Montauk Avenue Historic District
The Montauk Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 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 Montauk Avenue Historic District is a planned residential development located to the south of the center of the City of New London, which was laid out at the turn of the twentieth century. The Montauk Avenue Historic District is roughly square in shape, approximately 1500 feet on a side, and contains a grid of three north-south streets connected by six cross streets. The principal streets are Montauk Avenue, which is the spine of the district, and Ocean Avenue, both broad north-south thoroughfares; the latter is also State Route 213. To the east is the Thames River estuary and New London Harbor, separated from the district by a city park and an industrial area.
The Montauk Avenue Historic District contains a total of 401 resources, of which 341 (85%) are contributing. The historic contributing resources built during the period of significance of the district (1855-1940) include 235 single and multi-family dwellings, 101 associated outbuildings, two schools, one church, one fire station, and one commercial building. Of the 11% of the houses that are non-contributing, 8% is new residential infill in the district; the remaining 3% are older houses which have lost their architectural integrity because of extensive alterations.
The associated contributing outbuildings are mainly small detached garages built prior to 1940; three of these were originally built as stables or barns. The first group of garages was constructed about 1915. They generally are quite small square buildings with hipped roofs and are set at the very rear of the building lots. A slightly later group, built in the 1930s, are larger with gable roofs. Twenty-one percent of the outbuildings are non-contributing primarily because they were built after the period of significance of the district; a few lack structural or architectural integrity.
The historic appearance of the Montauk Avenue Historic District has changed very little since 1940. Changes prior to that time reflect its historic transformation from rural farmland to an urban development. Before 1895, when development began there, most of the district, except for Willetts Avenue, the northernmost cross street, was undeveloped and known as Town Hill, a rural area located just outside the city limits. Of the twenty-two buildings that pre-date 1895, one is the 1855 Greek Revival Town Hill School, and the remaining structures are residential buildings, nine of which are on Willetts Avenue. On the west side of Ocean Avenue, the partial remains of dry-laid stone walls from the nineteenth are joined to, or incorporated in, a mortared stone wall that runs along the sidewalk almost the full length of the long block between Fowler Court and Longview Street.
In the second phase of the district, streets were laid out, farms were divided into smaller residential lots for development, and the area became part of the city. Lots on the side streets of the Montauk Avenue Historic District are generally smaller than those on the main thoroughfares, except in the case of three connecting streets that run between Montauk and Ocean avenues: Alger, Bellevue, and Faire Harbour places. These three cross streets have wider deep lots and small landscaped parks as their focus. The parks are elliptical in shape and now contain mature trees. They serve to divide the street and create a one-way traffic pattern on either side.
There has been substantial intrusion into the original street plan only at the southern end of the district, an area excluded from the district. The south side of Faire Harbour Place is occupied by the Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The hospital is being enlarged and the few remaining houses on that side have been scheduled for demolition. A number of houses within the district in this area have been converted for use as doctors' offices, or are owned and used by the hospital.
Houses in the Montauk Avenue Historic District range from one-and-one-half to two-and-one-half stories. Although all the institutional buildings in the district are of masonry construction (two schools and a church of brick, and a fire station of rose and gray granite), all but two of the houses are constructed of wood and the majority rest on locally quarried granite foundations. Wood shingles are a common wall sheathing in the district, as they are in many shore communities, but clapboard, stucco, and artificial sidings are also used.
The few buildings that predate the development of the area as a streetcar suburb are built in several styles of the Victorian period, including Greek Revival, Italianate, Stick, and Queen Anne. A group of these houses can be found on the south side of Willetts Avenue (172 Willetts Avenue, William A. Fones House; 174 Willetts Avenue, Ulysses Keeney House; 180 Willetts Avenue, Edwin Berquist House). One 1870 house at 239 Ocean Avenue is a replica of an eighteenth-century Cape destroyed by fire.
The vast majority of the houses postdate 1895 and are freely interpreted vernacular versions of the Queen Anne and early twentieth-century revivals. The stylistic range extends from large architect-designed houses to modest houses and cottages with little or no detail, built in an extensive variety of types and forms. Transitional combination styles, such as Queen Anne/Classical Revival or Colonial Revival combined with Foursquare, predominate, but there are also several examples of Tudor and Spanish revivals. The larger and generally more stylish houses are found on the two main thoroughfares, especially on corner lots. Some of these were designed by architects who lived and worked in the district, served as architectural references for the smaller examples of vernacular architecture in the district.
