Barkhamsted Center Historic District
The Barkhamsted Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Barkhamsted Center Historic District is located in northwestern Connecticut on the north-south highway known as State Route 181 and Center Hill Road one-quarter mile west of the Barkhamsted Reservoir and five miles east of Winsted. The Barkhamsted Center Historic District's six frame 18th- and 19th-century buildings are all that is left of the village of Barkhamsted Center, most of which was obliterated by flooding the land during the years 1910-1940 for construction of the Barkhamsted Reservoir.
While the Barkhamsted Center Historic District is the historic village center, its spaces, density, trees, and buildings and the relationships between them are primarily rural in character, as portrayed by a photograph of the district's traffic center at the intersection of Center Hill Road and Old Town Hall Road.
Five of the remaining six buildings relate to town-center functions: the church, parsonage, school, town hall, and tavern. The sixth is residential.
The school at 119 Center Hill Road just south of the main intersection with Old Town Hall Road was built in 1821, altered from time to time, and moved to its present site in 1980. It is maintained by the Barkhamsted Historical Society as a museum.
The Nathaniel Collins House, 131 Center Hill Road, on the east side north of the intersection with Old Town Hall Road, is the single building in the Barkhamsted Center Historic District said to date from the 18th century; it pre-dates the others, and pre-dates association of the intersection with town-center functions. A secondary, later north-south thoroughfare, Boettner Road, runs in front of the Collins House.
Old Town Hall Road proceeds eastward from Center Hill Road, starting between the school and the Collins House. It formerly ran through the village of Barkhamsted Center to the east, but now is an unused street taking on a remote character as soon as it leaves the district on its way one-quarter mile east to Barkhamsted Reservoir.
The Old Town Hall, 2 Old Town Hall Road, is the first building on the north. Its arched portico suggests the Colonial Revival style, articulating alterations made in mid-20th century. It is now a private residence. Across the street, the Merrill Tavern, 5 Old Town Hall Road, essentially a five-bay two-story Colonial house, also has an arched portico which appears to be added. The house now provides staff living quarters for the Metropolitan District Commission, the owner.
Both the First Congregational Church and its parsonage, 6 Old Town Hall Road and 8 Old Town Hall Road, which are the last two buildings in the Barkhamsted Center Historic District, are good examples of the Greek Revival style, boldly expressed. The tetrastyle church portico supports architrave and frieze in a clear strong interpretation of the style. The church continues to be used for services year round. The house next door that was the parsonage was converted to two rental apartments ca.1940, one of which currently once again serves as the parsonage.
Old Town Hall Road now stops a few feet east of the parsonage. The road lies in land acquired by the Metropolitan District Commission for the Barkhamsted Reservoir, but over the decades until this year the commission kept the road open for travel. 1998 is the first year in which the road has not been passable.
The Barkhamsted Center Historic District comprises a group of six frame buildings, all in a good state of preservation, which were the historic civic nucleus of Barkhamsted Center village. The buildings well portray the size, scale, and mid-19th-century architecture of the rural community. The buildings are modest in style and features with the exception of the 1844 First Congregational Church of Barkhamsted, which is an outstanding example of a fully articulated Greek Revival edifice. The early-19th-century formation and growth of the village center and its 20th-century displacement by an urban water supply reservoir system are clearly depicted by the artifacts.
The Town of Barkhamsted in northwestern Connecticut was incorporated in 1779, but, like much of the northwestern part of the state, was never heavily settled and to this day its 39 square miles has a population of only about 3,500 people. The low average density per square mile is driven in part by the large acreages in the town held by the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a water supply authority, and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). MDC owns 6,632 acres in Barkhamsted, mostly along the East Branch of the Farmington River, while four state forests occupy 4,000 acres. The two together constitute about 43 percentage of the town's land.
Due to its primarily rural character, the town as it was settled did not lend itself to establishment of a single major center of activity. Instead, several villages grew up. These included Barkhamsted Center, the subject of this documentation, Barkhamsted Hollow, which also was replaced by the reservoir, Pleasant Valley, and Riverton. Barkhamsted Center was perhaps first among equals because it was the location of the town hall and First Congregational Church.
