banner search whats new site index home

Middle Haddam Historic District


William Jillson Stone House, ca. 1825, 561 Main Street, Willimantic, CT, National Register

Photo: The Captain Ralph Smith House, Middle Haddam Historic District, East Hampton, Connecticut. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Photographer: user:Jerry Dougherty, 2010, [cc-by-2.5 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed July, 2016.

The Middle Haddam Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Middle Haddam Historic District is a small residential area in Middle Haddam, a village in the southwest corner of East Hampton, a town in central Connecticut. Established as a riverport on the slope of the eastern bank of the Connecticut River in the early eighteenth century, it consists of a network of seven roads and contains a high concentration of historic residential and public buildings dating from 1732 through the early twentieth century: 58 of the 65 buildings in the district (89%). Over half of the historic buildings predate 1835; the majority of these were constructed in the Federal style between 1790-1835. Historic sites in the Middle Haddam Historic District include a cemetery dating from about 1750, two extant stone dams and a stone bridge. Historical archaeological sites, primarily standing ruins of industrial sites and shipyards, are also located along Mine Brook and its tributaries, a stream that flows down through the north half of the district to the river. The Middle Haddam Historic District includes the major portion of the state-mandated local historic district but it is not coterminous with its boundaries, except at the southern border on Moodus Road.

The topography of Middle Haddam defined the area of settlement in the eighteenth century and continued to limit development throughout its history. Surrounded by natural barriers, the Connecticut River, the steep scopes of the river bank to the north and south, and a granite ridgeline to the east, the layout of the village has remained essentially unchanged for 250 years. From a small, relatively level landing area along the river, approximately 2000 feet in length, it extends upwards across the more gradual slope to the east and northeast, forming a fan-shaped pattern.

Quite unique to this village are the narrow winding roadways that lead up from the river in a generally northeasterly direction to Moodus Road, the main highway. They follow the contours of the slope as they did in the 1700s, to accommodate wagons pulled by horses or oxen. From north to south they are Shipyard, Blacksmith Hill and Knowles roads. Moodus Road (Route 151), the main road from Cobalt (East Hampton) to Moodus and East Haddam, runs north to south on the first level ground 150 feet above the river. Above Moodus Road two more roads traverse the slope to the northeast, Keighley Pond and Long Hill. Blacksmith Hill Road and its extension, Long Hill Road, called the "public way" in the eighteenth century deeds, became the Middle Haddam-Hebron Turnpike in 1803, directly connecting the landing at Middle Haddam with the towns of eastern Connecticut. Schoolhouse Lane, an extension of Knowles Road above the highway, leads directly uphill to end at the granite ridgeline called Hog Hill (elevation 520 feet).

To a great extent, the natural boundaries of the Connecticut River and Hog Hill generally define the boundaries of the National Register Middle Haddam Historic District today. The western boundary, however, is extended to the mid-line of the river (Middletown's corporate boundary) to include possible submerged remains of historic archaeological sites associated with shipbuilding. The eastern boundaries are generally the rear property lines of the lots on the east side of Moodus Road. The northern boundary is established by the last house historically associated with the development of Middle Haddam as a riverport. Further north the buildings are linked to the later industrial development of the Cobalt section of East Hampton. To the south, although there are historic buildings along the main road associated with the Middle Haddam Historic District, they are situated on larger lots, separated by long stretches of second-growth woodland, some of the original undivided farms, and visual continuity is lost. The southern boundary at the river bank includes the property at the end of Knowles Road. While the house on this property only dates from 1937, the shoreline may have archaeological potential as the site of an early shipyard. The northeast section of the existing local district, along Long Hill and Keighley Pond roads, is excluded. Although there are historic properties near the perimeter, they are separated from the center of Middle Haddam by sections of modern (after 1940) development. The east side of Moodus Road to the north above 52 Moodus Road is also excluded because of modern development, but maps indicate that this area remained open farmland as late as 1874.

Within the Middle Haddam Historic District there is a uniformity in scale and construction materials. Most of the buildings are of wood-frame construction, 1-1/2-2-1/2 stories, with the exception of two brick structures and one of stone. The lots on which the houses stand vary greatly in size and proportion, but the houses do not stand in rigid rows, as they might in a more urban setting. Rather, the streetscape flows with the terrain. With exposed foundations where necessary to conform to the slope, each house still presents its public face to the road.

Houses from the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries predominate, although a few late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century buildings are integrated into the community. Of the 58 historic buildings in the Middle Haddam Historic District, almost 70% predate 1835. Several of the historic buildings have been converted for non-residential use, including a convalescent home, a post office and a private library. The Middle Haddam Historic District includes four barns and numerous outbuildings. Two mill buildings, two of the barns and two stores are now used as residences.

All but one of the eleven houses remaining from the Colonial period are traditional post-and-beam with massive central chimneys. Five of these are located near the river landing, the nucleus of the original settlement. One built by a sea captain in 1763 on Moodus Road is by several decades also the earliest central-hall plan known in the district (23 Moodus Road, Captain Nathaniel Doane House).

The most represented period of architectural development was from 1790 to 1835. Twenty-three houses were built in this period which exhibit the influence of the Federal style. Nine were built in the last decade of the eighteenth century when the architectural character of the village began to develop along the main highway, Moodus Road. Although several of these houses approach high-style interpretations of transitional Georgian/Federal and Federal styles in their architectural detail, the majority are basically Colonial period survivals in plan and form. The applied detail, however, reflects a relatively sophisticated understanding of the restraints of this style in its delicacy and attenuation.

