Plymouth Center Historic District
The Plymouth Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. A boundary increase was added in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from copies of the original nomination documents. [†, ‡] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Plymouth Center Historic District, a crossroads village nestled in the rolling hills of the Town of Plymouth, is situated on the western edge of town about a half mile from the Naugatuck River. Extending for about three-quarters of a mile along Main Street (Route 6), the Plymouth Center Historic District rises steeply from the Thomaston border on the west, continues more gradually uphill through the major crossroads at North and South streets, and ends with the inclusion of Maple Street on the east. Other roads in the Plymouth Center Historic District include part of North and South streets and short sections of Hillside Avenue, Ives Crossing, and Carter Road.
The Plymouth Center Historic District contains 163 resources (buildings, sites, and objects), of which 122 (75 percent) contribute to its historical and/or architectural significance. The oldest contributing resource is the Plymouth Green, a historic site reserved for a commons (public land) in 1746. Also known as Plymouth Park, it is located in the center of the village, northwest of the crossroads. Other contributing historic sites in the Plymouth Center Historic District are Plymouth's first Burying Ground west of the Green and the West Cemetery on Carter Road. Clustered around the Green are historic institutional buildings, two churches, two parsonages, a former school, and an early town hall, as well as a library and several historic commercial buildings. The majority of the contributing resources are historic houses and their associated barns and outbuildings. Most of the 73 historic houses are generally well preserved and contribute to the historic character of the district; only a few are considered non-contributing because of extensive alterations. The rest of 41 non-contributing resources were built after 1940. They include six residences and outbuildings, such as garages and sheds.
When it was assembled from several parcels about 1746, the area of the Green encompassed about four acres and included the Burying Ground. Although once described as an alder swamp, it was the site of the first and second Congregational meetinghouses and an Episcopal church built in 1798 at the northeast corner, a location now marked by a stone plaque on a boulder. The present configuration and size of the Green were established in the late-eighteenth century by a lane along the north and west, now Park Street, which set off less than two acres. By the mid 1800s, this area was landscaped with rows of sycamores and elms and diagonally bisected with pathways. Today the Green is an open grassed area, sparsely planted with mainly deciduous trees of moderate size. The Civil War Monument, a simple granite obelisk set on a high granite base and commemorating the "War of 1861," is located off-center and flanked by a flagpole. A single paved crosswalk runs northwest from the corner of North and Main streets.
The Plymouth Congregational Church and Parish Hall face the Green from the west (6 Park Street). Constructed in 1838, the Greek Revival church was designed in Ionic tetrastyle with a pediment supported by four columns. A two-stage square bell tower enhanced by engaged Doric columns is capped by a shaped parapet. The facade clock in the tympanum of the pediment, donated by clockmaker Eli Terry, retains some of its original wooden mechanism. Three identical doorways with four-light transoms, framed with broad surrounds with corner blocks, are located beneath the porch. Side elevations feature two rows of 12-over-12 windows, which have replacement sash with removable muntins and shutters. The c.1840 Stoughton Building to the north, with its matching Greek Revival style facade doorways and octagonal belfry, complements the church. Now the Congregational parish hall, it was moved to this location from the east side of North Street. The bell tower, gable fanlight, and south wing are later additions.
To the north is the Reverend Andrew Storrs House, which was built in 1766 by the second Congregational minister (4 Park Street). One of 11 eighteenth-century residences remaining in the Plymouth Center Historic District, this five-bay Colonial with a double overhang once had a center chimney. A later narrow two-story ell is attached to the east-end elevation and there is a large late-nineteenth century barn at the rear. Trees planted by the Reverend Storrs include a sycamore that was still standing in 1998. To the east is a small vernacular residence, the Congregational parsonage since about 1865, which was attached to the Storrs House when it was the Hart Female Seminary in the mid-nineteenth century (2 Park Street).
The original Plymouth Burying Ground is located on a lower terrace west of the Green, which borders the Storrs property and the church buildings. Bordered by stone walls and a chain-link fence on the east, the cemetery contains about 300 graves, generally aligned in north-south rows. Plain rectangular stones mark most of the sites and a few of these have concave upper corners. The remainder have the more conventional round or tombstone arch. West Cemetery is located on a hill (Carter Road) and overlooks the village center. Although it was laid out in 1776, many of the graves there date from the nineteenth century and include family plots for many village residents of that era. A stone wall along Carter Road contains several vaults.
St. Peter's Episcopal Church, a country chapel constructed of fieldstone in 1915 after the earlier church was destroyed by fire, faces the Green from the east side of North Street (4 North Street). Gothic Revival in style with a square flanking tower and pointed-arched windows, it presently serves as a Baptist church. Other buildings associated with the religious life of the community include St. Peter's Rectory at the corner of North and Main streets (2 North Street). This c.1800 Georgian Colonial house has twin interior chimneys, gable overhangs, and a flat-roofed portico.
