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Migeon Avenue Historic District


The Migeon Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2002, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Migeon Avenue Historic District is located mid-way along the length of Migeon Avenue, one of the oldest thoroughfares in present-day Torrington. Originally this route, paralleling the West Branch of the Naugatuck River, linked the mill village of Wolcottville (now the downtown center of Torrington), at its most southern point, with the Goshen/Sharon Turnpike at its northern terminus. In the early nineteenth century the road along the fertile bottomland was flanked by farms. Henri Migeon, a textile manufacturer acquired an eight-acre estate on the east side of this road. After the Civil War he built a suburban villa on a knoll near the present-day intersection of Forest Street. Achille F. Migeon, his son demolished this house, and just before the turn of the century, on the same site, constructed a large Shingle style house, which he called Laurelhurst. Set on landscaped grounds containing many rare plants and trees, Laurelhurst belied its proximity to Torrington's industrial concerns. Bridle paths led through grounds which offered both open vistas and woodlands. Achille Migeon sold a parcel of approximately two acres located south of Laurelhurst, on the northeast corner of Migeon Avenue and Gleeson Street, to fellow industrialist Luther G. Turner. There Turner erected a handsome Shingle style house in the early years of the twentieth century. Both houses are set well back from Migeon Avenue, and no major barriers interrupt the broad expanse of the integrated sweep of their front lawns. Achille Migeon's widow, Elizabeth, and his daughter, Clara M. Swayze employed Olmsted Associates between 1909 and 1938 to redesign various elements of the Laurelhurst landscape. Unfortunately, few of the firm's landscape innovations and plantings have survived.

In 1910 Thomas W. Bryant built a 21-room Colonial Revival house set on nearly four and one-half acres on the northeast corner of Migeon Avenue and Forest Street, north of Laurelhurst. Mrs. Bryant hired Olmsted Associates to reshape the landscape plan for the house in the late 1930s. Two of the main components of the firm's plan were to develop a combination of plantings and barriers to screen the property from the street and neighboring properties, construct a new garage at a different location. The house was demolished in 1966 but the granite walls which delineated sites of various gardens and the property boundaries, as well as a granite garage, are still extant. The property is still defined by the Olmsted-designed plantings. A modern congregate living facility, a long one-story brick structure, now occupies the site.

On the west side of Migeon Avenue, set on smaller lots than those associated with Laurelhurst and the Turner and Bryant estates, are two monumental Colonial Revival houses. Harlow A. Pease, who headed Torrington's largest firm of building contractors, built a substantial brick house in the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century which is currently occupied by the State of Connecticut as a group home. North of the Pease House is one built for Frank M. Travis in 1918, a gleaming white frame structure, flanked by symmetrical wings. It is at the intersection of Cherry Street. All the houses in the Migeon Avenue Historic District are set on landscaped lots with many mature trees and shrubs.

Surrounding this enclave of large houses are a number of smaller single-family houses dating from approximately the same period.

Significance

The Migeon Avenue Historic District is an important collection of homes built by prosperous industrialists at the turn of the century. Of the five properties included in the district, four have been linked with well-established architectural firms: Warren R. Briggs of Bridgeport, Max H. Westhoff of Springfield, Massachusetts, and Ernest G.W. Dietrich, Charles Downing Lay, and Murphy and Dana, all of New York City. The Shingle style and Colonial Revival houses in the Migeon Avenue Historic District are excellent examples of these styles, popular between 1890 and 1920.

Two of the owners of houses in the district had landscape plans developed during the period of significance by Olmsted Associates, one of the largest landscape architecture firms in the world at the time. The Migeon Avenue Historic District is also associated with the industrial leaders of a town whose economy was based in manufacturing: Achille F. Migeon, Luther G. Turner. Thomas W. Bryant, Harlow A. Pease, and Frank M. Travis.

Historical Background

This section of Migeon Avenue was, by the turn of the century, the neighborhood in which the town's most prosperous industrialists preferred to build their new homes. These families, drawn together by common interests and needs, intermarried and held directorships in many of the same local companies. Their network benefited from technological advances and new types of machinery borrowed from other industrial concerns. They all faced the challenges of finding qualified workers, leveraging capital, dealing with labor strife, securing reliable sources of power and water for their factories, and transporting their finished goods. They joined the same clubs and shared a common desire: to establish handsome, convenient residences consistent with their standing in the community.

