Suffield Historic District
The Suffield Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the text, below, were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Main Street of Suffield, a town in north central Connecticut established in 1670, runs north-south for two and one-half miles from tobacco fields on the south through the center of town to the edge of the old village on the north. Both sides of this central artery were incorporated in a larger local historic district in 1963. The Main Street portion of the local district is the subject of this National Register Suffield Historic District. The Suffield Historic District boundaries, as more fully explained by the map and verbal boundary description, generally run 400 feet on either side of the road. This arrangement was adopted for the local historic district and is followed here partly for the sake of consistency and partly because the usual approach of following property lines would be awkward for the old farms that still have some frontage on the street. The 400-foot depth is sufficient to include important outbuildings associated with the houses. There are approximately 175 sites and structures; four are considered not to contribute to the historic character of the district.
In general, the street north and south of the center is lined with gracious homes, built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Houses that are excellent examples of various architectural styles and that are worthy of description and photographs exceed in number the practical limitations of space and expense, and a selection necessarily has been made here. In the center two non-residential influences are present. First, the presence of Suffield Academy is important, and presents an example of "colonializing" 19th century buildings. Second, the center shows the results of 1960s redevelopment that included demolition and construction of automobile-oriented new buildings.
The procedure in the following description is to deal with the structures in geographic sequence, starting from the southern boundary and proceeding northward. The fields on both sides of the road at the southern boundary of the Suffield Historic District are now used for truck gardening, but the continued presence of tobacco sheds identifies their former, long-term purpose. Just north of the fields, on the east side at 432 North Main Street, is a transitional Federal/Greek Revival house, built c.1850. Its two and one-half story, three bay front block is followed by an ell to the rear, and then by detached farm outbuildings. The gable end oriented toward the street provides the pediment for a temple-like facade. Strong cornice moldings surround the triangular area of flush, tongue-in-groove boards, in the center of which is a semi-elliptical blind, fan window, a Federal element. The white clapboarded facade has two-over-two double hung sash, with dark green blinds. The doorway, in the south bay, has plain pilasters with molded caps under a plain architrave and frieze. There is a molded cornice above a transom. The elongated proportions of the doorway are the holdover of another Federal element in this predominantly Greek Revival composition. The one and one-half story ell to the rear has high peaked dormers, and behind the house are large barns. There is a second, smaller house on the grounds near the street.
This property at 432 South Main Street illustrates several points characteristic of the Suffield Historic District. First, the style, Greek Revival, appears in other houses on the street. Second, a number of properties have farm outbuildings because in fact they were working farms into the 20th century. Moreover, while the farm lots tended to be long and narrow because taxes were assessed per front foot, nevertheless they are wide enough by today's standards for several houses. From time to time along the street it is apparent that newer houses have been built on front lots sold off from the original farm. Often a large segment of the original land stays with the old house in a configuration that includes the old house, runs behind the front lots that have been sold off, and extends several hundred feet in depth.
Across the street from 432, at 423 South Main Street, is a simple, white, three bay, central chimney house with two-leaf, panelled front door. Its twelve-over-eight double hung sash with dark shutters may not be original. Constructed in 1779, it is one of approximately 20 houses in the district whose origins go back to the 18th century.
The next house to be considered, at 294 South Main Street, is one of several big, impressive wood-frame mansions along the street. Built about 1900, its central structure is a two-story rectangular block surmounted by a high hip roof with a truncated dormer on each slope. Across the front is a colossal, tetrastyle, Ionic portico lighted by two skylights in its flat roof. On either side of the central block are low, one-story wings in the Greek manner. The central doorway is flanked by round columns that support a flat hood over a half-round fanlight. Windows are six-over-one, with blinds. The house is painted the standard combination of white for clapboards and trim, and black-green for the blinds.
