Plantsville Historic District
The Plantsville 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 documetn.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Plantsville Historic District, located in Southington, Connecticut, encompasses approximately 116 acres. Formerly known as "Pearl's Corners," Plantsville developed at the junction of roads leading from Farmington to Waterbury and from Bristol to New Haven (present day Main, South Main, and West Main Streets). The Plantsville Historic District contains a mixture of industrial, commercial, and residential architecture.
At the center of the Plantsville Historic District are several industrial complexes that were home to Southington's prosperous hardware industry which flourished in the mid and late nineteenth century. These manufacturing buildings are located along the Quinnipiac River and Penn Central Railroad (formerly the New Haven and Northhampton Railroad) that bisects the district and along the Eight Mile River that runs through the western edge of the district. A strip of commercial architecture runs east-west along Main and West Main Streets, connecting the Plantsville Historic District's two main residential concentrations. These areas are centered around the Plantsville Congregational Church on Church Street and the former Plantsville Baptist Church (now Faith Living Church) on Grove Street. A substantial strip of residential architecture also extends northward along Summer Street (formerly Water Street) near the course of the Quinnipiac River.
The land in the Quinnipiac River flood plain is level; the terrain rises to the hills on Prospect Street and Summer Street on the north side of the district, and to Hillside Avenue and Grove Street on the south side.
The Plantsville Historic District contains 248 buildings, of which 221 contribute to its architectural and historical significance. Of the 248 buildings, 166 are primary buildings — residences, stores, churches, and manufacturing facilities — and 82 are secondary buildings consisting primarily of barns and garages. Most of the Plantsville Historic District's buildings date from 1820 to 1935.
Eleven different formal architectural styles can be identified in 99 of the Plantsville Historic District's buildings. The most prevalent style is Italianate, with 26 buildings, followed by Queen Anne (21), Colonial Revival (19), Victorian Gothic (8), Greek Revival (6), Bungalow/Craftsman (6), Shingle Style (5), Second Empire (3), Gothic Revival (2), Stick Style (2), and Late Gothic Revival (1). Primary buildings classified as "vernacular" or "no style" number 78, while 81 secondary buildings are identified.
The majority of buildings in the Plantsville Historic District are single-family dwellings and their associated barns, garages, and other outbuildings. A number of single-family houses have been converted to multi-family dwellings, though with little or no change to the character of the buildings. Many of the houses such as those of Summer, West, Prospect and Elm Streets are located on deep lots with large setbacks. Streets such as Church, Grove, and South Main have smaller (but not crowded) lots. The houses in Plantsville typically display wood clapboard or shingle sheathing; flushboard and board-and-batten siding are also found. Wooden decorative elements such as bargeboards, brackets, and trusses are plentiful in the late nineteenth-century houses. A few of the barns and garages are embellished with architectural detail such as brackets, bargeboards, and cupolas, but most outbuildings are unadorned.
Most of the houses are two stories in height, although one-story bungalows and cottages are scattered throughout the district. An occasional three-level tower rises above the average two-story height. The majority of houses are in good to excellent repair, with almost 100% occupancy throughout the district. Some have been altered with aluminum siding, enclosed porches, or new windows; however, most maintain a high degree of architectural integrity. The houses have well-tended lawns with mature deciduous and fir trees and abundant shrubbery.
The industrial architecture is located in the Quinnipiac River and Eight Mile River flood plains. Most of these nineteenth and early twentieth century manufacturing complexes are currently occupied for industrial purposes or storage. The buildings range in height from one to four stories, and are constructed primarily of brick. Detailing such as brick corbelling, wooden brackets, and scrollwork embellished these otherwise utilitarian, vernacular industrial buildings. Many have newer aluminum or metal shed additions. Large paved areas surround most of the structures to facilitate parking, loading, and shipping functions.