Textile manufacturer Henri Migeon (1799-1876), who arrived in the new world with a personal introduction from Revolutionary War hero Lafayette to New York's mayor Philip Hone in 1828, was the first to build a large house in this area of town in 1867. It was Migeon's son, Achille F. Migeon (1834-1903), who built the house which was to form the core of the neighborhood. After demolishing his father's house, Achille Migeon commissioned a large Shingle style house, christened Laurelhurst, which was built on the same site in 1890-91. Laurelhurst was the residence of his maturity; Achille Migeon spent his early youth in Connecticut, and was educated at the Irvington Institute and the Hampton Institute. Trained in his father's woolen mill in New York, he went into partnership in 1855 with his brother-in-law, G.B. Turrell. The partnership purchased Henri Migeon's woolen business, which it operated until 1864, when the business was resold to Henri Migeon. Achille Migeon then became a major investor and president of the Union Hardware Company of Torrington. Union Hardware had been established in 1854, and manufactured ice skates and hand tools. Under his leadership the company was moved to Migeon Avenue and expanded. It became one of the town's main industries. In the late-nineteenth century Migeon was also involved in other industrial businesses, both in Torrington and elsewhere. Migeon held large interests in almost every major Torrington industry. An investor in the Torrington Water Works, he was for many years the president of the Excelsior Needle Company (at that time the largest manufacturer of sewing machine needles in the world) and the Bridgeport Copper Company, and vice-president of the Parrott Silver and Copper Mining Company of Butte, Montana, as well as a director of the Coe Brass Manufacturing Company, Hendey Machine Company, and Turner & Seymour Manufacturing Company. The latter was established in 1864 and produced hooks and eyes. The factory used both water and steam power and provided one-quarter of the hooks and eyes used in the United States. Inventors Herman Brooks and Orrin Hopson patented a machine for Turner & Seymour for making buckle components. The patent was sold to a group of local investors who adapted it for needle manufacturing, and this led to the organization of the Excelsior Needle Company in 1866. The Hendey Machine Company developed designs for reliable, accurate metal-working lathes and shapers that garnered the company a worldwide reputation. Migeon owned a good deal of real estate in the vicinity of the Avenue that bore his name, and he acted as developer for many speculative houses in the neighborhood. His wife, Elizabeth Farrell Migeon (1840-1931), was a philanthropist who supported both local and far-flung projects.[1] After Achille Migeon's death, Laurelhurst was occupied by his daughter, Clara Louise Migeon Swayze, wife of prominent Torrington industrialist Robert C. Swayze (1872-1935). Swayze represented the General Electric Company at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1892-1893, followed by a stint as chief operator of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in New York City. In 1895 he began an association with the Torrington Manufacturing Company which was to endure for over 30 years. There he served variously as director, secretary, treasurer, and president. After his retirement from the presidency he was elected chairman of the board, a position he held until 1932. Like his father-in-law he also was in a leadership position in other Torrington industries; he was a vice-president of the Hendey Machine Company, assistant treasurer of the Turner & Seymour Company, a director of the Union Hardware Company and the Plume & Atwood Company. Director of several local banks as well as both the Litchfield and Torrington Water Companies. Swayze was a founder of both the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital and the Hillside Cemetery Association and a trustee of the Torrington Library. After Clara Swayze's death in 1945 the house was sold, and in the late 1940s it was converted into a rest home by Jean Givanni. The property is still used as a nursing home, and patients are currently housed in the carriage house and its 1960s brick addition, and the Migeon/Swayze House contains offices and a meeting room, while the basement has been converted into a laundry facility.[2]

The Migeon family conveyed a few acres south of Laurelhurst to prominent Torrington businessman Luther G. Turner (1845-1924). There, in 1903, Turner chose to construct a commodious Shingle style house for his family. A native of New London, Turner was a student at Madison (now Colgate) University before embarking on a business career. He moved to Torrington in 1867 where he worked for his uncle, Elisha Turner, co-founder of Turner & Seymour Manufacturing Company. About 1870 Turner became the New York representative of the firm, which manufactured hooks and eyes, brass window trimmings, buckles, and wire goods. From 1876 to 1879 the younger Turner served as the company's secretary, and in 1879 he became one of the firm's directors. In 1900 he moved back to Torrington and assumed the presidency of Turner & Seymour, a position he held for 15 years. Luther Turner was a director of the Torrington Manufacturing Company, the Torrington Water Company, Brooks Bank, and the Torrington Savings Bank. Interested in community service, he also was a trustee of the local Y.M.C.A. After Turner's death in 1924 the house was occupied by his wife, Mary Louise Stearns Turner. Mrs. Turner died in 1932, and a year later the house was purchased by William R. Reid (d.1950), president and chairman of the Torrington Company for 26 years. One of the town's most prominent industrialists, Reid was born in Scotland, and spent his youth in western Massachusetts. Reid came to Torrington around the turn of the century, and served as a director of the Torrington National Bank and Trust Company, the Hendey Machine Company, and the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital. After Reid's death, his wife Bertha lived in the house until 1976.[3]

