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Southington Center Historic District


The Southington Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Southington Center Historic District is a commercial and residential area located in the center of the town of Southington. The Southington Center Historic District is comprised of 154 resources. There are 80 major buildings and 17 outbuildings and minor buildings that contribute to the historic and architectural significance of the district. The Southington Center Historic District also contains four contributing objects, and the Town Green, a contributing resource. A total of 44 non-contributing buildings are part of the Southington Center Historic District. Of the 80 major buildings, three date from the 18th century, 59 from the 19th century and 18 from the 20th century. Their breakdown by styles is Colonial 2, Federal 3, Greek Revival 18, Gothic Revival 1, 19th Century Vernacular 6, Italianate 23, Second Empire 1, Queen Anne 7, Shingle Style 1, Georgian Revival 3, Colonial Revival 8, American Foursquare 1, Neo-Classical Revival 3, and Bungalow 3.

The activity center of the Southington Center Historic District surrounds the Town Green, which is a long rectangular park bounded and defined by Route 10 or Main Street on the east, a spur of Main Street on the west, and Center Street on the north. The Green is surrounded by municipal buildings, churches, commercial buildings, the post office, banks, offices, and residences. Four granite monuments have been placed on the Green. A Civil War monument of buff-colored granite features a Union soldier standing on a high pedestal of Neo-Classical Revival design. The World War I monument is a granite pedestal faced with memorial bronze plaques holding a flag pole. The World War II-Korea-Vietnam monument is comprised of five granite slabs incised with soldiers' names. The fourth monument is a Classical Revival fountain constructed in memory of Amon Bradley, a prominent Southington industrialist.

East of the Town Green on Route 10 stands the Congregational Church, a 1828-30 Federal style structure, and Town Hall, a 1941 Georgian Revival building. Just south of the Green are the Georgian Revival U.S. Post Office and St. Paul's Church, a Shingle Style sanctuary built in 1892. North of the Green is a fine series of 18th, 19th and 20th century buildings, many of which were once the homes of the industrialists and entrepreneurs who created and built Southington. On the west side of the Green is the J.F. Pratt/Marcus H. Holcomb House, an Italianate building now used for offices and as the Masonic Temple.

Complementing the municipal and commercial orientation of the area around the Town Green are three residential streets which are an integral part of the Southington Center Historic District. The streets are Berlin Avenue, a street which intersects with Main Street at the southern tip of the Town Green; North Main Street, a stretch of Route 10 just north of the Town Green; and Vermont Avenue, a street which intersects with Main Street one block south of Berlin Avenue. All three streets are primarily residential. The three centuries of Southington Center's existence are represented on these streets, and many of the buildings possess excellent integrity and stand in their original orientation to one another.

Southington Center's oldest buildings are on Berlin Avenue and North Main Street. At 33 Berlin Avenue is the 1780 Langdon House, built as a five-bay central entrance Colonial structure which has undergone Second Empire and Italianate alterations. The district's two other 18th-century buildings are a 1798 Georgian/Greek Revival house at 115 North Main Street and the oldest in the district, the 1720 Jonathan Root House, at 140-142 North Main Street.

The architectural styles represented in the greatest number of buildings are the Greek Revival and Italianate styles. There are 17 Greek Revival and 23 Italianate buildings in the Southington Center Historic District. These buildings reflect the industrial activity and prosperity during the mid-to-late-19th century in Southington Center. Many of the buildings have retained integrity, such as the Greek Revival farmhouse at 85 Berlin Avenue, while others, although altered, are still strong examples of their types. An example of the latter is the Italianate structure which stands at 130 North Main Street: although a picture window and porch have been added to the first floor, the house retains the configuration and details of the Italianate style.

The industrial wealth in Southington produced excellent examples of the Queen Anne style in Southington Center. Six Queen Anne buildings stand in the Southington Center Historic District today, as a reminder that industrial activity in the area was strong in the late 19th century. The Queen Anne house at 26 Vermont Avenue is typical of many of the district's buildings of this style: a Greek cross plan, 2-bay section facing the street, and a front porch with turned posts, sawn brackets, and spindle frieze.

