Simsbury Center Historic District
Simsbury Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.
Simsbury Center Historic District extends for seven blocks along Hopmeadow Street, from West Street on the south to Massaco Street on the north. Hopmeadow Street has been the main thoroughfare since the community was settled in mid-17th century and continues in this role to the present time. The anchor buildings at the south are the First Church of Christ [Congregational] and the Joseph R. Ensign House, while at the north the anchor buildings are the Horace Belden School/Simsbury Town Office Building and St. Mary's Catholic Church complex. The area in between displays an array of resources of various types, functions, and architectural styles, ranging in age from 1688 for Simsbury Center Cemetery to the 1987 St. Mary's Parish Center. Since the community was settled, the Simsbury Center Historic District has combined residential, mercantile, and institutional functions, and continues to do so at present.
While Simsbury Center Cemetery, 755 Hopmeadow Street, is the oldest resource in the district, it has experienced a number of changes over time. The ancient stones (the oldest dates from 1688) are complemented by Neo-Classical Revival mausoleums from the turn of the 20th century, while its brownstone and wrought-iron fence runs the full width of the street frontage. The gates of the fence are embellished by bronze eagles and plaques designed and cast by the Gorham Company of Providence, Rhode Island, and New York City in 1922. The cemetery's expansion has extended to an area north of Library Lane and west of Hopmeadow Street which is not included in the district.
No buildings from the 17th century have survived in the district area, but several 18th-century houses are standing. The oldest is the 1752 Benejah Roots House, 930 Hopmeadow Street, which is a standard Colonial five-bay gable-roofed clapboard house with central entrance central chimney. Its unusual feature is the long sloping rear roof, making it a saltbox, the only one in the Simsbury Center Historic District. Like almost all buildings in the district constructed as residences, Benejah Roots House now fulfills a commercial function.
The Captain Elisha Phelps House, 800 Hopmeadow Street, 1771, is different both for its gambrel roof and elaborate front entry of paneled double-leaf door flanked by fluted pilasters with plant-motif capitals. The Phelps interior is largely original. The Phelps House is on the Massacoh Plantation (Massacoh was the Native American name for Simsbury), the Simsbury Historical Society's property on which it has assembled nine buildings illustrating the town's history. The nine include the frame Phelps Barn, a ca.1795 1-1/2-story frame gambrel-roofed building called the Henricks Cottage, the Watson-Wilcox Carriage House from ca.1880 featuring cupola and balcony, and the double-walled slate-roofed 1889 Ellsworth Icehouse.
A house from the next decade, the Ezra Pratt House, ca.1784, incorporates a 19th century alteration, rectangular windows in the attic gable ends, within a typical gable-roofed Colonial frame. The ca.1790 Captain Jacob Pettibone House, 741 Hopmeadow Street, has been more severely altered in the early-20th century Colonial Revival style.
Early in the 19th century a brick house, unusual in the Simsbury Center Historic District for this time period, was built at 835 Hopmeadow Street for Ariel Ensign. It has the recessed central entrance with sidelights, four chimneys, and semi-elliptical attic windows of the Federal style. First Church of Christ, 689 Hopmeadow Street, built 1830, damaged by fire and rebuilt in 1965, is transitional from the Federal to the Greek Revival styles. The shallow front pediment, fluted pilasters, and elliptical shield in the second stage of the tower are attenuated features typical of the Federal style, while the tower itself, with three square stages, reflects the severity of the oncoming Greek Revival. Next door, the 1839 Townhouse, 605 Hopmeadow Street, is an example of the fully developed Greek Revival style.
Examples displaying mid-19th century architectural styles are rare in the Simsbury Center Historic District. The three extant buildings from this time period have been greatly altered. The 1851 original section of the frame store at 6 Wilcox Street is barely discernible among the later additions. The Adelaide Wilcox House, 880 Hopmeadow Street, a large and impressive red sandstone building dating from ca.1852, was made into a Neo-Classical Revival design at century's end, while the Methodist Episcopal Church Parsonage, 883-885 Hopmeadow Street, constructed ca.1860, was altered to the Queen Anne style ca.1890. Houses in the mid-19th century Picturesque styles such as Italianate and Gothic Revival are not present. The brick Probate Court, 7 Wilcox Street, 1876, has the steeply pitched gable roof and roof-peak finial of the Gothic Revival but in a building of classically inspired symmetrical plan and round-arched entranceway.