Several of the later wood-framed and clapboarded houses built in the Federal style and one stone mansion that exhibits both Georgian and Federal influence represent the full achievement of this style in the district. Built about 1812, with thick, load-bearing, rubble walls veneered with broken granite, the Jesse Hurd House has a five-bay facade, a center-hall plan and a simply executed tripartite window over the balconied entrance porch (106 Moodus Road). Fully detailed with a wooden, modillioned cornice along the eaves and fully pedimented gables, it also has demilune windows in each gable with brick relieving arches. The delicate tracery of the leaded side lights and transom of the main entrance contrast with the relatively massive Georgian columns of the entrance porch. Original Federal-style detailing remains throughout the interior, including the denticulated ceiling moldings, six-panel doors and finely proportioned wooden mantels and surrounds of the marble fireplaces.

The Huntington and Laura Selden House across the street is the best representative of the Federal style as it was expressed in the 1820s (97 Moodus Road). Several other houses in the Middle Haddam Historic District exhibit similar characteristics: a side-hall, ridge-to-street plan with a fully Federal style doorway (such as, 9 Moodus Road, Jared Hurlbut House, 1823). The Selden House also has an original cove-ceiling entrance porch with very attenuated columns and pilasters.

Several other houses built in this decade also employ the side-hall plan but they present their gable end to the street (19 Long Hill Road, 72 Moodus Road and 119 Moodus Road). The most fully expressed example of this form, the Harry Shephard House (119 Moodus Road), at the southern end of the district, approaches the Greek Revival style with a fully pedimented gable. But it is clearly Federal in style with a demilune window within the pediment and a Federal doorway with a fanlight and original six-panel door.

During the last half of the nineteenth century, Middle Haddam was primarily a residential community with some limited industrial development. One barn (converted to a residence), one mill building, and eight houses are still standing from this era. One of these is distinguished as the only house in the Middle Haddam Historic District constructed in the Gothic Revival style (94 Moodus Road, Henry L. Stewart House, 1860-1865). In contrast to earlier houses, which are sited quite close to the roadways, the Henry Stewart House is set well back from Moodus Road on a large open landscaped lot. Built of brick with steeply pitched gables embellished with white bargeboards, finials and pendants, this house and its setting resemble a "country estate" as proposed by A.J. Downing.

Like many towns in the Connecticut Valley, the village became a summer resort in this period. A few "hotels," actually boarding houses established in existing houses, accommodated a small number of summer visitors. One house was built as a summer residence at the river landing in 1886, the only example of the Queen Anne style in the Middle Haddam Historic District (25 Knowles Road, Harriet M. Brainerd House). Asymmetrical in plan with a pyramidal roof and projecting gable bays, the house has a one-story stickwork verandah and imbricated shingles in the gable ends. A nearby gazebo reflects the design elements of the house. Two historic houses built in the twentieth century were carry-overs from this resort period. Both were built by the same individual, one a seasonal residence, the other his permanent home.

Extensive remains of watercourse management features and standing structures are located along Mine Brook, particularly concentrated below Moodus Road towards the river. They include several standing functional dams, a stone arch bridge and numerous historic archaeological sites associated with shipbuilding and other industrial development.

The most notable of the historic sites is a stone arched bridge located just above the intersection of Blacksmith Hill and Knowles roads, where Blacksmith Hill crosses the southern tributary of Mine Brook. Constructed of coursed rubble and schist with a semi-circular tunnel vault, it is keyed into a similarly constructed 90-degree retaining wall (10'x40') which parallels the stream bed and supports the road above and a small outbuilding on the property at 2 Shad Row (Captain Enoch Smith House, ca.1760). Although the bridge itself shows evidence of some early mortar and more repointing with cement, it appears to be contemporaneous with the wall, and quite probably was built by the same mason. Early quarry marks on a few stones (possibly reused stone) could place this structure in the early-nineteenth century, possibly as early as 1803, when this road became the Middle Haddam Turnpike.

The stream has been dammed at several points. Presently only one fully functional stepped dam with a mill pond remains (Keighley Pond Dam). The coursed, dry-laid, rough quarried schist of the north end is clearly later than the rubble in most of the south end. Originally dammed in the eighteenth century for a blacksmith shop and fulling mill, the structure was enlarged to its present size in 1853 for an iron foundry.

A number of industrial archaeological sites are also located along the stream and the river bank. Their location is well known locally and many are visible from the public way.

Significance

Middle Haddam Historic District is a well-preserved New England riverport village whose primary significance lies in its direct association and participation in the first one hundred and fifty years of the maritime development of the United States (1730-1880). Merchant shipping from the port was primarily involved in the coastal and West Indies trade. But ships built in Middle Haddam yards in the nineteenth century for international travel also sailed from other ports to Europe, China and whaling voyages that circumnavigated the globe. A significant and distinguishable entity, the Middle Haddam Historic District contains an outstanding concentration of well-preserved, historic domestic and public buildings illustrating the historic development of the village from 1732 to the 1880s. As the majority of these buildings "are associated through their historic owners with ship building and the maritime trade, the Middle Haddam Historic District retains a distinctive sense of time and place, further enhanced by the integrity of its setting and excellent state of preservation. Examples of most of the major architectural styles are represented in the district with a particularly high concentration of well-preserved, excellent examples of the Federal style, reflecting its early-nineteenth century prominence as a riverport. Because of the existence of numerous, relatively undisturbed, historic archaeological sites and standing structures, concentrated along the principal watercourse and the banks of the Connecticut River, the Middle Haddam Historic District has great potential for intensive archaeological study and excavation as a self-contained eighteenth and nineteenth century shipbuilding riverport.

