Post Hill Historic District
The Post Hill Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
Post Hill Historic District is located approximately one-quarter mile west of New London's historic commercial and civic center along the Thames River. The district is the site of the city's first European settlement, c.1645. By the mid-18th century, the city center had shifted to the riverfront; the Antientest Burial Place cemetery (c.1650), oldest in New London and in the county, is the sole 17th-century resource surviving in the historic district. The centerpiece of the Post Hill Historic District both visually and historically is Williams Park (1858), whose establishment helped spur the area's growth and appeal. Most Post Hill Historic District buildings were erected between 1845 and 1920 during the area's development as a prime residential neighborhood. On the edges of the Post Hill Historic District are many resources already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Jonathan Harris House (1859-60) and Williams Memorial Institute (1891) on Broad Street, and Bulkeley School (1871) on Hempstead Street; nearby are the Williams Memorial Park Historic District and Prospect Street Historic District. The Post Hill Historic District also includes one property, the Nathan A. Woodworth House (1890) at 28 Channing Street, already listed in the National Register.
The Post Hill Historic District occupies the first high ground west of downtown New London, with fine views overlooking the harbor. On the upward slope is the Antientest Burial Place, marked with the outcroppings of granite ledge that are a significant visual feature throughout the district. Post Hill's rolling terrain rises to a high point on Addison Street, which is among the highest elevations in the city, with views to Long Island Sound, a fact which contributed to its residential appeal. Many dwellings have hilly yards, and retaining walls of quarry-dressed granite are widespread. The terrain drops sharply to the north, partly as a result of excavation for Interstate 95 just beyond; to the west and south the slope downward is gradual.
Post Hill Historic District contains 228 resources, of which 216 (95%) contribute to its significance. The Antientest Burial Place, by far the oldest resource, contains markers dating from first settlement until approximately 1793, when the city's Second Burial Ground was established. District streets were opened for residential development over a 45-year period beginning c.1845, and the other built resources were virtually all built as single-family residences between 1845 and 1925.
The architectural styles represented include the Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. Despite this variety, within individual blocks most buildings are similar in size, proportion, and street setback, creating visual unity. Scattered throughout the district are several houses of more imposing dimensions and grounds. While most dwellings are generous in size and stylistic elaboration, there are also examples of smaller, more vernacular building forms, both in residences and outbuildings.
Williams Park, a rectangle bordered by Broad, Williams, Granite, and Channing streets, is amply shaded by mature deciduous shade trees, as are most district streets. The park has received an assortment of improvements over time, the most ambitious and extant being the statue of Nathan Hale (dedicated 1935), a copy of Frederick MacMonnies' work in City Hall Park, New York City. Near the park borders on Williams and Broad streets are modern memorials to veterans of armed conflicts.
Post Hill Historic District resources retain their historic appearances in varying degrees. The cemetery markers have suffered from depredations of age, pollution, and vandalism, those of softer stones such as sandstone experiencing the most damage. The built resources have fared much better. Synthetic siding is the most prevalent exterior alteration; some have received rear additions and metal fire escapes, especially those converted to office use, which has occurred mostly around Williams Park. All of the buildings are wood-framed, with clapboard or wood-shingle siding the most prevalent, often used in combination. Foundation walls are more varied, with brick, granite, and cobblestone in evidence. A building height of two stories is the rule, although Queen Anne style three-story towers are also common. The Post Hill Historic District has suffered few modern intrusions, the most obvious being the modern Dunkin Donuts shop and Friendly restaurant buildings on Broad Street just west of Williams Park.
Following customary practices of the time, the approximately 350 markers in the Antientest Burial Place are loosely arranged in a series of irregular, often discontinuous rows, generally oriented north-south. The stones face west toward Hempstead Street, with many joined by small footstones. Few markers are found in the cemetery's eastern third section, which suggests the presence of unmarked graves. Gravestone materials are granite, slate, and brown sandstone.
Most grave markers are upright tablets of varying height, with rectangular, segmental, or curvilinear tops, and they exhibit a broad range of decorative embellishments surrounding the legends. The most common detailing consists of skulls or winged soul effigies in the lunettes and viny foliation in the border panels, popular features throughout the 18th century.
Among the 235 stones attributed to known individual carvers, the earliest are those of John Hartshorne (1635-c.1737), 32 in number. His marker for Christopher Christophers (1687) displays the characteristics for which he is known: a relatively small stone, three-lobed top, central lunette with distinctive face of minimal articulation having a blank, staring expression and framed by layered banding, and rosettes at the corner lobes. Sixty-two markers are those of the famous Stevens group of carvers in Newport. The Phebe Shackmaple monument (1776), signed by John Stevens, Jr., near the bottom, displays his well-known life-like figure, upswept wings, and border foliation. Among the cemetery's more florid designs, perhaps none is more unique than the Samuel Gray marker (1713), attribution unknown, with its armorial design.
