banner search whats new site index home

Naugatuck Center Historic District


The Naugatuck Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. 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 Naugatuck Center Historic District encompasses the institutional, commercial, and residential nucleus of the Borough of Naugatuck. Located on the west side of the steep Naugatuck River Valley, the center consists of a grid of north-south streets that parallel the river. The Naugatuck Center Historic District rises in stages from Water Street, which runs along an embankment above the river, to a fairly level narrow plain occupied by Church Street and Meadow Street, the principal downtown thoroughfares. On the slope of the hill that borders the western side of the district, Hillside Avenue winds its way up to Terrace and Fairview avenues, where most residential properties are confined to the west side of these streets and overlook the downtown some 150 feet below.

The Naugatuck Center Historic District contains 160 resources, of which 137 (86 percent) contribute to the significance of the district. Twenty-three resources are considered non-contributing, primarily because they were constructed after 1948. Among the principal contributing resources are 30 institutional and commercial buildings, which include five churches, three schools, two banks, the town-owned library, firehouse, and railroad station, and 76 residences. The three sites in the Naugatuck Center Historic District include the Naugatuck Green and its associated monuments. Among the 23 contributing outbuildings are seven barns and/or carriage houses that have been converted to garages or other uses; the remainder are garages added to properties between 1920 and 1940.

The Naugatuck Green was designed in 1895 by the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to serve as the focus of an urban townscape[1] Located at the center of the district between Church and Meadow streets, the Green has a classically balanced axial plan: the lawn area divided by paved walkways that radiate out from the 1885 Civil War Memorial and the 1895 Memorial Fountain. Internal walkways and part of the perimeter of the Green are defined by pink granite bollards and lined with trees. The broader walkway that forms the entrance to the Green from Church Street is aligned with Maple Street, the main arterial access to the downtown from Route 8 across the river.

Typically, the Civil War Memorial features a bronze sculpture of a soldier at parade rest set upon a tall granite obelisk. The design of the fountain, which was part of the commission for the Green, features a central vertical granite block, with a heavy cornice enriched with egg-and-dart moldings and terminal volutes, flanked by round piers capped with stone spheres. Water formerly flowed from a lion's head on the east face into a fluted basin and rectangular trough below.

The Salem School, another contribution by McKim, Mead & White, is a Second Renaissance Revival building erected in 1893 at the head of the Green and centered on its east-west axis. Set on a high rusticated brownstone foundation and constructed of brick, the school has a central cupola on its slate roof and displays wide brownstone bands beneath the windows. Designed in an extended H-plan, the gabled main block is bisected by matching hip-roofed pavilions. They flank the recessed entrance court, which features a round-arched brownstone doorway, surmounted by a bracketed stone balcony. To the south is a playground and Lewis Park, donated to the borough in 1894. The Whittemore fieldhouse at the southern end is no longer extant.

A secondary axis, which runs up Division Street on the north side of the Green, culminates in an elongated horseshoe plaza. The Neo-Classical Revival World War I Memorial located there was designed by Evelyn Beatrice Longman in collaboration with architect Henry Bacon. Serving as the base of a tall flagstaff, the sculpted limestone monument has the form of a sarcophagus and rests on a pink granite slab. Low bas-relief figures on the east face represent peace and war. The north and south faces have sacrificial rams' heads connected by fruit garlands; the west face contains the names of men who served in the war.

At the west end of the plaza, a triple flight of granite stairs leads up to the Naugatuck High School of 1905, now the Hillside School, a Neo-Classical Revival interpretation of a Grecian temple by McKim, Mead & White executed in pink granite and pressed buff brick. A serpentine buff-brick section of Hillside Avenue wraps around three of the school's individually designed elevations. Because of the sloping site, all three stories have entrances at grade. A colossal-order Ionic colonnade across most of the long east face, which is visible from the downtown, contains the entrance to the lower level. Engaged columns extend from the high pink granite basement to the main entablature, which extends around the building. The cornice is capped by a continuous row of alternating bronze anthemion and palmette antefixae. Access to the second floor is through the main entrance on the south elevation, which is sheltered under a two-story Ionic pedimented pavilion. On the west elevation, which is only one story above grade, there is a simply detailed pilastered entrance to the upper floor.

The Green is flanked by two red brick churches, St. Michael's Episcopal Church, a High Victorian Gothic edifice built in 1875 on the south, and the Congregational Church on the north, a Baroque/Neo-Classical Revival structure completed in 1903.[2] As designed by David R. Brown, the broad gabled face of the Episcopal Church features a rose window set within a pointed-arch frame and a gabled entrance porch with wooden trefoil brace. There is second a double-door entrance in the flanking square tower, which has lancet arched windows and a flared pyramidal roof. The open belfry is screened with a trefoil pattern. Other details include contrasting black brick stringcourses and the multicolored slate roof. The Congregational Church, another McKim, Mead & White design, is a brick masonry building dressed with limestone. It features a projecting facade tower, flanked at the base by round stair bays, and capped by a foreshortened polygonal panelled spire. The over-scaled Baroque-style entrance has fluted Ionic columns, a pulvinated frieze, and a broken segmental pediment. There are five round-arched leaded windows in the side elevations, which in the nave are recessed between columns.

Both churches have distinctive parish houses. St. Michael's Parish House, at the rear of that church, combines the Gothic and Neo-Classical Revival styles. Among its features are panelled pilasters with garlanded capitals and lancet arched windows. The 1887 Congregational Parish House beside the church occupies the rest of Division Street. Its Romanesque Revival design by Robert Wakeman Hill includes a round tower with conical roof on the east end and a full-height bay, with a large round-arched stained-glass window at the second story.

There is a series of major architectural buildings on Church Street north of the Green. The west side of the street contains the Young Men's Christian Association Building, a Neo-Classical Revival building constructed in 1924. Designed by the firm of Jallade, Lindsay & Warren of New York, the long facade is highlighted by a two-story limestone colonnade of the Corinthian order.

