Prospect Street Historic District
The Prospect Street 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 Prospect Street Historic District encompasses approximately 5.5 acres of land. Roughly square in shape, the district is bounded by Bulkeley Place on the north, Hempstead Street on the west, Federal Street on the south and Huntington Street on the east, excepting 116 Federal Street on the south side of the street. Prospect Street bisects the district on a north-south axis. The Prospect Street Historic District is immediately northwest of the central business district and the Downtown New London National Register District, and diagonally opposite the Whale Oil Row National Register District. The Prospect Street Historic District is located on a hillside, with the slope rising to the western boundary along Hempstead Street. The elevated site of the district offers a commanding view of New London harbor.
The Prospect Street Historic District is densely developed with 24 residential buildings, and two undeveloped lots on the northeast and southeast corners. There is only one non-contributing structure in the Prospect Street Historic District, a 1949 house adjacent to the southeastern lot. The houses along Prospect Street are primarily two-and-one-half story Greek Revival dwellings, while those along Huntington, which have the same proportions, are built into the hillside with an exposed basement, giving them additional height. The houses on the eastern half of the district are built closer together, with about 40 feet frontage for each building, except 26 Prospect on the northeast corner of the street. The houses on the western half have more expansive frontage and larger yards, and with three exceptions, are generally bigger buildings.
Except for the replacement of two Greek Revival houses with an 1889 Queen Anne and a 1905 Colonial Revival, and an early Federal house, all the houses in the Prospect Street Historic District were built between 1838 and 1859. Fifteen of these houses are Greek Revival, four are Italianate and one is Gothic Revival. There are many variants of the Greek Revival style, although the gable-end-to-street form with classical entablature predominates. These have semi-circular gable windows with fan tracery, a vestige of the Federal period which remained popular in New London through the Greek Revival period, and entryways with sidelights and transom in a surround consisting of an entablature supported by pilasters.
The Prospect Street Historic District benefits from having few intrusions to its historic layout, preserving the close-knit relationship of the houses and streets. From almost every vantage point within the district, there is an exceptional view of an intact mid-19th century streetscape. Perhaps the most stunning one is the view looking north up Prospect Street, which shows nine well-preserved Greek Revival residences, with a Gothic Revival and a Queen Anne tucked among them, and the High Victorian Gothic Bulkeley School (already listed on the National Register) at the terminus.
The Prospect Street Historic District is a homogeneous residential neighborhood which developed in the mid-nineteenth century in response to the increased demand for middle-class housing caused by New London's prosperity in the whaling industry. Its initial development was begun as a speculative venture in 1836 with the purchase of the Hallam family estate by two New London entrepreneurs. Their subdivision of the land, and the creation of Prospect Street, brought more New London citizens into the venture. The intense and orderly development of the district in the short span of two decades resulted in a remarkable collection of well-preserved Greek Revival and Italianate dwellings of modest proportions, most with simple detailing, rendered in both wood and brick, including several excellent examples of both styles. A number of the houses are examples of the early work of two prominent and prolific local builder/architects, John Bishop and Lewis Crandall, and the high quality of design and workmanship illustrate the skills of these men.
In 1836, Hezekiah Goddard and Sabin K. Smith purchased the Hallam estate, which lay between Broad Street and Bulkeley Place, Hempstead and Huntington Streets. The two New London real estate entrepreneurs then divided the property between themselves, with Goddard receiving the southern half between Federal and Broad Streets, and Smith the northern half between Federal Street and Bulkeley Place. Smith opened his land for development in 1837 by laying out Prospect Street, which bisected his property, and Goddard and Robert Coit, whose properties on Huntington Street adjoined, continued Federal Street west between Huntington and Hempstead Streets. The Sabin Smith property almost entirely defines the Prospect Street Historic District today.
Sabin Smith proceeded to sell off his holdings in the district. He sold the land west of Prospect Street for $1,400 in November 1837 to four men, Giles and Leonard Dart, and William and Avery Noyes, the latter a painter. Three weeks later, he sold the property on the eastern side of the street to Lewis Crandall, William Gray, William Holt and Joseph Skinner for $1,450. Smith kept the property bordering Huntington Street intact, never building any houses on his land, although several houses were already built along Prospect Street by February, 1839, when he sold his remaining parcel to Robert Coit for $1,500. Smith's only future involvement with the development of the district lay in holding mortgages on some of the houses.
The four men who purchased the land on the east side of Prospect Street divided up their holdings a month later, each receiving approximately 80 feet frontage on the new street. Building activity began immediately. The Darts and Noyes divided up their property on the west side of Prospect Street into four identical parcels in July, 1838. In 1841, Avery Lamb, a cooper, hired Lewis Crandall to build 16 Prospect Street, which he sold, and probably 20 Prospect Street, which became his own house. William Holt built his own house at 19 Prospect Street on part of the land he received from Sabin Smith, selling the adjoining lot in 1845 to John Richards, a grocer.