Also found here are large rectangular stones either set flush into the ground or supported horizontally on columns, which are often fluted or paneled. Perhaps the most important of these table monuments is the one for Gurdon Saltonstall, colonial governor of Connecticut (1708-24). Near the Hempstead Street border is the vaulted tomb of Jonathan Brooks; according to local tradition, Benedict Arnold, a New London native, sat mounted on his horse astride this grave observing his British troops engage local volunteers at Fort Griswold in Groton on September 6, 1781. Victims of that engagement are buried here, including Adam Shapley.
The oldest buildings in the Post Hill Historic District are in the Greek Revival style, with most dating from the 1840s. The most simply detailed are a row of three on Amity Street that display straightforward gable-front plans, clapboard sheathing, six-over-six windows, and modest embellishment. The John O. Arnold House (1847) at 5 Granite Street is of impressive size and classical detailing; the Victorian porches are an alteration shared with several other Greek Revivals. The William Albertson House (1845), relocated to Vauxhall Street in 1973 from Hempstead Street, is the most elaborate, in part a result of alterations. The flushboard-sided house received a cast-iron Grecian porch c.1860, at which time the Italianate-influenced bay windows and central belvedere may also have been added.
Italianate houses in the Post Hill Historic District are mostly three-bay gable-front plans, often with cross-gabled side wings and wide front porches. Their ornamentation typically consists of curvilinear brackets (often paired) supporting roof and porch overhangs, chamfered porch posts, and round-arched windows with flat or segmental projecting windows heads. Window bays of one or two stories, first popularized by this style, are numerous. A few Italianate designs stand out: the Captain Samuel Green House (c.1860), 53 Granite Street, despite large modern additions at the rear, has especially bold detailing, a flat roof with central belvedere, and unusual paired octagonal windows in the wide roofline frieze. At the front steps are sets of cast-iron handrails, perhaps the remnants of a fence once encircling the property. Across the street is the large c.1860 Italian Villa, much simpler in its detailing, built for Henry R. Bond.
The Second Empire style is well represented, and most of the examples display flared mansard roofs and heavy over-scaled classically inspired detailing. The building plans generally conform to those of the Italianate style; the most singular in plan and elaboration is the William Barns House (c.1875) at 17 Granite Street. A somewhat incongruous feature is the Italianate belvedere, and the Colonial Revival front entrance appears to be an alteration.
Buildings in the Queen Anne style are the most numerous, and their range of stylistic articulation is the greatest. Rows of middle-class housing along West Street and Vauxhall Street illustrate the asymmetrical plans with cross-gabled rooflines, intricate detailing, and varied sheathing materials associated with the style. Grander designs, both in size and ornamentation, are common. Towers of assorted heights, projection, and roofline may be found; one being 24 Channing Street (c.1890) displays a three-story, almost structurally discrete polygonal-roofed tower, while the two-story engaged tower at 28 Channing Street (c.1890) is surmounted by an apsidal roof. The second-story porch at 24, centered over the entrance with hip-roofed dormer directly above, is another tower form found, with variation, in several houses. At 28, the breadth of distinctive detailing includes decorative wood-shingle sheathing, curvilinear brackets supporting cutaway corners, and the front third-floor window set beneath a jerkin-head gable. One of the most visually complex Queen Anne examples is the Queen Anne Inn, 265 Williams Street, with its florid, classically inspired frieze and gable peak plaster ornamentation.
Examples of the Colonial Revival and related classical revival styles are relatively few in number, since most construction in the district occurred before 1900. Their range in articulation, however, is equal to that of the Queen Anne. The Flora Daboll House (1929), 250 Hempstead Street, typifies the modest designs in its three-bay plan and central front door sheltered by a gabled porch. A far grander effort, the Arthur Keefe House at 190 Broad Street (c.1900), displays bowfront Palladian windows flanking the elaborately detailed front entrance porch, a Palladian window centered above at the second story, and pilasters in each of the three Greek classical orders embellishing the fenestration and building corners. The most ambitious single-family design is the brick Elias Bragaw House (1908) (now the Williams Street Apartments) at 183 Williams Street, a Second Renaissance Revival confection noteworthy for its brick Ionic pilasters, Corinthian porch columns, and heavy window corbeling.
