Milton Center Historic District
The Milton Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Milton Center Historic District is located in the Town of Litchfield about four miles northwest of the center of town. The Milton Center Historic District is oriented in an east-west direction encompassing churches, schools, former water power site, and houses in the center of the village of Milton. The components of the Milton Center Historic District may be broken down as follows: 11 18th-century structures; 1 19th-century structure; 1 20th-century structure; 5 parcels significant because of function or artifacts; 1 cemetery; 8 non-contributing properties; 2 bridges.
The east-west spine of the Milton Center Historic District is Milton Road running from the David Welch House on the east, westerly to the Common, Trinity Episcopal Church, Milton Hall, and Congregational Church.
The focus of the Milton Center Historic District is the Common, a triangular piece of unimproved land at the intersection of Milton Road with Headquarters Road and Shearshop Road. The Common retains its 18th- and 19th-century appearance, without plantings of trees and shrubs. At the northwest corner of the Common, the Shepaug River flows under Milton Road in a southerly direction before taking a turn to the west, where it entered Milton Pond, now drained. Waterpower provided by the Shepaug River brought the first settlers to the village. The stone lining of the river where it crosses the corner of the Common, the 19th-century iron bridge, and the Congregational Church beyond provide a view of basic components of the Milton Center Historic District.
Across Milton Road at the north end of the Common the Center includes the Congregational Church at the left followed by the Guild Tavern, Shearshop Road, Milton Hall and Trinity Episcopal Church. A picture, c.1925, shows this scene the same as it appears in 1986. The Guild Tavern is unusual for its 4-bay side elevation, while Milton Hall adds one of the few Queen Anne style touches to the district with the imbricated shingles in its gable ends. Milton Hall replaces a store that burned in the 1890s. The Milton Center Historic District now  has no store. The Episcopal Church is an early (1802) example of Gothic Revival features in a building with proportions and mass that would equally well accept Greek Revival treatment.
At the south end of the Common are two Milton schools. Milton Academy (1855) still retains some original glazing and board-and-batten siding, while the Milton District School (1896) still has its distinctive tower, belfry, bell, and pyramidal roof with flared eaves.
Further to the west Milton Road is lined with historic houses and with four 20th-century houses that do not contribute to the 18th- and 19th-century character of the Milton Center Historic District. Among the historic houses, the Hugh Welch Mansion (1840) is a large square 5-bay Greek Revival structure, while across the street two smaller houses have doorways similar to one another with transom lights and plain entablatures. The first of these is sheathed on its front elevation in flush matched boarding, an unusual feature.
At the end of this section of Milton Road where it turns almost 90 degrees to the north stands the second David Welch House of 1765, impressively sited behind a picket fence. The house is large and its parcel is large, 90 acres.
The Shepaug River, whose power potential attracted the first settlers to Milton, flows from the north through the village in two branches. The East Branch enters the Milton Center Historic District at Shearshop Road, cuts across the corner of the Common and turns 90 degrees to the west where the Milton Pond was located for two centuries. The dam for the pond was at Sawmill Road. The East Branch continues westerly beyond the location of the dam to the western boundary of the district where it joins the West Branch and the single stream flows south.
Even though the dam at Sawmill Road, first built about 1740, survived until the flood of 1955, no picture of it has come to hand. Sawmill Road ran across the top of the dam, the highway sloping down to its height, and then up again. Now the East Branch flows through a concrete culvert. Earth has been piled on top of the culvert, making Sawmill Road run almost flat instead of dipping down as it did for centuries. The site of the former pond is now marshland with secondary forest growth. A nail forge was located on the edge of Milton Pond. Low walls still in place at the northwest corner of the parcel near the road demonstrate that a rectangular building, running parallel with the road, once stood there. The gorge west of the site of the dam was the site of the Seelye Sawmill and Hutchinson Cider Mill. Several masonry artifacts are found along the edges of the stream and the steep banks of the ravine. Halfway up the south bank is a portion of a masonry wall and a cavity that may have been part of the waterpower system. Several brownstone ashlar blocks at the water's edge are left from a building that once stood nearby.
