Bean Hill Historic District
The Bean Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. 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 Bean Hill Historic District is a well-preserved grouping of 18th- and 19th-century buildings focused on an ancient green near the Yantic River at Norwich's western boundary. The Bean Hill section of Norwich, so named, according to one of several legends, because hungry prospectors found pots of baked beans buried there, was an 18th-century manufacturing, commercial, and residential center; the concentration of 18th-century buildings around Bean Hill Plain reflects this early prominence. Though "strip"-type development of gas stations and motels encroaches southeast of Bean Hill along West Town Street, and the Connecticut Turnpike runs just east of the district, the summit of Bean Hill, its historic center, and particularly the Plain, survives relatively unscathed. West Town Street, an important thoroughfare since the 17th century, retains its mixed residential and commercial character, while Huntington Avenue, perpendicular to West Town Street, is more intimate and residential. Of the 30 buildings in the Bean Hill Historic District, 7 are designated non-contributing.
The boundaries of the Bean Hill Historic District were drawn so as to include the major concentration of buildings, particularly those dating from the 18th century, along the historic core of Bean Hill. This area includes Bean Hill Plain and both sides of West Town Street as it rises up Bean Hill past the Plain and bears west on to the Yantic River. The 20th-century automobile-related development southeast of the district on West Town Street extends only to the base of the hill, so that topography and the incongruous recent structures combine to create a perceptible eastern boundary. So, too, topography determines the Bean Hill Historic District's southern boundary: behind the houses on West Town Street's south side, the hill falls away to a flood plain extending south to the Yantic River. To the west, the meandering Yantic creates the third boundary. This physical boundary is also historically important as home-lots in the original 17th-century Bean Hill settlement were assigned starting at the Yantic River and proceeding southeast along West Town Street. The northern boundary follows rear property lines along West Town Street, Sylvia Lane and Bean Hill Plain: there, too, topography interrelates: the hill continues to rise north of Bean Hill Plain, forming another physical boundary. The Bean Hill Historic District extends northeast to include properties above Bean Hill Plain along Huntington Avenue.
On the flood plain below Bean Hill to the south, there are two, large, 20th-century buildings, the Southern New England Telephone Company's regional warehouse and a bowling alley. Both are 1-story, concrete block buildings with extensive parking lots around them. A motel, similarly surrounded by asphalt, lies just behind the Bean Hill Methodist Church/American Furniture Store building, and, at the district's northwest edge is the Norwich Industrial Park, with a cluster of five office and light industrial buildings presently standing. All of these lie outside the district boundaries and in their contrasting period, scale, and use help to identify the historic character of the district.
At the summit of Bean Hill is Bean Hill Plain, an open square of land, once shaded by elm, ash and poplar trees planted in 1729, when the boundaries of the Plain were reset. The Plain, open common land since Bean Hill's first settlement and the district's focal point, is surrounded by eight buildings, four 18th-century houses, three early 19th-century houses, and the 1833 Bean Hill Methodist Church, the first in Norwich. The most common 18th-century house type found in the Bean Hill Historic District is illustrated, on the Plain, by the Roger Huntington (6 Huntington Avenue), Fillmore (8 Huntington Avenue) and Loonier (8 Vergason Avenue) Houses, all built in the last half of the 18th century, and all four bays wide with gable roofs and center chimneys. The Jarvis Hyde House (5 Huntington Avenue) follows the same pattern, rendered grander and more imposing by the use of a broad gambrel roof and two pedimented dormers. The three 19th-century houses, built end gable to the street in the Greek Revival style, are three bays wide and 2 stories tall. They relate less strongly to the Plain's 18th-century character, being younger and smaller; nonetheless, they are good examples of an early Greek Revival vernacular house type, c.1830, with lingering elements of the Federal style in their lightly-scaled door frames. They document the early 19th century on Bean Hill.
The integrity of the Bean Hill Historic District's major public structure, the Bean Hill Methodist Church, built in 1833 and altered in 1879, has been sadly compromised by its present  function as a furniture store. The other important public building once stood opposite the church and has been demolished. Early photographs of the church show it to be a humble but attractive structure of typically boxy meetinghouse proportions with long, round-head windows, a two-tiered square steeple and touches of classical ornament, quoins at the tower and a molded entablature over each door. The top tier of the steeple has been removed (leaving a truncated stump), as has a paired round-head window on the facade; along one side of the church, a 1-story, concrete block addition was built and the church was resided with aluminum, c.1960. It is included in the Bean Hill Historic District as a contributing structure mainly on the strength of its historical associations as a Bean Hill landmark and because it defines an important "edge" as it is situated at the point where 18th- and 19th-century Bean Hill begins to merge with 20th-century West Town Street. Further, while the south and east walls, with inappropriate bow-front windows and oversized plastic lettering, belong wholly to the 20th-century commercial idiom, the facade, with its classical, denticulated doors (with 1879 pediments) and neat, granite retaining wall, evokes more than a semblance of the original design. As such, it relates both to the streetscape of the Plain and the historic character of Bean Hill.