After the Civil War, the arrival of railroads made an impact on the district. The New Haven and Northampton Railroad Depot, 1875, Railroad Avenue and Station Street, was built by the successor to the New Haven and Northampton [Canal] Company, in conjunction with the Connecticut Western Railroad. It is a rectangular brick Italianate structure with wide overhang of its gabled roof. The Central of New England Railroad Station, 736 Hopmeadow Street, ca.1880, is a one-story frame rectangular building, with bracketed roof overhang.
Modest commercial and industrial development, perhaps aided by railroad transportation, occurred in the district late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century. The turn-of-the-century one- and two-story brick industrial building at 9 Phelps Lane features bays divided by pilasters and corbeled roof line in the district's only display of such brick-laying craftsmanship. The adjoining small frame gable-roofed house at 5 Phelps Lane, 1883, has a distinctive recessed porch at a front corner. The Welden Hardware Company's three-story brick building, 10-14 Station Street, 1900, is a vernacular but well-preserved commercial block representative of its time.
Accommodation for travelers brought by rail was provided at the Maple Tree Inn, 781 Hopmeadow Street, 1897, a gambrel-roofed frame building which is one of a row of three. To its south is 765-767 Hopmeadow Street, ca.1900, a frame house with first- and second-floor front porches. To its north is 783-789 Hopmeadow Street, ca.1910, an American Foursquare house now with retail space at first floor. Its first-floor retail space has a front pent roof which extends along a 1920 rectangular cinder-block building, 775-779 Hopmeadow Street, located in front of two adjoining frame houses, 781 Hopmeadow Street and 765-867 Hopmeadow Street, which are set back farther from the street. The arrangement is an example of early adaptation to commercial use along Hopmeadow Street.
In early 20th century the dominant forces in the Simsbury Center Historic District's development were three prominent Simsbury families, Eno, Belden, and descendants of Joseph Toy. Amos Eno, son-in-law of Elisha Phelps, a Simsbury native who made a fortune in New York City real estate, owned the brick house at 731 Hopmeadow Street, built in 1822 in the Federal style, which underwent major Colonial Revival alterations. He was the donor of Simsbury Free Library, 749 Hopmeadow Street, 1887, an early example of work in the Colonial Revival style by Melvin H. Hapgood, architect. His daughter, Antoinette Eno Woods, made the extensive changes and additions to her father's house at 731 Hopmeadow Street at the turn of the century, at which time it assumed its present Colonial Revival-style appearance. Her philanthropy provided the funds for Eno Memorial Hall, 754 Hopmeadow Street, 1932, Smith & Bassette, architects, which is an elaborate and skillful essay in the Colonial Revival style now in an excellent state of preservation.
Horace Belden supported the town in a variety of ways. In 1872 he was a founder of the Simsbury Water Company, now housed in a 1933 building at 6 Station Street. A notable philanthropy was his gift to the town of the Horace Belden School, now Simsbury Town Office Building, 933 Hopmeadow Street, 1907, Edward T. Hapgood, architect. It is a one-story solid brownstone ashlar building designed in an eclectic combination of Richardsonian Romanesque and Gothic Revival styles. The Simsbury Grammar School, 1913, up the hill to the west, is also a brownstone building; it displays Renaissance Revival influence in its design.
Joseph Toy was a founder of the fuse-manufacturing company which became Ensign-Bickford Company, still the town's largest employer. Through marriages of his daughters, ownership of the company was continued in the Ensign, Ellsworth, and Darling families. Ralph H. Ensign donated $50,000 for the 1909 Methodist Episcopal Church, 799 Hopmeadow Street. George Keller, Hartford's leading 19th-century architect, who received the commission, designed what he referred to as a "Modern Gothic" brownstone edifice in an example of the less angular and more unified work characteristic of the maturity that came toward the end of his career. Joseph R. Ensign built the large two-story brownstone house at 690 Hopmeadow Street, 1909, for which the architect is unknown. Its red sandstone stable/garage stands across the street at 700 Hopmeadow Street. He also organized the Simsbury Bank & Trust Company, 760 Hopmeadow Street, 1917, Smith & Bassette, architects. The bank is a two-story Colonial Revival commercial building of red brick with two-story fluted pilasters and roof-line balustrade, which was also used for stores and offices.
The frame Darling house at 720 Hopmeadow Street burned in 1918, to be replaced by the existing Robert and Julia Darling House, 1927, architect unknown, again an example of the Colonial Revival in red brick with white trim. The earlier Darling stables on Mall Way, 1904-1914, are a large U-shaped two-story complex in red sandstone with gable roof, partially slate-covered. One stem of the U terminates in a house. The former Harry E. Ellsworth House is no longer standing, but is remembered by its frame caretaker's cottage, 740 Hopmeadow Street, 1900, distinctive for its square cupola, and by the Ellsworth icehouse, 1889, on Massacoh Plantation, 800 Hopmeadow Street. The Ellsworth family also gave to the town the memorial gateway to Simsbury Center Cemetery, 755 Hopmeadow Street, 1922, and Emmet and Annie Ellsworth Schultz Park, 1976.
