Canaan Village Historic District
The Canaan Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 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 Canaan Village Historic District consists of 235 resources in the central portion of the village of Canaan, the population and commercial center of the town of North Canaan. Located in the upper northwest corner of the state immediately south of the Massachusetts state line, the town lies in the Northwest Highlands, the state's most rugged and dramatic region. The village is laid out on the northern edge of the Blackberry River flood plain with gently rising topography to the north and west. The Canaan Village Historic District occupies 93 acres and is bounded approximately by Granite Avenue on the west, West Main Street on the east, Main Street on the south, and Bragg Street on the north. The 28-building central business district is dominated by early-20th-century buildings, and it is surrounded on the west, north, and east by mid- to late-19th- and early-20th-century residential areas of detached frame houses. Fifty-nine of the 119 dwellings in the Canaan Village Historic District were constructed prior to 1900. Forty-eight were built between 1900 and 1935, and only 12 date from after 1935. There are 80 outbuildings or ancillary buildings, 1 structure, 5 ecclesiastical buildings, and 3 railroad-related resources. Only 38 are non-contributing, of which 19 are modern garages or cottages added to the rear portion of lots of contributing buildings. The overall character of the Canaan Village Historic District is that of a well-preserved village whose main spurt of development occurred during the last quarter of the 19th and first third of the 20th centuries. Physically the community appears much as it did on the eve of the Second World War.
The plan of the village, with the commercial area adjacent to the railroad tracks that traverse the town from south to north, was dictated by the 1836 layout of the right-of-way of the Housatonic Railroad. The main through road, Main Street, runs east to west, and its intersection with the tracks forms the focal point of the village center. The original station, housed in the Greek Revival Warner-Canfield Hotel building (non-extant), was located on the east side of the tracks and fronted on what became Main Street. The central business district developed around the station along Main Street and Railroad Street, which dead-ends at Main Street. The southern end of Railroad Street is dominated by one- and two-story brick and frame commercial buildings, while the northern end was the site of bulk supply and service buildings such as garages. The railroad station and depot were moved to the south side of Main Street in 1872 when a handsome Italianate style union station was completed. The station, which dominates the eastern entrance into the village, has active trackage to its east and south. A crossing tender's shanty and semaphore are set on Main Street on the north side of the parking lot; these enhance the well-preserved historic setting of the 1872 depot. The architecturally significant streamline diner, fabricated of aluminum and blue enamel panels in 1942, is located on the east side of the parking lot.
With the exception of the area immediately east of the railroad tracks on Main Street that contains the three non-compatible buildings, the 28-building central business district is a cohesive blend of brick and frame commercial blocks built to the street. They vary in height from one to three stories and range in date of construction from the mid-19th century to 1941. Structures from the first three decades of this century predominate. Twenty-one of the 28 buildings were constructed after 1900, and they give the business district its decided early-20th-century character.
The earliest commercial buildings in the village were two-story and gable-ended. The Humphrey Pharmacy (81-83 Main Street), constructed in 1843, is representative of that building type, and it, like the two other mid-19th-century commercial structures at 10 and 14 Railroad Street, has been extensively reworked on the facade, but their rear elevations reveal the original styling. The picturesque modes that dominated the last third of the 19th century are represented by the Roraback Law Office at 115 Main Street. More generously proportioned than the earlier structures, the one-story frame building has a deep bracketed parapet that reflects the era's love of bold millwork. Other late-19th-century frame commercial blocks shown in historic photographs have been replaced. The Canfield Block (93-97 Main Street), a large three-story frame building with pressed metal sheathing and a deep projecting pressed-metal cornice, is the most important commercial building in the Canaan Village Historic District owing to its size, remarkably complete state of preservation, and location on Main Street in the center of the business district. Stylistically a transitional structure, it marks the decline of the picturesque mode in favor of the more restrained Colonial Revival. The building combines three storefronts with recessed entrances on the first level with offices and apartments on the upper floors.
Representative of the brick commercial blocks is the 1903 Fuller Hardware building at 17 Railroad Street. Built to the street with plate glass showcase windows and a recessed entrance on the first level, the building has double-hung windows on the upper level(s) and a corbelled brick cornice. The same type was used later in the century for the 1931 Berenson Block at 85-89 Main Street as well as the well-preserved frame Mahaiwe Jewelry Building at 25 Railroad Street, which also features a projecting cornice. It too is sheathed with pressed metal, a material that is frequently used in Canaan.
