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Roxbury Center Historic District


The Roxbury Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Roxbury Center Historic District is a rural village set in a valley among surrounding hills. A small brook, Fenn Brook, runs through the valley to the Shepaug River. Several small, man-made ponds are located along this brook and several smaller streams which drain the area. Cleared fields on adjacent hillsides surround much of the village, contributing to its rural appearance. Roxbury Center is the major center of population in the Town of Roxbury, which has a low, widely dispersed population. Roxbury Center accommodates various community activities, including religious worship, postal facilities, retailing and banking, town services, and elementary education. Agriculture is also pursued within the Roxbury Center Historic District boundaries. Fields around the village yield hay for livestock, and an apple orchard provides fruit for local consumption. Church Street, the principal street, is laid out in a northeast to southwest direction. The street has broad, tree-lined margins. Houses and other structures are set back from the road and spaced widely apart. Route 67, or Southbury Road, joins Church Street from the south, creating a small, triangular green at the intersection. At the southwest end of Church Street, Route 67 continues to the north. South Street and Weller's Bridge Road meet Church Street from the south and west. A large triangular green at this end of the street contains a granite obelisk in memory of Seth Warner, a local Revolutionary War hero.

Originally part of the Town of Woodbury, Roxbury did not achieve independent status until 1796. Roxbury Center began to develop in the 1780s, when settlers from elsewhere in Woodbury began to occupy the site. The early center of settlement was located on a hilltop about 1-1/2 miles to the southeast. This earlier center was the location of both a Congregational and an Episcopal Church, with a nearby graveyard. The two churches relocated to the new center in 1795 and 1807, respectively. Roxbury Center flourished after Roxbury's independence in 1796. Rapid growth occurred during this period and the early decades of the 19th-century. The present appearance of Roxbury Center is that of an early 19th-century community, with a few isolated late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings. Many earlier structures were altered or added onto in the 19th-century to conform with prevailing standards of taste.

Due to the isolated position of Roxbury, little change has occurred in the Roxbury Center Historic District. Two 19th-century structures, the Methodist Church, built in 1867, and the Hurlbut Store, of mid-19th century date, were demolished in the 1930s. The Methodist congregation had dwindled to the point where it was no longer feasible to maintain the structure. The Hurlbut Store was removed when a replacement building, the Roxbury Market, was built. Four recent residences are unobtrusively placed and compatible in scale and design with the older buildings of the Roxbury Center Historic District. Beginning in the 1930s, a number of houses in Roxbury Center have been restored. Restoration has been characterized by the removal of 19th-century additions or alterations from houses of the late 18th-century. In several cases, reproduced 18th-century details have been added. One architect associated with this restoration activity was E. William Martin. In general, the work is of good quality and well-executed. Several houses have been altered by the addition of aluminium siding over the original clapboard. The majority of buildings, however, have undergone little alteration since the 19th-century.

Roxbury Center exhibits a remarkable continuity of use. Many buildings continue to be used for the purpose for which they were constructed, especially those built for residential or ecclesiastical use. The decline of agriculture in the local economy has resulted in the conversion or the reuse of many barns and outbuildings for garages and for storage purposes. Some farm buildings continue to fulfill their original function. Two 19th-century craft shops have been converted to residential use. The former Center School is now the Episcopal parish house.

Within the Roxbury Center Historic District are at least 67 major buildings with more than 30 surviving outbuildings. Only five structures within the Roxbury Center Historic District may be regarded as not contributing to the character of the district. Buildings range in height from 1-story to 2-1/2-stories. Almost all are of frame construction, with the exception of the Roxbury Public Library, built of local stone, and the Town Records Hall, built of brick. The primary color used for houses and outbuildings is white. Red, yellow, and tan are also frequently used. Architectural styles within the Roxbury Center Historic District include the Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and Georgian Revival styles. Many buildings are vernacular structures which cannot be classified as belonging to any architectural style.

