Broad Street Historic District
The Broad Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. 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 Broad Street Historic District is a small, nineteenth-century urban residential area in Middletown, Connecticut. It is situated between Main Street, the historic commercial center of the city, and High Street, the residential/institutional border of the Wesleyan campus. In addition to Broad Street, a north-south thoroughfare, three other streets are included in the district: College and Court Streets which run east to west uphill from Main Street and perpendicular to Broad Street, and Pearl Street, a connector between College Street and Washington Street to the north, running parallel to Broad Street. Although somewhat reduced in size by both historic and modern development to the east and north, these streets comprise the largest urban residential area in the city. Four National Register districts border the Broad Street Historic District: the Washington Street Historic District, a residential street to the north, and the Metro South and Main Street Historic Districts, two commercial districts on Main Street to the east. The South Green Historic District, a residential/institutional district, is located at its southern terminus.
Wood-frame houses set on brick or brownstone foundations predominate in the Broad Street Historic District. Generally two-and-one-half stories in height, they are sited close together with little or no setback from the street. Porches or entrance porticos are a common feature, with most porch steps opening directly onto the sidewalk. The masonry buildings in the Broad Street Historic District include all the institutional buildings: two schools, one church (now a library), and two non-contributing twentieth-century commercial buildings, along with at least five houses built of brick. Until recently mature trees lined all the streets in the Broad Street Historic District.
Construction of the residential district which remains today began in the early 1800s and was substantially completed by 1900. Ninety percent of the houses date from this period. According to a map of the city drawn in 1825, only 13 houses were standing in the district, although the street grid of this area had been in existence since the early colonial period . Six of the original thirteen are in existence today, one of which dates from the Revolution (Hezekiah Hulbert House, 160 College Street). The other five were built in the late Federal period (9-11 Broad Street; 148 College Street; 175 College Street; 279 Court Street, Oliver D. Beebe House; 73 Pearl Street, Starr/Russell House). There is one other Colonial period house in the Broad Street Historic District, a large three-story gambrel at 208 College Street (Joseph Hall House), moved there about 1830.
Three of the Federal style houses are substantially intact, three-bay, ridge-to-street dwellings, one of wood, the other two of brick, with almost identical side entrances: pedimented porticos with coved ceilings and fanlights over the door (175 College Street, 279 Court Street, 73 Pearl Street). A later Federal style house built for Randolph Pease in 1822 at the corner of College and Broad Streets is also brick with a brownstone foundation (148 College Street). Because of its corner location, the gable end facing Broad Street is highlighted by an exceptional leaded fanlight set within a full pediment. The opposite gable does not face the street and has a simple rectangular window and no pediment. The non-contributing one-story modern store attached to the north side does not impact visually or physically on the integrity of the house (83 Broad Street). A Federal style house is also on a corner, at Broad and Church Streets (9-11 Broad Street). Its gable end facing Church Street has a fanlight, but extensive additions over time along Broad Street and the use of aluminum siding have obscured its remaining features. A Federal style house built in 1826 was enlarged in the Colonial Revival period (234 College Street).
A residential building boom occurred in the Broad Street Historic District from about 1830 to 1850, tripling the number of houses. Almost 30% of the standing buildings in the district date from this period, all built in the Greek Revival style. Several types were constructed more or less contemporaneously. They include "Greek Row," a group of four almost identically styled cube-form buildings in a middle block of Broad Street (89-91 Broad Street, 93-97 Broad Street, 101 Broad Street, 109 Broad Street). More modest vernacular interpretations in the temple form, such as the William Trench House on the corner of Broad and College were also constructed (31 Broad Street). Typically it displays a fully pedimented gable and a side-hall entrance with sidelights and a transom.
The Broad Street houses are an exceptional group. Two were built as duplexes and owned by separate families throughout most of the nineteenth century. The best of these examples has an intact exterior (93-97 Broad Street). It has a seven-bay facade and a double-width portico with composite capitals. The two entrances have retained their original doors. Anthemion-motif screens cover the typical small attic windows under the eaves. The masonry building to the south has had its double portico extended across the facade. The remaining two buildings have aluminum siding with differing degrees of impact. The last one of the row, the Samuel Stearns House, is the only one of this group with a two-story portico (109 Broad Street). The building, as well as its massive square posts, has been sheathed in aluminum. The remaining four-bay Enoch Ferre House, although aluminum sided, has an intact portico of the Doric order offset in the third bay (101 Broad Street). A two-story bay on the north and an Italianate cupola make a marked contrast to the severe lines of the building.