Laurelhurst and the Turner House formed the core of a neighborhood of large homes built along the axis of Migeon Avenue. Thomas W. Bryant (1860-1934), the secretary, treasurer, and manager of the Union Hardware Company, commissioned the New York City architectural firm of Murphy & Dana to design a large granite Colonial Revival house north of Laurelhurst. The contract went out to bid in March, 1910, and within three months the foundation was finished. Louis Longhi of Torrington was the masonry contractor, while Max Durrschmidt of Derby provided the carpentry and Berlin Construction Company was responsible for the ornamental and structural ironwork. Bryant was a member of both the school committee from 1911 until 1934 and the board of governors of the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, as well as serving as the chairman of the War Bureau in 1918. After his death his widow (d.1965) continued to support the causes he had championed during his lifetime, serving as the head of the hospital auxiliary and the Tuberculosis Association, and the assistant secretary of the Brooker Memorial. In 1951 she was named to the board of directors of the Workman Home, which now occupies the site of her former residence. In 1935 she contracted with Olmsted Associates to prepare a landscape plan for the grounds of the house, and many of the plantings on the property date from that period. The house was demolished in 1966.[4]

The last two houses in the Migeon Avenue Historic District were constructed within a few years of each other on the west side of Migeon Avenue. Harlow A. Pease (1868-1943), president of the Torrington Building Company, the contractors for three of the houses in the district, built his own monumental Colonial Revival house c.1914. Born and educated in western Massachusetts, Pease came to Torrington in 1888, where he worked as a carpenter's apprentice for Hotchkiss Brothers & Company, the largest building contractor in town. Pease married Josephine Hotchkiss, daughter of company head Edward C. Hotchkiss in 1893. He purchased the property for his future house from his father-in-law in the following year. Pease established the successor of Hotchkiss Brothers, called the Torrington Building Company, in 1902. Under Pease's direction the company won large contracts both in Connecticut and elsewhere, and the firm's clients included Anaconda Copper Co., General Time Instruments Corp., and the Stanley Works. The Torrington Building Company built many schools and hospitals, as well as residences. The company declared bankruptcy in 1922, and Pease was appointed receiver. In that position, he paid all outstanding debts and had the company operating profitably within three years. Pease also served as president and director of the Berlin Brick Company, and was a director of the Torrington National Bank and Trust Company and Hotchkiss Brothers Company. Pease also was in the State Legislature, where he served on the appropriations committee in 1929. Like Migeon and Travis, Pease was interested in gardening.[5] Just north of the Pease House Frank M. Travis (1867-1946), president of the Torrington Water Company and treasurer of the Torrington Electric Company, broke ground for his large frame Colonial Revival house in March, 1918, just prior to his marriage in the last month of the year to Martha Hoerle. Mrs. Travis' father, Christian G. Hoerle, was secretary of the Union Hardware Company. Frank Travis was a native of Torrington who trained as an engineer. As a young man he worked with Charles Nettleton of Derby, and together the two men oversaw the construction of gas works in Derby, Torrington, Winsted and New Haven. He later worked on projects to build or renovate gas plants in Bristol, New London, New Britain, Bridgeport, and Danbury. In Carlsbad, New Mexico, he was involved in water and electrical projects, as well as the establishment of a telephone network in that community. Aside from his work for utility companies in Torrington he also held leadership positions with the New Britain and Bridgeport Gas Light Companies. In Torrington, Travis was one of the founders and treasurer of the Manufacturers' Association, and a director of the Hendey Machine Company, the Torrington Company, and the Warrenton Woolen Company. Hailed in the local press as "the person who more than any other living citizen of Torrington has done the most good for the most people here," Travis was praised for his role in organizing the public utility companies and running them efficiently. His management of the Brooker Memorial, a social services agency, and anonymous gifts to the Torrington and Winsted police departments, the hospital, and fraternal organizations were also lauded. His other civic interests included forest preservation, beautification projects, and gifts to various religious denominations. His donations of equipment and his establishment of pension funds for firefighters so endeared him to local fire departments that it was said he held the position of honorary chief in more communities than any other man. Travis' passionate interest in horticulture made his Migeon Avenue house a showplace. He took every opportunity to invite the members of the many organizations in which he played a part to share his enjoyment in his centrally located home.[6]

Architectural Significance

The Migeon Avenue Historic District encompasses five estates of Torrington's leading industrialists. These estates were designed to reflect the prestige of their inhabitants, as well as the latest styles in architecture and modern technological innovations in construction and domestic comfort. Mrs. Achille Migeon, her daughter, Mrs. Swayze, and Mrs. Thomas Bryant all employed Olmsted Associates, a leader in American landscape design, to improve their estates.[7] The two earliest houses (Laurelhurst and the Luther G. Turner House) were designed in the Shingle style, while the remaining three houses, although very different in materials and plan, mirrored the growing influence of the Colonial Revival style in the first decades of the new century.

