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Washington Street Historic District


The Washington Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. 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 Washington Street Historic District is primarily a historical residential area, dating from 1752 to 1931, which lies along both sides of Washington Street and Washington Terrace in Middletown, Connecticut. It encompasses approximately thirty acres and includes thirty-five buildings, a historic cemetery, and the memorial park. Running perpendicular to Main Street, which runs in a north-south direction, Washington Street (Route 66), the principal street in the Washington Street Historic District, serves as a direct artery into the central business district from the west, and north from Route 72, Interstate 84, and Interstate 91. Because Middletown is located on the sloping banks of the Connecticut River, Washington Street extends uphill to the west, rising 70 feet above Main Street and 180 feet above the river. Washington Terrace Park, the central focus of the Washington Street Historic District, is a five-acre landscaped open space located near the crest of the hill, bordered by Washington Street on the north and Washington Terrace on its south side. Both of these streets are lined with historic residential properties that face the park.

The Washington Street Historic District is bounded on the east by the Main Street Historic District (National Register:1983) and extends west to Jackson Street. Its northern boundary includes all the properties that face south onto Washington Street, numbering 108-356. The Washington Street Historic District's southern boundary includes properties between 125 Washington Street to Pearl Street and 301 Washington Terrace to Vine Street. These boundaries surround and encompass Washington Terrace Park, which extends for two blocks between High and Vine streets. The north-south boundaries include all the outbuildings that remain within the property lines of buildings included in the Washington Street Historic District.

Washington Street, first known as the Boston Road, was renamed after George Washington's visit to Middletown in 1789. The Barnum Map of the city, drawn in 1825, indicates that the street was lined with well-spaced houses. By 1877, when a birdseye map of the city was drawn, the street appears lined with larger houses, much as it is today, sited well back from the street on large lots. The Washington Terrace Park has changed very little since the nineteenth century. Then, as now, it was bordered by Washington Street and Washington Terrace and essentially the same size and shape, an elongated triangular open space.

The Washington Street Historic District spans 175 years of historic residential construction. Nineteenth century residential architecture is particularly well represented as the majority of the buildings were built in this time period. Seventy-five percent (26) were built after 1830, reflecting the prosperity of Middletown in the industrial period. This group includes Federal, Greek Revival, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne styles. Only six were built before 1830 and these include several buildings which have later nineteenth century alterations. Two of the early twentieth century buildings are the only examples of their style in the district: a Shingle style built in 1905 and a 1916 example of Neo-Classicism. There are only three modern buildings in the Washington Street Historic District. One of these is a brick church and school complex. The others are a modern brick commercial building and a brick apartment building. In function and style as well as massing and materials, they differ from the predominantly nineteenth century appearance of the district.

The majority of the buildings have retained their historic fabric, form, and appearance. Only two buildings (125 and 144 Washington Street) have been altered with storefront additions at the first story. Other alterations include a few houses with inappropriately sized replacement windows. Several, such as 124 Washington Street, are covered with aluminum siding or asphalt shingles that hide the original clapboard exteriors. The condition of the historic buildings in the Washington Street Historic District ranges from excellent to fair. Two buildings that warrant repairs and maintenance are the Jeremiah Wetmore House (108-110 Washington Street), built between 1752 and 1756, and 134 Washington Street. The Wetmore House, the oldest house in the Washington Street Historic District, shows signs of structural problems and clapboard deterioration. The Queen Anne style building at 134 Washington Street, until recently vacant and overgrown with vegetation, is currently [1985] being rehabilitated. All historic buildings exist on their original locations.

Most of the buildings in the Washington Street Historic District are two to three stories in height and utilize wood-frame construction, occasionally interspersed with masonry buildings of brick. A consistent setback has been maintained, with most of the buildings located well back from the sidewalk-lined streets. Attached storefronts on the historic houses at 125 and 144 Washington Street intrude on this setback to some degree. Despite their additions, these buildings still conform in height and scale with the neighboring residential buildings.

At the northeastern corner of the Washington Street Historic District is the Jeremiah Wetmore House, built between 1752 and 1756. Originally a clapboarded, five-bay building with a central chimney, it has a three-bay eastern addition which probably was erected by Jehosophat Starr after the Revolution. He may also have been responsible for the Georgian details such as the window mouldings.