Its 1872 neighbor next north, 264 South Main Street, is equally impressive in quite a different way. Here is the Second Empire in all its complexity. It is a tall, three-story, mansard house with central projecting pavilion that rises to a mansarded tower above the third floor. Bracketed cornices at first, second, and third floors introduce a horizontal influence that balances the vertical thrust of the tower. A verandah runs across the full width of the front of the house; its roofline is carried around to the sides of the house by the roofs of one story, three-sided bay windows on the sides. The full front porch and the second story windows are protected from the sun by awnings. Decorative detail abounds. Window surrounds, eared at the bottom, have a variety of window caps, peaked, curved, half-round, and a combination thereof. Their outlines are followed by the bottom molding of the frieze of the second floor cornice. The consoles have exuberant profiles; the porch posts are elaborately carved; and there is a foliate pattern in the face of a small pediment over the second floor pavilion cornice. A gazebo in the garden is painted green and yellow, the same colors as the main house.
Across a side street called Kent Avenue, the next house at 234 South Main Street displays yet another style of architecture, the Connecticut Valley's early version of the Georgian. This is the Dr. Alexander King House, of 1764, and now a museum and the home of the Suffield Historical Society. It is a five bay, central chimney design with a wide side porch, unusual and believed to be original, and a front entrance of the type for which the Connecticut River Valley is famous. Two fluted pilasters, on low plinths, have capitals with carved rosettes and support an architrave and cornice that break out over the pilasters and the center of the doorway. Seven glazed lights form the transom. The double doors, not original but of the period, have horizontal, vertical, and diagonal panels. The interior of the house is notable for an Eliphalet King corner cupboard, and a panel painting over the fireplace done by Dr. King's son. The King House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
At this point there is a break on both sides of South Main Street in the array of fine homes in favor of a group of modest houses. On the east side, at 214, 218, and 202 South Main Street, are small, boxy, frame, workers' houses covered with composition siding. Their roof gables face the street, and the eaves return briefly, in the spirit of the Classical Revival. They have sawn and turned porches. Three more houses of this general description are next north, placed in a line perpendicular to the street and reached by an unpaved right of way. The arrangement is induced by the narrow but deep lot, common in the town. The central house in this group is a double house. These half-dozen structures were built between 1890 and 1910.
Across the street at 217 to 175 South Main Street are more modest houses of different styles. Along the street are three Greek Revival houses, similar to but different from one another. The first has the entrance in the left bay. The second has a side entrance, bold corner pilasters, and an oculus in the pediment. The third is only one and one-half stories high and has a portico formed by columns supporting the attic pediment. Again, behind these three are two more workers' houses, starkly plain and covered with jagged-pattern asbestos siding, but simple and straightforward in design and proportions. The Greek Revivals date from 1850 and the houses in the rear from 1870.
The fine houses resume with 155 South Main Street, which is an elaborate Georgian structure, c.1795, one of the several on the street. It has a portico composed of fluted Ionic columns and pilasters, a coved ceiling, and dentils under the eaves. There is a fanlight over the panelled front door and the first floor windows have molded caps with dentil courses. Over the front door is a small, carefully detailed Palladian window. Panelled pilasters at the corners of the house lead up to dentiled eaves and standing seam metal roof, painted red.
Still another style, the Italianate, is represented by the rectory of St. Joseph's Church, 166 South Main Street. This large, square, wooden house is noteworthy for its two-story front porch at the center of the facade and for its unusually elaborate roof overhang. At each front corner of the porch is a fluted column with odd octagonal flared capitals supporting a square abacus, and at each back corner a fluted, engaged half-column with similar capital and abacus. On the upper rail of the second-story porch balustrade is a line of pointed finials. The four posts of the porch at this level are heavy and boldly carved, terminating in brackets with drop finials that support the roof. The wide overhang of the main roof is supported by similar but heavier brackets. In the roof soffit, beyond the ends of the brackets, is an egg-and-dart molding running parallel with the eaves. Narrow horizontal attic windows with four vertical panes are snug under the overhang on a level with the brackets. The house is covered with aluminum siding that does not obscure the original detail.
Diagonally across the street at 145 South Main Street is a house of similar overall Italianate style and similar heavy two-story front porch, but this time executed in masonry with smooth stucco walls. The barn on this property is also Victorian, in wood painted yellow with red trim. The first story of the front facade of the barn has a bold arcade of three obtuse arches. Barn doors occupy the space under two of the arches, and a pair of round-headed windows the space under the third. Above the arcade are two more pairs of round-headed windows divided into eight petal-like sections. On top of the barn is a square cupola with pyramidal roof that leads up to a turned finial and, finally, to a rooster weather vane.
