Lebanon Green Historic District
The Lebanon Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Lebanon Green, over a mile long and about 500' wide itself, is the Lebanon Green Historic District's most prominent feature. The Green is divided into two unequal parts by Route 207, a major east-west road. The much smaller southern part is a well-tended triangle of lawns and trees, with the modern brick town office building in the middle. Although there are some 18th-century houses here, this part as a whole is given its character by later 19th-century houses and the Lebanon Green Store. Here also are the major public buildings of Lebanon, which, like the town hall, are mostly recent "Colonial" structures. The major portion of the Green lies north of Route 207 and is sometimes referred to as the Common. In contrast to the park-like southern part, it is open meadowland, except for a small growth of conifers at the northern tip and scattered trees along the perimeter. Although there is some concentration at the southwest corner, with the Governor Trumbull House, Wadsworth Stable, and Congregational Church forming an elegant group, most of the houses facing on the Common are spaced well-apart. These include several typical 18th-century houses with the usual five-bay facade, gable roof and central chimney, a number with Greek Revival details such as pilasters at the corners and classical entranceways, and a few houses from later in the 19th century. As the Green is situated on a plateau, the land is fairly flat until it slopes off to valleys on either side. The land is still used primarily for agriculture, including dairying, livestock and hay, but not as intensively as a few years ago. Large barns, sheds and windmill towers can be seen on the open land behind many of the houses. Besides the town buildings, three churches, the store, and the farm buildings, the major structures are all residences, with a few home businesses within.
The boundaries of the Lebanon Green Historic District were drawn so as to include much of the open farmland behind the houses, about 1,000 feet on either side of the northern part of the Green. The Lebanon Green Historic District was extended down the roads leading away from the Green so as to include contiguous historic properties while at the same time excluding areas where modern buildings predominate. At the southern end, there are no more buildings beyond the district except the cinder block town garages. On Route 207 east and west and Routes 87 and 289 north beyond the district boundary, recent houses outnumber historic ones, though like most roads in Lebanon, these have old and interesting houses scattered along their entire length.
As a result of increased residential use within the last two decades, there are a number of modern houses in the Lebanon Green Historic District, particularly in the northeast part. Of a total of 68 major structures, 49 or about 72% contribute to the historic character of the district. The modern structures are generally compatible in size, scale, material and occasionally, style, so that they do not clash with nor obscure the older architecture. Five of the structures have been moved: the Governor Trumbull House and the War Office from the nearby corner; the first Buckingham House from a few hundred feet to the south; the Beaumont House from another site in Lebanon about three miles away; and the Wadsworth Stable from Hartford. The first three moves occurred in the early 19th century and are part of the history of these houses, but the latter two have compromised the historical integrity of both building and site. The Beaumont House and the Congregational Church are primarily reconstructions. In general, individual houses, particularly those older than 1850, have been greatly modified, with modern roofing, siding and masonry material predominating. Interiors have with some exceptions been modernized. Most of the restoration in the Lebanon Green Historic District has been done to buildings connected with the Trumbulls and their role in the Revolution. In short, the Lebanon Green Historic Ddistrict as a whole is neither as cohesive nor as well-preserved as many others in Connecticut, yet these problems are largely outweighed by significant historical associations, architecturally important individual buildings, and the significance of the Green itself as an undisturbed common.
The Lebanon Green has four separate, though not wholly unrelated, areas of significance: 1) several of the structures are associated with figures important in state or national history; 2) three of the more formal buildings are primarily of architectural significance; 3) the district as a whole, though not as well-preserved nor free from noncontributing structures as some other Connecticut towns, nevertheless represents an interesting collection of vernacular architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries; 4) the Green itself is significant as a cultural feature, an example of commonly-held land that has changed little since the 18th century. The Green is the focal point of Lebanon's history: the residents of the various houses spaced along its edges had leading roles in both local rivalries between townsmen and international power struggles, and on at least one occasion, the Green itself was the object of contention.
Lebanon's most notable family were the Trumbulls, whose activities are associated with many of the Lebanon Green Historic District's buildings. Captain Joseph Trumbull came to Lebanon in 1704 and was largely responsible for starting the commerce which made the town an important point of exchange of agricultural products and manufactured goods. His store was later used as an office by his son Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785), governor of Connecticut as both a colony and a state and a major figure in planning the supply effort for the Revolution. Washington, Lafayette, and others met frequently with the Governor either in the War Office or in his home nearby. Among his children born in this house was Jonathan, Jr. (1740-1809), the first Comptroller of the Treasury, an aide to Washington, and later governor of Connecticut; his own house (Governor Jonathan Trumbull House) is being restored as a museum. Another son, David, helped coordinate supplies during the Revolution and built the house known today as "Redwood." But the most famous son was John (1756-1843), the artist whom Jefferson pronounced "superior to any historical painter of the time except David." His reputation has endured, and his work is familiar to all Americans, especially his Declaration of Independence and Battle of Bunker's Hill.
William Williams (1731-1811) was Governor Trumbull's son-in-law and his associate in organizing provisions for the Revolutionary armies. Always active in politics, he served for years as town clerk and representative to the Assembly. As a member of the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence, Williams was born in the Welles House and lived out his last years in the house known as the Williams House.
A house moved to the green commemorates William Beaumont (1785-1853), the pioneer in the study of digestion and the first American medical scientist to achieve an international reputation. Although he did his work elsewhere, he was born in Lebanon in this house and spent his early childhood here.
Three buildings in the Lebanon Green Historic District are associated with William Buckingham (1804-1875), governor of Connecticut during the Civil War. The house identified as his birthplace is also dated 1815, so it seems to more likely be his childhood home. The older Buckingham House is said to have been moved, so this may be the house in which he was born. Governor Buckingham gave to the Congregational Church the building known as the Buckingham Library (next to the parsonage), along with an endowment for the continual purchase of books and periodicals.