Maritime History

From the earliest period of settlement in New England, towns, such as Middle Haddam, that were located on major rivers and along the coast participated in the maritime trade with varying degrees of success. Many of these ports prospered in the post-Revolutionary period, particularly in the last decade of the eighteenth century, when fortunes could be made at great risk in the West Indies trade because of the opportunities afforded by the war between France and England. The consolidation of merchant shipping in the major coastal ports such as Boston and New York, which in the early nineteenth century, particularly in the aftermath of the War of 1812, and culminated in the dominance of New York as a major port, was accompanied by the subsequent decline of many smaller New England ports. Authorities of maritime history agree, however, that in the Golden Age of the New York port (1815-1865), shipping interests continued to be controlled by New Englanders.[1]

In Connecticut, eventually the limitations of the port facilities at the Connecticut River shipyards and the depletion of timber in the region made it impossible for southern New England shipbuilders to compete economically with the New York and Maine shipyards. The final decline of the riverports as shipbuilding centers came about with the increased demand for deep draft vessels of greater tonnage that could not navigate over river shoals. Yards were abandoned and the towns turned to limited industrial development or found other economic alternatives. Master mariners, especially sailing captains, returned to these small towns to live out their lives as great ships replaced schooners and steam replaced sail.

The pattern of development of the Middle Haddam riverport clearly parallels the experience of other small New England ports. The commercial and economic center of Middle Haddam was located at Knowles Landing, a level stretch of Connecticut River frontage which prospered between 1780 and 1830. A deep channel, created by the "big bend" in the river to the north, extends along the landing, providing a natural harbor. Along with these advantages, a nearby stream, Mine Brook, provided dependable water power for several mills. The surrounding region was abundant in natural resources, such as wood and pitch, for the construction of ships. With a steady supply of skilled sailors, shipbuilders, craftsmen and laborers in the area, Middle Haddam quickly became a mercantile and shipbuilding center of importance disproportionate to its size.[2]

Middle Haddam had been part of the original land grant laid out to the Middletown proprietors in 1662. These men early recognized its potential as a subsidiary shipbuilding port. Giles Hall, a grandson of a Middletown proprietor, agreed to set up a sawmill, a convenient "way" to transport timber and "a convenient yard for the building of vessels" in 1723.[3] By 1727, it was agreed that any of the proprietors of the Savage Lott, which included some of the best riverfront property, shall have the "liberty of the yard."[4] Evidently there was some activity at this early yard (s?) as Jonathan Yeoman received permission from the General Court of Connecticut in 1737 to run a ferry across the Connecticut River to Maromas (South Middletown), presumably to transport the men who worked in the yard or at the mill. The map which accompanied his request indicates that a few families had already moved across the river; there were at least five dwellings already standing. They included two near the river, one his own house still standing at Knowles Landing (22 Knowles Road), and three along the high road up from the river (now Moodus Road).[5]

In 1739, the original settlers were joined by a new group from Eastham, Massachusetts, a small seaport on Cape Cod. Led by Captain Ralph Smith, the group included nine families who would play a significant role in the maritime development of the town. Some, like Cornelius Knowles, Nathaniel Doane, and Smith himself, were experienced sea captains. As was customary in the period, however, they were only part-time mariners. Doane was also a farmer, a merchant, a housewright and possibly a shipwright like his father Joseph. Although he died at sea on a voyage to the West Indies in 1771, his 1763 central-hall Colonial house still stands at 23 Moodus Road as a testimony to his success. Captain Ralph Smith bought Giles Hall's shipyard property in 1744 and settled east of Mine Brook. Captain Cornelius Knowles, having constructed a residence on Knowles Road (no longer standing), took title to the river ferry in 1747 from Yeoman's successor, Joseph Brown. Joseph Parke migrated to Middle Haddam from Groton, Connecticut in 1758. A cooper by trade, he bought an interest in Yeoman's gristmill on Mine Brook and made hogsheads to export flour and other goods from the area, foreshadowing the port's later importance as a market for eastern Connecticut farmers. His central-chimney Colonial house still stands at 14 Knowles Road.

By the time of the Revolutionary War, the village had made a start in developing a commercial, industrial and mercantile society, although the population was still quite small, totalling less than 60 families. Several of the residents were involved in the Revolution as ship's captain and privateers. Chauncey Bulkley, a wealthy merchant who contributed money to the town of Chatham (now East Hampton) to support the Revolution, owned at least five privateering vessels. Privateering was lucrative and generated local capital for the expansion of maritime activity in the post-war period. After the war, Bulkley lived at the landing in a Colonial period saltbox built by Joseph L. Parke's son (19 Knowles Road, Parke-Buckley House, ca.1770).

During the two decades following the Revolutionary War, Middle Haddam fully established itself as the commercial center for a wide inland area to the east. A complex, interdependent, economic and familial network developed, which tied the community members to each other and to the vagaries of the maritime trade. Store owners, merchants, suppliers, farmers and small-scale manufacturers were all involved to some degree in this trade, particularly to the West Indies, a profitable commercial venture in this period. At least five boats sailed to the Indies on a regular basis from the landing in the 1790s. Local merchants seem to have done extremely well by this trade, as is evidenced by the expansion of docking facilities at the landing, with four separate wharves existing along waterfront in the 1790s. In 1802, the surplus revenues from the profitable Indies trade were used to help fund a turnpike to link Knowles Landing directly with the inland agricultural centers the Hebron-Middle Haddam Turnpike. The turnpike ran up Blacksmith Hill and Long Hill roads and then turned east to follow the present course of Route 66. It may also have been the time when the stone bridge was built to take the increased traffic over Blacksmith road. In addition to shipping agricultural products, rum was produced locally at a distillery at the landing from molasses imported from the West Indies. The prosperity of this period is demonstrated by the large number of stylish homes built by sea captains and merchants along the high road up from the landing, today Moodus Road.

