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Wolcott Green Historic District


The Wolcott Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination documentation. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

Wolcott Green Historic District encompasses the historic institutional center of the Town of Wolcott. Situated on the broad crest of a hill, it consists of a cluster of historic buildings that generally face towards Wolcott Green, a small triangle of landscaped open space. The Green is bounded by the principal roads in the district: Center Street (Route 322) on the north, a major thoroughfare; Bound Line Road on the west; and Kenea Avenue and Farmingbury Road on the south.

Of the Wolcott Green Historic District's 28 resources, 22 (79 percent) contribute to its historic character. They include three historic institutional buildings, a school, a church, and the grange hall, which were constructed from about 1840 to 1930. Except for one residence dating from 1844, the rest of the seven contributing houses were built in the early National period, and several served as stores or inns. Their associated barns, sheds, and privies generally have been rebuilt over time, some possibly on earlier foundations, and there are early twentieth century garages on several properties.

The two historic sites in the Wolcott Green Historic District are the Wolcott Green and the Farmingbury Burying Ground. The Green was laid out in 1772 and enlarged in the early 1800s. Once encompassing most of the common land owned by the parish and the later town, its original boundaries extended past the present triangle into the bordering roads and properties and also included land to the north of Center Street once reserved for the ecclesiastical society, now owned by the Congregational Church. A centrally located Civil War memorial, the Kenea Soldier's Monument, was dedicated in 1916. It consists of a granite statute of a soldier at parade rest supported by a tall granite pedestal. A more recent memorial was erected at the northeast corner of the Green to honor all those who served in conflicts of the twentieth century, including the Persian Gulf war.

The graveyard, now known as Edgewood Cemetery, was laid out about 1764 across the street northwest of the church. The earlier (northern) section, has typical late eighteenth century granite and other cut-stone markers, which are aligned more or less in rows and face Bound Line Road to the east, where the cemetery is bordered by a low mortared stone wall; the rest of the perimeter is not set off by a wall or fence. Some later stones are carved from marble. Scattered along the access road that circles through the cemetery are several modern vaults.

Most of the late eighteenth century houses are representative examples of the vernacular Colonial/Federal style. The David Harrison House, the earliest example, is a high-plate Cape, built about 1785, which suggests that its Federal doorway was added somewhat later.[1] As in several other entrances of this style in the Wolcott Green Historic District, the surround incorporates a rectangular multi-paned transom above the door. The Bishop-Woodward and Daniel Tuttle houses have a two-story center-chimney colonial form, also embellished with Federal detailing. The 1792 Tuttle House, which faces the Green from Kenea Avenue, has an integral rear ell which gives it a saltbox appearance. Its doorway, flanked by sidelights and pilasters, is capped by a full entablature with transom. The c.1790 Bishop-Woodward House on Center Street, which once was an inn, is the only building in the Wolcott Green Historic District which faces away from the road. Centered in its five-bay facade is a Federal style doorway, which has a pedimented entablature and pilasters, as well as a transom over the door. Among the several outbuildings on this property are two c.1790 structures located northeast of the house that do face the road. The one nearest the main house is wood-frame construction with an open front porch; the other, downhill and farther east, is a curious one-story stone building not visible from the road. One of these dependencies may have been the store on the property. The last late eighteenth century house is a Cape built by Darius Wiard in 1797. It displays a Federal style entrance with transom, capped by a projecting cornice and surmounted by a round-arched window and broad eave pediment. Another district store was built by Abijah Fenn in this period and enlarged about 1829.

A few more buildings were added to the Wolcott Green Historic District in the 1840s. Among the survivors is the Wolcott Congregational Church, completed in 1842. Constructed on the site of the earlier meetinghouse, it displays a Doric order portico with four columns supporting a pedimented entablature. Its square staged belfry tower displays prominent corner finials. Large brick additions dating from the 1930s and after World War II, which are attached on the west elevation, extend to the west and rear. In 1844 David Bailey built a temple-form Greek Revival farmhouse on the west side of the Green. Typically, its three-bay facade is elaborated with an open-bed pediment in the gable, which features a rectangular attic window and wide Doric pilasters at the corners. The pedimented side-hall entrance displays narrow fluted pilasters.

