Haddam Center Historic District
The Haddam Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nominiation document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Haddam Center Historic District is located on the west side of the Connecticut River and encompasses the institutional and residential center of the town. A linear district, it extends for about 2.5 miles in a generally northwest to southeast direction along two major streets: Old Saybrook Road (State Route 154) and Walkley Hill Road. Also included are part of some smaller roads which branch off both sides of the Walkley Hill section.
The portion of Saybrook Road included in the Haddam Center Historic District was the path of the original colonial highway through Haddam Center. After 1802, this road was incorporated into the new Middlesex Turnpike, along with most of Walkley Hill Road. At the north end of the Haddam Center Historic District, however, the original turnpike followed Clark Road for a short distance. With the installation of State Route 9, now Route 154, Walkley Hill Road was bypassed, but the main street of the village, Saybrook Road, was incorporated as part of the new highway.
The Haddam Center Historic District contains a broad range of historic institutional, residential, and commercial architecture, with the majority of the contributing buildings dating from the period when Haddam prospered as the county seat of Middlesex County founded in 1785 (shared with Middletown). Although roughly 30% of the 79 primary contributing buildings were built in the eighteenth century, only eight buildings in the Haddam Center Historic District remain from the pre-Revolutionary period, including one house which incorporates a seventeenth-century parsonage, the Hobart/Smith House (943 Saybrook Road, 1691, remodeled c.1800). Of the 62% dating from the nineteenth century, the majority were built in the first four decades in the Federal and Greek Revival styles, with all but a few in place by the Civil War. A few contributing houses date from the twentieth century, less than 6% of the total number. There are very few modern houses in the Haddam Center Historic District; most of the 45 non-contributing buildings (26% of the total number of resources) are modern garages constructed after 1960.
Wood frame houses set on granite foundations predominate in the Haddam Center Historic District, ranging in height from one to three stories. At least five of the houses were originally built as stores or taverns. Some of the houses have retained their contributing barns and sheds, which at present are used as garages or for storage. Several old barns have been reconstructed on historic properties in recent years; these buildings were originally built elsewhere in Connecticut and are not classified as contributing resources in the district.
Several historic sites in the Haddam Center Historic District include the original town cemetery, dating from 1667 (also the site of the second meeting house); a more recent cemetery in use since 1797; Meeting House Green, the site of the third meeting house built by the Congregationalists in the village; and Field Park. The latter site, laid out and planted as a semiformal Victorian park and donated to the town in 1878, is located between Saybrook and Hayden Hill roads and occupies approximately nine acres. Many of its original ornamental trees were destroyed in the hurricane of 1938.
Colonial house forms predominate in Haddam Center. The gambrel, and to a lesser extent the Cape-style variation, persisted through the eighteenth century but the classic five-bay gable-roofed center-chimney house remained the most popular form through the Federal period. Two of the earliest houses of this type from the colonial period are the James Cone House at 37 Clark Road and the Joshua Brooks House at 151 Walkley Hill Road. With its later Federal-style doorway, the Brooks House is hardly distinguishable from many of the houses built in this style in the Haddam Center Historic District in the nineteenth century. An earlier house, the circa 1720 James Hazelton, Jr., House, was remodeled in this form in the nineteenth century, its second major alteration, as it was first enlarged to a saltbox (23 Hayden Hill Road). The Thomas Church House, built near the site of the meeting house on present-day 11 Russell Road, is an example of a post-Revolutionary Colonial house.
Most of the gambrel-roofed Colonial houses were built in the late eighteenth century. Two of the smaller houses of this type are the James Walkley Farmhouse at 162 Walkley Hill Road and the Smith-Kelsey House at 969 Saybrook Road at the southern end of the district. Typically they display pedimented dormers, as do two much larger versions of this form, Brainerd Hall at 895 Saybrook Road and the Thankful Arnold House, the latter now owned by the Haddam Historical Society at 14 Hayden Hill Road. Brainerd Hall, originally a public meeting place, approaches the Georgian style in its detailing of the pedimented dormers. Despite its construction date of 1795, it still displays the double overhang and a very simple doorway with a multi-light transom often found on much earlier houses. The roof of the Arnold House has a distinctive bell-cast profile; its ground floor was originally used for a store. Several other gambrels can be found in the Haddam Center Historic District, two of which were moved to their off-street location to the east of Saybrook Road about 1920 (894 and 896 Saybrook Road). Both of these houses began as commercial buildings, as did another gambrel on Hazen Road, the Chapman Store, which later became the Brooks House (11 Hazen Road).
