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Coit Street Historic District


The Coit Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Coit Street Historic District in New London, Connecticut, includes four 18th-century buildings from the early period of settlement on the northeastern edge of the former Bream Cove, just southwest of the central business district, and the 19th-century buildings which encroached on the natural shoreline of the cove as it was gradually filled in. Coit Street follows the original shoreline of Bream Cove. The Coit Street Historic District contains approximately four acres and 33 buildings on flat terrain.

The Coit Street Historic District is isolated from the downtown by the rear elevations of a series of two, three, and four-story brick buildings which abut the southern edge of the district, effectively screening the district from traffic and commercial activity. The Coit Street Historic District is defined by the houses fronting Blinman Street on the south, Brewer Street on the east, and Coit and Washington Streets on the west and north. The Coit Street Historic District is densely developed, with small dwellings located at the rear of several of the lots. The closed-in sense of this compact district is established by the narrow one-way streets lined with 18th and 19th-century houses.

Based on the comprehensive inventory of New London, it is estimated that there are twelve 18th-century buildings extant in scattered sites throughout the city. Of these, four are located within the Coit Street Historic District. The depletion of New London's building stock from that period is due to Benedict Arnold's disastrous raid on the city in 1781 and the redevelopment of more recent years.

All of the principal buildings located within the Coit Street Historic District are contributing to the overlying themes. These include the well-preserved c.1763 William Coit house at 92 Washington Street (Bell-Cast Gambrel) and the George Chapman House at 7 Coit Street (Georgian). The brick duplex at 26-28 Blinman Street (c.1833) is an example of a late Federal style building. Several buildings combine elements of different styles, such as 18 Brewer Street (c.1839), which combines Greek Revival features with a Georgian roofline, and the two 1885 houses at 48 Blinman Street and 24 Coit Street, which use both Italianate and Queen Anne details.

Greek Revival houses, gable-end-to-street, predominate in the Coit Street Historic District. Fluted Doric columns support porticos on 35 and 36 Blinman Street, and the front porch of 40 Coit Street. Most Greek Revival houses retain the details which are the hallmarks of the style, including pilasters, full entablatures, sidelights and transoms, and semi-elliptical gable windows, which withstood the transition from Federal to Greek Revival in New London. Many houses have porches and other details which reflect additions made in the late 19th century, including one delicate jig-sawn porch, Eastlake porches, and bay windows, which relate well to the late 19th-century vernacular houses in the district. Italianate and Queen Anne styles are also represented, as well as a retardetaire example of French Second Empire, built in 1913.

Significance

The Colt Street Historic District contains architectural styles rare in New London, including one of only two 18th-century gambrel dwellings, three of seven Georgian style dwellings, and one of four Federal style buildings in the city. The Coit Street Historic District includes a significant number of early buildings and a well-preserved building stock which creates a compact and cohesive streetscape. The diversity of architectural styles is representative of residential construction in New London from the mid-18th century through the early 20th century. The Coit Street Historic District is historically significant because it contains survivors of an 18th-century settlement on the northeastern edge of the former Bream Cove which underwent further residential development in the 19th and 20th centuries. Early residents of the Coit Street Historic District were often directly engaged in waterfront activity, while later residents were more often employed in supporting trades. Colt and Blinman Streets were among the first streets laid out in the city. Their current configuration still reflects colonial usage as thoroughfares carrying traffic around Bream Cove. Several of the houses in the Coit Street Historic District are associated with families significant in the early history of New London. Although once part of a larger 18th-century neighborhood, the district has been isolated by the loss of many of the city's 18th-century buildings and modern development on the periphery.

Historical Background

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the land comprising the Coit Street Historic District was considered the western edge of town. Beginning in 1647, some of the first home-lots established in New London were laid out along Bream Cove. Cove Street, now Coit Street, was carried around the head of the cove at this time to connect the outlying area with the central part of town. A foot bridge built along the path of Blinman Street was replaced in 1766 with a cart bridge. Descendants of several of the families who settled the district during the 17th and 18th centuries erected houses found here today.

The Coit family was an active and influential family in the early years of New London's history, first arriving in this city in 1651. A portion of the district is part of the seven acres purchased by the Coit family in 1694, where the family established its homestead and relocated its shipyard in 1699. William Coit was involved in local revolutionary activities, serving on committees beginning in 1767, shortly after the construction of his house at 92 Washington Street. He commanded several ships during the Revolutionary War, and anecdotal stories about Coit indicate that he was a fervent patriot. Jonathan Coit, a 19th-century member of the Coit family, built his house at 40 Coit Street in 1840. He was also active in the local abolitionist movement in the 1840s.

