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Sharon Historic District


Old Shop and Post Office on the Green, Sharon, CT

Photo: Old Shop and Post Office on the Green, Sharon, CT, Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS CT-151], Stanley P. Mixon, photographer, 1940, memory.loc.gov, accessed March, 2011.

The Sharon Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.

Description

Sharon Historic District consists of over 100 houses and other buildings surrounding Sharon Green and extending north along North Main Street and south along South Main Street and Amenia-Union Road. The northern part of the Sharon Historic District, around the Green, is densely built up, mostly with houses from the 18th and early-19th centuries. Most of the earlier houses have some Federal style detail, such as a leaded fanlight over the doorway or a Palladian window, either as original features or as later modifications. Most are wood-frame, clapboarded buildings, but there are a number of brick dwellings as well. Interspersed among the early dwellings are houses from the Victorian period, some quite elaborate. West of the Green, along New Street and Hospital Hill Road, the predominant character of the houses is Victorian, primarily vernacular examples with some limited stylistic reference such as Gothic board-and-batten detailing or a Second Empire style mansard roof.

In addition to houses, the Sharon Historic District includes a number of institutional buildings: four brick churches, including the elegant Federal style Congregational Church, 1824, and the 1835 Methodist Church; the Town Hall, 1875; an elaborate Richardsonian Romanesque public library, 1893; and a Colonial Revival style consolidated school built c.1920. Commercial buildings include several stores dating from the first half of the 19th century, as well as a number of houses that in former times accommodated such uses as a saddlery and a law office.

The Green is a long park-like strip of lawn and trees between Main Street and Upper Main Street; it marks the remains of Sharon's colonial common. The Green includes two contributing objects: at the extreme north end is the town's Soldiers Memorial, a granite Civil War monument (1885); and near the midpoint, opposite West Main Street, a large c.1890 stone urn currently planted with flowers, but perhaps originally intended as a watering trough. The Green itself is one of two contributing sites. The other is Hillside Cemetery, a burying ground that includes numerous 18th-century stones, many with a distinctive compass-drawn star design, as well as early-19th century and Victorian-period markers. It is surrounded by a c.1900 stone wall with gateposts, and has a small but finely detailed stone Gothic-style chapel built in 1913.

In the 19th century the Green continued to the south, along South Main Street, but the eastern edge of it is now indistinct and appears as part of the front lawn of the adjoining houses. A contributing structure occupies a small remnant of the south part of the Green at the intersection of South Main Street and Cornwall Road: the Richardsonian Romanesque clock tower, designed by Charles Rich of New York City and built in 1886 as a memorial by the Wheelers, one of the town's wealthy families.

To the south, along South Main Street and continuing along Amenia-Union and Mitchelltown Roads, the houses are much larger, set farther apart, and generally surrounded by lawns and formal plantings, many of which serve to screen the houses from public view. Some of these approximately two dozen contiguous Colonial Revival style estates began as farmhouses and were greatly enlarged and remodeled in the period 1890-1920, whereas others were built new. These houses are distinguished by ornate Georgian doorways, broken-scroll pediments on dormers, and elaborate porticos. Several have outbuildings in a similar Colonial Revival style that now serve as rental properties or have been subdivided as separate parcels. Many of the former estates retain ornate gateposts.

The boundary of the Sharon Historic District generally follows property lines, cutting across them only to exclude excessive acreage. Extensive stretches of open land provide a visual definition to the district to the west and south, while buildings of modern construction predominate to the east and north. Most of the buildings in the Sharon Historic District preserve their original form and much of their original detailing. Overall, alterations mostly consist of changes made during the period of significance, such as the addition of Federal style details to 18th century houses in the early 19th century, or Colonial Revival remodeling, which occurred throughout the district in the early 20th century. Although some buildings have shifted from residential to professional office or commercial use, alterations have generally been confined to side or rear portions so that the original residential appearance is maintained.

Few noncontributing buildings interrupt the concentration of historic resources in the Sharon Historic District. The 51 noncontributing buildings include nine houses of post-World War II construction, a large brick fire station built in 1950 (36 West Main Street), the c.1960 telephone company building (12 Hospital Hill Road), the c.1980 American Legion hall (15 New Street), and a small take-out restaurant (front of 31 West Main Street). The remainder of the noncontributing buildings are garages and other outbuildings that appear to have been built outside the district's period of significance.

The National Register district includes all of the Sharon Local Historic District as established in 1975, extending somewhat beyond the local district to include contiguous historic properties on Amenia-Union Road, Hilltop Road, Hospital Hill Road, Low Road, Mitchelltown Road, New Street, West Main Street, and West Woods Road. The properties on Amenia-Union Road and West Woods Road are included in a recent enlargement of the local historic district.

