Washington Green Historic District
The Washington Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Washington Green Historic District consists of a group of 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century buildings on and near the Green in the Town of Washington, Connecticut, including the Gunnery School, which abuts the Green. Most of the buildings are made of wood, painted white, giving the district an overall Colonial/Colonial Revival visual effect. At the turn of the 20th century, several stone country homes, a stone Gothic Revival church, and stone Colonial Revival library were built, as well as Shingle style houses. The Gunnery School and the Gunn Memorial Library have added construction in modern architecture.
The topography of the Washington Green section of the town is hilly. The Green enjoys an elevated position, with grade sloping up as roads approach the Green. The dominant building on the Green is the First Congregational Church Meetinghouse, 1801, a 47'x 111' Federal clapboarded edifice with Greek Revival rear entrances and a full-width one-story Colonial Revival front porch, which is supported by Ionic columns. On the interior the sanctuary is 37' to the peak, while the 16'-square tower rises over a Palladian window to a crowning arcaded belfry. The church faces south toward the two-acre Green and its H-shaped parish house, known as the Judea Parish House because of the original name of the ecclesiastical society. Several houses face north toward the Green and the church. In this row a ca.1770 one-story frame central chimney five-bay cottage, with additions, is one of the oldest houses in the Washington Green Historic District.
The 1774 five-bay central-chimney building, known as the Red House although it is now painted white, is well-documented. Able Mott was the builder. The front yard was dug out in the 1920s to give the present appearance of high stone foundations. The basement has a large fireplace; the first floor is decorated with original paneling and original tempera frescoes of eagles, deer, and vines. Rear dormers are also original.
The ca.1770 cottage for many years was the residence of the headmaster of the Gunnery School, whose expansive grounds extend south, southeast, and southwest of the Green. An important component in the school complex on the west side of Green Hill Road is the Knoll, which was formerly the estate of Alfred S. Bourne, president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The house was built in 1889 for Edward Van Ingen in the Shingle style at about the turn of the century. When he bought it, ca.1920, Bourne enlarged the building and reclad it in the Tudor Revival stone and stucco half-timbering which it features today. The house has dormers in its slate roof and tall brick and stone chimneys, all of which present a commanding presence on the garden front. The Knoll's carriage house, with contemporary addition, is the school's dining hall, while its tall thick ashlar perimeter stone walls run for hundreds of feet in several directions, in one place making an exterior wall for the estate's Gate House. The school built several buildings in the 1920s in stucco using the Colonial Revival style with hipped roofs and lanterns, of which the library is typical.
The school's grounds continue on the east side of Green Hill Road with a mixture of Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, and contemporary construction. The Drama Barn, formerly the Gymnasium, is a shingled hipped-roof building with tall multi-paned windows and an extension to the north under bracketed roof. The Field House is a 42'x66' gambrel-roofed interpretation of the Colonial Revival style, in contrast to the large contemporary masonry athletic center and large one-story metal building which is the hockey rink.
In addition to the former headmaster's house, six other 18th-century houses in the Washington Green Historic District include 10 Kirby Road, which was built as a store in 1733 and enlarged in 1811 and 1860. The 1860 work brought a peaked window with peaked glazing and hood to its side elevation, one of the few examples in the Washington Green Historic District of the influence of the Gothic Revival style in domestic architecture. The Gunn Memorial Historical Museum now occupies the Willis House at 1 Wykeham Road, 1781, a frame five-bay gable-roofed vernacular Federal house covered with clapboards.
Among architectural styles popular in the 19th century, the Greek Revival is represented in the Washington Green Historic District by a correct and well-preserved example in St. John's Rectory, 1843, a three-bay house with gable end toward the street and wing to the south. The Corner House at 81 Green Hill Road was built at about the same time, ca.1840, as a shop, which was enlarged from time to time and altered to its present Colonial Revival appearance. The Italianate style is found in porch additions, as at 6 Parsonage Lane, 1850, and a wing addition at 86 Green Hill Road. An example of the Queen Anne style in frame is the house with asymmetry, bays, and high roofs at 78 Green Hill Road, 1886.