While there appear to be no extant pictures of the dam, the pond, or mills that stood near them, there is a 1910 photograph of the Smith carriage factory that stood at the western edge of the district. Foundations of a structure are on the site. The carriage factory location is shown on an 1852 map.
Near the western edge of the Milton Center Historic District the Milton Cemetery lies behind a stone wall of massive granite blocks with 19th-century iron gates. Milton citizens who fought in the Revolutionary War and many other distinguished Milton men and women are buried there.
The Milton Center Historic District contains several excellent examples of pre-Revolutionary War architecture and later 19th-century structures. These buildings, which continue to exist in their original relationship to one another, together form an entity of quality and integrity that is architecturally significant. The buildings and sites depict the 18th- and 19th-century origin and development of the district, based on the waterpower potential of the Shepaug River. There have been few intrusions. The presence of early industrial sites offers the potential for developing useful information through their examination.
The area now known as Milton was called West Farms. It was settled and developed because of its attractive potential for water power development. Among the first settlers, who arrived before 1740, were Justus Seelye, David Welch and Jeremiah Griswold from New Milford. Welch engaged in the iron business as a merchant, buying and selling ore mined in northwestern Connecticut. One of the men he dealt with was Ethan Allen, the Revolutionary War hero. Welch also brought ore to Milton and processed it in a puddling furnace located north on Shearshop Road behind his house. Griswold, a builder, constructed the dam at Sawmill Road, which formed Milton Pond, and also the second David Welch House. Others took advantage of the waterpower available from the Shepaug River at several sites. In the district the Seelye Sawmill, Pratt Nail Forge, and Hutchinson Cider mill were located near the dam at Milton Pond.
The community became a religious and political entity through the usual course of pleading hardship in reaching the church at Litchfield Center in bad weather. Permission to hold services at Milton during winter months was requested in 1768. The Third Ecclesiastical Society of Litchfield built the meetinghouse on the Common in 1791. Four years later the General Assembly granted a petition for establishment of the independent Milton parish.
Famous and near famous people associated with the Milton Center Historic District included Lt. John Griswold, son of Jeremiah Griswold. John Griswold, who lived on Sawmill Road south of the district, was an early inventor of an ironclad naval vessel. He tested a model of his armored vessel on Milton Pond early in the 19th century. Oliver Dickinson, joiner/architect of Trinity Church, was the father of Anson Dickinson, nationally known painter of miniatures. The Welch family continued prominent in the district's affairs. David's son, John, became an Episcopalian and gave the land on which Trinity Church stands, Hugh Welch, grandson of David Welch, built the Greek Revival house, the last architecturally significant house to be built in the district, after he achieved success as a banker.
The district's years of growth and prosperity coincided with the period when waterpower was important as a source of energy for industry. Activity was strong until about the middle of the 19th century, when the advent of steam and railroads brought decline to industry based on waterpower. In the district no developments succeeded waterpower. The railroad did not come to Milton; there were no other natural resources to exploit; it was not a crossroads, county seat, or trading center. Industry faded away and was not replaced by other activity. Now it takes searching to find factory foundations and dam abutments. Many of the civil, domestic, and religious structures, however, have survived and continue to tell their story of the past.
The Milton Center Historic District enjoys a rural setting and is surrounded by farmland and woodland. Indeed, the Jeremiah Griswold (Second David Welch) House is set on a 90-acre farm. Nevertheless, the significance of the Milton Center Historic District does not relate to its rural setting but derives from its industrial development. The waterpower potential of the Shepaug River was the attraction that drew the early settlers to Milton Center and the development of the waterpower was the driving force in the history of the village. While the mills and factories that used the waterpower have now disappeared, the stream itself runs through the district as it always has, and foundations, stone walls, and remnants of the waterpower system clearly indicate the industrial past. The community of houses, churches, schools, and village hall that was built as a necessary complement to the industry is substantially intact, giving an excellent understanding of the appearance and function of the Milton Center Historic District at the time of its 19th-century industrial eminence.