Commercial development at the crossroads began in the late-eighteenth century. The group at the northeast corner includes a brick building of 1782, presently serving as the Plymouth Post Office (696 Main Street), the Grange Hall (694 Main Street), and a former carriage shop at the rear (696 Main Street). The latter two buildings date from the late-nineteenth century and were moved there from other sites in the district. They are flanked by the Plymouth Library of 1932, a Colonial Revival building, also constructed of brick (692 Main Street).
Diagonally across the street is Beach and Blackmer's, a retail establishment since about 1780 (703 Main Street). It is likely that the facade pediment and gable roof were nineteenth-century alterations to a colonial house form. Also, there is a small c.1850 Greek Revival brick building to the north, erected for a town clerk's office and later used as a firehouse (705 Main Street). The early-twentieth century brick building just beyond was once a store and is now used for light industrial purposes. Further north is the Curtiss Hotel, a late Colonial house remodeled in the Greek Revival style (711 Main Street).
Until recently, the southwest corner was occupied by historic residential properties. It now contains a gas station and convenience store. To the east are several houses, a modern fire station, and a small structure that may have been an early-twentieth century gas station.
Late-eighteenth century houses are scattered through the Plymouth Center Historic District. The most popular form was the one-story Colonial Cape. One at 731 Main Street which dates from 1793 was associated with Eli Terry. It displays small eave windows in the gables and has a transom over the door. The Blakeslee House at 63 North Street is similar but the location of the roof eave right above the facade fenestration is typical of its earlier c.1780 date. Next door is Leach-Stanton Barn (49 North Street), which was moved to this site about 1985 by the Plymouth Land Trust.
The c.1775 Joel Blakeslee House at 9 Maple Street has been remodeled. The Georgian quoining on the wide gable-to-street main block and the wing are probably original features, but the door surround, with sidelights and fanlight, are later Federal style elements, or possibly early-twentieth century enhancements. Its full gable pediment, an early manifestation of this feature, is also found on the end elevations of the nearby Byron Tuttle House at 655 Main Street. Its colonial five-bay form is embellished with a central Federal doorway. A similar doorway is found on the gable-to-street Dean-Stoughton House at the western edge of the district (792 Main Street). The facade features a fanlight in the pediment.
Two small workers' houses built on Maple Street in this period have simple unembellished gabled forms and rest on rubblestone foundations. The dormer and the ell on the Miller House (25 Maple Street) are later additions.
Fully a third of the historic houses in the Plymouth Center Historic District exhibit some features of the Greek Revival style. The familiar side-hall gable-to-street farmhouse with a kitchen wing is the plan of the Truman Wedge House at 18 Maple Street and the Riley Ives House at 5 South Street. Both have gabled pediments; the one on the Wedge House displays the multi-paned rectangular window often associated with this style, while the Ives example has a flushboarded tympanum defined by broad rake boards. They have similar boldly executed Greek Revival doorways with entablatures, although the one on the Ives House was altered to accommodate a Colonial Revival porch. Other houses of this type include the Elias Barnes House at 775 Main Street.
The typical shallow roof pitch and gable-to-street orientation of the Greek Revival was utilized in many vernacular examples, most notably the Thomas Scott House at 732 Main Street and the Maria Johnson House at 740 Main Street. The bold Greek Revival doorway of the Scott cottage dominates the facade. A later cottage nearby is embellished with a Victorian porch (750 Main Street). The east wing has a recessed porch and a rectangular window in the gable. Several two-story vernacular Greek Revivals display some features of the succeeding Italianate style. For example, chamfered Tuscan porch posts are found on the Harriet Hunt House and Ann Smith House in the same neighborhood (738 Main Street and 742 Main Street). The Hunt House also has a round-arched window in the gable, a bracketed doorhood at the side entrance, and cornice returns to suggest a pediment. A Tuscan porch is the primary style feature of the Henry Beech House to the east (782 Main Street).
By mid-century Greek Revival detailing was used to embellish the villa form, which has a near-flat roof and overhanging eaves. One such example, the Henry Terry House at 14 North Street, has an exceptionally broad entablature under the eaves, punctuated by four-pane attic windows, and a later Colonial Revival porch that shelters the three middle bays of the five-bay facade. A much more elaborate treatment of the villa form was used for the Augustus Shelton House at 663 Main Street. There the main entablature and eave cornice are embellished with metopes and mutules, details also found in reduced scale over the Doric-order entrance, which features columns in antis, flanked by broad pilasters. The door itself has sidelights and a transom. Pilasters also frame the recessed second-floor balcony.
There are several examples of the Carpenter Gothic style, which appeared in the Plymouth Center Historic District about 1860. A decorative gable brace or truss, often a key style element, is displayed in the gables of the Horace Fenn House situated well above the east side at 32 North Street. The truss design is repeated on the porch that connects the main block to the cross-gable wing. Among the other style features are exposed decorative rafter ends and outriggers, ridge finials, and round-arched gable windows, the latter derived from the Italianate style.