The commercial portion of Railroad Street is anchored by the large stuccoed 2-story Colonial Revival Colonial Theater built in 1927. Monumentally detailed with a giant-order Tuscan-columned portico with a reticulated balustrade enclosing the second-level balcony, the building, which is one of the architecturally most significant and best-preserved in the commercial core, features a movie house on the main level, ballroom on the second, and bowling alley in the basement. Two chamfered storefronts with small-light showcase windows flank the recessed entrance to the theater.
The section of Railroad Street between the commercial blocks and Bragg Street was developed primarily as the bulk product distribution and service garage business district, but few of the original/early establishments survive. Brewer's Garage, an automobile dealership established in 1912 and continuously in operation from its one-story masonry and frame facility at 32 Railroad Street, is the only such business remaining on the east side of the street. The area to the north of the garage is open. More complete is the west side of the street with its mix of residences and garages that served as repair facilities. Of the industries located south of Main Street and west of the Housatonic Railroad line, only the former Canaan Fireproof Garage, converted to C.A. Lindell's sash and blind factory in 1932, survives. The Borden processing facility was housed in frame buildings that burned in the 1970s. The area has been redeveloped for housing, with some warehousing and light manufacturing located to the south outside the district.
Stretching to the west and north of the commercial district are the well-preserved late-19th- and early-20th-century residential streets. Of particular significance is the lower end of West Main Street, the earliest of the fashionable residential areas. It developed as an extension of Main Street, which also featured early residences. Granite Avenue, which runs northerly off of Main Street east of Christ Episcopal Church, is an almost uninterrupted row of ambitious late-19th-century dwellings primarily constructed in the picturesque Colonial Revival mode. Equally as well-preserved but more representative of the less ambitious late-19th- and early-20th-century styles are Prospect Street and Bragg Street. Many of the early houses retain their original/early carriage barns, while 20th-century houses are often complemented by corresponding one- and two-car garages. All houses are freestanding and set on well-maintained lots, with the houses on West Main Street enjoying particularly generous lots. West Main, Granite, and Bragg Streets are laid out with sidewalks and parkways lined with mature shade trees which add to the graciousness of the streetscapes.
The earliest residences in the Canaan Village Historic District are Greek Revival since the town was not established until the late 1830s. Seven houses were documented as predating 1865, and they are scattered throughout the district. The two best-preserved examples are located on the fringe of the commercial area. The Lynch House at 31 Granite Avenue is located immediately east of the railroad tracks and faces Railroad Street. It is a well-preserved example of the two-story Greek Revival house with a pedimented gable end that is common in the state. The Spaulding-Hunt-Roraback House at 117 Main Street represents the 5-bay form of the Grecian mode with its bold entablature and corner pilasters. The house was reworked in the Italianate taste later in the 19th century when a verandah with chamfered posts, bold double-leaf entrance doors, and richly detailed bay windows were added. The house is part of a three-building complex that remained as one parcel until 1980, when the large carriage barn to the southeast of the northerly oriented house and the Italianate law office were set off as separate parcels. Despite the separate ownership of each structure, the complex still reads as one property.
Large Italianate and Queen Anne houses set on generous lots on the lower end of West Main Street contribute greatly to the character of the residential portions of the district. The 1874 Beers atlas map of the village shows that seven dwellings had been constructed on the lower end of West Main Street, and six of those buildings survive. One of the best-preserved of the Queen Anne style dwellings is the superbly massed and detailed 2-1/2-story Pierce House at 180 West Main Street. The rich milled trim includes the turned-post verandah and filled gable peaks, decorative bargeboards, and handsome bay windows. The Foote House at 160 West Main Street was originally very similar, suggesting that it is the work of the same builder, but its original verandah has been replaced by an early-20th-century Tuscan-columned verandah in the Colonial Revival style. 130 West Main Street with its picturesque massing, varied roof silhouette, and excellent millwork verandah also reflects the best of the Queen Anne mode. The Wadham House at 6 Quinn Street, built in 1876, is a sophisticated example of the High Victorian Italianate mode. Detailed with double-tiered octagonal-ended bay windows flanking the central entrance and a handsome chamfered-post side verandah, it is the most distinctive example of the style in the district. A more restrained and representative example of the Italianate style is the L-shaped house with boxed overhanging eaves and circular-headed windows in the gable ends at 141 West Main Street. Both 141 West Main Street and 146 West Main, a ca.1873 Italianate house, have later Colonial Revival detailing.