Quite often the Queen Anne is combined with Classical Revival elements and forms in the larger houses. The William Darrow House built in 1905 at the head of the district at 185 Ocean Avenue is a unique combination of these styles. Built with a projecting pedimented pavilion, it utilizes modillions, three-part windows, and unusual hipped-roof dormers with projecting round-arched window heads. Palladian windows are found in the gables of the end elevations. The rigid balance of the main block is interrupted by the asymmetry of the wrap-around Colonial Revival style porch with a terne roof (now enclosed) on part of the facade and the south elevation. Another large house in the next block, the William Hopson House (217 Ocean Avenue), utilizes similar classical motifs and a deep overhang of the main roof with modillions. On the opposite side of the street is an unusual duplex of similar scale (196-198 Ocean Avenue, John Hopson House) which also has projecting pavilions and pediments but is influenced by the Stick style. A more conventional house at 257 Montauk Avenue (Margaret A. Elliot House) employs the same architectural elements but has a standard cross-gable plan and offset pediments over the porch entrance and to the right of the gable peak of the facade. This house and its neighbor to the north display porches supported by delicate posts and spindle work. The massing and tower of the earlier 1897 Theodore Bodenwein House, at 302 Montauk Avenue, are typically Queen Anne but it too has several Classical Revival elements, such as the oval window and modillioned soffit. The John Darrow House (285 Montauk Avenue) across the street to the south is another Queen Anne that displays a tower and similar details. Smaller versions of this house type are common in the Montauk Avenue Historic District and often utilize the same architectural forms and details. Two examples are found on Ocean Avenue (293 Ocean Avenue (Charles Cornell House) and 297 Ocean Avenue).
Several distinguished houses were influenced by other revival styles. The Tudor Revival style house built by Dudley St. Clair Donnelly, an architect, is unique to the district (58 Bellevue Place). Its most distinctive feature is the simulation of thatching by the flow of sheathing over the dormers and the use of built-up rounded edges on the roofs of the main house, the outbuilding, and even on the free-standing gate. The porch and first story of the house are stuccoed, probably the original material. The Mediterranean or Spanish Colonial Revival influence is found in two other stuccoed houses in the district. One at 322 Montauk Avenue (Norman Ruddy House) embellishes the Foursquare plan and form with the curved parapets of the Spanish Colonial or Mediterranean style over the main entrance and the broad facade dormer.
More commonly, the Montauk Avenue Historic District's houses were designed by carpenter builders. The designs of these more modest houses appear to be derivative and based on features found in the larger houses, or taken from the style books of the period. These builders were responsible for infill along the main avenues as well as most of the houses on the side and cross streets of the district. Several common types are repeated on the same street, often used for rental housing. A row of simple vernacular gable-to-street cottages was built on the south side of lower Willetts Avenue in 1901-1902. Another builder constructed a group of Colonial Revival style Bungalows at the south end of Riverview Avenue in 1915. Occasionally the same house form and style is repeated intermittently in a block, such as the houses built on Perry Street in 1903 which are distinguished by their small Queen Anne-style turrets. This vernacular type is scattered through the district and examples can also be found at 27 Alger Place and 302 and 314 Montauk Avenue (Theodore Bodenwein House and Charles Rider House). The Wheelock Glidden House at 27 Alger Place is heavily influenced by the Shingle style, especially in its porch.
Two other vernacular style groups are found in the district. A small group of Shingle style houses predominate on Perry Street and nearby on Montauk Avenue. Again, this style is freely interpreted and also shows influences of the Colonial Revival style in the porches and displays pediments common to the Classical Revival. The local hallmark of this style is the recessed window of the main gable framed by curved shingled walls. A few very small Queen Anne cottages are scattered throughout the district. Two of the best examples have retained their original architectural details and materials (14 Alger Place and 13 Avery Court).
The last common type in the Montauk Avenue Historic District is the Foursquare. Variations include a steeply pitched hip roof that rises to a point instead of the more common shallow hipped roof with a short ridge. Often these houses have Colonial Revival style porches, such as the groups at the both ends of Ocean Avenue or along Fowler Court. A 1907 elaborated version of this house form, with an extensive veranda and bracketed soffits, is boldly detailed with both Classical and Colonial Revival style elements (317 Ocean Avenue, Thomas Kehr House). Another large example is located at the corner of Montauk Avenue and Alger Street (248 Montauk Avenue, James Greenfield House).
Several vernacular house types in the Montauk Avenue Historic District are based on intersecting roof plans. The cross-gable version has a gable-to-street orientation with a front porch. Sometimes the cross gable is only simulated by a two-story side bay capped with a pediment. This type is usually unadorned, but two examples subtly influenced by the Queen Anne style on Riverview Avenue demonstrate how even minor variations can change the appearance of neighboring houses of the same plan (102-104 Riverview Avenue, George H. Scott House and 105-107 Riverview Avenue). A more fully realized and later example of this type is located at the north end of Riverview Avenue (31 Riverview Avenue, William F. Reeves House).