The final and most important development at the landing area was the establishment of commercial shipyards in the late eighteenth century. Although ships had been constructed in Middle Haddam since settlement, no yard had been actively developed for the exclusive purpose of building ships to be sold and registered in other ports. These yards prospered because of the ready availability of cheap labor, both skilled and unskilled, natural resources and capital, and eventually had the capacity to complete all phases of shipbuilding from laying the keel to outfitting the ship with sails and rigging. By the early 1800s, while other ports like Middletown, the largest riverport in Connecticut, had begun to turn to industrial development to offset the loss of trade, Middle Haddam continued to prosper as a shipbuilding center with a ready market for her ships from coastal schooners of 200 tons to ocean-going brigs, clipper ships, and whalers up to 500 tons.[6]

The first commercial yard was established at Knowles Landing in 1797 when a master shipwright, Thomas Child of Haddam, purchased land to build a yard at the south side of Mine Brook where it joined the Connecticut River. In 1799, Daniel Tracy, a master carpenter, purchased the rum distillery property on the north side of Mine Brook and established a second shipyard which he sold in 1806 to Eleazor Tallman from Providence, Rhode Island, a former partner of Child's. Both Child and Tallman purchased existing houses located near their yards. Child, who is credited with building 237 vessels in his lifetime, lived at 14 Knowles Road on property abutting his yard. Tallman, who also owned an interest in a store at the landing, bought William Hall's Federal style house just down from the intersection of Knowles and Moodus roads (3 Knowles Road, Hall-Tallman House, ca.1800).

Other skilled craftsmen were needed, including sawyers, joiners, caulkers, painters and blacksmiths.[7] Many were from towns around Middle Haddam, and some eventually made Middle Haddam their home. At least ten men were employed for general labor including sawing and less specialized skills. Four of these were from Middle Haddam, one from Cromwell and others from neighboring Portland and East Hampton. Local farmers supplied timber for the ships and sawmills in Middle Haddam, and sawmills in East Hampton prepared the rough timber. A cottage industry developed in response to the demand for ship's "knees," hand-fashioned from natural tree formations and used for ribs and braces.

A skilled labor force, though crucial to the trade, was only one aspect of the shipbuilding industry. Capital was necessary and supplied by the merchants in the area. From 1797 to 1805, at least 10 local merchants invested in shipbuilding; some were also directly involved as shipwrights, and at least 31 ships were built at the landing. The investors included Cyrus Bill and Seth Overton (of Bill and Overton Store at 2 Knowles Road), Joseph Dart, Job Doane, Nathaniel Doane, Stephen Griffith, William C. Hall, Jesse Hurd and Alfred Isham.

Other industries essential to shipbuilding and mercantile shipping proliferated. Thomas Child and Alfred Isham manufactured oakum necessary for caulking the boats. Iron for ship fastenings came from an East Hampton forge, although some was imported from New York. Joel Jacobs built a ropewalk at the landing, a long building (which is no longer extant) to house the process of twisting strands of hemp into rope, originally done by hand, later by machinery. A sail loft was established by Captain John Johnson, on his property at the landing (27 Knowles Road), employing four local women for sewing the sails. Johnson, who began his career as a privateer out of the Middle Haddam port, went on to captain coastal vessels before returning to the village to live.

There were two major markets for Middle Haddam ships. The first involved construction of relatively small sloops and schooners for the coastal trade. Most of these were owned locally or in partnership with area merchants; some were sold outright. These ships carried local products: cargoes of lumber, wood for fuel, paving stones, rum, ice, baled hay and other surplus agricultural products. By 1807, this trade had a significant impact on the volume of shipping out of Middletown Customs District, which included Middle Haddam. At this time, Middletown had the largest registered and enrolled tonnage of all ports between New York and Boston.[8]

The other important market was the construction of large brigs and ships designed for intercontinental ocean travel.[9] These vessels were usually partially loaded with goods and sailed to New York where they were sold to new owners and registered. Occasionally the New York merchants would advance all or part of the cost of construction to the Connecticut shipbuilder or give the builder shares in the vessel. This sharing of the financial risk was very profitable to both the shipbuilder and the merchants and promoted an expansion of the trade, enhancing New York's position as the major port on the eastern seaboard. Although New York vied with Boston during the eighteenth century for leadership in the maritime trade, by the end of the War of 1812, New York shipping revenues far overshadowed Boston's, largely due to a ready supply of ships from Connecticut yards.

One individual established himself at Knowles Landing whose entrepreneurial skills as a merchant and shipbuilder far surpassed those of his contemporaries. Until his death in 1831, Jesse Hurd lived in Middle Haddam and played a dominant role in shipbuilding operations and developed the village as one of the major shipbuilding centers in the Connecticut River Valley.

Born in 1765 to an early sea captain in Middle Haddam, who had come from Eastham, Massachusetts, Jesse Hurd went to sea as a young man and served aboard the schooner "Eagle," captured by the British in 1779. During his seafaring days after the Revolution, Hurd made contacts with prominent New York merchants, among them George and Nathaniel Griswold. The Griswolds, originally from Lyme, Connecticut, successful merchants involved in the West Indies and later the China trade, established the largest merchant shipping house in New York. Although Hurd did supply ships for other New York merchants, the Griswolds held shares in half of the boats built in Middle Haddam by Hurd between 1806 and 1810 and two-thirds of his vessels between 1811 and 1815.[10]

Hurd's association with New York merchant houses was invaluable. Through these partnerships, Hurd was able to overcome the problems faced by other small ports in this period. Instead of building ships on speculation, Hurd was assured of a steady market. More importantly, he had the financial support of his merchant-bankers and an opportunity to own shares in the vessels and the cargoes.[11] The share system of payment was customary. But Hurd was in a position to maximize his profit throughout the useful life of the vessel by building cheaply in Middle Haddam and selling his share of the cargoes at inflated New York prices. In a period when many ship captains and owners went bankrupt, unable to absorb their losses of uninsured or under-insured cargoes and ships, Hurd had effectively minimized his financial risks. In addition, his established line of credit with the merchant houses allowed him to obtain materials and tools for his shipyard and import goods for his store in the village (the former Bill and Overton Store). A profitable sideline, possibly to keep his labor force fully employed, was the building of house frames which he shipped to New York for sale.