Four of the architects who designed these estates have been identified. Warren R. Briggs (1850-1933), whose practice was based in Bridgeport, was the designer of Laurelhurst in 1890. After Achille Migeon's death he also renovated and expanded the house in 1904 for Migeon's widow, daughter, and son-in-law. Briggs had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1869, and upon his return to the United States accepted a position in the Boston architectural office of Peabody and Stearns, early practitioners of the Shingle style. Within a few years Briggs established his own practice, and by 1878 his designs began to be published in architectural journals. The scope of his practice was mainly limited to institutional designs and public buildings, but he was commissioned to design residences as well. In 1881 Briggs won a competition to design the new Normal School in New Britain. He published an influential book on the architecture of schools, and worked on the design of the Connecticut building at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Briggs became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1889 and the president of the Connecticut Chapter of that organization.[8] Briggs's design for Laurelhurst was interpreted and praised locally as "Colonial, a style of architecture that will stand when all Queen Anne and fancy orders have gone out."[9] which would, no doubt, have pleased his former boss. Robert Swain Peabody, who early in his career wrote, "There is no revival so little of an affectation on our soil, as that of the beautiful work of the Colonial days. Its quiet dignity and quaintness, its cosiness and elegance, always attract us."[10] But Laurelhurst's design was not in the Queen Anne style that Peabody had championed in his 1877 article. Briggs emulated cutting-edge designs of the period, like Peabody and Stearns's Shingle style masterpiece, Kragsyde (c.1882, published 1885). The hoods over the dormer balconies and the south gable of Laurelhurst are similar to those in H.H. Richardson's Ames Gate Lodge (1880-81; published 1885), and John Calvin Stevens' "House by the Sea" (unbuilt project, first published in 1885).[11] The house Briggs designed was lauded for its understated presence, which the local reporter deemed "worthy of comparison with suburban homes of large cities." "It [Laurelhurst] would have little prestige in a crowded street, but standing on its own eminence, alone in the midst of the park-like greenery, backgrounded by the forest, the structure is in perfect harmony with its environment." The article described the soft, natural tints and materials chosen for the residence: moss green wooden shingles for the roof. "Dutch tile" red for the shingled walls, and "rock-faced granite" for the foundation, which made it seem as though the building had occupied the site for a long time. The "home-like sense of comfortableness" of the house was expressed by "very broad verandas, graceful columns and balconies." But the exterior's rustic materials belied the lavish appointments of the interior, and every word of the newspaper description is indicative of high craftsmanship, and the influence of the Aesthetic Movement. Although the newspaper reader was assured that "there is no attempt at gaudy display," just "a pleasurable sense of harmony and fine taste," the elegance of the interior occupied the commentator for most of the column. The firm of Ripley Brothers of Hartford were the contractors. The greatest praise was reserved for the woodwork: "antique oak" with a "finish hard as glass" was used in the library, Achille Migeon's office, and dining room: the large reception/stair hall and drawing room were paneled in "Mexican Mahogany;" the bedchambers were finished in walnut. The reporter was charmed by the interior landscape which was limited or enlarged by the manipulation of pocket doors, "which work with the weight of a lady's finger... One of the finest features of the interior is the vistas. Standing in the east end of the library one gets a sweep of vision seventy-five feet to where the great parlor mantel stands." This wide mantel, designed by an unidentified London firm, extended to the ceiling, and the firebox was framed in white with gilded moldings surrounded by "wide panels of Mexican onyx," in turn flanked by incised mahogany panels. The hearth was tiled. The columnist described the colors of the room as lighter than the more masculine reception hall, and the entablatures and ceiling were Lincrusta.[12] A stained-glass window in a floral design from the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, a costly ornament that was one of the hallmarks of the homes of successful industrialists across the nation, graced the music alcove. Every window from Tiffany Studios, the leading firm during this period, was unique in design, and floral motif windows were a particular specialty.[13] The reception hall's walls were "covered with Japanese leather, embossed in a dark gilt that glows in the light." Its ceiling, like that of the parlor, was Lincrusta and a monumental stair rose at the rear. The wainscoted dining room had a "handsome" mantel in matching oak with a surround of (pink) "Numidian marble." "Wilton velvet" carpets and custom-made electric light fixtures matched the colors and designs of each room. The bedchambers were painted in "delicate tints" and boasted "gilt papers." The attic was designated to house sewing, wardrobe, and smoking rooms, and a billiard room was contemplated at the time of the reporter's visit. Whether it was ever finally included in the scheme is not known. Nor were the modern conveniences neglected; the utility rooms (including a butler's pantry as well as a regular pantry and kitchen) "have every convenience." The showcase kitchen is described as "being a little 'parlor' of itself." There a dial registered the furnace's activity, and the temperature was regulated by a lever, rather than a trip to the basement. Also in the kitchen was an annunciator connected with sixteen call stations throughout the house. There were no fewer than three bathrooms with tile floors and porcelain tubs, and every room was heated by hot water radiators.