The north end of West Main Street as well as Bragg Street are dominated by less grand two-story picturesque vernacular and boxy Colonial Revival houses with full-facade verandahs with turned posts. Representative examples of the house forms that dominated the 1890-1910 period are ca.1900 houses at 223 West Main Street and 268 and 276 West Main Street. The Craftsman influence is also reflected in some of the well-proportioned stuccoed ca.1915 houses. Of particular note is the house at 57 Bragg Street with its geometric cap detail on the inset porch posts. Many of the houses also retain their original carriage barns or early garages. The most ambitious Colonial Revival dwelling in the Canaan Village Historic District is the ca.1905 Allyn House at 121 Railroad Street. It was moved to its present location from 25 Railroad Street in 1910.
By 1890 Granite Avenue eclipsed West Main Street as the most prestigious residential area. Most of the 19 large well-proportioned frame houses in the picturesque Colonial Revival style are laid out on generous lots on a gently rising ridge. They were designed and built by E.R. Lorrain, North Canaan's most gifted turn-of-the-century contractor. The commodious houses, distinguished by picturesque massing and detailing and bold roof silhouettes, are well-preserved, save for the common use of aluminum siding over the original. They offer a remarkably complete assemblage of buildings that reflect late-19th-century taste. Two buildings, the well-detailed Colonial Revival Cape at 81 Granite Avenue built in 1941 on an undeveloped lot and the 1964 Colonial Revival meeting hall at 30 Granite Avenue, are the only intrusions.
Also located on Granite Avenue is one of the three architecturally distinguished churches located in the Canaan Village Historic District. Built in 1888, the Pilgrim Congregational Church, designed by E.R. Lorrain, is an excellent example of the Shingle style with its picturesque massing, decorative diamond-pattern window sash, and hip-roofed corner tower. Dominating the north side of the east edge of the village center is the well-preserved Gothic Revival chapel erected in random ashlar granite in 1845 for the Episcopal congregation. The gable-ended structure has a smaller corresponding vestibule and diagonal corner buttresses as well as a slate roof. In 1931 a freestanding rubble-coursed Gothic Revival-inspired tower was erected east of the church. The visual importance of the church site to the townscape is emphasized by the location of the town's fieldstone pedestal and bronze statue war memorial located on the southeast portion of the lot which functions as the equivalent of a town green. The Canaan United Methodist Church is prominently located at the west end of Main Street where it divides into Church Street and West Main Street. It is a well-preserved example of the richly detailed eclectic churches favored during the last third of the 19th century. Set gable end to the street with a bold entablature that returns on the gable end, the church is dominated by the well-detailed spire that rises from the projecting central pavilion.
The Canaan Village Historic District in the Town of North Canaan, the historic population and commercial center of the extreme northwest corner of Connecticut, is the result of influences triggered by the technology-stimulated commerce that dominated the 19th-century history of the state. The Canaan Village Historic District, which is the central portion of the village of Canaan, is significant for its well-preserved assemblage of late-19th- and early-20th-century buildings that articulate the historic development and status that the village assumed as the transportation and commercial center of the region. Established on former farmland only after the right-of-way of the Housatonic Railroad was determined in 1836, Canaan village is the direct result of railroad development beginning in the 1830s. Its rapid growth and sustained prosperity reflected the expansion of railroading as well as the mechanization and growth of the lime and dairy industries in northwest Connecticut. With the completion of the Connecticut Western Railroad, an east-west line that intersected the Housatonic line in Canaan village, in 1872, the two lines stimulated the growth of Canaan village as a regional transfer point for the export of local products, including lime, milk, and other dairy products. Unlike most of the surrounding communities, which did not flourish during the last quarter of the 19th and first quarter of the 20th centuries, Canaan village grew markedly, becoming an architecturally significant example of a small community that survives virtually unchanged from the 1930s. The residential streets reflect the richness of the mid- to late-19th-century and early-20th-century modes. The Canaan Village Historic District also features individually significant buildings, including several churches, Union Station, and one of the finest streamline diners in the state.