Several properties owned by St. Francis Church Corporation, the church, the school, the rectory, and a former convent (fronting on Meadow Street), complete the institutional development on this side. Construction began in 1882 on the elaborate cross-plan Gothic Revival church, designed by James Murphy of Providence, and it was completed in 1890. Bands of contrasting slate sheathe the main gabled roofs and the roof of the buttressed clerestory on the south elevation. The facade, which features a large Gothic window with tracery and three pointed arched doorways, is flanked by a tower with a tapered octagonal spire, with wooden dormers embellished with crockets at its base. The groin-vaulted interior of the nave and aisles is divided by clustered columns with composite capitals.

To the south, St. Francis School, which was dedicated in 1892, combines the Neo-Classical and Colonial Revival styles in a three-story brick building dressed with granite lintels and sills. Brick corbeling supports the denticulated cornice of the roof, which is capped by a low octagonal domed lantern. The central entrance pavilion has round-arched openings for the main door and the window above, the whole surmounted by a pedimented roof dormer. The Second Empire St. Francis Rectory of 1903 north of the church is embellished with classical details, such as tripartite windows and pediments that cap the roof dormers and define the entrance to the facade veranda.

On the east side of the street, the Neo-Classical Revival style is expressed in three masonry buildings of similar scale and massing. The earliest is the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library of 1894, which was designed by McKim, Mead & White. It is constructed of pink granite embellished with buff terra-cotta panels above the windows and in the pediment of the facade pavilion, and features a continuous frieze incised with names of famous authors. Fluted Ionic columns in antis and broad pilasters flank the recessed entrance. The gabled roof is surmounted by a low drum, ringed with anthemion antefixaes, a motif repeated in the single large antefix over the pediment. An elaborately detailed domed rotunda under the drum has a gold and red mosaic tile floor, a fireplace surround and wainscot of golden Sienna marble, and multi-hued, gilded decorations on the coffered ceiling. The modern addition at the rear, designed by a local architect in concrete aggregate colored to match the original building, is not visible from the street.

The Naugatuck Savings Bank just up the street was constructed of pressed buff brick and limestone in 1910. The south end of the building, the work of another New York architectural firm, Crowe, Lewis & Wickenhofer, features a recessed double door surmounted by a flat cornice and blind marble fan, flanked by Ionic-order columns with entasis. On the facade of the 1934 addition on the north, broad pilasters separate the windows. The Naugatuck National Bank of 1930 farther north has a cubic form, embellished with quoins and consoles that support the projecting cornice. In the largely original interior, the ceiling is decorated in the Renaissance manner. The last major institutional building on the east side, the 1917 Post Office, is quite a stylistic departure. Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style by James A. Wetmore, head architect for the U.S. Treasury, it has an arcaded facade flanked by shallow pavilions, and a Spanish tile roof.

The only other example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style in the Naugatuck Center Historic District is the Naugatuck Railroad Station on Water Street. Situated at the foot of Cedar Street, the other gateway to the downtown, it was designed by architect Henry Bacon in 1908 and completed in 1910. Built of stucco detailed with brownstone and brick quoining, the station is a long low building sited parallel to the railroad tracks. Above the main entrance is a large polychrome and terra cotta clockface, set within an over-scaled Spanish hood, resting on stepped wooden consoles. Open round-arched passageways for wagons and carriages in the wings are now enclosed. The site plan for the station included landscaped pocket parks at the foot of Cedar Street which are now vacant lots.

Historic commercial buildings on Church Street south of the Green are anchored by the c.1890 Neary Building on the east and the 1896 Hopson Block on the west. The Neary Building, designed by the Waterbury firm of Griggs & Hunt, occupies the southeast corner of Church and Maple streets, diagonally across from the Green. Neo-Classical Revival in style and highly ornamented in the Baroque manner, the white terra cotta facades are detailed with oval cartouches between the upper-floor windows and an elaborate entablature capped by a balustrade. The red brick facade of the Renaissance Revival-style Hopson Block employs golden brick and terra cotta quoining to frame tall round-arched window openings and define the machicolations at the base of the entablature.

The streetscape south of the Hopson Block consists of an almost continuous row of more modest historic commercial buildings, which ends with the two Barnum buildings. Farther south, beyond the district, there are one-story modern commercial replacements for historic buildings lost in the 1950 flood. Within the Naugatuck Center Historic District there has been some storefront alteration and at least one historic facade has been totally reclad. The Barnum buildings are modest brick examples of late nineteenth-century commercial architecture. The two-story 1894 building displays a bracketed roof cornice, molded window heads, and a dentil course above the storefront. The earlier structure of 1887 is three stories with an arched window in the gable. The Masonic Building up the street, also three stories, is detailed with a stepped facade parapet that displays the Masonic symbol. The last historic contributor to this row is the G.C. Murphy Store, a 1935 Art Moderne structure, built to replace the earlier Tolles Block that was destroyed by fire.

The sole survivor of the industrial economy is the office of the Goodyear India Rubber Glove Company on Maple Street. Today a freestanding Neo-Classical Revival brick structure, it was once an integral part of that firm's industrial complex, which, along with other rubber industry buildings on the south side of Maple Street, were demolished in the 1970s. The brick Naugatuck Firehouse across the street also exhibits some Neo-Classical Revival detailing.

Only one example of the grander residences built by Naugatuck industrialists remains in the Naugatuck Center Historic District, the Bronson B. Tuttle House at the north end of Church Street. An elaborate brick and brownstone residence designed by Robert Wakeman Hill, it has the massing and asymmetry of the Queen Anne, but integrates references to several other styles of the period. Among them are the tall square tower, reminiscent of an Italian villa, classical moldings, and incised Grecian designs on window lintels. While the wraparound veranda, hallmark of the Queen Anne, that completed the first-floor elevations has been removed, a porte-cochere on the north end remains, as does much of the original interior detailing, which includes a grand staircase, stencilling, and encaustic tile. The house is now owned by Naugatuck Borough, as is Tuttle's large Stick-style carriage house that stands to the west on Meadow Street.