The earliest known building in the Roxbury Center Historic District is the Roswell Ransom Tavern, built about 1740. A 1-1/2-story frame building, it has been substantially altered by a Greek Revival addition in 1845, shortly before conversion to a rectory for the adjacent Episcopal Church. A porch and a Queen Anne style dormer were added to the older portion of the building in the latter part of the 19th-century. The Greek Revival addition is of interest because of its unusually narrow proportions.

In the 1780s and 1790s, a number of houses were constructed in the area in both the Federal and Georgian styles. These homes all have a five-bay facade with a central entrance. The Asahel Bacon House of 1784 has a one-story portico with a pediment supported by plain columns. The pediment has small dentils under the cornice. Four fluted pilasters flank the entry door and sidelights. Above the door is a semicircular transom. On the second floor above this entry is a palladian window. The roofline above this window is broken by a small gable suggesting the central pavilion typical of the Georgian style. The cornice along the entire front of the house has dentils. The side entrance is similar to the main entrance. 12-over-12 double-hung sash is used. According to Mrs. Seth Houck, owner of the house, it was restored extensively by her father.[1] In contrast to the Bacon House, the Burwell tavern of 1785 has almost no exterior decorative detail. A 1-story porch which extends across the entire front of the building is of mid-19th century date. Windows have 6-over-6 double-hung sash. The gable roof has a pronounced overhang. The Burwell tavern reflects the 19th-century adaptation of an earlier building.

The 1795 Stephen Sanford House features a portico with an open-bed pediment supported by narrow plain columns. Dentils are used in the cornice of the portico. The panelled door has sidelights and a semicircular fan ornament above it. Between the first and second floors is a slight overhang or jetty. The 6-over-6 double-hung sash used in the house is probably a 19th-century replacement of the original. An addition at the rear of the house has a 1-story Greek Revival portico. The Nathan Smith House, built about 1796, contains many features of the Georgian style. A center pavilion supported by four Ionic columns projects from the facade. The panelled entrance door, at the base of the pavilion, has sidelights and transom. The second floor of the pavilion features a palladian window. Windows have 12-over-12 double-hung sash set in molded surrounds with hoods. Rusticated wooden quoins are set at each corner of the facade.

A house on Weller's Bridge Road which probably dates from the first decade of the 19th-century has some Federal characteristics. The front of this house is three bays in width. The door surround is in the Federal style. Fluted pilasters flanking each door have an incised flower design at the head of each pilaster. A heavily modelled entablature is supported by the pilasters. A five-light transom is placed over the panelled door. 12-over-12 double-hung sash is used throughout.

The Episcopal Church, which faces South Street, is a frame structure of Gothic Revival design. Begun in 1807, the church was completed in 1817. In 1861, the church was moved from its original location facing Church Street to face South Street. Extensive remodelling was undertaken at this time. A central tower at the gable end of the church contains the main entrance. Pointed or lancet arches are used throughout the building for both window and door openings. Molded wooden labels or hood moldings are used over all windows and doors. At the corners of the tower and of the main structure itself are non-functional wooden buttresses.

The Greek Revival style is manifested in a variety of forms in Roxbury Center. The Phineas Smith office, built about 1830, is a 1-1/2-story building the gable end of which projects to form the pediment of a portico supported by Doric columns which rest on raised square bases. The panelled front door has a surround consisting of narrow pilasters supporting an entablature. Large front windows flanking the door have 8-over-8 double-hung sash. Above these are small attic or "eyebrow" windows. The front of the building and the pediment are finished with flush boards. A fan window in the pediment has a molded wooden surround with a keystone. Several Greek Revival houses in Roxbury Center are characterized by having the side of the building rather than the gable end facing the street.These are five bays in width with a central doorway. The Dr. Myron Downs House, which may date from the early 1830s, has pilasters at the corners and a door surround consisting of pilasters supporting a plain entablature. Narrow sidelights on either side of the panelled door are framed in a simple, plain molding. 6-over-6 double-hung sash is used. The Charles Barnes House, said to have been built in 1825, is similar, although the entry is recessed within the door surround. The panelled door has narrow sidelights and transom. The Congregational Church, built in 1838, has a monumental portico supported by Doric columns. The pediment and facade are finished with flush boards. The two double-panelled entrance doors are set in a surround with pilasters supporting an entablature. The church steeple has a square base and second stage, both with pilasters and entablature and a smooth finish. A pyramidal spire is flanked by smaller spirelets. The Congregational chapel, built in 1844, is a 1-story building with a portico supported by four Doric columns. The panelled central door has a classical surround.

