Tariffville Historic District
The Tariffville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. 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 Tariffville Historic District consists of the 19th-century village of Tariffville in the northeast corner of the Town of Simsbury, Connecticut. The Tariffville Historic District comprises approximately 90 acres, organized in eight square blocks. The eastern boundary of the Tariffville Historic District is the Farmington River, where the availability of waterpower made it possible to build a carpet mill in 1825. The community grew up, in an irregular shape, to the west of the river and the carpet mill on the upward sloping ground of the Farmington River valley. Main Street was laid out parallel with the river, while the east-west arteries Elm Street and Winthrop Street run up the hill perpendicular to Main Street and the river.
Most of the structures in the Tariffville Historic District are residential in function, are frame, and date from the 19th century. Of the Tariffville Historic District's 165 contributing structures, 100 are homes (87 from the 19th century) and 55 are outbuildings (32 from the 19th century). The houses are built a comfortable but modest distance back from the streets with the spacing between structures usually not more than the width of the houses. Shade trees line the streets. Most of the houses are 1-1/2 or two stories high. Their mass, spacing, and relationship to one another and the street pattern remain today much as they were in the 19th century.
In 1825 when the Tariff Manufacturing Company built its stone mill near the river, there was no community or village near the waterpower site. Hence the company was obliged to build housing for its workers. These early structures, erected along Tunxis Place and Elm Street, are two-story gable-roofed frame houses, often built on high brick basements. The two central doors in the basement apparently were the main entrances to the double house, indicating each structure housed two families, but possibly each floor on each side was home for a family. A row of three of the double houses stands on Tunxis Place and there is a row of five on Elm Street. The fenestration pattern of two windows left and right on each floor with two small windows in between was standard. While the houses now are covered with a variety of sidings, original siding, visible because of ongoing rehabilitation, was clapboards. Occasionally, the double house was built twice the usual size, making a long structure for perhaps four families. Examples stand at 9 Elm Street and 23-29 Red Hill Road.
When the factory expanded in 1840, more of the same mill housing was built on Red Hill Road. In addition, higher-style structures were provided for the families of supervisors in the mill. A row of one-story Greek Revival houses with Doric-columned porches on Tunxis Road overlooks the Farmington River. (An alternate local opinion, based on study of land records and construction techniques, holds that the Greek Revival row was built in 1825.) The Baker & Tilden 1867 atlas map shows that there were four houses in the row. All four remain standing. Both types of mill houses continue to be lived in at the present time, displaying good maintenance and ongoing repairs. An 1829 house in the Federal style stands at 11 Main Street, the only example of the style in the district. While almost all houses in Tariffville are frame, an exception is the brick James W. Adams House, 19 Main Street. It is the most elaborate Greek Revival structure in the Tariffville Historic District. In the three-bay elevation toward the street, the door, in the right bay, is flanked by square pilasters and three-pane side lights under a two-pane transom and brownstone lintel. In the ell, a recessed porch features two-story fluted columns. Other Greek Revival structures include a pair of three-bay central-entrance houses at 36 Winthrop Street and 40 Winthrop Street and Mitchelson Hall, a commercial and lodge building, 23 Elm Street. It has a tetrastyle Doric portico.
Gothic Revival houses also are found in Tariffville. Twin 1-1/2-story structures stand at 37 Elm Street and 39 Elm Street. In their steeply pitched gable ends facing the street, paired tall windows have Gothic arches flanked by bargeboards of vigorous pierced ogee pattern. The bargeboards are continued on the side elevations over windows with drip molds set in board-and-batten siding. In the roof slope above the bargeboards wall dormers break through the eaves. There are half a dozen houses in the Gothic Revival style.
Two brick Italianate houses at 11 Tunxis Road and 17 Tunxis Road stand out as the only representatives of their style in the Tariffville Historic District. By the final third of the 19th century, the prosperity associated with the mill, which burned in 1867, had waned. Few high-style houses were built. The Stick style house at 23 Center Street was an exception. Most construction activity in these years produced modest 1-1/2-story residences in vernacular or "Victorian Vernacular" treatment. A typical example is 10 Center Street.
After the turn of the 20th century, a few Colonial Revival houses appeared. Occasionally, an older house received Colonial Revival alterations. An important example of such alterations is the Ariel Mitchelson House, 48 Elm Street, which also exhibits earlier Italianate alterations to its basic Colonial form.
When the factory that was responsible for founding the community burned in 1867, it was replaced by the present structure which has served a variety of industries. It is an 82' x 225', 1-1/2-story brick pier mill with gable roof and segmentally arched windows set in corbeled panels. Its arched tailrace opening is the only remaining visible evidence of the waterpower facility.