The second, and only other, Suffield house to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places is the Hatheway House at 55 South Main Street, now a museum of the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society of Connecticut. The house consists of four sections. The first part was built in 1735 — a five bay, central chimney house with gable roof and no decorative trim. When the second section was built to the north in 1794 with elaborate doorway, quoins, dentil course, and molded window caps, a similar gambrel roof and corresponding decorative trim were added to the original block. The 1794 doorway is exceptionally fine. Ionic columns support a dentiled pediment over half-round fanlight. The cornices of the column entablatures extend to left and right over sidelights uniting the door and sidelights in an unusual Palladianesque design. The third, south, section of the house was probably a separate building originally, moved to become part of the Hatheway House at an unknown date. It has a gambrel roof on the front, over a porch, and a shed roof to the rear. The fourth section is another gambrel roof block built in 1926 behind the original part of the house.
The Hatheway House has several outbuildings. A long barn (not a tobacco barn) parallels the street north of the house. Between the barn and the house is a Victorian carriage house that has a gable over three round arched doorways, similar to the barn at 145 South Main Street. In the south yard there is a Palladian summer house. An elaborate wood picket fence separated the house from the street. Each post of the fence is a structure in itself with rusticated sides and molded caps over dentil courses.
The southern section of the long, pointed, central green begins here as South Main Street terminates at the corner of Bridge Street. The last house on South Main Street, on the southeast corner of Bridge Street, is a big, white, clapboarded, 1900 house with high roofs, both hip and gable, tall dormers in the hip with triangular and half-round pediments, bays, and columned porches at the front door and on the south side. The many green awnings and abundance of carefully trimmed shrubbery are characteristic of the period. The house and grounds appear to be maintained at present in precisely the manner they were in the early 20th century.
Across Bridge Street is a large empty lot. This lot is at the principal intersection in the center of town, where for years were located stores, the Town Hall, and the Masonic Lodge. The area was redeveloped in the 1960s. Most of the buildings were demolished. The Masonic Lodge was moved several hundred feet east on Bridge Street. New buildings at the intersection include a shopping center that is not in the Suffield Historic District, except for some footage of its parking lot, two bank buildings, and a library. The new banks, one on Bridge Street and one on North Main Street, are red brick, gable roofed buildings with green blinds and white trim in the Colonial Revival mode.
The 1972 Kent Memorial Library is modern architecture. It was designed by Warren Platner to bring not only a new look but also a new technology of building to Suffield. Its concrete frame, faced with pink stone and white painted brick, surrounds a central garden court. The flat coffered concrete roof and overhanging concrete eaves are offset by seamed, grey, metal roof sections that rise above book alcove skylights. The interior is on five floor levels connected by gradual ramps; there are no stairs. The interior is made up of intimately scaled spaces of warm and friendly character.
The Second Baptist Church of 1840 is north of the Bridge Street intersection. It has a pedimented portico supported by six colossal fluted Ionic columns on brick and stone bases. A broad architrave extends along the sides of the red brick building over two levels of six-over-six double hung sash with white blinds. The tower of the church consists of two stages. The first, oblong in plan, has fluted piers at the corners with Ionic columns between them in an in antis arrangement. The second stage is round. It has four giant, carved consoles over the corners of the first stage. A squat, gilded dome surmounts the whole from which extends a turned finial and arrow weather vane. A long one story addition runs to the south from the back of the church.
Main Street in front of the library and Baptist Church divides to form the green. The green is a pleasant, small park with an 1888 Civil War monument and a recently constructed bandstand that replicates a 19th century original. The street on the west side of the green is called High Street. There are two gas stations and a garage on the southwest corner of High Street and Mountain Road, across the green from the empty lot created by redevelopment.