Plantsville's early commercial buildings consist of storefronts added to older dwellings. Many of the buildings have a gable-front orientation and are tightly spaced along the two main streets. Most commercial buildings are two or three stories, with commercial use of the first floor and residential, office, or meeting space occupying the upper levels. Brick and wood are the most common building materials. Most commercial buildings have little or no setback from the sidewalk, and little landscaping is evident. One public open space is found in the Plantsville Historic District — a small park located on Hillside Avenue between Grove and Maple Streets.
Plantsville's six Greek Revival buildings illustrate a variety of forms common to the style. The Timothy Higgins House (1828) at 103 West Street uses the common form of a two-story, three-bay rectangular block with gable-front orientation, while the Samuel Clark House (c.1840) at 67 West Street employs a square main block with a pyramidal roof. The C.B. Cowles Store (1848) on West Main Street, with its gable-front orientation is an example of Greek Revival-style commercial architecture.
A fully developed example of the Gothic Revival style is illustrated by the Plantsville Congregational Church (1866) on Church Street, designed by Josiah Cleveland Cady.
The Plantsville Historic District's 26 Italianate buildings reflect the major variations of the style. The William Clark House (c.1860) at 40 Cowles Avenue is an example of a three-bay, square block house with a shallow hipped roof and centered one-story belvedere cupola. The Charles B. Cowles House (1873) at 35 Church Street employs a T-plan with a steeply pitched gable roof. The decorative bargeboards with acorn motif pendants reflects the influence of the Gothic Revival style. An example of Italianate style applied to commercial architecture is the John Collins Store at 756-762 Main Street (1840/1870).
The Twichell/Ward House (1863) at 78 West Street provides an example of the Second Empire style. The house is dominated by its unusually broad and flared mansard roof and corner tower. The presence of dormers with steep gable roofs, carved bargeboards and pierced gable screens indicates the influence of the Gothic Revival style.
The Plantsville Historic District contains eight Victorian buildings with strong Gothic influence. The seven residential examples possess elaborate decorative elements such as gable trusses and pierced screens contrasting simple plans and sheathings. A typical example is the James Brewer House (1866) at 302 Summer Street. An example of a simple Victorian Gothic cottage is found at 33 Church Street (c.1865).
The 21 Queen Anne style buildings located in the Plantsville Historic District well illustrate the style's characteristic features — complexity of plan, asymmetry, combinations of exterior sheathings, and ornamentation. The William Cummings House (c.1890) at 28 Elm Street, with its highly asymmetrical plan and slender, two-story oriel with steeply flared roof and elaborate finial is the Plantsville Historic District's most complete example. A simpler, more vernacular expression of the style can be found at 28 Grove Street (c.1890).
A large stock of Colonial Revival buildings, most of which are simple, vernacular expressions of the style are present in the Plantsville Historic District. An example of the Dutch Colonial style which employs the gambrel roof is found at 100 Church Street (c.1920). The most unusual Colonial Revival building is an early gas station at 740 Main Street (c.1910).
The six Bungalow/Craftsman style houses located in the Plantsville Historic District illustrate the style's advocacy of simplicity in design, use of natural materials and a return to hand craftsmanship. The bungalow at 38 Elm Street (c.1920), with its simple plan, broad pitched roof, exposed rafters and cobblestone chimney is an example.
Fifty-six primary buildings are not classified by a specific style. The residential architecture so identified is mostly two-story, wood-framed houses with minimal architectural detail. Industrial complexes range from the sprawling unembellished brick buildings of the Blakeslee Forging Company (1912) to the more decorative and refined H.D. Smith and Co. office (1882) on West Street.
The Plantsville Historic District is architecturally significant because of the outstanding quality, diversity, and high degree of preservation of its 258 buildings. The Plantsville Historic District's architecture documents the growth and development of a nineteenth-century industrial community. It contains excellent examples of eleven different architectural styles (plus vernacular examples) popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Plantsville Historic District contains many highly intact streetscapes. Included in the district is the Plantsville Congregational Church (1866), a Gothic Revival church designed by nationally prominent architect Josiah Cleveland Cady. It ranks as one of Connecticut's best examples of the Gothic Revival style. The Plantsville Historic District also includes remaining manufacturing buildings and complexes which gave Plantsville its industrial base.
