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Terrys Plain Historic District


John Terry House, ca. 1780, Terry's Plain Historic District, Simsbury, CT, National Register

Photo: John Terry House, ca. 1780, Terry's Plain Historic District, Simsbury, CT. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Photographed by User:Sphilbrick (own work), 2010, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed October, 2015.

The Terry's Plain 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.

Description

Terry's Plain Historic District is an historic rural landscape characterized by extensive open fields, 13 historic houses that once were part of farm complexes, and 14 major agricultural outbuildings ranging from two-bay open sheds to large tobacco barns. The fields range in size from about 10 to 40 acres and are either plowed for the cultivation of vegetables, corn, or other crops, or else overgrown with grass. The thick, even growth of timothy that characterizes some of the grassy open land suggests that it may have been producing hay not long ago. At the northern edge of the Terry's Plain Historic District, where the State of Connecticut operates a wildlife sanctuary, and in part of the space between Ferry Lane and Terry's Plain roads, the fields are somewhat more overgrown, with the meadows becoming filled in with a variety of bushes and small trees, including species such as phragmites where the land is marshy. The Terry's Plain Historic District encompasses slightly more than 300 acres. Located on the east side of the Farmington River, it occupies a broad level terrace between a large meander in the river and Talcott Mountain, part of the Metacomet Ridge. The soil here is a red sandy loam created by glacial erosion of the sandstone bedrock and periodic deposition from flooding of the Farmington River.

Circulation networks include two-lane paved public roads, with Terry's Plain Road, Goodrich Road, and Ferry Lane forming a large rectangle in the middle of the district; Pharos Road, an unpaved one-lane town road which runs along the northeast edge of the district; and numerous cart paths or field roads running along the perimeters of fields. There are few fences in the Terry's Plain Historic District, either between fields or separating fields from the roads; those that do exist along the field roads are of post and wire construction. Neither ditches nor tree lines appear as field separators, and there are only a few relatively young shade trees (and one exceptionally large growth of sumac) along the edges of the roads. Evidence from the 1930s (Fairchild Aerial Survey) indicates that even in the historic period, there were very few large trees along the roads, though, as today, there were shade trees around the houses. The only exception was one short row of trees (probably elms, to judge by one ailing survivor) on the north side of Terry's Plain Road at the western edge of the district.

The Terry's Plain Historic District's historic houses are spaced at fairly even intervals along the public roads. They are generally sited close to the road and, in most cases, there are nearby barns or other agricultural outbuildings. The houses date from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Wood-frame construction and clapboarded exteriors predominate, with some wood-shingled houses as well. Many of the foundations of the houses are made of locally quarried red sandstone. Most of the houses represent vernacular architecture with limited stylistic detail, though there are also well-preserved examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, and Colonial Revival styles, with characteristic ornament such as molded cornices and pilastered entry treatments.

The Terry's Plain Historic District's many barns include traditional three-bay hay barns, with the main doors in the center bay of the broad side; Victorian-period barns with cupolas, arched windows, and end doors; and large tobacco-curing barns characterized by sides of movable slats. The barns' exteriors are mostly covered with vertical boards, though there is also one with clapboard siding. Many of the barns are built on slopes so that there is access at grade to more than one level.

Much of the land included in the Terry's Plain Historic District is still used for agriculture or was taken out of agricultural production relatively recently. The barns are less actively in use. Many appear to be primarily serving as non-agricultural storage or, in the case of the tobacco barns, to be suffering from neglect.

Scattered throughout the Terry's Plain Historic District are ten modern houses, generally large and of contemporary design and set back far from the road. The construction of these homes has changed the physical layout and visual qualities of Terry's Plain Historic District; however, the area still retains a preponderance of historic houses and open land with an agricultural appearance. The other five noncontributing buildings are garages and other outbuildings that are less than 50 years old.

Historical markers identify several sites of significant activity no longer represented by standing structures. These include a sign at the corner of Goodrich and Ferry roads marking the site of the first settler's house, dating back to 1660; another recounting the ferry, dating from 1666, that crossed the Farmington River at this point; and a large oak tree, known as the "Constitution Oak," located at the intersection of Terry's Plain Road and Ferry Lane. The oak was planted by Joseph L. Bartlett, Simsbury's representative at the 1902 Constitutional Convention. Other markers are planned for the site of the colonial militia training ground west of Terry's Plain Road and the 1804 Terry's Plain district schoolhouse, which stood on the south side of Terry's Plain Road just west of its intersection with Wintonbury Road. This site had been used for educational purposes as early as 1701, when the Town of Simsbury established a school in Terry's Plain.

The boundary of the Terry's Plain Historic District follows property lines along Terry's Plain Road and then follows the Farmington River on the northern and western sides of the district. The boundary includes a large farm on Quarry Road because its fields extend west to Terry's Plain Road, providing both physical and visual continuity with the rest of the district. Areas of modern suburban-type residential development provide edges for the district on the east and west, on Terry's Plain Road. Similar modern residential development made further extension of the district along side roads inappropriate. The southern edge approximates the beginning of the steeply rising land of the Metacomet Ridge.