A 1-story dwelling, built in 1831, probably as a hat-making shop, is typical of the vernacular structures of the period. The front of the building is five bays wide with a central door. Windows have 8-over-8 double-hung sash. The gable ends have open-bed pediments. Recently, an addition has been made to the rear of the building. This is not readily visible from the street.

Most of the later 19th-century architectural styles are not represented in Roxbury Center. The Queen Anne style, however, was used for several residences. A house on South Street built in 1888 displays the characteristic use of differing siding materials. Clapboard, staggered shingles, and shingles with the corners cut at a 45-degree angle are used. The attic window is round-arched with a wooden keystone. A frieze below the cornice is decorated with wooden lozenges. The most recent style used in the village is the Georgian Revival. The Booth Free School addition of 1941 has an elaborate Georgian Revival entry with wooden quoins and fluted pilasters flanking a round-arched entrance. Another example is the Town Records Hall, built in 1933 at a cost of $800. A 1-story gable-roofed building, the gable end faces the street. The gable end has an open-bed pediment. A panelled door is framed by wooden pilasters supporting an entablature. Rusticated brick quoins are set at each corner of the building. Windows have 6-over-6 double-hung sash. The building now functions as a museum. [2]

Significance

Roxbury Center Historic District is characterized by exceptionally good examples of a wide variety of architectural styles. The Georgian and Federal styles of the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries are represented, as well as the Greek Revival style, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and Georgian Revival styles. The context of the buildings, set in a rural village, enhances their value. Few alterations have been made since the 19th-century, and restoration activity in the 20th-century has served to reinforce the integrity of the district. Roxbury Center is also a well-preserved example of an agrarian 19th-century community. Dependent on diversified agricultural production supplemented by income from crafts such as hatmaking, the local economy shifted to more specialized agriculture in the late 19th-century. The pattern of land use and the configuration of streets and man-made structures in Roxbury Center is typical of rural 19th-century Connecticut communities. Several important 18th- and 19th-century figures resided in the Roxbury Center Historic District. General Ephraim Hinman, an important merchant and military leader, built his home here in 1784. Asahel Bacon, merchant and investor in the Roxbury iron mine, built his home the same year. Colonel George Hurlbut was a state legislator and local postmaster who also operated a store and hat-making shop. Colonel Seth Warner, associated with Ethan Allen in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, is buried beneath an obelisk on the Town green. Roxbury Center also offers potential for scholarly research. The Roxbury Center Historic District itself is an important document of 19th-century rural economy. The stability of the community, in which several families continue to occupy homes and land acquired by ancestors in the 18th- and 19th-centuries, promises opportunity for oral history to supplement town and family archives.

The homes built by the first settlers in Roxbury Center are exceptional in the quality of their design and workmanship. Many of these settlers were already well-established residents of the Town of Woodbury, of which Roxbury was a part. The Nathan Smith House, built about 1797, is the most elaborate example of the Georgian style of architecture to be found within the Roxbury Center Historic District. The central pavilion is supported on Ionic columns, and has a Palladian window on the second floor. Rusticated quoins are executed in wood. The Smith House displays strong similarities with the Bellamy House in Bethlehem and the Boardman House in New Milford. The Bacon House, in which the central pavilion is reduced to a gable over a Palladian window on the second floor, is a more modest example of the Georgian style. Other buildings, such as the Burwell Tavern of 1785, are almost devoid of ornamental detail.

