Madison Green Historic District
The Madison Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Town of Madison in south central Connecticut is roughly oblong in shape, about five miles wide in the east-west direction and 12 miles long in the north-south direction. The town borders on Long Island Sound. A road has run across the town paralleling the seacoast ever since settlement in the 17th century. This highway, known historically as the Boston Post Road (U.S. Route 1), is the spine along which settlement developed in the 17th and 18th centuries and it was logical that the town green, the center of the community, should be established on this road. The 17th-, 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century buildings around the green and along adjoining sections of the Boston Post Road are the subject of the Madison Green Historic District, 48 structures in all, 7 of which are considered not to contribute to the historic character of the district. Of the 41 buildings, one dates from the 17th century, 5 from the 18th, 26 from the 19th, and 9 from the 20th century.
The green is an oblong space of approximately four acres located in the heart of the village, just west of the shopping center. It has an east-west orientation parallel with the Boston Post Road, which runs along its southern edge. Local government and community buildings are clustered around the other three sides of the open space. The Congregational Church and its Church House face the north side of the green (Meeting House Lane). A triangular wing of the green to the east is the setting for the town hall, community meeting building, Academy Elementary School, and Lee Academy (School Street), and the Lutheran Church faces a triangular wing to the west (Britton Lane).
The Madison Green Historic District's boundaries are extended to the east and to the west of the green to encompass the adjoining historic houses along the Boston Post Road until their continuity is interrupted by an intrusion. On the east this limit is reached with the commercial structures at the intersection of the Boston Post Road with the Durham Road (Route 79), and on the west with 446 Boston Post Road. The Madison Green Historic District, therefore, is the central section of Madison along the Boston Post Road where the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century arrangement of churches, public buildings and houses remains intact.
The building that dominates the green is the First Congregational Church (1838). From the Boston Post Road parallel walks across the green lead to the drive up to the church, the two together forming an impressive vista for the Greek portico of six Doric columns. The channelled columns rest on a stylobate of eight granite steps, and support a plain architrave, a frieze with triglyphs that have guttae above and below, and a molded cornice. The face of the tympanum is flush boarding, as are the front and side walls of the building. There are three double doors in the front wall, behind the columns, each door with two, long, vertical, recessed panels. The central doors are flanked by pilasters that support an entablature. Over the doors there is a foliate, horizontal medallion level with the pilaster capitals, under the architrave. The two doorways to left and right have crossette architraves with central, vertical, foliate medallions, separated from the doors by a row of five bosses. There are three ten-over-ten windows at second floor level, one over each doorway. The central window has a crossette architrave, five bosses, and vertical medallion as the flanking doorways have.
There are seven pilasters along the sides of the church, including one at each front corner. The pilasters are flush boarding, too, but with the boards vertically oriented in contrast to the horizontal orientation of the flush boarding that makes up the walls. Triglyphs continue in the frieze under the eaves along the sides of the church. There are six tall two-story windows between the pilasters. The blinds for the windows are in three sections. The upper and lower sections are open and the central section is closed, creating the effect that there are first and second story windows.
The four-stage steeple begins with a square belfry of vertical flush boarding with louvered openings surrounded by crossette architraves. The sides of the stage are canted, giving the suggestion of Egyptian Revival influence. The second stage is octagonal, and just tall enough to accommodate the clock faces. The third stage is round with peristyle of eight Ionic columns, while the fourth and final stage, also round, has eight free standing, shorter columns with anthemion capitals. The whole is crowned by a gilt dome and an arrow weather vane. The church has a standing-seam gable roof.
The appearance of the interior dates from 1867 remodelling. The chief decoration is the painted trompe-l'oeil panelling in shades of cream and grey that covers the walls and ceiling. The recessed area in the north wall behind the black walnut pulpit formerly had a complex, trompe-l'oeil, perspective design, but this was replaced in 1955 by the present arrangement of two Doric columns. There are galleries on three sides of the church that correspond in height to the closed sections of the exterior window blinds.
