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Broad Street Green Historic District


The Broad Street Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Broad Street Green Historic District in Windsor Center runs approximately a third of a mile along Broad Street, from Batchelder Road at the southerly end to Union Street at the northerly end, and incorporates about three dozen buildings, most of which immediately adjoin the long, level, tree-shaded public lawn known as the Broad Street Green. The Broad Street Green Historic District, which includes a church and several public buildings, is predominantly a commercial area, although many of the buildings once served residential purposes. The buildings surrounding the Green date from the late 18th through the middle 20th centuries and are from one to three stories high; brick is the most common construction material. Architectural styles represented in the Broad Street Green Historic District include the Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival, the latter of which is the most common.

The Green itself is the Broad Street Green Historic District's most prominent visual feature. It is made up of three separate areas of lawn bounded on the west by Broad Street and defined on the north and south by the intersections of Palisado Avenue and Batchelder Road. The Green has the appearance of a small urban park, with a perimeter walkway, benches, scattered shade trees (including three large elms), a flagpole, the town's historical marker, a fountain, and several monuments. At the center of the Green is the c.1880 pink-granite Loomis Fountain. The fountain takes the form of a Classical entablature supported by four partly fluted Doric columns. The entablature bears rose-garland festoons and a large cartouche. Another notable sculpture on the Green is the 1920 monument "To the Patriots of Windsor," a large bronze eagle with partly spread wings atop a tall fieldstone pedestal bearing a wreath; it is the work of noted sculptor Evelyn Longman Batchelder. Windsor soldiers of World War I are honored with a memorial consisting of a large granite boulder and a bronze plaque inscribed with the names of those who fought in the war. There is a more recent memorial, a bronze tablet on a large granite block, to the Gold Star casualties of World War II.

Surrounding the Green are buildings from every period of Windsor's history. The earliest building in the Broad Street Green Historic District is the Colonial-style Colonel Oliver Mather House, 323 Broad Street, dating from 1777; it forms the facade to a 1975 addition for the town's public library, set off to the left and rear. The brick Colonel James Loomis House at 208-210 Broad Street was built in 1822 in the Federal style, as embodied in its cornice return and fanlights, while the house at 175 Broad Street exhibits elements of the Greek Revival style, including a gable-end pediment, corner pilasters, and Classical entry portico. Grace Episcopal Church and the rectory associated with it are Gothic in inspiration, as is the gable trim of the house at 226 Broad Street. The former Congregational parish house, now the Masonic Building, is a small Queen Anne style building with an irregular roofline and an attached tower. Twentieth-century residences include two houses in the Colonial Revival style.

Structures built expressly for commercial use include several two- and three-story brick business blocks; the Second Empire style Windsor passenger depot and its more utilitarian freight companion, a Colonial Revival style bank; and the former 1940 Windsor Post Office, also Colonial Revival in inspiration. The 1929 Plaza Building occupies a prominent corner at the southern end of the Broad Street Green Historic District. It originally accommodated not only several stores on the first floor but also professional offices above and a movie theater on the interior of the block. Its parapet pinnacles suggest a Gothic stylistic intent. Another early-20th century building of note is the 1927 brick fire house built for the Windsor Fire Department, 20 Union Street.

The Broad Street Green Historic District includes four industrial/warehouse buildings located on the east side of the railroad tracks along Mechanic Street. The oldest is the brick factory built for the Spencer Rifle Company in 1882 but occupied shortly thereafter by the Eddy Electric Manufacturing Company. It has three major parts: a one-story monitor-roofed portion, a two-story flat-roofed portion, and a c.1915 reinforced concrete ell. At the foot of Central Street is the two-story factory built about 1930 by the Windsor Company, a manufacturer and wholesaler of shade-tobacco cloth and other textile specialties. The other buildings on Mechanic Street are a 1976 warehouse (55 Mechanic Street, noncontributing) and the c.1940 Windsor Highway Department Garage.

