, he had rights to 20 acres of the 60 acres of parsonage land shown on the 1776 map. (The term parsonage land can be misleading. The land, designated by the General Assembly, was for general church purposes and to provide income for the society, not for the exclusive use of the parson.) Location of the parsonage land nearby northwest of the house and of the church nearby northeast of the house may have influenced the ministers' choice of location for their house.
The name Eliel Williams appears many times in the land records in connection with properties in Stepney Parish. His house stands across Elm Street from Dr. Chapin's.
Ashwell was a prominent name among Elm Street property owners during the 19th century. As late as 1937 the estate of Samuel Ashwell owned a three-quarter interest in 93 Elm Street (Rocky Hill Land Records, volume 34, page 583, May 14, 1937). The family gave its name to the north-south cross street in the district. Another 19th-century resident in the Elm Street Historic District was Captain Dan Taylor, whose command was the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry. Captain Taylor lived at 53 Elm Street.
The Elm Street Historic District first was identified by the report of the Rocky Hill Historic District Study Committee in 1973. The committee's recommendations were not adopted by the town, but the boundaries of the present Elm Street Historic District are almost the same as those recommended in 1973.
Buildings in the Elm Street Historic District accurately reflect changing architectural styles over a period of about 170 years when houses were built along formerly agrarian Elm Street as part of Rocky Hill's development westward from the Connecticut River. While many individual buildings are good examples of their styles, the strength of the Elm Street Historic District is its reasonably complete record of design development over its long time period. The continuation of historic spaces between the houses both laterally and across the street from one another enhances the significance of the district.
Four of the 39 houses which contribute to the Elm Street Historic District's architectural and historical significance fit the "Colonial/Post Medieval English and Georgian description" cited at Item 7 above. The oldest of these is the oldest building in the district, the Eliel Williams House, 82 Elm Street, 1769. The Wlliams house is an exemplary textbook illustration of the Colonial style with its massive central chimney, central double-door entrance, five bays of 12-over-12 windows in 2-1-2 rhythm, double overhang, and siding of wooden shingles, all intact. It is free of apparent alterations or intrusions.
Across the street, the Dr. Calvin Chapin House, 79 Elm Street, 1785, has similar mass and fenestration, but with the important difference of twin chimneys instead of central chimney. The twin chimneys imply a central hall in the Georgian style, which followed the Colonial, while the pilasters flanking the door and the denticulated course under the eaves are classical embellishments of the style. In addition, the house has alterations which in themselves are significant in the Italianate posts and arches of the well-designed added front porch.
Similar pristine and altered examples are found in the next architectural style, the Greek Revival. 31 Elm Street, 1850, and 150 Elm Street, 1844, have front blocks gable end to street in the Greek temple mode, today appearing approximately as they were built. 43 Elm Street, 1850, on the other hand, while basically similar, has a complex added front porch which exhibits the elaborate detail beloved in the Victorian era. 43 Elm Street and 150 Elm Street share an important treatment in their pediments in that both pediment windows are developed architecturally in terms of classical detail such as pilasters and moldings with far more sophistication than is common practice. The proportions, mass, moldings, and other character-defining features of the district's three Greek Revival houses contribute to an excellent interpretation of the style's design strength and use of bold classical details.
At about mid-century the widespread popularity of the Italianate style found expression in the district, in addition to the alterations to 79 Elm Street, with construction of 93 Elm Street, 1860, where the apparent level of integrity of the building is comparable to 82 Elm Street, e.g., no alterations. Since 93 Elm Street was sheathed in aluminum siding ca.1960, it is unusual to observe that its integrity has been maintained, but in its case the siding was applied with unusual care not to obscure or remove significant architectural features.
As the 19th century wore on, the Queen Anne style, widely built elsewhere in Connecticut, was little used in the district. Not until after the turn of the century did 122, 143, and 157 Elm Street take their places, just before World War I. 122 Elm Street and 157 Elm Street are of special interest because they fuse the by-now retarditaire Queen Anne style with the burgeoning American Foursquare. These two houses combine the classical features and irregular floor plan of the Queen Anne with the blockiness and high hipped roofs of the American Foursquare. Pure examples of the American Foursquare are found at the western end of the Elm Street Historic District in 174, 185, and 188 Elm Street, the last two erected in the 1920s.
Counterbalancing its minor participation in the popular Queen Anne style, the Elm Street Historic District went on to see the construction of four good examples of the Bungalow style just after World War I. 102, 116, 138, and 166 Elm Street all have the Bungalow character-defining features of one story, wide front porch, long sloping roof, shed dormer, and details from the Arts and Crafts movement. The west side elevation of 138 Elm Street, in particular, owes its pent-roofed stained-glass oriel and complex roof brackets to Arts-and-Crafts influence.
The final stage of the Elm Street Historic District's architectural development came in the 1920s and 1930s with the Colonial Revival and its subsets, Dutch Colonial Revival and Cape. 88 Elm Street is a particularly well-preserved good example of the Dutch Colonial Revival style.
A chief component of the design significance of the Elm Street Historic District is the fact that over the years the spaces established by the width of the right of way and the relationship of buildings one to another were maintained. This observation is documented by the Baker & Tilden 1869 atlas, which shows the street then built up with houses about as close together as they are today, particularly on the north side of the street where they are, and continue to be, well set back from the roadway. The spaces and ambience derived from the spaces contribute as much to the design significance of the district as do the many fine examples of a range of architectural styles.
An Historic District for Rocky Hill, Connecticut, Report of the Historic District Study Committee. January 1, 1973.
Atlas of Hartford City and County. Hartford: Baker & Tilden, 1869, Plate 28.
Likely Tales: Stepney Parish, 1776. Rocky Hill: The Bicentennial Committee, 1976.
Revill, Peter J. A Short History of a Rocky Hill, Connecticut, A Connecticut River Town. Rocky Hill: Rocky Hill Historical Society, Inc., 1972, pp.23, 24.
Rocky Hill Assessor's 1979 field cards.
Rocky Hill Land Records for 93 Elm Street: volume 90, page 533, 86/14, 78/114, 73/360-362, 35/244, 35/106, 34/583.
Stiles, Henry R. The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut, vol. 1. New York: Grafton Press, 1904.
Wethersfield Land Records, volume 21, page 74; 21/531.
Wilscam, Roderick A., Rocky Hill Historical Society. Interview, July 8, 1997.
†David F. Ransom, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Trust, Elm Street Historic District, Rocky Hill, CT, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.