The range of buildings in the Simsbury Center Historic District spans three centuries and a wide variety of types, functions, and architectural styles representative of Simsbury Center's development from colonial settlement to the present.
Simsbury Center Historic District includes the seven blocks of the community's main street, Hopmeadow Street, which is the location of town-center activities. The Simsbury Center Historic District has been a mix of residential, mercantile, and institutional buildings since 17th-century settlement. A distinguishing characteristic of the Simsbury Center Historic District is the high quality of the residential buildings which make up a significant portion of the area. While many changes have occurred, buildings have been lost, and new buildings have been constructed, the Simsbury Center Historic District has continued to be the activity center of the town. It is not, however, and never has been, the conventional commercial Main Street. Homes, churches, stores, town-government buildings, and railroad stations have contributed to the strong and continuing sense of diversity. The Simsbury Center Historic District's architecture well reflects the early residential use, continuing institutional presence, and commercial development, which is now the strongest component characterizing the streetscape. Many well-preserved good examples of various styles as they developed over the centuries are included in the district.
The earliest buildings were constructed as homes by the settlers who came westward from Windsor, Connecticut. The early link with Windsor is memorialized by a bronze plaque marking access to the Farmington River ferry, direct route to the mother town. The surviving colonial houses are in the standard design of five bays, central entrance, and central chimney, usually with gable roof, occasionally with gambrel roof, and in one case with saltbox rear roof slope. The Captain Elisha Phelps House, 1771, 800 Hopmeadow Street, now a museum, is the best-preserved. The others that remain, all currently serving commercial functions, have been altered, particularly on the interior.
The Captain Elisha Phelps House is the centerpiece of the Simsbury Historical Society property, Massacoh Plantation, on which the society has assembled a group of historic buildings which record and interpret the development of the community. The 1970 replica of the 1683 meetinghouse marks the resolution of the long controversy over selecting the first meetinghouse location. Early schooling is portrayed by the 1740 Scotland North District Schoolhouse, rehabilitated ca.1830, while the group of 18th-century buildings is completed with the 1-1/2-story Hendricks Cottage, ca.1795, which displays a gambrel roof on a house of modest pretensions. Another feature of domestic reality is depicted by the double-walled frame building with slate roof, the 1889 Ellsworth icehouse of 41 ton capacity.
Federal and Greek Revival style houses followed in the early 19th century, continuing the tradition of frame dwellings with stylistic changes in step with the fashionable attenuation of the Federal style and the formal strength of the Greek Revival. The Titus-Barber House, 1812, 920 Hopmeadow Street, is an example of Colonial five-bay central-chimney plan modified by the early Federal detail of doorway surround with semi-elliptical fanlight over sidelights under a skeletal Palladian window. The First Church of Christ, 1830, 689 Hopmeadow Street, is particularly important because it displays both Federal and Greek Revival features in a single transitional building, while the Townhouse, 1839, 695 Hopmeadow Street, is a statement of the mature Greek Revival style.
The middle decades of the 19th century saw little building activity, pending arrival of the railroads and the accumulation of wealth by Amos Eno, Horace Belden, and the descendants of Joseph Toy. These late-19th/early-20th century developments brought distinctive and skillfully designed commercial, residential, and institutional buildings. The two railroad stations, 736 Hopmeadow Street and Railroad Street, reflect the popularity of the Italianate style of the era, unmistakably characterized by broad bracketed overhanging roofs. The major Colonial Revival changes to the Eno House, 760 Hopmeadow Street, the Classical Revival Ensign House, 690 Hopmeadow Street, and the Colonial Revival Darling home, 720 Hopmeadow Street, all reflect the resurgence of interest in classical precedent and the Colonial Revival style; they set a high standard of architectural design and today maintain the sense of residential affluence within the Simsbury Center Historic District.
A brownstone Gothic Revival church was erected for the Methodist Church at 799 Hopmeadow Street in 1909 to plans drawn by George Keller (1842-1935), Hartford's leading 19th-century architect. Keller spent a lifetime working in his trademark "Modern Gothic" which, on occasion, tended to be rough and angular. (See Antoinette Phelps House, Hartford, 1880 (demolished), for the daughter of Simsbury's Guy Rowland Phelps.) But the maturing of his work is fully articulated in the Simsbury Methodist Church. The presence of the large pointed-arch stained-glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany strengthened the aristocratic tone of the district.