The Town of North Canaan, in which the village of Canaan is located, was created from the Town of Canaan in 1858. Initially little more than a settlement of scattered farms located north and west of the population center of the part of the Town of Canaan known as North Canaan, which achieved parish status in 1767, Canaan village did not begin to take on the character of a community until after 1836, when the right-of-way of the Housatonic Railroad was established. The Housatonic Railroad was chartered in 1836 to run from Stamford to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and thus capitalize on the fact that it could serve as a winter route to Albany when the Hudson River was frozen. It also would serve as a means of transporting iron and lime out of northwest Connecticut (Turner, p.48).
William Adam, a large landowner, persuaded the railroad to route its line across his property, bypassing the then-established settlement on the Blackberry River known as Lower Corners. In return for utilizing his land, which he subdivided into building lots, Adam agreed to construct a station at his expense, and it was adjacent to that station that the village began to develop (Roraback, p.23). Growth of the village exacerbated the local rivalry between the Town of Canaan (south of North Canaan) and the growing population and business center at Canaan Depot, as Canaan village was then known. In 1858, North Canaan successfully petitioned to become a town with the village of Canaan as its center.
Further stimulation for growth was provided by the rise of the quicklime industry after 1860. Although the local limestone deposits had been an important factor in the development of the iron industry in the region since the mid-1800s (it was used as the flux to remove the impurities from iron ore), it was not until the 1850s that production of lime into quicklime developed into a major industry in the North Canaan area. The first perpetual kiln was established in 1853, with several large-scale operations being established around North Canaan in the 1870s. Canaan village, more than any other community in the area, benefitted from the prosperity generated by the quicklime industry.
As the century progressed, the village of Canaan continued to expand, and by the turn of the century, it was the retail and product distribution hub of the region, a distinction that it enjoyed until after World War II. Prosperity generated by the quicklime industry, farming, and the railroad itself, as well as the business from surrounding towns, prompted growth of the commercial district and adjacent residential streets. Many of the center merchants such as hardware store owner and banker George Fuller, jewelry store operator F.R. Collins, and plumbing businessman Hiram Beebe built or purchased the large, comfortable homes on the premier residential streets such as West Main Street and Granite Avenue. Commercial prosperity was thus a significant influence in the physical character of the town. The transportation network brought people to Canaan village, and it was there that they secured goods and services, a trend that continued until the 1950s.
Without the designation of the area as a station stop in 1836, it is unlikely that the village of Canaan would exist. The village literally sprang up around the new railroad depot/hotel, constructed at the intersection of Main and Railroad Streets about 1838, making it a good example of transportation shaping the development pattern. The Housatonic Railroad was one of the stronger regional lines in the western part of the state, and it continued to operate as an independent corporation until 1891, when it was leased by the New York & New England Railroad. It became part of the New York New Haven & Hartford system through stock control in 1892 and was operated as its scenic Berkshire division.
Expansion of the transportation system gave the town a second boost in 1872 with the coming of the Connecticut Western Railroad, an east-west line. It ran from Hartford through Simsbury to Winsted, Norfolk, and then Canaan village on its way to Poughkeepsie and the crossing of the Hudson. The two lines crossed south of Main Street in the center of Canaan village, and the Housatonic and the Connecticut Western, later known as the Central New England Railroad, collaborated to construct a union station east and north of the tracks. In addition to providing the village with its most architecturally distinguished example of the Italianate style (the well-preserved station called Union Depot was individually listed in the National Register in 1972), the two rail lines provided an economic "raison d'etre" that surrounding towns did not enjoy.
For most of Connecticut not located in the Northeast Corridor, the demand for rail service declined markedly beginning in the 1920s as the state's highway system developed. Both the Housatonic and the Central New England were under the control of the New York New Haven & Hartford system by 1927, and the track on the Central New England between Bloomfield and Salisbury was abandoned after the 1930s. The Housatonic, however, is still a moderately active line, servicing industries between Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and North Canaan. Its existence offers a continuum of historical influence that is not enjoyed by other towns in the area.
Canaan Village Historic District is a well-preserved and architecturally significant example of a small 19th- and early-20th-century community. Rather than being dominated by a host of individually distinguished buildings, the district offers an impressive assemblage of well-preserved commercial and residential structures that reflect the stylistic preferences of their day in their original setting and interrupted by few non-compatible resources. Of particular significance are the late-19th- and early-20th-century residential streets west and north of the business center with large, richly detailed Italianate, Queen Anne, and early Colonial Revival dwellings, often with the original carriage barns remaining behind the houses.
