Gales Ferry Historic District Number 2
The Gales Ferry Historic District #2 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. 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 village of Gales Ferry lies in the southwestern corner of the Town of Ledyard in southeastern Connecticut. The spine of the village is Hurlbutt Road, which runs west from the principal north-south highway, Connecticut Route 12, three-quarters of a mile to the Thames River. The community was bisected in 1900 when a railroad cut was constructed about one-fifth of a mile in from the Thames River. The western portion of the village, between the railroad and the river, is addressed in the documentation for Gales Ferry Historic District #1; the eastern portion, between the railroad and the highway, is Gales Ferry Historic District #2.
Gales Ferry Historic District #2 consists of 19th-century houses associated with the ferry, wharves, and seafaring commerce of the Thames River; 20th-century houses built, in part, as summer residences during the village's development after the arrival of the railroad; and civic buildings constructed to serve the community needs of the village. In the Gales Ferry Historic District #2 there are thirty-one 19th-century structures, twenty 20th-century buildings more than 50 years old, seven civic/community buildings, a cemetery, and a small park. Most buildings are frame. The general sequence of uses, proceeding west from Route 12, is schoolhouse, church, parsonage, cemetery, parklet, community center, library, 20th-century houses on the south and 19th-century houses on the north, to an early-20th century rustic library and mid-20th century cobblestone former firehouse overlooking the railroad cut.
Gales Ferry Historic District #2 is significant historically and architecturally because it records the social and architectural development of a portion of a Thames River village dependent for its origin on an 18th-century ferry and associated river traffic. During the 19th century it grew as a residential area for families associated with the sea, and in the 20th century became a community that adapted its historical streetscape to the contemporary social needs of a secluded village. The presence of buildings reflecting in their historic relationship to one another this social development enhances understanding of a character-defining era of Ledyard history. The 19th-century houses were built in the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and vernacular styles of the era (not the revival high styles of late century), while 20th-century construction was less ambitious in its modest adoption of the Colonial Revival mode, including prefabricated cottages supplied by Sears, Roebuck & Company. These buildings provide good examples of architectural practice followed in a small remote southeastern Connecticut village.
In early history, when most of Gales Ferry village was the Hurlbutt Farm, the spine of the district, later Hurlbutt Road, was a farm track leading to the river. The utility of the location on the river was recognized by the establishment of a ferry to Montville on the west side in 1740. Roger Gale gave his name to the operation by his four years of proprietorship, starting in 1759. Wharves, cooper shops, a store, and other accoutrements of river traffic and related modest homes made a concentration of activity at the water's edge which is addressed in Gales Ferry Historic District #1. The residentially attractive streetscape to the east, Gales Ferry Historic District #2, attracted home owners with seafaring background, often in retirement.
The oldest house the Gales Ferry Historic District #2, at 2 Allyn Lane, 1803, reflects the pattern of development. Allyn Williams (1769-1813) first lived near the Upper Wharf next to the ferry landing on the river, but after his marriage built this house in the tradition of the Colonial style. In 1820 the property came into the possession of the Allyn family in the person Christopher Allyn, and passed to his descendants for several generations The precedent of sequence of family owners at 2 Allyn Lane was followed by the Hempstead family in 1826 at 32 Hurlbutt Road, which incorporates two circumstances typical of the district: Albert Hempstead, who built the house for his father Stephen, was lost at sea at age 31. The property was not sold out of the family until 1963.
As mid-19th century approached, a cluster of four houses was built on the north side of Hurlbutt Road: 26 Hurlbutt Road in 1844, 22 and 24 Hurlbutt Road in 1847, and 20 Hurlbutt Road in 1848. All reflect the Federal/Greek Revival norm which was fading from popularity in urban centers at the time, but, nevertheless, in a manner not surprising considering the insularity of the village was still popular in the district. 26 Hurlbutt Road was built by George Bailey (1815-1897), master of whaling ships sailing out of the nearby ports of Groton and New London. Another whaling ship master, Orlando Bolles, built 22 Hurlbutt Road just prior to leaving on a two-year voyage in the ship Exile. The house was owned by members of his family into the 1920s. Stephen Perkins, whaling master, bought land from Ralph Hurlbutt in 1844 to build 24 Hurlbutt Road. 20 Hurlbutt Road completed the row in 1848. Its second owner was Henry Comstock who died, shortly after the purchase, on Ascension Island in the South Pacific while commanding the Louisa Beaton.