The Federal style is represented in the Haddam Center Historic District by three distinct types. In addition to the five-bay Colonial, often simply updated by a dentil course under the eaves and a pilastered doorway, several were built as three-quarter houses, i.e., four-bay versions of the traditional Colonial. The final form, really a transitional Federal/Greek Revival style, had a pedimented gable facing the street.
The earliest of the five-bay Federals was the Chapman House at 885 Saybrook Road, which was converted to a hotel in the mid-nineteenth century; its doorway was probably remodelled at that time. Between 1805 and 1820, three other similar houses were constructed, the Smith/Brainerd House, the Reverend John Marsh Parsonage, and the Simon Hazelton, Jr., House (907 Saybrook Road, 8 Meeting House Road, and 360 Walkley Hill Road). The latter two houses have exceptionally fine Federal doorways. A four-bay version, also with a classic Federal entrance, is the George Kelsey House at 915 Saybrook Road. The John Cook House at the intersection of Walkley Hill and Hayden Hill roads 9373 Walkley Hill Road and the Winslow Higgins House at 38 Orchard Road off the east side of Walkley Hill Road are similar examples of this type.
At least six gable-to-street examples in the Haddam Center Historic District were built by about 1830; four of these display finely detailed, nearly identical fanlights in their pediments. Two examples on Walkley Hill Road are the Comfort Cone House (65 Walkley Hill Road), the first house at the north end of the district, and the Captain Noah Dickinson House (318 Walkley Hill Road) facing Meeting House Green. The similarity of the fanlights on these houses and those of the Ezekial Clark House (937 Saybrook Road) and Charles Arnold House (963 Saybrook Road) indicates the work of the same builder. The Simeon Scranton Tollhouse (139 Walkley Hill Road), also built in this period, has retained its gable-to-street orientation and may have originally displayed some Federal-style features.
Due to the presence of several historic granite quarries in the town, several distinguished buildings were completely constructed of this material starting in the Federal period. They all display the same random ashlar pattern with granite lintels and sills. The first of these buildings and the only residence to be constructed is the David Ventres House, located at the southern end of the district (1005 Saybrook Road). It was followed by the former Brainerd Academy (22 Clark Road), now used as an auxiliary town hall, and the Haddam Gaol (945 Saybrook Road). The academy was originally three stories in height. The roof was lowered in 1929 and the cupola removed. The colonnaded portico was added at this time. The second county courthouse, a granite building which stood at the intersection of Walkley Hill and Saybrook roads, was destroyed by fire in 1929.
There are several later institutional buildings in Haddam Center, all constructed of wood on Saybrook Road. They include the First District School built in 1866 (923 Saybrook Road), and the Haddam Congregational Church, a 1981 replica of the earlier church on this site, a wood-framed temple-fronted building constructed in 1846, which burned to the ground in 1979 (905 Saybrook Road). The County Orphanage (1066 Saybrook Road), built in 1880 at the southern end of the district, completes the nineteenth-century institutional core of the Haddam Center Historic District.
Only a few houses in the Haddam Center Historic District utilize some of the styles of the Victorian period. The Greek Revival is the most frequently represented, with 13 examples built up through the 1860s, generally with a gable-to-street orientation. They all resemble the main block of the Congregational Parsonage at 19 Russell Road. It features the typical one-and-one-half-story side ell with the small eave windows of the farmhouses built in this style. The Carpenter Gothic-style Joseph Smith House (981 Saybrook Road) and the Italianate James Walkley House (114 Walkley Hill Road) are the only examples of their respective styles in the district. The balcony on the former house is a twentieth-century addition.