West Town Street, the ancient thoroughfare along which the home lots of Bean Hill's settlers were located, transverses the district. Broad and heavily trafficked, West Town Street has long been a street with a mixture of commercial and residential uses. 192 West Town Street, opposite the Bean Hill Methodist Church, is an extensively altered late 18th-century house with entrances on both the east side, in the center-bay position traditional to center-chimney houses, and on the north wall, facing West Town Street, in the common gable end position of the Greek Revival. Its resemblance to a house identified as the Elisha Hyde House in an 1897 photograph suggests that the house may have been the home of Hyde, Mayor of Norwich from 1798 to 1813. Farther west, at 200 West Town Street, is the David Keeler House, c.1870, built on the most basic rectangular plan and ornamented in a vernacular style with references to the High Victorian Italianate in its wide, bracketed cornice, round-head windows, bracketed lintels, and veranda. The site is said to be the scene of the bean-pot discovery, the suggested source of the name, Bean Hill. It is more certainly the site of an earlier house, known as the Lamb House, thought to be the first house on Bean Hill, demolished c.1870 by David Keeler, a Bean Hill grocer. Keeler built the 2-story, clapboarded structure next door at 204 West Town Street for his store.
210 West Town Street, the John Baldwin House, next to 204, is another of Bean Hill's 18th-century houses. A 2-story, clapboarded house, five bays wide, the Baldwin House exhibits some fine masonry, particularly in its neat, granite center chimney. 220 West Town Street is a late 19th-century commercial block, of brick, three stories tall, with an unusual angled cast-iron oriel, denticulated and pedimented, at the corner of the second and third floors. The northeast corner has been modernized with large plate glass windows and is a pizza parlor; there is residential space above the commercial first floor.
On the opposite corner stands Radin's Spirit Shoppe (224 West Town Street), a low, masonry structure built in 1971. 228 West Town Street, a late 19th century, L-shaped house with some Queen Anne detailing stands just east of the oldest house in the district, erroneously identified in several local histories as the Deacon Hugh Caulkins House (232 West Town Street). A story-and-a-half tall, with a gambrel roof at the facade and a long lean-to to the rear, the house has seen several modernizations including the addition, in the 19th century, of a square bay and veranda on the east wall and large shed dormers, front and back, in the 20th century. The house's tall, massive center chimney hints at its age. Though generally referred to as the Deacon Hugh Caulkins House, the Deacon's home-lot was much further east, at the corner of West Town and Wawecus Streets; the house at 232 West Town Street was owned by Deacon Hugh Caulkins' grandson, Hugh Caulkins II, in the 18th century, hence, the misidentification. The home-lot at 232 West Town Street was originally assigned to John Pease, a sailor, and the house may have been built by a Pease descendant.
On the north side of West Town Street, opposite the Plain, at 199 West Town Street, stands the Edmund Goodkin House, a fine, old house, five bays wide with a center chimney and a long lean-to to the rear. Apparently an early 18th-century house, the Goodkin House probably dates earlier than 1738, when the first Episcopal service in Norwich was held there. At 201 and 205 West Town Street are two, plain 19th-century houses. In 1934, one of Bean Hill's most significant homes, the Simeon Baldwin House, also known as the Sherman House, was moved from its site at 213 (now 207) West Town Street to 100 Centre Street, Natick, Massachusetts. Architecturally a rather pretentious Georgian house, it was historically important as the ancestral home of the Baldwins, a prominent Connecticut family. In its place, at 207 and 211 (rear) West Town Street, are a pair of 1-1/2-story, hip-roofed, block-type houses.
Next to 211 West Town Street, a bulky, gambrel-roofed, early 20th-century, two-family house, is the Austin House (215 West Town street). The older, 18th-century section of the house was enlarged in the mid-19th-century when a 2-1/2-story, vernacular Italianate house was added at right angles to the earlier structure. It is presently sided with asbestos shingle, obfuscating the original character, which is further shadowed by the presence, at 219 West Town Street, of the Higgins Electrical Supply store, a c.1965, concrete, aluminum and glass lighting fixture showroom with a gambrel roof with dormers and 1-1/2-story ell to the rear.