Other institutional buildings early in the 20th century were designed by recognized well-trained architects whose work in Simsbury ranks with their best. For example, the Simsbury Center Historic District exhibits an early demonstration of the basic tenet of the Colonial Revival, which is to use colonial motifs but with modification. This national trend is well exemplified, at the very early date of 1887, in the Simsbury Free Library, 749 Hopmeadow Street, by Melvin P. Hapgood (1859-1899). When Charles Follen McKim and William R. Mead were on their famous sketching tour along the New England coastline rediscovering American colonial architecture, Melvin Hapgood engaged in a similar sketching project in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Among Hapgood's sketches, which survive in the collections of Stowe-Day Library at the Center for Harriet Beecher Stowe Studies, Hartford, one is for the Simsbury Free Library, 749 Hopmeadow Street. In this building the Palladian windows of the front elevation are not only larger in proportion than archeologically correct but also used in a location never found in a colonial building in a manner typifying the Colonial Revival. The domestic scale of the library building maintained the residential character of the district. The Simsbury Center Historic District is strengthened by the presence of examples of the work of the two important 19th-century architects, Melvin P. Hapgood and George Keller.
Horace Belden School, 1907, 933 Hopmeadow Street, is an example of the less stereotyped work of Edward T. Hapgood (1866-1915), who outlived his cousin Melvin to engage in a practice primarily devoted to large Colonial Revival homes in the West End of Hartford and West Hartford. From time to time, however, he designed imaginative individual masonry buildings such as the Belden School and the 1903 addition to Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Hartford.
The Simsbury Bank & Trust Company Building, 1917, 760 Hopmeadow Street, for Joseph R. Eno is a commercial space given convincing Colonial Revival street elevations by Hartford's most prolific practitioners in the Colonial Revival style, H. Hilliard Smith (1871-1948), who trained with William C. Brocklesby, and Roy D. Bassette (1891-1965), a student of Paul Cret at the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. They practiced in the partnership of Smith & Bassette from 1910 to 1940. Their Eno Memorial Hall, 1932, at 754 Hopmeadow Street is a major statement with refined details and expensive materials such as marble and limestone. The elaborate colossal colonnade, elliptical windows and stairways, and well-thought-out cohesive details, now in a fine state of preservation, make Eno Memorial Hall one of Simsbury's major architectural resources. The Town Hall (Clinton, Connecticut) by Smith & Bassette, 1938, closely resembles Eno Memorial Hall.
In mid- to late-20th century Simsbury Center Historic District has witnessed a gradual change in emphasis from predominantly residential usage to commercial activity. While the variety of functions continues, the proportions have changed. The architecturally significant homes, most of which continue standing, have been adapted for other use. Many of the institutional buildings continue their original functions, for example the churches. Others have been adapted to new uses, such as Belden School, now the town hall, while Eno Hall carries on as a community meeting place. The high quality of the architecture continues to contribute to the diversity of the historic activity center of the Town of Simsbury.
Gregory E. Andrews. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Robert and Julia Darling House, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, B.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1991.
Susan Babbitt. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Captain Elisha Phelps House, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1972.
Christine B. Brockmeyer. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Amos Eno House, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1975.
________ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Simsbury Railroad Depot, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1975.
Bruce Clouette. Historic and Architectural Resource Survey of Simsbury Center, Simsbury, Connecticut. Statewide Historic Resource Inventory. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1994.
Jan Cunningham. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Horace Belden School and Central Grammar School, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1992.
________ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Eno Memorial Hall, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1993.
________ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Simsbury Townhouse, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1993.
Melvin P. Hapgood. Sketches of colonial motifs, Wethersfield, Connecticut, 1880s. Melvin P. Hapgood Scrapbook, Stowe-Day Library, Center for Harriet Beecher Stowe Studies, Hartford, Connecticut.
David F. Ransom. The Architecture of Melvin H. Hapgood and Edward T. Hapgood. Catalog of the Exhibition. Hartford: The Stowe-Day Foundation, 1992.
________ "Biographical Dictionary of Hartford Architects," The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 54(Winter/Spring 1989)96.
________ George Keller, Architect. Hartford: The Stowe-Day Foundation, 1978.
________ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Simsbury Bank and Trust Company Building, Simsbury, Connecticut. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1986.
† David F. Ransom, consultant and John F. A. Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Simsbury Center Historic District, Simsbury, CT, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.