The Fyler-Hotchkiss Estates was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Fyler-Hotchkiss Estate (Torrington Historical Society, 192 Main Street) is a complex of two late Victorian houses and a Carriage House (Hotchkiss-Fyler House Museum, History Museum and John H. Thompson Memorial Library) located on a landscaped lot on the east side of Torrington's Main Street. The houses are set well back from the sidewalk atop a modest slope in a mainly residential and institutional section of Main Street, at the northern edge of the public and commercial center of Downtown Torrington.
Dominating the property is the Hotchkiss-Fyler House, a two-and-a-half story Chateauesque dwelling completed in 1900. The Hotchkiss-Fyler House is cruciform in plan, with a prominent asphalt-shingled, hip-on-gable roof that was originally slate, one of the house's few alterations. The ridgeline of the central hip has copper cresting. Three chimneys rise from the roof, with shafts of light brown Roman brick with recessed panels, inset terra cotta tiles, and corbels of Ohio stone with molded brick soffits. The roof slopes flare outward at the eaves and the northwest and northeast corners have copper finials.
The Hotchkiss-Fyler House rests on a foundation of rusticated granite ashlar which rises above ground level to a bevelled water table of smooth granite. The house's masonry walls are of buff and light brown Roman brick on the first story, with rose-red slate on the second story and the towers and in the gables. Window treatment also differs by stories; those on the first are single hung with transoms, and are recessed in their openings above sills of smooth granite. Windows in the second story are double-hung with molded wooden surrounds which project slightly from the wall. Frieze bands with modillioned wooden cornices (denticulated as well on the first story) separate the house's three levels. The slate walls flare outward above this cornice at the second story and in the top story of the tower.
Exterior woodwork is white pine. Columns and pilasters are square and panelled, with raised diamond and half-diamond motifs and Corinthian capitals, with the exception of octagonal columns used to flank the front steps and to terminate the porte cochere. Heraldic emblems, such as helmets and shields (neither of which are features of the Fyler coat-of-arms) and a cornucopia motif are prominent in the carved ornamentation found in all elevations except the rear.
Each elevation receives a different treatment. The west facade of the Hotchkiss-Fyler House is dominated by the 16' tower at the northwest corner, and by a 29' piazza with cast iron rails and posts, with a grille of wrought iron in a baroque design. The foundation of the piazza is of ashlar and its north end is curved to match the curve of the tower. Its floor is of maroon brick, laid in a herringbone pattern. It has a modillioned cornice topped by a balcony and balustrade with turned balusters at the sides and solid panels in the center. The central panels are filled with carved cornucopias and garlands. Projecting from the roof at this point is a large shaped-gable dormer with a triple window, over the center sash of which is a round arch which encloses a carved helmet. The shaped gable motif is repeated in the surrounds of dormers in the tower.
The main entry of the Hotchkiss-Fyler House is flanked by two small niches, topped by finials and recessed to contain small window lights. The entire entry, door and surround is of blond natural mahogany. The double doors feature bevelled glass and are panelled, with carved foliate designs, mainly acanthus leaves, within which are concealed fishes and human faces, and cornucopias. The door hardware is original and includes bronze door handles, escutcheon plates, and doorbells. Inside is a small vestibule with a mosaic tile floor, walls and ceiling of raised, fielded panelling, and double inner doors with no carving, their lights fitted with original filters of Battenberg lace.
The north elevation consists of a fully pedimented gable which projects over three bays, the outer two of which are bevelled, and in the first story of which is the north side entry. The entry is fitted with a panelled mahogany door, half-glazed with bevelled plate glass, and is protected by a porte cochere which rests on piers of rusticated granite ashlar and which has a gable roof of red slate. On the second story, above the roof of the porte cochere, is a large triple window of art glass which lights the main stairway, and from which projects a balcony which is inaccessible from within. To the west is a large carved oriel surmounted by a basket handle arch formed by its two windows, which is enframed by pilasters with carved gargoyles as capitals.
The south elevation of the Hotchkiss-Fyler House features a rounded projection surmounted by a balustrade, and on the southwest corner are an enclosed, one-story sunroom and an open porch.
The rear or east elevation contains entries with half-glazed doors to the kitchen and ice room, sheltered by a shed-roofed porch. A small conical-roofed tower at the northeast corner encloses the upper level of a staircase which leads to servants' quarters on the third floor.
