Groton Bank Historic District
The Groton Bank Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 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 Groton Bank Historic District (Groton Heights) comprises some 130 residential, institutional, and commercial structures ranging in date from the mid-18th century through 1915 and including well-preserved examples of most major 18th- and 19th-century architectural styles. Particularly well-represented are the Greek Revival, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, although good examples of the Georgian, Federal, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Shingle and Romanesque styles were also built. The Groton Bank Historic District follows the eastern bank of the Thames River south from Broad Street to Latham Street, extending up the slope of the bank east to Monument Street. It includes both sides of Thames, Broad, Ramsdell and Monument Streets.
The earliest structure at Groton Bank was the Tavern of ferryman, Gary Latham (1655). Although the Tavern has been demolished, other early houses, built in the mid-18th century, survive along Thames Street. These include several center chimney Georgian houses, such as the Ensign Avery House (c. 1750), a four-bay house with pedimented window surrounds, now located at Fort Griswold State Park (National Register) but originally sited on Thames Street, and the Parke Avery House (c.1750, 137 Thames Street). A few early cottages, probably dating after 1781, also survive on Thames Street.
Only a few Federal style houses were built at Groton Bank. Among these are the Major Noyes Barber House (1810), a hip-roofed residence at 88-90 Thames Street, to which a later projecting pedimented bay has been added, and the Dr. Amos Prentice House (c.1782, 108 Thames Street), an early center hall design with a later two-story Greek Revival pedimented portico. The stylistic conservatism of some Groton Bank Historic District residences is reflected in the Captain Ebenezer Morgan House (115 Broad Street), a retardataire hip-roofed, end-chimney Federal/Greek Revival house built in 1851.
Economic activity, which faltered with the effects of the Revolution and War of 1812, picked up with the heyday of the whaling industry after the 1820s. Consequently, many well-detailed examples of the Greek Revival style were built at Groton Bank in the 1830s, '40s and '50s. Most are side-hall plan houses placed gable end on the street, like the William Gray House (1852, 81 Broad Street), a severely classical building with a bold pediment, wide frieze and simple Doric portico. A few more exuberant houses were built in which the geometrically massed Greek Revival form was ornamented with Italianate brackets and verandas with open jig-sawn posts; the Captain Reuben Kelly House ( 1850, 161 Monument Street) illustrates this combination well.
At least a few more romantic revival style houses were constructed at Groton Bank, such as the Betsey Perry House (c.1855, 126 Broad Street), a whimsical side hall Greek Revival/Italianate house whose deep eaves and jig-sawn pendant bargeboards give it a picturesque chalet look. Another house reflecting the romantic revivals of the mid-century is the Captain John Miner House (c.1867, 71 Broad Street), a rare Gothic Revival cottage. A cross-gabled house with a steeply-pitched roofline, it retains its original jig-sawn bargeboards.
In addition to these more unusual houses, a number of Italianate houses were built in the late 1850s and '60s at Groton Bank. Earlier examples exhibit a Foursquare form with low hipped roofs crowned by square belvederes. The Colonel Hubbard Morgan House (c.1860, 96 School Street) is one such example. The Latham Avery House (c.1865, 154 Thames Street) illustrates another version; in that house, the traditional Georgian, five-bay, center-hall plan is updated with wide overhanging, bracketed eaves, polygonal bays, jig-sawn trim and verandas. The Latham Avery House is exceptional in that it retains all of its original finish, as well as a full complement of original outbuildings, intact.
The most monumental Italianate building in the Groton Bank Historic District is the Groton Heights Baptist Church (1872, 76 Broad Street) with wide bracketed eaves and asymmetrical square towers flanking the entrance. Later in the century, a few Stick style and Second Empire houses were built. The James Patterson House (c.1875, 184 Thames Street) retains a variety of sawn, molded, incised and gouged wooden trim, including elaborate gable screens. Mansard roofs began to be used at Groton Bank in the 1870s. The Wilson Allyn House (1871, 88 Broad Street) was originally built as a center entrance Second Empire structure but was later remodelled in the Colonial Revival style; the James Morgan House (1875, 50 Broad Street) is a well-preserved example of the Second Empire style with a bell-cast mansard roof, ornamental dormers, bracketed eaves and polygonal bays. Its mansard-roofed stable survives at the rear.
In the 1880s and '90s, suburban Queen Anne houses were built along Ramsdell, Broad and Monument Streets. The most ambitious of these is the Deacon Thomas Miner House (c.1894, 5 Meridian Street) on the corner of Monument Street. It is a well-preserved house with the Queen Anne style's typical complex massing, variety of wall surfaces and materials, and exuberant wooden trim. Simpler Queen Anne houses with polygonal bays, cross-gables and verandas with turned and molded trim are found along Ramsdell Street.
