Hempstead Historic District
The Hempstead Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. 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 Hempstead Historic District is an architecturally cohesive neighborhood in New London, Connecticut, located north of the harbor and the central business district. It extends from a clearly defined hollow behind the County Courthouse on Huntington Street, and runs up a steep rocky hill to the south and west. The neighborhood is aligned along three prominent streets, Franklin and Hempstead Streets, and Mountain Avenue, which run roughly parallel to each other in a north-south direction, connected by very short streets. There is one dead-end street, Hope Street, and four courts, formerly driveways, which terminate at a principal house. Hempstead Street bisects the Hempstead Historic District and makes a 60-degree turn, veering from a northwestern to a northeastern direction as it rises up the hill. With the exception of Hempstead Street, which reaches in both directions to main thoroughfares, these streets developed primarily from winding haphazard lanes amid rural farmland and meadow.
The Hempstead Historic District has the moderate density of a primarily residential neighborhood of single and two-family dwellings, 2 and 2-1/2 stories in height. On some streets, such as Mountain Avenue, the small Greek Revival houses are com pactly sited. On others, larger lots yield fewer buildings on each block. At various places in the heart of the district there are thickly vegetated areas extending at least 50 feet deep.
The hilly topography of the Hempstead Historic District required the extensive use of terracing and retaining walls during its development. The land between Hempstead Street and Mountain Avenue, and between Hempstead and Cottage Streets shows the greatest use of these devices. Retaining walls run along the entire length of western side of Hempstead Street, and as the slope increases, the houses are built in increasingly precarious positions. Along Mountain Avenue, most of the houses on the western side of the street are built into the hillside at the crest, with fully exposed basement facades. The same construction techniques are used for the three houses on Cottage Street, and here, the land is terraced with granite retaining walls 10 feet high. Similar granite walls are used for terracing on the west side of Hempstead Street where the land can rise as much as 50 feet over the 225 feet deep lots.
There are 142 structures in the Hempstead Historic District, of which 3 are non-contributing, and the granite foundation of an early factory. The earliest structure dates from 1678, the most recent contributing structure dates from 1935. Over half the buildings in the Hempstead Historic District were constructed between the 1840s and 1880s in the Greek Revival or Italianate styles. Other historic places in the Hempstead Historic District include the former New London County Jail of 1845, a 1903 school, and industrial sites of the mid to late 19th century. Areas of potential archaeological sensitivity include the factories, the jail, a small black community between Hempstead, Franklin and High Streets, and the Hempstead Houses of 1678 and 1759.
The topography of the Hempstead Historic District defined the area of its settlement in the 17th century and continued to play an important role in its development throughout its history. Located geographically away from the center of town in the outlying farm area, the land on the west side of Hempstead Street was too steep and rocky for agricultural use other than pasturage, while the land to the east and along Hempstead Street could be partially mowed and tilled. Original homelots were not divided up extensively until the 1840s, when enriched by the burgeoning whaling industry, New Londoners began to seek land for dwelling houses in outlying neighborhoods close to the center of town.
In the ensuing 75 years, houses were built in the Gothic Revival, Stick, French Second Empire, Queen Anne, Folk Victorian and Colonial Revival styles in addition to the Greek Revival and Italianate styles which predominate in the district. Each house was generally built in scale similar to its neighbors, so that groups of houses along Franklin and Hempstead Streets and Mountain Avenue relate proportionately in workmanship, materials, size and style to each other. Cohesiveness throughout the Hempstead Historic District is achieved by the closed in sense of the street scene, as all the houses face one another, down from the hill, or up from the hollow, except where the original Hempstead homelot looks out across Jay Street towards the coves (since filled in) and harbor.
The architecture of the Hempstead Historic District, although modest in scale, is embellished with decorative elements to create a variegated pattern. The houses achieve an individual quality, such as the transformation of a modest 1852 house into a fanciful French Second Empire house at 18 Franklin Street. Larger houses were often set back from the street, such as the French Second Empire house at 40 Franklin Street, or at the end of what have become separate courts, such as the Greek Revival house at 33 Mountain Avenue. The houses as they now stand reflect the evolution of a cohesive urban neighborhood from 17th-century homelots.