An example of the transition period between the Federal and Greek Revival styles is the Aaron Pease House (116 Washington Street), constructed around 1825 by Aaron and his brother Randolph. This three-bay, gable-roofed building features a leaded fanlight in its gabled pediment. Two-story pilasters and a denticulated cornice enhance its elaborate entryway comprising fluted columns, a leaded fanlight, and leaded sidelights.

Further west at 138-140 Washington Street lies the Jarvis-Hotchkiss House. Built around 1838 the brick, two-story, cube-shaped building illustrates the late Greek Revival style in its form and detail, particularly the colonnaded porch executed in the Ionic order. The house is currently being rehabilitated (a modern storefront has been removed), and the cast-iron railing above the porch, added in the late nineteenth century, will be replaced.

Only one of the two churches in the Washington Street Historic District is architecturally and historically significant. It was built in 1931 by Middletown's Italian-American masons. Called St. Sebastian, it is similar in design to the Church of St. Sebastian in Melilli, Sicily. With its fluted parapet and two-story design, it is heavily influenced by the Renaissance Revival style.

At 190 Washington Street, on the northwest corner of its intersection with High Street, is the Briggs-Stueck House, a recently restored masonry building in the Queen Anne style. Two-and-one-half stories in height, with an asymmetrical and irregular plan, it has a highly decorative exterior which features terra cotta tiles, corbeled and patterned brickwork, and wooden stickwork. Perhaps its unusual treatment is the universal use of floral motifs. They can be found in the tiles, the exterior wooden trim on the gable ends, pediments, and porches, as well as on the fireplace surrounds and the balustrade of the triple-run staircase. The interior also features original doors, wainscotting, and window and door casings of oak.

Differing in style from the other historic buildings in the Washington Street Historic District is a Georgian style residence (200-202 Washington Street), built about 1789 and extensively remodeled with Gothic Revival style detailing about 1840. Known as the Alsop-Weeks House, this clap-boarded, gable- and hip-roofed house was originally a central-hall mansion. Today it features carved vergeboards, dormers, and two gambrel-roofed wings which may have been taken from another dwelling. Further changes took place by the twentieth century. Before the property changed hands in 1911 the interior was remodeled with neo-Federal style detail, creating a building with a most unusual architectural history.

At the extreme western boundary of the Washington Street Historic District lies the Reverend E. Campion Acheson House (356 Washington Street) built in 1916. This stucco building, constructed in the Neo-Classical Revival style, has generous proportions. More massive in appearance than other buildings in the district because of its broad facade, it is composed of a central section flanked by two projecting wings. Its pedimented gables feature oculus windows and denticulated cornices. Quoins accentuate the building's corners, and a recessed portico features a fanlight and broken pediment flanked by Tuscan pilasters.

The Fowler-MacDonald House lies on the corner of Washington Terrace between Vine and Mt. Vernon streets. Its high-pitched roof, gables, half-turrets, and expansive front porch display the texture, form, and horizontal lines of the Shingle style.

Further east on Washington Terrace is a two-and-one-half story, clapboarded, Greek Revival style residence. It features four bays, gable-to-street orientation, and a plain entablature. The existing building was probably built between 1825 and 1850 and is unique to the Washington Street Historic District because it sits on the foundation of an earlier dwelling; the latter's Colonial-period windows were salvaged and incorporated into the existing building.

Washington Terrace Park, the five-acre open green, is centrally located within the Washington Street Historic District. The western half of the park features a 1901 marble monument which commemorates Connecticut and Middletown citizens who died during the Civil War. A 1919 granite obelisk at the east end of the park and mature memorial trees commemorate the dead who were killed in World War I. The park serves as the buffer zone between the traffic on Route 66 and the Washington Terrace residences.

The other historic site in the Washington Street Historic District is the West Burying Ground. Protected by an iron fence and located at the southwestern corner of the district, it was laid out in 1739 and enlarged in 1839.

Significance

The Washington Street Historic District is a well-preserved, cohesive residential area possessing architectural and historical significance. A distinguishable entity, the district contains a high concentration of contributing historic buildings (94%) which represent most of the major American architectural styles, including Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Renaissance Revival, and Neoclassical Revival. Nowhere else in the city can be found such a variety of historic residential architecture that so closely parallels the history of the community. Because many of Middletown's prominent citizens who were active in civic and commercial affairs lived in the Washington Street Historic District, these buildings are directly associated with the social and economic development of the city from 1752 to 1931.