The gable-to-street version is more prevalent with a notable group on College Street between Broad and Pearl Streets (157 College Street, 161 College Street, 165 College Street, 166-168 College Street, 169-171 College Street, 170 College Street, 175 College Street). Several had Italianate porches added later in the century but all but one (165 College Street) have retained their essential temple form. One other of this form at the head of the street has an Italianate cupola on its gabled roof illustrating the excessive influence of this later style (221-223 College Street). Another collection of this type is located on Pearl Street (12 Pearl Street, 15 Pearl Street, 16 Pearl Street, 20 Pearl Street, 28 Pearl Street, 60 Pearl Street). With the exception of 20 Pearl Street, which has an added mansard roof, all are generally intact. Only one Greek Revival style house utilized the ridge-to-street form with pedimented gables in either end (151 Pearl Street).
One house and a brownstone church were originally built with a fully colonnaded portico supporting a pediment. In keeping with the scale of the neighborhood the house (now a church) is of relatively modest size (151 College Street). When the brownstone church was converted rather drastically to a Gothic Revival style library about 1875 the portico was filled in, a small tower was added on the southwest corner and pointed arched windows were installed. Another alteration was the larger addition on the north side in 1986. Taken together these alterations have hidden but not totally obscured the Greek Revival style proportions of the original building (123 Broad Street).
The Italianate style was popular in the next residential building boom, after the Civil War, following a lull of about 20 years. Although only eight new houses were built in this style, the stylistic impact on the Broad Street Historic District was extensive, as previously noted. The new construction included several cube form houses with bracketed cornices and overhanging shallow-pitched hip roofs (139 Broad Street, 145 Broad Street, 180 College Street). The recently rehabilitated Samuel T. Camp House (180 College Street) is the best example of this type. Its bracketed eaves, cupola, and portico are set off by the stuccoed walls. One of the two houses on Broad Street (145 Broad Street), has a recent two-story addition which partially obscures its facade.
The last style to be well-represented in the Broad Street Historic District was the Queen Anne. Seventeen houses (22%) were built in this style in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. They range from some large exceptional samples displaying all the asymmetry and embellished surface associated with this style to modest cottages of the type found in builder's manuals of the period. Three of the larger houses are located on Broad Street (25-27 Broad Street, 85 Broad Street, 138 Broad Street). One was originally the sole example of the Shingle style in the district but it now has asbestos siding (25-27 Broad Street). The Joseph Elliott House at the north end of the street is an especially well-preserved example of the Stick style with fine stick-work trusses in the gables and delicate iron cresting on the tent roof of the tower. Two others were built on the site of the old courthouse which stood on the northwest corner of Pearl and Court Streets (250 Court Street and 258 Court Street). These houses were exceptional for several reasons. Not only do they illustrate the increasing affluence of the district residents, but they also have some unique features, especially in the unusual configuration of the gables. The Eastlake trim of the gables on the John Douglas House (258 Court Street) is quite elaborate and found nowhere else in Middletown. This house also has a unique side porch on the second floor, wrapped around a two-story bay. Open below, it is screened above, with a balustrade, and supported by posts which extend to a low wall almost at grade.
A collection of more modest Queen Anne style cottages was constructed on the east side of Pearl Street in the northernmost block before Washington Street, the last section of the district to be developed (74 Pearl Street, 78 Pearl Street, 80 Pearl Street, 86 Pearl Street, 90 Pearl Street). The land, once part of the Russell estate on High Street, was divided and sold after 1872. These five similarly scaled houses were built here directly across from the Russell Carriage House and the Federal style house which housed the Russell coachman-chauffeur for many years (73 Pearl Street, 77 Pearl Street).
Two early-twentieth century houses built by two of the Protestant churches in the Georgian Revival style complete the Broad Street Historic District (144 Broad Street, 285 Court Street), the Congregational Parsonage and the Bishop Acheson House. Both are symmetrical brick buildings highlighted by formal classical detail.
An urban residential district which developed primarily in the nineteenth century, the Broad Street Historic District is a tangible record of the broad patterns of social change that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, both in Middletown and in the United States, especially the emergence of an urban middle class. The Broad Street Historic District has architectural significance as an exceptionally cohesive, well preserved and integrated body of architecture containing many well-crafted examples of the architectural styles of the nineteenth century, including Federal, Greek Revival, and Queen Anne.