The remaining architecture in the Haddam Center Historic District dates from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With few exceptions, the 12 houses built in this period are simple vernacular buildings, often with few stylistic features. An exception from the nineteenth century is 5 Hazen Road. It displays tripartite windows in both gables; those on the street side appear to be original and distinctly Queen Anne in their configuration. A more standard example is located at 2 Timms Hill Road. A typical farm cottage of the late nineteenth century, it has also retained its associated barn. The present Beaux Arts-style Brainerd Memorial Library, built in 1908 of brick trimmed with marble, is the only historic institutional building dating from this period (920 Saybrook Road).
The Haddam Center Historic District is an exceptionally well-preserved, architecturally significant collection of domestic and institutional architecture of remarkable historic integrity which illustrates both the growth and gradual decline of a Connecticut River town from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. It contains a large concentration of architecturally significant buildings dating from the Federal and Greek Revival periods. Especially notable are the residential buildings of the Federal style and the distinguished institutional buildings constructed of local granite between 1839 and 1855.
A unique set of social, political, and economic factors contributed to the period of architectural and historical significance of Haddam Center. They include limited agricultural resources which accounted for this area's late formation and gradual growth prior to the Revolution. Improving economic conditions brought about by a profitable granite-quarrying industry, and some limited participation in the maritime and shipping trade contributed to the growth of the late eighteenth century. The building of the Middlesex Turnpike in 1802 provided a further boost to the economy. The greatest single factor which proved to be a stimulus to the architectural and economic development of the center was the establishment of the county seat in Haddam in 1785, a political function which was shared with Middletown, a much larger town to the north. Although this arrangement continued into the 1880s, almost half of the contributing historic architecture was constructed between 1785 and 1840. With the establishment of the railroad and regular steamboat travel on the river, the importance of the turnpike declined, along with Haddam Center's role in the county and the town.
The Haddam Center Historic District encompasses the original Town Plot laid out as the institutional center of the town on the west bank of the Connecticut River in 1662. The center was one of two small areas surveyed for settlement by the Connecticut Colony agents of the 104 square miles of undeveloped land on both sides of the river between Middletown and Saybrook. Land was set aside in the Town Plot for the meeting house, the burying ground, and the minister's homelot as required by the General Court, along with some land reserved for "parsonage land," a customary way for a town to support its minister. The first meeting house was not completed until 1673; the first full-time minister did not come to town for almost 30 years. The original 1691 parsonage is incorporated in a house that still stands today (943 Saybrook Road). Although the sites of several meeting houses are commemorated by markers, or in the case of the third building by the Meeting House Green, the original cemetery is the only other remaining resource from this early period.
The delays in establishing the traditional institutions can be attributed to the fact that few people were willing to come to a town with such limited opportunities. Unlike the earlier river towns to the north which had abundant farmland in the flood plain of the river, arable land was limited in Haddam, less than 15% of the total. Most of the town was wooded upland rising 600 feet above the river, with granite ledge and bedrock. The first settlements, located in open meadows on the west bank of the river, were purchased by only 28 proprietors, far too few to support a town in the colonial period. Of these, only 19 lots were located in the Town Plot. They ran from the river bank to the highway, with an additional three acres on the other side of the highway for each owner.
None of the original proprietors' houses remain but some of the extant Colonial buildings were constructed by their descendants. They include one at the north end of the Haddam Center Historic District constructed about 1750, the James Cone House (37 Clark Road), the grandson of proprietor Daniel Cone. Another proprietor family is represented by the slightly later Joshua Brooks House (151 Walkley Hill Road), built about 1770. The Joseph Arnold House (908 Saybrook Road) in the center of the district is another example of a center-chimney Colonial built by descendants of a settler family. Descendants of the Smith family built several houses near the south end of the district before the Revolution, including the only Cape-style house surviving from this period, the Simon Smith House (974 Saybrook Road), dating from about 1745, and a five-bay center-chimney house built by two brothers just prior to the Revolution, the William and Oliver Smith House (946 Saybrook Road). Part of the earlier James Hazelton, Jr., House, one of earliest surviving colonial period buildings, was built on land first owned by the Clarks, a proprietor family (National Register:1988; 23 Hayden Hill Road).