Of the three apartment buildings in the Post Hill Historic District, the two on Granite Street deserve mention. The Melville (c.1915), a Neo-Classical Revival design, displays an almost monumental concentration of classical detailing in its facade, balanced by wood-shingle sheathing. The Highland Apartments (c.1920), in contrast, is a much larger building softened by delicate classical detailing, including a brick and concrete diaper frieze and garlanded roofline medallion over the entrance.
Examples of other styles, though few, are also present. The Frederick Newcomb House and carriage house (1896-97, G.W. Dietrich, New York architect), the largest dwelling in the district, exemplifies the Shingle style. The gestures include quarry-dressed pink granite and wood-shingled walls, arcaded stone porches, assorted window shapes and sizes, and the highly complex roof with dormers on all sides. A less ambitious design, although possessing all the attributes of the style, is the Percy C. Eggleston House (1910) at 61 Vauxhall Street. 232 Williams Street (c.l875), one of two Gothic Revival designs, is distinguished by the foliated pierced bargeboard and pierced porch frieze and railing.
Many dwellings from the turn of the century combine features of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Vauxhall Street has a number of these; #85, for example, displays a Queen Anne style irregular plan classical detailing drawn from the Colonial Revival. With few exceptions, the outbuildings in the district (mostly two-car garages) appear to have been built after the dwellings on the same parcels and are vernacular Colonial Revival.
Historically, the Post Hill Historic District is a cohesive group of buildings, structures, and sites that document the development of one of the oldest parts of New London from the city's first European settlement until the mid-20th century. Located here is the Antientest Burial Place cemetery, the oldest in New London County and the site of grave markers for many of the colony's early leaders, among them the table monument for Gurdon Saltonstall, sixth colonial governor of Connecticut. The cemetery also contains excellent examples of 18th century New England gravestone art by recognized masters of carving. The area is significant architecturally because it is a concentration of resources, of both local and statewide distinction, that has retained a high degree of integrity. Post Hill Historic District buildings, which are primarily residential, include distinguished examples of the most popular mid-19th to early-20th century architectural styles in New England, among them the Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Shingle, and Colonial Revival styles.
Cemeteries typically are ineligible for listing in the National Register. However, criteria consideration applies in the case of New London's Antientest Burial Place. The site is an integral part of this historic district, its stones have high artistic merit, and the cemetery is one of the earliest city institutions. The monument to Governor Gurdon Saltonstall, furthermore, is the only known object directly associated with the life of this noteworthy figure in Connecticut history.
Occupying high ground overlooking the Thames River, Post Hill was the natural place for the first English settlers, led by John Winthrop, Jr., to choose for the center of their new community in 1645. In laying out the town, land was set aside for a meetinghouse and, adjacent to the north, a burying ground. One of the first grantees of land was Richard Post, after whom the area became known as Post Hill. Williams Street was laid out as the route to the town mill (1650) in Winthrop Cove, and Vauxhall Street was known as the Colchester Road.
The first burial in the Antientest Burial Place, as the cemetery is now known, probably occurred by 1652. Many of the early graves are unmarked. The present cemetery boundaries were clearly defined in a 1653 town ordinance, and the oldest markers date from at least 1662.
Maritime commerce rapidly became the driving economic force in New London, and the city's important civic institutions were drawn to the commercial center along the riverfront. By the mid-18th century, New London's present downtown was firmly established as the hub of community life. New London became a prosperous colonial seaport; its commercial importance and strategic value figured in the 1781 British raid, led by turncoat Benedict Arnold. The colonial and British forces fought at Fort Griswold in Groton on September 6, 1781; according to tradition, Arnold observed the engagement astride his horse from the Antientest Burial Place. Following the battle, the British burned New London.
After its early prominence declined, Post Hill remained open farmland until the mid-19th century. By that time, New London's prosperity as a whaling port, second only in importance throughout the world to New Bedford, was stimulating growth and outward expansion. One of the first to foresee the investment opportunity in real estate development was Thomas Fitch (1812-1892), an entrepreneur who parlayed his grocery business profits into whaling, railroad, and real estate ventures. Through purchases beginning in 1845, he assembled a large tract in Post Hill, laid out streets at the eastern end of the historic district, and began selling lots for residential construction. Fitch built himself a generously scaled Greek Revival residence (1846) on Vauxhall Street. The neighborhood's new residents had varied backgrounds and wealth. Martin Coats, a meat grocer, occupied one of three modest Greek Revivals on Amity Street, while William Albertson, proprietor of a successful cotton gin manufactory, built a spacious Greek Revival home in a choice spot overlooking the city near the Antientest Burial Place.