The home of philanthropist John Howard Whittemore, Tuttle's partner in the Naugatuck Malleable Iron Company, once stood across the street and overlooked the firm's iron mills on the floodplain below. Designed by Stanford White, the large Neo-Classical Revival house had multiple gables and pavilions. The contributing site, now the location of a Neo-Victorian bank, is still bordered by stone walls with pillared gateways that appear to date from the period of the house. Nearby is another Whittemore building, which was used until the 1980s as a management office for the family's financial affairs. Two other Queen Anne-style houses remain on Church Street, but most of the district's downtown residential development occurred on Meadow Street.

Only three houses now survive on lower Meadow Street, but there is a concentrated urban streetscape north of the Green composed mainly of wood-frame gable-to-street houses built between c.1865 and 1915 and sited quite close together. Some houses there are located at the rear and do not directly face the street, including those built along a right-of-way now called Winslow Court. Almost half the houses there are duplexes, with first-and second-story front porches, and a few have added modern storefronts, but most have retained their original type of sheathing. Most were built during the relatively limited time frame of the Queen Anne style and exhibit the variety of mass-produced architectural detail then available. Some of the later Queen Annes incorporate features of the Colonial Revival style, often in open porches.

The earliest houses there, two Italianate villas, which have the typical cube form, broad bracketed overhanging eaves, and square cupola of this style, predate the Queen Anne. The Tuscan porch at 163 Meadow Street is original; the one on the 1877 Beecher-Garrick House is a later Colonial Revival addition. Another exception is the Rufus Lewis House, in which the first-floor elevation is obscured by a modern storefront, but the gables have the typical decorative trusses and shingling of the Carpenter Gothic style.

The immediate neighbor to the north of the Lewis House, as well as several houses on lower Meadow Street and Barnum Court, features a secondary flush facade gable. These similar vernacular expressions of the Queen Anne probably utilized stock builders' plans. Some, like the Robert Parker House, which has a full cross-gable plan, also exhibit single and double pointed-arch windows in the peaks, in which the sash is divided in a decorative manner.

Queen Anne massing, as expressed by multiple projecting pedimented gables, is embellished with classical Colonial Revival motifs such as the Palladian windows on the Dooling and Brennan houses, a feature also found on a Queen Anne on lower Meadow Street. A second-floor loggia and blind fan embellish the 1915 Tuttle House, a more fully expressed Colonial Revival that stands next to the Methodist Episcopal Church.[3] Simpler vernacular interpretations of the Queen Anne have a cross-gable plan and some porch detail. Others of this type are located behind the commercial buildings on Church Street, on Barnum Court.

On lower Hillside Avenue, there are two four-family houses of the Queen Anne style, in which the gable ends, with cutaway corners, are bridged by two-story porches. Across the street is the Robert Smith House, a large Queen Anne with Gothic Revival detailing that is more typical of the scale of houses on the brow of the hill to the west. It was moved to this site to make way for Naugatuck High School.

The Queen Anne is also the predominate style on Fairview Avenue and Terrace Avenue, but there it is more freely expressed in larger single-family dwellings sited on generally larger open lots. Characteristically asymmetrical in plan and massing, most of these houses exhibit other features of the Queen Anne, such as towered forms and open verandas, and are often influenced by other styles, particularly the Colonial Revival. Some have been remodeled for other uses and/or sheathed with artificial siding, alterations that have obscured or eliminated original detail.

On Fairview Avenue, houses are sited above the west side of the road and face the downtown. There are masonry steps in front of the steeper lots, especially at the north end of the street. A low stone wall, punctuated with semi-circular lookouts, borders the cliff edge across the road. Steps nearby provide pedestrian access to Lewis Park below. Although no two are alike, the William J. Neary House, which has a semi-circular tower with a beehive (ovoid) roof, is a fairly representative of the properties there. The Colonial Revival influence appears in the curved columned porch and the roof dormers. A similar tower with a conical roof graces the Queen Anne at the south end of the street.

Because of its location, the Freemont Tolles House, one of the best-preserved examples, has two facades that flank a rounded corner tower, with curved plate-glass windows and an open lantern under a flared conical roof. The semi-circular form is repeated on the veranda: at the entrance, which is defined by slim doubled columns; and at the outside corner where it wraps around to the left elevation. The right elevation of the house displays a projecting gable at the third story with a closely spaced line of narrow brackets on either side of an off-center bay. The veranda of the Richard Freeman House wraps around its two facade elevations; both are detailed with a series of gables with cornice returns and tripartite windows in the second story.

Shingle-style influence is found in the recessed gable window and second-floor shingling of the house at 46 Fairview Avenue. There a three-sided bay with an apsidal roof is substituted for a true tower. The Lewis W. Warner House up the street, which was designed in this style, was once sheathed with wood shingles throughout.

As the name implies, houses along Terrace Avenue are situated on more level terrain, with a more gradual but still undeveloped slope below the road to the east. Among them is the Adelbert Tuttle House, a particularly asymmetric Queen Anne, which has a three-story square tower with a bell-shaped roof, and the W.T. Rodenbach House, in which an open veranda wraps around and across the projecting gable of the facade. The Samuel Hopkins House, which faces south at the bend at the start of the road, combines bays and delicately detailed porches on the main block. The porte-cochere terminates in a most unusual feature, a single tourelle with a flared pyramidal roof.

Significance

Industrial wealth and visionary philanthropy created the significant architectural legacy embodied and preserved in the Naugatuck Center Historic District. In the 1890s a major architectural renaissance launched by the John Howard Whittemore, Naugatuck's leading industrialist, literally transformed the character of this industrial village. Whittemore commissioned the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead & White of New York to design the Green and a series of significant institutional buildings in the Neo-Classical and Second Renaissance Revival styles, thus creating a sophisticated urban focus for concurrent and future development of the district. The significance of this well-preserved assemblage, which includes three buildings Whittemore donated to the community, is enhanced by other fine architect-designed institutional and commercial buildings that complement and reinforce the classical core. Among them is the Spanish Colonial Revival railroad station, another Whittemore commission that was designed by architect Henry Bacon, best known for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The substantial, generally well-preserved residential component of the district, which incorporates the leading late nineteenth-century styles, particularly the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival, is primarily significant as the embodiment of the social and industrial history of the center.

