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Meriden Avenue-Oakland Road Historic District


Charles W. Beckley House ca. 1897, 155 Meriden Avenue, Meriden Avenue-Oakland Road Historic District of Southington, CT, National Register

Photo: Charles W. Beckley House ca. 1897, 155 Meriden Avenue, Meriden Avenue-Oakland Road Historic District of Southington, CT. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Photographed by User:Sphilbrick (own work), 2010, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed November, 2014.

The Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District is a historic residential community located in south-central Southington, Connecticut, just to the south of the central business district. Meriden Avenue (Route 120), a busy thoroughfare, runs almost due north and south from Route 10 to Route 66, with the historic properties concentrated in the northern end from Oakland Road to the area of Hart Acre Road. Oakland Road (Route 364) extends from west to east from Meriden Avenue to Berlin Avenue where the district ends but the road continues as Berlin Street to Route 77.

Of 113 buildings in the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District, only 22 are non-contributing. The non-contributing buildings fall into two categories. Either they were constructed outside the period of significance of the district (1860-1936), or they have lost their historic integrity. There is only one in the latter category, a ca.1880 house so remodelled in 1984 as to completely obscure its historic character. The largest group of non-contributors are outbuildings built after 1936. A few modern houses are scattered through the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District, generally integrated with the historic streetscape in scale, setback, and style. Some recent modern construction has taken place at the rear of historic properties on undivided or sub-divided lots and is outside the district boundaries. Only two houses pre-date the period of significance of the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District. The one at 238 Meriden Avenue was moved there in 1959.

The historic properties date from 1860 to 1936 with most of the nineteenth century houses located on Meriden Avenue. Only two are found on Oakland Road, where an early twentieth century development known as Oakland Park was located. Ninety percent of the buildings there were constructed after 1913. All of the historic houses are wood frame construction with a variety of foundations: brick, stone, and rusticated concrete block. Except for the east side of Meriden Avenue, where the buildings are larger and set well back from the street, the houses are generally modest in scale with a uniform setback. Mature trees and sidewalks throughout the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District add to its historic residential character. The majority of properties contain outbuildings, barns, garages, and sheds, many of which are contemporary with the houses. An unusual number have retained their barns, a common nineteenth century component in urban residential areas but rarely found today. The older barns or stables have been converted to garages. Front porches are a common feature, although some have been enclosed. A limited number of owners have applied artificial siding. With few exceptions, this alteration has been accomplished in a sensitive manner.

The Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District contains examples of most of the major styles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, illustrating the variety of forms and architectural detail made possible by the Industrial Revolution. These range from the Italianate through the Bungaloid styles, both of which are well represented. Queen Anne and its later derivative, the "Free Classic" with its Colonial Revival features, along with the American Foursquare are also found here. Numerous representative examples of other types of the Colonial Revival include Georgian and Dutch Colonial, along with the Cape style.

The Italianate style ranges from simple vernacular interpretations, gable-to-street houses with round-arched, gable windows, to the larger cube-form version with a shallow-pitched hip roof. An example of the former version which has retained its original side porch is located at 156-158 Meriden Avenue. This house is the best example of at least four of this form and type on the west side of the street. One of the larger houses, 133 Meriden Avenue, is a good example of the latter form. With the exception of removal of the roof brackets, the house is intact with a wraparound porch with turned posts and sawn brackets. The windows display impost blocks and low-peaked caps. Similar features were used on the house at 107 Meriden Avenue. Here a large gabled wing has been added on the south side, with a porch extending from the front door around the recessed ell. The assessor's early date of 1807 for the house may indicate that an entire building was fully remodelled to its present appearance around 1870. It is more likely however, that the earlier building was demolished because the verticality of the form of this house is more characteristic of the late nineteenth century.

There is a limited influence of the Queen Anne style in the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District and found in the larger houses. Most examples are hybrids, combining one or more contemporary or succeeding styles. Two of the houses on Meriden Avenue contain both Queen Anne and Stick styles. The Twiss House is a large cross-gabled house built about 1880. Its exceptional millwork, applied detail, and embellished surfaces are presumed to be the work of the first owner (perhaps builder), Byron Twiss, who operated a wood-turning factory and sawmill. The star rosettes on the ogee molding under the eaves are a unique feature. Imbricated shingles, panelled barge boards, and quarter-round sunbursts are some of the other features. Another cross-plan house is more typically Queen Anne with Shingle style influence, with shingles laid in varying curved patterns in the gable peaks. Here too there is Colonial Revival influence in the Palladian window and the complex roof, essentially a hipped-roof with large intersecting gables.

