Salisbury Center Historic District
The Salisbury Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Salisbury Center Historic District has been the institutional and commercial center of the town since it was founded, and continues actively in that role. The Salisbury Center Historic District runs north on Main Street/SR 44 from the Scoville Memorial Library and Town Hall for a little more than two blocks, to the green where Undermountain Road/SR 41 branches off to the north. Twenty-two of the 29 major buildings in the Salisbury Center Historic District were constructed in the 19th century, seven in the 20th century; other than the institutions, most were residential, but many have been converted to commercial use.
Buildings in the institutional/commercial district, which is only two to three blocks long, are generally spaced close together in a dense town center setting. Many front entrances are at the sidewalk, with no set back. Nevertheless, the space seems open because of two factors: the street is wide and the buildings are low, generally two stories. In addition, at the southern end of the district the library has grounds of three acres and the Town Hall and the cemetery are on a 4.3-acre parcel, while at the northern end of the district the combined green and adjacent front lawn of the White Hart Inn are 1.5 acres. In between, even though the buildings are close together the small town ambience is pervasive.
The oldest resource in the Salisbury Center Historic District still in its original appearance is the cemetery, located on an upward slope behind the Town Hall. It was established in 1750, but most of the existing monuments are segmental marble stones dating from the early 19th century. The cemetery has an unusual bronze sculpture from 1874, an urn embellished at its neck and in the handles with busts of eight small children. It is signed "T.H. Bartlett Paris."
The oldest building in the Salisbury Center Historic District still in its original appearance is the Congregational Church, 1800, (a portion of Bushnell Tavern, 6 Factory Street dates from 1747 but is not visually identifiable from the street). The church is a two-story frame Federal building with characteristic pedimented portico, quoins, 12-over-12 windows, Palladian windows in the square tower, and open octagonal belfry of columns without capitals. The doorway anticipates the oncoming Greek Revival style by the triglyphs in its frieze. The exterior has received fewer changes than the interior, where the original high pulpit no longer is in place, original box pews have been replaced by slips, and original gallery columns removed. The former structural function of the gallery columns is now met by tie rods that support the audience chamber ceiling from the roof framing.
The church is across Main Street from the Town Hall and across Library Street from the library. Together these three large institutional buildings anchor the south end of the district, providing a strong base from which the district progresses northward.
The north end of the Salisbury Center Historic District is comparably defined by the presence of the large rambling frame White Hart Inn, also with origins going back to ca.1800, and the green on which it fronts. The extent to which the inn has been altered and enlarged from time to time is indicated by its footprint. Its porches, dormers, gabled roofs, and massing now put it generally in the Colonial Revival mode. There is a Palladian window in the east gable end of the main block.
Main Street between the north and south anchors of the Salisbury Center Historic District is lined with 19th-century buildings. The Judge Martin Strong House, 11 East Main Street, 1810, displays the rectangular mass with central entrance flanked by two windows on each side typical of the era. The Judge Strong House is the last building in the row to be in commercial use on the east side of the street and therefore marks the end of the Salisbury Center Historic District. The house has been altered from time to time; alterations to building fabric and change in use to commercial have both been frequently experienced by buildings in the district.
The Ezra Jewell House, 4 Main Street, 1811, presents the alternate orientation of three-bay gable end toward the street. Alterations here include the wide porch that wraps around the front and two sides. At the second floor the windows are separated by Ionic pilasters, an unusually sophisticated feature if original. The Ezra Jewell House assumed its commercial function in the 19th century as a store for the Washinee Manufacturing Company, maker of woolen yarns during the years 1853-1878. Number 15 Main Street, 1820, is another Federal house with three-bay gable end to the street. Its semi-elliptical pediment window is glazed in the world globe pattern, which is repeated several times up and down the street. The prevalence of the feature is unusual if original.