Historical Background and Significance

Naugatuck was destined to become an industrial community. Like many towns in the Naugatuck Valley, agricultural prospects were marginal because of the terrain, but there was an abundance of waterpower to be harnessed by the settlers. Soon after they came here from Waterbury in the late seventeenth century, the customary grist-and sawmills were set up along the tributaries of the Naugatuck River north and south of the district. These mills continued to flourish in the scattered villages that comprised Waterbury's Salem Parish, established just before the Revolution. During the war, when English goods were not available, Salem mill owners turned to the production of such items as buttons, needles, cutlery, and clocks. By the time the Town of Naugatuck was incorporated in 1844 with a population of 1730, more than 25 water-powered commercial mills were producing textiles and agricultural tools and the Naugatuck River itself was dammed. The world's first commercial rubber industry was launched in the 1840s and full-scale industrial development followed the arrival of the railroad in 1849.

Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) came to Naugatuck with his family in 1805. Soon after his invention of vulcanized rubber, Goodyear licensed local investors to use his patent to manufacture rubber goods. The first such enterprise, the Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company, was established in 1843 in a former textile mill. Other companies operating under Goodyear license included Goodyear India Rubber Glove Company, which relocated to Naugatuck from Litchfield in 1847. Both these firms were largely financed by the Lewis family of Naugatuck. When the town incorporated as a borough in 1893, each company had its own factory complex north and south of Maple Street which operated independently for most of their history. At its peak Metallic Rubber Shoe had the capacity to produce 60,000 pairs a day; the rubber industry as a whole employed one-third of the population of 6200, of which half were foreign born. By 1898 both plants and their subsidiaries (chemical and box manufacturing) were part of a national company, U.S. Rubber, the successor to the Rubber Association, organized by licensees to protect the Goodyear patent. After E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Company gained operating control of U.S. Rubber in 1928, it consolidated its seven rubber shoe plants into the one at Naugatuck. The workforce of 2000 more than tripled by 1932 and the Footwear Division carried Naugatuck's economy through the Great Depression.

Although the rubber industry was the major employer, Naugatuck was never just a "company town." Chief among the other industries located there was Naugatuck Malleable Iron, the source of John H. Whittemore's considerable wealth. The business, which remained under the direct control of the Whittemore family until 1925, supplied iron castings for a wide range of industrial applications, particularly in the transportation field.[4] John Howard Whittemore (1837-1910), the son of a Southbury minister, came to Naugatuck in 1857. In 1858 he went into business with Bronson B. Tuttle to produce malleable iron hardware. The partnership was financed by Bronson' s father, Eben Tuttle, the owner of a thriving agricultural tool factory. Restructured several times with John H. Whittemore as president, Tuttle & Whittemore was a national corporation by 1889, known as Naugatuck Malleable Iron. Although still headquartered in Naugatuck, where the research and development division was located, the firm had other plants in Connecticut and the Mid-West. Harris Whittemore succeeded his father as president in 1899. When the company was reorganized as Eastern Malleable Iron in 1911 after John Howard's death, Harris continued as president until he retired in 1924. Later presidents and managers drawn from other branches of the firm came to live in Naugatuck, which remained the primary plant and research center until it closed in the 1970s.

Instead of evolving around the Congregational Church, as so many early parishes did in Connecticut, the center of Naugatuck began in a very non-traditional fashion. Perhaps recognizing that the dispersed population of Salem needed an institutional focus, in 1831 innkeeper Daniel Beecher donated land now occupied by the Green to the Episcopal and Congregational church societies. Both denominations actually moved their existing buildings there: the Congregational meetinghouse from across the river to the northeast corner; the Episcopal Church from Millville relocated at the southeast corner. By 1852 the center had outgrown the 1773 schoolhouse at the southwest corner of the Green and a new consolidated district school for more than 100 pupils was erected. After the Episcopalians built their present church in 1875, their older structure was moved back to serve as a much-needed addition to that school. The Congregationalists had replaced their meetinghouse in 1855 with a new Greek Revival church on the same site designed by Sidney Mason Stone. The decision to build a new Victorian Gothic town hall in 1878 across from the Green and especially the dedication of the Civil War Memorial there in 1885 reaffirmed the civic importance of this park. Most of the Green became public property when it was donated to the newly established borough in 1893.[5] The stage was set for the next phase of development, John Howard Whittemore's extensive building program, which shaped the future of Naugatuck Center and affected the lives of generations of Naugatuck citizens.

John Howard Whittemore, revered during his lifetime and still fondly remembered for his extraordinary philanthropy, loomed larger than life in the milieu in which he lived. With the prestige and power derived from his wealth and social standing, Whittemore was the acknowledged leader and chief benefactor of this small industrial town. The extent of Whittemore's personal fortune is not known, but his architect-designed homes, travel in Europe, and patronage of the arts, all the customary trappings of society in the Gilded Age, certainly set him apart from the average citizen. A self-made man, deprived of a college education by family circumstances, Whittemore perhaps had an inordinate faith in the didactic and moral power of art and literature, but this precept informed his civic consciousness and shaped his philanthropic plan for Naugatuck.

A true visionary, Whittemore was in the vanguard of the "City Beautiful" movement, the urban classical renaissance of the early 1900s. It was not surprising that he enlisted the aid of McKim, Mead & White, since that firm was involved in the famous "White City" at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago that inspired this movement. Indeed, like so many of his class, Whittemore was already a residential client of the firm. But in this fortuitous collaboration, Whittemore was more than a client. The success of his mission — to bring order and beauty to his adopted town — depended as much on his vision and dedication as the design and planning skills of the architects.

