Wallingford Center Historic District
The Wallingford Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Wallingford Center Historic District is the part of the town that was originally settled and that developed in the 19th century to be the commercial and institutional hub of the community. The north-south ridge at the eastern edge of the Quinnipiac River valley was attractive land for initial settlement by families from New Haven, c.1670, and was still the favored location in the 19th century. The top of the ridge became the main street; it is now called South Main Street and North Main Street.
The cross street at the central intersection is Center Street. A block on the north side of Center Street east of North Main Street was adapted to commercial purposes as part of the 19th-century development, and is included in the Wallingford Center Historic District. Center Street west of North Main Street, which runs down the hill toward the river and the railroad station (the railroad right of way followed the river), experienced its commercial development in the early 20th century.
Fine 18th- and 19th-century residences were built along Main Street. Six 18th century and twenty 19th-century houses remain standing on South Main Street in the district. The three 18th-century structures which have been changed the least and are in the best state of preservation were built in 1759 and 1760, all with gambrel roofs. The Samuel Parsons House (1759) at 180 South Main Street, now occupied by the Wallingford Historical Society, is a five-bay central-entrance twin-chimney structure with first-floor overhang at the ends and small attic windows. On the interior the stairway on the south wall of the central hall is original and the room layout and finishes clearly reflect the 18th century. It is a relatively early example of its twin-chimney central-hallway type.
The Augustus Hall House, 198 South Main Street (1760), is similar to 180 Main Street but unusual because it is a twin-chimney four-bay design. The front door is in the second bay from the right and there are peaked dormers in the lower slope of the roof, over the three right bays. Like 180 Main Street, this house has a gabled portico supported by two columns. The north chimney is smaller than the south and is positioned behind the ridge line, suggesting that its condition is not original.
A much larger house in width, depth, and height is located at 104 South Main Street, the residence of the Reverend James Dana. It is in the five-bay central-entrance central chimney mode. A Colonial Revival front porch has been added; its clustered columns support a shallow entablature with modillion course, topped by a balustrade. The porch obscures a Connecticut Valley doorway of the type discussed by Amelia Miller in her Connecticut Valley Doorways. A second example is on the side, still with its character-defining pediment.
The Greek Revival period, which prevailed in the 19th-century to roughly 1840, is represented by two good examples in the Wallingford Center Historic District. The Benjamin Foote House, 101 South Main Street (1835), displays the three-bay gable-end-to-street design suggestive of the classic Greek temple. Its deeply recessed tympanum has a central rectangular window characteristic of the mode. An added Italianate front porch reflects a later period. At 123 Main Street the Henry Beadle House, while similar, is different because it has wood-shingled siding instead of the clapboards commonly associated with the Greek Revival and because it stands on a brownstone foundation. The cornice and raking cornices of its pediment are embellished with modillion courses and the tympanum with a characteristic rectangular window.
The mid-19th century years contributed two Italianate style houses of good design to the Wallingford Center Historic District, both built at the end of the Civil War. The Franklin Johnson House, 153 South Main Street (1866), is a solid stucco cube whose overhanging flat roof is supported by vigorous brackets. The fine embellishment of this house includes elaborate wrought-iron fence and porch railing, tapered fluted porch columns on stone pedestals, second-floor window caps, and a three-sided bay on the south elevation. The original cupola or belvedere, an integral detail of an Italianate style house of this design, is missing.
Samuel M. Cook lived in a different interpretation of the Italianate style at 190 South Main Street (1865). Its three-bay front elevation under gable end to the street demonstrates that it evolved from the Greek Revival style. It is unquestionably Italianate, however, because of its round-arched attic windows, wide roof overhang, and raised strapwork motifs under the peaks of the front porch roof and main roof.
The Queen Anne style did not become prominent in the Wallingford Center Historic District until well toward the end of the 19th century. The Almon B. Pixley House, 207 South Main Street (1890), displays a full panoply of Queen Anne features: asymmetrical massing in frame construction, tall paired 1-over-1 windows, arcaded wraparound porch whose skirt is pierced with quatrefoils, fish-scale shingles, and gable-on-hip roof.
The house next door, 199 South Main Street, probably was built at about the same time as 207 South Main Street but has undergone a series of alterations that sum up residential architectural development in the district well into the 20th century. The original Queen Anne configuration of the front elevation was close to a mirror image of 207 South Main Street. Subsequently, the house acquired, from time to time, stucco covering of the first floor, wood shingles above, a cinder-block front porch that supports Colonial Revival clustered square paneled columns and a wide porch roof overhang, and a buff brick exterior chimney on the south side elevation.
