East Weatogue Historic District
The East Weatogue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright 2011, The Gombach Group.
The East Weatogue Historic District runs along East Weatogue Street and Hartford Road, east of the Farmington River, in Simsbury. The East Weatogue Historic District occupies approximately 490 acres of land, some of it flood plain, between the river and the hills to the east. One of the three nucleated settlements in Simsbury, the East Weatogue Historic District retains an agrarian appearance with much of the acreage still in use for farm purposes. The houses, barns, and other outbuildings date from the 18th century and reflect architectural styles and building practices from the 18th century through the mid-to-late 19th century on into the early-20th century.
The first buildings constructed in the East Weatogue Historic District were destroyed in 1676 during an Indian attack that was part of King Philip's War. By 1730, a replacement cluster of houses had been constructed, as shown by a c.1730 map. Three of the houses standing in the East Weatogue Historic District probably are on this map. They are 11 East Weatogue Street, 26 East Weatogue Street, and 85 East Weatogue Street. Dating from c.1700/1720, all are two-story five-bay central chimney central-entrance houses. In all three the front-elevation windows are spaced in a 2-1-2 rhythm. At 26 East Weatogue Street (Captain James Cornish House), the rear lower section is covered by a continuing pitched roof slope that establishes it as an example of a saltbox. 11 East Weatogue Street (Joseph Phelps House) has a tin-shingle roof and an early-20th century doorway, while the broad overhang of 85 East Weatogue Street's roof (James Cornish House) and the small windows flanking the doorway are its distinctive features. All have what appear to be, because of their small size, replacement chimneys. The barn at 26 East Weatogue Street may be as old as the house, while 19th-century farm-related outbuildings continue to stand on the other two properties.
Four other houses in the East Weatogue Historic District were built during the 18th century. They are 76 Hartford Road (Ann Toy House), 42 East Weatogue Street (Amaziah Humphrey House), 96 East Weatogue Street, and 39 East Weatogue Street (Joel Cornish House). While all fit the Colonial model of five bays, central chimney, and central doorway, they are otherwise quite different from one another. 76 Hartford Road has a row of six tomb stone-shaped transom lights under a wide frieze and flat cornice cap (probably added) and large additions to the side and rear. The fine interior paneling was all taken from other houses. Its original low gambrel roof was raised to the present configuration in the late-19th century. The barns and silo according to the assessor's record date from 1790, as does the house, but the wall dormer of the west barn and its quarrel glazing suggest important alterations during the 20th-century Colonial Revival period. In the first quarter of the 20th century, the owner of this house, John S. Ellsworth, also owned and operated Folly Farm across the street, the largest farm in the East Weatogue Historic District.
42 East Weatogue Street has a low gambrel roof, perhaps suggesting the original appearance of 76 Hartford Road, but is clad with vinyl siding. Its extensive greenhouses and associated outbuildings were constructed, c.1930, but its 34 acres of land have gone with the house for many generations. 96 East Weatogue Street is a one-story house. The small size of its windows suggests they may be filling original apertures. 39 East Weatogue Street is a small one-story house, badly damaged by fire, but structurally sound, and now  vacant.
Houses in the Colonial configuration continued to be built into the 19th century, including 34 East Weatogue Street (Asa Cornish House) and 56 East Weatogue Street (Simeon Humphrey House). By early in the 19th century, however, the Federal style became popular. It is represented in the East Weatogue Historic District by two examples, 2 East Weatogue Street (Phelps Tavern), and 57 East Weatogue Street (Calvin Northrup House). Both are twin-chimney central-hall central-entrance houses with Adamesque details. 2 East Weatogue Street displays a well-proportioned Palladian window at its second floor. This house was partially encircled by a wraparound porch at the turn of the 20th century. 57 East Weatogue Street is embellished by two-story Ionic pilasters standing on paneled pedestals, while its doorway and Palladian window above are capped by unusual nearly flat arches. Its barn with cupola dates from c.1890.