While no more than ten pre-1865 buildings remain in the village, over 45 houses constructed during the last third of the 19th century survive, and it is these dwellings and two churches as well as a small office that give the village its strong and distinctive late-Victorian era character. Of the seven large dwellings which were depicted on the 1874 Beers atlas map of Canaan village, six survive and rank among the most distinguished 1870s and 1880s houses in the village. Of particular significance are the Foote House at 160 West Main Street and the Pierce House at 180 West Main Street. Both feature the varied milled trim and picturesque massing for which the Queen Anne houses of the period are known. The Queen Anne style house at 130 West Main Street has the finest millwork verandah in the Canaan Village Historic District.
Most significant of the late-19th-century non-residential buildings is the Canaan United Methodist Church, built in 1873 on the site of the Spaulding bedstead factory. Richly detailed in the late-19th-century tradition, the frame church has a superb central spire with imbricated shingles and round-arched fenestration with bold drip moldings.
Granite Avenue, laid out in 1883 and extended to the north in 1887 (Baldwin, p.18), eclipsed West Main Street as the premier residential thoroughfare in the village. It is a remarkably complete and well-preserved row of large picturesque Colonial Revival dwellings that were designed and built by Canaan village's leading builder of the day, E.R. Lorrain, who is also thought to have been responsible for some of the homes on West Main Street. His work includes his own house at 21 Granite Avenue and the very fine Shingle style Pilgrim Congregational Church at 29 Granite Avenue. Fred Hall, a resident of Granite Avenue since 1934, states that Lorrain built most of the houses on the street, and stylistic similarities shared by many of the generous well-proportioned homes confirm that statement (Hall, September 23, 1989). Lorrain was alive as late as 1919. His work demonstrates his ability in the picturesque modes and does much to establish the character of the village as one of the most significant late-19th- and early-20th-century residential enclaves in the region.
Architecturally the central business district is distinguished by the completeness of the streetscapes. Two buildings are of particular significance. The three-story Canfield Building, built in 1903 to house the office of the Canfield Lime Company, is a pressed-metal sheathed structure that survives basically unaltered. The Colonial Theater, located at 27-29 Railroad Street, is the village's finest Colonial Revival commercial building, with its giant-order Tuscan-columned portico and original storefronts flanking the entrance to the theater. The building contains a ballroom on the second level and a bowling alley in the basement. It is still used as a movie house. Also of note is the brick Southern New England Telephone Company building erected at the west end of the commercial district in 1941. The building is a successful combination of the Art Moderne with the prevailing Colonial Revival taste.
Two buildings generally considered the most distinguished in the Canaan Village Historic District are located next to one another, yet they are as stylistically different as two structures can be. Dominating the entrance to town from the east is the impressive, extremely well-preserved Union Station, built in 1872. Constructed in the Italianate mode with an octagonal tower oriented toward the juncture of the crossing train lines, the L-shaped station is historically and architecturally the most significant building in the village. It is preserved in its original context next to an active train line.
Located on the east side of the depot parking lot is the Collins Diner, a well-preserved streamline diner manufactured by the Jerry O'Mahoney Company, Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1942. Fabricated with aluminum and blue enamel panels, the diner, which is as complete on the interior as it is on the exterior, is one of the finest examples of the structural type in the state. Still in place is the clock over the entrance vestibule and the operable ventilator panels in the monitor-type top. The brick kitchen wing is a slightly later addition.
Connecticut Western News. 1885-1910.
Falls Village-Canaan Historical Society. Canaan Now and Then. Canaan: Connecticut Western News, 1968.
Roraback, Henry. North Canaan, Conn. Canaan: Press of C.H. Pease, 1892.
Sanborn Insurance Company. Maps. 1895-1923.
Turner, Gregg. Connecticut Railroads: An Illustrated History. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1986.
Baldwin, Joan. "A Historical and Architectural Survey of the Center of Canaan Village." CT Historical Commission. 1988.
† Mary E. McCahon, Falls Village-Canaan Historical Society and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Canaan Village Historic District, North Canaan, CT, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Beers, J.W. Atlas of Litchfield County. 1874.