Overlook Historic District
The Overlook Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Overlook Historic District is situated atop Burnt Hill, overlooking downtown Waterbury, Connecticut. The Overlook Historic District lies directly north of the Hillside Historic District. It is bounded to the east by Columbia Boulevard, to the south by Cables Avenue and Tower Road, to the west by Clowes Terrace, Willow Street and Fiske Street, and to the north by Calumet Street. These bounds encompass Calumet, Crescent, Demorest, Fleming, Hecla, Hewlett, Kenilworth, Lincoln and Sands Streets; Cables, Chapman, Euclid, Randolph, Roseland, and Yates Avenues; and Tower Road. There are 526 buildings in the Overlook Historic District, of which 494 (351 residences, 5 institutional buildings, and 139 detached garages) contribute to the district's significance as one of Waterbury's best and most nearly intact examples of a suburban residential subdivision planned and developed at the turn of the nineteenth and during the early twentieth centuries. The Overlook Historic District's noncontributing buildings include 20 residences, 1 school and 10 garages. The Overlook Historic District's contributing buildings date from about 1890 to 1930. Although all of the architectural modes popular during the period (Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Arts and Crafts) are well represented in the district, the overwhelming majority of the houses were built in the Colonial Revival style. All but five of the buildings (exclusive of ancillary garages) were built as residences and nearly all of the residences were single family dwellings. The few multi-family houses found in the Overlook Historic District were designed to relate to the architecture of the single family dwelling. Those structures not built for residential use are the Southmayed Nursing Home, the Kingsbury School, and the Pearl Street Community Center, all on Columbia Boulevard; the St. Marks Episcopal Church on Hewlett Street; the Engine Company on Willow Street; and a garage complex on Randolph Avenue.
The majority of non-contributing buildings are post-World War II and generally located at the edges of the district. Six buildings over 50 years old which have totally lost their integrity due to insensitive renovation have been considered non-contributing.
The character of the Overlook Historic District evolved over a brief period from 1900 to 1930. There is little diversity of forms, with each individual streetscape extremely uniform and predominantly Colonial Revival in style. As one would expect, the grandest houses are located on Columbia Boulevard, which was laid out as a grand boulevard distinguished by a tree-lined, grassy median from which stem most of the district's streets. There is no uniform street pattern in the area, but rather a picturesque street plan that follows the topography of the hill.
The Overlook Historic District is characterized by established trees, plantings, and well-maintained houses set on neatly landscaped lots. Lots are nearly uniform and average 80 wide by 200 feet deep. House setbacks vary between 20 to 40 feet, but on each street the setbacks are uniform. Houses are generally 2 to 2-1/2 stories high and three to four bays wide; but most of the facades are unique to the neighborhood. Only a few examples of identical houses represent the work of a single builder.
Most houses are wood frame dwellings, although several are constructed of load-bearing brick. Wood frame houses were and are typically sided with clapboard and/or wood shingles, although some are stuccoed. Several houses retain slate shingle or clay tile roofs. A small percentage of houses have been altered by resurfacing with synthetic siding materials.
The oldest houses in the area were built in the Queen Anne style and are interspersed throughout the district. The best examples can be found along Willow and Fiske Streets, 431-445 Willow Street and 54 Fiske Street. They should be noted for their asymmetrical massing, deep porches, polychromatic building materials, and picturesque rooflines. Yates Street and lower reaches of Euclid and Cables Avenues present excellent examples of more vernacular interpretations of the Queen Anne.
The large number of Colonial Revival houses exhibit a great variety of types and features. Most of these possess the balanced proportions of the Georgian Revival (i.e., symmetrical facades based upon a central entry, often flanked by smaller, paired wings.) The most imposing Colonial Revival houses can be found on Columbia Boulevard. 219 and 185 Columbia Boulevard are among the best examples of Georgian Revival houses in Overlook Historic District. 206 Euclid Avenue is a later interpretation of the same mode, as are 515 and 509 Willow Street. 9 Randolph Avenue, the Schlegel House, is a more flamboyant example of the style, while the central section of Euclid Avenue contains simpler interpretations of the Colonial Revival.
The Tudor mode was somewhat less popular in the Overlook Historic District, but several excellent examples were built in Overlook in the first two decades of this century. 99 Crescent Street, with its asymmetrical massing, elaborate chimneys, and half-timbered dormers, is an excellent example of the style. A more subdued example can be found at 548 Willow Street, while more vernacular interpretations were built amidst the predominantly Colonial Revival streetscapes of Columbia Boulevard and the upper reaches of Willow Street.