Later in life, although he continued to live in the village in the large stone, handsomely detailed, Federal period house which he built about 1810 (106 Moodus Road), he also invested in a shipyard in New York. To replace the cumbersome operation of "careening" a vessel to scrape the hull and make repairs, he invented and patented his own hoisting machinery in 1828 and, along with the Griswolds, bought wharfage on the East River and established the New York Screw Dock Company, the second dry dock in New York.[12]

Shipbuilding in the village began to decline noticeably in the 1830s, with the volume dropping off significantly after 1835. The yards were still active, however, until the 1880s, and they closed in 1884. There were a number of factors involved in this decline.

The death of Jesse Hurd in 1831 must have had an effect, for with him went much of the valuable connections with the Griswolds and other merchant houses, though the dwindling supply of local timber was perhaps more significant. The Connecticut River Valley forests were depleted not only by the shipbuilding industry and domestic needs, but by the export of cord wood to cities along the East coast. Finally, with the mechanization of much of the shipbuilding process (steam-powered sawmills, mass-produced machine-made parts, mechanical dry docks), the less technologically sophisticated Connecticut yards were unable to compete economically, having lost their primary advantage of being close to sources of raw materials.

"Much of the vital force of the community left with the sons who moved..."; this is how Hawthorne spoke of the changes in Salem as the families moved away in significant numbers to Boston, leaving that small port a backwater unable to make the transition into the modern era. So it was with Middle Haddam when the town's economy could no longer provide careers or jobs for all her sons. A few stayed and invested in local manufacturing enterprises. Standing ruins, foundations and dams are located on Mine Brook, leaving only one mill building still standing from this period at 17 Shipyard Road (Parker and Judson Factory). Many of those who had trained or apprenticed in the maritime trade here moved away from the area.

Although the arrival of the railroad in 1870 in the central Connecticut River Valley finally connected this area to major urban centers, it also put an end to the river as a major transportation artery. The bridging of the river at Middletown in 1873 connected many towns to the east with major markets but by-passed Middle Haddam, further isolating the village from the mainstream of economic development and preserving it in time.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Middle Haddam was primarily a residential community, although it did provide lodgings for summer tourists who arrived at the landing by steamer from New York or by railroad direct to the Cobalt depot. Although the Steamboat Dock House, the last direct link to this era, burned down in January, 1983, Captain Simpson, who commanded the famous steamboat, "City of Hartford," lived right next to the river in the Greek Revival style house (30 Knowles Road) he purchased from Samuel Butler, a former manufacturer of marine hardware at the landing. Several sea captains retired to this quiet village and upon their deaths their children often retained the homes as summer retreats or converted them to boarding houses. Gordon Whitmore, Jr., for example, converted the house built by Huntington and Laura Selden (97 Moodus Road) into a hotel. In 1875, Caroline Hurd Barry modernized the house built by her father Captain Benjamin Hurd and opened it to boarders (6 Blacksmith Hill Road, Hurd-Barry House, ca.1835). Her husband Nathan and her brother Benjamin established a store and entertainment hall at about this time at the foot of Long Hill Road. Evergreen Hall, on the second floor, continued to be a site for dances and gatherings well into the twentieth century. Captain John Johnson's daughter, who resided in Chicago with her husband, also built a summer residence at the landing in 1886 (25 Knowles Road, Harriet M. Brainerd House), next to her father's house.

It is difficult to believe that Middle Haddam, today a quiet residential community, was an active shipbuilding center and a major shipping port on the Connecticut River. Yet there is no question that the historic architecture that still remains was produced because of the village's participation in the maritime trade. The scale and significance of this association is established by the recognition that at least 40 of the 58 historic buildings in the Middle Haddam Historic District are directly associated through their historic owners with these enterprises. The significance of this associative value is further enhanced because the historic inter-relationship between the natural and man-made environment has survived intact. The little modern intrusion that exists is residential, and does not detract from the historic streetscape. Of the seven non-contributing buildings, one was built as a replacement of a historic house on the original site; the others are generally unobtrusive either through design or setback. Only two historic buildings in the Middle Haddam Historic District have been moved, one a church in 1864 (52 Moodus Road, Second Congregational Church, 1855), and the other a three-bay colonial house, possibly relocated about 1800 (60 Moodus Road, James Higgins House, 1750-1780). No major alteration has occurred on any of the historic houses, which heightens the distinctive sense of time and place.

Architecture

The Middle Haddam Historic District as a whole is remarkably cohesive, with an unusually large percentage of surviving contributing historic buildings.[13] More importantly, the quality of this historic architecture is exceptional, both in design and workmanship, which is particularly evident in the large group of Federal style houses that have survived from the period when the riverport was most actively engaged in trade and shipbuilding (1790-1835). Other periods of development are also represented: Colonial architecture from the early maritime period (1732-1780) and several fine examples of Victorian style architecture from the period when shipping declined (1835-1880s). A few early twentieth century buildings are also included but they are well-integrated into the district.

Representative of the period of early maritime development are eleven surviving buildings, all post-and-beam, wooden structures, usually with a center chimney. They include both 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 story, three and five-bay, gable-and gambrel-roofed some with a lean-to addition at the rear. The Georgian influence on Middle Haddam's architecture was minimal. Only two houses clearly exhibit details associated solely with this style. One, the well-preserved Jeremiah Taylor House, is prominently sited in the center of the Middle Haddam Historic District at the southwest corner of Moodus and Knowles roads (1 Knowles Road). A late example (1799), it still is clearly Georgian with its twin interior chimneys, the center hall plan, the hip roof and the tripartite window over the wide doorway. Originally built as a tavern, its spacious interior employs groin vaults on the second floor and elaborate carved mantels and fireplace surrounds throughout. A more simply designed, earlier Georgian was built in 1763 by Captain Nathaniel Doane (23 Moodus Road). But its axial, center-hall plan and the carved Georgian style mantels are the only features to distinguish this house from other five-bay Colonials in the district.

