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Pequot Colony Historic District


The Pequot Colony 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 Pequot Colony Historic District is located approximately three miles south of the downtown section of New London on roughly 39 acres along the western shore at the mouth of the Thames River. There are 77 principal buildings in the Pequot Colony Historic District, including 61 contributing buildings, and 39 outbuildings, of which 29 contribute to the themes of the district. Mid-19th century, late Victorian, and 20th-century revival styles predominate in the Pequot Colony Historic District.

The eastern boundary is the river; the land rises gently to the west, with three major areas of historic building concentration defining the other district boundaries. The southern prong of the Pequot Colony Historic District is bounded by Glenwood Avenue and Montauk Avenue. The middle prong includes Chapel Drive, Montauk Avenue, and Lower Boulevard. The northernmost area is defined by Montauk Avenue and Gardner Avenue. Montauk Avenue runs in a north-south direction through the center of the district. All the streets mentioned above run perpendicular to Montauk Avenue in an east-west orientation.

The eastern side of Pequot Avenue, which runs south along the Thames River, is almost entirely undeveloped and offers a panoramic view of the mouth of the river where the Thames opens into the Long Island Sound. The expansive lawns and deep setbacks give the houses on the western side of Pequot Avenue commanding views. The magnificent scenery is matched by the massiveness of these houses, some of which represent high-style versions of architectural styles found elsewhere throughout the district; others are unique examples of their style in the city. Even the non-contributing Ranch style dwellings on the northern end of Pequot Avenue have deep setbacks and low profiles which do not intrude on the scenic and historic setting. A variety of landscape features, including designed landscapes, street layout, fences, hedges, granite posts, and the ruins of a granite wharf are important design elements in the district.

The contributing buildings on Pequot Avenue dominate the western side of the street. The large Italianate dwelling at 563 Pequot Avenue, c.1864, underwent substantial alterations in the late 1880s, with massive chimneys, oriels, and a one-story rear addition heavily influenced by the Queen Anne style. The carefully designed landscape also dates from this period. The size and setting of the Stick style cottage at 597 Pequot Avenue, c.1875, keep the building from being completely overshadowed by the adjacent Georgian Revival mansion at 605 Pequot Avenue, built in 1923. The palladian plan of this brick mansion is accentuated by the imposing two-story semi-circular portico with six Ionic columns. The formal landscape design, with parterres, mature foundation plantings, and privet hedge bordering the streets, is the work of Olmsted Brothers. The landscape complements the classical motif of the house and the whole property provides a foil for the 1928 eclectic dwelling at 625 Pequot Avenue. This house, a composite of French Norman farmhouse designs, occupies the entire block between Chapel Drive and Glenwood Avenue, and uses brick, fieldstone, stucco, and half-timbering to create a rustic veneer on a very sophisticated building.

A number of 19th-century cottage styles are represented in the Pequot Colony Historic District, indicating the rapid development of this area from the 1860s through the 1890s. These buildings are all frame; many have one- and two-story porches which wrap two or three sides of the building, typical of resort cottage architecture in the late-19th century. Italianate, Second Empire, and Gothic Revival styles predominate. Five adjacent buildings, from 835 to 857 Montauk Avenue, were built between 1872 and 1884; one house is actually an updated Greek Revival dwelling, raised one story and remodeled in 1879. The Gothic Revival Pequot Chapel (1872) at 857 Montauk Avenue, with board and batten siding and two windows signed by Tiffany Glassworks, Inc., has remained essentially unchanged for the last century. The remarkable cottage next door at 851 Montauk Avenue (1876), with elaborate two-story porches, is an outstanding example of its period, imparting the flavor of the historic seasonal use and recreational nature of much of the Pequot Colony Historic District.

More modest late-19th and early-20th century buildings and American Foursquare dwellings are clustered along Lower Boulevard and the northern stretch of Montauk Avenue. These buildings, which retain much of their architectural integrity, represent the homes and social facilities of employees who worked on the large estates, the barns, and the carriage houses which were an integral part of the colony.

Some fine examples of Colonial Revival architecture are located on Glenwood Avenue and Montauk Avenue. All the contributing buildings on Glenwood Avenue are built in this style; 39 and 51 Glenwood Avenue are particularly noteworthy. There is a strong visual connection between 51 Glenwood Avenue and the three houses on the opposite corner of Glenwood and Montauk Avenues. The three, which are nearly identical in massing and scale, represent Gothic Revival, Colonial Revival, and Shingle styles.

The early-20th century architecture found in the Pequot Colony Historic District is primarily revival style in inspiration. When the large estates were subdivided, Dutch Colonial Revival, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival dwellings were built on the newly created lots along Montauk and Gardner Avenues and on the south side of Chapel Drive. Several examples of American Foursquare residential buildings and a good example of the Bungalow style are also found here.