The Plantsville Historic District is one of the finest concentrations of nineteenth century architecture in Southington. Contained in the Plantsville Historic District are all the architectural components of a nineteenth century industrial community — the manufacturing complexes, the houses of the industrialists and workers, and Plantsville's stores, churches and social halls. The Plantsville Historic District's architecture rivals or surpasses the concentrations of buildings at Southington Center which developed in a similar manner during the nineteenth century. In terms of the quality and quantity of architecture from that period, it surpasses Southington's other sub-centers of Marion and Milldale. The Plantsville Historic District's state of preservation is excellent, with the majority of the houses in very good condition and most of the original settlement pattern maintained.
The outstanding architectural quality of the Plantsville Historic District arises in part from the breadth and variety of styles represented. Included in the Plantsville Historic District are many fine Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne, Stick Style, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, Late Gothic Revival and Bungalow/Craftsman style buildings as well as many examples of vernacular architecture.
The Plantsville Historic District's Greek Revival buildings are well preserved and illustrate a variety of the forms and expressions of the style. Three of the houses, the Timothy Higgins House, the Samuel Clark House and the Charles B. Cowles House are individually outstanding Greek Revival residences with fine, classically inspired detailing and proportions. The C.B. Cowles store on 83 West Main Street, though unfortunately altered on the first-floor facade, is an excellent example of a Greek Revival-style commercial buildings, with a second-floor meeting hall. Serving as a gathering place for community, religious, and social events, this hall played a significant role in Plantsville's development.
The Plantsville Congregational Church is the one building in the Plantsville Historic District designed by an architect of national prominence. Josiah Cleveland Cady (1837-1919), a New York-based architect, designed a highly sophisticated and refined Gothic Revival church. It is notable for its expansive proportions and the refined detailing of its steeple tower, stained glass windows and extensive decorative elements. The corner steeple tower with open belfry and complex, two-stage roof, is its most distinctive feature. The gable peak collar braces and trusses, clerestory dormer windows, and stickwork contribute to its picturesque quality. Cady designed educational and institutional buildings on the campuses of Yale University and Trinity, Wesleyan and Williams Colleges. His most notable commissions included the original Metropolitan Opera House (1881-84) and the 77th Street Main Building of the American Museum of Natural History (1891-1908) in New York.
The Plantsville Historic District's numerous Italianate buildings provide excellent examples of the major plan variations in the style, including the three-bay square block, T-plan, L-plan, and Italian Villa. The William Clark House is a fine example of a two-story square block house with a centered one-story cupola belvedere and decorative porch detailing. The Charles Cowles House, a T-plan Italianate residence, illustrates with its steeply pitched roof and decorative bargeboards, the influence of the Gothic Revival on the Italianate style. With its three-story corner tower, the George Allen House provides a good example of the Italian Villa.
Seven excellent examples of Victorian residences with strong Gothic influence, characterized by their elaborate decorative elements such as gable trusses, pierced screens, and detailed porches, are found in the Plantsville Historic District. The former Plantsville Baptist Church is a highly exuberant example of a Victorian church with Gothic influence; its heavier detailing is typical of the style.
Another individually notable building is the Twichell/Ward House, an impressive Second Empire style residence with an unusually broad and flared mansard roof and corner tower. Much of its fine detailing — dormers with steep gable roofs, carved bargeboard, and pierced gable screens — is inspired by the Gothic Revival, making the house a unique expression of the Second Empire style.
Plantsville's 21 Queen Anne style buildings run the gamut from the highly complex and sophisticated to the simple vernacular interpretation of the style. The William Cummings House with its complex, asymmetrical plan and distinctive two-story corner oriel with steep, flared roof, is perhaps one of Southington's finest Queen Anne style houses. The more modestly scaled and detailed house at 28 Grove Street captures the spirit of the Queen Anne style through its simple asymmetric massing and use of restrained detailing (e.g., sunburst motif fan on porch and imbricated shingles). Even outbuildings such as the carriage house of the William Cummings House and the barn at 825 South Main Street are clear expressions of the Queen Anne style.