Simultaneously, Robert Colt was developing the property he purchased from Sabin Smith. He built 142-144 Huntington Street, renting it out until he sold it in 1847. Colt was a member of a prominent New London family, whose own house was just outside the district on Huntington Street. In 1843, Coit sold the northern section of his land to Henry Cornell, a bootmaker, who built the Greek Revival house at 146 Huntington Street. Coit sold land on Federal Street to Isaac Comstock in 1850, with the stipulation that Comstock build a brick house there. Coit's son, Robert Coit, Jr., built his own home at 116 Federal Street. After his graduation from Yale in 1850 and subsequent study, the younger Colt became an attorney, becoming involved in a variety of business interests, including directorships with banks, railroad, steamboat and utility companies. He was also active in state and local politics, serving as mayor, state representative and state senator from New London.
The Prospect Street Historic District provided an investment opportunity for those connected with the local whaling industry. Leonard and Giles Dart had a foundry, making tinware, braces and iron castings for supplying whaleships. Robert Coit, along with his other mercantile and commercial interests, had a ship chandlery, which outfitted whalers for their lengthy voyages. He was also an incorporator and president of the Savings Bank, formed in 1827 for the benefit of the seafaring population. The involvement of these individuals in the development, along with that of Smith, the Noyes brothers and Gray, was solely a speculative venture to invest the capital realized from their association with whaling.
Between 1845 and 1848 New London had reached the height of its whaling activity, and the local economy depended on the industry for its prosperity. The people who built and lived in the Prospect Street Historic District were either directly or peripherally connected with whaling as mariners, coopers or grocers supplying whalers, bankers providing capital for the voyages, or builders kept active with construction of houses for the burgeoning population. Peter C. Turner, who built 127 Federal Street in 1849, was a trustee and partner in Albertson and Douglas Co., a foundry which did business with whalers and manufactured cotton gins. He was also cashier, and later president, of the Whaling Bank, established in 1833. Joseph C. Douglass, cashier of the Whaling Bank, built his home at 138 Huntington Street in 1851. Between 1835 and 1846, Starr and Tilley Streets on the southeastern edge of the downtown were developed as a middle-class neighborhood. Prospect Street represents the beginning of the residential development of the northwestern section of the city, convenient to downtown but outside the hub of commercial activity.
Several of the original Greek Revival houses built during the original development were either moved or torn down. In 1889, Alonzo Sholes purchased a house at 10 Prospect Street and replaced it with a Queen Anne house for himself. In 1905, the Methodist Episcopal Church, which had purchased a Greek Revival house at 193 Hempstead Street for a parsonage, sold the house to be removed from the site, and built the larger Colonial Revival parsonage which is there today.
One house in the Prospect Street Historic District antedated the development of Prospect Street. Smith did not purchase the northeastern corner bounded by Bulkeley Place and Huntington Street. 148 Huntington Street was part of the Law property sold in 1807 to Joseph Smith, who sold it in 1811 to Jedediah Brown. Captain Richard Law was a member of a distinguished New London family. Law served in the American naval service during the Revolutionary War, entering the merchant trade in 1801, and was later appointed customs collector for New London.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the Prospect Street Historic District is the variety of Greek Revival and Italianate domestic architecture. The vernacular variants of the Greek Revival style range from the very simple to the highly ornate. Although the gable-end of most of the Greek Revival houses parallel the street, two houses have ridges paralleling the street, including a brick Greek Revival duplex, found nowhere else in New London. Both of these houses have unusual design elements. Variants of the Italianate style are visually displayed in four buildings. One illustrates the transition between the Greek Revival and Italianate styles. Another is a very good example of a vernacular Italianate house. The others are high-style dwellings, one rendered in brick, the other using frame construction. In addition, the houses in the Prospect Street Historic District are well-preserved, and create a cohesive streetscape of mid-19th century dwellings.
The most representative form of the Greek Revival style is well-proportioned, 2-1/2-story and gable-end-to-street. Simplified pilasters, entablature and pediment with crown molding define the face of the structure. Entrances have plain Doric pilasters supporting an entablature, with transoms and sometimes sidelights. The tympanums are faced with flush tongue-and-groove boards and contain either a semi-circular or semi-elliptical window with muntins radiating from the center of the sill.
Lewis Crandall, a carpenter and builder was active, in this district during the early stages of his career. The craftsmanship evident in his own house at 25 Prospect Street, which he had completed by 1839, illustrates his proficiency and the potential which he would realize in his profession. The denticulated Ionic entrance portico is supported by fluted columns, richly carved with pineapples and leaves between the volutes and on the necking, and ovolo molding enriched with an egg-and-dart motif. Plain Ionic pilasters display the same ornamentation. Paired round-headed gable windows and an open-bed pediment are indicative of the evolving character of the Greek Revival style. The square engaged tower with round-headed dormers with segmentally-arched and bracketed hoods in the mansard roof, and a bay window on the north side, are probably later additions.