The Federal style gave way in fashion to the Greek Revival in the second quarter of the 19th century, as seen in the East Weatogue Historic District by three examples. 25 East Weatogue Street (Charles Cornish House) is a conventional design with three bays in its front elevation under pedimented gable. Its fruit-and-vegetable stand, barns, and substantial cultivated acreage give a clear demonstration of the continued vitality of agriculture in the district. 45 East Weatogue Street (George Cornish House) has similar basic Greek Revival-style features plus an added wraparound porch and an unusual two-story addition at the southwest corner whose asymmetric gable roof dies into the main roof slope. 68 Hartford Road, is a vernacular interpretation of the Greek Revival style of interest not so much for its architecture as for its barns next door and associated cultivated land on Hartford Road. These three properties are functionally interrelated.
The mid-to-late-19th century revival architectural styles are reflected in the East Weatogue Historic District by four houses, including 51 East Weatogue Street (Eliza Case House/Pine Home (dairy) Farm) and 63 East Weatogue Street (Arthur E. Humphrey House). 51 East Weatogue Street is the only Italianate style house in the East Weatogue Historic District, somewhat unusual because it has a side entrance. There was a silo on the property when it was a dairy farm. 63 East Weatogue Street is the only house with recessed front porch and prominent gable-end brace in a combination of the Queen Anne and Stick styles. 80 East Weatogue Street (Lemuel S. Ellsworth House) stands out for its floor-to-ceiling-height windows, but has lost its Queen Anne character-defining wraparound porch. 71 Hartford Road, on Folly Farm, is a rambling farmhouse more notable for its farm-related function than for its architecture.
The appearance of the district as recorded by the 1730 map changed very little over the next century and a half. The group of buildings depicted by the Baker & Tilden 1869 atlas map reflects little change in density and use. Conditions were about the same.
With the turn of the 20th century, the Colonial Revival became the preferred style. Its most imposing example in the district is 72 East Weatogue Street (Emmett & Ann Ellsworth Schultz House), which combines a central pavilion and gabled entrance porch with a basic American Foursquare structure. Across the street, 73 East Weatogue Street, establishes individuality by restrained Craftsman treatment of its Colonial Revival style features. Two other American Foursquare interpretations of the Colonial Revival are 72 Hartford Road, and 73 Hartford Road.
Several 19th- and 20th-century houses in the East Weatogue Historic District are vernacular, without architectural style. 86 East Weatogue Street is representative of a row of three built in 1927. It is frame, almost perfectly plain, yet is significant because of its brownstone ashlar foundations, paired windows at second-floor front, and shed-roof side entry.
There are many other farm buildings in the East Weatogue Historic District. The greatest number are at Folly Farm on Hartford Road. Near the entrance at the foot of the Hartford Road hill are two farmhouses and beyond them barns and a riding ring. To the south and east are the great gambrel-roofed barn and new interior riding ring structure, and other barns, silos, coops, sheds, cribs, and another house. Earlier in the 20th century, the farm was famous for its prize herd of Jerseys; now it is devoted to raising sheep and caring for riding horses. Elsewhere are several tobacco barns, dating from the late 19th century when cultivation of broad leaf tobacco was the chief agricultural pursuit in central Connecticut. The barn at 25 East Weatogue Street is typical. A dairy farm presence is well documented by the hay and cow barns at 16 East Weatogue Street.
The East Weatogue Historic District is significant historically because it is an exceptionally well-preserved rural village which has survived in spite of its proximity to the major city of Hartford, Connecticut. The East Weatogue Historic District is significant architecturally because it displays good examples of architectural styles from the Colonial to the Colonial Revival in their original setting and relationship to one another, little altered over time.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, settlers came to East Weatogue, as they did to most New England communities of the time, to farm. But they did not necessarily reside on the acreage farmed, and all the farm acreage of a family was not necessarily contiguous. The practice was to have a home lot clustered with other home lots to form a community, and to have wood lots, pasturage, etc. at outlying locations. East Simsbury was a cluster of home lots for farmers who had some acreage nearby and some elsewhere, a common practice. The Humphrey family at 56 East Weatogue Street, for example, owned parcels at other locations into the 20th century.