Another important component of the Hempstead Historic District is the presence of industry, from 1846 through the present. The foundation of a five-story 1846 factory is still standing, relatively undisturbed since the building itself came down between 1921 and 1933. Part of the granite wall of this building still stands as the rear wall for the factory at 19 Mountain Avenue. The 1873 frame factory building at 43 Hempstead Street is connected to a later brick building in the rear by a second story bridge, in place since the addition was built in the early 20th century. The brick stacks of these two industrial complexes tower over the buildings. Adjacent to 43 Hempstead Street was an 1845 tannery, removed by 1901, although one small granite building, possibly the stable, remains on the site. Together, these two industrial complexes filled the block between Home Street and High Street. The tannery expanded in 1866, with a new granite and frame factory building across the street, at 66 Hempstead Street. This building makes the best of difficult terrain. The two and one-half story frame structure, gable-end to street, is set against the slope of the hill on an exposed granite foundation.
Evidence of commercial enterprise in the Hempstead Historic District is apparent. The 1925 auto painting shop at 77-1/2 Hempstead Street, a two-story concrete building behind 77 Hempstead Street, fits neatly in the oddly-shaped block between Hempstead, High and Franklin Streets. Several neighborhood markets serviced the area; one in a Greek Revival house at 90 Hempstead, and a larger one-story clapboard store at 83 Mountain Avenue, built in 1935 and subsequently remodeled with a brick facing. By 1930, a Spanish Revival gasoline station was erected at the corner of Jay and Franklin Streets, and within three years, a Spanish Revival automobile showroom was built on the adjacent property at 49 Jay Street, on the fringe of the district.
Important institutions within the Hempstead Historic District reflect phases of its development. The brick 1845 Greek Revival New London County Jail at 56 Franklin Street was operational for over a century, and fills most of the block between Franklin, High and Hempstead Streets. An attached French Second Empire jailer's house was built between 1864 and 1868, also in brick. In 1962, the jail complex was purchased for use as the new Shiloh Baptist Church for a predominately black congregation, and the original church building on High Street was eventually demolished. In 1903, the Saltonstall School was built in the Second Renaissance Revival style. This imposing three-story brick building occupies the block between Truman Street and Hope Street along Hempstead Street.
The Hempstead Historic District is a historically complex urban neighborhood which developed in the mid 19th-century from the subdivision of lands owned by the Hempstead and Holt families. Part of the land was developed by local abolitionists to provide housing for free blacks. The black community which developed in the district created a number of institutions for self-help and the support of its members, several of which still survive. The presence of the New London County Jail and of a number of small industries within the district influenced its development as a working-class neighborhood on the edge of New London's downtown district. The Hempstead Historic District is significant for its architecture, which ranges from the 17th-century Hempstead House to early 20th-century commercial buildings. The Hempstead Historic District contains a number of mid-19th century vernacular houses built for blacks. Major 19th century styles represented in the Hempstead Historic District include Greek Revival, Italianate, French Second Empire and Queen Anne. Buildings in the Hempstead Historic District vary in size from large two-family houses to small one and one-half story homes. The houses are generally more modest in scale and architectural detail than the wealthier homes of the nearby northwest section of the city. The Hempstead Historic District may yield significant information concerning 17th century land-use, 19th century industrial technology, and a 19th century free black neighborhood.
The Hempstead Historic District developed from the original houselots of Robert Hempstead and Nathaniel Holt. Just a few hundred yards from the center of town, it was nevertheless considered a separate neighborhood, located in a hollow off a cove and running back up a steep rocky hill. The district grew from farmland into a neighborhood and light industrial area as New London evolved into an urban center. For a span of three hundred years, buildings were added and few removed, leaving intact a visible record of the growth of a neighborhood in a small eastern seaboard city.
In 1678, Joshua Hempstead built a dwelling house facing Bream Cove. Located at the foot of Hempstead Street, both the house itself and the neighborhood are documented in the 1711-1758 diary of Joshua Hempstead 2nd, and the account books of John Hempstead, his son. The diary reveals the utilization of the area. Joshua died in 1758, and most of the land remained in the family, although succeeding generations divided it up. The prominence of the family and its holdings are indicated in notations on city maps a full century later, describing the building as the "Hempstead House," rather than merely indicating ownership as was usually done. A grandson, Nathaniel, built an unusual Dutch Colonial house in 1759 on the corner of the lot, facing the intersection of Hempstead, Truman and Jay Streets.
New London's economy was based largely on coastal trade, and the residents of the Hempstead Historic District profited from their involvement in it. The Hempsteads and Holts produced surplus goods for both the local market and for maritime use. As store owners, traders, artisans, farmers and officials, they were part of the network of this trade, consigning a wide variety of items, including small quantities of candles, corn, leather, lard, onions, bricks, lumber, cattle, hoops, rice, cheese and dried beans.