Down the street at 173 Meriden Avenue, a truss and patterned shingles in the gable of the projecting central bay on this turn-of-the-century house are vestigial reminders of the Stick style. Cut-away corners of the projecting gable evoke the Queen Anne style but the symmetry of the house and its facade and veranda owe more to the Colonial Revival. A house to the north at 145 Meriden Avenue is similar but the projecting bay is replaced by an off-center pedimented pavilion. Its Colonial Revival veranda, with a curved corner, extends from the pavilion around the south elevation.

Two styles predominated in the twentieth century: the American Foursquare and the Bungaloid. Many unaltered examples of the American Foursquare can be found on both streets in the district. All can be identified by the essential cube form, hip roof, and truncated gabled dormers associated with this Colonial Revival style. Examples range in size from the smaller stylized version at 244 Meriden Avenue on the south end of the district to the more massive buildings such as 98 Meriden Avenue and 40 Oakland Road. The first example has an unusual enclosed front porch apparently original construction, as it has the same fenestration as the main block and the contemporary barn/garage: one-over-one sash with lancet-arched muntins in the upper sash. A larger, more formal version at the other end of the street has some Neo-Classical and Queen Anne influences. Its central projecting bay (similar to the one at 173 Meriden Avenue) has the pyramidal roof of a Queen Anne tower. The columned entry porch has a second-floor balustrade. An off-center Colonial Revival style portico distinguishes the Oakland Road example, an unusual but original feature.

Bungalows predominate on Oakland Road, with half of the historic twentieth century houses built in this form. Constructed in a limited time-frame (1913-1926), they are all small one-and-one-half story houses with a front porch under the sweep of the main roof. Differing stylistic influences individualize these houses, such as the exposed rafter ends of the Craftsman style or the Colonial Revival porch columns. Several shingled versions are quite deep with exaggerated cornice returns. Some of the porches have been enclosed, generally without compromising their historic character. For example, the battered, rubblestone porch supports at 87 Oakland Road have been left exposed by enclosing the porch behind them.

Significance

The Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road District, a late-nineteenth and early twentieth century residential neighborhood, distinguished by its exceptional integrity, cohesiveness, and state of preservation, contains several collections of exceptional architectural significance which have a distinctive style and form derived from the Queen Anne and Bungaloid styles. The Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District derives added significance as a tangible record of the development of an early middle-class neighborhood in Southington.

Architectural Significance

The Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road District is a remarkably intact historic district. Its historic residential character, totally free from commercial intrusion, is rarely found in an urban setting. The limited amount of modern residential infill in the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District blends in well with the historic streetscape by conforming to the scale and setback of the neighboring houses. An unusual number of the properties have associated historic barns or outbuildings, adding to the historic ambiance of the district. New residential infill has not had an adverse impact because of its location at the rear of historic properties (outside the district boundaries), so the rhythm of the historic streetscape is maintained. As all the existing building lots have been developed along the street front, the potential for further intrusion seems limited.

Although there is a historic progression from Meriden Avenue to Oakland Road, these major streets represent two quite different stages of development. This situation would have an adverse effect on the cohesiveness of the district were it not for the mitigating resonance of stylistic influence between the two components. For example, one architectural influence common to both streets is the Colonial Revival. Houses built under this stylistic umbrella are found on both streets; those which predate the period often display additions of this style. The distribution of the popular American Foursquare, one of the best preserved types in the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District, is a case in point. They add to the district's cohesiveness, with five examples almost evenly spaced along each street. As a group they are exceptionally well-preserved; several are individually distinguished.

Two other groups of houses have great distinction because of their degree of style or commonality of type. The larger turn-of-the-century residences on the east side of Meriden Avenue are a diverse but remarkably cohesive group. Similar in massing and scale, with an exceptional degree of architectural integrity, they are unique adaptations of the popular styles of the period. Eschewing some of the eccentricities found in this period, these houses are substantial and markedly conservative interpretations of the Queen Anne style, strongly influenced by the solidity, symmetry, and classic detail of the Colonial Revival. It is in this section of the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District where the largest concentration of historic outbuildings are located. The conversion of some of the barns to garages has not detracted from their contribution to the individual historic properties, or the district as a whole.