The scale of Whittemore's philanthropy was impressive, even for an era when museums, symphony halls, libraries, and other public buildings were routinely donated in major cities. In this relatively small community, it assumed major proportions. All told, Whittemore commissioned 12 projects in Naugatuck (11 by McKim, Mead & White), which included two family homes. No expense was spared in the design and finishes of the three public buildings that he personally funded and donated to the town. Excluding architect's fees and endowments, the cost of the two schools and the library alone was at least $360,000.

Whittemore's personal involvement was also extraordinary; apparently he alone selected and commissioned the architects and approved the plans for the library and schools. In the case of the Congregational Church, Whittemore, chairman of the fund-raising committee and probably the major donor, again was able to hire McKim, Mead & White. When it came time to build a new railroad station in 1907, even though Whittemore, as a director of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad was already in a position to influence the choice of architect, he made sure that Henry Bacon was selected by paying for the cost of construction. Having demolished and moved buildings to rearrange the downtown to his satisfaction, in this project Whittemore went even further to prepare the site. The railroad tracks were relocated, an undertaking which required a major reconfiguration of the riverbank.

Surrounding the citizenry with handsome classical buildings was just part of Whittemore's program of enlightenment. He made his collection of French and American Impressionists, which were on display in his house, readily available to the public and provided statuary and other art works for the walls of the high school.[6] Whittemore also supplied the library, which he first housed in the Congregational Church Parish House, with more than 10,000 books, some published in the languages spoken by Naugatuck immigrants. Such a gesture was quite unusual in a period that generally promoted assimilation of the foreign born. Conservation programs that Whittemore initiated and funded included the preservation of a continuous corridor of farm and woodland tracts that began just north of the district. It was laid out along a carriage drive to Middlebury (now Route 63), where he built Tranquility Farm, a summer home (no longer extant) that overlooked Lake Quassapaug. The preliminary design for the conservation project by landscape architect Charles Elliot (1859-1897) was completed by others after Elliot's death.

Whittemore's beautification program was an economic boon to a town struggling to cope with rapid population growth, which escalated by 70 percent in the 1890s. Relieving the borough of the cost of municipal buildings allowed Naugatuck to devote limited resources to other public programs. The borough already had gas and telephone service, and a generating plant on Water Street provided electricity to homes and businesses, but in the 1890s town roads were paved for the first time, and sidewalks and sanitary sewers installed. Perhaps most importantly, when U.S. Rubber threatened to leave, borough officials were in a position to provide tax incentives to keep the industry in Naugatuck.

Whittemore was an astute businessman so there certainly was some element of self-interest in his projects. In a general way, of course, a handsome civic center made Naugatuck a more desirable place to live and attracted new business and industry. Whittemore's emphasis on educational facilities created a skilled workforce. In fact, as Naugatuck Malleable Iron began to emphasize research and product development, the company could find its technicians among the students trained in the exceptionally well-equipped science laboratories Whittemore provided for the high school. There also was an underlying economic motive to the timing of the Green renewal, a project that took place during a period of general labor unrest and a national depression. Like many companies at that time, Naugatuck Malleable Iron had to retrench, but instead of layoffs which might have precipitated a strike, Whittemore put his employees to work on the Green.

After his death, Whittemore's widow selected Henry Bacon to design the Whittemore Memorial Bridge that still spans the Naugatuck at Maple Street. Built by public subscription to honor Naugatuck' s leading citizen, it was engineered by a local man, George Ham, a principal of Ham & Tuttle, Civil Engineers. Unfortunately, Bacon's classical marble railings for this shallow-arched span were lost in the 1950 flood which devastated many Naugatuck Valley towns. An even more fitting tribute to Whittemore's memory, one that is a testament to his success in raising civic awareness, has been the community's continued care and preservation of the buildings he sponsored. For example, the inevitable addition to the library was carefully conceived to minimize impact on the original design. In addition, after some 20 years, the main entrance was reopened, inviting the public once again to pass through the exceptional rotunda. When a major fire in the 1960s destroyed the interior of the High School, Naugatuck was faced with a difficult decision. Although a new secondary school was built, this building was such an important part of the town's collective memory that it was restored at considerable expense as a junior high school. The half-million-dollar restoration, almost double the cost of the original structure, even included restoring the bronze antefixae.[7]

The institutional transformation of the center was a catalyst for development in the rest of the district; most of the historic commercial and residential buildings standing today were erected there after 1890. Prominent citizens erected new buildings on lower Church Street. The first Barnum Building was already in place, but a second one was constructed in 1894 by Eli Barnum, secretary-treasurer of the Naugatuck Water Company, which is still located in the former George Lewis Carriage House on Meadow Street. Freemont Tolles built a large furniture store there (no longer extant) and the Hopson Block and Neary Building were erected. While all these building had stores of various kinds on the ground floor and the post office was located in the 1894 Barnum Building, there were professional offices and fraternal halls on the upper floors. For example, the engineering partnership of George Ham and Howard Tuttle, (Bronson's son) had an office in the first Barnum Building. The Neo-Classical Revival building at 130 Church Street has been the home of Naugatuck Masons since 1900. A two-story panelled and frescoed hall in the south end of the Neary Block was designed for the Naugatuck Elks Club. Office space there was provided for Peter Paul Candy Company, a firm that originated in Naugatuck and remains in business there. The Hopson Block, then owned by St. Michael's Episcopal Church, was built primarily as a meeting place for the Knights of Pythias.

Residential development in this period followed a predictable, socially defined geographic hierarchy. Although the Tuttle and Whittemore residences were standing on Church Street, by the 1890s most executives, businessmen, and professionals built their homes on the heights above town. What was missing in the district and indeed throughout Naugatuck was company-built workers' housing. Town historian Constance Green attributes this situation to the contract labor system in Naugatuck, which relieved employers of housing responsibility.[8] Although a few detached single-and multiple-family dwellings were constructed by private developers, the Naugatuck Savings and Building Loan, later the Naugatuck Savings Bank, was formed to enable employees to build homes for themselves, as many did on Meadow Street.