St. John's Episcopal Church, 12 Main Street, 1824, eclectically makes use of three styles. It may have been built in the more delicate Federal style with its stronger, more vigorous Greek Revival features added, or in 1824 the building may have been an early recognition of the oncoming Greek Revival mode. The shape and proportions of the auditorium and central tower, and the oculi in the tower, are Federal, while the trabeated doorway and its strong pediment tend toward the Greek Revival. The pointed stained-glass windows of the sanctuary, four on each side, are Gothic Revival contributions to the overall eclectic design. St. John's is one of the Salisbury Center Historic District's two brick 19th-century buildings and is the only building with Gothic Revival style features.
More buildings, six, are dated 1830 than any other year. The Gideon Smith House, on the White Hart Inn property, 15 Under Mountain Road, is dated 1830 by the Assessor, 1815 by a sign near the front door. Its combination of the Colonial features of five bays and central entrance combined with twin chimneys and molded window cornices make it a late example of the Georgian style. The Horace Hubbard House, 2 Main Street, continues the row of residences converted to commercial use but is different from most others because it is 1-1/2 stories. An arched attic window suggests the Italianate style and a date of ca.1870s, but the upper floor may have been an addition to an earlier building. Its first-floor porch, formerly open, is now completely glazed.
Two buildings of the Ragamont Inn complex, 10 Main Street, make the strongest stylistic statement among commercial properties in the district with their two colossal porticos, one Federal, one Greek Revival. The southern component of the group is brick behind a porch of Federal columns with Ionic capitals, while Doric columns protect the northern frame section.
Continuing in the range of 1830 houses, 14 Main Street was built in the Greek Revival style as evidenced by the paneled corner pilasters, which are about the only remaining stylistic feature. While considerably altered, 16 Main Street retains the shape and massing of its ca.1830s origin. Salisbury National Bank, 18 Main Street, has perhaps been altered as much but with attention to continuing, or introducing, appropriate stylistic features. Fluted pilasters flanking the entrance, quoins on the corners, and tympanum with semi-elliptical window in the globe pattern contribute to the effect.
The exterior of a Federal style school building, Salisbury Academy, Main Street, 1833, is in a good state of preservation. Its brick walls, laid up in distinctive Flemish bond, small-pane windows, and contrasting white stone dressing are all consistent with the style, as are the elliptical louver under the gable peak and low roof monitor. Also well-preserved is the Elizabeth O. Lee House, 1 East Main Street, 1840. The recessed entry of this house, protected by Doric columns in antis, its flush tympanum, and rectangular attic window with parallel muntin bars make it the most fully developed Greek Revival design in the district.
4 Undermountain Road and 6 Undermountain Road, both dating from 1854, are modest vernacular houses located toward the north end of the district. Salisbury Pharmacy, 20 Main Street, 1870, is another example of a building which has been greatly altered for maximum commercial potential. As in the Horace Hubbard House, 2 Main Street, its first floor has been completely glazed for shop windows. 20 Main Street has a low hipped roof, perhaps the only hipped roof in the Salisbury Center Historic District.
The Warner Law Office at 5 Academy Street, 1874, is one of the few buildings in the district built in a late-19th century revival style. Despite its Academy Street address, the building faces Main Street set back behind a small town-owned lot. Its frame structure and picturesque details appropriately reflect Victorian-era tastes. Another example from the era is 17 Main Street, 1880, whose false parapet with bracketed cornice and double round-arched glazing in the front door place it in the Italianate style. The Civil War monument, on the green, 1891, displays the contemporary design dichotomy of classical idealized female figure at the top of the column in contrast to four matter-of-fact cannon muzzles projecting belligerently from its pedestal.
Scoville Memorial Library, 38 Main Street, 1891, a gray granite Romanesque Revival building individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the last building to be constructed in the Salisbury Center Historic District in the 19th century.
