Hastings Hill Historic District
Hastings Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Hastings Hill Historic District's Hill Street, laid out in 1726, follows a north-south ridge through the countryside and intersects with Spruce Street and Russell Avenue three miles northwest of the center of Suffield, in north central Connecticut. A three-quarter mile length of Hill Street, centered on the intersection, was incorporated in a local historic district in 1963, and is also the national register Hastings Hill Historic District. It is an improved country road, narrow, and quiet, with a cluster of frame houses and an old church at the corner, several historic houses on its west side, and unimproved land on its east side.
The First Baptist Church at 1217 Hill Street looks down from an elevated site over a triangular park formed where the streets come together, and in effect presides over the intersection. The present chaste, white, wooden, Greek Revival structure was built in 1846. The four Doric columns of its 7 by 31 foot portico support a plain architrave and frieze under a gable end that is heavily molded to form the pediment. There is a further triangular molding on the face of the pediment. On the roof, a short, square tower with four engaged square columns at its corners supports a flat roof with projecting moldings from which rise four pinnacles, connected by a low parapet. Flush, tongue and groove boards are a common element of the front facade, the face of the pediment, and the walls of the tower.
A classic panelled architrave surrounds the tall double doors of the church. Each door has four molded, recessed, vertical panels arranged in pairs, with tall panels at the top and short panels at the bottom. Four similar panels occupy the oblong space over the double doors within the architrave. Panelled pilasters at the four corners of the 31 by 35 foot building frame the clapboarded side walls with their sixteen-over-sixteen windows and green blinds. The foundations are of brick. An ell with round-headed windows, probably added later in the 19th century, runs to the north at the back of the church. The interior of the church is without ornament other than the small carved lectern and accompanying chairs and an elaborate hand-pumped organ. An iron picket fence separates the church from a cemetery behind it. A gate in the fence is decorated with C curves and a central anthemion finial.
Just north of the church, at 1237 Hill Street, is a 25 by 33 foot district school house built in 1857 in much the same style as the church on a smaller scale. The school does not have a columned portico, but flush boarding in the pediment, as well as corner pilasters and clapboard siding are repeated from the church, A major portion of the south wall of the school, which is now used as a residence, has been converted to a large window.
Just south of the church, at 1203 Hill Street, is a house of interest primarily because of its association with the Hastings family, after whom the hill is named. Some people think the house was built as early as 1771 by the Rev. Joseph Hastings, the first Baptist minister; others think perhaps it was built by John Hastings, his son and the second minister. In any event, the house has been much altered. The front doorway of the five-bay, clapboarded house was raised to the second story and the third story was added in the 20th century. A second story front porch across the full width of the house obscures the first floor.
The modest frame house at 1171 Hill Street is a late-19th century replacement for the Baptist manse, which burned. Its decorative features consist of a pedimented portico over a side entrance, and an adjoining vertical oval window with four keystones that may have been added during the early 20th century Colonial Revival period.
The Greek Revival house at 1119 Hill Street is attributed to another member of the Hastings family, Samuel, in 1856. This house is unusual for Greek Revival design. It is ell-shaped and the two ells have equal weight in the composition. In fact, if anything, the ell with gable oriented toward the street is the weaker of the two, in contrast to the usual practice of the gable/pediment facing the street being by far the stronger element in a composition, with ell, if any, secondary to the side or rear. There is a front porch with square columns in the angle of the ell. In contrast to the usual practice of painting almost everything white, especially Greek Revival houses, this house presently is painted a dark gold color.
Another smaller clapboard house on the same grounds, at 1089 Hill Street, closer to the road, has a gambrel roof oriented to the street and is painted deep red. It was built at an early date, perhaps in the 18th century, as an ell to another house, and later moved here. A gambrel hood over the projecting front entranceway that echoes the shape of the roof may have been added later. The two windows on either side of the front door are nine-over-nine sash. On the second floor are two bays instead of three, with the two nine-over-six windows placed over the wall spaces between the door and windows of the first floor. On the sides, shed dormers continue the pitch of the upper portion of the gambrel.
The oldest well-documented house in the Hastings Hill Historic District dates from the 1730s or 1740s, at 1061 Hill Street. It is a five-bay, center chimney house with panelled double-leaf doors flanked by 12-over-18 windows. The original five-room first floor plan is one of two such remaining original plans in Suffield. The hall and stairs in front of the chimney, the two front rooms, and the kitchen, buttery, and chamber in the back all are in place as they were two and a half centuries ago. The three ground floor fireplaces are brick, two of them with brick arches instead of stone or wood lintels.
In the side yard is one of Suffield's omnipresent tobacco barns, here converted in 1936 to an early summer theater. The stage and painted proscenium arch are still in place.
Next along the street is 25 feet of frontage that provides access to acreage owned by the Hartford Audubon Society. The last house in the Hastings Hill Historic District on this side of the road is 967 Hill Street, a large and gracious modern home built in the spirit of the 18th century.
The east side of Hill Street south of Russell Avenue is primarily woods and open land on a slope that falls off sharply to the east from the ridge followed by the road. There are two houses along this section of the street, a modern one-story brick house at 1038 Hill Street, and a 1972 brown clapboard house on the southeast corner of Hill Street and Russell Avenue.
A one and a half story 1808 house on the cross street at 1152 Russell Avenue has a molded brick chimney off center to the west. An elaborate doorway, approached by two steps of massive brownstone slabs, is flanked by panelled pilasters with molded capitals. They support a flat crown molding that breaks out over the pilasters. There is a louvered fanlight with a keystone topped by a finial. The windows are capped with flat moldings with dentil blocks, and there is a dentil course under the eaves. The house has a later addition to the east.