In 1909 Elizabeth Migeon contacted Olmsted Associates seeking landscape plans for various areas of the estate. The firm, established by Frederick Law Olmsted, was at this time operated by his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957). The senior Olmsted had been responsible for coining the term "landscape architect." Frederick Jr., a Harvard graduate, joined his father's firm full time in 1895. After his father's retirement he and his brother John carried on the firm under the name of Olmsted Brothers, and later he headed Olmsted Associates. In 1900, at the urging of Harvard's president, Charles William Eliot. Olmsted established the first landscape architecture program in the nation at his alma mater, where he taught between 1903 and 1915. The firm's early commissions comprehended designs for private residences as well public buildings, institutional settings, plans for urban centers, and parks. One of these was for the Taft School, in Watertown, Connecticut, not far from Torrington. Later in his life Olmsted was involved in city planning efforts, and in his final years he focused considerably on the conservation of natural landscapes. The firm was responsible for a number of projects in Torrington, including Coe Memorial and Elizabeth Blake Fuessenich parks, the D.A.R. Fountain, Greenwoods Country Club, the Central Congregational Church, Trinity Rectory, the Torrington Company, Hillside Cemetery, and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, as well as many cemetery monuments and private residences. Edward Clark Whiting (1881-1962) oversaw the work at Laurelhurst. He was an early graduate of Olmsted's landscape architecture program at Harvard, and he joined the Olmsted firm as an apprentice after graduation. There he moved up through the ranks, becoming a partner in 1920, and after 1950 he became the firm's senior partner. His primary interest was design, and he was responsible for numerous subdivisions, the settings for public buildings and housing projects as well as corporate and college campuses and private estates. In Connecticut his major commissions included the Hartford Arboretum, the campuses of the Chase Company in Waterbury and the Taft School, as well as the Torrington Hospital. The firm advised Mrs. Migeon, and her daughter, Mrs. Swayze, on various improvements to Laurelhurst. Other members of the firm who drafted plans or supervised work at Laurelhurst included Percival Gallagher, and Herbert E. Millard. Initially the firm planned a tennis court and an adjacent seating area. This was swiftly followed by improvements to the stable yard, vegetable garden, a bridge over the brook, perennial borders and shrubbery plantings. The front walk was rerouted and a sundial and seating area were created in the midst of a new garden. The relationship with the Olmsted firm endured until 1937, when screen plantings were installed along the Forest Street boundary and the private garden at the rear of the house was replanted.[14]

Of similar size and style is the house that New York City architect Ernest G.W. Dietrich (1857-1924) designed for Luther G. Turner c.1903. Ground was broken in October of that year, and the house was completed by late 1904 or early 1905.[15] Ernest G.W. Dietrich was then just beginning to achieve national recognition for his designs, which were published in popular and professional journals.[16] Dietrich was born and educated in Pittsburgh, where he attended the Western College of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh), and worked in the architectural office of Drum & Kuhn. In 1881 he worked briefly for James T. Steen, and in 1882 went into partnership with Charles M. Barthberger. This partnership was dissolved and Dietrich moved to New York City where he opened his own office in 1889. In the early years of his practice his work was largely residential, but he later was commissioned to design public and commercial buildings. Architectural historian, Vincent Scully, considers Dietrich to have been one of the most skilled practitioners of the Shingle style. Dietrich was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1921, and served a term as the treasurer of the Brooklyn Chapter. The Fine Arts Federation also claimed him as a member.[17] The finishes and style are similar to those of Laurelhurst. The house stood empty for some years and suffered from vandalism resulting in the loss of some original features. The stonework is particularly notable, with joints so deep that the stones almost seem to be laid up without mortar, piled one on top of the other. Dietrich's design for the residence of John K. Williams in Hartford, built around the same time as the Turner House, was published along with an explanation of how the masonry linked the house to its surroundings: "The stonework, as shown, is of field stones picked up from the neighborhood and laid up in cement mortar. The stones are left natural, no hammer or mason's tool mark visible. The moss covering and variegated coloring produced by exposure are laid up in view, with wide, deep joints, producing a fine effect of light and shade."[18] Dietrich employed details with Classical allusions in several areas of the house; the main entrance has a fanlight transom and sidelights and pilasters frame the opening. Leaded glass is used in both transom and sidelights as well as in the Palladian window on the stair landing. The reception hall is paneled in quarter-sawn oak. Like Laurelhurst, the public rooms can all form one large central space by opening pocket doors. The library is paneled in ash wainscot, and curved oak window seats flank the brick and ceramic tile fireplace centered in the projecting bay. On the east wall are built-in bookcases with leaded glass doors. At the southwest corner of the house is another bookroom, this one with two walls of birch bookcases. The mantel is of similar design to that in the library, and it is flanked by built-in cabinets. The large dining room is likewise paneled in birch with a matching china cabinet with a cupboard at the bottom and open shelves on top. The upper section has a carved shell motif.

Like Laurelhurst, the utility rooms consist of a butler's pantry, pantry, and kitchen. The second floor, reached by a staircase with a molded oak rail and square oak balusters, consists of six bedrooms. The master bedroom and two of the larger bedrooms have fireplaces. The third floor was finished and used as servants' quarters. Although the front door has been replaced, the hall mirror has been broken, and the house has been reshingled, many original features remain intact. Turner, like his neighbor to the north, explored the possibility of employing Olmsted Associates in 1909 to plan landscape improvements, but in the end he changed his mind, and no work was done by the firm.