From the 1840s, a hiatus in new residential construction prevailed along Hurlbutt Road until toward the end of the century. Simeon Bailey (1808-1897), scion of an old Gales Ferry family, followed the earlier pattern by moving from near the river to a vernacular house which he built in 1880 at 31 Hurlbutt Road on one of several parcels he owned on the south side of the road. At the end of the century in 1899, three houses were built on land purchased from Bailey's estate at the neighboring corner of Hurlbutt Road and Maple Corners Road. Adelbert V. Alexander built and lived in 23 Hurlbutt Road and constructed its near mirror image across the street at 2 Maple Corners Road. Lucy Perkins Hurlbutt built the adjoining structure, 5 Maple Corners Road, in a similar vernacular vocabulary. The relative plainness of the end-of-the-century architecture may reflect the absence of a measure of prosperity earlier associated with the whaling industry.
Buildings which fulfilled community social needs, present in the district from the beginning, grew in number and importance in the 19th and 20th centuries. A one-room Gales Ferry School stood at 6 Hurlbutt Road from c.1750. The Gales Ferry Methodist Church held services in 1815 in a structure moved to the site of the 1857 building. The church was a hub of community life, so active that in 1953 the size of the building was doubled, and it continued to grow, prompting removal in 1965 to larger quarters outside the district. Another center of social activity was a clubhouse at 1 Allyn Lane operated in conjunction with the volunteer Gales Ferry Fire Company #2 in a building replaced in 1942 only to bum in 1948. The organization, no longer with fire protection duties, has continued in existence as the Gales Ferry Fire District carrying on its civic responsibility by building the present Gales Ferry Free Public Library as an addition to the Community Center. The local governing organizations for the cemetery and parklet made parallel contributions to the village. An important common thread running through all of these half dozen groups is the fact that all are independent volunteer organizations, not operated by the Town of Ledyard with properties not owned by the Town of Ledyard. The Gales Ferry Historic District #2's stellar history of civic involvement and support is clearly demonstrated by the buildings associated with the volunteer groups.
Residential construction during the 20th century has reflected the modest independent separate character of the district. Summer residents began to play a part in the community. One of the early summer homes was the 1909 gambrel-roofed cottage at 34 Hurlbutt Road. Some new infill homes on Hurlbutt Road, such as numbers 15 and 17 Hurlbutt Road, were built more for utility than architectural distinction, but continued to fit in with the scale, materials, and spacing that distinguish the district. About 1910 Noyes B. Allyn of Allyn Lane divided his property into building lots, a rare real estate development in the district. Houses along Allyn Lane, Ledyard Lane, and Library Lane resulted. Some indication that village residents stayed in touch with modern developments is given by the presence of two Sears, Roebuck & Company prefabricated homes at 6 Library Lane and 15 Military Highway.
Houses and civic buildings in Gales Ferry Historic District #2 are representative examples of architecture characteristic of the several eras in which they were built. 2 Allyn Lane is a good illustration of a one-story Colonial home, complete with character-defining small gable-end windows near the eaves. The group of four 1840s homes mid-district on the north side of Hurlbutt Road well records the country practice in Federal/Greek Revival architecture, while the end-of-the-century trio across the street demonstrate popular vernacular design of their time. The more modest 20th-century cottages reflect the influence of summertime residents and are of particular interest because they include two of the then-popular Sears, Roebuck & Company prefabricated products.
The quality of civic architecture was especially strong in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The 1868 school is wonderfully well-preserved with unaltered features such as the front entrances, windows, and interior fittings. The Methodist Church, though much altered, retains its original profile, size, and shape. The rustic first library and rustic firehouse are strong contributors to the district's architectural significance.
In the realm of landscape architecture, the Gales Ferry Memorial Parklet is an effective exercise in vernacular expression of patriotic veneration for local contribution to the nation's wars. The Gales Ferry Cemetery is a fine example of a small village burying ground that grew without planning to become a cohesive collection of markers and monuments closely related to the district's social history. The overall size and spacing of the buildings are basic to the streetscape's successful portrayal of the development of the village.
Bell, Janice Wightman, and Godina, Sheila Anyan. Historic Ledyard Volume IV., Gales Ferry Revisited. Ledyard: Ledyard Historical Society, 2000.
Bell, Janice Wightman, and Smith, Carolyn E., eds. Historic Ledyard Volume I., Gales Ferry Village. Ledyard: Ledyard Historic District Commission, 1976.
Cunningham, Jan. Gales Ferry Historic District #1, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1992.
________Historic and Architectural Resource Survey of Ledyard, Connecticut, Statewide Historic Resource Inventory. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1990.
________Historic and Architectural Resources in Ledyard, Connecticut, National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1992.
Godino, Sheila Anyan. Ledyard, Connecticut, Historic Cemetery Inscription, 1711-1996, 2000.
Ledyard Land Records, Volume 160, Page 690, November 20, 1886, relating to sale of 1 Allyn Lane by Gales Ferry Fire Company, Inc.
Ransom, David F. "Connecticut's Monumental Epoch: A Survey of Civil War Memorials." The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 58 (1993) 1-4, vol.1.
† David F. Ransom,architectural historian and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Gales Ferry Historic District #1. nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.