The second group of houses is the exceptionally large concentration of Bungalows on Oakland Road. More modest in scale and clearly a product of the twentieth century, they are sited closer together, generally on smaller lots. Although the range of architectural form is limited by the style, the diversity of this group is exceptional; no two are exactly alike. While there has been some enclosure of porches or use of artificial siding on these houses, their state of preservation as a whole is still quite creditable with some exceptionally well-preserved examples.

Historical Significance

The Meriden Avenue/ Oakland Road District was one of the first middle-class residential neighborhoods in Southington. An exceptionally close-knit community, it was integrated by social, familial, and professional ties. Prominent citizens of Southington, including several generations of related families, who were leaders in the town's industrial development and civic affairs built their homes there. Several were officers of companies specializing in metal fabrication, Southington's chief industry from 1850 until well into the twentieth century.

Moses Beckley, who built his Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style house at 145 Meriden Avenue about 1880, was the treasurer of Peck, Stow & Wilcox. The company was founded by tinware maker Seth Peck about 1815, the first to successfully mechanize the production of tinware. With the merger of three similar firms in 1870, Peck, Stow & Wilcox became one of Southington's largest industries. By the late nineteenth century, it produced a full range of metal household products, edge tools, hardware, and machine parts. Moses Beckley was also an incorporator of another important business, the Southington Cutlery Company.

His son Charles Beckley, a masonry contractor, built his Queen Anne style house about 20 years later nearby at 155 Meriden Avenue. The second owner of this house was Sam Bowers, a civil engineer of some renown, the manager of the Southington Water Works.

Another officer of the Southington Cutlery Company, John Gridley, lived a few doors away at 107 Meriden Avenue. Gridley may have been responsible for the Italianate alterations to this house or its rebuilding in this style. He also owned a mercantile business just down the street at the corner of Main Street and Berlin Avenue. The last known nineteenth-century factory owner to live in the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District was the second owner of the Byron Twiss House, David Pratt. Pratt established a small castor factory powered by an overshot water wheel about 1860. The house was inherited by his son Frank, who eventually built his own house across the street at 119 Meriden Avenue, a substantial American Foursquare. Pratt, 63 when he built this latter house, was already an established merchant and druggist on Main Street, president of the Southington Board of Trade, and director of several companies, including the Southington Cutlery and Pulz-Walkley (paper bag manufacturers). Active in town affairs, he also served in the state legislature in the 1880s.

Another industrialist, Frank Wells, lived at the south end of the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District in a house he had built shortly after he succeeded his father as president of Beaton and Corbin Company (still in business today). His American Foursquare, somewhat smaller than the others in the district, is exceptionally well preserved. He was also a member of the state legislature and active in town affairs.

Professionals such as Dr. Thomas R. Ralston also made their home in the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District. A dentist for 50 years in the town, he originally came from Canada and married Ethel Wells, the daughter of Albert, the treasurer of Beaton Corbin, and Frank Well's niece. His house stands at the head of the Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District, an imposing American Foursquare.

Some of the prominent men who lived on Oakland Road included Frank H. Barnes, who built his well-preserved American Foursquare right after World War I. He was president of the Southington Lumber & Feed Company (now Diamond Lumber), a firm founded by his father. He too was a state representative and served on town boards. Another purchaser of property in the Oakland Park Development was James Upson, an officer of the Southington Savings Bank. He bought two lots to build an unusual Bungalow at 56 Oakland Road.

References

Atwater, Francis, comp. History of Southington, Connecticut. Meriden: Journal Press, 1924.

Bowers, Samuel J. "The First 100 Years of the Southington Water Works." Southington, n.d.

Commemorative Biographical Record of Hartford County, Connecticut. Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1901.

Directory of Southington's Old Homes. Southington; Southington Historical Society, n.d.

Maps:

Atlas of Hartford City and County. Hartford: Baker & Tilden, 1869.

"Aerial View of Southington, Connecticut." New York: Hughes & Bailey, 1914.

  1. Jan Cunningham, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Meriden Avenue/Oakland Road Historic District, Southington Connecticut, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Meriden Avenue-Oakland Road Historic District Map

Street Names
Meriden Avenue • Meriden Avenue • Oakland Road

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