Adjoining the church to the east, on the north side of the green, is the Church House, built in 1965 in materials, proportions and decorative elements sensitive to the church. It is a two-story, T-shaped, gable roof building of light buff colored bricks. The arm of the T projects, and across its front, forming a shallow pedimented portico are four Ionic columns, slightly paired. The wider, central space leads to two-leaf, panelled doors with side and transom lights and entablature. A large, 32-pane window is above the doorway. The composition is reminiscent of the front of the church without being a copy. A further tie-in with the church facade is provided by the use of triglyphs in the frieze over the Ionic columns. While triglyphs normally are found only in a Doric entablature, their use here provides a common decorative element with the church. Wood pilasters along the sides of the building at second story level echo the pilasters on the sides of the church.
The third structure on the north side of the green, adjoining the church to the west, is a square, two-story house (1830) that in several ways resembles the church, although there is no known association between the two other than their location. Like the church, the house has flush vertical boarding, tall, two-story windows with three-part blinds, and a two-story pedimented portico. The columns of the portico are Tuscan, with a pronounced entasis. The accompanying pilasters next to the facade repeat the entasis in a manner that suggests the batter associated with the Egyptian Revival, a suggestion also found in the first stage of the church steeple. Like the church the house rests on granite ashlar foundations. A point of difference is the presence of a half-round fanlight with keystone in the pediment of the house. The roof of the house is an unusual shape. It is listed in the assessor's records as mansard, but a better description might be truncated hipped roof with flared eaves. The angle of the slope from the vertical seems too large to qualify as mansard. While the roof is old, whether it is original has not been determined.
The buildings that border the east side of the green are town buildings. Central among them is the 1896 Memorial Hall, now the Town Hall, built of yellow brick with marble trim in the Classic Revival style. It is a 2-1/2-story, oblong, hipped roof building on a 7-1/2-foot high, granite, ashlar basement.
The building is oriented in the north-south direction. The southern corners are truncated. An entrance porch projects from the southwest corner. Approached by a high flight of steps, the entrance is protected by Ionic columns in antis under a pulvinated frieze and dentil course, the whole surmounted by a balustrade. In the east and west walls there are three, two-story, round-headed openings each containing wood surrounds for tripartite windows whose glazing is separated, first floor from second floor, by panels. On the south wall there are three windows at each level, basement, first floor, and second floor. At the first floor level there is a half-round recess with keystone over the central window, creating a Palladian effect. Raised lettering in the recess spells out the words "Memorial Hall 1896."
Directly behind the Memorial Hall is a one-story, brick building originally built for the Town Clerk. The older section (1874) in the back is built of red brick, now painted yellow, with a gable roof. The newer section, in front, has a hipped roof over yellow brick walls, on granite foundations. The central doorway has a segmental hood supported by brackets. Paired, one-over-one windows flank the doorway. Each of the stone lintels of the windows carries three stone keystones disposed one in the center over the space between the windows, and one at each end of the lintel. An architrave with dentil course under the eaves completes the Classic Revival effect.
The building next east of the Town Clerk's office is now used for community meetings of varied types, but was consecrated July 24, 1884 as the chapel of the Congregational Church. It is a 1-1/2-story, T-shaped, frame building in the Queen Anne style with gables and bays, clapboards and shaped shingles, on stone foundations. There is a rose window in the gable end of 12 radial sections. Each section terminates in a half-round shape at the periphery of the window. Below the rose window there is a lancet window composed of eight elongated sections shaped like those of the rose window. The sides of the building have tripartite windows with some colored lights. An early photo shows that originally the chapel had a low, four-sided, pointed steeple. The report of the building committee, quoted in the minutes of the July 3, 1884 meeting of the Ecclesiastical Society, described the interior as containing a chapel "with suitable parlors connected, adapted to the use of the several sewing Societies to engage in their benevolent work."