The two David Welch houses are fine examples of pre-Revolutionary War architecture, both being designed in the traditional 5-bay central-chimney central-doorway manner. Welch's first house later received a 3-bay addition to the east, for a store, and an ell. These additions and outbuildings are intact. Similarly, his second house has a large added ell and substantial outbuildings, intact. The presence of these two complexes of fine houses with additions and service buildings, largely unchanged in the past 150 years, is a factor of major significance in the Milton Center Historic District.
The third significant 18th-century structure is the John Buell House. Although not indigenous to the Milton Center Historic District, it is the only surviving architecture in the town dating to the first settlement of Litchfield. The ell was added to represent the 19th-century original which was beyond salvage. It houses modern conveniences. No visible intrusions mar the house or its environment.
The Congregational Church is of more architectural interest than its standard Greek Revival appearance suggests because the Greek Revival features are added. It would be interesting to know whether, when originally built on the Common, it was a meetinghouse with door on a side elevation, but this information and the reason why it was moved are not known.
The Episcopal Church is significant because its joiner/architect, Oliver Dickenson, (1757-1847) is known and because the use of pointed arch windows in its design, if original, is very early.
The two small 18th-century houses on the south side of Milton Road have interesting similarities in their doorways and are examples of modest homes in contrast to the large David Welch houses. The Hugh Welch Mansion across the street from them is a monumental expression of the Greek Revival style, unlike any other structure in the Milton Center Historic District.
The two school buildings at the south end of the Common help to give a sense of the late 19th-century ambience of the Milton community. The board-and-batten siding of the Milton Academy and the belfry tower of the District School are characteristic of their era.
Since the attraction that drew early settlers to Milton was its water power facilities, industrial sites were established early in the 18th century and continued to be the community's raison d'etre to the end of the 19th century. While all buildings associated with these enterprises are gone, visible stone foundations abound. It is likely that examination of these locations, notably two vacant land sites in the district, would yield useful and worthwhile information of an archeological character.
Investigation and study at the vacant land site of the mill pond which was 165 feet long in the east-west direction by 80 feet wide might yield information placing the building whose walls remain there in the industrial history of Milton Center, perhaps illustrating the functioning of a nail forge. The pond was drained after the flood of 1955 which damaged the dam. Pratt's Nail Forge was located there. Investigation and study of the vacant deep ravine site through which flows the East Branch of the Shepaug River might yield information placing its artifacts in the industrial history of Milton Center, probably as parts of the sawmill and cider mill that stood on this parcel below the dam. Low stone walls appear to be those of the carriage factory shown by an 1852 map to have been located on this parcel. Aside from natural growth of vegetation, and with the exception of construction work on Sawmill Road where it crosses the river, the sites appear to be little disturbed by extraneous occurrences during the 20th century.
Beers, F. W., Atlas of Litchfield County, Connecticut (New York: 1868), plate 39 .
Cota, Eleanor H., letter May 11, 1986, to Connecticut Historical Commission regarding the John Buell House.
Final Report of the Milton Historic District Study Committee, 1975.
History of Litchfield County, Connecticut (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1881) v. 1.
Kilbourne, P. K., Sketches and Chronicles of the Town of Litchfield (Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Co., 1859).
Page, Rev. W. E., "Centennial Address Delivered in the Congregational Church, Milton, Conn., Aug. 21, 1898."
White, Alain C., The History of the Town of Litchfield, Connecticut, 1720-1920 (Litchfield: Enquirer Print, 1920).
Woodford, E. M., "Map of the Town of Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut," 1852
† David F. Ransom, consultant; edited by John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Milton Center Historic District, Litchfield, CT, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.