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Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District


The Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District is a north-south linear area anchored by the intersection of the two highways at a crossroads known as Catlin's Corners. Most of the houses in the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District are on Harmony Hill Road, north of the main intersection. Like those near the four corners, they are relatively close to the road while being well-spaced from one another. The parcels vary in size up to about 20 acres, with the houses sited at the front, near the road. The Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District was a focal point in the agricultural settlement pattern of the Town of Harwinton and continues to maintain its generally rural character, but as a settlement rather than as a series of widely separated farmsteads. Stone walls along the roads at the building lines and large shade trees help impart a sense of community to the district.

The Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District displays a typical New England setting of buildings and spaces between the buildings. A prevalence of trees and fences visually integrates the external features of buildings and voids. Views and vistas provide walls of space for the setting. The ambiance prevails without crowding or intrusions in the historic low density environment.

For the most part the boundary of the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District coincides with that of local Harwinton Historic District A, located about a mile east of Harwinton center (see Litchfield-South Roads Historic District). Several non-contributing properties included in the local district are excluded, and historic houses north of the local district are added.

The intersection of Burlington Road (State Route 4) and Harmony Hill Road assumed its position as a commercial and activity center during the 18th century. Catlin's store stood on the northwest corner of the crossroads just west of the Catlin house at 1 Harmony Hill Road, while the northeast corner was occupied by East Academy, which later was moved to its present site at 76 Harmony Hill Road. The two Catlin houses and the Catlin watering trough at the crossroads continue to give identity to the intersection.

Six 18th-century houses are included in the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District as well as an 18th-century school and two residences converted from 19th-century barns. All of these buildings are frame. The cluster of three mid-18th-century houses at the north end of the district (76, 90, and 111 Harmony Hill Road) is unusual in the Town of Harwinton because most buildings constructed in the town before 1750 are no longer standing. Nowhere else in the town is such a cluster of three known to exist.

Another 18th-century house at the south end of the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District (44 Locust Road) is the farmstead for a 94-acre parcel which continues as an active farm. Only the front part of the acreage on which the house and barns are sited is included in the district.

In general, appearance of the historic houses has changed relatively little. Demolition of the Catlin store west of 1 Harmony Hill Road, probably early in the 20th century, is perhaps the most substantive change. Others continue to exhibit the two-story, five-bay, gable-roofed, central-chimney, central-entrance, frame building features which are characteristic of the Colonial style.

The Catlin watering trough is the only historic resource other than buildings. Its provenance is given by its lettering. A historic photograph shows the watering trough with a pier at the west end, to balance the pier still present on the east end. The added hitching post further to the east is incised: 1916 / ERECTED IN MEMORY / OF CAROLINE CATLIN.

Significance

Summary

The Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District has historical significance because the area it embraces has served as an important residential, commercial, and educational focus for the Town of Harwinton from the time it was settled as an agricultural community early in the 18th century. An academy and a store were located at the crossroads, known as Catlin's Corners, which was and is the activity center of the district.

The Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District is significant architecturally because it contains six well-preserved buildings which are good examples of historic 18th-century architectural styles. The six houses, dating from the time of settlement, are representative of post-medieval English building practices in the Colonial and Georgian styles. Three are near the main intersection (131 Burlington Road, 1 Harmony Hill Road, and 44 Locust Road); three are at the northern end of the district (76, 90, and 111 Harmony Hill Road).

In addition, late-19th-century influence is represented by a well-preserved Queen Anne house (95 Harmony Hill Road), while 20th-century adoption of the Colonial Revival mode is demonstrated by rehabilitation of a 19th-century barn (125 Burlington Road). Overall, the stable relationship of the buildings to one another has been maintained, giving stability to the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District's characteristic rural ambience.

Historical Background

The district was settled by farmers early in the 18th century after the Town of Harwinton was formed in 1737 from land held by Hartford and Windsor, the name Harwinton being a contraction of the two. Harwinton owes its existence as a community to its location on the route, now State Route 4 (Burlington Road), connecting the older towns of Farmington to the east and Litchfield to the west. The district developed in a north-south orientation from a crossroads known as Catlin's Corners.