The Federal style is also well represented in the Roxbury Center Historic District. The Stephen Sanford House, built in 1795, has an entrance with excellent Federal detail, including the portico with open-bed pediment and the fan ornament over the door. The jetty or overhang between the first and second floors is a very conservative feature unusual at this date.

The Greek Revival style is well represented in Roxbury Center. The Congregational Church of 1838 and the chapel of 1844 are correct in their design and proportions. The Congregational Church is also the dominant building on Church Street. The Phineas Smith office, built about 1830, reveals strong Federal influence in the narrower proportions of the columns supporting the portico and in the keystone in the pediment window. The square bases on which the columns rest have no classical precedent. Architecturally, the building is of interest as a transitional structure between the Federal and the Greek Revival styles.

The domestic Greek Revival buildings in Roxbury Center are well proportioned and of good workmanship. Unlike urban Greek Revival houses, most have no portico over the entrance. In several instances, such as the Charles Barnes House, the entry is recessed, giving some shelter from the elements. Pilasters and entablatures are simple in form, resulting in structures of restrained design. Both the Barns House and the Dr. Myron Downs House, probably built in the early 1830s, are placed with the longer side of the building facing the street, rather than the gable end.[3]

Late 19th-century houses in the Roxbury Center Historic District are all in the Queen Anne style. These houses are characterized by the use of several types of siding, but do not have the more elaborate Eastlake porches and detail of their urban counterparts. The 1888 Smith House is a good example of this interpretation. Clapboards and two types of shingle are used. A plain frieze bears lozenge-shaped wooden ornaments. This home and others built about the same time seem to be adaptations of prevailing styles by local carpenters. The resulting product is more muted than the more elaborate examples found elsewhere and harmonizes well with the older buildings of the district.

The few 20th-century buildings in Roxbury Center Historic District are of compatible style with the earlier architecture of the district. It is likely that the early 20th-century residents of Roxbury Center were aware of the value of their architectural heritage and sensitive to it in planning new buildings. The presence of Cass Gilbert in the Town in the 1930s, as well as other wealthy New Yorkers may well have influenced 20th-century design. The Public Library, built in 1937, has an attractive Georgian Revival entrance portico, and is built of local stone removed from the retaining walls at Roxbury Furnace. Roxbury Market, the replacement of the Hurlbut Store, has a gambrel roof with an overhang forming a porch. The Booth Free School addition of 1941 has an excellent Georgian Revival entrance with rusticated quoins. Although small in scale, The Town Records Hall of 1933 has sophisticated design features, including an open-bed pediment, pilastered door surround, and rusticated quoins.

Roxbury was originally part of the town of Woodbury. Settled in 1672, Woodbury encompassed the present towns of Woodbury, Bethlehem, Southbury, Washington, and Roxbury. The fission of the original town occurred along the lines of separate Congregational parishes established in the 18th-century. In 1732/3, a Congregational church was built in what later became Roxbury. This was located on a hilltop site about 1-1/2 miles from the present church. An Episcopal church was constructed nearby in 1763. This early center of worship served scattered farmsteads throughout the area. In the 1780s, a number of newcomers from other sections of Woodbury began to settle on the site of the present Roxbury Center. Among these new residents were General Ephraim Hinman and Asahel Bacon. On the route from New Milford in the Housatonic River Valley to Woodbury in the Pomperaug River Valley, and sheltered by surrounding hills, the new center of settlement prospered.

During the 1780s, the inhabitants of Roxbury began to petition for status as a separate town. This was granted by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1796. A Town Records Hall was constructed on South Street to house land records and other documents. As a precaution against fire, this was built of brick. The relocation of the Congregational Church to Church Street in 1795, and the Episcopal Church to its present location in 1807 reinforced the status of the new center. The opening of the Oxford Turnpike to Southbury and Oxford in the 1830s provided more access to Roxbury Center.