Both the East and West Branches of the Farmington River run north-south through the town. The East Branch was identified ca.1910 by the Metropolitan District Commission (then, and to 1929, the Board of Water Commissioners of the City of Hartford) as suitable for construction of a reservoir to supply water to the greater metropolitan area of Hartford. MDC started buying land in 1913, and completed the Barkhamsted Reservoir, just east of the district in 1940. The reservoir is 8.5 miles long, has 3.63 square miles of water surface, and holds 30 billion gallons.
Old Town Hall Road ran from the district eastward through the village to the East Branch of the Farmington River. Now the road stops at the First Congregational Church Parsonage. Under the new circumstances, Barkhamsted Center as a civic nucleus declined in importance. Location of the town hall has been moved to Pleasant Valley, and activity in Riverton has picked up.
The oldest of the civic buildings, the school, was built in 1821 at the road intersection next east. The location has been described as "On the Green, southwest of the old church" (Wheeler, p.53). Scholars numbered as many as 40. Turnover in teachers was constant; Amherst and Yale undergraduates were among them. A prayer service at 5:00 Sunday afternoon was a regular feature, the Literary Society met in the school, and occasionally it was used for dances.
The MDC bought the building in 1940, and continued it in use as a tool shed on the Barkhamsted watershed, perhaps at its original location, which appears to have been near the water's edge. It was moved to its present location by the Barkhamsted Historical Society in 1980.
The First Congregational Church building was constructed at the same road intersection as the school, at the southern end of the burying ground which was relocated by the MDC to Center Hill Road just south of the district. The Ecclesiastical Society was organized in 1781 pursuant to Connecticut General Assembly authority granted in 1779. The church was built over a period of eight years, 1784-1782. Talk of a new meetinghouse began in 1843, and despite considerable disagreement about the need, the present edifice was completed in 1844-45. The new society of 33 members was organized on July 21, 1845, as the First Orthodox Congregational Society of Barkhamsted.
The house next door was built privately in 1846. The church purchased it for use as a parsonage in 1916, but it was converted to two rental apartments ca.1940, although the church retained ownership. In recent years the lower unit has again become the parsonage.
The last of the civic buildings to be constructed was the town hall, in 1867. Previously, meetings had been held in the old church, one-quarter mile to the east. Use of the building as a town hall ceased in 1954, when it was privately purchased and remodelled as a residence.
Buildings in the Barkhamsted Center Historic District are good examples of the Colonial, vernacular, and Greek Revival modes. They are representative of changing tastes in architectural styles during the district's period of significance.
The Collins House is an archetypical five-bay, central-doorway, central-chimney, 1-1/2-story clapboarded house, of which there are many in Barkhamsted and adjoining towns. Its frieze windows give it distinguishing character, and it appears to be in a good state of preservation, at least on the exterior. Frieze windows of this type traditionally are associated with the Greek Revival style which came into widespread use in the early 19th century, raising the possibility that the house as it now appears was erected in the early 19th century.
The Merrill House/Tavern followed early in the 19th century with similar five-bay, central-chimney, central-entrance configuration, but in a full two-story height. Its windows now are fitted with 2-over-2 sash, a late-19th early-20th century feature, and its portico is of undetermined origin. Historically, it contributed to the town-center activities by its function as a tavern, fulfilled in part by its second-floor coved-ceiling ballroom.
The school, the oldest town-owned building in the Barkhamsted Center Historic District, started its varied career in 1821 as a two-story four-bay building in which the second story was finished in 1824. About 60 years later, it was determined that the ground floor was unrepairable, so it was removed (Wheeler, 3). It functioned as a school through the 1920s. After several decades of tool shed use by the MDC, it was moved to its present location in 1980. Since the move, it has been rehabilitated with new 12-over-12 windows. Through all the changes the footprint and roof with its chimney have remained constant, and the door at the left under its three-pane transom appears to have survived as an original feature.