Other types of structures constructed at the end of the 19th century include well-detailed commercial buildings along Thames Street as well as several impressive architect-designed institutional structures. One particularly well-preserved commercial block stands at 213 Thames Street: a three-story brick building, it has a heavily-corbelled cornice with a center date block reading "1898." Several other more utilitarian three-story brick blocks were built along Thames Street at the turn of the century along with a number of simple, two-story wooden buildings with Queen Anne style storefronts. The Bill Memorial Library (1890, 1909, 236 Monument Street), designed by Worcester, Massachusetts architect Stephen C. Earle, is one of Groton Bank Historic District's most pretentious buildings. Built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style of rock-faced granite with sandstone trim, it is complexly massed with polygonal turrets, gables and porches. The interior is particularly well-preserved with all of its original oak woodwork and furnishings and handsomely-finished gauged brick fireplaces, mosaic tiled floors and elaborate wrought-iron hardware.
From a design standpoint, the First Congregational Church (1902, 162 Monument Street, architect unknown) is a more successfully integrated design than the Library. It is a handsome Gothic Revival structure with an offset tower and low sloping roof. Constructed of random rubble fieldstone, it features four gargoyles at the tower roof. The interior is well-preserved and includes at least one Tiffany window.
Around the turn of the century, substantial shingled houses with Colonial Revival detailing began to be built. Houses in this style include single-family houses, such as the Charles White House (c.1895, 98 Broad Street), as well as one imposing multiple-unit building, the gambrel-roofed Shingle style/Colonial Revival rowhouse at 269 Thames Street (1902). By 1915, much of Groton Bank had been developed and few buildings were constructed after that time. In many instances, houses have been re-sided and some have had other alterations, such as porch enclosures. One of the few contributing buildings built after 1915 is an ambitious Colonial Revival house with Georgian detailing (c.1925, 45 Ramsdell Street).
There are very few non-contributing structures within the Groton Bank Historic District. The most seriously disruptive structure within the district is an addition to the Groton Heights Baptist Church appended to the original Italianate church building (now a gym) c.1965. Constructed of brick, and hence unsympathetic to the wooden original building, the new church (non-contributing) is designed in a low, spare, angular neo-Colonial style wholly out of keeping with the massing and design of the Italianate church of 1872. The only structure intruding on the Groton Bank Historic District (but which is not included within the boundaries) is a motel on Thames Street, a two-story concrete block building (c.1960) set perpendicular to the street. Despite these buildings, Groton Bank remains a cohesive and varied neighborhood with a solid core of well-preserved 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century buildings.
Groton Bank Historic District is a well-preserved neighborhood of 18th- and 19th-century residential and commercial buildings located along the bank of the Thames River. Historically it is a community closely related to the maritime activities which have supported the southeastern Connecticut region since the 17th century: though secondary to the region's preeminent seaports (New London and Stonington), Groton Bank has been a center for shipbuilding since the end of the 17th century while, in the 19th century, many Groton residents were engaged in the fishing and whaling industries. The area is also significant as the site of Groton's earliest settlement and of colonial Fort Griswold (National Register), besieged by the British, September 6, 1781, in Connecticut's most celebrated Revolutionary War skirmish. Architecturally, Groton Bank Historic District is significant for its well-preserved grouping of structures, which include characteristic 18th- and 19th-century vernacular buildings along with representative Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival style institutional, commercial and residential buildings.
Groton Bank is one of southeastern Connecticut's earliest settlements. In 1655, only ten years after the founding of New London, Gary Latham established a ferry across the Thames River, linking New London with southeastern Connecticut; Latham built a tavern on the eastern bank around which the settlement of Groton Bank, then a part of New London, grew. New London's geographical advantages have influenced Groton's growth from the beginning: in addition to possessing Connecticut's best harbor, its location at the junction of the Thames and Long Island Sound made New London a critical link in coastal trade with the hinterland. In connection with these natural advantages, several shipyards were founded along the riverbank at Groton Bank late in the 17th century, spurring local development. (It should be noted that the riverbank area probably retains potentially significant archaeological evidence of 17th-century shipyards.) Although the region grew slowly, Groton Bank continued to benefit from the strengths of its neighbor, New London, sharing in New London's maritime and trading prosperity and, in 1702, the settlement at Groton had grown sufficiently for its residents to be granted permission to separate from the First Church of New London. In the classic pattern of New England town settlement, a meetinghouse was constructed (on Thames Street) and three years later, Groton became incorporated as a separate town.
Thames Street, running alongside the Thames River, developed as the residential, commercial and industrial center of the community and remained so through the 18th century. Broad Street (the "Road to Stonington") formed the northern boundary of activity. The region's economy and population continued to grow during the 18th century and New London remained one of Connecticut's largest and most important cities. Commensurate with the region's fortunes, Groton Bank grew apace. As the topography of the Bank was too steep to support agricultural cultivation, the settlement's economy continued to be based on maritime and commercial activity. In other parts of Groton, to the east, farms were established and the small crossroads villages still evident today grew but Thames Street remained the town's institutional and commercial focus with the meetinghouse and stores located there. Several modest mid- to late-18th century central and paired chimney houses and cottages still stand on Thames Street and testify, in their closeness to each other and to the street, to the densely-settled character of 18th-century Thames Street quality it retains today; these include the Parke Avery House (c.1750, 137 Thames Street), the Anna Warner Bailey House (1782, 108 Thames Street) and a gambrel-roofed house at 116-118 Thames Street (c.1750).