Early-20th century stylistic preferences are represented in the Salisbury Center Historic District by two wood-shingled houses, 1 Main Street, 1910, with wall dormers and diamond glazing, and the George Clark House, 5 East Main Street, 1912, an example of the Bungalow style which displays good integrity. Two cinder-block buildings exhibit the popularity of that version of concrete building material at 20 East Main Street, 1920, and the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service, 8 Under Mountain Road, 1922, both initially garages. Cinder block is also one of the materials used in the aggregation of commercial buildings that forms 19 Main Street, 1920s. The Post Office, 22 Main Street, 1930, is a standard simplified Colonial Revival design in red brick.
Probably the largest building in the Salisbury Center Historic District, and the only one with a sense of modern architecture, is the Town Hall, 27 Main Street, 1988, built on the site of its predecessor after a disastrous fire. It maintains the traditional clapboards, columned portico, and octagonal domed cupolas, while the over-scaled radial glazing speaks of 20th-century post-modernism.
The Salisbury Center Historic District comprises institutional and commercial buildings which are good examples of a variety of 19th-century architectural styles. In many cases domestic buildings now in commercial use have been altered to suit their strong mercantile function. The institutional buildings, many on their original sites, dominate the district visually as institutions have for two centuries. The architecture of the Salisbury Center Historic District creates a strong sense of a 19th-century town center, little changed in the 20th century.
The critical event in the history of Salisbury was the early-18th century discovery of rich iron ore deposits. With both fast-running streams for waterpower and ample forests for hardwoods to make charcoal nearby, the iron-processing industry was well-developed in Salisbury by the end of the 18th-century. Salisbury canon were essential to victory in the Revolutionary War and Salisbury furnished ammunition for the War of 1812. In addition, peacetime applications for wrought and cast iron produced by many forges and blast furnaces were endless, encouraging early and substantial industrialism in Salisbury.
Usual agricultural pursuits of settlers went forward in tandem with the iron industry. Waterpower augmented subsistence farming through gristmills and sawmills, processing the products of the farms, and was used in the fabrication of hats, bicycles, textiles, and cutlery. The Salisbury Center Historic District was the hub for the combined extensive activity stemming from the natural resources of iron, waterpower, and agriculture as the community developed and grew from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War.
By the time of the Civil War, demand for iron decreased as a consequence of the development of steel and steampower supplanted waterpower, bringing industrial activity in Salisbury to a virtual halt. Accordingly, the district entered a period of no growth but continued stability as the institutional and commercial center of the less active region. More than a century later the Salisbury Center Historic District continues to serve as the institutional and commercial hub of the town.
Architecture of the Salisbury Center Historic District is significant because as a totality it is a well-preserved group of 19th-century buildings which constitute the continuing institutional and commercial hub of the community. Buildings in the Salisbury Center Historic District are a mixture of styles and age, most dating from the 19th century, functioning together as the activity center and seat of government of the Town of Salisbury.
A good example of the early commercial use of buildings in the district is the Bushnell Tavern, 6 Factory Street. Its south section dates from 1746, making it the oldest building fabric in the district. After making additions in 1790, Captain Jeremiah Bushnell operated a tavern on the premises to 1840. The Congregational Church, St. John's Episcopal Church, and Salisbury Academy are other good examples of well-preserved early-19th century architecture or buildings displaying 19th-century features which add significance to the district.
Many other buildings in the Salisbury Center Historic District are vernacular work of anonymous builders, but several are excellent examples of their styles by well-known men. Perhaps the most famous name represented in the district is not an architect but a sculptor, Truman H. Bartlett (1835-1923), an American who lived and worked in Paris where he developed a reputation as a nationally known artist. His son Paul W. Bartlett (1865-1925) was also a sculptor, recognized in Connecticut for his equestrian bonze of the Marquis de Lafayette which stands in Hartford near the State Capitol and the State Library. Regrettably, nothing is known concerning the circumstances whereby Bartlett secured the commission for the bronze vase with small busts of eight children.
The other well-known sculptor with work in the Salisbury Center Historic District, the Civil War Monument, is George Edwin Bissell (1839-1920), who was born in New Preston, Connecticut, 25 miles south of Salisbury, the son of a quarryman and marble worker. At the time of the Salisbury commission Bissell was a resident of Salisbury.