The more complex asymmetrical massing of the George Langdon House at 688 Main Street utilizes a hipped and gabled roof. While decorative bargeboards, another Carpenter Gothic style element, were used in its eclectic design, the Italianate style predominates in the elaborate treatment of the fenestration, which includes round and segmental-arched pediments and molded shouldered surrounds. The round-arched and circular windows in the gable peaks are embellished with tracery. The two-story porch features arched open spandrels and clustered slim columns.
Among the few houses built in the Plymouth Center Historic District after the Civil War are simple farmhouses on North and South streets (43 North Street, Langdon House; 8 South Street, A. Markham House). Both of these vernacular Italianates display peaked gable windows rather than the more typical round-arched type, a variation typical of the Naugatuck Valley. The same feature can be found on the c.1880 house at 788 Main Street. The Edward Parker House is a more elaborate version of this style (716 Main Street). Remaining Italianate features include prominent window caps and chamfered Tuscan posts on the side porch. The property, which backs up on the Burying Ground, also has a large barn with a cupola at the rear.
Several representative styles of the early twentieth century in the Plymouth Center Historic District include a Bungalow at the eastern end of Main Street (787 Main Street). Two of the three Colonial Revival style houses are located on North Street. One is a Cape (31 North Street); the other has a gambrel form (24 North Street). The third, a Colonial Revival Foursquare, built at the entrance to Maple Street in 1906, has a typical Colonial Revival facade porch (1 Maple Street). Decorative tracery is found in the upper sash of first-floor windows and the paired sash in the facade dormer of the hipped roof.
Primarily significant as a representative example of community development in Connecticut's Western Uplands, the Plymouth Center Historic District illustrates the complex religious and political dynamics of regional eighteenth-century town formation and fully demonstrates the evolution of a fairly typical industrial village. Like many towns in the Naugatuck Valley, Plymouth grew rapidly in the early industrial period, which is reflected in the architectural, social, and economic development of the district. The cohesive village center that emerged remained the town's institutional center until the late-nineteenth century. As a result, the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, and Italianate are well represented in the Plymouth Center Historic District, along with numerous vernacular interpretations of these styles and a few examples of early-twentieth century architecture.
Historical Background and Significance
Plymouth was one of the many daughter towns that evolved from the original settlement at Mattatuck on the Naugatuck River, now known as Waterbury. Settlement upriver began in the 1730s in the area that encompasses present-day Plymouth, Watertown, and Thomaston. Although Plymouth followed the customary path of eighteenth-century town development, separating from Waterbury in religious and political stages, as was so often the case in western hill towns, the process was less structured and often fraught with delay and dissension. The establishment of a stable Congregational church society, or parish, was impeded by a number of factors. The river itself, not bridged until 1747, was a barrier to concerted development, and parish consensus by the "Up-River Inhabitants" was difficult to achieve, particularly during the 1740s, a period of colony-wide religious upheaval.
By 1739, even though the area was still sparsely settled and the population by colony standards was too small to support even one church society, petitions to the General Assembly had resulted in the formation of two parishes: Westbury (now Watertown) and Northbury, an area which included Plymouth and Thomaston. It was not an auspicious time to establish a new parish. The Great Awakening, a evangelical religious revival of major proportions, threatened to destabilize the Connecticut colony. It challenged the authority of the state as well as the fundamental theology of old-style Congregationalism. Adherents of this new style religion, known as Separatists or New Lights, broke away to found new Congregational churches or other Protestant sects. Many in the western part of the state turned to the Church of England, the religion rejected by their Puritan forebears. The Reverend Todd, ordained in 1739 as the first minister in Northbury, favored New Light Congregationalism; in the first year of his ministry, Todd's preaching apparently alienated the majority of the members, who left the church to form an Anglican church society in Plymouth Hollow, present-day Thomaston.
The location of a Congregational meetinghouse was always a cause for some dissension but in Northbury it was a major issue for seven years. In fact, the dispute over which side of the river would have the meetinghouse threatened to destroy a parish already weakened by secession. Even though the early meetings of the parish were held on the west side and a "church house" erected there, the eastern contingent finally prevailed. In 1746, apparently because Waterbury agreed to buy the land, plans were made to build the official meetinghouse at the southeast corner of the present Green. The building was probably framed out and at least closed-in against the weather the following year.
Finishing the meetinghouse, however, proved to be a financial burden for this small parish; it took another 21 years to complete the building.
With the settlement of the Reverend Andrew Storrs in 1765, the Northbury Parish stabilized and began to flourish. He built his own house on the Green the following year (4 Park Street). During his 20-year pastorate, Northbury and Westbury were incorporated as the Town of Watertown in 1780 and became part of Litchfield County. The meetinghouse was finished and plans were underway to build a new one when Todd died in 1785. Predictably, the location of that meetinghouse was still an issue. Many parishioners opted for a site on Town Hill to the east of the district, but once again it was built on the Green, soon after the next minister was installed. Two years later, in 1795, Plymouth became a separate autonomous town. The bounds of the new community then included Thomaston.