Documentary and photographic records for the Town Hall are meager by comparison. The overall dimensions appear in the 1867 request for bids, and a 19th-century photograph of the church happens to catch the three windows in the Town Hall rear elevation. The front portico was built in 1970 using components from the top stage of the church tower, demolished ca.1910, which had been stored by the private owner's family during the interval. Elements from other historic buildings, including the radial windows, have also been incorporated in the Town Hall since it became a residence.
The differences between the 1784 meetinghouse and the 1844 edifice illustrate changes in Congregational church architecture and liturgy which occurred during the period. In 1784 there was a double door on the front elevation (presumably with no columnar portico), and a double door on each side elevation. On the front, single windows flanked the door, with a row of five above. On the sides, single windows flanked the doors, with three above, suggesting that the church was domestically oriented, broader than deep. On the rear, a large central window was flanked by single small windows. In the interior, there were three blocks of box pews that had seats on three sides. Galleries were suspended on three sides of the sanctuary consistent with the windows pattern, while the high pulpit was backed by a suspended sounding board and the large window in the long rear wall, providing audio-visual drama to the strong religious message delivered by the minister.
In the 1844 church, the front elevation is the narrow dimension of the building, displaying a full Greek Doric portico in the tradition of the temple front. The front wall is occupied only by the multi-paneled tall double door with one of its leaves repeated as a blind transom. Side elevations have two-story windows, consistent with the absence of galleries on these walls. There is one interior aisle, and seating is in slips, not box pews. The high pulpit and its accompanying high back window are gone, consistent with a less dramatic approach to preaching.
The present building was constructed without a basement. In 1975 the floor framing was reinforced with steel beams to permit excavation below grade, and a church parlor was created in the space thus made available.
A 1992 State of Connecticut grant administered by the Connecticut Historical Commission assisted a project to renew interior and exterior finishes. The wainscot and pews were refinished in a graining technique called "flogging" recommended by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities pursuant to its paint analysis of original conditions. In addition to other interior work, the portico also was repaired and painted.
The two contemporary Greek Revival style buildings, church and parsonage, standing side by side, provide an excellent opportunity to compare two interpretations of the Greek Revival style of the 1840s. The restrained, academic treatment of the style in the church contrasts with the more vigorous, visually stronger, somewhat vernacular treatment in the parsonage. The proportions of components in the church, the depth of the moldings, and the relationships of the planes of the church all are modular, with the purpose of creating the desired unity in overall effect. While the addition of synthetic siding to the parsonage adds difficulty to analysis, the relationships of details are heavy, detracting from the overall effect. The sophisticated and successful unity of the church, by comparison, makes it one of the finest examples of a Greek Revival church in Connecticut, despite the loss of the top stage of its steeple ca.1910.
Beers, F.W. County Atlas of Litchfield County. New York City: F.W. Beers, 1874, Plate 24A.
Connecticut Historical Commission. Exhibit B to preservation easement executed with First Congregational Church of Barkhamsted, December 30, 1992.
Cosgrove, Leslie, historian of First Congregational Church of Barkhamsted. Conversation, August 9, 1998.
Fox, Michael D., First Selectman, Town of Barkhamsted. Interview, June 4, 1998.
Gidman, David N., owner of Old Town Hall. Interview, August 7, 1998.
Hillman, the Reverend William, minister, First Congregational Church of Barkhamsted, and Mrs. Hillman. Interview, August 7, 1998.
Report of Historic District Study Committee of the Town of Barkhamsted, December 7, 1981.
Repp, Elisabeth M., owner of Collins House. Interview, August 7, 1998.
State Register of Historic Places
Wheeler, Richard G., and George Hilton. Barkhamsted Heritage, Culture and Industry in a Rural Connecticut Town. Barkhamsted: Barkhamsted Historical Society, 1975.
† David F. Ransom, consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Barkhamsted Center Historic District, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.