The basis of the local economy was general agriculture: raising a variety of products for both household consumption and for sale. Wheat, rye, and other cereals were grown by Roxbury farmers in the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries. Flax and wool for cloth manufacture was also produced. Livestock grazed in fields and along the highway. In addition to farming, many inhabitants of Roxbury engaged in handcrafts and other occupations to earn supplementary income, a common practice in rural New England communities. Hatmaking was the principal activity of this period. Small shops in Roxbury supplied hats for trade with the American South. Colonel George Hurlburt operated one such shop from about 1840 to 1860. This shop is no longer extant. Another building, which may well have served as a hat shop, survives on Church Street. Other income producing activities included the operation of a garnet mine by Stephen Sanford and the casting of plowshares by J.T. Bronson. Despite the declining population of the town from 1,217 in 1810 to 971 in 1840, and almost no growth to the turn of the century. Roxbury Center continued to prosper though providing services to the rest of the town. The Congregational Church built a new house of worship in 1838, adding a chapel in 1844. The Episcopal church acquired the former Roswell Ransom Tavern as a rectory in 1846. The Center School, built in 1830, provided for the educational needs of local children.[4]

In the latter half of the 19th-century, the local economy shifted from diversified agriculture and small-scale handcrafts to specialized agricultural production. The opening of the Shepaug Railroad in 1871 was an important factor in this change. Milk and other perishable farm products could be transported readily to urban centers such as New York City. Coal, grain, and other merchandise was imported. Tobacco was grown in low-lying fields near the Shepaug River. Dairy farming and fruit production replaced less profitable farming operations. The Hurlbut apple orchard, within the Roxbury Center Historic District boundaries, was started in this period. Other specialized agricultural activities included fattening cattle sent from the western United States and Canada, and raising and training trotters and other horses.[5]

Two new churches were also established in Roxbury Center during this period. A Methodist church was constructed on South Street next to the Town Records Hall in 1867. This was demolished during the 1930s. In 1885, a Roman Catholic church was built on Church Street across from the Congregational Church. This is still extant, although the steeple was destroyed in a storm. Several homes in the Queen Anne style were constructed in the 1880s, including a new Congregational parsonage on Church Street, and a house of South Street built for a member of the Smith family. The Hurlburt store, built in the mid 19th-century, which also served as a post office was demolished in the 1930s. Extant buildings from the second half of the 19th-century include a cobbler's shop and a meat market, both on South Street, and a blacksmith shop on Weller's Bridge Road. With the exception of the meat market, now vacant, these have been converted to residential use.[6]

In the early 20th-century, the population of Roxbury declined rapidly. From 1900 to 1930, the population of the town decreased by 49%, from 1,087 to 553. During the 1930s. Roxbury began to be colonized by wealthy individuals, primarily from New York, who saw the rural community as a haven from the city. Purchasing outlying farms, these newcomers had little direct influence on Roxbury Center. Increased demands for goods and services, however, resulted in some modest building activity. The Roxbury Market, a combined post office and general store, replaced the earlier Hurlburt Store in the 1930s. The Roxbury Public Library, formerly housed in the rear of the town hall, moved to a new building in 1927. The Booth Free School, constructed with funds donated by Hervey M. Booth in 1903, was enlarged in 1941. This functioned as the high school until 1941. Since 1941, it has served as the town elementary school. The lack of any intensive development in the 20th-century has left Roxbury Center as an important example of a rural 19th-century community. The open fields surrounding the village, the numerous outbuildings which survive, and the wide spacing of the houses are important elements of Roxbury Center.[7]

Roxbury Center is associated with several individuals of prominence in local and state affairs. General Ephraim Hinman and Asahel Bacon, both of whom settled in Roxbury in 1784, were merchants of at least local note. Hinman was also an important figure in the Connecticut militia. Bacon, the son of Woodbury merchant Jabez Bacon, invested in the Roxbury iron mine. In 1850, Bacon's house and land was sold to Colonel George Hurlburt. Elected to the state legislature in 1845, Hurlburt was also involved in hat manufacture and ran a general store next to his home. After the election of Lincoln to the Presidency, Hurlburt was appointed postmaster of Roxbury. Colonel Seth Warner, born in Roxbury, led the "Green Mountain Boys" who captured the British fortress at Crown Point during the American Revolution. Warner also played a decisive role in the Battle of Bennington. The Warner home is no longer extant. The only site in Roxbury associated with Warner is the obelisk on the green beneath which he is buried.