The Broad Street Historic District was developed in response to a number of socio-economic factors. Chief among them was the decline of the established social order of the colonial period with the concomitant rise of a new urban middle class, and the economic revival produced by the Industrial Revolution. Although the establishment of this residential area marked a crucial turning point in the city's growth, neither of these factors was unique to Middletown, but was part of the broader patterns of modernization taking place in the nineteenth century.
Middletown, a major river port in the eighteenth century and the largest city in the state in 1790, was rapidly becoming an economic backwater by 1830. A self-directed group of prominent citizens undertook the task of rebuilding the city and establishing a new economic base. Their development efforts, concentrated on Main and High streets bordering the district, paved the way for residential growth in the Broad Street area. One of the first steps was the establishment of Wesleyan College in 1831 on High Street. Merchants grown wealthy in the maritime trade invested their capital in commercial development and new textile and machine industries. New commercial blocks were built on Main Street including a grand hotel known as the Mansion House in the early 1830s.
The success of this nineteenth century version of a chamber of commerce was demonstrated by the rapid growth in the Broad Street Historic District in succeeding years. A substantial number of houses were built almost immediately, as evidenced by the proliferation of the Greek Revival style. Almost without exception, these houses were for Main Street businessmen, evidence of not only the greater prosperity of the town but a new social phenomenon: the separation of the home and workplace. This was a new concept, a radical departure from an earlier period when houses and shops were clustered on Main Street, while most of the land in the district lay undeveloped, used, if at all, as garden plots for Main Street houses.
As Main Street became almost exclusively devoted to commerce, a process almost complete by the Civil War, and more houses were built in the district, a clear-cut residential and geographic hierarchy typical of New England towns was established. On High Street, the most desirable location in the city because of its view of the river and proximity to Wesleyan College, the wealthy built their homes. The poor, often newly arrived immigrants, were relegated to the decaying blocks near the river below Main Street. Halfway down the slope, the middle ground, as it were, was reserved appropriately enough for the new middle class.
Two key factors, nativity and occupation, characterized the social class in the Broad Street Historic District. It appears to have been restricted exclusively to native-born Americans who, at least in the early years of the district, were basically shopkeepers or tradesmen, many descendants of old families. Although many prospered and achieved greater social stature later in the century as directors or incorporators of banks and insurance companies, or through election to public office, typically the first residents were young men, skilled entrepreneurs who were just establishing their own businesses when they built their homes in the district. These were the men who a few years earlier would have left Middletown to seek their fortunes.
The 28 known occupations of Broad Street Historic District homeowners covered a full range of producers of goods and services. They included hardware dealers and haberdashers, pharmacists and carriage makers, printers (of two Middletown newspapers), along with at least five grocers and three jewelers. Several blacksmiths also lived there and owned livery stables on Main Street. Several of these businesses were still operating in the twentieth century, notably Woodward Drug and Payne Music. A number were builders: carpenters, joiners, and masons, living and working in the district. Some were developers like Charles Brewer, who was a jeweler in town, as well as a real-estate speculator. He lived at 28 Pearl Street and had the two neighboring houses built for sale to others (15 Pearl Street, 24 Pearl Street, 28 Pearl Street). Enoch Ferre, a lumber dealer who lived in "Greek Row" on Broad Street, was largely responsible for this group of houses (89-91 Broad Street, 93-97 Broad Street, 101 Broad Street, 109 Broad Street).
The survival of the Broad Street Historic District, the only major concentration of nineteenth century domestic architecture in the city of Middletown, is quite as remarkable as its development. Modern development pressures, particularly commercial encroachment, have whittled away at the periphery, but the surviving district is substantially intact, appearing much as it did in 1900. Ninety-six percent of the buildings contribute to the Broad Street Historic District...an extremely rare level of contribution.
Its historic residential appearance, characterized by such features as closely sited houses located near the street line, are uniquely urban and nineteenth century. No demolition has occurred in the Broad Street Historic District to disrupt this characteristic rhythm. New residential construction, usually present in some degree in a historic district, is totally absent, either as modern infill or as the replacement of older houses. Only one modern commercial building intrudes upon the Broad Street Historic District. Its location in the otherwise uninterrupted flow of historic residences in the central block of Broad Street is regrettable, but the impact is muted by its relatively small scale.