Tradesmen and shopkeepers were attracted to the center following the Revolution, establishing new businesses near the first county courthouse and jail in the newly formed half-shire town. Tanners, shipwrights, and blacksmiths, among others, built new houses in the district. Winslow Higgins had a house, as well as a bark mill and a tannery on his property at 38 Orchard Road, the latter only one of the several trades associated with the raising of cattle in Haddam. George Kelsey, Jr., had a shoemaker's shop on the property where he built his small Federal-style house about 1815 (915 Saybrook Road). A blacksmith shop was built as the same time as the Smith-Kelsey House (969 Saybrook Road) at its original site across the street from its present location.
With the new turnpike through the center being the only direct route on the west side of the river from the Connecticut shore to the state capital in Hartford, travellers found accommodations in at least six existing houses and one new tavern, the Noah Clark Tavern (960 Saybrook Road) built in 1805. It was ideally located on the east side of the turnpike at its intersection to the lane to the Haddam Landing, the town's small riverport. Stores were built by men such as Timothy Chapman, who also owned shares in ships being constructed at the landing. Typically, these were small gambrel-roofed buildings, easily moved to new locations as the occasion warranted. The present circa 1910 location of the Shailer and Arnold Store (894 Saybrook Road) and the Billings House (896 Saybrook Road), originally a store, was at least the third move for these buildings. Imported goods from the New York port were sold in town and Haddam Center was well on its way to rivaling Middletown as the center of commerce for the county until the War of 1812 destroyed the river trade.
Quarrying was an active industry in this period, with some quarries employing more than 100 men in the most prosperous years. Local granite for pavers as well as building material was shipped from the quarry docks in present-day Haddam Meadows State Park. David Ventres, the only quarry owner to build his house (1005 Saybrook Road) of granite, was a prominent Haddamite engaged in this business, along with the Arnolds and the Brainerds. In addition to their houses, the architectural legacy of these latter two families included the academy and the meeting hall built by the Brainerds, and the Haddam Gaol, the latter constructed by the Arnold brothers from stone from their Shailerville quarry, probably with the labor of county prisoners (22 Field Park Drive, 895 Saybrook Road, and 945 Saybrook Road). The Brainerd Memorial Library (920 Saybrook Road) and its land was donated to the town by members of both families.
Although the older county buildings were replaced by substantial stone structures during the mid-nineteenth century, Haddam Center's role in the management of county affairs was on the decline. Middletown was reasserting its political importance in the state as it became an industrial city. Indeed, the Haddam Center Historic District's economic importance in the town itself had waned and its political power base had fragmented. The remnants of the shipping and maritime trade continued at other landings in Haddam. Higganum village to the north of the center, with its extensive sources of waterpower, was rapidly becoming the industrial center for the town. Steamboat travel on the river was increasing and fewer travellers came through Haddam by way of the turnpike. At least two riverboat captains lived in the district, Noah Dickinson and George Parmalee (318 Walkley Hill Road and 25 Island Dock Road). The final blow was the building of the Connecticut Valley Railroad in 1871 along the west bank of the river (just to the east of the district). Ironically, one of the chief promoters of this venture was a Haddam native, James C. Walkley. His fine Italianate house was built in 1850 (114 Walkley Hill Road).
The cumulative effect of all these factors is readily apparent in the district. Not only were fewer houses built after 1840, most of the stores in the center were moved and converted to residential use. By the Civil War, Haddam Center had reverted to its insular pre-Revolutionary status. The isolation of this country town would not be disturbed again until well after World War II, when its charms were rediscovered. In the ensuing years the center has become a bedroom community. Historic homes have been restored by new owners, with most of the new construction limited to garages for commuters who live in Haddam but work elsewhere in the state.
The architectural integrity of the Haddam Center Historic District is its most striking characteristic. With few exceptions, the district has retained its essential historical character, which is all the more remarkable given the size and extent of the district. The state of preservation of the historic buildings is especially notable. Although the proportion of non-contributing buildings appears to be quite high, most of them are secondary buildings which do not intrude upon the historic streetscape. The few modern houses that have been built in the district have had a limited impact. A number of these are almost hidden from view on their heavily wooded lots, especially those on Parmalee Road.