Another version of this cross plan utilizes broad gambrel roofs in a vernacular interpretation of the Colonial Revival style. Several examples are located on Alger Place. The Victoria Case House at 37 Alger Place has an unusual porch supported by battered posts in the Bungalow style. Gambrel-roofed Colonial Revivals also are interspersed with Foursquares on the south side of Bellevue Place (27 Bellevue Place, William Clark House; 29 Bellevue Place, John James, Jr. House; 31 Bellevue Place, Edmund Haskell House; 35 Bellevue Place, Willard Harris House). There are only a few standard versions of the Colonial Revival style in the district. Two display the Georgian influence in their form, plan, and detail (226 Ocean Avenue, P. Leroy Harwood House and 81 Faire Harbour Place, Michael Schwartz House). Only one other house is a straightforward revival of a colonial house form, a large gambrel at 57 Faire Harbour Place (Walter A. Smith House).
Another common type, often called the "homestead house" in the New London Historic Resource Inventory, is repeated all over the Montauk Avenue Historic District and is a popular form throughout New London's suburbs. For the purposes of the Montauk Avenue Historic District, it is referred to as simply twentieth-century vernacular houses with two-and-one-half story gable-to-street buildings with full pediments or open gable peaks. These houses often have a one-story hipped-roof facade porch in the single-family versions. Two-family examples may have a small open porch above and set to one side of the facade at the second story. Examples can be found on the north side of Willetts Avenue and on Ocean Avenue. A group of larger houses of this type further west on Willetts Avenue above Montauk utilize a combination of forms in the roof of the main block, including hip, gable, and pediment.
The Montauk Avenue Historic District is historically significant as a tangible illustration of the broad patterns of urbanization that transformed the major cities of Connecticut in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In its plan, layout, and function, it embodies the typical social and economic patterns found in the development of a streetcar suburb. The Montauk Avenue Historic District is architecturally significant as an exceptionally cohesive well-preserved collection of vernacular residential architecture, primarily influenced by the Queen Anne, Classical Revival, and Colonial Revival styles.
By the nineteenth century New London was the major port of the Eastern Coastal Slope of Connecticut with a well-established West Indies trade. Following the War of 1812, it developed as a whaling port, an industry which sustained the economy until the Civil War. In the decades following the war, as the city became an important industrial center and prospered as the marine and railroad hub for Eastern Connecticut, the original urban core expanded to accommodate population growth. Farmland outside the city limits was laid out for residential development and was made accessible by an electric trolley system in place by 1892. Some of the immigrants from eastern and southern Europe and the descendants of earlier Irish immigrants made their homes in these new suburbs, but most of the houses were built there by the emerging native-born middle class. The Montauk Avenue Historic District encompasses a major streetcar suburb to the south of the city, first laid out for development in 1895.
A number of developers were responsible for the Montauk Avenue Historic District. Most prominent among them were Frank B. Brandegee (1864-?) and Thomas M. Waller (1840-?). New London lawyers, civic leaders, and partners in real estate development. Waller was elected governor of Connecticut (1883-1885) after serving in several other political posts, including secretary of state of Connecticut and mayor of New London. He was also a major stockholder in the New London Horse Car Railroad, which first ran down Montauk Avenue from the city to beach resorts on Long Island Sound. In 1892 it was electrified, opening the district to development. These two developers laid out Faire Harbour and Bellevue places, surveyed the building lots, and set aside the land for the miniature parks on these streets. They also were primarily responsible for laying out Montauk Avenue and selling house lots along this street in the southern section of the district. By the time they turned over these developments to the city, water mains had already been installed, the roads were graded, and trees were planted in the parks. In typical fashion they imposed deed restrictions to preserve the "rural" atmosphere, a feature often touted to attract city dwellers to these new suburban neighborhoods. They included a uniform generous setback, no fencing between lots, a minimum lot size, and a minimum cost of $3,000 for the house. No commercial development was allowed. Like most of the developers of the district, Brandegee and Waller did not build houses on speculation but sold lots to individuals who engaged their own builders. In some cases houses were designed by local architects.
Other nineteenth-century developers of the Montauk Avenue Historic Ddistrict included John Tibbets, who laid out Alger Place in the Brandegee-Waller pattern. Walter Perry, an ice dealer, in association with Frederick Sherman, a carpenter/builder, and Benjamin A. Armstrong, president and treasurer of the Brainerd and Armstrong Company, a silk mill, were responsible for Perry Street, as well as some of the upper blocks of Ocean Avenue, formerly Town Hill Road, the only major street in place in the district prior to its development. John C. Geary and Ralph Wheeler laid out Riverview Avenue in the early twentieth century. It is not known who developed Avery Court, but it is laid out in a more urban pattern with closely sited houses on much smaller lots.