The Thomas W. Bryant House was built by a different New York City architectural firm, that of Murphy & Dana. The partners were Richard Henry Dana (1879-1933) and Henry Killam Murphy (1877-1954), who joined forces in 1908 and worked together until 1920. The two men brought an impressive combination of practical building experience and scholarly interest in historical styles. The mainstay of the practice was residential design, although it also garnered commissions for institutional buildings. The partnership did most of its work in New York and Connecticut, but also designed structures in China through its involvement in the Yale-China Association. Its work was frequently published in the professional journals of the day.[19] The design for Bryant was a large granite house with a projecting pedimented entrance bay and a door framed by sidelights and a fanlight transom. A hipped slate roof capped the structure and marble steps led to the main door. The 21-room house was heated by steam, lit by electricity, and contained tiled bathrooms and ash, whitewood, and mahogany finishes.[20] After Bryant's death, his widow hired Olmsted Associates to prepare a landscape assessment of the property. Edward Clark Whiting, then a partner in the firm, visited the property in April, 1935, and prepared a master plan for a long-term program and sketch plans. He outlined the eight areas in which Mrs. Bryant requested plans. The main tasks were creating a strong enclosure between the estate and its boundaries, relocating the drive and building a new garage, and creating a garden near an existing wall fountain. The enclosure scheme, consisting of new granite walls and evergreen trees and shrubs, and the garage still survive, although the other elements of the plan have not. The main house was demolished in the 1960s, but the granite walls and planting scheme that form the estate's boundaries are still in place, as well as a large granite garage, built in 1937 after the designs of Bryant's son-in-law Henry Pope, a New York City architect. Whiting's suggestion that the work be carried forward over the course of several years was followed, and work on the site continued until 1939 under his direction, and that of his colleague, Herbert E. Millard. However much of the design work was done by Charles Downing Lay, a practicing architect and landscape architect who had an office in New York City.[21]

Although the designer of the Harlow A. Pease House is unknown, the house is an extremely fine example of the kind of brick Colonial Revival house that was so popular in the mid-1910s when it was built. Similar in style to the designs of Murphy & Dana, it may well be a later example of the firm's work in Torrington. The interior as well as exterior views of the house were featured in the November/December, 1922, issue of Country Homes, where it is described as representing "one of the most accurate reincarnations of early Colonial New England architecture... It is of the orthodox old New England rectangular type with gambrel roof curving out at the second slope of the eaves. The Georgian portico forming the approach to the front door with its old time fan-light and side panels of leaded glass and the numerous gable and dormer windows with peaked and semi-circular hoods are other details of the original models, faithfully reproduced... The interior conforms to the conventional order with the formal note struck in the big entrance hall into which the principal first floor rooms open... They contain a good deal that is historical and interesting and are in every way suited to the cultivated and artistic consideration given to the exterior. There is enough that is old in them to perpetuate the traditions of the most elegant period of our history, and enough that is new...to save them from any suggestion of a museum tendency." Away from the public rooms at the front of the house, the rear addition provided the amenities of a less formal setting, comprising a conservatory, a breakfast room, an open-air living room, and a porch. The visitor concluded, "As a whole the house may be said to illustrate the ideal of an American home because it is true to the country and its traditions." The house is largely unchanged on the exterior, and interior finishes of the main public rooms are still unchanged.

The Frank M. Travis House was also designed in the Colonial Revival style, and ground was broken in March, 1918. Max H. Westhoff, an architect with a successful practice in Springfield, Massachusetts, was its designer. Nothing is known of his early life, but by 1910 he was practicing in Springfield where he designed many houses in the Maple and Long Hill Street neighborhoods. According to Springfield historians, Westhoff specialized in the various revival styles popular in the 1910s and 1920s, and a major commission was the design of the Colonial Revival William Pynchon Memorial Building (1927), which now houses the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. With the lean years heralded by the Depression, Westhoff retired to his home in Enfield, Connecticut.[22] Only slightly more modest than the surrounding large houses, the Travis House was built with a slate roof, hardwood finishes, two brick fireplaces, two tile bathrooms, electricity, and one of the newest conveniences of the 1910s, a central vacuum cleaning system.[23] Presently used as a funeral home, the house has lost the original balustrades on its porches, but is otherwise little changed.

Overall, the Migeon Avenue Historic District retains the appearance of the exclusive residential neighborhood it once was. Except for the demolition of the Bryant House, and the recent demolition of the Laurelhurst porte-cochere, there have been few changes in the houses, on either the interior or exterior, and the park-like settings and plantings of the early twentieth century, some of which were carried out under the direction of Olmsted Associates, the preeminent landscape architectural firm of the day, are also preserved. The only significant additions have been the modern wing added to the Laurelhurst carriage house, which is largely invisible from the street, and the substitution of the modern congregate facility for the Bryant House.