At the turn of the 20th century, the talented New York City architect Ehrick K. Rossiter became a summer resident of Washington Green, designing three significant structures for the district. First was his own house, the Rocks, 1888, a large rectangular house comparable in scale and pretension to the Knoll. But Rossiter's conical-roofed tower, shingled siding, and Colonial Revival details place his house more in the Shingle style. Rossiter worked equally well in other styles. The Gunn Memorial Library is a disciplined work in the Colonial Revival, with Rustic influence in the cobblestone building material for the walls. The interior is fully finished in well-designed Colonial Revival millwork, well-maintained. King & Tuthill drew the plans for an addition five times the size of the original library in buff brick perched on a cliff, completed in 1994. Rossiter's third building was St. John's Episcopal Church, Gothic Revival in the Ecclesiological tradition of the Episcopal Church. It is a stone edifice with pronounced buttresses, pointed-arched openings, and square tower at one side. The church interior, which is approximately in original condition, features dark-stained wood trim and pews, tile floor, and leaded, but not stained-glass, windows. The only wall decoration is a group of paintings by H. Sidney Mowbray commissioned by the church at the time it was built.
The Washington Green Historic District is generally well maintained, effectively displaying its architecture as developed over the centuries from mortise-and-tenon houses for Colonial settlers through school-building campaigns to the country homes of affluent urban owners.
The Washington Green Historic District is significant historically because its resources document the development of a colonial settlement into a community dominated by second homes of affluent families and as long-established preparatory school. It is significant architecturally because the distinguished buildings surrounding the Green record the history of the growth of the 18th-century community in terms of a sequence of architectural styles. The Colonial style of the original houses, built with post-and-beam mortise-and-tenon framing, was followed by the classical influence of the Georgian style and in the Federal style of the third meetinghouse of the First Congregational Church. Greek Revival style buildings, notably Saint John's Rectory, were built well into the 19th century. Picturesque styles such as the Gothic Revival almost passed the district by in new construction, but are present in significant alterations. Toward the turn of the century, classical revival trends were re-asserted in the Colonial Revival buildings of Gunnery School and in large country homes, such as the Shingle style residence designed for himself by Ehrick K. Rossiter. These fine examples, and others, of well-preserved buildings strongly support the architectural significance of the district.
The buildings of Washington Green well chronicle the 18th-century settlement, 19th-century development, and 20th-century resort history of the district. Following initial settlement in 1734, the Washington Green Congregational Church was organized as the Judea Ecclesiastical Society of Woodbury in 1741. The present church building is evidence of the growth of the community in population and wealth sufficient to support the Federal edifice, Greek Revival alterations, and the major Colonial Revival portico which was made possible by the district's status as a resort community. The 18th-century houses, such as those on Kirby Road, the 19th-century store, and the turn-of-the-20th century homes together with St. John's Church are artifacts in the sequence of development.
The experience of Washington Green as an attractive location for country and summer homes is paralleled by other communities in northwest Connecticut. Norfolk, in particular, is similar in that Alfredo S.G. Taylor, a New York architect, designed even more buildings for Norfolk than did Rossiter in Washington Green. There was some cross-fertilization: Rossiter designed the Stoeckel Music Shed as well as one or more houses in Norfolk and St. Michael's Church in Litchfield.
In addition to Edward Van Ingen and Alfred S. Bourne, who between them created the Tudor Revival, Knoll, which is now an administration building for the Gunnery School, others sought country and summer homes in Washington Green. Prominent families from urban centers bought 18th- and 19th-century properties as second homes, following he lead of such prominent taste setters as H. Siddons Mobray, the painter, and Ehrick K. Rossiter, architect, leading to the present circumstance of at least ten property owners in the Washington Green Historic District having principal residences elsewhere.
The First Congregational Church Meetinghouse and the Green, which the church owns, are central to the Washington Green Historic District. The first building on the site, a wooden shed put up in 1742, was followed by the second meetinghouse in 1754, which burned in 1800. The third church, the present edifice, was constructed in 1801 in the Federal style then prevailing throughout New England. The Adamesque details of Palladian window below the tower and elaborate Ionic portico are consistent with the times. The two well-proportioned Greek Revival doorways on the sides at the rear reflect the Greek Revival style of later in the century, while the spire and belfry are replacements from 1845, and the clock and chimes were added in 1910. The Colonial Revival front porch, a gift of Ehrick K. Rossiter (perhaps designed by him), and the tower balustrade also date from 1910. In all, the meetinghouse is a study in the evolving architectural styles of the district.