Along Saybrook Road, the more heavily travelled "main street" of the village, there is a higher concentration of historic buildings and generally a uniform setback, especially on the east side of the street, more typical of a more urban community. The houses are more widely separated on Walkley Hill Road, giving this section of the district a more rural atmosphere. This is especially true along the northern part of the road where there are larger landscaped lots and extensive wooded areas. Closer to the center of the Haddam Center Historic District, beginning at Russell Road and running to the intersection with Saybrook and Hayden Hill roads, the houses are sited closer together, producing a well-integrated continuous streetscape of exceptional merit.
The homogeneous nature of the architecture contributes to the cohesiveness of the Haddam Center Historic District. Although the range of construction dates extends for more than 100 years, the continued reliance on eighteenth-century types and forms produces the appearance of a colonial village. Only upon closer examination does it become apparent that most of the center-chimney houses were built in the 50-year period after the Revolution.
Within the limits of the conservative nature of the architecture of the district, an exceptional variety of Federal style houses were constructed. Although none approach the degree of style found in some of the other Connecticut River towns, their detailing, especially the fine attenuated doorways, is a suitably understated embellishment for such essentially Colonial houses such as the Reverend John Marsh Parsonage (8 Meeting House Road), or the Simon Hazelton, Jr., House (360 Walkley Hill Road). As the form of these houses becomes more typical of the nineteenth century, with pedimented gables facing the street, the detailing is not only more elaborate, but a clearer understanding of the totality of the Federal style is expressed, an attempt not made on the earlier Colonial forms. Houses such as the one built by Comfort Cone at the head of the district are examples of the most sophisticated residential architecture in the center, particularly in their exceptionally well-conceived and well-crafted fanlights (65 Walkley Hill Road).
The Greek Revival houses, the second largest group of buildings executed in a similar style, predictably display less variety. With only one exception, these buildings are the familiar gable-to-street buildings with full pediments found in most towns in Connecticut. Generally well-preserved, this group of houses provides a counterpoint to the predominate Colonial genre and a subtle terminus to the period of greatest architectural significance. As they are scattered throughout the district, they also add architectural interest to the streetscape. The Congregational Parsonage (19 Russell Road) is a classic of this type, enhanced by its sloping open site and its location facing Meeting House Green.
Several later houses are stylistically unique to the district, the Italianate built by James Walkley (114 Walkley Hill Road) and the Carpenter Gothic of Joseph Smith (981 Saybrook Road). Continuing the earlier conservative trend in the district, they are still relatively modest interpretations of these styles, particularly when compared to other examples of Victorian architecture elsewhere in Haddam. Of the two, the Walkley House has the better integrity. Although it is enhanced by its broad lawns and ample setback, it is still a simply designed house with its detailing limited to eave pediments, brackets, and an Italianate entry porch.
The distinctive masonry buildings of the Haddam Center Historic District make a special historic and architectural contribution. Although both the Brainerd Academy (22 Field Park Drive) and the Haddam Goal have been altered over time, they are still impressive buildings. It is unfortunate that the academy's facade is barely visible from Saybrook Road, hiding the twentieth-century portico from public view. Its exceptionally well-executed stonework is readily visible, however, from Field Park Drive. The gaol presents an interesting, and not altogether successful, juxtaposition of shapes with its mansarded addition to the original Greek Revival style building (945 Saybrook Road). Its current function as the Connecticut Justice Academy, a state-owned building, has assured its continued existence. But some of the recent alterations to the principal facade are regrettable, particularly of the fenestration of the first floor of the mansard section and the addition of a new concrete porch at this location. The more recent Beaux Arts style Brainerd Memorial Library (920 Saybrook Road) is a more architecturally ornate building, one that is individually significant. It is typical of the impressive masonry buildings constructed as libraries around the turn of the century, even in semi-rural communities such as Haddam.
Cunningham, Janice P., and Elizabeth A. Warner. Portrait of a River Town; The History and Architecture of Haddam, Connecticut. Middletown, Conn.: The Greater Middletown Preservation Trust, 1984.