Construction in the district generally began in the northern portion and extended south, first taking place along Ocean and Montauk avenues and Alger Place. Even though Faire Harbour and Bellevue Places were laid out and ready for development in 1895, there was no construction on these streets until the twentieth century: Bellevue beginning in 1904 and Faire Harbour not until 1916. Roughly half of the houses were already in place on Willetts Avenue between Ocean and Montauk avenues prior to the planned development of the district, many owned by employees of the Brown Gin Company, founded in 1880 and believed to be the largest cotton gin in the country at that time. Although larger one-family houses predominated on Ocean and Montauk avenues, generally smaller houses are found on the side streets extending from Montauk to the east and along Riverview Avenue. More of this latter group are duplexes; by the 1920s a few double- and triple-decker tenement houses were constructed. Some houses were built on speculation and either sold or rented out, commonly with the owner living next door. Similarly, duplexes were owner-occupied. Very few houses were built by factory owners for their employees. They include some rental cottages built on Alger Place by the T.J. Palmer Company, a textile manufacturer, and a very simple house on Riverview Avenue which was listed as being owned by the president of Brown Gin Company rather than by the firm, but was obviously company housing. Occasionally widows, such as Charlotte Rasmussen, who also lived at 18 Alger Place, took in boarders who worked at the gin company.
Most of New London's commercial and industrial base was represented in the wide range of occupations in this middle-class neighborhood: from owners of commercial and industrial businesses, to skilled and unskilled workers in the factories located along the harbor to the east of the district on Pequot Avenue. Of the 120 known occupations, which represents about half of the homeowners in the Montauk Avenue Historic District, 8% were upper middle class, including large factory owners and professionals, such as architects and lawyers; 60% were in middle-class occupations, such as supervisory positions in industry or business; and the remaining 32% were engaged in lower middle class or blue collar occupations, including the building trades, and skilled and unskilled factory laborers. The middle group had the most diverse range of occupations, with the majority in middle-management levels of industry; some were employed as foremen at the Brown Gin Company or D.E. Whiton Machine Company; others worked in marine-related occupations as captains of steamships and tugboats, or in other forms of transportation, as railroad and trolley superintendents and engineers. Roughly one-third (27) were owners or officers of small businesses and banks located in downtown New London.
Ocean Avenue, and to a lessor degree, Montauk Avenue, became the most fashionable address, with the larger and more stylish houses. Typically, corner lots there were the site of houses occupied by people such as bank directors, architects, and large business owners. They included the Colonial Revival style house at 217 Ocean Avenue built for William T. Hopson, superintendent of the family business, Hopson and Chapin, manufacturers of hot water heaters. On the opposite corner one block to the north at 196-198 Ocean Avenue is the house of John Hopson, a relative and president of the firm. Surprisingly, the latter was built as a two-family dwelling, one of the few on the main streets of the district. Michael Schwartz, owner of a large downtown furniture store, built one of the few brick houses in the district in 1926 at the corner of Faire Harbour Place and Ocean Avenue (81 Faire Harbour Place). The 1904 Colonial Revival style home of P. Leroy Harwood, vice-president of the Mariner's Savings Bank, is located at the southeast corner of Ocean Avenue and Alger Place (226 Ocean Avenue). William Darrow, a partner in the firm of Darrow and Comstock, ship chandlers, built his 1905 house at the southwest corner of Ocean and Willetts avenues, an example of a transitional Queen Anne/Classical Revival (185 Ocean Avenue). John E. Darrow, possibly a relative in the same business, had built his Queen Anne house at 285 Montauk Avenue in 1900. Theodore Bodenwein, president of Day Publishing Company, publishers of New London's major newspaper, built a large Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style house at 302 Montauk Avenue in 1897.
Several architects, many with Irish surnames, presumably descendants of immigrants who came to New London to build the railroad, designed houses in the district; some also lived there. Dudley St. Clair Donnelly designed his exceptional Tudor Revival house at the southwest corner of Bellevue Place and Ocean Avenue (58 Bellevue Place). He is also known to have designed several other houses in the district as well as the Governor Waller School at 25 Riverview Avenue. His earlier house on the northeast corner of Bellevue Place and Ocean Avenue was built in 1897 as a Classical Revival/Foursquare and was rented to the New London Town Clerk (308 Ocean Avenue). James S. Duffy, another architect who designed his Dutch Colonial Revival house at 284 Ocean Avenue, also designed the New London Savings Bank. James P. Sweeney designed his Foursquare house on lower Montauk Avenue and may have been responsible for several other houses of this style in that area (334 Montauk Avenue). Samuel Leadbetter, another district architect, designed several Queen Anne style cottages on Willetts Avenue and may have lived in one of them (119 and 121 Willetts Avenue).