The best example of the Greek Revival style on Bean Hill is the handsome, 2-story, brick house at 223 West Town Street. It is three bays wide with a 1-1/2-story brick ell to the rear. The house stands up from the street behind a granite retaining wall.
The quality of the masonry throughout is quite good; a denticulated brick course surrounds both house and ell, while raised brick panels suggest a wide cornice and monumental corner pilasters. Limestone lintels and a recessed side entrance are a contrasting counterpoint to the brickwork. Next door, 227 West Town Street is a plain, late 19th-century frame house. The house at 237 West Town Street is an illustration of the updating of an old house in a new style; the house, a late 18th- or early 19th-century center hall structure, was modernized c.1860 for the superintendent of a nearby mill, William Biting. A square lantern with round-head windows was added between the two end chimneys, and a large projecting gable, originally edged with lacy bargeboards, was built out from the roof. Finally, a 2-story, open, gingerbread-trimmed veranda was wrapped around two sides of the house and its evolution was complete.
Along Huntington Avenue, north of Bean Hill Plain, are several small early 19th-century houses, a few late 19th-century houses and four 18th-century houses. Just north of the Plain, at 9 Huntington, is a well-preserved frame house with Doric corner pilasters and a wide frieze in a late version of the Greek Revival style. The gambrel-roofed house at 11 Huntington Avenue probably dates from the 18th century, though its chimney has been removed and a 2-story addition built at the rear belies the house's age. 13 Huntington Avenue is a plain, 19th-century house retaining a bracketed door hood, while 15 and 21 Huntington Avenue are both 1950s, cape-style houses. As Huntington Avenue proceeds north from the Plain, the houses begin to be spaced more widely and the setting becomes more rural: this change is apparent after passing 31 Huntington Avenue, an attractive, 2-1/2-story, late 19th-century house with Queen Anne massing and detailing. (A mobile home stands on the lot of 31 Huntington.) The most northerly properties in the Bean Hill Historic District, 45 and 46 Huntington Avenue, are included because of their architectural integrity and historical associations with two important Bean Hill families, the Huntingtons and the Averys; this, despite the fact that the houses relate somewhat more to the agricultural history of the region around Bean Hill, as both were farmhouses.
45 Huntington Avenue, the Ebenezer Huntington House, is a 2-story, center-chimney house, credited with a construction date of 1717. This seems unlikely in view of the 6-over-6 sash and ample size; further, while an Ebenezer Huntington married Sarah Leffingwell in 1717 (providing a handy building date), another Ebenezer Huntington married another Sarah, Sarah Isham, in 1791, providing a more plausible handy building date.
On the other side of Huntington Avenue, at 14 and 16, are two very plain, nearly identical, 2-1/2 story, gable-roofed houses both built in the 19th century. Just past Hammer Brook stands another of Bean Hill's early houses, 32 Huntington Avenue. A 2-story, five-bay, center-chimney structure with a later 19th-century turned-and-sawn wood porch, the house dates from the late 18th- or early 19th-century. An unusual building at 36 Huntington Avenue, 2 stories tall with a flat, sloping roof with brackets, may be the converted 19th-century outbuilding of 52 Huntington Avenue. Next door, at 42 and 44 Huntington Avenue are two 20th-century buildings, one a 1950s Cape and the other, an early 20th-century building in a simplified version of the Shingle style. 46 Huntington Avenue, the Charles Avery House, a four-bay wide, 2-story center-chimney structure with a long lean-to at the rear, dates c.1750, the year of Charles Avery's marriage to Abigail Post. The house stands on the home-lot of Jonathan Avery, an early Bean Hiller.
The Bean Hill Historic District comprises a compact grouping of simple 18th- and 19th-century buildings representing an important survival of vernacular architecture relating to the earliest settlement and development of the area. The buildings retain their early configuration around Bean Hill Plain and up West Town Street. Since the 17th century, West Town Street has been a major highway leading north out of Norwich and Bean Hill Plain was once an important local gathering place. Bean Hill is significant for the quality and preservation of its architecture and as the home of several figures important in state and local history. It is also significant as the site of several early industries, including grist and saw mills and a pottery. Bean Hill was home to mechanics, artisans, shop and tavern keepers and others. By the 19th century, Bean Hill had developed the mixed residential/commercial/character it has today.