In 1798 St. Peter's Episcopal Church was erected on the opposite corner of the Green, a potent symbol of the renewed status of this former Anglican denomination. During the Revolution, Anglicans throughout the region had been harassed for their presumed support for England; Anglican churches were closed for the duration and their English ministers driven out. After the war, having shed their ties to England and led by an American bishop, Anglicans were members of the newly established Episcopal Church, which became a powerful presence in western Connecticut. In Plymouth, Episcopalians shared the governance of the town with the Congregationalists for at least the next 100 years.
Unlike many Connecticut towns which lost population in the nineteenth century, Plymouth continued to grow, largely due to industrial development. Although there was a slight dip in 1820, the population nearly quadrupled after 1800, reaching a high of 4,140 in 1870. Mills, shops, and factories were established all over town, but it was the manufacture of clocks, toys, and carriages by district residents that supported Plymouth's early industrial economy.
Native sons and newcomers pioneered in the clock industry. Chief among them was Eli Terry, who came to town about 1793 and set up a factory on the Niagara Brook, a small stream which ran down to the Naugatuck along the southern border of the district. He may have built his home nearby at 731 Main Street. Terry's first wood-geared clocks were mostly hand-crafted and peddled locally. When he began to experiment with mass production methods, Terry set up a new shop on a stream to the south, which had a better waterpower supply. Having accepted a three-year contract to provide Waterbury wholesalers with mechanisms for 4,000 "tall clocks" (the type later known as grandfather clocks), Terry hired Silas Hoadley, a local resident who lived at 721 Main Street, and Seth Thomas. Both men were joiners, but Thomas also had clockmaking experience in Wolcott. With their help, Terry met the terms of the contract by milling interchangeable wooden parts to facilitate assembly, a process comparable to the methods used by his contemporary, Eli Whitney of Hamden, who attempted the first mass production of guns. Bolstered by their initial success, all three principals of the firm eventually became independent clockmakers, but it was the Terry family that had the greatest influence on the course of Plymouth's industrial development.
After selling out to Hoadley and Thomas, Eli Terry set up shop on the Naugatuck at Terry's Bridge, where he produced clocks of his own patented designs, and took his sons, Eli, Jr., and Henry, into the business when they came of age. Henry, who lived in the district at 14 North Street in a large Greek Revival house, continued working at Terry's Bridge. In 1824 Eli, Jr., had his own factory on the Pequabuck River about two miles east of the district, where the Terry family established the industrial village of Terryville. Eli was also an early investor in the developing lock industry there, which in 1854 was consolidated as the Eagle Lock Company under the presidency of his son James Terry and remained in business well into the twentieth century. Two other sons were entrepreneurs in Terryville: Silas B., who had his own clock factory in 1831, and Andrew, who started a malleable iron foundry which later became O.Z. Gedney, manufacturers of fittings for electrical conduit in the twentieth-century.
Seth Thomas, who left Hoadley & Thomas in 1814, built his clock factory across the river in Plymouth Hollow, later named Thomaston in his honor. Thomas, whose company became the mainstay of that community, also had other industrial interests there and was elected to the General Assembly in 1865. Hoadley remained in business in Plymouth, in the village then known as Hoadleyville, and was active in town affairs. A vestryman at St. Peter's, Hoadley served as town clerk in 1830, represented the town in the state legislature in 1832, 1837, and 1853, and, according to one source, was elected as a state senator in 1844.
The internationally famous Ives Toy Company also began in Plymouth. During the Civil War, Riley Ives, who lived at 5 South Street, and his son Edward Riley made uniform buttons in a small water-powered shop north of the district. After the war they converted their button stamping machines to the production of parts for mechanical wind-up toys. Since both Riley and his wife Mary had worked in the clock industry (Mary as a decorator of clock cases), producing toys activated by clockwork springs was a logical progression for the Ives family. Toys were assembled and painted in several shops in the village, including one on Riley's property (no longer extant) and another later used as the Plymouth Grange Hall (694 Main Street). Edward Ives set up his own factory on Maple Street (probably no longer extant). By 1870 his father was still making tin whistles in town, but Edward Ives had moved his company to Bridgeport. Wind-ups remained a staple product of the new business, but more complex cast-iron toys and miniature trains powered by hot air, steam, or even electricity, were produced and exported to Europe and South America.
The carriage-making industry, which endured the longest, produced some of the more stylish domestic architecture in Plymouth Center. Zalmon Coley is credited with starting the business in 1836, but he soon was superseded by two other more successful manufacturers. Shelton & Tuttle Company, manufacturer of buggies and other horse-drawn vehicles, was located on the north side of Main Street, directly across from Maple Street. Only one building survives from this complex; it now stands behind the post office at 696 Main Street. The evident success of this business, which was valued at $20,000 in 1870 and had regional distribution warehouses in Chicago, Illinois and Louisiana, is demonstrated by the exceptionally elaborate Greek Revival house built by the founder, Augustus C. Shelton, on upper Main Street (663 Main Street). After an apprenticeship as a wheelwright in New Haven, Shelton returned to Plymouth in 1837 to set up his factory, which flourished until his death in 1880. In later years, it was run by Byron Tuttle, who joined the company in 1847 and became a partner in 1855. He lived a few doors to the east of Shelton; his house and barn still stand (655 Main Street). A justice of the peace and judge of probate in Plymouth for many years, Tuttle was elected first selectman in 1882 and served in that capacity until 1891.