Despite slow growth in the 1840s and 1850s, Post Hill's cachet as a residential address grew, a result of many factors. General William Williams donated Williams Park to the city in 1858 following the untimely death of his son, a prosperous city merchant. Over time, the city made improvements to the park, including a large central fountain (1871) and bandstand, that made it a popular destination for recreation and concerts. In the 1860s, a corner of the park was used by the Pequot Baseball Club, the city's first, and military drilling was held there during the Civil War. Illustrious citizens lived in the vicinity, a sure guarantee of the neighborhood's prestige; Jonathan Harris, former city mayor, for example, built an Italian Villa across Broad Street from the park in 1861. The area was also convenient to important institutions. When the New London Congregational Church suffered a split in the 1860s, a faction built the imposing Second Congregational Church (1870) at the head of Broad Street, only two blocks from Williams Park. The city's newest public high school was erected next to the church in 1871.
During the next 40 years, Post Hill gradually came to acquire much of its present-day appearance as an enclave of homes for the civic and business leaders of the city. Development ebbed and flowed depending on the city's economy. New residents included Henry Barns, president of the National Bank of Commerce (17 Granite Street), and whaling captain Samuel Green (53 Granite Street), both occupying homes of suitable size and architectural pretension. Dr. Washington Wentworth Sheffied, inventor of "creme dentifrice," a forerunner of modern toothpaste, moved into one of the early Second Empire style homes. Thomas Fitch played a central role until his bankruptcy in 1879, when the Savings Bank of New London sold his farm and property west and north of the park to other investors. In 1892, the Post Hill Improvement Company was organized and the blocks west of the park witnessed a final burst of construction. Capping the district's prestige was the distinguished Shingle style mansion (1896-97) of Frederick Newcomb, the prosperous dry goods merchant.
During the first quarter of the 20th century, Post Hill experienced maturation and some expected changes. The remaining vacant parcels were built upon and the expansive grounds of a few of the grander homes became so valuable for development that the homes were demolished and the properties more intensively used. A few apartment buildings, of stylistic pretension themselves, were erected. Perhaps the most interesting occurrence was the construction by Dr. Hugh Lena of a private 20-bed hospital on Broad Street, one of the few of its kind in the state. Dr. Lena performed surgical procedures on a regular basis, expanded the hospital to 28 beds in 1936, and built a fine Colonial Revival home next door in 1941.
From mid-century onward, Post Hill has experienced the vicissitudes typical of many urban residential neighborhoods. Some homes have been converted into professional offices and institutional uses, in fewer cases to apartments. Residences on Broad Street just west of Williams Park were demolished and replaced by modern one-story restaurants, damaging the historic visual integrity along that street. Post Hill, nevertheless, is still primarily a cohesive neighborhood of single-family homes, one that enjoys continued appeal as a fine residential address.
The contributing resources in the Post Hill Historic District have retained, to a considerable extent, their historic and architectural integrity. Despite vandalism and expected deterioration, the grave markers in the Antientest Burial Place remain largely intact. The houses possess most of their original style-defining features, and Williams Park's role as the focal point of the district is secure. The Post Hill Historic District's physical integrity and diverse collection of resources make it a significant link to New London's past.
The Antientest Burial Place is one of Connecticut's most noteworthy expressions of the art of gravestone carving during the 17th and 18th centuries. It contains grave markers of diverse size, materials, and stylistic elaborations, including granite, brownstone, and slate tablets with winged soul effigies, early tablets and slabs of modest artistry set flush in the ground, and large table monuments resting on classically molded pedestals. No other cemetery in New London so clearly articulates this period.
18th-century New England grave markers are valued as notable expressions of American folk art; those in the Antientest Burial Place are recognized as among the state's most impressive examples of the time, illustrating contemporary stylistic trends and the works of many skilled stonecutters. The cemetery has been described as "one of most important ...of all the great burying grounds of eastern Connecticut".
The high significance of the cemetery lies in the artistic merit and unusual diversity of the stonecutters represented. Because of New London's leading colonial role as a seaport and maritime connections, many stones were carved in other port cities and brought here by vessel, adding interest to those done locally. The stones include granite ones from inland Connecticut carved by John Hartshorne, slates from Newport by members of the Stevens family, and sandstones from Connecticut River Valley cutters. Most are recognized as masters of the genre for their high technical skill and creativity. John Hartshorne (1650-c.1737) "established a carving tradition that persisted until the close of the eighteenth century,...[influencing] all of the later granite carvers of eastern Connecticut". Hartshorne is recognized as the founder of the Eastern Connecticut Ornamental style of carving, done in granite. Some of his stones without doubt were lettered by Joshua Hempstead of New London. The Stevens group from Newport, working in slate, "strongly influenced many of the local craftsmen...because of [their] relative sophistication".