Records of agricultural production for East Weatogue in the 18th and 19th centuries are not at hand, although crops generally raised at the time were corn, beans, squash, tobacco, rye, wheat, and potatoes. Facilities for processing the crops, such as gristmills, fulling mills, and sawmills, were part of the agrarian economy. While none of these three was present in East Weatogue (for lack of waterpower), an abattoir was located there in the 19th century for slaughter of animals grown on nearby farms; brownstone from its building was used to build the wall separating 57 East Weatogue Street (Calvin Northrup House) from the street. Toward the end of the 19th century, broad leaf tobacco became an important cash crop. It needed careful storage near the growing fields. The presence of tobacco sheds in the district documents the importance of the crop. In the 20th century, dairy farming became important, as evidenced by the cow barns and silos remembered or in place. Today, some dairy farming continues along with growing fruits and vegetables for city markets, as at 25 East Weatogue Street, and sheep raising at Folly Farm on Hartford Road. The agricultural function continues to be important in the East Weatogue Historic District.
Strong families were responsible for the growth and viability of the East Weatogue community. The Phelps family was one of the first. Joseph Phelps, Sr., was granted land before 1688. His descendant David built the house for his son Roswell. Joseph Phelps built 19 East Weatogue Street, and Noah Phelps, a hero of the Ticonderoga engagement in the Revolutionary War, lived there. 2 East Weatogue Street, on its prominent corner location, was operated as Phelps Tavern.
One family that arrived from England in the second quarter of the 19th century held a strong influence in the district through the 20th century. Their arrival stemmed from the visit to England by Richard Bacon, the manager of the Newgate copper mine, located near East Weatogue, who was in search of a more reliable time-delay fuse. He entered into an agreement with an English manufacturer, William Bickford, returned to East Weatogue, and began the manufacture of the fuses at 11 East Weatogue Street in a building that soon burned down. A monument at 34 East Weatogue Street commemorates the replacement factory. The English company sent out a bookkeeper, Joseph Toy, in 1839, who soon became a principal, and, after another explosion in 1851, moved the factory west of the river where, as the Ensign-Bickford Company, it continues to be the principal manufacturing firm and largest employer in Simsbury.
Joseph Toy's three daughters married men who became active in the firm. One of them was Lemuel S. Ellsworth. His farm on East Weatogue Street continues today, in part, as private open space. John S. Ellsworth's Folly Farm on Hartford Road is the largest in the district, and Ellsworths owned other land as well, including the substantial acreage on East Weatogue Street.
The land and the people worked together to form a community of exceptional longevity. Today the houses and the fields continue to give the sense of place that can only be developed gradually over the centuries. The architecture of the houses and the agricultural function of the land constitute an entity that is a significant cultural resource. The continued use of the land over the centuries for agricultural purposes complements the historic architecture that has survived in well-preserved condition in the shadow of a large city.
The houses in the East Weatogue Historic District remain a concentration of fine 18th- and early-19th century structures. They are well-preserved examples of historic styles and building types. Because over time the houses have responded to need for changes, they are a living record of a community and the changes that have occurred in its fabric. But the relationship of the buildings to one another, set close to the scenic road and interspersed with large tracts of open land, has not changed. In details, several appear to have lost their massive central chimneys, at least from the ridge up, while some have new sash in enlarged apertures. 11 East Weatogue Street adopted a 19th-century technological development when its roof was covered with tin shingles, while 42 East Weatogue Street adopted a 20th-century material when its exterior walls were covered with vinyl siding, an insensitive alteration. Overall, however, the value of the resources, the vast majority of which have survived, far outweighs the losses.