Most of the Broad Street Green Historic District's historic buildings retain their characteristic form and stylistic details, even when altered on the first floor for commercial use or covered with modern siding material. Noncontributing buildings include a recently constructed drugstore at 219 Broad Street, the present Post Office (1963), and the 1965 Neo-Colonial Windsor Town Hall building. An International Style bank from the 1950s has been counted as contributing because it is nearly 50 years old and is a representative example of its type.

Significance

The Broad Street Green Historic District is significant because the Green itself is an excellent example of a major development in Connecticut landscape history, the transformation of colonial commons into small park-like areas that formed the focus for community for community activities. Often, town commons were simply meetinghouses, schools, militia practice, and public assembly. The larger ones were used for common grazing, but many remained unfenced and largely indistinguishable from the roadways that bordered them. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, commons that were in the center of villages and towns were increasingly articulated as parks, with walkways, plantings, and amenities such as fountains. As in the case of Broad Street Green, public buildings such as town halls and libraries were sited on the park, as were war memorials. As a result, these greens became both a scenic and a ceremonial focus for the community.

The Broad Street Green Historic District also has historical significance as the center of the commercial and institutional life of Windsor in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. With the coming of the railroad, commercial and industrial development in this area refocused attention away from the earlier colonial center just across the Farmington River on Palisado Avenue. Businesses such as hotels and restaurants catered to the traveling public arriving at the nearby passenger depot, while retail enterprises benefitted from the proximity to the freight facilities. A large factory, built originally for firearms manufacture but subsequently used primarily for building electric motors and generators, also took advantage of the railroad and became one of Windsor's major industries.

Finally, the Broad Street Green Historic District has significance because its individual buildings embody the distinctive characteristics of several historical styles of architecture. From the simple rectilinear gable-roofed form of the Colonial vernacular to the complex massing and roofline of the Queen Anne style to the stark modernity of the International style, the Broad Street Green Historic District presents one or two reasonably well-preserved examples of various types from more than two centuries of American architecture.

Landscape Architecture Significance

The Broad Street Green is a good example of the central park that emerged in many Connecticut communities in the period following the Civil War. As was typical, its plantings consist mainly of level lawn and perimeter shade trees, with ceremonial objects such as fountains, war memorials, and flagpoles adding to the function of the park as a community central place. Turn-of-the-century views of the Green show that it substantially retains its historical appearance today.

Broad Street was one of Windsor's early highways, dating back to the 17th century. Families secured house lots on the higher terrace along Broad Street when an earlier line of settlement to the east proved too flood-prone. Because the Farmington River separated Broad Street from the rest of Windsor's early settlement farther north on Palisado Avenue, the area became a secondary town common even in the 18th century. Burpee (1928) claims the first elms on the Broad Street Green were set out in 1755; although that year seems too early for this landscape practice, Seth Pease's map of 1798 clearly shows Broad Street enlarged into a rectangular common by that date, surrounded by the houses of Henry Allyn, William Loomis, Colonel Oliver Mather, and other prominent citizens; there were ten houses in all.

It is evident from the size of the perimeter trees in the turn-of-the-century views that the transformation of the common into a park was underway by mid-19th century. The character of the Green as a cultivated, civilized place was augmented not only by the broad lawn and walkways, but also in 1880 by the addition of a Classical Revival style fountain and pool, given in memory of Hezekiah Bradley Loomis, one of the founders of the Loomis Institute, known today as the Loomis-Chaffee School. The fountain confirmed the scenic intent of the Green by adding a work of high artistic value (although the designer's name is not known), and it also may have served a humanitarian function, since such fountains were often seen as sources of relief for hot and tired horses. The Loomis Fountain was followed in the early 20th century by other aesthetic amenities in the form of war memorials.

The memorial entitled "To the Patriots of Windsor" (1920) has exceptional individual artistic significance. It is the work of Evelyn Longman Batchelder (1874-1954), a Windsor resident of national reputation as a sculptor. The vibrancy of its eagle figure, poised with wings partly unfurled, and the rough surfaces of the fieldstone base typify the aesthetic of early-20th century American art, just as the refinement and deference to Classical forms evident in the Loomis Fountain embody an earlier generation's artistic taste.