The Hotchkiss-Fyler House's seventeen rooms have original woodwork, door and window hardware, and radiators. On the first floor, each room receives a different treatment, establishing in each a distinct character which is unified by a common motif of fluted Corinthian columns. Flooring, except in the kitchen and dining room, is of quartered white oak laid in a parquet pattern. The front entry opens into the main hall, which has a coffered ceiling, in the center of which is an elaborately carved well from which is suspended a brass chandelier. The walls are wainscoted in panelled, stained mahogany, above which they are hand-stencilled and gold-leafed in the Tree of Life pattern, a 1969 reproduction of the original. Leading to the second floor from the main hall is a grand mahogany staircase with turned balusters and carved newel posts which feature a torch motif and which are capped by carved globe finials. The panelled wainscoting is carried up the stairs, which are lighted by the triple window in the north elevation, flanked at the landing by two small built-in seats. A row of unusual disc molding runs along the stringer below the risers on the side of the staircase facing the main hall. Doors to the rooms of the main hall have molded surrounds and are finished on the hall side in mahogany but on the inside correspond to the wood used in the respective rooms.
The tower room in the northwest corner is decorated in Louis XV style, with whitewood walls painted an enamelled white, plaster-bordered wall panels fitted with Italian cotton damask, and a fireplace mantel and crown molding decorated with gold leaf filigree. The ceiling is ornamented with five gold-leafed plaster medallions which wreath painted cherubs who peek from behind clouds.
Also on the north side of the main hall is the library, finished in quarter-sawn oak and with a small study wing lighted by a casement window with foliate designs. The fireplace mantel is decorated with applied carving of floral designs and grotesques against a stippled background.
To the south of the main hall is the sitting or living room, the entrance to which is flanked by fluted Corinthian columns upon a short, sunken-panel base. Woodwork is of red birch. The fireplace is faced with swirling green onyx marble and carries a frieze with applied garlands, a row of egg-and-dart molding, and a cornice.
The dining room, which corresponds to the south elevation, has a curved outer wall. The walls have low wainscoting of mahogany, above which they are hand-stencilled in the Pineapple pattern. Adjacent are a narrow butler's pantry and the kitchen, both finished in brown ash.
There are six former bedrooms on the second floor and six smaller servants' rooms on the third floor. The second-floor bedrooms include a guest room finished in whitewood in the Louis XV style, with plaster-bordered wall panels. An arched opening with panelled door, with sidelights and fanlight with leaded tracery, leads to a bath which overlooks the carriage house. The master bedroom is finished in red birch. The former Hotchkiss bedroom, located in the curving northwest tower, is also finished in whitewood and is lighted by a bank of three large windows. An adjoining bath is located in the shaped-gable dormer above the veranda balustrade.
To the north of the Hotchkiss-Fyler House on Main Street is the Carson House, a two-story Italianate dwelling built in 1880. The Carson House is cross gabled, two-and-a-half stories on a granite block foundation, with clapboard walls accented by Stick style framing elements, and with a prominent three-stage, bracketed, hip-roofed tower at the southwest corner of its facade. Incised quatrefoils are used extensively in the band courses and in the tower brackets. In 1975 the architectural firm of Jeter, Jepson and Cook redesigned the interior for exhibit space.
To the rear of the Fyler-Hotchkiss Estate property is an L-shaped two-story Queen Anne and Colonial Revival style carriage house built in 1895. The first story of the building is clad in beaded clapboard, while the second is of imbricated wood shingles. A pyramidal-roofed cupola is carried by brackets and a boxed cornice features returns in the gables. The first-floor vehicle bay opening has a molded platform-like cornice carried on consoles and is surmounted by panelled double doors in a cross-buck pattern which is enframed by sidelights and a fanlight and creates a Palladian design. A small one-story garage has been added to the north end, and a glass greenhouse to the south.
The Fyler-Hotchkiss Estate is significant for its historical association with Orsamus R. Fyler, a prominent political figure in Torrington and in state government, and his family, which was also prominent locally. It is significant architecturally as an exceptionally well-preserved and rare example of Chateauesque domestic architecture in a small Connecticut city. It possesses almost total integrity of design, materials, and setting. It is significant for the fine craftsmanship evident in its construction and in its exterior and interior ornamental features, particularly the many examples of woodcarving and hand-painted wall and ceiling decoration.