History

The streets bordering Washington Park have been a favored residential area since the eighteenth century. In contrast to the smaller houses in adjacent neighborhoods to the north and south of Washington Street and Washington Terrace, the houses built in the district reflected the status of their owners both in their size and in their degree of architectural style. Prominent and successful citizens, leaders of the community, chose to build their homes here for over 180 years. Among these were founders or officers of Middletown's industries, three former mayors, a former governor, a lieutenant governor of the state, the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut, a retired commodore of the United States Navy, and a former United States Secretary of State.

During the eighteenth century Middletown evolved from a colonial farming village on the Connecticut River to a major mercantile center. A brisk trade with ports on the East Coast had begun by 1750, but it was not until after the Revolution that shipbuilding and the maritime trade with the West Indies established the city as the largest port between New York and Boston, and the largest city in Connecticut. With the decline of trade following the War of 1812, Middletown's economy suffered and her population drastically declined. Entrepreneurial merchants began to invest in small factories and textile mills to bolster the economy, and by the end of the nineteenth century Middletown was well established as a successful manufacturing center. It specialized in textiles, hardware and rubber products, industries which continued to flourish well into the twentieth century.

Houses in the Washington Street Historic District, built by merchants and sea captains active in the West Indies trade, include the Georgian Colonial style house built by merchant George Phillips and the Greek Revival style houses built by Captain John Wetmore and Elijah Roberts, a ship's chandler. Early factory owners and businessmen also made their homes in the district, such as Jehosophat Starr, Jr. Starr lived in the Jeremiah Wetmore House (108-110 Washington Street) at the eastern end of the district. He, like several other members of his family, experimented with manufacturing pistols, swords, paper, and nails. Aaron Pease, a successful grocer and member of the City Council, lived next door in a Federal style house. Henry Aston, who built a Greek Revival style house in a prime location on Washington Street facing the park, was another munitions manufacturer.

Established local industrialists, such as Frank Fowler and Robert Merriman, also built houses there in the early twentieth century. Fowler's house on Washington Terrace is the finest example of the Shingle style in Middletown. He was an officer in the Arrawana Mills Company. Merriman, the treasurer of the Rockfall Woolen Company, built his house nearby in the Colonial Revival style.

Some of the architecturally distinguished houses in the Washington Street Historic District occupy visually prominent locations which reflect the high social status of their owners. The Alsop-Weeks House (200-202 Washington Street) is a prime example. Not only did it have a series of notable owners, it also demonstrates through its ca. 1840 remodeling the changing architectural taste of the nineteenth century. It was built about 1780 as a Georgian style, center-hall plan mansion by Chauncey Whittlesley, a successful merchant and a major financial supporter of the Revolution. Charles Alsop, who was a mayor of Middletown and a state senator, made extensive alterations and transformed the house into the Gothic Revival style. The Alsop family has been associated with Middletown for over two centuries. Another remodeling took place near the end of the nineteenth century when the Atwaters completely redid the interior in a neo-Federal style before selling the house to Frank Weeks, a former governor of Connecticut. Across High Street on the southwest corner of the same intersection is the finest brick Queen Anne style house in the city, built by Luther Briggs, a former mayor of Middletown, and one of the first wholesale merchants to import western beef to the state. Several owners of the house at 138-140 Washington Street, located at the head of Broad Street, were also professionally distinguished. They include the Reverend Jarvis, pastor of Christ Church in Middletown, and later Julius Hotchkiss, lieutenant governor of the state in 1870 and a representative to Congress. Another outstanding house was built in the early twentieth century on the corner of Washington and Jackson streets by the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut. His large, formal mansion in the Neo-Classical Revival style establishes the western boundary of the Washington Street Historic District. This was also the boyhood home of Dean Acheson, Secretary of State under President Truman.

Architectural Significance

The Washington Street Historic District contains one of Middletown's most distinguished collections of well-preserved, historic residential architecture. Its variety of major American architectural styles, ranging from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, conveys a special sense of place and time. A distinguishable entity, the Washington Street Historic District's buildings retain their original materials, functions, and proportions, a few of which are architecturally outstanding. Modern intrusions have been limited to only three non-contributing buildings. Similarly, minor alterations, such as aluminum or asphalt siding and storefront additions, exist on just eight buildings. The district, through its uniform setback and scale, has retained its late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries' qualities.