The Blakeslee Carriage Shop at 8 Maple Street was started by blacksmith Ransom Blakeslee, whose family were incorporators of the town. He served as first selectman between 1822 and 1826. The extensive Blakeslee Carriageworks depicted on the 1874 map later was run by Ransom's son Joel Blakeslee, who lived in a fine Federal house across the street (9 Maple Street). By 1870, when Joel had turned to toy manufacturing, Enos Blakeslee, probably his brother, ran the carriageworks (733 Main Street).
The industrial prosperity of the antebellum period transformed the physical appearance of the district. The crossroads remained the focus of institutional and commercial development. A "modern" Greek Revival church replaced the meetinghouse on the Green in 1838, and across the street the first municipal government building was erected for a town clerk's office about 1855. The demand for goods and services attracted new trades and businesses; the streets of the district were lined with new houses and shops. William Dean had a meat market across the street from his house at the western edge of the district (792 Main Street), but there were at least two stores at the crossroads as early as the 1780s (696 and 703 Main Street). At the turn of the century, the one on the southwest corner was owned by General David Smith (703 Main Street). In 1812 it housed the first post office in town, and by 1870, a dry goods store and apothecary shop. Apothecary Luther Porter and most of the people who worked there rented quarters upstairs. In the late-nineteenth century the store was purchased by out-of-towners and known as Beach and Blackmer's. Several other district stores or homes have served as post offices, including the current one since about 1950 (696 Main Street). Horace Fenn, a watch repairman by trade, once served as postmaster (32 North Street), as did Edwin Talmadge, a well-to-do storekeeper. By 1870 his son Edwin S. carried on the family's dry goods business (669 Main Street). Among the other nineteenth-century storekeepers in the district were Orville Terry (679 Main Street) and Thomas Scott (732 Main Street).
Main Street was the major route to Hartford; travellers were accommodated in two houses converted to taverns or hotels. The Episcopal Rectory was once known as the Red Tavern (2 North Street) and later, A.B. Curtiss converted General Smith's c.1765 house to a tavern and inn of the Greek Revival style (711 Main Street). After Curtiss died, his widow continued in business with the help of her daughter and an Irish servant. A temperance advocate, Mrs. Curtiss closed the bar and changed the name of the hotel to "Quiet House," which she ran as a boardinghouse for female teachers who taught at the district school on the Green (no longer extant).
Teachers and the principal of the Hart Female Seminary lived at that school, which was located in the Storrs House. It was founded in 1853 by the Reverend Isaac Warren, the Congregational minister, who built his own house across the street (8 North Street). The seminary only survived a few years, but in 1857, the last year of operation, 71 students were enrolled. After the school closed, the new wing that Warren had added to the Storrs House for the school was detached as a separate residence and has served as the Congregational parsonage at 2 Park Street since about 1865.
All levels of society prospered in this economic boom. From the 40 heads of household who were identified in the federal census of 1870 as residents of Plymouth Center, it is apparent that there was a large, relatively affluent middle-class in the district. Industrialists, professional men, tradesmen, farmers, and even a few skilled workers owned their own homes and several could afford live-in domestics, all young Irish women. Some self-employed tradesmen, such as blacksmith Solomon Palmer, owned his own home at 27 Maple Street, as did machinist Edward Parker at 716 Main Street. Harnessmaker William Smith had a home at 2 South Street and also took in boarders, a common nineteenth-century practice. In fact, there were boarders in almost a third of the households in the district. Next door to Smith, a young tinshop worker boarded at Adaline Warner's, where her aged parents also lived (4 South Street). Truman Ives, a successful farmer, also had a multi-generational household and boarded the family of Henry Mason, an engineer (675 Main Street). A number of district homeowners and their boarders worked in factories across the river in Plymouth Hollow. Such was the case with the household of Henry Robbins (1 Carter Road), a night watchman, which included the family of William Dell, a brass factory worker, and three young men who worked in various occupations. Boarding at Ann Smith's house at 742 Main Street were her son Henry and Porter Beach; both men worked in a clock shop.
Carriage workers were housed in various ways. English-born James Vile rented 19 Maple Street. It was one of two neighboring cottages there that may have been built to house farm laborers. Edward Root, who lived with his mother (Caroline P. Root) who owned the house at 717 Main Street, was a carriage painter, as was Eber Thompson, who at age 59, owned his own home at 762 Main Street, as did Enos Blakeslee at 733 Main Street.