The most representative and significant concentration of buildings was built in the Federal period. At this time, Middle Haddam achieved its greatest prosperity as a riverport and a rising merchant class was exposed to the high-style architecture of the major coastal ports. Expressed with varying levels of sophistication and modified and adapted over time, the Federal style influenced Middle Haddam's domestic architecture for over forty-five years. Twenty-three buildings from this period have survived (almost half the number of historic buildings in the district). The general excellence of workmanship displayed in these buildings can perhaps be attributed to the large numbers of skilled craftsmen, shipwrights and joiners, who lived in the village. Because of the quality of the architecture and excellent state of preservation, these buildings have attained significance as a group and contribute to the distinctive sense of time and place conveyed by the district.

While most of these buildings are local vernacular interpretations of high style Federal period architecture, several are individually significant. To some degree these more distinguished interpretations were the result of the affluence of the merchant-owner — ranging from the fully expressed stone mansion built for Jesse Hurd about 1810 (106 Moodus Road), to the smaller in scale, but fully detailed, wood-frame dwelling built for his son-in-law, Huntington Selden, across the road (97 Moodus Road, Huntington and Laura Selden House, 1823).

The Hurd Mansion, easily the most impressive dwelling ever erected in the Middle Haddam Historic District, is a well-preserved example of this period. Although built in the Federal period and influenced by the Federal style, it reflects the earlier Georgian tradition in plan, scale and proportions. Hence the detailing is less attenuated and more boldly expressed, particularly in the relatively massive proportions of the columns of the front porticos, the balcony at the southeast corner, and the modillions of the rakes and cornices. While there is no indication that this house was designed by an architect, the precise use of the quite traditional, Georgian double-cube form in the main block and balanced symmetry of the facade and gable ends indicates the hand of a master builder and quite probably was influenced by the worldliness of the owner. This concern for symmetry extended to the use of a blind, non-functional window at the second story of the south gable end in front of one of the twin chimney stacks. The significance of this dwelling is further enhanced by the use of stone, as stone houses are not common in Connecticut. It is the only house in Middle Haddam built with this material.

More simply designed in a side-hall plan, the wood frame Selden House, with its delicate pilasters, finely denticulated cornices and original cove ceiling porch, carries the Federal style's attenuation to an extreme degree. The porch's diminutive columns, with their pronounced entasis, appear more decorative than functional.

Less sophisticated than either of these houses but illustrative of the vernacular adaptation of an architectural style over time are three houses built by sons of Abel Shepard. Abel was a shipbuilder with a yard on his land just south of the landing. All of his sons followed him in the trade. The first of these is the 1800 Abel Shepard, Jr. House (111 Moodus Road). Although dormers were added and the overhang of the roof altered about 1870, this 1-1/2 story cottage still retains its Federal feeling, particularly in the simple Federal style doorway with flanking pilasters, and a flush entablature. Shortly afterward, his brother Bartlett built his house across the road in the side-hall plan (112 Moodus Road, Bartlett Shepard House, ca.1800). From his father's account book comes evidence that "masons and joiners" were brought to the village to construct this house for his son.[14] Despite the addition of a Colonial Revival porch, the leaded fanlight and sidelight at the front entrance remain as evidence of the simple Federal detailing. The youngest, Harry, the last of the brothers to build on his father's home lot, in 1825 erected the most architecturally detailed of these houses (119 Moodus Road, Harry Shepard House). A late example, it foreshadows the Greek Revival style with its flushboarded, fully-pedimented gable facing the road. Detailing includes modillioned cornices and rakes and a delicate, semi-elliptical, fanlight in the gable, a feature repeated in the characteristically Federal style doorway.

Yet another version of the Federal style is the Ira Lee House at the southwest corner of Blacksmith Hill and Moodus roads (1 Blacksmith Hill Road). A more typical expression of the Federal style in the rural towns of central Connecticut, this house is basically a center-chimney, Colonial period survival. Federal style detailing is limited to, and concentrated in the entranceway, which has a finely executed split pediment, a leaded fanlight over the doorway, and the original six-panel door. At least eight of the other houses built in this period are equally conservative in form, although they display an unusual level of style in the sophistication of their detailing. Not surprisingly, most of the more simply detailed of the houses were built by craftsmen and tradesmen.

This architectural conservatism was also evident in four of the five surviving gambrel-roofed, one and a half story post-and-beam houses (59 Moodus Road, Jehiel Hurlbut House, ca.1800; 5 Keighley Pond Road, Oliver Clark House, 1793; 58 Moodus Road, Captain Elijah Johnson House, 1780-1786; 27 Knowles Road, Captain John W. Johnson House, ca.1795), all built in the early National period (1790-1800). These were also built by craftsmen, a shipwright, a blacksmith, a fuller and carpenter, respectively. The only other similar house was built earlier in the eighteenth century, the well-preserved Edward Shephard House at 21 Schoolhouse Lane (ca.1770).