Historical Significance

Windsor is best known as one of the earliest nodes of settlement in Connecticut, beginning with the establishment of the Plymouth trading post (farther east, near the present site of the Loomis-Chaffee School) in 1633. However, the Broad Street Green Historic District is important because it reflects the history of Windsor as a 19th-century commercial and industrial center and its 20th-century history as a suburb within the greater Hartford area. The Hartford and Springfield Railroad, constructed in the early 1840s, provided a vital link between earlier Hartford-New Haven-New York and Boston-Albany routes and became a busy freight and passenger line. The location of the railroad's stations near the Broad Street Green shifted the focus of the town away from the Palisado Avenue area as hotels, restaurants, and other retail establishments took advantage of the transportation facilities.

Industry also found a home near the Green. In the age of waterpower, these early enterprises were either small in scale, such as the Sequassen Woolen Company knitting mill, near the present intersection of Union and Mechanic streets, or reliant on hand labor, such as the two cigar factories shown on an 1869 map. In 1882 Christopher Spencer built a large factory for the manufacture of sporting rifles; however, he soon relocated his facilities elsewhere and sold the plant in 1885 to the Eddy Electric Manufacturing Company, which made generators and motors. Under the leadership of Arthur H. Eddy, a Windsor resident, the company prospered and doubled the size of the factory; it was consolidated into the General Electric Company in 1902. The electric-products plant employed several hundred workers at its peak. General Electric decided to consolidate and offered the plant for sale in 1927. By that time, tobacco cultivation had become a vital part of the economy of the Connecticut Valley, and the P. Lorillard Company bought the plant for use as a tobacco warehouse. Tobacco also provided the stimulus for another Windsor Center industry, the Windsor Company, founded by John Luddy, which made the gauze-like cloth used to shade tobacco from the sun and other textile specialities. Although the Broad Street area no longer has active industries, the 1882 Eddy Electric factory, the c.1930 Windsor Company factory, and John Luddy's house on the Green (261 Broad Street) remain to recall this important theme in the town's development.

Institutional development also occurred around the Green. Part of the common had been used for a district school and there was a private school or seminary as well. In 1877 a large Town Hall was built at the corner of Broad and Maple streets; until 1920, however, town meetings continued to alternate between the Green and Poquonnock, another village in Windsor. Both the Methodists and the Episcopalians chose the Green for their houses of worship, of which Grace Church (Episcopal) remains today. Although the Congregational meetinghouse was located outside the district, in the Palisado Avenue area to the north, the Congregationalists built a parish house for church activities at the corner of Broad and Union streets around 1900.

In 1895 Windsor's rail link to the outside world was supplemented by an extension of Hartford's street railway system to Windsor Center. The coming of the trolley allowed more people to live in Windsor and work in Hartford. As Burpee observed in 1928, "Windsor proper lost somewhat in population till in 1870 it had but 2,800, but since 1900 it has increased until now it is about 7,000. One reason for this is its attractiveness for suburbanites and they are developing beautiful houses...Broad Street Green is the center of activities."

Suburban growth affected Windsor Center in two ways. First, the residential use that had characterized the Green from its earliest years continued with the construction of houses in the Colonial Revival style, both at the Green and in the residential neighborhoods which surround it on three sides. Henry Huntington, for example, built a large, elaborately detailed Colonial Revival style house in 1901 at 289 Broad Street; his law practice was located in Hartford.

Second, suburban population in the vicinity augmented the institutional and commercial importance of the area. Windsor's public library found a home in the Colonel Oliver Mather House beginning in 1901; in 1920 the Town Hall at the Green became the sole seat of local government; and in 1927 a two-bay brick firehouse was finished on Union Street. The Post Office for Windsor was conducted first in local businesses, such as the store at 226 Broad Street, and then after 1940 in the brick building that now serves as the Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The Windsor Trust Company built its Colonial Revival style bank at 270 Broad Street in 1929. After 1900 buildings were built at the Green specifically to accommodate commercial enterprises, often with more than one storefront at street level and apartments or professional offices on a second or even third floor. Generally of brick construction with prominent cornices, Windsor's early-20th century commercial buildings are smaller versions of the business blocks found in more urban areas at the time. Two were built with movie theaters behind stores fronting on the sidewalk.