Two Main Street commercial buildings, constructed in the years after the present factory building was erected, continue to anchor the village center side-by-side at 28 Main Street and 32-34 Main Street. The first, the Boles Block (c.1890), is a three-story brick building with corbeled roof-line cornice, while the second, Blaze's Building (c.1890), is an exuberant two-story frame Queen Anne structure with bays, complex roof line, and colored glazing in its windows. It is the only fully articulated Queen Anne-style structure in the Tariffville Historic District.
Early churches in the Tariffville Historic District did not survive. The Scottish Presbyterian and Methodist church buildings were demolished, while the former Baptist Church, 47 Church Street Extension, has been enlarged to become a house. Two Gothic Revival churches, both built in the late 19th century, are neighbors at 11 Church Street and 5 Maple Street. Trinity Episcopal Church, designed by Henry C. Dudley of New York in 1872, is a solid brownstone edifice with narrow windows in the manner of a medieval English parish church. A large pointed-arch window graces the facade. All windows are stained glass. The doors of heavy wood have double Gothic-arched panels in Gothic-arched openings. The steep gable roof changes pitch over the aisles. On the interior the banks of pews on either side of the center aisle are bisected by four posts which are connected by lateral arches and support ceiling arches that spring from clustered supports around the posts. The arches are pointed, forming braced trusses below the peak. Daylight streams through the windows in their deep reveals, lighting the glass in shades of deep blue, green, and scarlet. The reredos of the altar displays Gothic arches with pinnacles, while the wall dados are a series of panels capped by trefoil arches. The 1934 parish house at the rear north is also a brownstone building repeating details of the sanctuary such as dressed stone window surrounds in the shape of quoins and diamond window glazing in a fleur-de-lis pattern. A 1968 brick classroom addition at the rear south is modern architecture.
Across Maple Street to the west, Saint Bernard's Roman Catholic Church (1895) is a 49' x 81'-foot frame interpretation of the Gothic Revival with pitched roof over the nave, clerestories on the sides, and shed roofs over the aisles. Tourelles embellish the corners. There is a rose window in the gable end facing the street over a row of four rectangular stained-glass windows, and, to the right in the tall tower, a peaked dormer projects from the base of the eight-sided spire. The two-story apse at the east end of the building is six-sided. Stained-glass windows on the side elevations have trefoil-shaped tops. The church complex includes a rectory next door on Maple Street and a cemetery diagonally across Winthrop Street.
Public ownership of buildings is represented in Tariffville by the firehouse and the school. The Tariffville Fire Station, 7 Church Street, was built about 1910 as a brownstone tobacco warehouse with modest but fanciful one-story towers with low castellation at the front corners and a flat main roof with low castellation — all in stone. In 1941 the building became the firehouse and in 1991 was altered and enlarged. A new one-story wing is to the north. A hipped roof was added to the original building and given a heavy wooden bracketed cornice, painted white. A similar roof-line treatment was afforded the low towers, and a white wooden midsection was introduced on the facade between the towers.
The Tariffville Grammar School was built in 1925 to replace an earlier wooden four-room schoolhouse that was badly deteriorated. The present brick school building is one story over a high basement. Its design is contemporary with reminiscences of Collegiate Gothic in the crests centered in roof parapets and in the buttresses and cast-stone arch of the low entrance tower, off center to the right. A semi-free standing rotunda addition to the right serves as assembly room and gymnasium, while a modern one-story plain rear addition increased the number of classrooms.
The Tariffville Historic District's two historic cemeteries, Saint Bernard's and the Tariffville Cemetery, are located side-by-side on Winthrop Street at the northwestern corner of the district. The land they occupy slopes gently down from the street. Saint Bernard's is the larger of the two, being about three times the size of the village cemetery and wrapping around behind it in layout. Both cemeteries have interments from the 19th and 20th centuries, but the Tariffville Cemetery has older graves, dating from c.1840. Saint Bernard's has many more 20th-century monuments. Marble and granite are the principal stones used, with a number of brownstone obelisks adding variety of height. Well-spaced elms and tall cedars are the notable plantings.
The 55 contributing outbuildings in the Tariffville Historic District — 32 dating from the 19th century — are almost all frame. They consist of barns, tool sheds, wagon sheds, chicken coops, a workshop, and garages. Most of the barns have vertical siding, and most are weathered rather than painted. The two-story barn at 16 Church Street has several architectural features: a loading door at the second floor under shallow pediment is flanked by 6-over-6 windows also under shallow pediments; an attic window has the same feature; and the sills of all windows are supported by corbel brackets. Other two-story barns are located behind Saint Bernard's Church, at 52-54 Church Street, and at 19 Main Street.