Significance

The historic resources included in the Sharon Historic District are significant because they recall the historical importance of the area as the focal point of economic, political, social, and religious life in Sharon throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The Sharon Historic District also has architectural significance. Many of the buildings are well-preserved, representative examples of particular styles of architecture, embodying the distinctive characteristics of the Federal, Greek Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles. The latter style is especially well-represented, with the estates on South Main Street constituting one of the most extensive concentrations of large Colonial Revival style houses in Connecticut.

Historic Context

Sharon was settled in the spring of 1739 and incorporated in October of that year. With the town common, the burying ground, and the meetinghouse of the Congregational religious society, what is now known as Sharon Green became a focal point for the community. The several roads that converged there made it a market center in the 18th century, and as the population of the village grew, houses were built closer together around the common, creating a village that also included stores, artisans' shops, and the offices of doctors and lawyers. The early-19th century was an even more prosperous time. Two turnpike roads converged at the village, the Goshen and Sharon Turnpike, chartered in 1803, and the Sharon and Cornwall Turnpike, established in 1809, thereby linking Sharon with both nearby communities and larger centers such as Waterbury. Many of the houses from this period on the Green, as well as earlier 18th-century houses that were remodeled, reflect the period's prosperity in their fanlights and other stylish details drawn from the then-current Federal style of architecture. Among the enterprises in business at one time or another in the center of Sharon were a shoe store, jeweller, hat shop, apothecary, milliner, clockmaker, saddlery, inns, taverns, and general stores. Today, several former store buildings from the early-19th century remain as reminders of the commercial activity that allowed crossroads villages such as Sharon to prosper during the Turnpike Era.

As religious diversity in Sharon increased, other denominations built churches in town, usually selecting the Green area because of its centrality, access to major roads, and established population: Episcopalians in 1819, Methodists in 1835, and in the early-20th century, Roman Catholics. As the town center, the area was also the logical choice for locating public institutions such as the Town Hall, built in 1875, the public library (1893), and the town's consolidated elementary school, built c.1920. Social organizations such as the Odd Fellows and Masonic groups also helped make the area the focus of community life. Along with the immediately surrounding area, the Green remained the town center throughout the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, and it continues in that role even to the present day.

Many of Sharon's leading families, such as the Kings, Gagers, Prindles, and Sedgwicks, chose to live in the village, and the houses clustered on Main Street, Upper Main Street, and North Main Street recall the role of these prominent merchants, clergymen, and political leaders in the history of the town.

Perhaps because of the presence of iron and lime industries, and rail connections nearby, Sharon did not suffer the population decline experienced by other rural Connecticut towns until after 1880. By that time, another episode in the town's history was underway: the movement of wealthy families to Sharon as a weekend, summer, or retirement retreat. With fortunes made elsewhere in industry, finance, and the professions, these families bought some of the houses around the Green and also the farmhouses and open land that lay to the south, along South Main Street. Erecting large houses in the Colonial Revival style (or altering simple farmhouses into Colonial Revival mansions), they created a long row of contiguous estates stretching southward from the Green. A secondary cluster emerged along Hilltop Road, overlooking the Green on the east. At the same time, some houses were converted into country inns, notably the Sharon Inn (no longer extant) and the Bartram Inn, which an early-20th century advertisement described as "a well conducted country house, noted for its cleanliness; a haven of rest." With its elevated setting, views of bucolic fields and farms, old colonial houses, and quiet pace, Sharon was a perfect retreat from New York. At the same time, trains to the metropolis (along the Harlem line) were only a short carriage ride away, across the state line just to the west.

Among the prominent New Yorkers who lived in Sharon in the early 20th century were diplomat Paul Hyde Bonner; Dr. William Bradley Coley, at the time the nation's leading expert on hernia operations; C. Stanley Mitchell, president of the Board of Directors of the Bank of the United States; editor/architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler; Frank Sprague, pioneering inventor of electrical devices; and Rev. Dr. Charles Comfort Tiffany, Episcopalian Archdeacon of New York.

By 1900 the Green itself had assumed its modern form, a park-like expanse of lawn with tall shade trees. In 1885 the soldiers monument, given by Emily Wheeler, established the Green as a location for important memorials, followed soon thereafter by the clock tower, 1886, erected as a memorial to Emily Wheeler's mother, and the Hotchkiss Library, 1893, in memory of Benjamin B. Hotchkiss, a local industrialist who with his brother Andrew developed the exploding artillery shell. The park-like appearance of the Green was augmented by a simple stone urn, c.1890, at the Green's midpoint opposite West Main Street. Many of these improvements were built and maintained by the village improvement association that was active around the turn of the century. In the middle of the 19th century, the Green had extended far south of Cornwall Road; lying outside of the village proper, however, this part became incorporated into the large estates that face South Main Street.