There are two schools in this cluster of town buildings. Lee Academy (1821) is the older one. It is a narrow, 22 x 40', two-story, clapboard, gable roof building on stone foundations, not on its original site. On the front there are two doors at the first floor, two windows at the second floor, and a half-round fanlight in the gable end. The sides have five bays. A new open belfry with pointed roof and iron finial was constructed in 1976 in faithful reproduction of the original, which was deteriorated.
The Academy Elementary School dates from 1884, the year it was established on a nearby site as Hand Academy, the benefaction of Daniel Hand. The present schoolhouse, constructed in 1921 with a 1936 addition, is a two-story, Roman Revival structure executed in red brick with white mortar. A central, one-story front section has a round-headed entranceway, a motif that is repeated on the sides of this section in two round-headed openings for tripartite windows with radial muntins at the top. A heavy, molded, wood cornice runs around the building at the eaves, supported by large modillion blocks. A broad, poured concrete frieze under the cornice is decorated with periodic clusters of brick laid in diamond shapes. On the sides of the school the cornice breaks out over shallow pavilions that mark the side entrances.
In mid-20th century the west side of the green became the location of a new church, the Lutheran Church of Madison. The one-story, brick veneer edifice was constructed in 1955, and it was enlarged in 1969 by the addition to the west of a 40 x 60' educational facility. At that time the main entrance was moved from the front to the east side and a tall stained-glass window was installed in the front wall. The window depicts a figure of Christ surrounded by various Christian symbols. It is composed of faceted glass pieces one inch thick that project a fraction of an inch from the epoxy material in which they are set. The roof of the sanctuary is supported by three laminated wood beams. The overall effect of the building is a simple, one-story, gable roof, red brick structure without embellishment other than the stained glass window and a thin, stylized, white spire.
The Boston Post Road runs along the south side of the green. A row of 18th- and 19th-century houses face north across the road, toward the green. East and west of the green there are houses on both sides of the Boston Post Road. The oldest house in the Madison Green Historic District, the Graves House, 581 Boston Post Road, is east of the green on the north side of the street. Built in 1675, it is a 2-1/2-story, gable roof, four-bay, weathered clapboard structure with central stone chimney and added lean-to, on stone foundations. The clapboards are beaded. The windows have 12-over-12 sash. The doorway occupies the second bay from the west. It has two-leaf, five-panel doors. The second story of the house projects about four inches over the first story. One-foot-long sections of cyma recta bolection moldings at the corners and in the front connect the two planes. The section of overhang above the two windows to the east of the doorway has an exterior chamfer bevel with lamb's tongue stops. An ell attached to the northwest corner of the house also appears to be of great age, while a two-story, vertical-boarding barn in the rear may be of 19th-century origin.
Two 18th-century houses are located west of the green on the north side of the Boston Post Road, 509 and 511. They are 1-1/2-story, three-bay houses with high gable roofs, central chimneys and stone foundations. The Madison Green Historic District's houses on the south side of the Boston Post Road are Georgian in style, built in the 19th century. They are in the majority.
The spacing and arrangement of the churches, public buildings, and houses in the Madison Green Historic District, and their relationship to one another, follow the pattern established in the 18th and 19th centuries as colonial Connecticut towns developed and expanded.
The Madison Green National Register Historic District demonstrates the thrust of colonization and preserves the historic relationship to one another of church, government, and residential buildings as it has developed since Colonial times in the center of the Madison community. Moreover, two of the individual buildings, the Graves House and the First Congregational Church, are important in architectural history, and the other 39 structures contribute to the distinguishable entity that constitutes the Madison Green Historic District.
Madison was an offshoot of Guilford, the next town to the west. The 1639 settlement at Guilford under the leadership of the Reverend Henry Whitfield was expanded in 1641 by further purchase from the Indians of the land that is now the western half of Madison, then known as East Guilford. The eastern half was acquired in 1650 by gift from George Fenwick of Saybrook, then the next community further east along the shore at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Settlers established themselves on the land primarily for the purpose of farming. Their common English background prompted them to build typical 17th-century houses such as the Graves House at 581 Boston Post Road.