Agriculture was the chief pursuit of the settlers. A store at the corners supported the agricultural community by making available goods not produced by the subsistence economy and, conversely, by purchasing products of the farms for bulk shipment to the Hartford market. Establishment of an academy at the corners reinforced the crossroads' function as an activity center for the district. The district has continued to be a small rural community.

Land grants were made to settlers at the time Harwinton was formed in 1737 from land owned by Windsor, to the west, and by Hartford, to the east. Accordingly, in 1739 Abijah Catlin 1st (1715-1778) of Hartford received a grant of acreage at the intersection later named after him in the eastern section of the town, although it is doubtful that he ever built a house or resided in the district. In contrast, Lieutenant Jonathan Brace, also of Hartford, built his house at 90 Harmony Hill Road between 1733 and 1737. He acquired title in 1732 from Captain Daniel Messinger, regarded as Harwinton's first resident, and married Messenger's daughter in 1738.[1]

Jonathan Balch's house next door at 76 Harmony Hill Road, built ca.1770, is later but quite similar to the Brace House. Balch had a clockmaking shop in the ell, while in the 19th century a coffin shop, now 66 Harmony Hill Road, was added to the south. The shops added a non-agricultural activity to the district. The coffin shop was remodeled to its present condition ca.1930 by Lois Lensky Covey, prolific author of children's books.

Another similar house at 44 Locust Road is significant historically because, perhaps because of its stark setting on a knoll, it appears to occupy a less altered site than the others. Still surrounded by a working farm, it exhibits a realistic sense of the historic appearance and ambience of the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District.

Abijah Catlin 2nd (1747-1813) took up residence in the district at the crossroads by building the house at 1 Harmony Hill Road ca.1765. He built his store on the same property, to the west. His action ensured association of the Catlin name with the crossroads and gave the intersection its commercial identity. In addition to having the store, Abijah Catlin 2nd also operated the house as an inn. General George Washington, General Henry Knox, and the Marquis de Lafayette stopped there for refreshments when returning to West Point from their September 21, 1780, meeting with French commanders in Hartford.[2]

Abijah Catlin 2nd built the house across the street, 131 Burlington Road, in 1799 for his son Abijah Catlin 3rd (1779-1836) on the occasion of his marriage, further cementing the Catlin name to the crossroads. Abijah Catlin 3rd was a merchant, farmer, and manufacturer of hats, which he sold in the Catlin store across the street.

East Academy (see Litchfield-South Roads Historic District for Center Academy) was constructed on the northeast corner of the intersection at an unknown date thought to be in the late 1700s. It was the town's first institution of learning above the level of district schools. An 1818 catalog lists 69 students, 18 of whom were Catlins in residence at the two Catlin houses near the crossroads and other Catlin houses on Harmony Hill Road. Ownership rested in a private association which in 1841 sold the building for removal to 85 Harmony Hill Road where it was remodelled into a house. The contract describing rehabilitation work in detail, at a cost of $100, was signed February 26, 1841. Amos P. Gibbs did the work for owner William M. Catlin.

Historical development in the district slowed with the closing and moving of the academy, although houses were built occasionally late in the 19th century and during the 20th century. Since these later changes have not been insensitive intrusions, the history of the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District continues to be well portrayed by its architecture.

Architecture

The Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District is significant architecturally because it contains well-preserved buildings which are good examples of historic architectural styles. Six of the houses in the district embody the distinctive characteristics of colonial-era architecture in Connecticut: clapboarded exteriors, gable roofs, small-pane divided sash, and five-bay central-chimney central-entrance form.