In the 1840s New London was in the midst of a period of growth, fueled by its success in the whaling industry. Work in the Hempstead Historic District was becoming increasingly market oriented, commercialized and specialized. The domestic environment and neighborhood was also changing. Aided by capital from whaling profits, hundreds of houses were constructed in New London in the decades following 1840. Franklin and Hope Streets and Mountain Avenue were opened by 1843 and Home Street was opened in the 1850s. Prior to the 1840s there were no more than a handful of dwellings in the district; by the end of the 1860s, there were more than 70 houses. The Hempstead neighborhood offered choice land, and the better lots were sold at a premium.
The changing district reflected a growing cosmopolitan atmosphere with a more diverse population and a variety of small-scale manufactures. The development of the block along Hempstead Street between High and Franklin illustrates this. Between 1833 and 1842, Jonathan Coit, a wealthy shipbuilder, erected a house in the Dutch Colonial style, an unusual example of retardetaire architecture. Coit sold the northwestern portion of his lot to Savillion Haley, one of New London's first abolitionists, in 1842. By 1845, Haley had erected five small vernacular houses; #73, #77, #81 and #83 Hempstead Street still stand. Although building lots in the district were selling for as much as $600, Haley sold all the houses in 1845 for $700 each to free black families, foregoing a profit for himself, commenting that black people "...should be treated like other folks." The people who occupied these houses were successful freemen, whose trades included those of mariner, rigger, blacksmith, butcher, stone mason and machinist. Other black families soon built homes in the area, expanding the size of the black community. This section of the street was derisively called "Ethiopia" and "New Guinea" by white 19th-century New Londoners.
Mary Hempstead had begun selling family holdings by the early 1840s. In 1845, she sold several parcels on Franklin Street and High Street, behind the Haley houses, which became the site of the brick Greek Revival New London County Jail. It is an impressive structure, and became even more so with the addition of an attached brick jailer's house in 1868 in the French Second Empire style. At the same time, it represents the roughness of life around the docks of a port city. The 1870 census lists 26 men incarcerated in the 16 cells; of these, ten were mariners.
By the 1870s, manufacturing was becoming increasingly important as part of the economic base of the city. The Hempstead Historic District has several reminders of the role this neighborhood played in the industrial development of New London. In 1846, David Bishop built a stone cider vinegar factory on a ledge 20 feet below 19 Mountain Avenue. Bishop had purchased large holdings between Hempstead Street and Mountain Avenue in 1845. Bishop had boulders dug up and ledges drilled and used for construction material for both the factory walls, which eventually reached a height of five stories, and for retaining walls which created terraces. Bishop opened Thompson Court as a drive, which led from Hempstead Street to the factory and his home. The establishment did business for 20 years, when it was foreclosed, and replaced by the Toby and Blackwell Shirt Manufactory which produced a fine quality shirt for the Boston market. In the 1870s, 200 people were employed there, mostly women operating the sewing machines, while other women were employed at home working buttonholes.
In the 1880s, a broom factory occupied the building, and in 1887 it shared space with the Bingham Paper Box Co., which continued operating on this site until 1956. Thomas O. Thompson, president of the firm, sold off buildings lots at 10, 11 and 13 Thompson Court between 1892 and 1893, and named the street after himself. By 1893, the company employed a night watchman who lived at 10 Thompson Court. In 1906, a cast-stone block addition level with Mountain Avenue was added, sharing a common wall with the original building. The company made different styles of paper boxes, and had a printing department, employing up to 70 people. The original building came down between 1921 and 1933, but the apparently undisturbed foundation still survives.
In 1845, Mary Hempstead sold land bounded by High and Hempstead Streets to William Warner for a tannery. The William L. Warner and Company tannery operated successfully for thirty years, employing some of the neighborhood residents, and in 1866, expanded across Hempstead Street, purchasing land and building a three and one-half-story factory at 66 Hempstead Street. The business experienced difficulties in the late 1870's, and the mortgage was foreclosed in 1879. In 1882, a group with venture capital began to manufacture and sell an item called the Patent Cane Umbrella in the former tannery building. The Patent Cane Umbrella, which functioned as both a walking cane and an umbrella, was patented in several European countries, but after a successful first year, the company began to experience difficulties. Before its failure in 1887, however, the company built a seven-tenement house and factory store on the site. Residents in the district were among the company's 20 employees.