No further construction took place in the Wolcott Green Historic District until 1923. At that time, town officials built a new Federal Revival style town hall. Now the right-hand end of a much larger neo-Colonial Revival building, which was completed in 1957, it displays an original Palladian window in its pedimented gable. By 1929 the Wolcott Grange had erected its meeting hall on Bound Line Road. Similar in form to the original town hall, it is a simple rectangular building with the gable end facing the road. Another municipal building, the Colonial Revival Center School, was erected in 1930. Built of brick with limestone quoins, it has a central entryway with double-leaf doors in its three-bay gabled facade, which also displays a roundel in the gable peak.

In general, resources dating from the period of significance of the Wolcott Green Historic District (c.1764-1930) are classified as contributing. Buildings or objects erected after 1930 are noncontributing, a category that also includes resources in which the main block was substantially enlarged after that date, as was the case with the present town hall.

Statement of Significance

The Wolcott Green Historic District, a cohesive village center of exceptional integrity, embodies the historic development of the community as a parish, town, and suburb. The Wolcott Green Historic District's well-preserved civic, commercial, and residential resources, which represent prevailing styles of several periods, include some of Wolcott's best surviving individual examples of vernacular Federal and Greek Revival domestic architecture, as well as institutional architecture from the Colonial Revival period.[2]

Historical Background and Significance

The Town of Wolcott evolved from Farmingbury, an area that combined outlying sections of Waterbury and Farmington. The eastern part was included in the common lands allocated to Farmington in the seventeenth century by the Connecticut Colony's General Court (later the General Assembly). The western half of Wolcott remained under the control of the Tunxis tribe until it was sold to residents of Mattatuck, present-day Waterbury, in 1684. Some settlement took place here in the early 1700s, including a house (no longer extant) in the area of the district on Benson's Hill. When the pace of settlement accelerated later in the century, the General Assembly was called upon to settle boundary disputes between the towns. The traditional two-rod strip of land reserved for a highway along that boundary is the path of present-day Bound Line Road that runs through the Wolcott Green Historic District. The settlers of Farmingbury remained members of Waterbury and Farmington church societies, or parishes, and were required to support the church and attend services in their respective communities. Travelling such great distances to church was a heavy burden, especially during the winter, and typically proved to be the catalyst for parish formation, the first step on the road to political independence.

Farmingbury's first petition to form a separate church society was submitted to the General Assembly by 35 families in 1760. Although the petition was denied because of vigorous opposition from Waterbury, some progress was made the following year when Farmingbury was established as a "winter parish," a privilege that included the right to hold local church services for five months of the year. Another event of significance was the establishment of the Farmingbury Burying Ground, which was laid out about 1764 on the west side of Bound Line Road. Political allegiances remained divided after Farmingbury finally achieved full parish status in 1770, but the new parish assumed all responsibilities and privileges granted to separate church societies. One of the first acts of the new parish was the building of a meetinghouse in 1772 on Benson's Hill, the geographic center of the community. It was erected on land reserved for this purpose on the north side of Center Street, on or near the site of the present Congregational Church, which replaced the meetinghouse after it was destroyed by fire in 1839.[3]

Farmingbury began negotiations to become a separate town as early as 1787. Then numbering about 600, the parish was under the political jurisdiction of Waterbury and Southington (divided out of Farmington in 1779). It was not until 1796, however, that the Town of Wolcott was approved by the General Assembly. The town was named in honor of Oliver Wolcott, the lieutenant governor of the state, who cast the tie-breaking vote. By that time the bustling crossroads village that had emerged around the meetinghouse included three houses still standing in the district and possibly a store owned by Bnai Bishop. Bishop's house also accommodated travellers passing through town either on Center Street, the major east-west highway, or the Waterbury-Hartford road (present-day Route 69), located west of the village. It later was the home of the Reverend Israel Woodward, the Congregational minister, who ran a school there for young men preparing for the ministry. Within a few years Abijah Fenn had built his store on Bound Line Road and Darius Wiard had erected his Cape on the other side of the Green. By the early 1800s, land south of Center Street was donated to the town and Wolcott Green assumed its present form when present-day Kenea Avenue and part of Farmingbury Road were laid out.