Architectural History Significance

The architectural details preserved in the houses and other buildings surrounding the Broad Street Green serve not only to create a sense of time for the Broad Street Green Historic District but also are valuable in their own right as illustrations of a wide range of historical styles of architecture. The center-chimney plan and simple five-bay form of colonial New England domestic architecture is preserved in the Colonel Oliver Mather House (1777), while the district's early-19th century buildings retain typical Adamesque and Classical Greek details. Despite its alteration for commercial use, the house at 192 Broad Street continues to exhibit the cube-like, flat-roofed form and bracketed cornice that are hallmarks of the Italianate style. Other Victorian styles epitomized by buildings in the Broad Street Green Historic District include the Second Empire, represented by the mansard roofed passenger station; the Gothic Revival, typified by the medieval-detailed Grace Church and its rectory; and the Queen Anne, characterized by an asymmetry of form, contrasting exterior materials, and complex rooflines, all of which characteristics are embodied by the former Congregational parish house.

Twentieth-century architecture illustrated by buildings in the Broad Street Green Historic District includes the Classical and Colonial Revivals, the former in the cornice detail and entry pediment on the commercial building at 193-199 Broad Street and the latter in the fanlights, scroll pediments, and balustrades in the Luddy and Huntington houses. Although not yet 50 years old, the 1956 Windsor Federal Savings Bank will also surely be appreciated as a representative example of its type. Its austere white-brick exterior, rectilinear massing, flat roof unadorned by any cornice treatment, and factory-like window bands typify the International style that dominated commercial architecture in the 1950s and 1960s for both high-rise city office towers and small-town business buildings such as this Windsor bank.

References

Burpee, Charles W. History of Hartford County, 1833-1928. 3 vols. Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1928.

Fowles, Lloyd and William Uricchio. Fowle's History of Windsor, Connecticut. Windsor: priv. pr., 1976.

Hayden, Jabez. Historical Sketches. Windsor Locks: priv. pr., 1900.

Howard, Daniel Glimpses of Ancient Windsor from 1633-1933. Windsor Locks: The Journal Press, 1933.

Mills, Florence B. "Highlights of History of the First Church in Windsor," nonpublished pamphlet, 1969, revised 1972.

Olin, Charles F. "Old Windsor. Retrospective and Photographic." Connecticut Magazine, Vol.6, Nov.-Dec., 1900, pp.457-474.

________. "Historic Old Town of Windsor." Connecticut Magazine, Vol.8, 1903-04, pp.18-32.

Windsor Bicentennial Commission. Windsor Historic Clubs and Organizations. Windsor, 1976.

Maps and Views

Pease, Seth. "Map of Windsor, Shewing the Parishes, the Roads, and the Houses." Manuscript map, 1798. Copy in Windsor Town Clerk's Office.

Atlas of Hartford, City and County. Hartford, 1869.

Woodford, E. M. Driving Chart of Hartford and Vicinity. New York, 1884.

Postcard views of Broad Street Green. Postcard collection, Windsor, PG 800, Connecticut State Library.

Sanborn Map and Publishing Company. Insurance maps of Windsor, 1921-1947. Microfilm, Connecticut State Library.

Previous Surveys (All deposited with Connecticut Historical Commission)

Historical and Architectural Survey. Town of Windsor and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1981.

Statewide Survey of Historical Sculpture. Connecticut Historical Commission, 1995.

Survey of Connecticut Town Greens. Connecticut Historical Commission, 1994.

† Bruce Clouette, Public Archaeology Survey Team and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Broad Street Green Historic District, Windsor, CT, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Broad Street, Central Street, Mechanic Street, Route 159, Union Street

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