Henry Brown built a pickling and canning factory at 43 Hempstead Street in 1873. H.A. Brown and Co. got much of its equipment from Bishop's vinegar factory after its foreclosure. The cannery employed as many as 200 workers and sold its products throughout the country and in Europe, but eventually declared bankruptcy in 1885. The New London Wash Silk Company purchased the factories at 43 and 66 Hempstead Street, after first renting 66 Hempstead Street in 1894. From a small silk manufacturing company employing seven people, it grew to employ 75 people by 1912, producing $300,000 in business selling its high quality silk in various parts of the world. The company outgrew its quarters and built a brick factory building behind and perpendicular to 43 Hempstead, connected to it by a second story bridge. This housed the dyeing, drying, and finishing processes. Following a merger with another Connecticut company in 1917, the New London plant was phased out of the operations, and was eventually sold in 1925.
Important black social organizations in New London have been located in the Hempstead Historic District since its beginnings in the 1840s. In between its use by the tannery and the silk company, 66 Hempstead Street served as a dwelling, dance hall and church for the black community. This latter use is illustrative of the cohesion of the blacks in this district. In 1894, this church had become the Shiloh Baptist Church, located in a small building at 23 High Street (no longer extant). By 1915, 66 Hempstead Street was again used as a social hall for the black community, headquarters for the United Society and a black division of the Odd Fellows. The secretary for the Negro Welfare Council lived at 73 Hempstead Street. Today, Shiloh Baptist Church is located in the former jail at 56 Franklin Street, and the Jeptha Lodge, a black Masonic Lodge, is in 66 Hempstead Street.
Small neighborhood commercial enterprises were appearing in the district by the end of the 19th century. A grocery store used the Patent Cane Umbrella factory after its demise, and another grocery store shared 90 Hempstead Street with a shoe repair shop which moved next door into the small one-story building at 94A Hempstead Street by 1934. The Scripilleti family, who ran the shoe repair business, built 83 Mountain Avenue in 1935 and opened Scripilleti Bros., a grocery store, which they managed simultaneously with their shoe repair business.
For a brief time in the 1890s, the Patent Cane Umbrella factory on the corner of High and Hempstead Streets was used for carriage painting. This commercial trade was renewed in 1925, with the opening of a small auto-painting business in the rear of 77 Hempstead Street. The increasing presence of the automobile led to the opening a Spanish Revival gasoline station on the corner of Franklin and Jay Streets in 1930, and a Spanish Revival Buick dealership, with two bas-relief tires embedded in the parapet, at 49 Jay Street by 1933.
In 1903, the Saltonstall School was erected on the corner of Truman and Hempstead Streets, replacing the Coit Street School half a block away. The Saltonstall School was part of a city-wide program begun in 1890, calling for the replacement of the crowded older school buildings with large modern structures, able to accommodate an expanding urban population.
The architecture found in the Hempstead Historic District varies from sophisticated or unusual examples of Colonial and Revival styles to the more modest 19th-century vernacular styles which predominate in the residential neighborhoods around the Central Business District. The buildings in the Hempstead Historic District are well-proportioned and of good quality design, and the combination of 19th-century styles and the density of development creates a uniformity in the streetscape.
The significance of the two Hempstead Houses extends beyond New London. The 1678 Joshua Hempsted House reflects the traditions and technical skills of early 17th-century England in proportions and plan, but also incorporates features that are more indigenous to the Connecticut coast. Hempstead used quarried stone for the foundation and eelgrass for insulation. Other construction features are unique; the summer beams run athwart, the joists of the first floor are embedded in the foundation masonry and the stairs rise in a straight course. Both this house and the 1759 Dutch Colonial Nathaniel Hempsted House at 75 Jay Street are extremely well-preserved examples of Colonial architecture. The construction of the latter house as a single unit with no provision for expansion contrasts with contemporary structures, and the use of tooled stone blocks is uncommon in New London. The exterior bake oven protruding from the southwestern wall is unique in the city. Local tradition attributes the construction of the house to Huguenots from Nova Scotia.
Greek Revival and Italianate styles predominate in the Hempstead Historic District, most with the straightforward detailing and restrained styling which characterize the mid-19th century architecture of the Hempstead Historic District and most extant vernacular dwellings of this period in New London. Two distinct levels of sophistication are evident in the Greek Revival houses; those along Franklin Street are more spaciously sited and finely detailed than the modest dwellings on Mountain Avenue. Italianate houses along Franklin Street show the influence of the neighboring Greek Revival dwellings. #32, built in 1846, is the earliest of the group, and has shouldered moldings, transom and sidelights similar to the neighboring Greek Revival houses. #31, built in 1859, has heavy segmentally-arched shouldered molding around its elongated first-story windows and round-arched doors, but with a simpler straight shouldered molding on the interior. The houses of both styles, while less elaborate in detail than those built for wealthier members of the community, exhibit good design quality and workmanship. The similarity in proportions and scale create a complementary streetscape. The grouping of these two contemporaneous styles is among the best in the city, especially in depicting the influence of Greek Revival architecture on the vernacular Italianate dwelling in New London.