Although in this period most adult women listed their occupation as "keeping house," a few were employed in the needle trades. Among them were two milliners who boarded with Thompson and may have had a shop in the present post office (696 Main Street). Sophia Johnson, at age 14, was apprenticed as a "tailoress" to tailor Strong Kelsey, who lived in the former Storrs House on the edge of the Green (4 Park Street). Dressmaker Maria Johnson ran her business in her Greek Revival cottage on the north side of Main Street below the crossroads (740 Main Street), one of several unmarried women who owned small homes in that neighborhood.
Agriculture, the mainstay of the colonial economy, was still carried on in the district. Truman Ives (675 Main Street), Elias Barnes (775 Main Street), Elias Stoughton (792 Main Street), and Platt Smith (756 Main Street) all farmed the land behind their Main Street properties. This nineteenth-century agricultural pattern is still represented today by the Leach-Stanton House at 49 North Street and the Caldwell House at 31 Maple Street, farms on the edge of the Plymouth Center Historic District that have numerous outbuildings.
George Langdon, the wealthiest man in town, also listed farming as his occupation. However, with a net worth of $75,000, Langdon undoubtedly left the actual running of his farms to a manager. Having failed as an industrial entrepreneur in Colchester in the Panic of 1857, Langdon, a Yale graduate, returned to Plymouth, where he amassed a fortune and became a leading citizen. His real estate holdings in 1870 included extensive farming acreage and his stylish Carpenter Gothic/Italianate house just up the hill from the crossroads (688 Main Street). For most of his life Langdon was active in the Connecticut Sunday School Association and the Plymouth Congregational Church, where he served as deacon and Sunday School superintendent. Among his elected offices were school visitor (inspector), state representative in 1859, and first selectman from 1859 to 1865.
Augustus Hall Fenn was another native son who returned to Plymouth. Born here in 1844, Fenn had studied for the law with Amni Giddings in Plymouth Center. At age 18 he was commissioned a lieutenant and enlisted a company of 40 men to serve in the Civil War. After distinguished service, during which he lost an arm, Fenn was mustered out as a full colonel. Resuming the study of law, he was admitted to the bar in 1867 and took a law degree from Harvard College in 1868. Returning to Plymouth in 1870, Fenn lived in the former Joel Blakeslee House at 9 Maple Street, and held several elected offices, including judge of probate and town clerk. After he moved to Winsted, Fenn was appointed a judge of the Connecticut Superior Court in 1887 and later served on the Supreme Court of Errors. Fenn's five years as town clerk were briefly interrupted in 1874 by the one-year term of George Pierpont. Pierpont, who lived in the former Warren parsonage at 8 North Street, became a county commissioner in 1877 and also served for a time as a federal tax assessor.
By the late-nineteenth century, with local industry consolidated in Plymouth Hollow and Terryville, Plymouth Center gradually declined in importance. Although town leaders were still drawn from the district, there were few new buildings constructed there. Two key events contributed to the decline, most notably the loss of Plymouth Hollow, which was set off as the Town of Thomaston in 1875. This severe blow to Plymouth's tax base, which reduced the town's population by half, was followed by the ascendancy of Terryville as the town's institutional center. The town hall was established there in the Eagle Lock Company office building, where it remained until the present building was erected in 1972. This bustling industrial community, which already supported its own Congregational and Episcopal churches, continued to grow and soon had a number of ethnic churches founded by a large immigrant labor force.
The Plymouth Center Historic District is a generally cohesive collection of historic buildings and sites that still reflects patterns of development laid down in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Despite the intrusion of modern commercial buildings, particularly the gas station at the crossroads, village history, expressed mainly in the vernacular architectural language of the nineteenth century, clearly conveys a distinct sense of time and place. Plymouth Green and its associated buildings, the historic focus of institutional and commercial life, remain as the centerpiece of the Plymouth Center Historic District. Building on the eighteenth-century armature laid down at settlement, the center radiated out from the crossroads. Contiguous houselots carved out along village streets produced a linear residential growth pattern that has been maintained to the present day. Much of the historic farm acreage at the rear of these properties is still visible as woodland or open fields on modern aerial maps. Among the generally well-preserved historic houses that grace these streets are a number of exceptionally stylish period examples; together they illuminate the progression of nineteenth-century architecture in Plymouth and how it became more elaborate over time. While a limited amount of modern residential development is compatibly scaled and integrated into the historic fabric of the streetscapes, the possibility of more commercial development, especially along Main Street, remains a potential threat to the district's essential architectural integrity.
Architectural style began to evolve in the Federal period when the district's residential buildings exhibited a limited amount of hand-crafted, classically inspired architectural detail. As demonstrated by the Byron Tuttle House at 655 Main Street, for some, the Federal style consisted of a colonial form and plan enhanced with simple Federal doorway and gable pediments. Although colonial construction methods were still employed, the broad street facades and center-chimney plan of the Connecticut "Plain style," however, soon gave way to a side-hall plan with a gable-to-street orientation, an arrangement that prevailed for most of the nineteenth century. These side-hall plan houses were still detailed with similar attenuated Federal door surrounds and fanlights, the features of the Dean-Stoughton House (792 Main Street). The Joel Blakeslee House, with its elaborate door treatment and quoining, was a major exception to the understated simplicity of this style in the district (9 Maple Street). In fact, for Plymouth, the pedimented doorway of this house is so atypically enriched that it may have been a Federal Revival addition by an early twentieth-century owner.