Endnotes

  1. Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley (2 vols., Chicago and New York: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1918), II, 434-435; Torrington Register, May 8, 1891, Dec. 17, 1919, Feb. 24, 1921, March 14, 1922, May 6, 1931; William E. Devlin. "Historic Resources Survey of the City of Torrington." 1987, pp.21-22; Historic Resources Survey Form for Laurelhurst, prepared by William Devlin, August, 1983.
  2. Ibid.; E. Robert Stevenson, ed., Connecticut History Makers (3 vols., Waterbury, Conn.: American-Republican, Inc., 1938), III, 123-4.
  3. Historic Resources Survey Form, prepared by Mark McEachern, January, 1983; Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, II, 345-6; Walter St. Onge, Jr., "A History of the Torrington Company, Ninety Years, 1866-1956," pp.296-97, typescript at the Torrington Historical Society.
  4. Torrington Register. March 3, 1908, March 12, June 4, 1910, May 29, 1917, Feb. 13, 1918, March 15, 1934, May 25, 1935, Nov. 4, 1949, Jan. 16, 1950, Jan. 15, 16, Feb. 3, 1951, May 5, 1965; Historic Resources Survey form prepared by Dan McGuiness, April 1997: Archives of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.
  5. National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, (New York: James T. White & Company), Vol. G (1943- 46), 283-84; Historic Resource Survey form, prepared by Dan McGuiness and Mark McEachern, Dec., 1996.
  6. Torrington Register. March 15, Dec. 7, 1918, Sept. 3, 1936, Nov. 25, 1946; undated newspaper clipping entitled "Doer of Good Deeds" in the collection of the Torrington Historical Society.
  7. Archives of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.
  8. American Architect. CXLIII (1933), 133; New York Times. May 31, 1933, 17:3; Henry F. and Elsie Rathburn Withey. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (reprint ed., Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970), p.76; Who's Who in America, Vol. 16 (1930-1931), 378. For his published designs see "Design for Insane Asylum." Architectural Sketchbook, III (Oct. 1875), pl. 13; "Alterations in House for Sands Seeley. Esq., Stamford. Ct.," American Architect and Building News, IV (Sept. 21, 1878), p.101; "Design for Second Baptist Church, Danbury," American Architect and Building News. XXXII (April 18, 1891), p.47, pl.799. His article, "Modern American Factories," was published in Architecture, XXXVIII (1918), 231-34; his book was Modern American School Buildings (New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1899).
  9. The Torrington Register, May 8, 1891, published a description of the almost-complete house. This is the source for the descriptive quotes given below.
  10. American Architect. II (1877), 133-34, quoted in Vincent Scully, The Shingle Style and the Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Downing to the Origins of Wright (rev. ed., 1971, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1955), p.42.
  11. Ibid., pl. 61, 62, 63, 55, 56, 91, 92. Stevens' design was also published in John Calvin Stevens and A.W. Cobb, Examples of American Domestic Architecture (New York: W.T. Comstock, 1889).
  12. By 1888 Lincrusta Walton, originally of British manufacture, had a factory in Connecticut: Harriet Bridgeman and Elizabeth Drury, The Encyclopedia of Victoriana (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1975).
  13. Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Windows (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980), pp. 17, 33-35, 45, 105, 179.
  14. Olmsted Associates records. Series B, reel 223, Library of Congress; Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site Archives, job #3730; Edward Clark Whiting and William Lyman Phillips. "Frederick Law Olmsted — 1870-1957: An Appreciation of the Man and His Achievements," Landscape Architecture, xlviii (1957-58), pp.145-157. For Whiting see National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: James T. White & Co., 1969), li.262-3. Percival Gallagher joined the firm in 1894 and became a partner in 1906.
  15. Blueprints are on file at the Torrington Historical Society.
  16. Although Dietrich had published a mantel design in Builder and Woodworker in 1882, XIX (Aug.), pp.140. 151, it was not until the early years of the twentieth century that his designs were regularly published. For his residential designs see especially Architects' and Builders' Magazine, for example, "House at Rothesay, New Brunswick," "Houses," "Residence of H.K. Wilcox, Middletown. N.Y.," "Residence of Mr. S.L. Schoonmaker, Plainfield, N.J.," IX (1908). Dietrich also designed houses featured in Ladies' Home Journal and Gustav Stickley's The Craftsman: Sharon Ferraro, "Ladies' Home Journal Houses (1895-1919)," Old House Journal, XXVI, no. 2 (March/April 1998), 52-53.
  17. Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects, p.173. For Scully's assessment see The Architecture of American Summer: the Flowering of the Shingle Style (New York: Rizzoli. 1989), p.5.
  18. Architects' and Builders' Magazine, VI (1904), 136-137.
  19. Jeffrey William Cody. "Henry K. Murphy, An American Architect in China, 1914-1935," Ph.D. Dissertation, August, 1989, Cornell University, pp.15-24, 360-365; Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Richard Henry Dana, (1879-1933) Architect (New York: Connecticut Printers, Inc., 1965). For examples of their published designs see "Recent Country Houses from the Designs of Murphy & Dana. Architects," Architectural Forum, XXX (1919), 143, XXXIII (1922), 79: Architectural Record, XXXIV (1913), 260, XLI (1922), 115, XLII (1922), 403.
  20. Torrington Register, March 12, June 4, 1910.
  21. Olmsted Associates records. Series B. reel 459; Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site Archives, job #9376. The firm's staff was probably reduced during the Depression, and in subcontracting the work to Lay they entrusted the design to an experienced designer. Lay (1877-1956) had studied architecture at Columbia and landscape architecture at Harvard. He published his work and wrote articles in professional journals, as well as being the founder, editor, and manager of the quarterly journal. Landscape Architecture. He was particularly interested in city planning and designed a number of parks, subdivisions and private estates. In 1939 he was a consultant on the World's Fair project. He lived in Stratford, not far from Torrington: Who Was Who in America (Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company, 1960), iii, 505.
  22. Torrington Register, March 15, Dec. 7, 1918; M.H. Westhoff Architect, Springfield, Mass., Architectural Catalog, Autumn, 1928 (New York: Architectural Catalog Co., n.d.); Alan Hale. "Springfield Architecture," unpublished typescript in the collection of the Connecticut Valley Historical Society; Springfield City Directories for 1910-1935; Enfield City Directories for 1938-1949. Westhoff was the architect of the New York State Historical Association Building in Ticonderoga, N.Y., the D. Henry Smith Camp in Lower Saranac Lake, N.Y., the Phelps Brown House, Hampden Savings Bank, W.E. Gilbert House, George W. Kyburg House, Dr. J. Edward Stevens House, Mrs. E.A. Dexter House, and the Nicholas Zeo House, all in Springfield, and the George M. Hendee House in Suffield, Conn.
  23. Torrington Register, March 15, 1918.