Southington Center's prosperity continued into the 20th century, as the need for wartime goods kept Southington's mills busy. Southington Center took on a more urban appearance, and a larger population which settled around Southington Center demanded more services. The Georgian Revival style of the 1940s is represented in the Town Hall (1941) at 75 Main Street and the U.S. Post Office (1939) at 125 Main Street. Although both have gained additions within the last 25 years, the modifications were sympathetic with the original designs.

Business buildings of Neo-Classical design were built in the early 20th century to house offices and shops. The 1911 Southington Showkase, a 3-story theater with buff brick and cast-concrete detailing in the Neo-Classical style at 45-55 North Main Street, illustrates the urban streetscape of the early part of this century. More modest houses reflected a need for increased housing, and the Bungalow of this period is well represented in the Southington Center Historic District in three buildings of excellent integrity: a 1922 Bungalow at 50 Berlin Avenue is 1-1/2 stories and features an open front porch and triangular roof supports. A shingled 1915 Bungalow at 253 North Main Street and a 1930 Bungalow at 168 Main Street are also well-preserved examples of this style.

Significance

The Southington Center Historic District is significant for two reasons. Primarily, the Southington Center Historic District is important because it was the core of historic Southington, serving as the town center. Industrialists, investors, merchants, teachers, and politicians lived in the district to be close to their businesses, to transportation routes, and to the core of town activity. As the town's industrial vigor and prosperity increased, so did the houses in Southington Center. Secondarily, the Southington Center Historic District contains a wide range of architectural styles, making the area a visual chronicle of its three-century lifespan. Many of the buildings are in good states of preservation and stand without major intrusions.

Historical Background

The heart of 18th-century Southington Center is mirrored in the three earliest extant houses built by farmers and merchants of the period. The oldest of the three, a 1720 Colonial structure at 140-142 Main Street, was the site of a tavern run by Jonathan Root (1707-1794). The Root family intermarried with the Woodruff family, the family which first settled in Southington. Houses of this period are represented in the 1798 Georgian/Greek Revival house at 115 North Main Street, possibly the home of Samuel Andrews, Jr., the son of an early settler. His father, Samuel Andrews, Sr. (1753-1832), owned the still-extant 116-118 Main Street, a ca. 1800 brick Federal building. Andrews Sr. served in the Revolutionary War. Another of this building's owners was Jesse Olney (1798-1872), an educator and author. Olney's geography and atlas books were in sales second only to Noah Webster's spelling book during the 19th century. Olney served in the state legislature for ten terms and was state comptroller for two years.

In 1779 Southington became incorporated. The town continued to grow, thanks to increased travel and prosperity along the New Haven Path, although population remained moderate. This busy intersection and the increased activity brought to this area by the Congregational Church (1757-1859) created a true town center. Joel Root opened a dry goods store at this junction and a tavern at the southeast corner of the intersection. A larger Congregational Church, the one now standing, was built in 1828-30. Stores began to open to keep up with the demand for services.

The waterpower provided by the Quinnipiac River, which flows 1/2 mile west of the heart of Southington Center, gave the town the means to process its agricultural goods. Gristmills and sawmills provided milling needs for the town. By the end of the 18th century, the mills were producing other products, such as buttons, combs, paper, and a variety of metal objects. Many of the homes of this period still stand in the Southington Center Historic District.

Romeo Lowery's House at 101 North Main Street (1828) is a good example of what successful residents chose to build for homes. Romeo Lowery (1793-1856) was a prominent citizen who served as State legislator and judge. Lowery invested in local companies which eventually became part of Southington's two most successful firms, Plant Bros. Manufacturing Company and Peck, Stow & Wilcox. Lowery's house remained in his family until 1964. The William Willcox House at 33 Berlin Avenue, a 1780 five-bay central-entrance Colonial which later gained a Greek Revival portico and frieze (and, still later, Second Empire and Italianate details), was the home of William Willcox, a selectman, probate judge, and state legislator for 17 years. Willcox was a financier and investor who owned a considerable amount of real estate in Southington Center. He was instrumental in forming Peck, Stowe & Wilcox, the town's largest manufacturing firm.