The succeeding Greek Revival style, said to be the first real American architectural style, was based on the form of ancient Greek temples. It was popular for both civic and domestic architecture from the 1830s to the Civil War. The most notable Plymouth Center Historic District example is the 1838 Plymouth Congregational Church, the architectural linchpin of the district, a well-preserved regional expression of the ecclesiastical Greek Revival style. Its composite tetra-style plan, probably derived from architectural pattern books of the day such as Asher Benjamin's 1833 Practice of Architecture or Builder's Guide of 1837, features a solid square belfry tower instead of a lofty spire. This tower design was characteristic of Greek Revival churches in the area. In fact, the Plymouth church actually served as a model for the Watertown Congregational Church, built the same year, and perhaps the Second Congregational Church in Terryville, which it closely resembles.
Houses of this style often mimic the form of the church. Although similar in plan to the Federal style house, the Greek Revival is more bold in concept. Doorway surrounds, again often the major architectural feature, have broader pilasters and higher entablatures; wide frieze boards often accentuate pediments and eaves, as they do on the well-preserved Riley Ives House (5 South Street). Many of these houses display rectangular multi-paned windows in the pediment and have recessed kitchen wings, features of the Truman Wedge House (18 Maple Street).
The boldness of the Greek Revival becomes even more evident when used on the smaller cottages in the district. A case in point is the generous proportions of the doorway of the well-preserved Thomas Scott House (732 Main Street). Such naive exaggeration of detailing, so often characteristic of the vernacular Greek Revival, adds to the architectural significance of the building. This house and other two-over-three bay cottages nearby were probably the work of a local carpenter/builder (740 Main Street, Maria Johnson House; 750 Main Street).
The Augustus Shelton House is an exceptionally well-preserved illustration of another type of Greek Revival (663 Main Street). Exhibiting a full range of architectural detail and a sophisticated in antis doorway, this well-proportioned and late expression of the Greek Revival is significant in its own right and makes a major contribution to the Plymouth Center Historic District.
With the Industrial Revolution in full swing by the late-nineteenth century, some of the impact of machine technology on methods of construction and architectural style became evident in the district. Standardized lumber made for lighter house framing and more complex floorplans; exteriors were individualized by machine-milled and turned architectural elements. Porches, often added to older houses, featured a variety of scroll-sawn decorative bracing and turned posts. New styles in the district were generally limited to the Carpenter Gothic and Italianate, and several combine these styles. Taller house forms with steeper roofs, bay windows, and projecting wings and gables were in vogue, as illustrated by a well-preserved Italianate farmhouse at 138 North Street (Langdon House). Its present Colonial Revival veranda, which was added in the 1920s, was probably a replacement for the original Victorian porch.
The Horace Fenn House is an exceptional and well-preserved example of the Carpenter Gothic style [also called Gothic Revival]. In its integrated design, characteristic decorative gable trusses with drops are repeated in the braces for the porch, and projecting window heads are supported by small scrolled brackets. The more complex massing of the George Langdon House at 688 Main Street also exhibits Carpenter Gothic detailing, most evident in the molded scrolled bargeboards that highlight the various gables. While both these houses have round-arched Italianate style gable windows, the molded and arched surrounds of the windows on the Langdon House are a particularly distinctive architectural feature. Of further significance are the unusual porch supports, which appear to be composed of multiple slim columns. The original porch balusters at the first floor have the same turned pattern; both were produced by machine on a wood lathe.
The Plymouth Center Historic District's architectural evolution was completed in the early twentieth century by the Colonial Revival, a style in which the asymmetry and elaboration of the Victorian era was rejected in favor of formal balanced design. As has been demonstrated, the columned porches associated with this style were added to many older houses. Such a porch is featured on the well-preserved Colonial Revival Foursquare built at the intersection of Maple and Main in 1906 (1 Maple Street). The only example in the Plymouth Center Historic District, this imposing style was more common in urban settings. Most Colonial Revivals echoed earlier colonial house forms; in the district the one-story Cape Cod was popular. This residential form was even used for the new library built in 1932 (692 Main Street, Plymouth Library). Elaborated with such detail as keystones and a Palladian window in the gable, this architect-designed building is suitably scaled to the streetscape.
The boundary increase adds three historic properties (six buildings) to the Plymouth Center Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 22, 1999. Four of the six buildings, three historic houses and one secondary structure, contribute to the architectural and historic character of the existing district and are comparable in style, materials, and level of integrity. The two noncontributing resources are modern outbuildings.