The fertile soil of the area's rolling hills attracted the first settlers in 1730s. Early houses were 1-1/2 stories high. The population increase brought pressure for the town to be set off from others and incorporated, which it was in 1779. With the population growth came a store, an inn, and a school, all on the Green in the 18th century. Two-story houses with five-bay fenestration came late in the century on the Green, the last being exceptional for its four-bay fenestration. Throughout the development of the 18th century, architecture on the Green reflected the religious, residential, commercial, and educational needs of the growing community. All the buildings were altered and most enlarged over time in response to changing conditions and needs.
The early 19th century brought the Greek Revival style to the Washington Green in the rear doorways of the church and in the gable-end-to-street house, a fine statement of the classical proportions and detailing of the style. Mid- and later-19th-century modes such as the Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne are rare in the Washington Green Historic District, and when they do appear are likely to be alterations. Lack of more vigorous interpretations of these styles in the district may be due in part to the 19th-century development of an area a mile to the north known as Factory Hollow where mills were located near available waterpower. When the Shepaug Railroad was built in 1872, its route went through Factory Hollow and the railroad station was built there, giving rise to the community known today as Washington Depot. A post office was established on the Green, however, in 1859, and has been there ever since. Most of the town's commercial and government activity, nonetheless, is at Washington Depot, leaving the Green relatively undisturbed as an 18th- and early 19th-century architectural statement.
An event of tangible and long-lasting influence on the architecture and buildings of the Washington Green Historic District did occur in the mid-19th century when Frederick William Gunn (1816-1881), brother of the abolitionist John Gunn (1798-1883), opened his Seminary and Boarding School for Boys, in 1850. The school was, and is, a presence on the Green (although as early as the 1880s the school's baseball diamond was moved to its present location east of Green Hill Road, on the grounds that no more baseball would be played on the Green itself). The Gymnasium/Drama Barn and Field House followed in the Colonial Revival style and the Athletic Center was erected more recently in modern architecture.
The school's academic, administrative, and dormitory buildings continued on the west side of Green Hill Road, close to the Green and south of it. Colonial Revival was the preferred style for the stucco buildings, built ca.1920s, with small-pane windows and roof lanterns.
Another major development that influenced the Washington Green Historic District's architecture was its growth in popularity at the turn of the 20th century as a country residence for affluent people from New York City and elsewhere. The design and construction of his Shingle style home, the Rocks, in 1888 by the New York architect Ehrick K. Rossiter (1854-1941) was seminal to this new influence. Born in Paris, France, Rossiter studied architecture at Cornell University before entering into practice in New York with Frank Ayres Wright (1855-1949), in a partnership that lasted into the 20th century, when Rossiter opened his own office.
The influences of Gunn and Rossiter came together in the district's library. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife, Abigail Brinsmade, started the first library association in Washington in 1852, two years after founding the school. In 1881 the association evolved into the Washington Reading Room and Circulating Library Association, which in turn became the Gunn Memorial Library. Rossiter designed its Colonial Revival/Rustic building in 1908. Its cultural significance is enhanced by the ceiling murals executed by Washington resident H. Siddons Mowbray and by exterior and interior busts in bronze by the English sculptor A. Bertram Pegram (1873-1941).
Rossiter's third building was St. John's Episcopal Church, 1917, in the Gothic Revival interpretation of heavy stone walls and relatively little fenestration favored by the medieval references of the Ecclesiologists. Altar paintings in the church are by H. Siddons Mowbray. St. John's has been at its location near the Green since 1815.
History of Litchfield County (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Company, 1881), pp. 651-660.
Arthur H. Hughes and Morse S. Allen, Connecticut Place Names (Hartford; Connecticut Historical Society, 1976), p.620.
J. Frederick Kelly, Early Connecticut Meetinghouses (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928), p.258.
David F. Ransom, "Biographical Dictionary of Hartford Architects," The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 43 (Winter/Spring 1989) 1-2:88.
David F. Ransom, Gunn Memorial Plaques, SOS! Survey Questionnaire Form (Washington, D.C.: National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, 1994).
David F. Ransom, Alfredo S.G. Taylor Thematic Nomination, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1982).
Report of the Historic District Study Commission (Washington, Connecticut: 1975).
Chandler Saint, owner of 8 Kirby Road, conversation, September 18, 1995.
† David Ransom, consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, New Preston Hill Historic District, Washington, CT, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.