David Bishop, a member of a distinguished family of New London builders, was the most active builder in the Hempstead Historic District. He built at least six buildings on Mountain Avenue, including a factory; at least one and possibly three other Greek Revival houses on Hope Street are attributed to him based on similarity of style. These buildings are the only ones in the city known to be specifically identified with Bishop, who was undoubtedly involved in other construction in New London.
The group of five houses between 69 and 83 Hempstead Street is characterized by a conservative, practical approach to style. 69 Hempstead Street, built between 1833 and 1842 in the Dutch Colonial style, is an unusual example of retardetaire architecture. This architectural conservatism is evident throughout the district, and may be a consequence of the economic and social standing of the residents. Three adjacent houses, 64, 70 and 72 Mountain Avenue, were possibly moved to the site. The Greek Revival features of these houses, including transom, sidelights and door surrounds, do not correspond with their appearance on the street between 1869 and 1875. Several of the buildings in the Hempstead Historic District represent departures from ordinary design. 71 Mountain Avenue displays the overall plan and details of an Italianate house, but has dentils instead of brackets raking the cornice, and an open-bed pediment.
Good examples of later 19th-century styles are found throughout the Hempstead Historic District. The large French Second Empire house at 40 Franklin Street is distinguished by its commanding position, size, and the high quality of its design. The Second Empire style of 18 Franklin Street is the result of remodelling an 1852 house, perhaps in imitation of its more stylish neighbor. The well-preserved Italian Villa houses at 110 Hempstead Street and 17 Home Street represent two of three extant examples of this style in New London. 23 Hempstead Street, built in 1881, is an unusually intact example of the Queen Anne style. The Queen Anne house at 46 Hempstead Street has a square three-story tower with a mansard roof and cresting not found elsewhere in the city. The nearly identical small-scale Queen Anne houses on Borodell Place built in 1897, and a richly-detailed small-scale Queen Anne house at 30 Home Street built in 1890, are typical of the smaller-scale versions of this style in New London. The grouping on Borodell Place, however, is uncommon, and creates a cohesive streetscape. An elaborate carriage house built in 1893 was moved to Franklin Street from its original location on Cottage Street in 1982. Its detailing and fine restoration complements the other 19th-century buildings along the street.
Smaller in scale than the large textile mills typical of many New England cities, the industrial buildings in the Hempstead Historic District are utilitarian in nature, with few stylistic features. This absence of detail and the utilitarian character of the buildings is typical of small-scale industrial buildings of the period. 66 Hempstead Street features an open-bed pediment and a full exposed basement of battered granite ashlar.
The 1903 Saltonstall School is a very good example of Second Renaissance Revival architecture. This is the only school building from this period of intense building activity substantially unaltered. The Second Renaissance Revival school is distinguished by projecting bays, Corinthian capitals on three-story pilasters, rustication, Romanesque arches and brickwork which creates a diagonal pattern. It was designed by local architects Donnelly and Hazeltine. Saltonstall School is one of the few remaining buildings of this partnership, which broke up in 1906.
Several parcels within the Hempstead Historic District may be likely to yield information about both residential and industrial use within the area during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The largely undeveloped property surrounding the 1678 Hempstead House could be examined archaeologically in coordination with the study of the substantial archival material available in the diaries of Joshua Hempstead and the account books of his son, John. In addition, the land associated with 69-89 Hempstead Street, as well as exploration of the empty lot on the north side of High Street (the original site of Shiloh Baptist Church, demolished within the last decade) have the potential to yield information on the free black residents of the district.
One factory site may have potential industrial archaeological integrity. The foundation of the 1846 cider vinegar factory built by David Bishop exists apparently undisturbed following the destruction of the building in the 1920s. The remains are located behind the former Bingham Paper Box Co. building at 19 Mountain Avenue, and accessible only through the rear lot of 6 Thompson Court.
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† Sharon P. Churchill, New London Landmarks and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Hempstead Historic District, New London, Connecticut, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.