The existing Plymouth Center Historic District consists of a historic crossroads village that runs from the major intersection of Main Street (Route 6) and North and South streets west to the town line with Thomaston and east to include Maple Street on the east. This boundary increase extends the Plymouth Center Historic District on the north and south to include one residential property on the east side of North Street, and two residential properties on the west side of South Street.
The dates of the three contributing historic houses in the boundary increase fall within the period of significance of the district. The earliest house at 20 South Street was built about 1840 in the Greek Revival style, the predominate style in the existing district. Sheathed in clapboard, it has a three-bay side-hall plan with paneled corner pilasters and a pedimented gable. The recessed doorway is framed with a full Greek Revival surround with a high entablature and the paneled door is flanked by narrow sidelights. A long one-story kitchen ell extends from the rear of the main block and displays narrow attic windows under the eaves.
The immediate neighbor of 20 South Street at 16 South Street, is a Colonial Revival Bungalow dating from about 1920. The front slope of the roof sweeps out over a porch and is supported by Colonial Revival style columns. The shed dormer is partially inset into the roof.
The c.1870 Marshall Leach House at 50 North Street was remodeled after 1890 in the Colonial Revival style. It presently features a gambrel roof but the original style and form are not known. The first level and the exterior end chimney are stone masonry. A partial facade porch, supported by three columns, displays an eave pediment aligned with the recessed doorway on the north end. Integral shed dormers extend from the lower slope of the facade roof.
The historic buildings in the boundary increase contribute to the architectural and historical significance of the Plymouth Center Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 22, 1999. A representative example of community development in Connecticut's Western Uplands, the district not only illustrates the complex religious and political dynamics of regional eighteenth-century town formation but also fully demonstrates the evolution of a fairly typical industrial village. Like many towns in the Naugatuck Valley, Plymouth grew rapidly in the early industrial period, which is reflected in the architectural, social, and economic development of the district. The cohesive village center that emerged remained the town's institutional center until the late nineteenth century. As a result, although the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, and Italianate are well represented in the Plymouth Center Historic District, along with numerous vernacular interpretations of these styles, there are only a few examples of early twentieth-century architecture.
The historic houses in the boundary increase complement and contribute to the architectural significance of the Plymouth Center Historic District, a fine collection of historic buildings and sites that reflect a pattern of development that began in the eighteenth century and continued into the early twentieth century. As the village grew, radiating out from the institutional and commercial center at the crossroads, contiguous house lots were developed, producing the linear residential growth pattern still visible today. Similar in scale, setting, and materials, these additional buildings amplify three stages in domestic stylistic development of the district: the rapid growth of the antebellum period, characterized largely by the Greek Revival style; the introduction in the late nineteenth century of the Colonial Revival; and subsequent limited development of the latter in early 1900s.
The building of the Greek Revival Congregational Church on the Green in 1838 launched several decades of residential growth based on this style. Although one third of the houses display some influence of the Greek Revival, in most cases it was confined to the application of a stylish doorway to an otherwise unadorned vernacular house or cottage. The exceptionally well-preserved, temple-fronted farmhouse at 20 South Street, which still displays all the boldly delineated details and features associated with this style, makes a major contribution since only a few Greek Revivals in the district are as fully developed. Although #20 is similar to a district example, the Riley Ives House across the street at #5, the remodeling of that building by the addition of Colonial Revival veranda there has obscured its original doorway.
The Marshall Leach House at 50 North Street, while not as elaborate as its late nineteenth-century counterparts, is a good example of the early influence of the Colonial Revival style in the district. Even though the architectural evolution of this unusual house, the only example of domestic stone construction in Plymouth Center, is not clear, it obviously was remodeled in this period, as evidenced by the Colonial Revival porch, a feature added to several houses in Plymouth Center. The gambrel roof is a rare form in the district, found on only one other early twentieth-century example (24 North Street). Although the latter house features siding on the lower slope of the gambrel roof and modern windows, it still makes a contribution to the historic streetscape, reinforced by its historical association of the house with the barn across the street at 49 North Street, which once stood on the property.
The Colonial Revival Bungalow at 16 South Street, which expands upon the limited residential development of the early twentieth century, is another unusual contributor to the Plymouth Center District. A few Capes and a Foursquare were constructed in this period, but there is only one other Bungalow, which is located at the western edge of the existing district (787 Main Street). The dormer windows below the plane of the roof are an exceptional feature, sometimes found in pattern-book or mail-order house designs that were popular in this period in more urban centers.
Both the contributing and non-contributing outbuildings associated with these houses are set well back on their lots, a typical streetscape pattern in the existing district. To accommodate the residential growth of the nineteenth century, relatively narrow house lots were carved out from large farms along all the major streets. This pattern of development also affected the layout and plan of houses, as shown by the placement of the kitchen at the rear of the main block at 20 South Street. More traditionally, kitchens in Greek Revival farmhouses were located in a recessed wing.
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† Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Preservation Associates and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Plymouth Center Historic District, Plymouth, CT, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
‡ Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Preservation Associates and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Plymouth Center Historic District Boundary Increase, Plymouth, CT, nomination document, 2000, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.