In 1702, Benjamin Starr purchased a house and wharf on Bream Cove. He was involved in the West Indies trade and a member of the Governor's Council. His cousin's son Jonathan Starr bought this estate in 1759, including 40-42 Blinman Street. It is doubtful that this is the original house: more likely it was built shortly after 1759. Jonathan may also have been active in the West Indies trade, as was his son Jonathan. Benjamin's son Daniel built his home at 35 Brewer Street sometime after 1743, where he lived until his death in 1767

New London's small geographic size limited development at a time when demand for land was rising. The only course for the city was to create land by filling in portions of its waterfront. The waterfront lots were considered premium when the district was first settled, and as the waterfront was filled in, property became valuable because of its proximity to the downtown. In the 1830s, property values in this area were significantly higher than those in contemporaneous developments, with lots commanding as much as twice the price.

Building activity begun at this time became more intense. Almost half of the buildings in the district were built in the next two decades. There is evidence of significant reuse of early house lots and buildings in the district. Many of the 17th and 18th century houses were replaced by mid-19th century dwellings. Sometimes, elements of the earlier houses were salvaged. The former outbuilding at 3 Coit Street has 6/9 sash taken from an earlier building, which was probably installed when the building was converted into a dwelling in the 19th century. Several buildings, such as 7 Coit Street, were moved to new sites in the district.

George Jones built a four-unit rowhouse at 26-28 Blinman Street between 1833 and 1839, tearing down an earlier house and filling in a portion of the cove in the rear of his lot (the eastern half of the rowhouse was removed c.1925). The houses on the south side of Brewer Street were all erected between 1835 and 1843. 24 and 26 Brewer Street replaced an older house. Samuel Beckwith and Orlando Gorton razed a house and built two houses at 18 and 22 Colt Street shortly after 1841, adjacent to Beckwith's own home at 14 Coit Street.

The trades of the residents of the district were evolving from strictly water-dependent careers, which required wharfage and access to the cove, to work skills which, although often marine-related, were not dependent on water access. The residents of the 1830s and 1840s made their livelihoods as a blacksmith, joiner, grocer, ship's carpenter, mariner, rigger, and as captains.

As more of Bream Cove was filled in, the land created was put to industrial use. In 1859, the New London Horse Nail Company was established on the newly created land. After its demise in 1878, the building became part of the Brainard and Armstrong Company silk mills. The intensification of land use on the outskirts led to a new spate of residential development in the district. Eleven houses were built during the latter half of the 19th century, filling in available lots between the older buildings. The mixture of residential and commercial activity in the district, first seen in the Coit shipyard and an 18th-century brewery (no longer extant) on Brewer Street, was maintained when George Shepard erected a dry goods store at 38 Coit Street, adjacent to his home in 1859, and with the construction of a livery stable at 17-21 Brewer Street in 1887.

The final phase of development in the Coit Street Historic District came during the closing years of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The pattern of replacing older buildings and developing empty lots was continued. The heirs of Orlando Gorton, who had built 18 and 22 Coit Street, continued speculative real estate practices with the construction of three two-family homes at 2 through 12 Coit Street between 1894 and 1896. In 1907, Albert Fetherson moved a Greek Revival house onto property he purchased five years earlier at 3 Brewer Street. As late as 1913, an older house at the opposite end of Brewer Street was taken down, and replaced by 78 Washington Street (1913) and 31 Brewer Street (1915).

Architectural Assessment

A wide range of architectural styles is represented in the Coit Street Historic District including Gambrel and Georgian from the 18th century, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Romanesque from the 19th century, and Colonial Revival and Second Empire from the early 20th century. In general, the buildings in the Coit Street Historic District are modest, well-designed buildings which exemplify the basic building types used in residential construction in New London from the 18th century through the early 20th century. The variation of styles and the melding of stylistic elements from different styles is noteworthy.

18th-century dwellings are a rarity in New London. The largest concentration in the city is found in the Coit Street Historic District. 92 Washington Street is an unusually intact example of 18th-century architecture. This Bell-Cast Gambrel dwelling, c.1763, with slightly flared eaves and 6/9 sash, is one of two dwellings of this type and vintage extant in New London. Door moldings and fireplace surrounds of 92 Washington Street are similar to those published in 1797 in The Country Builder's Assistant by Asher Benjamin.

The other early houses in the Coit Street Historic District are Georgian. There are only four other dwellings of this style at scattered sites in the city. The well-preserved house at 7 Coit Street was moved onto the site in the early 19th century. Hand-wrought nails, some original 12/12 sash, and the Georgian door surround, as well as its basic design, indicate its earlier origins. The Daniel Starr House, c.1743, is the earliest documented house in the district on its original location. The massing and lines of the house clearly suggest its 18th-century construction.