The Overlook Historic District also contains a few Arts-and-Crafts style buildings. The best examples are found near the intersection of Roseland Street and Euclid Avenue. 164 and 174 Euclid Avenue should be noted for their Arts and Crafts style porches with deep overhanging eaves, simple brackets and squarish massing. 26 Chapman Street has battered porch supports, simple fenestration, and jerkinhead roofline. Simpler versions of the style are represented on Euclid Avenue.
The Mission or Spanish Colonial Revival style is not well represented numerically in Overlook, but 34 Fiske Street, with its arcaded windows, stucco surface, severe detailing, and simple iron work, is an excellent example of the style.
Few institutional buildings are found in the Overlook Historic District, and all serve community uses. The Kingsbury School on Columbia Boulevard is a rather simple adaptation of the Tudor Revival, as is the Episcopal Church on Hewlett Street. The classically inspired Willow Street Fire Station is a sober response to the adjacent Queen Anne style houses.
The Overlook Historic District retains an unusually high degree of architectural integrity. Most houses survive in nearly original condition, and there is little infill construction. Most of the non-contributing structures in the district were built after 1937 and are modern Ranch style houses.
The Overlook Historic District is architecturally significant as Waterbury's finest extant grouping of early-twentieth century suburban residential architecture. Well-designed examples of Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Arts and Crafts styles are found in the Overlook Historic District, but the remarkable architectural cohesion of the area was created by its notable collection of Colonial Revival residences. The Overlook Historic District is historically significant because it represents the earliest planned suburban residential development in Waterbury.
Located to the north of and uphill from the commercial center of Waterbury, the area was commonly called Overlook for its commanding view of the city. It was developed at the turn of the twentieth century by Cornelius Cables, who actually referred to it as Columbia Boulevard, after the area's main street. Cables envisioned the area as home to many of Waterbury's middle-class working population.
Prior to Cables' 1897 subdivision of the area, the land was owned by many of the city's industrialists such as Israel Holmes, Frederick Kingsbury, and George H. Clowes, as well as farmer John McDonald. Well-situated to the north of the premier nineteenth century residential section, Hillside, the predominantly vacant land, consisting of the rolling crest of a hill, provided excellent topography for residential development. Cables' overall plan actually encompassed three subdivisions: Columbian Heights, (Columbia Boulevard bounded to the east by Farmington Avenue, to the west by Clowes Terrace, to the north by Fleming Street and to the south by Cables Avenue); Highland Park (located to the northwest of Columbian Heights), and Cottage Park (located to the northwest of Columbian Heights.) The neighborhoods of Overlook were designed with different income levels in mind. In an age when greater numbers of workers than ever before could realize the dream of home ownership, Cables advertised Columbian Heights and Highland Park, with their larger lots, as areas most appropriate for large single family homes, while the small lots of Cottage Park were marketed to those of more modest income. The Overlook Historic District includes only two of the neighborhoods of Columbia Boulevard: Columbian Heights and Highland Park. These contained larger lots and were developed with more imposing houses of high architectural quality which have survived with a great degree of integrity.
William J. Pape, who in 1918 built a house at 428 Farmington Avenue just outside of the district boundary, wrote this of Cables in his 1918 History of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley.
"He was a pioneer in promoting the idea of having people move to the outskirts and live in one-family houses and in this undertaking is very successful. He purchased the remainder of the Kingsbury land, a tract of 32 acres and also added to his holdings by other purchases until he became the owner of 148 acres. This he improved, subdivided and built thereon, not only developing Highland Park but also Columbia Heights, covering 112 acres and Cottage Park of 17 acres. He became Waterbury's largest real estate operator and his efforts presented not only the phase of money making in the conduct of a legislative and well managed business, but also furthered the purpose of providing comfortable homes at moderate prices among livable surroundings."
Laid out with curving streets off a wide main tree-lined boulevard divided by a grassy median, Columbia Boulevard (or Columbian Heights) provided a country-like retreat for homeowners which was still quite convenient to their jobs downtown. Cornelius Cables' subdivision of this land reflected then-new planning theories and attitudes that find their roots in America's romance with nature. Overlook was situated far enough away from the city to possess rural amenities such as gardens and lawns, while being a convenient and affordable commute to the workplace. It was a combination of city and country: rather than being isolated on a large piece of property, the suburban houses were uniformly placed on rather regular lots and, like rowhouses, they complimented the other houses on the street.
Underlying the creation of the grand boulevard and curving streets was the belief that nature could offer an exemplary form and produce a curative effect. As industrial cities such as Waterbury expanded as centers of production, they simultaneously deteriorated as places for human life and activity. In a nostalgic attempt to overcome this reduction in the quality of life, this leafy suburb was offered as a restorative natural environment, providing a dwelling place located between the urban experience and the social values of an ideal rural order.