The Hastings Hill Historic District's third 18th century house (1797), at 1262 Hill Street, has been much altered from its long, narrow shape with entrance at the end facing the street, and is now chiefly of interest as the one-time home of a blacksmith whose shop was across the street. The other half-dozen houses clustered around the intersection were built in the mid-20th century, in contemporary design, and all are well maintained.
The practice of the local historic district of establishing boundaries 400 feet from the road has been adopted for the National Register Hastings Hill Historic District, except for a minor adjustment to follow property lines at the northwest corner. All structures in the Hastings Hill Historic District are considered to contribute to its historic character.
The historic interest of the Hastings Hill Historic District stems from the fact that it is a country crossroads settlement, dating from the late 18th century. It is still a country crossroads settlement to this day, and it is this continuity that is important to its identification as a historic district. Some houses, especially at the north end, have been built since World War II, but they have conformed to the preexisting sense of scale, size, and spacing, and have contributed to rather than intruded upon the sense of time and place. Consequently, they are included in the district, and are considered to contribute to the Hastings Hill Historic District's ambience as a country crossroads settlement. The edge of the Hastings Hill Historic District is determined to be the last of this handful of new houses. Thus, the boundaries of the Hastings Hill Historic District and the determination that all structures contribute to the district's historic character flow from the basic concept of the crossroads settlement that is the starting point for establishing the district.
The cluster of buildings along Hill Street that forms the Hastings Hill Historic District includes good examples of Greek Revival and early 19th century architecture. The establishment here of the earliest Baptist Church in Hartford County, and one of the earliest in the state, gives added significance to the site. The continuing rural circumambience and complete lack of intrusions give a sense of authenticity to this stretch of country road.
Joseph Hastings spoke out against certain practices of the established Congregational Church in Suffield as early as 1740. He advocated greater freedom of thought and worship, and more involvement by men and women of the congregation in church affairs, with the result that in 1748 he and his group were formally considered no longer to be members of the Congregational Church. Hastings became an ordained Baptist minister and continued to provide leadership for his followers until, in 1769, they were able to erect their first church building on the triangular plot at the intersection of Hill Street, Spruce Street, and Russell Avenue, a comfortable distance of three miles from the town center, where they were not welcome. Settlers had lived along this ridge from the 17th century, calling the area Kent Hill. With the arrival of the church and the Hastings influence, the name was changed to Zion Hill and then to Hastings Hill. The first church in the triangle was built of wood. The second church, built across the street on the present site in 1793, was brick, and the present wood Greek Revival structure followed in 1846.
An active organization, open to all faiths, now looks after the building. Its interior and exterior recently have been recorded by photographs and measured drawings against the possibility of damage by fire and the need of restoration. There is no heat in the church. Services are held on three Sundays during the summer with the sanctuary filled to overflowing.
While the church provided the chief interest, historically, at the four corners, it was not the only activity. The route from Windsor to Springfield passed along the ridge and the Hastings House next door to the church, at 1203 Hill Street, fulfilled the function of inn or tavern for a stage coach stop along the way. There was one store on the green, and the blacksmith had his home and shop across the street from each other just north of the green, only the home remains, now a part of 1262 Hill Street.
The three houses along the west side of Hill Street, the Greek Revival, gambrel roof cottage, and central chimney Colonial, strengthen the architectural interest of the Hastings Hill Historic District. The restoration of the house at 1119 Hill Street, c.1740, was carried out by Delphina L. M. Clark, first woman to be admitted to the Yale School of Architecture and research assistant to J. Frederick Kelly in his avant-garde study of early Connecticut architecture.
It was a tobacco barn on this property, prior to the Clark ownership, that became the scene of the Band Box Theater in 1936, with seating for about 200. The Royal Family, Kind Lady, Catherine the Great, and Our Town were among the productions. At the end of the third season, the theater critic of the New York Times rated the Band Box among the top five summer theaters in the East. Tallulah Bankhead starred in a new play on one occasion, but stayed only three days and did not complete the engagement. Richard Bennett, father of Joan, Constance, and Barbara, arrived for a week's engagement, enjoyed the town's hospitality, and never did make it to the stage. World War II brought an end to the Band Box Theater (Alcorn, page 265).
The church, the green, the historic houses, the memory of the theater, and the undeveloped land combine to provide the charm and delight of the Hastings Hill Historic District. This three-quarter-mile stretch of Connecticut country road is a small but significant part of the community's heritage. The newer houses, built to contemporary designs, are sympathetic in scale and mass to the older houses, are well spaced, and do not detract from the historic character of the Hastings Hill Historic District.
The crossroads activity of blacksmith shop, tavern, church, school, and store at Hastings Hill augmented the area's basic activity, which was farming. The essentially rural nature of the area persists to the present, in contrast to the center of Suffield, which is far more built up, as noted in the National Register Suffield Historic District.
Robert H. Alcorn, The Biography of a Town, Suffield; Three Hundredth Anniversary Committee, 1970.
Delphina L.M. Clark, Extracts of land records and probate records relating to Suffield properties from 1670, seven volumes of unpublished manuscript at Kent Memorial Library, Suffield.
"Report of the Historic District Study Committee, " Suffield, 1962 (at Connecticut Historical Commission).
† David F. Ransom, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Hastings Hill Historic District, Suffield, CT, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.