The First Church of Christ Congregational faces the Second Baptist Church across the green. The Congregationalists in 1869 built a red brick church in the Romanesque Revival style. Buttresses strengthen the base of the southeast corner tower and helped support a tall spire that came down during the 1938 hurricane. The church, with its tall round-headed windows, round arched entrance with dripstone, and arcaded corbelling below the eaves, introduces a further, diverse element into the Main Street streetscape.
Four of the principal buildings of Suffield Academy are north of the Congregational Church. The first building in the group is the town's original Kent Memorial Library, constructed in 1898 to the design of Daniel H. Burnham. Its restrained, classical character is typical of Burnham's Beaux Arts work. Executed in smooth, tan, granite ashlar, it has a portico of two Ionic columns in antis, echoing the first stage of the Baptist Church tower across the green. There is a shallow dome in the center of the copper clad roof. Its roof originally was a skylight, now covered over. Rectangular windows in the drum, however, continue to light a central, interior court not dissimilar in concept from the open central court on the 1972 library across the green. The formal interior of this library has high ceilings, with a screen of two Ionic columns separating the reading room from the central court. Classical detail abounds on the interior, including coffered panels and egg-and-dart and other moldings in the ceilings. After the Academy acquired the library from the town, it commissioned Jack Dollard of Hartford to design an addition to the rear that is sympathetic in mass, proportions, and materials to the original block.
The next of the Academy's buildings is the 1854 Memorial Building in red brick with central, pedimented, projecting pavilion, now with a half-round, white entrance portico. Its neighbor is Fuller Hall, built in 1872 in the Second Empire mode with mansard roof and three towers, one at each front corner and one in the center. The windows of the building had arches formed by stone voussoirs in alternating light and dark colors. In 1953 Fuller Hall was "colonialized." The mansard roof and towers were removed and replaced with a gable roof and central lantern. The colored voussoirs were removed, as well as their windows, in favor of rectangular windows with flat arches and keystones. A broken pediment doorway was installed, round arches with keystones were built over the first floor windows, the porch roof and posts were removed, and the porch railing was replaced with alternating sections of parapet and balustrade.
This group of Academy buildings along High Street is completed by Brewster Hall, which was built in 1930 in the Colonial Revival style. It has red brick, white trim, gable roof, bold dormers, two story, half-round, Ionic portico, and tall Palladianesque windows.
Across from the Academy campus, at the end of the green, a short side street called Day Avenue provides another break in the continuation of stately homes. On the southeast corner of Day Avenue and North Main Street is one of the two small apartment houses in the district. This one is Classical Revival in character with round-headed windows and bracketed roof overhang. The center section of the roof rises in a low pediment. Recessed balconies have railings comprising horizontal and vertical elements. The walls are covered with stucco.
On the south side of Day Avenue, 21 and 29 are identical, modest, Victorian frame houses whose gable bargeboards have a fret at the apex. 35 is a larger, similar house. Its gable roof overhangs about one and one-half feet from the wall and the gable has a Stick style truss at its peak with central drop finial. These three houses were built in 1872. Across the street are two identical Second Empire cottages, only two stories high, with flat roofs, and with flat roofed dormers in the mansard. Built c.1870, they are ell-shaped and have a porch in the interior angle of the ell with turned posts and bracketed roof.
The residence of Suffield Academy's headmaster at 222 North Main Street is an example of the fully developed Georgian style, constructed c.1795. It is an approximately square, two-story, clapboarded block with hip roof, sited behind a wood picket fence. The center of interest is the middle section of the front facade, in which an elaborate doorway is surmounted by a Palladian window over balustrade in the second-story and by a further Palladian window in an attic pediment. Two-story pilasters flank the doorway and second-story Palladian window, but are closer together than the ends of the pediment, which thus go unsupported. The doorway consists of Ionic columns with full entablature supporting a gabled hood with dentil course. The cornices of the capitals extend over the sidelights and there is a half-round fanlight. The whole closely resembles the doorway of the north section of the Hatheway House, of similar date. The side door of the headmaster's residence is approximately the same as the front, without the sidelights. The six-over-six double hung sash have black blinds and, on the first floor, flat molded caps with dentil courses. Corner pilasters lead up to the standing seam metal roof.