A number of people directly associated with the development of industry lived on Terrace Avenue. Prominent among them was George A. Lewis, treasurer of Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company; his family financed the start of this business. W.T. Rodenbach, who came to Naugatuck to work there and rose to head clerk, had his own manufacturing business in Union City across the river. Eastern Malleable Iron executives included Samuel Hopkins, who started out as the bookkeeper there. By the time he built his house at the south end of this street, Hopkins was an officer of the company. Adelbert C. Tuttle, who was related to Bronson Tuttle, an original co-founder of the firm, built his house about the same time. His neighbor was John O. May, the town's leading druggist, who owned the Diamond Bottling Company, purveyors of carbonated beverages and his own elixir, "Marshmallow Cream," touted as a cure-all for wasting diseases. Banker Arthur Dayton, treasurer of the Naugatuck Savings Bank and cashier at the Naugatuck National Bank, lived next door.

Freeman Tolles, president of the Naugatuck National Bank, lived on Fairview Avenue. He also owned the Tolles Block on Church Street, which was destroyed by fire. His son Claremont, an attorney, lived next door. The son of another prominent family who had commercial interests downtown was William Neary. The Neary Building was erected in memory of his father Thomas J. Neary. Two rubber industry managers also lived there: Lewis C. Warner, superintendent of Metallic Rubber Shoe, and Richard Freeman, a contractor for that company. Lewis was probably the son of Lucien D. Warner, who was interim president of Naugatuck Malleable Iron (1897-1899) until Harris Whittemore was ready to take over. Freeman's large Queen Anne-style house attests to his success as a contractor. Among the other known homeowners on Fairview Avenue was Charles Spencer, manager of the local division of Dunham Hosiery Mills, headquartered in Hartford, and Burton Ward, whose family manufactured household hardware.

Town directories and a sampling of the land records reveal the generally lower middle-class status of Meadow Street. It is interesting to note that one of the earlier houses there was built on speculation by John H. Whittemore, Lucien Warner, and George Lewis, perhaps to encourage future residential development. They bought the lot in 1876 and sold it with a dwelling in 1880 to Mary Beecher. This closely knit neighborhood, which included a number of related families, evolved rapidly in the 1890s. Although a few boarders or tenants were factory workers or store clerks, most homeowners were either associated with industry in supervisory positions or ran stores downtown. Some of the homes may have been erected for the original owners by E.J. Steele Goodell Lines, a building contractor who erected his house there about 1890.

Four homes of factory foremen have been identified. J. Russell Saunders was a foreman at Metallic Rubber Shoe. The Brennan brothers shared a fine Colonial Revival house across the street. Patrick, who went to work at Naugatuck Malleable Iron in 1893, rose to foreman there by 1906. By then William had left his job at one of the rubber plants and opened a grocery store on Church Street. Patrick Dooling, who lived next door in a similar house, had a foreman's job at Goodyear India Rubber Glove company, as did Charles Reed, who bought the Rufus Lewis House. William D. Crampton, paymaster of the company, lived in the former Beecher-Garrick House with his wife and daughter, both music teachers.

Among the shopkeepers were Rufus Lewis and Robert Parker, who lived across the street from each other. They were the proprietors of a dry and fancy goods store at the corner of Water and Maple streets. George S. Andrew ran a shoe store on Church Street, and Henry Patterson a grocery store on Maple Street. Another dry goods emporium, also on Maple Street, was founded by the Kennedy family, who lived in two dwellings on a single lot near the corner of Division Street. William Kennedy owned the business but several others in the neighborhood were employed there. Anna Warren, the proprietor after his death, lived in William's house and Lizzie Kennedy, a store clerk, boarded in the Saunders House. John Kennedy, presumably William's son, was a policeman when he lived on lower Meadow Street. He moved up the street when he inherited and was employed at U.S. Rubber. His household included Catherine Kennedy, probably his sister, a stenographer who boarded there.

Architectural Significance

McKim, Mead & White was the premier architectural firm of the period. Recognized for its interpretation of the Colonial Revival, Renaissance Revival and Neo-Classical Revival styles, the partnership produced over 800 major buildings, which included landmarks such as Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Boston Public Library. The partners' influence on the direction of American architecture was profound, especially through Charles McKim' s involvement in the planning of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, and his leadership on the reinterpretation of L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C., undertaken by the federal government in the early 1900s. Stylistically, the firm initiated and gave direction to the Colonial Revival movement; the Second Renaissance Revival, the partnership's signature style eventually embraced by most of the architectural profession, made McKim, Mead & White the leader in the field.

The firm's work in Naugatuck was significant on several levels. Although planned industrial communities were not uncommon, few have been the work of major architects. Most were laid out by engineers and rarely graced with public buildings of this quality and style. Architectural historian Leland Roth looked for parallels between Naugatuck and McKim, Mead & White's contemporaneous involvement in planning two new industrial villages, Echota in Niagara, New York, and Roanoake Rapids in Virginia, but found that the nature of the work in Naugatuck precluded comparison.[9] Indeed, the local program was unprecedented in the history of McKim, Mead & White. Only in Naugatuck did the partners work with an existing community and reorganize existing public space into an ordered landscape defined by individually significant buildings of their own design, which include the only two schools in Connecticut attributed to them.

These distinctive buildings demonstrate the partners' sure command of the classical genre, as well as the exceptional diversity and range of the firm. The 1893 Salem School is a characteristic and early example of how the firm's Second Renaissance Revival style emphasized the underlying horizontality of formal Italian classicism. In fact, the form of the building, the center court, and the flanking wings were featured in the partnership's New York State Building at the Columbian Exposition that same year.

McKim, Mead & White's masterful interpretation of the Neo-Classical Revival encompasses and extends the range of this style. The Memorial Library demonstrates how this often monumental style, as expressed by the pure proportions and temple form of the High School, can be successfully adapted to a more intimate human scale. The formally austere design of both buildings is enhanced by a subdued palette, produced by buff brick or terra cotta and the pale tone of Milford granite, the latter the same material used in the Boston Public Library.