Significance

Terry's Plain Historic District is significant as an historic rural landscape because its open fields and present or former farmhouses reflect the agricultural development of the Central Valley area of Connecticut. The broad, level, and fertile valleys of the Farmington and Connecticut rivers, with their distinctive red-brown glacial and alluvial soils, were exploited for agriculture by Europeans from the earliest days of their settlement, serving for grazing, hay production, tillage for a variety of crops, and, eventually, commercial dairy and tobacco production. All of these activities are still evident in the fields and barns of Terry's Plain, as is the overall colonial settlement pattern of scattered family farms. The Terry's Plain Historic District also has significance as a concentration of historic architecture. Many of the houses at Terry's Plain represent well-preserved examples of particular types of architecture, including the traditional 18th-century center-chimney form and the Federal, Greek Revival, and Colonial Revival styles.

Historical Development

Flanked by the steep Metacomet Ridge on the east and by the Farmington River on the west, the flat, level land of Terry's Plain provided rich fertile soil for several centuries. The land began to attract people from nearby towns in the late 17th century, and Terry's Plain became one of the first-settled areas in the Town of Simsbury, which was incorporated in 1670. The Farmington River bisected Simsbury, so town institutions were duplicated on both sides of the river. Terry's Plain, located at an early ferry crossing, was the site of town meetings, including the first one held in 1671, until a permanent place for meetings was completed on the west side; training days for the Simsbury "Traine Band" or militia, which drilled on the field on the west side of Terry's Plain Road starting in 1683; and, with the term that began on January 1, 1702, a public school.

Terry's Plain takes its name from John Terry, who in 1677 bought land there formerly owned by Aaron Cook, the first settler. Since the entire town had been burned the previous year during King Philip's War, Terry could be considered the area's first permanent resident. A map of Simsbury prepared in 1738 shows about a half dozen houses in the vicinity, which it designated as "Terry's Meadow." By the middle of the 19th century, the number of houses had increased to about a dozen, scattered along the major roads running through the district. Many of the families in the area were related through intermarriage, with Terrys, Goodriches, and Cases prominent names throughout the 19th century; in fact, members of the Case family still reside in Terry's Plain.

Although land in the Central Valley, including Terry's Plain, is much more level and free of rocks than most Connecticut farmland, there is no evidence that the type of farming practiced by the early families differed much from the generalized, close to subsistence agriculture that characterized Connecticut as a whole throughout the 18th and most of the 19th centuries. Statistics from the 1850 federal census provide the first detailed description of agriculture at Terry's Plain and substantiate the persistence of small-scale family farming to that date. The farms were small, typically under 50 acres; the largest farm in 1850, that belonging to Lucius Goodrich, had only 90 improved acres. Most farms had a single draft horse, two milking cows, and a few pigs. Even so, much of the farmers' efforts went into producing hay and feed for their animals. The farms were self-sufficient only in a community-wide sense. For example, few of Terry's Plain's farms had oxen, so residents must have hired their neighbors' teams (Lucius Goodrich had two teams of oxen) for plowing, harrowing, and other heavy draft work. Most families appear to have had small apple orchards, confirming local oral traditions of cider mills at several of the farms. The only market-oriented production evident in 1850 were the 300 pounds of butter and 300 pounds of cheese produced by Lucius Goodrich's four cows.

After the Civil War, agriculture in Terry's Plain changed dramatically. By 1870 virtually every farm was producing broadleaf tobacco for cigar wrappers. Since tobacco was labor and capital-intensive but used little land, all the area's farmers, large and small, were able to take advantage of the new crop. Farmers with small holdings such as Roswell Terry (41 acres total) and Calvin N. Goodrich (32 acres) were able to grow 600 and 1,550 pounds, respectively, while larger landowners such as Joseph L. Bartlett (117 acres) raised several thousand pounds each. Lucius Goodrich alone grew 14,600 pounds that year, nearly a fifth of Simsbury's entire crop. Most farms continued to keep a few cows, pigs, and horses and to grow corn, hay, apples, and potatoes, since only a few acres were needed for their cash crop; the farms of Joseph Bartlett (5 cows) and Lucius Goodrich (12 cows) probably produced dairy products for market as well. In addition to his income from dairy and tobacco production, Bartlett profited from his activity as a dealer, marketing the tobacco grown by his neighbors. The builder of the large, stylish Victorian barn at the corner of Ferry Lane and Terry's Plain Road, Bartlett represented Simsbury at the 1902 Constitutional Convention.[1]

In its rapid turn to tobacco production, the farms of Terry's Plain mirrored the course of agriculture in the entire Central Valley area of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Tobacco had been grown in Simsbury as early as 1825 but, as throughout the area, it remained a garden or hobby crop until a surge in the popularity of cigar smoking around the time of the Civil War (in 1850 only two Simsbury farmers, neither of them residents of Terry's Plain, grew tobacco). The soil of the Central Valley was found to be especially productive for this type of tobacco, and farmers throughout the region seized upon the opportunity to grow a cash crop. Although the tobacco was at first cured in ordinary barns, a specialized structure soon evolved to better control the light, heat, and humidity that affected the ultimate flavor of the tobacco as it cured. Tobacco barns — long, low buildings with movable slats for siding (there were many variations, with the horizontal slats found at Terry's Plain appearing about 1910) — soon dotted the landscape of the Central Valley, with one barn for every few acres of tobacco.