Residents of Roxbury were very active in politics during the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Many prominent lawmakers and jurists came from Roxbury, a remarkable fact considering that the town was so sparsely populated and isolated. Among these distinguished residents were Royal Hinman, Secretary of the State of Connecticut, Nathan Smith, Superior Court judge and U.S. Senate, John Sanford, also a member of the House of Representatives, and Henry Booth, a Superior Court judge of the state of Illinois. Almost all these individuals lived in Roxbury Center.[8]

Little research has been done on the history of Roxbury. Investigation into the economy of the community during the 18th and 19th centuries could result in valuable contributions to the understanding of Connecticut's rural agrarian communities. The relationship of the Roxbury hat industry to the large-scale development of hatmaking in Danbury might be explored fruitfully, for example. Another potential field of research is the political and social history of the town. The prominent role played by many residents of Roxbury Center in local, state, and even national politics is a significant fact that bears further investigation. Many of the 18th and 19th century families which resided in Roxbury Center are still represented there today. Potential exists for oral history interviews with many of the older residents. In addition, both family and local archives have yet to be exhaustively investigated, as well as the actual physical evidence offered by the district itself.[9]

Endnotes

  1. Interview with Mrs. Seth Houck, April 2, 1981.
  2. Interview with Mrs. Seth Houck, March 16, 1983. According to Mrs. Houck, the Town Records Hall was designed by Hartford architect Lester Beach Sheidy. However, this information could not be verified by the writer. Mrs Houck believes the Roxbury Public Library was designed by the same architect.
  3. The Barnes house is dated at 1825 in Homes of Old Woodbury, the Woodbury Historical Society, Waterbury, The Heminway Press, 1959, page 257. Stylistically, this writer feels it is somewhat later in date.
  4. Humphry, Helen Hunt W. Sketches of Roxbury. New Milford: Litch-fair, Marsh & Loewe, 1967, pages 15-16 on Roxbury's economy.
  5. Ibid, page 16.
  6. Roxbury did undergo demographic change in the 19th century. First, there was a steady outflow of population, particularly to the Western states. For example, Henry Booth removed to Illinois, where he later became a Superior Court judge. However, many of the local families were also represented by members who stayed within the town boundaries, providing stability. At the same time, there was also an influx of newer residents, primarily agricultural and mining workers. Out-migration was not balanced by in-migration, however, and the population slowly declined.
  7. Interview with Mrs. Seth Houck, March 25th, 1981, on the Hurlburt Store and Roxbury Market.
  8. Humphrey, op.cit., page 14.
  9. There are numerous individuals in Roxbury who have lived in town their entire lives and whose families have lived for many generations in town. Mrs. Seth Houck, of South Street, has provided valuable information used in the preparation of this nomination. Mrs. Houck is a direct descendant of Colonel George Hurlburt and continues to reside in the family home.

References

Fay, Charles Edey. Historical Sketch the Roxbury Congregational Church. Roxbury, Ct.: 1944.

Houck, Mrs. Seth, Interview, March 25, 1981.

Humphrey, Helen Hunt W. Sketches of Roxbury. New Milford: Litch-fair, Marsh & Loewe, 1967.

Leukhardt, Bill, "An 'apple museum' in Roxbury," Waterbury Republican, October 23, 1981, pl0c1.

Old Woodbury Historical Society. Homes of Old Woodbury. Waterbury, Ct.: The Heminway Press, 1959.

Report the Historic District Study Committee Roxbury. January 27, 1966. Typewritten manuscript on file at Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, CT.

† Dale S. Plummer, consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Roxbury Center Historic District, Litchfield County, CT, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Roxbury Center Historic District Map

Street Names
Church Street • Route 67 • South Street • Southbury Road • Wellers Bridge Road

**Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. You should independently verify any information you use for decision making.
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