Comparison of the Tariffville street pattern shown by the 1869 atlas and the district map gives a measure of how little change has occurred since the streets were laid out in the 19th century. The only alterations of note have taken place in the southeast corner of the village. There Tunxis Road formerly led to a principal bridge over the Farmington River to the east. The flood of 1955 took out this bridge and it was not replaced. Tunxis Road now dead ends at the river. In similar fashion, Mountain Road, formerly the main artery to the south, now dead ends approximately at the town line. A new highway, State Road 189, which runs between Mountain Road and Tunxis Road, is now the main access route. It occupies the former railroad right of way.
The Tariffville Historic District is predominantly residential in character. The majority of the houses date from the 19th century. Almost all of the houses have been altered to a greater or lesser degree — many to a greater degree. Siding, new sash, changes in fenestration, and additions abound. Nonetheless, since the original shape and mass of these altered houses still are identifiable, they are considered to contribute to the historical and architectural significance of the district on the grounds that their 19th-century origin strengthens the character of Tariffville as a 19th-century community.
The Tariffville Historic District is significant architecturally because it retains the mill housing and street layout of an early 19th-century mill village as well as the Greek Revival and Gothic Revival structures of later 19th-century development. The commercial blocks, religious structures, and publicly owned buildings, together with the many 19th-century houses and their outbuildings, tell the story of the community's development into the 20th century with integrity and few intrusions. Tariffville is the only mill village in the Town of Simsbury.
Tariffville owed its inception to the availability of waterpower in the Farmington River gorge on its eastern boundary. The waterpower had long been used for gristmills, sawmills, and fulling mills whose purpose was to service the agricultural economy, but it was the United States Tariff Act of 1824 which stimulated the founding of a truly industrial enterprise, appropriately named the Tariff Manufacturing Company. A multistory stone mill was constructed in 1825 for the manufacture of woolen cloth and carpets, using immigrant labor for the skilled jobs. Scottish weavers, for example, were important to the operation, bringing with them the establishment of a Scottish Presbyterian Church.
By 1840 the population of Tariffville had grown to 200 residents. In that year, Orrin Thompson, who soon after 1825 had established a carpet mill nearby in the Thompsonville section of Enfield, came into control of the Tariffville operation as well. Rapid growth ensued. By 1852 the population was 2,000. The community became a center for trade as well as a mill village. The street pattern took form and, in 1850, the Canal Line Railroad came to the village.
Then, in 1852, a calamity occurred. Orrin Thompson went bankrupt, partly because of over-expansion at Tariffville. The population plummeted to 600, the Scottish Presbyterian Church closed its doors, and hard times were rife. Thompson reopened the manufacturing plant in 1859, on a smaller scale, but it continued only to 1867 when fire destroyed the mill.
Land records in connection with the changes in ownerships, e.g., bankruptcies, in these times are highly informative, giving a complete inventory of the machinery and other contents of the mill, and indicating the out-of-town owners' identities. For example, George Beach of Hartford was president of Tariff Manufacturing Company when it conveyed its property to Brown Brothers & Company of New York City in 1856, as recorded in Simsbury Land Records, volume 39, page 61, to satisfy a debt of $375,000.
Connecticut Screw Company, which bought the property in 1867, constructed the replacement mill now standing. The enterprise and others that followed were never a great success. The mill passed from owner to owner. Hartford Silk Company, Hartford Carpet Company, and Hartford Cutlery Company were among the succession of textile and hardware firms that owned the mill.
Fortunately, the growth in size of the community had encouraged development of activities unrelated to the mill. Complementing the independent activity provided by stores and inns, the Canal Line branch in 1871 became incorporated into the Connecticut and Western Railroad's route to Hartford. The name Ariel Mitchelson became prominent. In addition to living in the large house at 52 Elm Street, he developed other property, laying out streets and building, among others, the two Gothic Revival houses at 37 Elm Street and 39 Elm Street.
Saint Bernard's parish was organized and built its first church, c.1850, to serve Irish immigrants who came to Tariffville as laborers. The parish prospered and grew, a process which culminated in the present edifice in 1895. Its frame Gothic Revival style was not uncommon among contemporary Catholic churches in Connecticut. The change in the ethnic make up of the parish is reflected by the lettering on monuments in Saint Barnard's Cemetery, which includes Polish, Italian, and Lithuanian names.
The parish of Trinity Episcopal Church also was founded in 1850, meeting at first in Mitchelson Hall, 23 Elm Street, then in the former Presbyterian Church which stood on land of the carpet company. Trinity bought the Presbyterian Church in 1856, paying $1,489 for the brick building, with capacity for 300 people, and $200 for the land. In 1870 the Connecticut Western Railroad, after it obtained a judgement of condemnation, bought the church property for $11,500. In 1872 the parish commissioned Henry C. Dudley of New York City to design the present edifice, erected on land given by Ariel Mitchelson, Jr.