Although the majority of the Washington Street Historic District's buildings date from the nineteenth century it contains several examples of late eighteenth century domestic architecture. Perhaps the best unaltered example is the oldest house in the district, the Jeremiah Wetmore House (108-110 Washington Street). Built between 1752 and 1756, this Colonial-Georgian style house, although somewhat deteriorated, has retained its exterior materials and design, a feature not often found in buildings of its age. Of further interest is the high quality of interior craftsmanship. The original three-bay section with a center chimney and center hall and its nearby identical three-bay addition (ca.1787) retain the original fielded and paneled dado, and a corner cupboard. A triple-run staircase, highlighted with a newel post, gives the interior of this eighteenth-century house an exceptional level of decorative distinctiveness when compared to other buildings of its style.

The Alsop-Weeks House (200-202 Washington Street) originally was a Georgian house remodeled ca. 1840 in the Gothic Revival style. Although the application of two styles on the same building over decades is not highly unusual, this building is significant due to the skill with which it was accomplished. By adding gabled dormers and a projecting gabled center section, highlighted by carved bargeboards, pinnacles, and window hoods, the building truly exemplifies the characteristics of the Gothic Revival style. Of further note is the second remodeling of the Georgian and Gothic Revival interior to the Colonial Revival style. Its staircases, fireplace surrounds, and paneling present primarily Adamesque ornamentation. All of these features effectively obscure the building's original appearance, making it an important statement to Middletown's changing architectural tastes.

The Washington Street Historic District includes two good examples of Federal/Greek Revival-style domestic architecture. Both the Aaron Pease House (116 Washington Street and the Henry Aston House (324 Washington Street) incorporate the style's traditional three bay, side-hall plan, and gable roof. Both feature leaded decorative sidelights and fanlights and in addition, leaded fanlights accentuate the gables of each house. The Aaron Pease House, a more sophisticated example, contains a denticulated cornice and full-height corner pilasters. The Henry Aston House, although less distinguished, is significant for its unaltered condition.

The Briggs-Stueck House (190 Washington Street) is the most outstanding example of the Queen Anne style executed in brick in Middletown; it occupies a prominent position in the center of the district. Relatively restrained in its massing of forms, this house achieves an unusual degree of sophistication and unity by employing floral patterns as a consistent decorative theme. Used in the carved bargeboards, repeated again in the bands of terra cotta tiles, they are also used again in the house's well-preserved interior. Each repetition of the floral motif is quite different. On the marble fireplace surrounds, they are delicately incised while on the paneled balustrade of the handsome triple-run staircase, they are more boldly cut. The Briggs-Stueck House makes a unique and decorative contribution to the district's nineteenth century quality.

Among the notable early twentieth-century houses is the Acheson House (356 Washington Street), built in 1916. It is an outstanding example of Neo-Classical Revival-style domestic architecture, the finest in Middletown. Of particular architectural interest are the carefully executed quoins, arched window flanked by slender pilasters, and an elaborate denticulated cornice all of which complement the building's most prominent feature: the recessed entranceway framed by delicate columns and a broken pediment. The sophistications of these exterior decorative features make the Acheson House an important example of early twentieth century domestic architecture.

Endnote

[1]See "53rd Anniversary St. Sebastian Feast" (pamphlet, 1974). Report on St. Sebastian Church by the Greater Middletown Preservation Trust (unpub., 1974).

References

Beers, J. H. Commemorative Biographical Record of Middlesex County, Connecticut.

Chicago: J. H. Beers and Co., 1903.

________. History of Middlesex County, Connecticut. New York: J.B. Beers and Co., 1884.

Donlan, H. F. The Middletown Tribune, Souvenir Edition. Middletown, CT: Bigelow, 1896.

Hall, Peter Dobkin. Middletown: Streets, Commerce, and People, 1650-1981. Sesquicentennial Papers, No.8. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981.

Middletown, Connecticut; A Survey of Historical and Architectural Resources. Middletown, CT: The Greater Middletown Preservation Trust, 1979.

Middletown Land Records

Middletown Probate Records

Middletown Vital Records

Maps

1825 Barnum Map

1851 Clark Map

1859 Walling Map

1877 Bailey Map

Ruth A. Bedrosian with Janice P. Cunningham, Greater Middletown Preservation Trust and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Washington Street Historic District, Middletown, CT, nomination dcoument, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Route 66, Washington Street, Washington Terrace

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