Norwich's earliest settlers located around the Town Plain in the Norwichtown section southeast of Bean Hill, but Bean Hill was settled quickly after; though Bean Hill's earliest house was demolished in 1868, several Bean Hill houses survive from the first quarter of the 18th century and the Bean Hill Plain, the settlement's core, remains intact. By 1774, Norwich was an important inland port for coastal trade and, with over 7000 inhabitants, the seventh largest settlement in the colonies and second largest in Connecticut. The Thames River, navigable to Norwich, accounted for this prominence while its tributary, the Yantic River, provided water power at several falls, at Bean Hill and at Yantic, just north of Bean Hill. By the 1790s, grist, saw, fulling and linseed-oil mills had appeared along the Yantic River at Bean Hill. There were also small machine shops for carders and looms as well as a pottery, established in 1766. Though no evidence remains above ground of these early manufactories, the architecture of Bean Hill reflects the lifestyle of the mechanics and artisans who lived there. Because of West Town Street's importance as a thoroughfare from the hinterlands down to Norwich, taverns and shops appeared there. Just beyond Bean Hill, the land was farmed.
Architecturally, Bean Hill has a representative range of building types and styles from 18th to 20th century examples of residential structures and a few commercial buildings. They have in common their simplicity of design and construction. The most elaborate and elegant of the Bean Hill houses, for which photographic documentation exists, was the Baldwin House, now in Natick, Massachusetts, which had an ornamental, 2-story central pavilion with a Palladian window and pilasters. Presently, the most fully developed 18th-century house is the Jarvis Hyde House at 5 Huntington Avenue. With its bracketed door hood, raised, molded lintels and broad dormered gambrel roof, it is one of the most highly detailed of Bean Hill's 18th-century houses; its ample size suggests it may have been the Hyde's Tavern noted to have been in operation in 1800. The remainder of Bean Hill's 18th-century houses have the utter simplicity characteristic of humble framed houses of the period; many have only a molded raking cornice and some are without any decorative door framing. The 19th-century houses show the greater attention to detail typical of that age's increasing fascination for ornament, but are still simple interpretations. While none of these houses are mean, neither are they extravagant; they are basic and functional structures. The time frame within which most of the houses were constructed, 1740-1820, indicates that this was the period when Bean Hill began to be identified as a local center of manufacturing and commercial activity. It is this period which is primarily significant and which is preserved and identified by the Bean Hill National Register District.
Another aspect of Bean Mill's significance is the survival of its early plan. The open, public space at the center, the Plain where people gathered to hear news, speeches and sermons and on market days, established a familiar settlement pattern. The grouping of 18th-century houses around Bean Hill Plain is particularly well-preserved. Similarly, West Town Street retains its mixed commercial/residential character. There were, throughout the 19th century, taverns, dry-goods shops, groceries, a hat shop, a shoemaker's, and several other small shops.
Bean Hill's citizens were humble people, respected but not renowned. There are, however, several prominent exceptions. The Clevelands were one noteworthy family. Aaron Cleveland, who ran a Bean Hill hat shop (now standing at 122 West Town Street but originally located next to the Bean Hill Methodist church) was an early abolitionist who wrote poems, essays, and sermons on the political, social, and religious questions of the day; he was president Grover Cleveland's great-grandfather. The Baldwin House, moved in 1954, was historically significant as the ancestral home of two Connecticut governors, Roger Sherman Baldwin (1844-46) and Simeon Baldwin (1911-15). The house had additional significance as the son of the builder (Captain Ebenezer Baldwin), another Simeon, was the first Secretary of the Connecticut Anti-Slavery Society at its founding in 1790. Simeon Baldwin married twice, first Elizabeth, and then, after Elizabeth's death, Rebecca Sherman, the daughters of Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence. The house's removal was a major loss, architecturally and historically, for Bean Hill.
Perhaps Bean Hill's most colorful figure was Colonel John Durkee, a Bean Hill tavern-keeper. Van Dusen describes him as one of those who spearheaded the drive against the Stamp Act and includes him with other Connecticut patriots who fought the Stamp Act, such as Israel Putnam of Pomfret and Hugh Ledlie of Windham. In 1765, Durkee earned a spot in Connecticut history when he led a band of liberty men who intercepted Stamp Distributor, Jared Ingersoll, at Wethersfield and forced Ingersoll's resignation; for this act, Durkee was known thereafter as the "Bold Bean Hiller." Another prominent local family with Bean Hill connections were the Huntingtons, who provided two Revolutionary War generals.
Bean Hill's prominence was eclipsed in the 19th century, but it continued to be a neighborhood of some manufacturing significance locally. At least one medium-sized textile mill operated nearby and several of Bean Hill's 19th-century buildings housed mill workers. Today, Bean Hill continues to combine a variety of uses, residential, manufacturing, and commercial.
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† Sarah Zimmerman, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Bean Hill Historic District, Norwich, Connecticut, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.