The evident prosperity of the National period was short-lived. Out-migration soon began to drain the town of its youth, leaving behind an aging population and a stagnant economy, a pattern found throughout rural Connecticut. The population dropped from a high of 924 in 1820 to a low of 491 by 1870; residential growth in this period came to a standstill. Many farms were abandoned because cheaper and better farmland was available on the Western frontier. Local alternatives to farming were limited, as evidenced by the remarkable number of itinerant peddlers in town; 30 to 40 men were engaged in this occupation. Due to the virtual absence of local water-powered industry, which saved the economy of many rural communities in this period, other farmers' sons migrated to nearby cities, particularly Waterbury, seeking jobs in developing industries there.

One of the few local entrepreneurs to recognize the town's industrial potential was Seth Thomas, the renowned clockmaker. He began his career in Wolcott as an apprentice to carpenter Daniel Tuttle and was manufacturing clocks here at least by 1807. Since his plans to expand the business were dashed by the town fathers, who refused to make necessary road improvements, Thomas soon relocated his factory to Plymouth Hollow, later called Thomaston in his honor. With Thomaston's location on the Waterbury Hartford Railroad, clockmaking became the mainstay of its economy. Ironically, this line had been scheduled to pass through Wolcott until townspeople here objected. By the 1860s any hope of a local industrial economy was lost when the rights to the upper Mad River watershed were sacrificed to Waterbury entrepreneurs who built reservoirs along its length in the 1870s to supply that city's industry.

Although the Wolcott Green Historic District remained the focus of social, civic, and religious life of the town, the net combined effect of population loss and a depressed economy was evident. The Congregationalists managed to rebuild their church and the town erected the first Center District School by mid-century, but the several new houses added to the district in the 1840s were among the last built in the nineteenth century anywhere in town. They included a Greek Revival built by David Bailey and another similar building (no longer extant) on or near the site of the present municipal building, which was purchased in 1856 for the first town hall. More telling, perhaps, was the commercial decline of the center. The major store, Benjamin & Tuttle, successor to the earlier Fenn establishment, went out of business and became a residence in the 1880s. The buildings that housed other early nineteenth century stores and shops shown around the Green on the map of 1856 simply did not survive.

Proximity to Waterbury proved to be an asset in the early twentieth century. Like many rural towns near Connecticut's major industrial cities, Wolcott developed rapidly as a suburban residential community. By 1920 the population had almost doubled, reaching 972, and doubled again in succeeding decades. The initial spur to residential growth was an electric trolley line laid out in 1913 from Waterbury to near Hitchcock Lake (an early reservoir), which eventually led to a substantial lake front community there, but most of the suburban growth was due to the automobile and road improvements made in the 1930s funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Many changes took place in the Wolcott Green Historic District. It is probable that the Green was landscaped in this period. Typically, its focus is a war memorial, which was dedicated in 1916. Known as the Kenea Soldier's Monument after its donor, Leverett D. Kenea, the monument not only honors the 75 men from Wolcott who participated in the Civil War but those who served in the Revolution and the War of 1812. A demand for expanded municipal services produced fire and police departments and a new town hall by 1923. Town clerks, however, continued to keep their offices in the front section of the former Fenn Store, a custom that began in 1902 and continued until the town hall was enlarged to its present size in the 1950s. The Wolcott Grange, founded in 1909, built a meeting hall on Bound Line Road in 1929, an indication that agriculture still remained an integral part of the economy. When the old one-room schoolhouse in the district burned, it was replaced by the present Colonial Revival style brick building in 1930. By the 1940s it housed the public library and now serves the education department.

Architectural Significance

Distinguished by its late eighteenth and early nineteenth century buildings and enhanced by later institutional development, the Wolcott Green Historic District, by chance or historical circumstance, still encompasses the town's best surviving historic architecture. With its characteristic village church and pristine white houses laid out around the Green, the Wolcott Green Historic District today seems to embody the colonial ideal, "the city on a hill," an impression reinforced by its elevated site. This mythic ideology was often invoked or reprised during the Colonial Revival movement of the early twentieth century. Although buildings were constructed or remodeled in that period, the Wolcott Green Historic District also clearly conveys its earlier formative history. Some of its historic atmosphere has been lost to time. A landscaped park has evolved from the commons where animals grazed and punishment was meted out at a whipping post; the jumble of shops and stores that once crowded today's spacious properties has not survived, but many other contributing buildings authenticate the temporal basis of the village landscape, an evolution rooted in the Federal and Greek Revival periods.