The Hotchkiss-Fyler House was commissioned in 1897 by Orsamus Roman Fyler (1840-1909), a prominent figure in local and state politics. Fyler was born in Torrington in 1840 into a prosperous farming family descended from original proprietors of the town. After serving in the Civil War in the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery, during which he suffered a severe leg wound at the Battle of Winchester in 1864 and earned a battlefield commission as first lieutenant, Fyler in 1866 began a career in public service. A term as State Representative was followed by an appointment as postmaster of Torrington, a position he filled until 1885. A staunch, active Republican, he was appointed State Insurance Commissioner by Connecticut's Republican Governor Henry Harrison in 1886. Fyler's investigations into the financial condition of several of the state's largest insurance companies and his subsequent reforms of the industry earned him a statewide reputation. He was reappointed by two subsequent governors, and in 1896 was elected Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee. The following year, in 1897, he was appointed State Railroad Commissioner, a post he retained until his death in 1909. On the local scene, Fyler also played an active political role. In 1878 he spearheaded the organization of the Torrington Water Company and served five terms as burgess of Torrington between 1892 and 1897. After Fyler's death in 1909, the property was inherited by his wife, Mary. Following Mary's death in 1936, the title was transferred to Gertrude, and her husband, Edward H. Hotchkiss. The couple were also original occupants of the house, which was commissioned not long after their marriage in 1896. Each was locally prominent, Gertrude for charitable work, particularly in connection with the Sloan-Kettering Foundation in New York where she established a fund to purchase Christmas presents for terminally ill children, and Edward as State representative from Torrington in 1897, president of the Torrington and Winsted Street Railway Company, and president of Hotchkiss Brothers. The latter was a family business that originated with his grandfather's sawmill on Water Street in Torrington and grew during the late nineteenth century into a major supplier of millwork and a leading builder of houses, factories, and business blocks around the western part of the state.
The house was commissioned by Fyler shortly after his election to the chairmanship of the State Republican Central Committee and the marriage of his daughter Gertrude to Edward H. Hotchkiss. Fyler's motive in commissioning such a large house may have been a desire to have a suitable environment for receiving and entertaining state political figures, as the family had previously occupied a modest Greek Revival house on the same site. They moved across the street for the two years during which the present house was constructed.
The Hotchkiss-Fyler House's design is Chateauesque. The style is plainly evident in the steeply-pitched hip roof, with its shaped-gable dormers, basket-handle arches, and prominent conical towers. The low relief carving found throughout the facade, including the basket-handle arches, the oriel, and the heraldic crest in the central front dormer, feature Renaissance motifs such as glove-cluster finials, a motif also found in the niches which flank the front doorway. The design differs from other examples of the style chiefly in materials, stone being more commonly used. Although Queen Anne was the style of choice for large residences in Torrington's neighborhoods during the 1890s and there were also Shingle style estates commissioned by several of the town's prominent industrialists on its outskirts, the Hotchkiss-Fyler House is the only mansion of its size and scale on Main Street.
The Hotchkiss-Fyler House's architect, William H. Allen, designed several similar dwellings along Whitney Avenue in New Haven (one, at the corner of Lawrence Street, is virtually identical with the Hotchkiss-Fyler House). There, the houses blend with the streetscape, but in the Hotchkiss-Fyler House's central Main Street setting it becomes a dominant feature, almost symbolic of Fyler's role in community affairs. The house's design can be traced back through Allen's similar earlier designs in New Haven, to the influence of Richard Morris Hunt, particularly to the William V. Lawrence House on Fifth Avenue at Seventy-Eighth Street in New York (1891).
The woodwork in the Hotchkiss-Fyler House includes a number of noteworthy examples of hand and machine carving: in the architrave of the front doorway, the oriel, the second-story balustrade, the front dormers, the mantelpieces, the coffer with carved foliate ornament which surrounds the chandelier in the main hall, and in the Corinthian columns used throughout.
The Carriage House on the property is a good example of a Queen Anne and Colonial Revival-influenced carriage house of the 1890s. The Carson House, although a separate dwelling which predates the Hotchkiss-Fyler House, has been a part of this property since 1892, and hence it forms a part of the Hotchkiss-Fyler House's original setting. It was built in 1880 for James Carson, treasurer of the Turner and Seymour Manufacturing Company, on a lot purchased from Orsamus Fyler. In 1892 Carson sold the house back to Fyler and it was occupied by a succession of tenants who included several executives of local companies. A good example of vernacular Italianate, it maintains a clear visual and physical relationship to the Hotchkiss-Fyler House. Its history as a rental dwelling owned by the Fyler and Hotchkiss families adds an additional dimension to the property's value as exemplifying the social and cultural history of Torrington's upper class at the turn of the century.
Baker, Paul R., Richard Morris Hunt Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977.
Brown, Elizabeth Mills, New Haven: A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
Burton, Richard, ed., Men of Progress, Boston: New England Magazine, 1898.
Hart, Samuel, ed., Representative Citizens of Litchfield County, New York: American Historical Society, 1916.
Orcutt, Rev. Samuel, History of Torrington, Albany: J. Munsell, 1878.
Torrington Register Souvenir Edition, Register Printing Co., 1897.
Torrington Register, Nov. 22, 1909, Obituary of Orsamus R. Fyler, p. 1.
Specifications, blueprints and photographs for Fyler-Hotchkiss House and carriage house, at Torrington Historical Society.
Mark McEachern, Director, Torrington Historical Society, October 10, 1985.
† William E. Devlin, Torrington Historical Society and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Fyler-Hotchkiss Estate, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.