Among the residents of this active area was Southington's only known local architect, Lauren T. Campbell. Campbell designed and built his own house at 45 Berlin Avenue, an Italianate villa with Queen Anne touches. The only other building known to have been designed by him is the Queen Anne house at 63-65 Berlin Avenue.

A group of extraordinary entrepreneurs was responsible for the growth of manufacturing in Southington during the early and mid-19th century. The most successful used the waterpower of the Quinnipiac River for power to produce a variety of metal tools and products, such as tinware, carriage bolts, cutlery, nuts, bicycle parts, edge tools, Britannia ware, and manufacturing machinery. Leaders among these industrial enterprises were Peck, Stowe & Wilcox Company, founded in 1870, and the Clark Bros. Bolt Company, the Plant Manufacturing Company in Plantsville, L.B. Frost & Son (1842) in Marion, H.D. Smith & Company (1850), the Southington Cutlery Company (1867) in the town center, the Atwater Manufacturing Company (1869) in Milldale, and the Blakeslee Forging Company (1877) in Plantsville.

The industrial transformation of Southington brought an increase of 150% in the population between 1850 and 1880. The prosperity brought on by new enterprises is reflected in Southington Center's wealth of Italianate and Queen Anne style houses, many of which were built by the founders and officers of the manufacturing companies. 130 North Main Street, a graceful 1868 Italianate, was built by Roswell A. Neal, the leading industrialist in 19th-century Southington. Neal was president of Peck, Stowe & Wilcox Company from 1871-1887, and was president of the Southington Cutlery Company, the Aetna Nut Company, the Aetna Match Company, and the Mallett Cattle Company of Texas. 100 Main Street, an 1875 Italianate, was built by Truman E. Barnes (1835-1912), another active industrialist. James H. Pratt (1833-1929) bought the house in 1926, apparently for his daughter, whose family lived here until 1940.

The Queen Anne house (1865) at 133 Main Street has the distinction of having housed three major 19th-century town leaders: Julius N. Savage (b. 1817), the builder, worked in carriage bolt manufacture, and bought the bolt manufacturing business of Julius Bristol. James F. Pratt organized the Southington National Bank. Marcellus B. Willcox (1844-1918) was president of Peck, Stowe & Wilcox.

The later 19th century brought a concern for improving Southington and its services, a force which created the present-day appearance of Southington Center. A trolley line was introduced in 1887 between Plantsville and Southington Center, the second in the state. The Southington Savings Bank opened in 1860. The Town Green, originally used as a dumping ground, was cleaned up in 1876, and made into a park called "Memorial Park." St Paul's Episcopal Church, a Shingle Style building at 145 Main Street, was opened in 1892, and its accompanying parish hall in 1899.

The coming of the 20th century did not dampen Southington's prosperity. The industrial demands of the two World Wars increased the population and the prosperity. Empty lots around Southington Center filled with new homes, and new stores and shops gave the Center a more urban feel and appearance. Outdated municipal facilities were replaced: the Post Office and the Town Hall were housed in Georgian Revival structures built in 1939 and 1941, respectively. New services and shops opened, such as the Southington Showkase theater, a Neo-Classical Revival structure built in 1911 at 45-55 North Main Street. The scale of new houses became smaller and the styles more restrained. Bungalows, like those still standing at 253 North Main Street (1915) and 50 Berlin Avenue (1922), and modest houses like the small Colonial Revival (1920) at 96 Berlin Avenue, were the order of the day. Soon after, before World War II ended, the manufacturing which had been the catalyst for the growth of Southington Center became outdated, and most of the old factories changed hands.

The buildings of the Southington Center Historic District form a classic late 18th- and 19th-century town center. The municipal, service, religious, and residential buildings here are well preserved and stand without major intrusions, giving large sections of the district the appearance they had 100 to 150 years ago. This undisturbed visual and functional identity is what gives the Southington Center Historic District its primary significance architecturally.