The large stock of Colonial Revival buildings represents a number of variations on the style. Included among these is a rare, early gas station (c.1910). This unique metal building, though presently unused, is mostly intact and counts as one of the Plantsville Historic District's most unique architectural treasures.
Though few in number, the Plantsville Historic District's Shingle style, Stick style and Bungalow/ Craftsman style houses all provide solid examples of buildings which typify those styles.
Though not belonging to a specific stylistic category, Plantsville's vernacular industrial buildings constitute a highly significant architectural resource. (Most of these buildings are included in a separate thematic resource nomination of industrial complexes in Southington.) Constructed on the former site of the Plant Manufacturing Co., the Blakeslee Forging Company complex is an excellent example of the vernacular brick architecture of its time and typifies the manufacturing complexes that played a key role in the development of Plantsville. The Solomon Stow Factory (1853), which began as a small tool manufacturing plant, later served as the office for the extensive Peck, Stow and Wilcox complex in Plantsville. The H.D. Smith & Co. office, with its cupola and S motif scrollwork incorporated into the design of the porch, demonstrates a more embellished style of industrial architecture.
In addition to the high quality and integrity of the architecture, the Plantsville Historic District contains many visually intact streetscapes of outstanding quality. Church Street, portions of Summer Street, West Main Street, West Street, Grove Street, and Hillside Avenue contain long rows of residential architecture characterized by similar-scale, setbacks, materials, and landscaping. The uniformly fine detailing and the extensive use of wood clapboard and shingle sheathing add to the cohesiveness of the district. The small number of non-contributing resources in the Plantsville Historic District results in a strong sense of time and place.
The Plantsville Historic District is distinguished from its surroundings by the age of the buildings and the quality and integrity of the architecture. Throughout the district, Plantsville's original development pattern is still very apparent. (This is documented by the 1869 Baker and Tilden Atlas of Hartford and Hartford County.) The remaining manufacturing complexes along the Quinnipiac River show its industrial base, with residential concentrations located around the two nineteenth-century churches on either side of the industrial core. The commercial strip of Main and West Main Streets runs east-west across the district.
The Plantsville Historic District has been affected by the demolition of historic structures and the construction of modern infill structures. Infill is evident on the block bounded by Elm, Cowles, Summer and Prospect Streets, which formerly contained a quasi-public park on the Walkely property. Much of this area has been excluded from the district. The Plantsville Historic District contains only a handful of infill houses. In the residential sections, the historic scale and setbacks have been maintained, mitigating the impact of the infill buildings. In some cases, the newer buildings are Colonial Revival style houses that are less than 50 years old (therefore listed as non-contributing resources), but are compatible with the architecture of the district. In the commercial area, a small number of buildings are modern and a few of the older buildings are classified as non-contributing resources because of extensive or inappropriate alterations.
Interest in historic preservation in Southington is growing, with the Southington Historical Society as the main organization involved. Evidence of a growing interest in preservation and restoration among homeowners is indicated by the number of nineteenth century buildings which have recently received a polychromatic paint scheme. Because of the large number of industrial complexes built in Plantsville, a number of which were constructed on the site of earlier manufacturing facilities that were destroyed by flood or fire, there is (historical) archeological potential in Plantsville, especially in the area of industrial archeology.
Plantsville grew from a sparsely populated section of Southington (at the beginning of the nineteenth century) to a village which came to rival Southington Center by the turn of the century. Known originally as "the Corners" or "Pearl's Corner," Plantsville developed at the junction of the roads leading from Farmington to Waterbury and from Bristol to New Haven.
Some of Plantsville's earliest enterprises included a horn comb factory operated by Orrin Pearl, a dry goods store opened by Joel Root, and a tavern located on the southeast corner of the intersection of Main and South Main Streets. In 1823, Timothy Higgins opened a tannery on Prospect Street.