The unusual Greek Revival house at 10 Bulkeley Place may have been built by Crandall shortly after 1839. Panelled pilasters terminate at the third story and are surmounted with pilasters with a geometric design for another half-story. A triple attic window in the gable-end has triangular window hoods. This stylized Palladian motif is influenced by the Gothic Revival style. 13 Prospect Street displays the simple Greek Revival detailing that is a hallmark of the Prospect Street Historic District. This residence the most nearly intact example of this style, with plain Doric pilasters and door surround, transom, plain entablature, and a semi-circular gable window, quite common in early New London Greek Revival dwellings, a vestige of the Federal style. The detail on 20 Prospect Street is only slightly more intricate than that of 13 Prospect Street, and it would not be unlikely for Crandall to have been involved in both projects.
Skinner engaged another prominent local builder, John Bishop, in erecting at least one, possibly all, of the houses at 3 and 7 Prospect Street and 107 Federal Street. Bishop had been active in building Greek Revival houses on nearby Starr Street and Tilley Street between 1836 and 1842, and earlier had built the Ionic columns for the four large Greek Revival mansions on Huntington Street, diagonally opposite from the Prospect Street Historic District. Skinner built 3 Prospect Street in 1841-2, but the denticulated frieze and panelled pilasters of the door surround indicate the presence of a builder familiar with the Greek Revival style. 7 Prospect Street, built by Skinner between 1838 and 1842, is slightly less elaborate, with plain Doric pilasters and entablature. A bay window and Eastlake porch, as well as bracketed window hoods, are later additions.
107 Federal Street has panelled pilasters and four panelled piers connected by segmental arches with keystones, all surmounted by Tuscan columns supporting a second-story porch which stretches across the front of the house. Unlike most of the Greek Revival houses in the Prospect Street Historic District, this house and its neighbor at 103 Federal Street have their ridges parallel to the street and entrances in the exposed brick foundations, an arrangement necessitated by the topography of the lots. The latter is a Greek Revival duplex with a projecting central stair tower three stories high, flanked by double porches supported by panelled columns on brick piers.
Nathan D. Smith, a melodeon manufacturer, hired John Bishop to build 26 Prospect Street, on the eastern portion of his land. This Gothic Revival house, referred to as a "cottage house" in Bishop's obituary. has steeply-pitched gables, lancet windows and square towers with mansard roofs, one clearly Gothic in origin. The square engaged tower on 34 Bulkeley Place may have been built at the same time by Joseph Aborn Smith who purchased both properties in 1855.
The high-style Greek Revival house at 17 Prospect Street was built shortly after 1845. The four fluted porch columns have exquisitely carved detail copied from Minard Lafever's The Beauties of Modern Architecture In 1843, John Bishop had used the same design for the capitals of the First Universalist Meeting House at 29 Huntington Street. 17 Prospect Street is quite likely another example of his prowess in this metier. Rusticated pilasters, a flat roofline and eyebrow windows on the third story set this house apart from its neighbors, which are much simpler in design and detail.
The four Italianate homes in the Prospect Street Historic District relate well visually. 191 Hempstead Street was built by Franklin and James Brown in the 1840s. Although modest in comparison with its neighbor at 127 Federal Street, this house displays typical Italianate detailing. It has paired round-headed gable windows and round-headed dormer windows, overhanging eaves supported by brackets with pendants, and square chamfered columns and engaged columns supporting the bracketed porch roofs. The elaborate Italianate home at 127 Federal Street has anthemions on the pilasters on each corner of this square house and on the lantern story, deeply overhanging bracketed eaves, splayed lintels and stained glass sidelights and transom which form a tree. The outstanding feature of the house is a cast-iron veranda on the west and south sides with a hexagonal corner.
138 Huntington Street combines characteristics of both Greek Revival and Italianate styles. The window openings and bracketed roof overhang are more commonly associated with Italianate dwellings, but the granite lintels and sills, and austere facade, clearly show the influence of the Greek Revival style. Oversized Eastlake hoodmolds over the elongated first-story windows are a noteworthy feature added to this house at a later date. Located midway between 138 Huntington Street and 127 Federal Street, 116 Federal Street completes this visual triangle of Italianate homes. The brick Italianate house has a hipped roof and boldly projecting eaves supported by molded brackets pierced with circular holes, and a rounded wooden hood supported by consoles over the entrance.
148 Huntington Street is a vernacular dwelling with Federal characteristics, including the traces of narrow Doric pilasters set in from the sides of the building, now visible because of the removal of asbestos siding. Built into the side of a hill, gable-end to street, with the entrance on the south side, the house has a pediment but no entablature and six-over-nine windows on the north side.
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† Sharon F. Churchill, New London Landmarks, Inc. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Prospect Street Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.