The 18th/19th century double-house at 40-42 Blinman Street underwent considerable transformations. The western half, built c.1759, has hand-hewn beams and earlier construction techniques than the eastern side, which was built with sawn lumber in the mid-19th century. Since 1759, the house has been described in deeds as remodelled and modernized. Indeed, the handsome Italianate door hood and Greek Revival door surround date from the mid-19th century and may be contemporary with the construction of the eastern half. The adherence to the earlier design in the basic massing and roof detail is interesting and conveys the sense of 18th-century vernacular architecture. There are stylistic similarities between the 40-42 Blinman Street and 7 Coit Street which illustrate the historic process by which a Georgian three-bay house has evolved into a 19th-century double-house.

The brick duplex at 26-28 Blinman Street, c.1833 (originally a four-unit rowhouse), with splayed lintels and Flemish Bond brickwork, is clearly influenced by the Federal style and is the only 19th-century rowhouse in New London. 18 Brewer Street, c.1839, has a Greek Revival door surround, but a gambrel roofline more commonly associated with Georgian architecture. Several of the houses of the 1830s and 1840s have semi-elliptical windows in the pediments, a Federal characteristic which was retained in many early Greek Revival dwellings in New London.

The Greek Revival houses in the Coit Street Historic District are well-proportioned 2-1/2 story, gable-end-to-street buildings with good overall design quality. The Doric porticos at 35 and 36 Blinman Street are noteworthy for their relationship to each other and the quality of the craftsmanship involved. The architectural details of Greek Revival residential buildings are found in the vernacular houses, including pilasters, entablatures, sidelights, and transoms. The scale and proportions of these houses relate well to both the earlier and later houses in the district. Several of the Greek Revival houses have later porches. The similarity of these elements to adjacent late 19th-century houses creates additional unity in the streetscape.

48 Blinman Street and 24 Coit Street are distinguished by the eclectic use of stylistic elements from both Italianate and Queen Anne. Both 1885 dwellings use the same fretwork molding in the cornice. The 1894-96 Queen Anne houses at 2 through 12 Coit Street have identical porticos. The late use of the French Second Empire style on 78 Washington Street (1913) may indicate an attempt to maximize space in the house.

References

Benjamin, Asher. The Works of Asher Benjamin. Reprint ed., New York: DeCapo Press, 1972. Vol.1: The Country Builder's Assistant, 1797.

Caulkins, Frances M. History of New London, Connecticut. New London, Connecticut: H.D. Utley, 1895.

Chaplain, F.W. Coit Family Genealogy. Hartford, Connecticut: Case, Lockwood and Brainard Company, 1874.

Decker, Robert Owen. The Whaling City. Chester, Connecticut: The Pequot Press, 1976.

New London, Connecticut. New London County Historical Society. Frances M. Caulkins Manuscript Notebooks.

New London Land Records, New London Town Clerk.

New London Probate Records, New London Probate Court.

New London City Directories, 1853-1915.

Starr, Burgis Pratt. A History of the Starr Family. Hartford, Connecticut: Case, Lockwood and Brainard Company, 1879.

Wall, Richard B. Wall's Scrapbook, columns from The Day, 1906-1924.

Maps

Bailey, O.H. & Co. Boston. "New London, Connecticut," 1876.

Beers, F.W.; Ellis, A.D.; Soule, G.G. "Atlas of New London County Connecticut." New York, New York: F.W. Beers, A.D. Ellis and G.G. Soule, 1868.

Sanborn-Perris Map Company. "Sanborn Map of New London, 1891."

________"Sanborn Map of New London, 1901."

________"Sanborn Map of New London, 1907."

________"Sanborn Map of New London, 1912."

________"Sanborn Map of New London, 1921."

________"Sanborn Map of New London, 1954."

Sidney, J.C., Civil Engineer. "Plan of the City of New London, New London County, Connecticut." Philadelphia: Collins & Clark, 1850.

Starr & Company. "Map of the City of New-London Conn." New London, Connecticut: Starr & Company, 1863.

Walker, George H. & Co. "Map of the City of New London, New London, Connecticut." 1884.

Warren, Moses. "Warren's Survey of Streets of City of New London." 1807.

Sharon P. Churchill, New London Landmarks, Inc. and John Herzan, Connectocut Historical Commission, Coit Street Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Blinman Street, Brewer Street, Coit Street, Washington Street

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