Toward the end of the 19th century, growing, processing, and trading broad leaf tobacco became the chief economic activity of the area around Tariffville, as was the case in many central Connecticut agricultural communities. While Tariffville was too small in size to grow tobacco commercially, William Ketchin was successful in making Tariffville a center for tobacco trade for Simsbury and adjacent areas of East Granby, Granby, and Bloomfield.
Tobacco was the last of the business activities centered in Tariffville to provide jobs for a critical number of workers. Now the stores and shops serve a local clientele of residents, most of whom find employment elsewhere.
The arrival of new families when the carpet mill was built in 1825 required the construction of new housing, which the Tariff Manufacturing Company erected along Tunxis Road, Tunxis Place, Red Hill Road, and Elm Street. The housing for mill hands was based on conventional Colonial gable-roofed central chimney structures. The high brick basements of these double houses, often fully above grade and therefore unusual, may simply have been a uniform response to the topography, since grade rises steadily from the bank of the Farmington River. The examples of this housing which are twice the usual size, to accommodate four families, resemble row houses, but their plan is two of the regular sized version rather than the repetition of a single unit plan as commonly found in row houses.
The architectural quality of the 1840s Tunxis Road Greek Revival mill houses for supervisors is outstanding. Their design incorporates both the characteristic Greek Revival feature of gable end facing the street in temple form and, in their side porches, the distinctive feature of tall fluted columns. These two types of mill houses standing now in their original position and in their original relationship to one another give an accurate sense of living conditions in the carpet manufacturing community of the first half of the 19th century.
The half-dozen Gothic Revival style houses reflect the widely distributed published work of contemporary Picturesque authors, notably A.J. Downing. The features found in the books, such as high steeply pitched gables, complex barge boards, paired arched windows, hood moldings, and board-and-batten siding, all are accurately portrayed in the Tariffville examples. These houses were fashionable, indicating that the community was actively aware of contemporary developments in taste. The fact that similar houses were erected in Thompsonville suggests a cultural relationship between the two carpet manufacturing communities.
The only architect of national stature known to have designed a building in Tariffville is Henry C. Dudley. A charter member of the American Institute of Architects, in which he later became a Fellow, Dudley was well known for his church work, particularly for three church buildings in Nashville, Tennessee. His Trinity Episcopal Church, Tariffville, the most architecturally distinguished building in the Tariffville Historic District, is in a fine state of preservation. In continuation of Mitchelson family benevolence to Trinity, Ariel Mitchelson, III, bequeathed $5,000 in 1924 to the parish and George Mitchelson defrayed the cost of the 1932 parish house.
The William Ketchin Tobacco Company warehouse at 7 Church Street is one of two brownstone buildings in Tariffville. (The other is the house at 22 Center Street.) Originally fanciful but modest with low towers and castellated roof lines, it has now been dramatically altered by adding a hipped roof of great volume supported by new heavy roof brackets in a modern salute to the Italianate style.
Alterations less dramatic than those carried out at the tobacco warehouse turned fire station have occurred at many houses in the district. New windows, siding, removal of trim, and additions abound. Some of the alterations have taken on significance in their own right, showing the historic development of architecture over time. One such example, the Ariel Mitchelson House, 45 Elm Street, probably started out as a central-chimney Colonial house. Over time it has received 2/2 sash, Italianate front and side porches, second-story three-sided bays on front and side elevations, and a long addition along the side street that has 8-over-1 Colonial Revival windows.
A significant component of the Tariffville Historic District, indicative of its village character and rural surroundings, is the large number of outbuildings still standing. There are some 55 contributing barns, sheds, coops, and garages in the Tariffville Historic District, 32 of them dating from the 19th century. The proliferation of outbuildings, continued historic shape and mass of the many houses despite alterations, and lack of intrusions, together with the historic structures of good integrity, successfully convey a sense of the 19th-century village of Tariffville, as it has adjusted to 20th-century change. The continued presence of the spaces between the buildings, which hold the district together, also contributes strongly to the sense of 19th-century integrity of Tariffville.
Atlas of Hartford City and County. Hartford: Baker & Tilden, 1869.
Barber, John Warner. Connecticut Historical Collections. New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1838.
Roth, Matthew. Connecticut: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites. Society for Industrial Archeology, 1981.
Simsbury Land Records 24/1425, 39/53, 39/61, 39/295, 52/107, 53/110, 53/218, 83/384, 83/389, 85/54, 85/377.
Staye, Marian G., and Clouette, Bruce. Historical and Architectural Survey of Tariffville, Statewide Historic Resources Inventory. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1992.
Vibert, William, M. Three Centuries of Simsbury. Simsbury: Simsbury Tercentenary Committee, 1970.
† David F. Ransom, architectural historian and John F. A. Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Tariffville Historic District, Simsbury, CT, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service,