During the Revolutionary War, privateering became a profitable enterprise for the region's mariners. In anticipation of British reprisals, forts were constructed at New London and Groton: only Fort Griswold, above Groton Bank, completed in September, 1781, when Benedict Arnold and a force of British Regulars attacked New London hoping to distract Washington, then marching south to Yorktown. The ensuing battle at Fort Griswold, in which Colonel William Ledyard and many Groton Bank men were killed, occupies an important place in Connecticut's military history; a granite obelisk, raised in 1830, commemorates the event. The earthen fortifications are preserved at Fort Griswold State Park (National Register) which stands just outside the Groton Bank Historic District boundaries.
Before they withdrew, the British burned much of the settlement at Groton Bank. Recovery from that disaster seems to have been slow since extensive reconstruction was not immediate. In the rebuilding, center chimney houses like 198 Thames Street continued to be constructed along with a few center hall houses (142 Thames Street) but such late 18th-century houses are rare, as are Federal style houses (e.g. the hip-roofed Noyes Barber House, 1810, 30 Thames Street). Regionally, the effects of the Revolution curtailed growth. It was not until the establishment of the whaling industry after 1784 that prosperity slowly returned. As it traditionally had, New London's success (it was the third largest whaling port in New England) brought similar good fortune to Groton Bank. In 1838, some 300 Groton men were engaged at sea and many Groton Bank mariners distinguished themselves by their courage and ambition. In 1865, Captain Ebenezer Morgan in his ship "Pioneer" brought home a $150,000 cargo of whale oil and bone, thereby realizing a 300% profit on the voyage; Captain James Buddington salvaged the ice-bound British frigate "Resolute" in 1855, returning her safely to New London harbor. Another Groton skipper, Captain Joseph Holmes, doubled Cape Horn 83 times, supposedly more times than any man afloat. The good fortune of these sea captains is evidenced in the zany ambitious Greek Revival and Italianate houses built at Groton Bank in the 1830s and '40s. The brick side-hall Greek Revival house of Captain Waterman Buddington (1844, 91 Broad Street), a whaling captain who also served in the Connecticut legislature, is one of the most imposing of these; at least a half dozen other Greek Revival, Italianate or belated Federal style houses are associated with whaling captains while similar houses were being built by local tradesmen and craftsmen whose fortunes prospered with the burgeoning whaling industry.
Groton Bank retained an important position in the social and economic hierarchy of Groton's several dispersed communities through the 19th century. During the latter half of the 19th century, the upper slopes of the Bank became the town's foremost residential section with the substantial and well-detailed Stick, Queen Anne, Shingle style and Colonial Revival houses of Groton's leading citizens located along Thames, Broad, Ramsdell and Monument streets. Several impressive institutional structures constructed at the end of the 19th century further demonstrate the neighborhood's prominence within the town. The Richardsonian Romanesque Bill Memorial Library (1890), the work of Worcester architect, Stephen C. Earle, is an unusual local example of the style. Although its proportions and massing are somewhat less than ideal, the Bill Memorial Library is a representative example demonstrating the popularity of the style. The design choice was undoubtedly conditioned by the existence of two Richardsonian buildings in New London (Union Station, 1885, H.H. Richardson; Public Library, c.1888, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge) and as such is an interesting instance of Groton's continued dependence on New London. Other important institutional buildings include the fieldstone Gothic Revival First Congregational Church (architect unknown, 1902) and the Italianate Groton Heights Baptist Church (1872). The move of the First Church from Thames Street to Monument Street marks the arrival of the upper slopes of the bank as a fashionable residential area.
As the upper slopes became increasingly suburban, Thames Street acquired a dense, almost urban demeanor with two- and three-story Queen Anne shops and Romanesque commercial blocks hard by substantial Greek Revival and Italianate houses and more recently constructed Stick style, Queen Anne and Shingle style single and multiple-family dwellings. Well into the 20th century, Thames Street remained an important commercial district with grocery stores, laundries, butcher shops, tobacconists and others located along the way.
Today, Groton Bank is the most densely-settled, well-preserved and architecturally-diverse 18th- and 19th-century neighborhood in Groton. It is the tightly knit character of this early riverside village with its well-detailed suburban dwellings located above the compact and varied streetscape of Thames Street that the Groton Bank National Register Historic District recognizes.
Beers, Ellis and Soule, New London County Atlas, 1868.
Federal Writers' Project, Connecticut: A Guide to Its Roads, Lore and People (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1938).
________, Report of the Historic District Study Committee, Groton, 1977
† Sarah J. Zimmerman, consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Groton Bank Historic District, nomination document, 1981, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.