Architectural Significance

Many of the buildings in the Sharon Historic District embody the distinguishing characteristics of particular styles of architecture. The fanlights, Palladian windows, and porticos found on the several houses built (or substantially remodeled) in the early 19th century exemplify the elegant interpretation of Classical details favored in the Federal style, as do the arched entries and intricate steeple of the Congregational Church. Most of the later 19th-century buildings are plainer and less consciously stylish, but well-preserved examples remain of Stick style and Queen Anne style architecture, both of which epitomize the love of intricate variegated decoration that characterized the Victorian aesthetic. Two structures, the Hotchkiss Library and the clock tower, exhibit the rough polychrome masonry that is a defining characteristic of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Even many of the more vernacular buildings in the Sharon Historic District retain architectural details that illustrate the rich diversity of Victorian millwork, such as pinnacles, decorative wood shingles, and board-and-batten gable decoration.

The Sharon Historic District is particularly exceptional because of its great number and concentration of large and elaborately detailed Colonial Revival houses. The area of contiguous Colonial Revival estates on South Main Street and Amenia-Union Road may well be unparalleled in Connecticut. The idealization of early America as a time of gracious living is evident in the size and formality of plan found in most of these houses. With their broken-scroll pediments over doorways and dormers, Sharon's Colonial Revival mansions also illustrate another key characteristic of the style, the use of architectural elaboration far beyond what was commonly built in America before 1800. Finally, the houses embody the eclecticism of Early American sources that characterized the movement, at least in its early phase: mid-18th century doorways and Federal-period fanlights were freely combined with anachronistic abandon. Both south of the Green and around the Green itself, the influence of Colonial Revival architecture and remodeling was felt to an exceptional degree, lending unity to the district while at the same time allowing evidence of its long history as a village center to shine through.

Well-known New York architects are represented in the Sharon Historic District. Bruce Price, the socialite architect (and father of Emily Post) who designed Tuxedo Park and the Richard Morris Hunt Memorial in New York City, also designed Sharon's Hotchkiss Memorial Library. Charles A. Rich used a similar style for the clock tower at the south end of the Green; he is best known today for the c.1900 Beaux Arts-style Bryant Park Studios in Manhattan.

Criteria Considerations

The four churches and the cemetery in the Sharon Historic District, while not ordinarily eligible for National Register listing, contribute to the district because they help indicate its historical role as a focus for community life. Particularly in the case of the Congregational Church, they also contribute to Sharon Historic District's architectural significance. At least one building in the district (73 Main Street) is known to have been moved from another location on the Green, but it has been at its present site since 1833.

References

Benton, Myron B. "The Rose of Sharon, " Connecticut Magazine, 59 (September, 1899): 449-67.

Mackey, W. A. Historic Houses of Sharon. Sharon, 1913.

Majdalany, Jeanne. Walking Tour of the Sharon Central Green. Sharon, 1991.

Pease, John C., and John M. Niles. A Gazetteer of the States of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Hartford, 1819.

Sedgwick, Charles F. General History of the Town of Sharon. 3rd ed. Amenia, N.Y., 1898.

Sharon Historic District Study Committee. Report. March, 1975.

Trowbridge, Eunice Herrick. Family Sketches. Priv. pr., 1989.

Twinem, Leo Leonard. "Colonial Sharon — 'Fairest of Ten Thousand'," Lure of the Litchfield Hills, vol.3, no.3 (September, 1931): 13ff .

Warren, Rev. Ulysses G. Picturesque and Historic Sharon. New York, 1904.

MAPS (in chronological order)

Clark, Richard. Map of the Town of Sharon. Philadelphia, 1853.

Woodford, E. M. Map of Litchfield County. Philadelphia, 1859.

Beers, F. W. County Atlas of Litchfield, Connecticut. New York, 1874.

Keith, H. F. Map of Lands of William Ogden Wheeler, Sharon, Litchfield County, Connecticut, 1899. Copy at Sharon Historical Society.

† Bruce Clouette & Maura Cronin, consultants and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Sharon Historic District, Sharon, CT, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Sharon Historic District Map

Street Names
Amenia Union Road • Cemetery Hill Road • Cornwall Bridge Road • Great Elm Drive • Herrick Road • Hilltop Road • Hospital Hill Road • King Hill Road • Low Road • Main Street • Main Street North • Main Street South • Mitchelltown Road • New Street • Route 343 • Route 361 • Route 4 • Route 41 • Upper Main Street • West Woods Road

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