Plantsville's identity as an industrial center began to take shape in 1842 when the Plant Brothers, A.H. Plant and E.M. Plant harnessed the water power of the Quinnipiac River to operate a factory for the manufacture of carriage bolts. The Plants Manufacturing Company, originally located on the west bank of the Quinnipiac River north of Main Street, introduced several innovations to the carriage bolt industry.
In 1847, Solomon Stow opened a factory which produced machines for the shaping and joining of tin. In 1870, Solomon Stow merged his company with Seth Peck ¤ Co. in Southington and Roys and Wilcox & Co. in Berlin and expanded their product line to include housewares, tools and general hardware. By the turn of the century, Peck, Stow & Wilcox employed over 850 men in its Southington and Berlin factories.
The H.D. Smith & Co. hardware works began in the 1850's as a supplier to New Haven area carriage makers. H.D. Smith moved his operation from Meriden to Plantsville, where he leased quarters until the construction of the H.D. Smith £ Co. complex on West Street. At the turn of the century, production shifted to bicycle parts and in the early twentieth century it produced tool kits for automobiles. Other important Plantsville industries included the Blakeslee Forging Company, Atwater Mills, and the Hurwood Company.
Residential and commercial growth accompanied the industrial development in the mid and late nineteenth century. Commercial establishments such as the C.B. Cowles Store and the John Collins Store were established on Main and West Main Streets. The opening of Plantsville's own railroad station and post office helped develop its identity as a village. And, the founding of Plantsville's churches and social organizations further reinforced its identity. In 1863, members of the Southington Congregational Church met with the intention of forming a Plantsville Congregation. They began meeting in Cowles Hall (above Cowles Store) on Main Street and in 1866 construction was begun on the Plantsville Congregational Church, designed by Josiah Cleveland Cady.
In 1873, the Plantsville Baptist Church was established and a church building constructed. In the early twentieth century, Plantsville's growing Polish community organized Holy Trinity Church, an independent parish with a priest who spoke Polish. The congregation met in Taylor's Store until the church buildings was constructed in 1914. The Immaculate Conception Church was built in 1916, with the congregation worshipping in the Falcon's Hall prior to the completion of their church building.
During the early and mid twentieth century, most of Plantsville's industry experienced major decline and much of its industry closed. Plantsville's heyday as an industrial center ended. Though many of the original structures have been removed, new industrial uses have gradually moved into the remaining buildings.
Atwater, Francis, comp. History of Southington, Conn. Meriden: The Journal Press, 1924.
Newell, E.T. "Glimpses of Southington Past and Present." Connecticut Magazine, 6 (January 1900)1, p.8ff.
Schneidermeyer, Melvin J. The Sequestered Land — An Historical Atlas of Southington, Connecticut. Southington, 1979.
Southington, Connecticut, A Pictorial History. Southington: Southington Bicentennial Committee, 1979.
Souvenir History of the Town of Southington, Connecticut. Meriden: Journal Publishing Co., 1899.
Timlow, Heman R. Ecclesiastical and Other Sketches of Southington, Conn. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard Company, 1875. 1976 reprint.
Walkley, Stephen. "Southington" in J. Hammond Trumbull, ed. The Memorial History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1884. Boston: Edward L. Osgood, 1886, pp.363-382.
Maps and Views
Atlas of Hartford City and County. Hartford: Baker & Tilden, 1869. Plates 31 and 31A.
"Aerial View of Southington, Connecticut." New York: Hughes and Bailey, 1914.
Southington Directory, 1869-1935. New Haven: Price, Lee & Co.
Historic and Architectural Resources Survey of Southington, Connecticut, (August 1986), Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, Connecticut.
National Register of Historic Places, Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, Connecticut.
Southington Land Records, Town Clerk's Office, Southington, Connecticut.
State Register of Historic Places, Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, Connecticut.