References

American Architect.

American Architect and Building News.

Architects' and Builders' Magazine.

Architectural Forum.

Architectural Record.

Architectural Sketchbook.

Architecture of American Summer: the Flowering of the Shingle Style. New York: Rizzoli, 1989.

Bridgeman, Harriet, and Drury, Elizabeth. The Encyclopedia of Victoriana. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1975.

Briggs, Warren. "Modern American Factories." Architecture XXXVIII (1918).

Briggs, Warren. Modern American School Buildings. New York: J. Wiley & Sons. 1899.

Builder and Woodworker.

Cody, Jeffrey William. "Henry K. Murphy, An American Architect in China, 1914-1935. Ph.D. Dissertation, August, 1989, Cornell University.

Dana, Richard Henry. Jr. Richard Henry Dana (1879-1933). Architect. New York: Connecticut Printers, Inc., 1965.

Devlin, William E. "Historic Resources of the City of Torrington." 1987.

Devlin, William E. Historic Resource Survey Form for Laurelhurst (Migeon/Swayze House), August, 1983.

Duncan, Alastair. Tiffany Windows. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.

Enfield, Conn., City Directories.

Ferraro, Sharon. "Ladies' Home Journal Houses (1895-1919)." Old House Journal XXVI, no. 2 (March/April 1998).

Hale, Alan. "Springfield Architecture." Unpublished typescript in the collection of the Connecticut Valley Historical Society, Springfield. Mass.

Library of Congress. Manuscripts Division, Olmsted Associates Records, Series B.

McEachern, Mark. Historic Resources Survey Form for Luther G. Turner House, January, 1983.

McGuiness, Dan. Historic Resources Survey Form for Thomas W. Bryant Estate, April, 1997.

McGuiness, Dan and McEachern, Mark. Historic Resources Form for Harlow Pease House, December, 1996.

M.H. Westhoff Architect, Springfield, Mass., Architectural Catalog, Autumn, 1928. New York: Architectural Catalog Co., n.d.

National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, New York: James T. White & Company.

New York Times, New York, N.Y.

Olmsted National Historic Site Archives.

St. Onge, Walter Jr. "A History of the Torrington Company, Ninety Years, 1866-1956." Typescript at the Torrington Historical Society.

Scully, Vincent. The Shingle Style and the Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Downing to the Origins of Wright. Rev. ed., 1971, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1955.

Springfield, Mass., City Directories.

Stevens, John Calvin, and Cobb. A.W. Examples of American Domestic Architecture. New York: W.T. Comstock, 1889.

Stevenson, E. Robert, ed. Connecticut History Makers. 3 vols., Waterbury, Conn.: American-Republican, Inc., 1938.

Torrington Historical Society Collections, Torrington, Conn.

Torrington Register, Torrington, Conn.

Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley. 2 vols., Chicago and New York: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1918.

Who's Who in America, XVI (1930-1931).

The Work of the Torrington Building Company, Inc., 1902-1913, n.p., n.d.

Withey, Henry F. and Withey. Elsie Rathburn. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects, Reprint ed. Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970.

† Kate M. Ohno, Carol Clapp and Cheryl Barb, Torrington Historic Preservation Trust, Migeon Avenue Historic District, Torrington, CT, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Migeon Avenue Historic District Map

Street Names
Forest Street • Migeon Avenue

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