Fewer ships were built after 1835, and it is interesting to note an apparent connection between domestic construction and shipbuilding. When the shipyards were completely idle for eleven years (1839-1851), there was a concurrent lull in domestic construction in approximately the same period (1842-1858), further illustrating the importance of this industry to the village. The village economy, however, augmented by limited industrial development, continued to grow and prosper, as evidenced by the variety and type of buildings constructed between 1835 and 1880. The fifteen surviving buildings include only eight dwellings, but a church, a store, a school and a public meeting hall were also built. The upper dam of Mine Brook was enlarged in 1853 to its present size to serve an iron foundry (1853-1880). The original mill building at the lower end of Mine Brook was replaced in about 1865 with a new building and used for a variety of small scale industries. Some of these buildings were clearly influenced by the general popularity of the Greek Revival style in the region, but this style of architecture was never employed to the same extent as it was in the neighboring towns where industrial development was permanently established. Because of its excellent state of preservation and location on the riverbank, one of these Greek Revival style houses (30 Knowles Road, Butler-Simpson House) is notable. Presenting a fully pedimented facade to both the street and the river, this house, built in 1838, makes tangible the fact that the river was still a vital force in this period.

At the time of the Civil War one of the most distinctive houses in the Middle Haddam Historic District, a brick Gothic Revival style "country cottage," (94 Moodus Road) was built by a merchant, Henry Stewart, a son-in-law of Jesse Hurd. Both its style and its setting reflect the influence of Andrew Jackson Downing and make a marked contrast to its neighbors built at least fifty years earlier. Set well back from the road on a large, open, well-landscaped lot, it has seven steeply-pitched gables embellished by white cutwork bargeboards with pendants and finials at each peak.

Only one other building employs this style, a church located a quarter mile to the north, also on the east side of the main road. Originally constructed in 1855, it was moved to this site in 1864 and completely rebuilt in 1877 to a design by Henry Austin. Austin, noted for his eclectic but restrained sense of style, has captured the essence of the High Victorian Gothic style in the ornate wooden facade of this church. Flanking towers of differing heights with pyramidal roofs, and the use of lancet arched windows throughout, create a vertical thrust. Round-arched barge-boarding softens the pitch of the gable of the nave and makes an effective transitional element between the towers. Simple board-and-batten in the gable and clapboard elsewhere contrast with and enhance the ornate central rose window surmounted by paired windows. The entrance porch below repeats the form and decorative features of the gable and serves to anchor the facade. Together all these elements are skillfully handled to create the most elaborate and architecturally significant building in the district (52 Moodus Road, Second Congregational Church).

Only one other historic building designed by an architect is located in the Middle Haddam Historic District: "Grey Gables," (18 Shipyard Road) an Elizabethan Revival style estate designed for Courtney Hyde by the British architect Henry James in 1928. It is typical of many early twentieth-century estates in its use of medieval detailing. Like many residences built by the wealthy in this period, who were influenced by the castles on European rivers, the setting is also typical a high bluff overlooking the Connecticut River Valley. The house was designed and oriented to take full advantage of the view. Where angled wings were not sufficient, a window is set at an angle to the plane of the wall. Significant in its own right, this distinctive building adds variety to the architecture of the Middle Haddam Historic District. But because it is screened by trees from general view, it does not compromise the earlier nineteenth-century ambiance created by the majority of the residences.

An area of considerable historic archaeological sensitivity is also included in the Middle Haddam Historic District. Extensive known documentary sources, deeds, maps, and probate records, can provide a historical framework for a professional archaeologist to develop a program for intensive archaeological investigation of this area, designed to reveal the significant archaeological potential of Middle Haddam as a self-contained shipbuilding river port, believed to be without parallel in the Connecticut River Valley.[15]

The sites identified in the Middle Haddam Historic Distric are concentrated in a limited accessible area which also includes associated standing structures and historic buildings.[16] In addition to known sites, the location of other shipyards, wharves, warehouses and stores along the river landing can be documented. Submerged remains of maritime activity may also be found on the river bottom in the harbor channel. Both the land and river sites have been relatively undisturbed.[17] No major construction or amateur site excavation in the delineated historic archaeological area has taken place. Although it would be expected that submerged artifacts would have lost their stratigraphy due to river silting, tidal currents and river shipping, the submerged remains of pier heads, pilings and the known ships' ways would be well-preserved. No dredging has taken place in the natural harbor channel since the closing of the shipyards in the late-nineteenth century, suggesting that dredging was never necessary in this area.[18]

The remarkable integrity of the village of Middle Haddam has been maintained for a variety of reasons. To a certain extent, natural geographic features limited the physical growth of the village. There was little space remaining for residential construction between the river and the ridgeline in the late nineteenth century or room for modern development or commercial intrusion in this century. Major nineteenth-century industrial development, which changed the historic character of surrounding towns, did not take place. This lack was fortuitous, preventing the destruction of the earlier resources: historic architecture and historic archaeological sites. The excellent state of preservation of the Middle Haddam Historic District as a whole, until recently not controlled or structured in any way, has occurred because of the concern and pride of many long-time residents, some direct descendants of the first settlers. While it does take a certain degree of imagination on the part of visitors to mentally visualize the shipyards, the ships on the ways and the related buildings at the river landing, the rest of the historic resources, the houses and sites associated with the riverport, remain frozen in time-creating an historic setting where the only jarring modern intrusion is the presence of the automobile. In 1917, Odell Shepard, then Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, described the river village of Middle Haddam and captured its essence perfectly.[19]

"...Time never lands there. He comes down every evening on the river boat, stares for a few minutes at the lights among the leaves, and then floats on. For he perfected Middle Haddam long ago, and will not touch it again."