The broad array of architectural styles found in the East Weatogue Historic District reflects the changes in aesthetic taste and in building materials and methods that have occurred over almost three centuries. Houses built in the early 18th century were constructed in the manner which the settlers knew from their English heritage, both with respect to appearance and methods and materials. The heavy posts and beams were fastened by mortise and tenon to form a rectangular, structure, usually of two stories in height under a gable or pitched roof, around a heavy central masonry chimney. Properties 11 and 85 East Weatogue Street well fit this norm. Variations on the norm include a continuous rear roof slope over a rear one-story section, forming a saltbox, as seen at 26 East Weatogue Street, and houses smaller in both height and ground plan. 96 East Weatogue Street is as large as the others in plan, but only one story high, while 39 East Weatogue Street is both smaller in plan, having only three bays instead of the usual five, and lower in height, being one story high. The range of variations found in the East Weatogue Historic District on what is essentially one street block contributes to the significance of the district.
The first changes to the original house type came in the forms of plan and embellishment. Twin chimneys made possible a central through-hallway and at about the same time decorative details based on classical precedent were added. 2 and 13 East Weatogue Street are good examples of both these changes. Renewed interest in antiquity, and in Greek history in particular, led to popularity of the temple form of three windows to the street under a pediment, of which 25 and 45 East Weatogue Street are examples, but the post-and-beam mortise-and-tenon method of construction continued to be followed.
The balloon-frame method of construction, utilizing many small pieces of wood fastened by nails, was a major change in building method. Its advent coincided with a major change in taste toward the romantic and picturesque architectural styles which could best be articulated in the varied and asymmetric forms made possible by the balloon frame. These developments came together in the second half of the 19th century a time when there was but a modest amount of building activity in the district. 51 East Weatogue Street, an Italianate house, and 63 and 80 East Weatogue Street, Queen Anne houses, are the few examples. Missing from the East Weatogue Historic District are examples of houses in the picturesque and romantic styles of Gothic Revival, Stick, and Shingle.
After the turn of the 20th century, the Colonial Revival became the accepted style, with a fine example in 72 East Weatogue Street, a large and pretentious house whose hipped roof and clipped dormers belong to the American Foursquare interpretation of the Colonial Revival. Its vernacular neighbors, 86, 88 and 90 East Weatogue Street, are stark and plain by contrast.
Porches played an important role in the appearance of the houses. 2 East Weatogue Street was built without a porch and received a long wraparound porch in the 19th century, which has been removed. 45 East Weatogue Street was built without a porch but received a wraparound porch, which remains in place. 80 East Weatogue Street was built with a wraparound porch, which, regrettably, was removed.
Other architectural details distinguish the East Weatogue Historic District. In 18th-century houses, the small windows flanking the door of 85 East Weatogue Street are unusual while the row of six tombstone-shaped transom lights of 76 Hartford Road is noteworthy. Adamesque features of good quality are found in early-19th century houses, the Palladian window and semi-elliptical windows of 2 East Weatogue Street and the two-story Ionic pilasters on paneled pedestals of 57 East Weatogue Street. The late-19th century gable-end brace, imbricated shingles, and corbelled chimney of 63 East Weatogue Street appropriately fit the period. From the early 20th century, the quarrel glazing and wall dormer of 76 Hartford Road's barn and the pavilion and gabled entrance porch of 72 East Weatogue Street well represent the Colonial Revival style. Such fine details reinforce the quality of the examples of the several architectural styles represented in the East Weatogue Historic District.
The farm buildings that accompany the houses also changed over time in method of construction from heavy timber to balloon frame, and in some cases to concrete and glass. Concrete was preferred for cow barns and silos, as at 16 East Weatogue Street and Folly Farm on Hartford Road, glass for the greenhouses. The multiplicity and variety of farm outbuildings in the East Weatogue Historic District make them one of its chief resources.
Dodge, Mary H. The Story of the Toys. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1910.
East Weatogue Historic District. Report of the East Weatogue Historic District Study Committee. Simsbury: 1987.
Ellsworth, Abigail Eno. A Record of Some of the Old Houses of Simsbury. Simsbury: nd [c.1936].
Ellsworth, John E. Simsbury 1642-1935. Simsbury: The Simsbury Committee for the Tercentenary, 1935.
Ellsworth, John S. Interview with Martha Zablocki, 31 July 1968. On tape at Simsbury Historical Society.
† David F. Ransom, consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, East Weatogue Historic District, Simsbury, CT, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.