In 1703 permission was granted by Guilford and the Connecticut General Assembly for the establishment of a church in East Guilford, and in 1700 a meeting house was constructed on the southeast section of the "Common" or present green. This action encouraged thicker settlement in the immediate area, convenient to the church, and marked the beginning of the development of the community center that has continued to the present day.
During the 18th century the cultivation of corn, flax, and wheat was augmented by establishment of grist mills, flax mills, and tanneries. In the northern part of town saw-mills were introduced to exploit the rich timberlands, and iron and garnets were mined. The resources of the sea were also utilized. There is record of a porpoise fishery established in 1792 that had a catch of 600/700 in a season. Whitefish was used for fertilizer. The center for all this activity was along the Boston Post Road in the vicinity of the green and the church where the cluster of buildings grew larger and more important.
In the course of time it became expedient to create a separate political entity. This change was accomplished in 1826 by splitting off from Guilford a new town, called Madison after the president of the United States.
The location and setting of the Madison green were established in 1705 by selection of the site for the first meeting house, near the present church's position. This act fixed the center of the community, and the green has continued to be a focal point for the village for the ensuing 275 years. Town meetings were held in the basement of the church until 1896. When a building for the Town Clerk and later a larger Town Hall were needed they were built on the green. Daniel Hand established his academy near the green, and Lee Academy is there. Even as late as mid-20th century, when a new church was formed it chose to establish itself on the green. The close spacing of the many houses along the Boston Post Road in the vicinity of the green testifies to the desirability of the central location as the area developed, as opposed to the wider spacing between farmhouses located further away from the green.
The green is a demonstration of the development of a village center as it expanded after the period of colonization. It was the central focus of the community as settlement spread along this section of the southern coast of the state between the key points of Guilford and Saybrook. The broad pattern of Connecticut's early history can be followed by examination of the structures and spaces that constitute the Madison Green Historic District. The fact that the pattern of the green has encompassed 19th and 20th-century developments enhances its significance. With the exception of the Graves House and the Congregational Church, probably none of the buildings is individually outstanding in architectural terms, but collectively they constitute a remarkable demonstration, free from intrusions, of the development of a village center from colonization to the late 20th century.
The Graves House has many interesting attributes in addition to its age, including the four-bay facade, the fine panelled front doors, the exterior chamfer and moldings, and the fact that ownership to the present time has descended in the family of the builder. The continuous family ownership probably accounts for the somewhat unusual circumstances that title to the front portion of the land cannot be verified by reference to any volume and page in the land records. The book on this house at the State Library prepared by the Connecticut Society of the Colonial Dames in America includes measured drawings of the interior panelling by the late J. Frederick Kelly, Connecticut's leading scholar on the state's 17th and 18th-century houses.
The present Congregational Church edifice is the third meeting house, constructed in 1838 at a cost of $8,000 to the design of Volney Pierce (1807-1865), architect, of Hartford. A quotation said to come from the (Hartford) Northern Watchman of December 1838, recounting the dedication ceremonies, states that Pierce was the architect of ten houses of worship, but their identity is not known. He does appear in the Hartford city directories for the years 1838 through 1843, usually listed as an architect but once as a joiner. He is known to have built the house at 446 Boston Post Road, in Madison. The (New Haven) Columbian Weekly Register for February 18, 1865 (3:6) in an obituary refers to him as a resident of Fairhaven, Connecticut "known in this vicinity as a skilled architect," who had been living in the south for the past 12 years "for business purposes." He is thought perhaps to have been a disciple of Ithiel Town and David Hoadley, leading early 19th-century Connecticut architects.
In 1867 the church commissioned Henry Austin (1804-1891) of New Haven to make extensive interior alterations. He eliminated the original arched ceiling, altered the galleries, lengthened the windows two feet, widened the exterior steps, and added the two flanking doorways where originally there had been only the central entrance. The distinctive embellishment of the three doorways and the central window above therefore probably is Austin's work. The building was extended 13 feet to the north with a recessed alcove in the new north wall, and a new black walnut pulpit was installed. The cost of this program was $14,659.24.