Cables quickly sold house lots to individuals, so that by 1925, 90% of Overlook was built up. Overlook's residents included a cross section of Waterbury's middle to upper-middle class, including members of many of the families who had built prominent homes in the Hillside Historic District to the south. A variety of houses were available to both men of average means such as insurance dealer John Littlejohn (50 Columbia Boulevard), as well as Scovile executive Chauncy P. Goss (24 Cables Avenue), whose family were longtime residents of the city.
Architecturally, the Overlook area is a well-preserved neighborhood presenting a cohesive image. It contains excellent examples of all levels of interpretation of the various architectural modes popular from 1895 through 1930. The Overlook Historic District possesses a rare and pervasive sense of the period with an overall uniformity of size, scale, and material that is enhanced by the distinctiveness of the individual houses. Most buildings were constructed in the Colonial Revival style creating uniform streetscapes of medium-to-large-sized houses throughout the district.
Although it is likely that the area represents the work of locally prominent architects and builders, no building permits survive to provide this information and only a few houses carry such a documentable provenance.
During the early twentieth century, as Waterbury prospered, residential development began to take place beyond that which occurred in the nineteenth century in the Hillside district. The first houses built in Overlook echoed the Queen Anne style of Hillside. Like most of the houses in the Overlook Historic District, they survive intact. 431 and 445 Willow Street are excellent examples of the style. These facades featured combinations of stone, shingles, and half-timbering, while their floor plans were usually asymmetrical.
The Colonial Revival was the style of choice from 1900 through 1930 and comprises the single largest category of buildings in the district. Many buildings were designed in interpretations of the style; 185 Columbia Boulevard and 219 Columbia Boulevard are excellent examples. Often, modern architectural plans were articulated in reserved Colonial Revival facades that follow the formal, symmetrical outline of Georgian houses including 192 Columbia Boulevard and 24 Cables Avenue.
Others such as 62 Columbia Boulevard have simple Doric porches placed in front of a box-like facade. The Dutch Colonial Revival was also common; 148 Columbia Boulevard, dominated by projecting gambrel-roofed wings, and 104 Fiske Street, a modest cottage reminiscent of early Dutch houses in New York State, are both excellent examples of this variant style.
While the Arts and Crafts style is less well represented numerically than the Colonial Revival, several excellent examples of the style are found within Overlook. 26 Chapman Street with its jerkinhead roof and deep overhanging eaves is an excellent, high-style example of the Arts and Crafts. Several Foursquare houses, including 152 Euclid Avenue, are decorated with Arts and Crafts elements. 253 Columbia Boulevard, designed by Waterbury architect Theodore Peck, the only documented, architect-designed building in the Overlook district, is a restrained example of the Arts and Crafts style whose facade is dominated by deep overhanging eaves and a Colonial Revival porch. More modest houses, distinguished from Colonial Revival neighbors only by decorative details such as porch elements and window sash, are far more common and comprise many streetscapes such as Euclid Avenue.
A noteworthy design aspect of the Overlook Historic District is the combination of styles within individual houses. The greatest number of such houses, including 58 Columbia Boulevard, 42 Fiske Street, and 27 Hewlett Street, mix elements of the Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts styles. Development was virtually complete by 1930 and the few empty lots were filled with non-contributing Ranch houses, but they have not marred the cohesive image of an intact early-twentieth-century neighborhood that makes Overlook unique in Waterbury.
Anderson, Joseph (ed.). The Town and City of Waterbury, Connecticut, 3 vols. New Haven: Price and Lee, 1986.
Pape, William J. (ed). History of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, 3 vols. Chicago-New York: S.J. Clarke, 1918.
Waterbury CETA Program and Office of Community Development, Waterbury Victorian, The Hillside District, nd.
Maps and Views
Bailey, O. K. View of the City of Waterbury. Milwaukee, 1876.
Beer, F. W. Plan of the City of Waterbury. New York, 1868.
Hopkins, G. M. Atlas of the City of Waterbury. Philadelphia, 1879.
Miller, D. L. Atlas of the City of Waterbury. Philadelphia, 1896.
Sanborn-Perris Map Company, Waterbury, New Haven County, Connecticut New York, 1890.
Overlook Historic Resource Survey, Sponsored by Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury, Inc. 1986-1987.
†Steven Beford & Nora Lucas, Preservation Computer Services, Inc. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Overlook Historic District, Waterbury, CT, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.