Further north on North Main Street are several Queen Anne style frame houses. The one at 266, built in 1901, has an irregular silhouette and plan. A tower with six-sided pointed roof at the southwest corner is balanced to the north by a columned porch with gable roof under a two-sided bay at the second floor. In the face of the central roof gable, which is covered with shaped shingles, is a tripartite window. A truncated corner, diamond pane windows, colored glass, and a recessed second-story sleeping porch on the side are additional period details. The entire house is painted white.
The house at 418 North Main Street is the second example of modern architecture in the Suffield Historic District. It was built in 1956 as a conventional Ranch, and was extensively remodelled in 1977 by Daniel Wright of Vernon to make more space for a growing family in a functional manner, but using stone and wood building materials, mass, and proportions designed to fit the neighborhood norm while expressing the taste and design preference of the owners. It has a jagged roofline and presents a facade toward the street that is blank wall to the left and the doors to a two-car garage to the right, flanking a central double window.
At 532 North Main Street is the only red brick Federal house in the Suffield Historic District, built c.1825. It has brownstone sills and splayed lintels and a round arch doorway with fanlight, but no hood or portico. The facade has four bays, with the front door placed in the second bay from the right. There is no second-story window over the door.
The last great house in the Suffield Historic District is on the northeast corner of North Main Street and Mapleton Avenue, c.1795. Originally built as a five-bay, central chimney, two and one-half story structure, it has been enlarged from time to time to the north and west in the architectural styles that prevailed at the times of the alterations. These differences are now dulled by the standard, all over effect of white paint and black blinds. There is a round-headed window in the west gable dating from the Romanesque Revival of the 19th century. On the east side of the house, a long porch reflecting the early 20th century Colonial Revival has its gable roof in the form of a pediment with dentil course supported by round columns. The front door is protected by a bold hood in the triangular shape and with the moldings and dentils of a classic pediment. Instead of having conventional columns, it is supported by two heavy, large, plain, C-shaped consoles with bail-shaped drop finials. This combination of classic and Italianate elements is reminiscent of the use of carved consoles on the second stage of the Baptist Church tower.
Across Main Street from this property are a water tower and several small, modern homes built in recent years as development in Suffield around the district has progressed. With the exception of these houses, and with the exception of the demolition and redevelopment in the center, the Suffield Historic District has seen little new construction in the 20th century. The street was almost fully developed at the end of the 19th century.
Main Street in Suffield provides a remarkable display of American building styles from early 18th century to mid-20th century. Fine examples of architectural styles along the two and one-half mile length of the district include the Colonial, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Second Empire, Beaux Arts, Colonial Revival, and Modern. These outstanding buildings by their continued existence, largely free from damaging alterations and intrusions, constitute an architectural and historic resource of substantial significance.
The ambience of Suffield's Main Street arises from its history as a typical New England village, modified by tobacco affluence, the presence of Suffield Academy and redevelopment in the center, and the absence of urban or industrial development. The general level of architectural quality has been raised by the work of several good architects in the town, and the documentation of the history of the town and its properties is unusually complete.
Like many other 17th-century colonial villages, Suffield was started in 1670 as a farming community. The proprietors were organized by John Pynchon (1621-1703) of Springfield, Massachusetts, who had already started Hadley, Brookfield, and Hatfield, all for profit, as part of his far-flung business enterprises. Suffield continued to be part of Massachusetts until 1749. The original name was Stoney Brooke Plantation and falls in the stream for which it was named soon were used for power for grist mills, saw mills, tanneries, and iron forges. In 1801 the town's first paper mill was built at the falls near the mouth of the stream into the Connecticut River. These sites are outside the Suffield Historic District, and in any event limited evidence of mill dams and one deteriorating grist mill are all that remain of the early industrial activity. Most of this limited industrial activity was for the purpose of augmenting or servicing the principal agricultural activity of the community. The industrial activity never developed a momentum of its own and in due course died out. The presence of so little industry helps to explain the town's present image as a typical New England village.