The buildings themselves are typical, and in some cases notable, examples of several architectural styles, displaying a range in size and articulation appropriate to the affluence and aspirations of their owners. The William Albertson House, Captain Samuel Green House, and Susan Hawkins and Ella Brown Hawkins House are among New London's finest examples of the Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne styles, respectively; the Frederick Newcomb House has received scholarly attention for its accomplished interpretation of the Shingle style. The prominence of their owners, leaders in business and civic life, is clearly announced. The Post Hill Historic District is particularly rich in Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne designs, displaying the characteristic features of those styles in both sophisticated buildings and in the more modest, though amply sized, housing suitable for prosperous middle-class professionals and tradespeople. Also present are houses and outbuildings whose simplicity in plan and design illustrates the period's vernacular building traditions.
The resources in the Post Hill Historic District are also significant because they document the evolution of part of New London over the course of three centuries. The Antientest Burial Place contains the oldest extant physical artifacts related to early settlement and life in New London. Most of the city's leading 17th- and 18th-century residents are buried here, among them Gurdon Saltonstall, who served for twenty years as the pastor of the New London church before becoming colonial governor; Thomas Short, the Connecticut colony's first printer; Richard Stone, the first captain of the regular militia in Connecticut; and Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727), a noted colonial diarist.
The development of the Post Hill Historic District expresses the vagaries of New London's commercial life from the mid-19th century until the early 20th. Settlement began in response to the city's booming whaling commerce; it continued at an uneven pace over more than half a century as the city suffered from the decline of this economic engine, prospered later from manufacturing, and was influenced by national events, such as the Panic of 1873, which helped bankrupt developer Thomas Fitch. The creation of Williams Park, furthermore, is an important local expression of the mid-19th century parks movement in America, with the park playing an integral role in the social life of New London for generations, besides its stimulus of the development of the Post Hill neighborhood.
"Antientest Burial Place" is the name popularly attached to the cemetery. Its historical origin is not entirely clear, although Antient Buriall Place was the title of Edward Prentis' well-known 1899 inventory of the cemetery's burial markers, published by The Day Publishing Company of New London.
Neither the fountain nor the bandstand is extant. No information has been found, furthermore, to establish whether the park was professionally designed.
The estate of Elias Morgan on Broad Street was subdivided, while the James Hislop property, at the corner of Vauxhall and Williams streets, was acquired by the Smith Home, which in 1933 built the large Colonial Revival facility that now houses the Smith-Bent Home of the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc.
In 1953, the Newcomb House on Vauxhall Street was converted into Beechwood Manor, a convalescent hospital.
Slater. The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them (1987). p.221.
Slater, Ibid, p.6.
Slater, Ibid., p.107.
See the photograph of the Newcomb House at page 292 of McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses (New York, 1984).
10]Thomas Fitch, for example, in 1862 sold his Vauxhall Street mansion to Hiram Willey, mayor of New London (1862-65). Willey, in turn, sold the property to Thomas Waller, a later mayor (1873-79) and governor of Connecticut (1883-84).
Knight is best known for her diary recounting a 1704 trip from Boston to New York, in which she vividly described colonial life and people. The journal was published in 1825 as The Journals of Madam Knight and Rev. Mr. Buckingham.
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: F.W. Beers, A.D. Ellis, and G.G. Soule, 1868.
Caulkins, Frances M. History of New London, Connecticut. New London: H.D. Utley, 1895.
Hurd, Dwight Hamilton. History of New London County, Connecticut, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis and Co., 1882.
McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
New London City Directories, 1875-1910.
New London Landmarks. Historic Resources Survey of New London, 1979, 1984-85.
Picturesque New London and its Environs. New London: American Book Exchange, 1901.
Prentis, Edward. Ye Antient Buriall Place. New London: Press of The Day Publishing Co., 1899.
Sanborn Insurance Map of New London, 1912. New York: Sanborn-Perry Map Company, 1912.
Slater, James A. The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them. Hamden: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1987.
Wall, Richard B. Wall's Scrapbook, columns from The Day, 1906-1924.
† Adapted from: Sharon P. Churchill, New London Landmarks, Inc. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Williams Memorial Park Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.