Bissell's skill in combining allegory in bronze with granite stonework found earlier expression in the Waterbury Soldiers' Monument commission of 1884. The classical character of Bissell's sculpture, the allegories that it articulated, and the locale for the modeling and casting, done in Europe, all express the 19th-century classical European tradition in art and aesthetics, combined in Salisbury with four cannon muzzles in a manner unique in Connecticut.
Amongst the architects and builders, Stone, Carpenter & Willson was a Providence, Rhode Island firm which designed the Providence Public Library during a long practice. Nathan Daniels and Loring Bartlett were prominent 19th-century Salisbury builders, while Norton S. Miner carried on a respected architectural practice locally for several decades in the mid to late 20th century.
In three known instances, and perhaps more, unknown, the patrons of these men were families whose fortunes derived from the iron business: the Coffings were patrons of T.H. Bartlett, the Scoville family of Stone, Carpenter & Willson, and the Warners of Nathan Daniels. The iron industry provided the basic economic activity which the institutional and commercial district served and in at least three instances industry leaders commissioned work by outstanding practitioners for the district.
The Congregational Church is significant for its early date, distinguished architecture, and well-preserved condition, at least on the exterior. J. Frederick Kelly in his seminal Early Connecticut Meetinghouses describes and discusses the building for several pages. He uses the term Georgian for the style of some of its features, but the level of elaboration, development, and refinement found in the church appears to fit better with the succeeding Federal style.
The church was built to replace the aging meetinghouse across the street. The town, which retained ownership of the building, leased it for use as an inn, while continuing to use a large room for town meetings. In 1878 the town took over occupancy of the entire building and built a tower. In 1913 when the building was again enlarged, a Colonial Revival portico with two-story columns was built on the front. Northwest Connecticut ardently embraced the Colonial Revival and the Salisbury Town Hall portico became the recognition symbol of the building and the town. Accordingly, after the 1985 fire, replacing the image of the portico became a must for the town. The New York City architects Kliment & Halsband met the popular demand with the present edifice.
Scoville Memorial Library, the third of the three large buildings that anchor the southern end of the district, is dealt with separately in its own National Register of Historic Place registration.
Another building which retains its original design clarity, of good quality, is the Elizabeth O. Lee House. A sophisticated and fully developed example of the Greek Revival style at its height, the well-preserved house is an important component of the Salisbury Center Historic District.
Most other buildings in the Salisbury Center Historic District have been altered and enlarged over time to meet changing needs of the town center. The White Hart Inn, which anchors the north end of the district, assumed approximately its present appearance in the 1890s; prior to that time it featured tiered porches and a tower. The Academy and the Warner Law Office have more integrity than others, but the important consideration is that the entire group collectively exhibits unusual overall integrity as a 19th-century institutional and commercial district. The Salisbury Center Historic District continues to function as the institutional and commercial hub of the town.
Kelly, J. Frederick. Easily Connecticut Meetinghouses. New York: Columbia University Press, 1948, v.2, pp.174-180.
Merriss, Geoffrey. "Children's Faces on Cemetery Urn." Lakeville Journal, November 12, 1964.
Moskowitz, Virginia F., Municipal Historian. "History of Salisbury Town Hall." Paper, June 19, 1988, at History Room, Scoville Memorial Library.
"Proposed Historic Districts in Salisbury and Lakeville, Connecticut." Salisbury: Historic District Study Committee of Salisbury, nd.
Ransom, David F. Connecticut's Monumental Epoch: A Survey of Civil War Memorials. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1997.
________Scoville Memorial Library, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1982.
"Report of the Historic District Commission Regarding Proposed Extension to the Central Historic District and the Creation of New Historic Districts in the Town of Salisbury, February 25, 1971."
Salisbury Historical Commission. Inventory forms for 1, 5, 11 East Main Street; 6 Factory Street; 2, 4, 30 Main Street; map 54, lot 22.
Soulsby, Mary. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Mount Riga Ironworks Site. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1994.