Endnotes:

  1. Albion, Baker, Barree, New England and the Sea (Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT: 1972), pg. 241ff. See also Robert Albion, The Rise of the New York Port (Archon Books, Hamden, CT: 1961), pg. 98.
  2. The maritime history of Middle Haddam has been developed from several sources. See Lucy Potter and William Ritchie; ed. Janice Cunningham, The History and Architecture of East Hampton, (Middletown, CT: 1980), pp 17-27 for a more detailed account. [Original research on file at the Greater Middletown Preservation Trust, 27 Washington Street, Middletown, CT.) Primary sources including those cited in this publication, were consulted whenever possible, including deeds, maps and manuscripts, and cited here. (See also notes 6 and 7.)
  3. Middletown Land Records, 4:202.
  4. Middletown Land Records, 2:241.
  5. Connecticut Archives, "Travel: Highways, Ferries and Bridges," Series 1: 1700-1758.
  6. A number of notable vessels were built at Middle Haddam including the whalers "Alexandria" and "Sarah," both 500 tons, sailing out of Nantucket for 3-4 year voyages of the Pacific, and the first clipper ship to sail to China under the flag of the Griswolds, shipping merchants in New York. Thomas Stevens' Collection, Essex, CT, in Potter et al., p.19. Stevens, a noted authority on Connecticut River shipping, made his private, uncataloged papers available to Potter and Ritchie in 1979-1980. Upon his recent death, they were donated to the Connecticut River Foundation, Steamboat Dock, Essex CT. They are not yet available to scholars. See also Margaret Dart, Yankee Traders at Sea and Ashore. (William Frederick Press, New York: 1964).
  7. For this and the following see uncataloged Hurd Family Papers, Yale University Library including Business Miscellany. See also Hurd Family Papers Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT.
  8. Albion et al., p.48.
  9. See note 6 above.
  10. Hurd Business Miscellany. See also Albion, p. 268.
  11. Hurd Business Miscellany. "Account [between] Hall and Hull with Jesse Hurd," reproduced in Potter et al., p. 19. See also Albion, The Rise of the New York Port, p.268ff.
  12. Among the sailing captains who returned to Middle Haddam were captains Edward C. Gardner, Nathaniel C. Johnson, Jabez Norton, and William D. Smith. Thomas Stevens Connecticut River Master Mariners: A Brief Record of the Blue Water Shipmasters of the Connecticut River. (The Connecticut River Foundation, Essex, 1979).
  13. The original research for the history of each building is on file at the Greater Middletown Preservation Trust, 27 Washington Street, Middletown, CT See also compilation in Potter et al., pages 54-123.
  14. Abel Shepard Account Book MS, n.d. (microfilm on file Wesleyan University Library.)
  15. Letter from Robert Dewar, Associate Professor of Anthropology, to David Poirier, Connecticut Historical Commission, June, 1983.
  16. A carefully constructed excavation schedule, based on documentary research, surface survey, and test pitting, must include some consideration of the following factors: It should include the associated domestic sites and buildings, particularly those used for cottage industries, such as sail making. However, all but one of the buildings, structures and sites are located in private property. Only a small right-of-way at the foot of Shipyard Road at the river's edge is publicly owned. The potential of prehistoric sites from native American occupation should also be considered as these sites are quite often found along watercourses. Other areas in East Hampton have already yielded artifacts from both grave sites and hearths. One burial site was excavated in Cobalt, East Hampton at the mouth of Great Hill Pond Brook only 2000 feet to the north in the nineteenth century. See Jennifer Cunningham, cited in sources.
  17. An archaeological field survey by the author in 1978 revealed extensive disturbance along one foundation wall, apparently from bottle collectors, in the area delineated by Knowles, Moodus, Blacksmith Hill. No other sites revealed any evidence of recent disturbance, but all the sites were exceptionally free of surface material, probably due to their general location on private property. A local collection of bottles without provenance is on display at the Middle Haddam Public Library (2 Knowles Road) on this same property. It includes hand blown and mould blown examples.
  18. Personal communication: Gregory Home, Professor of Geology, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, June 7, 1983. Based on his review of U.S. Coast and Geodetic Navigational Charts from 1891 to the present, dredging has been confined to the channel area to the north of Middle Haddam Landing.
  19. "Harvest of the Quiet Eye," as cited in Paul Cunningham et al., published report of the Middle Haddam District Study Committee, 1973.

References

Albion, Baker, LaBarree. New England and the Sea. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1972.

Albion, Robert. The Rise of the New York Port. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1961

Bryant, Samuel W. The Sea and the States: A Maritime History of the American People. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1967.

Chatham/East Hampton Land Records

Chatham Probate Records, Middletown, CT

Chatham/East Hampton Vital Records

Dart, Margaret. Yankee Traders at Sea and Ashore. New York: William Frederick Press, 1964.

Essex, CT, Connecticut River Foundation. Thomas A. Stevens Maritime Collection.

Middle Haddam, CT. Margaret Dart, private collection. Thomas Child Account Book, MS.

Middletown, CT. Wesleyan University. Abel Shepard Account Book, MS.

Middletown Land Records

Middletown Probate Records

Middletown Vital Records

Mystic, CT. Mystic Seaport Museum. Hurd Family Papers New Haven, CT. Yale University. Hurd Family Papers.

Potter, Lucy G. and Richie, William A., ed. Janice Cunningham. The History and Architecture of East Hampton. Middletown, CT: The Greater Middletown Preservation Trust, 1980.

Stevens, Thomas A. Connecticut River Master Mariners: A Brief Record of the Blue Water Shipmasters of the Connecticut River. Essex, CT: The Connecticut River Foundation, 1979

Maps

1859 Walling Map

1874 Beers Atlas

1880 Bailey Map

Jan Cunningham, Greater Middletown Preservation Trust and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Middle Haddam Historic District, East Haddam Connecticut, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Middle Haddam Historic District Map

Street Names
Blacksmith Hill Road • Keighley Pond Road • Knowles Road • Long Hill Road • Moodus Road • Route 151 • Schoolhouse Lane • Shad Row • Shipyard Road

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
Copyright © 1997-2016 • The Gombach Group • www.gombach.com • 215-295-6555 • 133593 • Privacy