The house at 91 South Main Street is another example of a 19th-century structure with overwhelming early-20th century alterations, now dominated by a wide Colonial Revival front porch. Two houses continue the use of stucco in the Wallingford Center Historic District, 169 South Main Street (1920) with the broad shed-roofed front dormer of the Bungalow style, and 185 South Main Street (1920) with a late slate hipped roof in the Mediterranean Revival style.
While residential structures were being constructed along South Main Street in the late 19th century, commercial and institutional development was occurring simultaneously in the northern part of the district. A parade ground or small green, dating from the 17th century, survives on the west side of South Main Street south and north of Center Street. It continues today as open space on the block between the Town Hall and the Congregational Church and as Simpson Court, a parking area for shoppers, north of Center Street.
Three masonry church buildings, all built within a year or two of one another, anchor the institutional presence in the Wallingford Center Historic District. The First Congregational Church, 23 South Main Street, had long occupied the southwest corner of Main and Center streets when in 1868 it erected the present brick Gothic Revival edifice, its third on the site. The central entrance is surmounted by a steeply pitched gable that leads up to a rose window. A tall square tower projects toward the street intersection, with buttresses and a squinch spire. It is balanced by a smaller tower and lower spire on the left. Corbeling under the main gable eaves reflects a Romanesque Revival influence.
The First Baptist Church, 114 North Main Street, is a brick statement of the Romanesque Revival style articulated by round-arched windows, but nonetheless has similarities to the Congregational Church in its central wheel window, corbeling under the raking eaves, and dominant tower with broach spire toward the street intersection. Like the Congregational Church, its basement is at grade because land slopes off from the Main Street ridge sharply to the west.
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, 65 North Main Street (1868), is in the Ecclesiologists' tradition, drawing features from an English parish church in its massive brownstone construction, small apertures, square tower without spire, and high slate gable roof.
The block of North Main Street north of the intersection with Center Street became the commercial center in the second half of the 19th century. Commercial buildings in the Wallingford Center Historic District were constructed by, and named for, families prominent in the district. One of the first to be constructed, the 1857 William Wallace Block, carries on the name of the family associated with houses at 72 South Main Street and 146 South Main Street. William Wallace was a prominent real estate developer of the era, perhaps a cousin of the Wallace family that started the Wallace Silver Company. The William Wallace Block, 33 North Main Street, is a four-story brick Italianate/Renaissance Revival structure with central projecting bay under low segmental pediment. Its high first floor permitted basement shop windows. It was a large building for 1857, and continues to be the largest commercial building in the Wallingford Center Historic District today.
Another large commercial block was built by the Simpson family, who, like the Wallaces, were prime movers in Wallingford's silver industry. The Samuel Simpson Block, 2 North Main Street (1887), gave its name to Simpson Court in front of it. Built with four stories that included an opera house, the Simpson Block originally challenged the Wallace Block, but because of removal of its top two floors and other alterations is now a ghost of its former self.
The 1899 Wallingford Public Library, 60 North Main Street (1899), is a sophisticated exercise in the Neo-Classical Revival style, executed in buff brick. Use of the classical square in the glazing pattern, rusticated pilasters, and red tile hipped roof set it apart from other buildings in the Wallingford Center Historic District.
The castellated Armory of 1920, 121 North Main Street, introduced a military presence in the district. In the following year the First National Bank moved from its 1882 Renaissance Revival building at 35 South Main Street to a new building at 9 North Main Street, which through its tall arcaded windows competently expresses in limestone and granite commercial Beaux-Arts architecture of the 1920s. The Lyman Hall High School, now Town Hall, 45 South Main Street (1916), is a contemporary building in the Beaux-Arts mode.
The last historic commercial structure to be erected in the Wallingford Center Historic District, and one of the finest, continues use of the Wallace family name; it is the Floyd Wallace Block, 3 North Main Street (1932). It may have been built by Floyd Wallace's father, Frank Wallace, who was the son of Robert Wallace, founder of the Wallace Silver Company. This Wallace building is L-shaped with a rounded corner appropriate for its location at the intersection. Its style is Neo-Classical Revival, in keeping with the times, with few changes or alterations apparent in its exterior. The trapezoidal tile floors of the shop entrances, Carrara marble below the shop windows, copper shop-window frames, Chicago windows at the second floor, and soldier-course brickwork in the parapet are all in place.