The post-Revolutionary houses in this rural district typically combine the form and other attributes of the colonial period with the emerging stylistic detail associated with the Federal period. Among the rural carpenters who made use of several standard colonial forms, saltbox, center-chimney two-story, and Cape, was Daniel Tuttle. His house, one of Wolcott's finest expressions of late eighteenth century domestic architecture, is a classic example of the double-cube Colonial form with a rear lean-to. Like many of its neighbors, the Tuttle House is exceptionally well-preserved and displays a fine Federal doorway as its only ornament. Another well-preserved example of conservative vernacular architecture is the Bishop-Woodward House, which occupies such a prominent position on Center Street. Together with its contributing auxiliary buildings, it also helps establish the prevailing historic architectural tone of the district.

Although the two well-preserved Cape-style houses from this period are similar in plan and form, they display quite different levels of detailing. The relative ornateness of the enhanced doorway and pediment of the Darius Wiard House is most unusual. Although thought to be original features, detailing of this type is rarely found on one-story Capes and may actually date from the early twentieth century. The simple Federal doorway of the David Harrison House is much more typical, since these smaller houses were often built by poorer farmers.

The architectural survey of 1987 identifies the David Bailey House as the town's best surviving domestic example of the Greek Revival style, a significance enhanced by its contributing well-preserved dependencies. A classic expression of that period, the Bailey House characteristically combines a fully realized temple-fronted main block with a kitchen wing. Its boldly executed and distinctive features include the open-bed pediment and exceptionally wide corner pilasters. They make a marked contrast to the delicacy of the entryway, which is more Federal Revival in feeling, suggesting that the doorway is not original. Furthermore, the reduced size of the window directly above may indicate that an earlier doorway had a high entablature, a Greek Revival style feature that often rose well above the first-floor plate.

The Greek Revival is also well represented by the Wolcott Congregational Church, the only example of this popular ecclesiastical style in town. Distinguished by the unusual bold finials that cap its belfry, it is a good example of a Doric-order church, a significance only slightly diminished by the use of aluminum siding. Its twentieth century additions are quite large, but the integrity of the historic main block has been preserved by the use of different materials and careful siting.

The Wolcott Town Hall, the other major institutional building in the Wolcott Green Historic District, was also enlarged in the 1950s. It incorporates the original rather plain Federal Revival structure of 1923, but modern additions, although quite compatible in style, tend to dominate the complex. The essential simplicity of the Wolcott Green Historic District's early twentieth century civic architecture is still well represented by Center School and the Grange Hall. Both are functional buildings of similar plan and form, with limited architectural detail.

End Notes:

  1. The 1987 architectural survey dates this house at 1777, the year the property was purchased. It is more likely that it was built about 1785, given the fact that few houses were built during the Revolution. In addition, its high roof plate was a regional construction feature that came into general use after the war in the Western Uplands. A later deed confirms that it was standing in 1789.
  2. The evaluation of the quality and/or relative local rarity of district architecture is based on significance statements on the individual inventory forms of the town-wide survey completed in 1987.
  3. Arson was suspected. An anti-slavery meeting was scheduled the day after the fire and local tradition holds that the fire was caused by the explosion of gunpowder put in the church stove by those opposed to abolition.

References

Loether, J. Paul. Architectural Survey of the Town of Wolcott. Connecticut Historical Commission, 1987.

Orcutt, Rev. Samuel. History of the Town of Wolcott from 1731 to 1874. Waterbury, CT: The Press of the American Printing Company, 1874.

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

Smith, H. C. and T. Smith. Map of New Haven County, Connecticut from Actual Surveys. Philadelphia: H.C. and T. Smith, 1856.

Town Greens, Statewide Architectural and Historical Survey, 172 Properties. Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1996, site 129.

  1. Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Preservation Associates, LLC and John Herzan, Connecticut Historic Trust, Wolcott Green Historic District, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Wolcott Green Historic District Map

Street Names
Bound Line Road • Center Street • Kenea Avenue • Route 322

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