The twentieth century has had other impacts, both negative and positive. By about 1920, a number of small garages were built at the rear of the lots as district residents acquired automobiles. Some of these contributing buildings may have been replacements for earlier stables. As early as 1910, however, there were indications that the neighborhood was becoming less desirable as evidenced by the building of a factory on Broad Street at that time. Today this building has been attractively converted to commercial retail use, but its construction may have accelerated a decline at the time. There is no question that the neighborhood deteriorated in the 1930s and 40s, a period when many single family houses were divided for multiple use. Asbestos or asphalt siding was a popular exterior treatment in this period, remnants of which appear today. The more recent use of aluminum or vinyl siding is more problematic. It may not be as reversible a process. In some cases, when it is applied to buildings such as the Samuel Stearns House with such a disregard for the building's architectural character, the quality of the building is substantially affected (109 Broad Street).
More positive has been the recent trend to rehabilitate houses for professional offices. Most of these conversions have been accomplished without disturbing residential appearance or architectural character. One of the most progressive of these conversions has been the virtual restoration of the William Trench House (31 Broad Street), reclaiming a building that had been vacant for many years. The sole exception has been the inappropriate modern addition to the facade of an Italianate style house at 145 Broad Street. Its immediate neighbor to the north, one of the most recent conversions, demonstrates a more positive approach to adaptive re-use, one that may stimulate more progressive rehabilitation elsewhere in the district (151 Broad Street).
Several stylistic groups of houses add architectural distinction to the Broad Street Historic District. They include the few but distinguished examples of the Federal style, the exceptional concentration of Greek Revival style houses, and finally the late nineteenth century residences constructed in the Queen Anne style.
The side-hall Federal style houses are quite similar, a relatively rare form in Middletown with most of the surviving examples in the district. With their striking degree of similarity, they may be the work of one builder as yet unidentified. The exceptionally well-crafted porticos which highlight these houses may be the work of a master joiner working from the pattern books of the period. Their proportions are classically Adamesque with the appropriate attenuation associated with this style. Several display exceptionally fine leadwork in the fanlights under the cove ceiling of the portico and in the gable peaks, a feature often present in the later Greek Revival as well.
The exceptional group of Greek Revival style houses, the largest surviving concentration in the city, illustrate the full range of this popular residential style. Their association with a number of Middletown's known builders lends further importance to this group. While this style was universally popular between 1830-1850, its local popularity can be attributed to an exceptional early example, a mansion built on High Street in 1828. In this house Middletown builders had an exemplary model; in its wealthy owner the aspiring middle-class with social pretensions had a leader to emulate. Limiting themselves to modest wood-frame versions of the temple form, several Middletown builders constructed their own houses in the district and other houses on speculation. Those that have been positively identified include Ezra Clark, a coaster captain turned builder. He lived at 170 College Street and was responsible for three other extant houses (161 College Street, 166-168 College Street, 12 Pearl Street), and one located at the site of the High School. George Barrows, a joiner with his shop and house at 15 Pearl Street, may have constructed his own home. Zebulon Baldwin built two houses on Pearl Street (16 Pearl Street and 20 Pearl Street). The survival of such a large body of work by a group of entrepreneurial carpenters is testimony enough to the quality of their construction.
Some of the work of the city's master builders is also represented in the Broad Street Historic District. Barzillai Sage was a master mason noted for his work on churches and large residences. One of his three brownstone churches was the Christ Church on Broad Street, now the Russell Library, the only church he built in the Greek Revival mode (123 Broad Street). One house in the Broad Street Historic District can be definitely attributed to Sage, the Samuel Breese House at 271 Court Street. A modest brick house in the temple form, it is a finely proportioned example of the genre. Another master builder was Isaac Baldwin. He worked with Sage on the Italianate house built for the first president of Wesleyan College and the villa built for Richard Alsop IV, both on High Street. The Joseph Tobey House at 151 Broad Street was his contribution to the district.
The Queen Anne was the last nineteenth-century contribution to the Broad Street Historic District. The first built examples are exceptionally well-preserved, retaining all their architectural embellishments. Unique to the district and to Middletown is the John Douglas House (258 Court Street) for its unusual Eastlake detail. Both it and the nearby J. Peters Pelton House (250 Court Street) make use of appropriate color schemes to highlight the architectural details. Several of the smaller examples of the Queen Anne cottages on Pearl Street, all built about the same time, are also well-preserved with intact porches and a variety of shingled surfaces (78 Pearl Street and 80 Pearl Street).
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† Jan Cunningham, Cunnungham Associates, Ltd., and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Trust, Broad Street Historic District, Middletown CT, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.