The bolder, more original design of the Congregational Church moves beyond the limits of Neo-Classical Revival into the true Baroque, in which proportions are manipulated and scaled to produce a singular example of ecclesiastical architecture. With its compact massing and truncated spire, the structure is quite unlike either the Sidney Stone church that it replaced or the Gibbsien model for Congregational meetinghouses, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields in London, to which it has been compared. Such a departure suggests a conscious attempt to fully integrate the building to its surroundings. Although stylistically quite different, in scale and materials it certainly related to the Parish House next door and provided a more compatible counterweight to St. Michael's Episcopal Church on the other side of the Green.

The indelible sense of place conveyed by these distinctive buildings arises from the assemblage as a whole, a superb spatial organization of exceptional significance. As the chronology of a decade of development suggests, the conceptual framework may have existed in John H. Whittemore's imagination, but no master plan ever appeared on the firm's drawing boards. In fact, the design for Naugatuck Center was an incremental process of addition and subtraction; each step required new planning decisions. There was considerable challenge inherent in this organic approach but the architectural logic of the final plan is undeniable and has stood the test of time. Artfully conceived to accommodate existing terrain and incorporate or relate to existing Gothic Revival buildings rather than a rigid formal construct, McKim, Mead & White's classical plan still provides coherence and order to the district today.

Because of its commanding position on the south side of the Green, St. Michael's Episcopal Church, a particularly skillful rendition of the High Victorian Gothic by David R. Brown, was a key element to be considered in any redesign of the center. Noted for his mastery of this style, this leading New Haven architect was an apprentice of Henry Austin. Several New Haven churches bear his imprint, including the 1870 Congregational Church of the Redeemer, considered by architectural historian Elizabeth Mills Brown to be the most important late nineteenth-century church in that city.[10]

St. Francis of Assisi Church, at some remove from the Green, also made a major architectural contribution to the downtown. There the Gothic Revival was interpreted by architect James Murphy, an Irish immigrant who was responsible for a number of Connecticut's Roman Catholic churches. St. Francis bears more than a passing resemblance to another example of Murphy's work, St. Mary's Church in New Haven, a design which also included a spire, buttresses, multiple arched openings, and clustered interior columns. Although the spire for that church was never built, it may have been similar to the elaborate one that graces St. Francis.

The early stages of the renewal program, which included the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, the Salem School, and the Green itself (and a bank no longer standing), were relatively straightforward. The library on Church Street, which was built to honor the memory of Whittemore's son who died young, was located with little disruption to what was then a residential streetscape. Utilizing the plan of the firm's Walker Art Gallery at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, done at the same time, the library set the scale for the buildings that followed on this section of Church Street. The firm's records have Stanford White as the architect; the official attribution list of 1920 shows William Rutherford Mead, the eldest of the partners.

Mead was also the architect of the Salem School, and for the first time, the siting of the building was of crucial importance. Open land was available at the head of the Green, donated by George A. Lewis for this purpose in 1875. Set against a wooded slope and carefully aligned on an axis with Maple Street, the gateway to the borough, the school was the first major step in formalizing the plan and boundaries of this public space. After the school was completed, the 1894 donation of Lewis Park to the south enlarged the grounds. A fieldhouse built at the south end and donated by Whittemore is no longer extant.

The demolition of the old schoolhouse provided an opportunity to open up the Green; walkways were installed to give the space more formal definition. Not content with just the Civil War Memorial as a focus, Whittemore also commissioned the Neo-Classical Revival fountain as part of the revised design. Although the fountain re-established a community tradition, with its placement immediately behind the memorial, there is not enough room to fully appreciate formal classical design or to establish the fountain as a secondary focus.

The Congregational Church occupied the northeast corner of the Green for another eight years, a serious obstacle to the formal balance of this public space. During this period Whittemore, who owned or acquired property across the street, encouraged his fellow parishioners to consider constructing a new building there. That he was able to eventually persuade the congregation to demolish a 45-year-old community landmark and spend more than $100,000 to build a new edifice speaks to the power of his influence.

The placement and design of the new Naugatuck High School was the ultimate challenge, one in which the partnership fully demonstrated its exceptional planning skills and broad understanding of the possibilities inherent in classical urban design. Indeed, the new school and its site can be likened to the more randomly organized temple precincts of ancient Greece, quite a departure from the more formal alignment of the Green. While it would have been easier to build on a level site, after several visits by employees of McKim, Mead & White, Whittemore prevailed in his desire to have the school overlook the center. Carving out such a site and making it fully functional by the ingenuous placement of the road were just technical problems when compared to stylistic considerations. The eye is drawn to this Neo-Classical tour de force, a temple to education obviously designed and sited to be the premiere expression of Whittemore's exceptional architectural legacy.

In 1921 the high school was physically integrated into the townscape below by Harris Whittemore, who, following his father's example, donated the stairway, esplanade, and World War I Monument. As designed by Evelyn Beatrice Longman, reportedly in association with Henry Bacon, the memorial, which reflects the understated classicism of this later period, was a fitting completion to Whittemore's "City Beautiful."

John H. Whittemore died in 1910, coincidentally, the year that marked the end of the original McKim, Mead & White firm.[11] Left unfinished was the last phase of Whittemore's plan, the replacement of the Victorian Gothic Town Hall. Although the Neo-Classical Revival building that the firm designed was never built, other architects were inspired to create buildings that respected the scale and plan of the classical core and carried out its stylistic theme.

One of the earliest was the remarkable Neary Building, probably erected about 1900. In its scale and degree of elaboration, this Baroque interpretation by Griggs & Hunt of Waterbury would have graced the commercial district of any major city. Its exceptional state of preservation, which includes the original storefronts, gives it added significance. Today a visual anchor that helps frame the entrance to the Green, it then provided much-needed balance to the Victorian Gothic Town Hall then standing across the way. The scale of the building matched that of the Hopson Block, a fine Renaissance Revival building erected in 1896 across the street.