The Wallingford Center Historic District is significant historically and architecturally because it contains noteworthy examples of domestic, institutional, and commercial buildings in the variety of architectural styles that prevailed during the time of the development of the center of Wallingford from the 18th to 20th centuries. Among the outstanding buildings are the Dana House, a tall gambrel-roofed Colonial structure, the Cook and Hall houses, exceptionally well-preserved houses in the Picturesque mode, and the two Wallace blocks, which are 19th and 20th century commercial buildings with unusually complete stylistic characteristics. St. Paul's Episcopal Church contributes to the Wallingford Center Historic District one of Connecticut's few brownstone edifices in the medieval English parish church model of the Ecclesiologists.
Historical Background and Architectural Analysis
The early settlers from New Haven came initially to the ridge above the Quinnipiac River where subsequent generations stayed to develop on the same location the fine homes, commerce, and industry associated with the town's pre-eminent position in the manufacture of silverware. The buildings along the Main Street ridge tell the history of the growth of Wallingford and its adaptation to changing conditions over the centuries.
In the mid-18th century, when the earliest of the Wallingford Center Historic District's standing structures were built, Wallingford center was already almost a century old, populated by the descendants and successors to the first families from New Haven. The houses were constructed in the heavy post-and-beam, mortise-and-tenon Colonial tradition. Often the residents, Caleb Thompson for one at 180 South Main Street, had their shops for making shoes, carriages, coffins, or beaver hats and for tinsmithing and other means of livelihood nearby. The Wallingford Center Historic District has six houses dating from this period; the most imposing is 104 South Main Street, the home of the Reverend James Dana, who was minister of the Congregational Church during the Revolutionary War.
More worldly stylistic considerations found their way to Wallingford when the Greek Revival style captured the imagination of the nation and swept across the land in the third and fourth decades of the 19th century, finding expression in two district examples still standing.
By mid-19th century technological advances associated with steam power entirely changed the method of construction and architectural styles. Scantling and nails made possible balloon construction, which freed designers from the straight lines and rectangular shapes of houses that had come before, such as the towering Rev. James Dana House, 104 South Main Street, Parsons-Thompson House, 180 South Main Street, and Augustus Hall House, 198 South Main Street, which is unusual for its combination of the features of four bays with twin chimneys.
Asymmetrical plans, turned-and-sawn embellishment, fish-scale shingles, and larger panes of glass were among the new developments toward the end of the 19th century, which were built in the district by the dozen as this Picturesque mode developed. In 1878 it was said that "Upper Main street is the pleasantest street in town, graced on either side by branching elms and peaceful homes." (Kendrick, 30) Two houses of characteristic design with outstanding integrity from this era are the Samuel M. Cook House, 190 South Main Street, whose paired round-arched windows and broad roof overhang well express the Italianate style, and the Almon P. Pixley House, 207 South Main Street, where the stepped massing, arcaded wraparound porch, and fish-scale shingles epitomize the Queen Anne style.
Wallingford entrepreneurs, notably the partnership formed by Robert Wallace and Samuel Simpson in 1854, used 19th-century technology to advance the manufacture of Britannia ware, and in 1875 began the production of sterling silver for which Wallingford is famous. The Wallace and Simpson names appeared on the commercial blocks on North Main Street, which reflected in architecture the commercial growth and prosperity of the community.
The William Wallace Block, 33 North Main Street, is an unusually large and pretentious building for its early date, 1857, in Wallingford. The facts that it is still the largest building and still in use are noteworthy. The Renaissance Revival influence in its segmentally arched central windows and low pediment, the unusually heavy wooden cornice at its roof line, and the urban feature of high stoops to permit retail use of basement space all make it unique in Wallingford.
By a quirk of history, the newest distinguished historic commercial building in the district is also a Wallace building, the Floyd Wallace Block, built by the Wallace Silver family at 3 North Main Street in 1932. Its integrity is remarkable, counting among its original features the first-floor canted corner shop entrance with rounded wall above, Carrara marble facing and copper frames of the shop windows, tiled shop-entry floors, and parapet in fanciful brick pattern. Recognition of current office building design on the national scene is represented by the second-floor Chicago windows of large single panes flanked by 1-over-1s.