Significance

The Pequot Colony Historic District, active between 1852 and 1930, is historically significant as one of the most prominent summer resort communities on the Connecticut shore. Residents and guests of the Pequot Colony included members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished Northeastern families and their employees, two 19th-century presidents, and a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In the early 20th century, the Pequot Colony began to undergo residential development for year-round occupancy, both by prominent local residents and by families who were employed on the larger estates. The Pequot Colony Historic District has a well-preserved collection of 19th-century resort architecture, including good examples of Italianate, Second Empire, and Gothic Revival buildings, and some of the finest examples of 20th-century Revival styles in New London. The dwellings and affiliated buildings include the work of famous architects and their employees, including James Renwick and Frank Forster, and the work of capable local builders and architects. The surviving landscape design of at least one dwelling is the work of the distinguished firm, Olmsted Brothers.

Historical Background

The southern end of New London was used primarily as farmland in the first two centuries following the founding of the city. In 1852, the same year the shoreline railroad connecting New London to New York was completed, two local businessmen purchased 35 acres of the Harbor's Mouth Farm and erected the Pequot House, a large public hotel, on the northwest corner of Pequot and Glenwood Avenues with 1000 feet of beach frontage. Their managerial skills were lacking, and the following year some local entrepreneurs formed the Pequot Hotel Corporation, taking over the ownership and management of the hotel. One of the company's first actions was the appointment of Henry S. Crocker as manager of the hotel. His ties with the Pequot House endured for more than two decades as he eventually assumed financial responsibilities for the property. During his tenure, eight rental cottages were constructed and the hotel underwent several additions. Including the cottages, the Pequot House could house 600 guests.

As the Pequot's reputation as a summer resort grew, families of great wealth and social position who were associated with the industrial growth of the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries began to visit; many returned, either as guests or to build their own summer cottages. The New York Yacht Club erected a one-room club house at the foot of Gardner Avenue (no longer extant). Members of the diplomatic corps and prominent politicians frequented the Pequot. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Edward Douglass White, President Ulysses S. Grant, and ex-president Chester A. Arthur spent time at the Pequot. The exclusive social atmosphere of the Pequot Colony was reinforced with the formation of the private Pequot Casino Association in 1890.

In 1872, Henry Scudder Crocker donated land on Montauk Avenue between Glenwood Avenue and Lower Boulevard for the erection of a non-sectarian chapel for summer residents. The Pequot Chapel and a series of Folk Victorian cottages define the perimeter of the guest area of the hotel, effectively separating it from the service area to the west and north. The stables for the hotel and the large private cottages were located along Lower Boulevard. The 1894 Montauk Hotel on the corner of Lower Boulevard was used by the employees of the Pequot House and the larger homes, who were not welcomed in the resort hotel, and provided affordable vacations for working-class families who wished to experience the pleasures of a seaside resort.

By the turn of the century, a working-class neighborhood was developing along Montauk Avenue. Opened in 1889, the avenue provided an inland corridor from the Pequot Colony into New London proper, which became even more accessible with the laying of the trolley tracks along Montauk Avenue in 1893. The employees of the large estates, the Pequot House, and the Pequot Casino took this opportunity to purchase land for their own homes and establish permanent residences, which provided increased autonomy and consistent schooling for their children. Many of the summer rental cottages were relocated to sites north of Lower Boulevard and used as year-round residences, including 806 and 810 Montauk Avenue, and 95 Gardner Avenue. Others built new homes, including 91 Gardner Avenue and 803 Montauk Avenue. The community which evolved was a cohesive one. The small numbers and relative isolation from town occasionally brought the two social elements together for mutual benefit.

The decline of the Pequot Colony as an important summer resort can be attributed to several factors. A major fire in 1908 completely destroyed the Pequot House and one cottage and damaged 13 others. Prohibition contributed to the decline of social activities of the colony. The drastic reversals of family fortunes for many after 1929 forestalled any efforts to revive the Pequot Colony as a socially prominent resort.

As the larger estates were increasingly left vacant for the summer season, two men came to the fore. Waldo E. Clarke put through Quinnepeag Avenue and divided many of the larger estates for development, often building houses for resale. Ernest Rogers was president of the Winthrop Trust Company from 1922 until his death in 1945. He was instrumental in dividing and selling the former Pequot Hotel Corporation holdings in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1923, he built a magnificent Georgian Revival house overlooking the Thames River at 605 Pequot Avenue. Rogers served as State Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor but lost the gubernatorial election to Wilbur Cross in 1931.

The natural scenery which inspired the initial development of the Pequot Colony continued to attract both homeowners and speculators. In 1928, Theodore Bodenwein, owner and publisher of The Day, the major local newspaper, and his wife built their home on the grounds of the Pequot House. Robert Tetreault, a local builder, erected four Colonial Revival homes on the site of a former estate in 1926. The Colonial Revival houses on Glenwood Avenue and at 38 Chapel Drive were the results of speculative development by Clarke and Rogers. The children of the various estate employees also settled here, building their modest yet stylish homes in the neighborhood.