The development of the district also reflected to some degree the diversity of the New London immigrant population. In addition to the Irish-American architects, other upwardly-mobile Irish and a few Italians built homes there by the 1920s. For example, David Reagan, the owner of a dry-goods store, built a substantial Foursquare at 310 Montauk Avenue in 1924. Giosue Duca, a successful mason, built an unusual Classical Revival house on Montauk Avenue and also owned rental property in the district, a triple-decker tenement on Alger Street. Ludwig Mana, an owner of a tobacco and cigar company, was his neighbor on Montauk Avenue, living in another Foursquare.
The Montauk Avenue Historic District is an exceptionally well-preserved turn-of-the century neighborhood. Its distinguishing characteristics, the original street plan, the uniform setback, the deep lots, and the small urban parks, have been retained, conveying a distinct and readily identifiable historic character. Commercial development is limited to just one business and that has been in place since the 1920s. There has been a minimal amount of modern residential construction and it generally repeats the massing, scale, and site orientation of the earlier houses. Although some of the historic houses have been sheathed with modern artificial siding, most of them have retained their original form and detail and still contribute to the district.
The Montauk Avenue Historic District is distinguished by a wide variety of type, form, and scale, but common architectural themes prevail and provide continuity and rhythm to the historic streetscapes. The repetition of similar forms and house types are typical of the period, evoking the distinctly early twentieth-century urban character of the district. The limited stylistic range has added to the district's unity, producing a body of relatively formal vernacular architecture. The major stylistic influences in the Montauk Avenue Historic District, the Queen Anne and the Classical and Colonial revivals, were established by the larger houses found on the principal avenues and carried throughout the district. Many of the smaller houses are elaborated with modillions and pediments, echoing the dominate classical influence.
Most of the larger architect-designed buildings, which set the tone for the district, are clearly transitional houses and typical of the period. Although they are strongly influenced by the Classical and Colonial revivals, not only in their architectural detailing but in their massing as well, they incorporate some of the features of the late Queen Anne. Most have a symmetrically, almost rigidly balanced main block, which represents a rejection of the asymmetry and informal massing that characterized the earlier Victorian period. In fact, in some the incorporation of a wrap-around porch to one side of the main block, typical of the Queen Anne, creates a dynamic but unresolved tension in the design, most notably evident in the William Darrow House (185 Ocean Avenue), and present to some degree in the William T. Hopson House (217 Ocean Avenue).
This formal massing and detailing even extends to one of the more typically informal styles of the period. As interpreted in the district, the Shingle style utilizes both the massing and style features found in the Classical Revival style houses. Pediments and deep modillioned soffits are among the uncommon architectural details used in houses of this style on Perry Street.
The few departures from the common architectural themes as represented by several individually significant houses in the district add considerable architectural interest and variety. These houses are unique to the district and notably did not produce any imitators. They include the well-preserved Norman Ruddy House (322 Montauk Avenue), a distinctive combination of the Spanish Colonial Revival with the Foursquare form, and the Tudor Revival/Queen Anne designed and built by Dudley St. Clair Donnelly (58 Bellevue Place). Donnelly had already designed a more conventional Classical Revival Foursquare in the district before producing this significant house, which is distinguished by its unusual roof treatment and the stylistic integration of the house with the other structures on the property.
Of equal interest are the cottages in the Montauk Avenue Historic District built in the Queen Anne style. These small architectural gems provide the grace notes that relieve the generally dominant formality of the rest of the district. The most notable and well-preserved examples of this type are located on Avery Court and Alger Place, but several others on lower Willetts Avenue have retained their form and simply detailed gable peaks. The Alger Place cottage is an unusually detailed example of workers' housing.
Beers, Soules, and Ellis. Plan of the City of New London. New London, Connecticut, 1868.
Hayden, Phillip. "A Survey of Bellevue Place and Faire Harbour Place: Architectural and Historical Study of a Suburban Neighborhood." Unpublished student paper, Connecticut College.
New London City Directories, 1897-1915.
New London Historic Resource Inventory. New London Landmarks and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1980-1985.
Walker, George H. Map of the City of New London. New London, Conn., 1884.
† Jan Cunningham, Cunnigham Associates, Ltd. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Montauk Avenue Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.