Among the buildings of outstanding architectural interest is the Wadsworth Stable, moved here from Hartford in 1954. Although some date it as early as 1730, it has been more reasonably attributed to Daniel Wadsworth, the Hartford merchant, philanthropist, amateur architect, and patron of the arts, who is believed to have built the structure around 1810. It is one of the most purely Palladian of American buildings and probably the most elaborate (if not the only) barn in this style. The symmetry of the composition, the pedimented central mass flanked by secondary wings with round arches, the cresting concealing the roofline, and the strong classical details are all typical of the Palladianism which dominated formal English architecture during most of the 18th century and continued to influence exterior designs in America during the Federal period. What is so unusual is the application of this academic style to such a utilitarian end.
John Trumbull is said to have designed several buildings, of which only the Lebanon Congregational Meetinghouse (1804-1807) now stands. Although mostly destroyed in the 1938 hurricane, it was rebuilt to Trumbull's original design by the noted architect and architectural historian, J. Frederick Kelly. For the most part, the structure is typical of Federal-period churches, particularly the multistage belfry and steeple modeled on Gibbs. However, the engaged brick columns and the entrance recessed within the large central arched opening present a striking variation from the usual porticoed facade. It recalls in a way Bulfinch's use of an arcade in the Lancaster, Massachusetts, meetinghouse. Although trained as an artist, John Trumbull is thought to have also studied architecture while in London.
The most elegant house in the Lebanon Green Historic District is that built for David Trumbull in 1778 by Isaac Fitch, a local carpenter and woodworker. The hipped roof, square plan, simulated quoins, and elaborate cornice are Georgian refinements not commonly found in the country at this early date. At the same time, the pent roof between stories is very unusual, with no immediate precedent obvious. The interior, with its richly embellished cornice, alcoves and mantels, is one of the most stylish pre-Federal interiors in Connecticut. Isaac Fitch (d.1792) was a self-educated builder-architect; among the books he owned was Gibbs's Book of Architecture. Some other works attributed to him are the Deming House in Colchester, Connecticut, the New London County Courthouse, and the mantels in the Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. House.
For the most part, however, the architecture in the Lebanon Green Historic District is rural, plain, and anonymous. The typical design of the 18th-century — rectangular plan, 5-bay facade, central entrance, gable roof with ridgeline paralleling the road — was continued with minor changes into the 19th century, with numerous one-and two-story examples. To this traditional design were appended Federal and Greek Revival details, particularly pilasters, dentillated cornices and classical entranceways. More important than the addition of details was the re-orientation of the house so that the gable faced the street, a change first seen in the late Federal house. The entrance portico, thin pilaster moldings, and delicate cornice are typical Federal details which distinguish this house from the later and bolder Greek Revival buildings. The Baptist Church is the most fully developed of these, with its free-standing columns, but many of the houses approximate the temple form with pilasters and a full return of the cornice across the gable. Two of the Greek Revival houses have a semi-circular shape to the top of their pilasters, a whimsical detail that perhaps pre-figures later picturesque architecture.
The later houses, while generally retaining the gable-end-to-road orientation, are more complicated in form than the Greek Revival houses, with wings, bays, and verandas creating asymmetrical plans. Carved brackets, circular and round-arched windows, and decorative window caps are typical of these later houses, and in a few cases, of earlier houses which have had bays, brackets and barge-boards added. All are relatively plain, however, and some are so devoid of ornament as to make classification by style meaningless. This simplicity becomes an advantage in the Shingle style house, a small but coherent example of the genre.
Although much of the architecture in the Lebanon Green Historic District is undistinguished, the Green itself is impressive. Ironically, it was not originally intended as either green or as common land. Lebanon was not settled as a nucleated village but rather as a series of widely scattered 42-acre house lots. Because it was rather swampy, the area now the Green was not allotted to any settler. However, it was soon chosen as the site for the first meetinghouse, and thus began its development as a public place. Later in the 18th century, it served as a place of public assembly, a training ground for militia companies, a campground for French troops during the Revolution, and the setting for a long and bitter controversy over moving the site of the meetinghouse, a controversy which ended with the establishment of a second meetinghouse at the other end of the Green (this was the beginning of the Baptist Church). As late as 1809, the town considered selling off the Green to private individuals, but the descendents of the proprietors challenged the town's title to the land.
Village greens in Connecticut have a variety of origins. Some were areas purposely set aside at the time of incorporation, but others, like Lebanon's, evolved from the need for public space. Some were even created for picturesque reasons in the 19th century. Subsequently, most of the village greens were turned into smaller, park-like spaces, and some have disappeared entirely. The Lebanon Green is important because it retains its large size and its undeveloped, field-like character.
Armstrong, Robert G. Historic Lebanon. Lebanon: First Congregational Church, 1950.
Garvan, Anthony N.B. Architecture and Town Planning in Colonial Connecticut. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951.
Hurd, D. Hamilton. History of New London County, Connecticut. Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1892.
Kelly, J. Frederick. Early Connecticut Meetinghouses. 2 Vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1948.
Lebanon Historical Society. "A Guide to Historical Lebanon." Pamphlet. Lebanon Gagnon Press, 1974.
Lebanon Public Library. "Lebanon," "Early Lebanon," vertical files; early photograph, collection.
Warren, William L. Isaac Fitch of Lebanon, Master Joiner, 1734-1791. Hartford: Antiquarian and Landmark Society, 1978.
† Bruce Clouette, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Lebanon Green Historic District, Lebanon, CT, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.