Architectural Significance

The Pequot Colony Historic District contains a cohesive grouping of late-19th and early-20th century buildings which illustrates both resort cottage architecture and domestic architectural styles. Within the Pequot Colony Historic District are examples of high-style architecture unsurpassed in the city, a concentration of well-designed Colonial Revival houses, and a collection of fanciful cottages, modest in scale, but with a wealth of original decorative detail, indicative of the craftsmanship which local builders exercised in their construction.

The rental cottages built for the Pequot House or near the hotel are typical of 19th century resort architecture. Lack of adherence to usual building design suggests the recreational nature of these cottages. Expansive porches which often wrap two or three sides of a cottage are evidence of the extensive use of these exterior spaces in temperate weather. 851 Montauk Avenue is perhaps the best extant example of this informal resort style in the Pequot Colony.

The 1872 Pequot Chapel at 857 Montauk Avenue is a fine example of the Carpenter Gothic Revival style espoused by Andrew Jackson Downing, utilizing varying texture and color to enrich the building. Its design has been attributed to James Renwick. The buttresses in the rear of the building emphasize the Gothic tradition. The board-and-batten construction stresses the rustic application of this style. The domestic version of Gothic Revival in the Pequot Colony is well illustrated by 806 Montauk.

Lewis Crandall, self-described master carpenter and builder, converted 35 Hall Avenue from a bowling alley into a cottage and built at least five other cottages on Hall Avenue and Chapel Drive in both Italianate and Second Empire styles. The cottages at 51 Hall Avenue, 810 Montauk Avenue, and 17 Chapel Drive are all well-preserved examples of Second Empire cottage design, with slight variations in the treatment of the square engaged towers, porches wrapping the houses, and round-headed dormer windows in the mansard roofs. The late-19th century cottages and associated outbuildings built by the wealthy summer residents convey the more substantial nature of these dwellings.

The houses built at the turn of the century continued to employ high levels of design. Eugene Kirkland, an architect who worked for James Renwick, designed 51 Glenwood Avenue and 767 Montauk Avenue 15 years apart (1894, 1911). The 1875 Gothic Revival cottage at 891 Montauk Avenue was altered in 1900 into a Colonial Revival dwelling by local architect James Duffy. A local building firm, H.R. Douglas and Son, demonstrated mastery of the Colonial Revival style with the construction of 19 and 39 Glenwood Avenue in 1929.

The Ernest Rogers house at 605 Pequot Avenue is one of the finest examples of the Georgian Revival style in the city. Designed by Arthur W. Jackson and built in 1923, the house is replete with both subtle and overt classical details which are well integrated into the overall design. The imposing two-story semi-circular Ionic portico conveys a powerful statement of permanence and prominence. The landscape design, which is well-preserved, is the work of the Olmsted Brothers firm. Equally outstanding is the 1928 home of Theodore Bodenwein at 625 Pequot Avenue, which dominates the opposite corner of Chapel Drive from the Rogers house. The design is the work of Frank J. Forster and is based on vernacular French-Norman farmhouse styles. Use of half-timbering, stone, brick and stucco, and steeply pitched roofs with narrow dormers is found in Quarry Farm in Greenwich, which Forster designed a year later in a similar style. The cohesive architectural and landscape designs are not overwhelmed by the scenic beauty of the site, but effectively complement the natural setting.

Contemporaneous dwellings of working class families drew inspiration from the more illustrious residences in the Pequot Colony. Shingles, a common siding material in seaside communities, were used extensively on the Colonial Revival houses rather than the more traditional clapboard siding. The houses at 41 Lower Boulevard and 802 Montauk Avenue are subdued in their use of ornamentation, but demonstrate a stylish flair and good design. Use of Tudor Revival in the modest but well-executed house at 802 Montauk Avenue is unusual in the city, since the style was often used for more elaborate dwellings.

References

American Architect, Vol. 130, No.2500. July 5, 1926.

Architectural Record, Vol. 67, No. 2; pp.121-127 "A House for Theodore Bodenweiser (sic)"

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

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

"Diary of Mary Alice Townsend Sackett," New London, 1892. Photocopy of manuscript in possession of Belle Schenk estate, New London, Connecticut.

Junior League of Greenwich. The Great Estates. Greenwich, Connecticut, 1986.

† Sharon P. Churchill, New London Landmarks, Inc. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Pequot Colony Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Chapel Drive, Crocker Street, Gardner Avenue, Glenwood Avenue, Hall Avenue, Harbor Lane, Lower Boulevard, Montauk Avenue, Pequot Avenue

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