A unique industrial activity in Suffield, directly related to the farms, was the manufacture of cigars. Tobacco had been grown from the earliest days, and by 1727 was legal tender at the rate of four pence to the pound. In 1810 a visiting Cuban instructed Suffield women in how to make cigars, and the American cigar industry was born. Always largely a cottage industry, it required no large factories. There was a concentration of the industry, however, along South Main Street north of Kent Avenue that, according to one theory, is the explanation for the workers' houses at this location. The industry peaked in 1860, when 16 million cigars were manufactured in Suffield. Thereafter, tobacco growing remained important but farmers turned more to specialization in the broad leaf variety used only for wrappers, and cigar manufacturing faded from the scene. In 1869, of 316 working farms in Suffield, only 24 raised no tobacco. Syndicates were formed to produce and market the leaf. Old Suffield family names associated with these syndicates are Bissell, Fuller and Hatheway. The same names are associated with the houses at 207, 272, 453, and 557 North Main Street, 264 and 289 South Main Street, and 309 Mapleton Avenue. Presumably, tobacco growing made the fine houses possible. Now tobacco growing has declined to a fraction of its former importance. The houses live on.
While most of Suffield's houses were constructed by anonymous builder/architects, in some cases the names of the architects are known. The town itself produced three architects whose names have come down through the years. The first was Joseph Howard. Houses built by him still stand at 99 High Street, 55, 155, and 289 South Main Street, all built in the mid-1790s in the late Federal or Georgian style with impressive Palladian and Baroque decorative elements. 55 South Main Street is the Hatheway House. Howard is credited with the north wing for which Asher Benjamin is thought to have designed the front doorway.
Henry A. Sykes (b.1810), another Suffield man, secured his early training in the office of Ithiel Town in New Haven. In addition to his Suffield work, he designed buildings in Springfield, Greenfield, and Amherst, Massachusetts, and was given an honorary M.A. degree by Amherst College in 1854. His largest works in Suffield were the First Congregational and Second Baptist churches. The Congregational Church went up first, in 1835, on the west side of the green, with a portico of six colossal Doric columns and a two-stage tower, all in wood. Five years later he repeated the basic design for the Baptists across the green, this time using Ionic columns for the portico and brick for the body of the church.
The third Suffield architect was John C. Mead (d.1889). He is credited with 40 to 50 churches in Connecticut (Alcorn, p.178), including an 1869 building for the Congregationalists in Suffield, the present structure. Sykes's church was moved away to make room for Mead's Romanesque Revival design. Elsewhere on the main street in Suffield, Mead did two Second Empire structures, the original Fuller Hall (1872) and the house at 264 South Main Street (1872). He brought this mode to its ultimate development in the Cornelius Vanderbilt (later Dimock) House on West Hill in West Hartford (demolished) and pursued his Romanesque Revival talents in Hartford with the County Court House on Trumbull Street (demolished) and the Governor's Foot Guard Armory (1888).
The Hatheway House, 55 South Main Street, is unique in the Suffield Historic District because of the combination of its large size, elaborate detail, proximity to the street, important outbuildings, availability to the public as a museum of the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society of Connecticut, and association with the famous names Oliver Phelps and Asher Benjamin. Phelps was a speculator in frontier lands and at one time in the post-Revolutionary War period is thought to have been the largest land owner in the country. His 1795 addition to this house was elaborate in every respect, and it is not surprising that he engaged the services of Asher Benjamin (1771-1845), the Connecticut River Valley native who went on to Boston to become a famous architect and publisher of famous architectural pattern books. An indication of the quality of the work done at this time is the fact that the 1795 parlor has been removed to Winterthur Museum (and replaced with a duplicate).
By far the most famous architect to be represented in Suffield is Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912) of Chicago. His firm designed the first Kent Memorial Library (1898), a gift to the town by Sidney A. Kent. Sidney A. Kent at age 20 had left Suffield and entered the meat packing business in Chicago, with great success. There he engaged Daniel H. Burnham to design his residence on Michigan Avenue, and later commissioned him to design the Suffield library on land owned by Kent's ancestor in 1679. Blueprints of the Burnham construction drawings, mounted on linen fabric, remain on hand in Suffield.