In addition to displaying these distinctive characteristics, the two oldest houses, 76 Harmony Hill Road and 90 Harmony Hill Road, situated side-by-side at the northern end of the district, are quite similar to one another in details, both having 12-over-8 sash and both having a "coffin door." The older, 90 Harmony Hill Road, is different because of its saltbox rear roof slope, the only saltbox in the district. The third house in the cluster at the north of the district is the only one of the six to be 1-1/2 stories high, thereby adding to the variety of 18th-century interpretations in the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District.

In the cluster of three 18th-century houses at the south of the district, two, 1 Harmony Hill Road and 44 Locust Road, are in the standard colonial-era format, well preserved, while, the third and latest, 131 Burlington Road, displays embellishment in the Georgian style, unique in the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District. Its recessed doorway surrounded by side lights and cornice, Palladian window over the doorway, and attic Palladian windows, clearly reflect the late-18th-century mode. The east wing, thought to have been added about ten years after the main block was built, again demonstrates changing taste in architectural styles because its slender porch columns are attenuated in conformity with the Federal or Adamesque style then spreading throughout the Northeast. The presence of Georgian and Federal features in the rural district indicates that the builder and the resident, Abijah Catlin 2nd and Abijah Catlin 3rd, through their mercantile activities were in touch with trends first associated with urban centers.

While new construction in the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District in the late 19th century was relatively rare, the house at 95 Harmony Hill Road is a good example of the picturesque trend of the period. Its two-part porch posts supported by high two-part pedestals reflect a lingering influence from the Italianate style popular in mid-century, while the tall paired windows and perforated circles of the bargeboards in its gable end projecting toward the street are timely Queen Anne style features, as is the basic L-shaped ground plan.

Conversion of two 19th-century barns to residences demonstrates the increasing desirability of the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District as a residential neighborhood. The two conversions could not be more different. While 125 Burlington Road uses its original barn shape and mass as the dominant feature of its design, 148 Burlington Road opts for adherence to contemporary popularity of the Colonial Revival style to the total concealment of its origin.

The single object in the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District, the Abijah Catlin 1st watering trough, appears to be in its original location at the side of the road. It is of artistic significance because of the good workmanship of its pecked granite finish and the simplicity of its design, which is primarily based on the function of providing water for animals. Two contemporary social movements are embodied in the watering trough: The "Be kind to animals," especially draft animals, preoccupations of the day brought such troughs to many communities. Also, the increased attention to redoubtable ancestors fostered by Colonial Revival activity led to the recognition of forebears identified as distinguished. The watering trough, erected as a memorial to an original settler, melds the two programs and also serves as a symbol of the 18th-century development of the Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District and its continuing historical and architectural significance.

Endnotes

[1]Report and Recommendation of the Historic District Study Committee of the Town of Harwinton, Connecticut, 1989, entry on 90 Harmony Hill Road.

[2]Reynolds, Section V. Dr. Freeman Meyer, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Connecticut, advises that record of this luncheon does not appear in standard sources, which, he comments, is not surprising considering the minor nature of the event.

References

Bentley, Raymond George. History of Harwinton (Winsted: Dowd Printing Company, 1970), pp.85, 90.

Birge, E.C. "Harwinton Center." The Lure of the Litchfield Hills, 13 (December 1955) 3, pp.17, 42.

Chipman, R. Manning, History of Harwinton (Hartford: William Wiley & Turner, 1858).

Catlin, Mrs. Abijah, and Helen Smith Catlin, The Catlin Homestead, Harwinton, 1799. Old Houses of Connecticut, Colonial Dames Series, ca.1917.

Report and Recommendation of the Historic District Study Committee of the Town of Harwinton, Connecticut, 1989.

Reynolds, Spencer B, Descendants of the Immigrant Thomas Catlin. 1985. Ms. at Connecticut State Library.

Shanley, Lloyd T., Jr., municipal historian and former first selectman. Conversation, February 20, 1996.

David F. Ransom, consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Litchfield-South Roads Historic District, Harwinton, CT, nomination document, 1996, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Burlington-Harmony Hill Roads Historic District Map

Street Names
Burlington Road • Harmony Hill Road • Locust Road • Route 4

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