The classical theme prevailed in the early twentieth-century development on upper Church Street. The two banks north of the library are particularly compatible and significant examples of this trend. Although constructed 20 years apart, these individually designed buildings, which mimic the style and reduced scale of the Whittemore Library and utilize similar materials, establish a pleasing architectural rhythm. The Post Office of 1915 completes the uninterrupted continuity of this well-preserved historic block. Although nominally Spanish Revival, its facade is clearly classically derived. By 1924 the classical influence surfaced on the east side of the block in the design of the Young Men's Christian Association Building, which provides a nicely scaled bridge to the larger structures to the north owned by St. Francis of Assisi Church.

The commercial conversion of this residential streetscape further justified the location of Whittemore's railroad station. Its Spanish Colonial Revival design was quite a departure for Henry Bacon (1866-1924), a major American architect noted for classical monumental settings for public sculpture. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for which he received the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1923, was the culmination of a distinguished career that began in Boston in the 1880s. Within a few years Bacon was hired by McKim, Mead & White as an assistant to Charles McKim (who may have recommended him for this commission), and remained with that firm until 1897. Although the Spanish stylistic influence on the railroad station was strengthened by the roof tile (since replaced with asphalt) and stuccoed walls, the basic plan reveals Bacon's preference for classical design. Indeed, the symmetrical plan with flanking wings and such elements as brick quoining, helps integrate this unusual style into the New England urban landscape, which may have been the architect's intention.

End Notes:

  1. According to the Reverend George Fisher, a Naugatuck resident, the Green was designed by a landscape architect named Eliot, presumably the Charles Eliot Whittemore engaged for another project. Although Eliot may have been involved in the initial planning, his biography, written by his father, who was president of Harvard College, does not mention the Naugatuck Green. See Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot, Landscape Architect (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1924).
  2. Because the building is currently undergoing repairs and is scaffolded, a photocopy of a c.1980 photograph of the church was used in the nomination documentation.
  3. The tower of the 1887 church was removed when the building was substantially remodeled in 1926. A similar tower was removed from the 1860 Swedish Bethany Congregational Church, now the Hillside Covenant Church on Hillside Avenue.
  4. Unlike ordinary cast iron, which was brittle, malleable iron is heat treated (annealed) after casting and can be machined and shaped for a infinite variety of products, including, in historical sequence, wagon wheel hubs, saddlery hardware, railroad track fasteners, and parts for railroad cars, automobiles, and airplanes.
  5. The northeast corner, where the old Congregational Church once stood and a strip along the south side next to St. Michael's are still owned by the churches.
  6. Whittemore's house in Naugatuck was especially designed by Stanford White as a showcase for the art collection. Assembled with the advice of American Impressionist Mary Cassatt, who Whittemore met in Paris in 1892, the collection included Symphony in White, No. 1 and 1'Andalouse, major works by James McNeill Whistler, which were hung side by side on the stair landing. In 1943 they were donated to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, B.C., by grandson, Harris Whittemore, Jr., but many paintings done by Pissaro, Monet, and Cassatt still hang in family homes in Naugatuck and Middlebury. A rare series of pastel portraits by Cassatt captures the likenesses of three generations of the family.
  7. Henry Moeckel, local architect for the restoration, arranged to have these elements cast from the original molds, using copper that had melted in the fire.
  8. Rubber industry managers, called contractors, were paid a flat fee to provide the workers and oversee production at the lowest possible cost, a management policy also in use at Naugatuck Malleable Iron until about 1912.
  9. In the other two communities, even though the firm laid out the town plan and designs for workers' housing and some industrial structures — Stanford White designed the electric generating plant complex at Niagara — those commissions did not include parks or public buildings. See Leland Roth, Three Industrial Towns...
  10. See Brown, New Haven: A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design, 1976, p.115.
  11. The dissolution of the partnership was precipitated by the untimely death of Stanford White in 1908, followed by death of William Ruthford Mead in 1910.

References

Andrews, Gregory and David F. Ransom. Historic and Architectural Survey of Naugatuck, Connecticut. Borough of Naugatuck and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1986.

Blackwell, Dana and the Naugatuck Historical Society. Images of America. Dover, New Hampshire: Arcadia Publishing, 1996.

Birdseye View of Naugatuck, Connecticut, 1906. New York: Hughes & Bailey, 1906.

Green, Constance M. L. History of Naugatuck. Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce, 1948.

Legacy at Risk: Connecticut's Outdoor Sculpture. Connecticut Historical Commission, 1996.

Map of Naugatuck Village, Conn., 1883. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Publishing House, 1883.

"Plan of Naugatuck," Plate 44. Atlas of New Haven County, Connecticut. New York: F.W. Beers, 1868.

Ransom, David F. "Connecticut's Monumental Epoch: A Survey of Civil War Memorials." The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 59 (1994), pp.79-281.

Roth, Leland M. "Three Industrial Towns by McKim, Mead & White." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 38 (December 1979), pp.317-347.

Roth, Matthew. Connecticut: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites. Society for Industrial Archeology, 1981.

Connecticut Outdoor Sculpture Survey Inventory. Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, Connecticut, 1993.

Town Greens. Statewide Architectural and Historical Survey, 172 Properties. Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1996.

Tranquility Farm, National Register of Historic Places, 9/23/82. Yankee Iron. The Eastern Malleable Iron Company, 1952.

Jan Cunningham, consultant, Cunningham Preservation Associates, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Naugatuck Center Historic District, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Naugatuck Center Historic District Map

Street Names
Barnum Court • Cedar Street • Church Street • Division Street • Fairview Avenue • Hillside Avenue • Maple Street • Meadow Court • Meadow Street • Park Place • Terrace Avenue • Water Street • Winslow Court

**Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. You should independently verify any information you use for decision making.
Copyright © 1997-2016 • The Gombach Group • www.gombach.com • 215-295-6555 • 133136 • Privacy