It was at this time that the trompe-l'oeil decoration was introduced. It was begun by John Jaeckle of New Haven who died while the work was in progress. It was completed by his foreman, Charles Schenck, who renewed the painting, using the original stencils, in 1907. There was another refurbishing in 1928, using oils rather than water colors. By 1955 the condition of the plaster walls behind the pulpit that were the location of the arched, deep perspective effect was considered unrestorable, and Henry Kelly, brother of J. Frederick Kelly, designed the present rectangular arrangement that is dominated by two Doric columns. The trompe-l'oeil panelling again was renewed in 1947 by John DeLeon of Hamden, Connecticut who said he "found details in the center decoration which had never been retouched, and he did not presume to do so."
The architect for the 1965 Church House was Malcolm R. Knox of Bloomfield, Connecticut.
The decision of the Lutheran Church to construct an edifice in 1955 in contemporary design was the subject of considerable adverse community comment at the time. The Lutherans nevertheless went ahead with construction as planned by Conrad Hanne, architect, of Mamaronek, New York. The architect described his work as "native American style." The stained glass window was created by the Peter Rohlf Studio of New York. The reason for organizing the Lutheran Church in the 1950's was the same as the reason for organizing the Congregational Church in the early 1700's. In both cases the communicants wanted a church closer to home. In 1700 local residents considered that the journey to Guilford was unreasonable, and they sought relief through establishment of the East Guilford (now Madison) church. In 1950 the Lutherans concluded that driving to Middletown or Naugatuck was too much of a burden, so they established their own church. In both cases, some 250 years apart, the location selected was the green.
Lee Academy, organized by Frederick Lee, captain of the revenue cutter "Eagle," opened in November 1821 at a location on Boston Post Road west of the district. It was moved to the vicinity of the green in 1828, and to its present location in 1896 to make room for Memorial Hall. Lee Academy prepared students for admission to college and drew its student body from throughout the northeast, the out-of-town scholars boarding in the community. Its career as a college preparatory school was relatively short lived and by 1839 Lee Academy had assumed the function of an ordinary secondary school. Since 1923 the Madison Historical Society has taken responsibility for the building, making it available for use by the Red Cross, Girl Scouts, and other community organizations.
Daniel Hand (1801-1891) was another benefactor of education in Madison. He had been a successful merchant in Savannah and Augusta, Georgia, returning to Madison after the Civil War. In 1884 he gave $15,110 and the necessary land for construction of Hand Academy, a grammar school that over the years developed into the present Academy Elementary School. (The name Hand continues in use for the high school.) In 1888 Hand gave $1,000,894.25 to the American Missionary Society to establish the Daniel Hand Educational Fund for blacks in the south.
Memorial Hall was dedicated May 31, 1897 in honor of soldiers and sailors of various wars. The architect is unknown but the builder was Holdworth of Westbrook, Connecticut who put up the structure at a cost of $13,000. Its main feature was an auditorium for public gatherings, concerts, and plays. The auditorium also served as a gymnasium. The interior was rebuilt into town offices in 1939. Until this auditorium was built town meetings were held in the basement of the church, an example of cooperation between church and state that continued long after the disestablishment of the church in 1818.
No further architects are known, but the original owners (who perhaps also were the builders) of several of the houses are known. The many people who were engaged in establishing the green and constructing around it the churches, public buildings and houses that constitute the Madison Green Historic District have created a living record of the development of a community center over a period of almost three centuries.
Mary Scranton Evarts, History of the First Congregational Church 1707-1955, Madison, n.d.
Philip S. Platt, ed., Madison's Heritage, Madison: Madison Historical Society, 1964.
† David F. Ransom, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Madison Green Historic District, Madison, CT, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.