A decision was made in the 1960s that this library, 81 by 41 feet in size and with high ceilings, provided insufficient space for mid-20th century needs. Construction of an addition was impractical because the adjoining land was owned by Suffield Academy, not by the town. A new Kent Memorial Library therefore was built across the green as part of the redevelopment on that corner. Suffield Academy bought the old library in 1972 and added to it.
The new library measures 86 by 92 feet around an interior court of 29 by 32 feet. Its exterior appearance continues to be a subject for heated discussion among the townspeople. Some people feel that modern architecture is out of place here and does not fit in with the character of the district. Others point out that the essence of the Suffield Historic District is the presence of a variety of architectural styles from different eras, and that modern architecture is an appropriate extension of that sequence. The brick walls of the new library are painted white, perhaps as an effort to establish common ground for the two schools of thought. Pedestrian access to the library is difficult. On the west, one approaches from the sidewalk down a flight of steps to an exterior court, across the court through doors that are a problem on windy days, and then up the interior ramps to the principal library levels. On the east, a curved drive for automobiles, without sidewalk or steps, approaches the main library entrance on an upgrade from the shopping center's parking lot.
Suffield Academy is the name adopted in 1939 by a private boarding school founded under Baptist sponsorship in 1833 as the Connecticut Literary Institution. Girls were admitted as early as 1843. In the 20th century, under the name Suffield School, it provided secondary education to all town children during the years 1912 to 1939, the town paying tuition for each student. The move to "colonialize" the school's Victorian buildings started in 1908 and continued in 1915 with alterations to the 1854 Memorial Building, next door to the library. The most complete demonstration of "colonialization" was carried out at Fuller Hall in 1953 under the direction of Frederick C. Teich of Hartford.
Suffield was by no means alone in its program to erase its late-19th century Victorian architectural image in favor of Colonial Revival. Other Connecticut towns engaged in the same practice, notably Norfolk and Litchfield. During mid-20th century, the Academy has pursued a vigorous building program on both sides of the green, has purchased a number of houses along North and South Main streets, and by a wide margin is the largest property owner in the district.
The changes and vigorous building program carried forward by Suffield Academy in the center of town earlier in the 20th century have now been followed by the redevelopment at the central intersection in the 1960s and 1970s. Nineteenth and early-20th century mercantile establishments were located on the east side of North Main Street at Bridge Street. There was a row of structures here composed of several retail shops including a pharmacy, grocery store, and book store, and the Post Office, Town Hall, and Masonic Lodge. The sidewalk in front of this busy row was a busy streetscape. The corner was redeveloped in the 1960s. The old buildings were torn down as being inadequate and deteriorated, and were replaced, not by a row of buildings along a sidewalk, but by separated buildings, automobile-oriented. The lot on the corner itself, once scheduled for an office building, has remained undeveloped.
The fact that so many buildings of merit have survived over the centuries is due in large part, as is often the case, to the failure of Suffield to grow. It has not become a city. It has no industrial park. There is no interstate highway. Highway development through the center, suggested from time to time, has been discouraged by the town. The important threat to the Suffield Historic District's integrity came from adjoining Bradley Airport, whose plan ten years ago to extend its runways close to the center of Suffield was defeated by sustained local effort.
The houses along the street give a good resume of the development of domestic architecture in the Connecticut River Valley. The Baptist and Congregational churches are prime examples of two 19th-century church styles. And Suffield Academy offers a fascinating demonstration of the trend of fashion in academic buildings. While the remarkable circumstance is that many of these buildings are still standing, their significance is supplemented and enhanced by an unusually large amount of primary source documentation on Suffield. Alcorn in his The Biography of a Town provides a bibliography of primary sources that includes John Pynchon's account books, the Proprietors' Book, and many other account books, journals, and letters. Delphina L. M. Clark has traced the early history of each plot by abstracting the land records and probate records reflecting Suffield real estate transactions from the days of John Pynchon. Her seven volumes of unpublished typescript are at the Kent Memorial Library. This extensive documentation reinforces the diversity and quality of the standing buildings and helps to make Suffield a resource in architectural history of outstanding integrity and significance.
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, 1963. (At Connecticut Historical Commission.)
† David F. Ransom, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Suffield Historic District, Suffield, CT, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.