Probably the architecturally most distinguished of the three masonry churches is Saint Paul's (1868) because it is brownstone, while the others are brick, and because it was designed in the Ecclesiologist tradition by George Harney. The thick stone walls and small proportion of fenestration to wall space place it in the genre of English medieval parish churches represented elsewhere in Connecticut by such examples as Trinity Church, Portland, by Henry Martin Congdon, and Trinity Church in the Tariffville section of Simsbury by Henry C. Dudley. In all three cases, small-town parishes sought the services of big-city architects to furnish plans for medieval designs, which were fashionably and liturgically correct in the eyes of the Episcopal hierarchy.
The identities are known of five architects who designed buildings in the Wallingford Center Historic District. One of the most distinguished buildings, Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, is the work of George Harney (1840-1924), who opened an office in Newburgh, New York, in 1863, where he designed Saint Margaret's Church. The location of his office in Newburgh suggests that he was influenced by the work of Calvert Vaux and Frederick C. Withers, who came to that city to become associated with A.J. Downing. The Ecclesiologist dicta for church architecture apparent in Saint Paul's are consistent with the English background of Vaux and Withers. Harney later practiced successfully in New York City, as did Vaux and Withers.
Rufus G. Russell (1823-1896), architect of the First Congregational Church, also had a famous mentor, Henry Austin of New Haven. Russell began his career as a draftsman for Austin, before going on to practice by himself in that city. The Calvary Baptist Church and Humphrey Street Congregational Church in New Haven were his work.
The contributions of Harney and Russell to Wallingford were fine masonry Gothic Revival churches in the best fashions of the era. However, when Wilson Potter (1868-1936) of New York designed the Wallingford Public Library in 1899, times had changed. Potter's buff brick library is in the Neo-Classical Revival style favored at the turn of the century. Potter's other work in Connecticut includes the Bristol Public Library and the New Milford United Bank, both of which, while reflecting classical training consistent with the Wallingford Library, are later and tend more to articulate the Colonial Revival.
While, regrettably, little is known of John T. Simpson, his Lyman Hall High School, named for Wallingford's signer of the Declaration of Independence, is a competent exercise in the Beaux-Arts mode in a good state of preservation, now used for the Town Hall.
The youngest in the group of five architects was Walter P. Crabtree (1873-1962), prolific practitioner from New Britain, Connecticut. Crabtree, in practice for almost half a century, designed buildings of all types. His Wallingford Armory is a clean planar interpretation of the traditional medieval fortress in vogue throughout the state for armories. Another large and distinguished building by Crabtree is the Beaux-Arts Masonic Hall in New Britain, now Temple B'Nai Israel.
In the Wallingford Center Historic District the buildings tell the history of the community from colonial times to the mid-20th century. The architectural styles represent preferences and progress in terms of traditional practices, available technology, changes in taste, and civic development. The great period of growth was the second half of the 19th century, as documented by the majority of homes and civic and commercial buildings standing in the Wallingford Center Historic District.
Davis, H.L. Map of the Borough of Wallingford. Hank's Wallingford Directory, 1889.
Davis, Henry Stanley. History of Wallingford, Conn. Meriden: The Author, 1870.
From These Roots, A Bicentennial History of a New England Town. Wallingford: Wallingford Bicentennial Commission, 1976.
Hale, Clarence E. Tales of Old Wallingford. Chester, CT: Pequot Press, 1971.
Kendrick, John B. History of the Wallingford Disaster. Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1878.
Miller, Amelia. Connecticut Valley Doorways.
Newell, Clara Booth. History of Wallingford, Connecticut, 1670-1956. Wallingford: Wallingford Historical Society, Inc., nd.
Ransom, David F. "Biographical Dictionary of Hartford Architects," The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 54 (Winter/Spring 1898).
Rockey, J.L., ed. History of New Haven County, Connecticut, vol. 1. New York: W.W. Preston & Co., 1892.
Souvenir History of Wallingford, 1895.
Wallingford. Unidentified map bearing handwritten date of 1868. At Wallingford Public Library.
Wallingford Historic District Study Committee Report. Wallingford: Wallingford Historic District Study Committee, 1990.
Withey, Henry P., and Withey, Elsie Rathburn. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased). Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970, reprint of 1956.
† David F. Ransom, consultant and John F. A. Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Wallingford Center Historic District, Wallingford, CT, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.