Southington Center Historic District also claims a wide range of architectural styles, a total of 14, with prime examples of several styles. The most striking of these styles are Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow. Many of these buildings are well preserved and stand in their original orientation to one another, giving a view of both above-average examples of several architectural styles and the environments in which they were built. The Southington Center Historic District is also fortunate to have the only known buildings designed and built by Southington's sole resident architect, Lauren T. Campbell.

The Southington Center Historic District has a particularly rich inventory of well-preserved 19th-century buildings. The Southington Center Historic District's strong group of Greek Revival houses heralds the town's emerging industrial prosperity, making these buildings significant as hallmarks. Many have retained their architectural integrity. 247-249 North Main Street (1858) is a beautifully preserved example of a Greek Revival building. This building is a classic of its type, with a fine pedimented gable and front door flanked by molded capitals under a plain entablature. The smaller and more restrained gem of a house at 294 North Main (1840), clearly built by an owner of more modest means, is a simpler version of the Greek Revival style. It features only the basics of the style: wide corner boards, eave returns, and a wide frieze below the eaves.

There are more Italianate buildings in the Southington Center Historic District than any other style, and, as a group, they are fine examples of their type. Most feature simple hipped roofs, but the Southington Center Historic District also includes outstanding examples of asymmetrical and towered variations. The building at 176 North Main Street (1860), which is typical of the district's simple hipped-roof Italianate buildings, features the cube shape and ornamentation common to the simpler Italianate buildings in the district. The Southington Center Historic District also contains a multitude of more elaborate Italianate versions. Among these is the Francis W. Lewis House, 153 North Main, a fine Italianate building apparently converted from a building which dates from 1800. Italianate buildings also received alterations, such as the Ethel Oxley House at 158-160 North Main, a block-shaped Italianate house flanked by Colonial Revival porches. Leaner-looking variations of the Italianate style also exist, such as the J.H. Barnes House at 106 Berlin Avenue, a building with a gabled roof and a Greek cross footprint.

For an outstanding example of a towered Italian villa, the Southington Center Historic District is fortunate to have a house built by Southington's only known 19th-century architect, Lauren T. Campbell. Campbell designed and built two neighboring houses on Berlin Avenue, numbers 45 and 63-65. He is listed in the Southington directories as a joiner in 1882 and as an architect from 1889, and appears to have been a skilled architect who was knowledgeable about the architectural trends of his day. He built 45 Berlin Avenue for himself in 1877. The building is an imaginative and whimsical Italian Villa with Queen Anne characteristics: it features a tower with mansard roof, two-story bay windows, and bracketed roof of the Italianate style, combined with the irregular massing and lace-like gable ornamentation of the Queen Anne style. Campbell's building at 63-65 Berlin Avenue, the H.B. Gleason House, is a smaller and less ornate version (without the tower) of his Italian villa.

Two buildings are worth noting as illustrations of the progression of several architectural styles. The Amon Bradley House at 85 North Main Street (1836) is a Greek Revival building to which was added, first, Italianate and, next, Neo-Classical Revival alterations. Victorian rounded windows and delicate scrollwork were added to the original Greek Revival building. Fortunately, the additions to the Naaman Finch House at 181 North Main Street did not alter the overall character of the building's Gothic Revival style, since it is the only example of the style in the district. The later additions mimic the original house's peaked windows, steeply pitched roof, and small scale proportions.

As a group, the buildings in the Southington Center Historic District illustrate the functions a town center fills for the community. The Southington Center Historic District continues to demonstrate the relationships, both functional and visual, between a town center's buildings over time — churches, town hall, post office, theater, commercial buildings, and homes.

References

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

Timlow, Herman R. Ecclesiastical and Other Sketches of Southington, CT. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard Co., 1875.

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.

Southington Directories, 1869-1962. New Haven: Price, Lee & C.

Southington Land Records, Town Clerk's Office.

  1. David Ransom and Lisa Fern Johnson; also John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Southington Center Historic District, Southington Connecticut, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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Street Names: Academy Street, Berlin Avenue, Center Court, Columbus Avenue, Main Street, Route 10, Vermont Terrace

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