The fortunes of Connecticut broadleaf declined at the end of the 19th century, when lighter-colored imported Sumatran wrappers gained favor. However, the discovery of shade-grown cultivation in 1896, by means of which tobacco grown under gauze would develop a thin, light-colored leaf that could compete with imports, allowed a new lease on life for Connecticut tobacco farmers; Terry's Plain farmers adopted the new technique as early as 1901. Although shade-grown cultivation produced fewer pounds per acre, the dollar value of shade-grown was more than 2-1/2 times higher. It also was even more capital and labor-intensive. As a result, there were fewer growers in the business, each of whom bought or leased a large amount of land. In Terry's Plain, growers such as A.T. Pattison operated large farms, employing up to 75 people, mostly local teenagers, to tend and harvest shade-grown tobacco. During the 1920s, Pattison bought up several nearby farms to add to his operation. By the 1930s, virtually all the land in the central part of the district was under shade. Shade-grown tobacco remained a viable crop until after World War II, when cigar smoking fell off rapidly. Today, only a small remnant of the industry survives. For many people who grew up in the area, however, the memory of one or more summers working the tobacco fields remains vivid, and though decreasing in numbers every year, tobacco barns such as those at Terry's Plain stand as monuments to an important chapter of Connecticut's agricultural history.

Architectural Significance

The historic houses of Terry's Plain Historic District embody the distinctive characteristics of several different architectural periods and styles. Traditional 18th-century New England domestic architecture is represented by three houses that display defining features of the type, such as a five-bay form, clapboarded exterior, and small-pane divided sash; in addition to the usual center-chimney plan, one house has the end-chimney plan that came into common use at the end of the 18th century. Federal-style architecture, with its emphasis on delicate Classical and geometric designs, is epitomized by the Lucius Goodrich House in its fanlight, based on the ellipse, and the slender proportions of its entry pilasters. The bolder proportions of the Greek Revival, with its more rectilinear forms, is illustrated by several of the district's houses, which either originally or as modifications of older dwellings exhibit such typical Greek Revival features as pilaster-and-lintel doorways, full cornice returns to produce a pediment effect at the gables, and rectangular attic-story windows. The house at 100 Terry's Plain Road embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Colonial Revival style, hearkening back to early American precedents, both 18th-century and Federal, with its symmetrical facade, divided sash, fanlights, and pedimented entrance. Other houses in the Terry's Plain Historic District are less clearly identifiable by style but still have some detail, such as the intricate shingle patterns and turned porch posts of the Victorian houses, that indicate their date of construction. Taken together, these houses illustrate how Terry's Plain evolved through the centuries. Along with the Terry's Plain Historic District's fields and barns, they constitute a distinctive agricultural landscape, once common in Connecticut, but today rapidly disappearing.

Endnote

  1. The Constitutional Convention of 1902 was called in order to create a system of proportional representation that would redress the legislature's tremendous small-town bias, which caused one wit to dub Connecticut "The State Ruled by its Uninhabited Country Towns." Joseph L. Bartlett was instrumental in leading the opposition against any such change, and the insipid compromise finally agreed upon by the Convention was overwhelmingly rejected by the voters. Not until the 1960s was the legislature restructured, and then only after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Connecticut was in violation of the fundamental democratic principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution.

References

Barber, Lucius I. A Record and Documentary History of Simsbury. Simsbury: The Abigail Phelps Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1931.

Ellsworth, John E. The History of Simsbury; A Brief Historical Sketch. Simsbury: The Simsbury Committee for the Tercentenary, 1935.

McDonald, Adrian F. The History of Tobacco Production in Connecticut. Connecticut Tercentenary Commission Publication No. 52. New Haven Yale University Press, 1936.

Phelps, Noah A. History of Simsbury, Granby and Canton from 1642-1845. Hartford: Case, Tiffany and Burnham, 1845.

Simsbury, Town of. Report of the Terry's Plain Historic District Study Committee, 1991.

Trumbull, J. Hammond, ed. Memorial History of Hartford County. Boston Edward J. Osgood Publisher, 1886.

Vibert, William. Three Centuries of Simsbury; 1670-1970. Simsbury: Simsbury Tercentenary Committee, 1970.

U.S. Census Office. Census of Agriculture, manuscript schedules, 1850- 1870. Connecticut State Library, Hartford.

U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Soil Survey. Hartford County. Connecticut. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1962.

† Bruce Clouette & Maura Cronin, consultants and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Terry's Plain Historic District, Simsbury, CT, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Terrys Plain Historic District Map

Street Names
Ferry Lane • Goodrich Road • Quarry Road • Terrys Plain Road

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