Chelsea Parade Historic District
The Chelsea Parade Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Chelsea Parade Historic District is a large residential area in south central Norwich, Connecticut. It comprises 525 major buildings, two sites, and six objects. In addition to houses, the district includes churches, schools, a museum, a park, a cemetery, monuments to wars of different periods, and a watering trough. The Chelsea Parade Historic District's architectural styles are diverse, including examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Shingle, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Renaissance, Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and Tudor Revival styles, but styles of the mid-and late-19th century are predominant, and define the character of its streetscapes.
The Chelsea Parade Historic District occupies part of a teardrop shaped area between the Shetucket River and Yantic River, and the pattern of its streets are influenced by the rivers and the topography of the area. The center and north end of the Chelsea Parade Historic District are part of a flat plateau, but the terrain drops sharply to the Yantic River to the southeast along Sturtevant Street and Maple Grove Avenue. Rocky rises of ground mark both sides of Broadway, with Jail Hill rising 223 feet above sea level to the west of Broadway, and another rocky rise along Broad and Warren Streets to the east.
The Chelsea Parade Historic District is centered upon two major thoroughfares, Washington Street and Broadway, which proceed into the district from the north as one and diverge at the triangular park known as Chelsea Parade. The park, with its range of war monuments of different eras, ornamental watering trough, and broad, open expanse of lawn lined at the edge with trees, forms the visual focal point of the district. The Chelsea Parade Historic District includes properties on both sides of Washington Street and Broadway and on adjacent side streets, with cohesive neighborhoods to the west along Sachem, Lincoln, and Williams Streets; Jail Hill, or Elmwood Avenue, Slater Avenue, and western Broad Street; Sturtevant Street and Maple Grove Avenue on the western slope above the Yantic River; and the streets east of Broadway, principally Warren Street, Broad Street, and McKinley Avenue. Several short, narrow, and densely built alley-like ways occur off the side streets east of Broadway, and in two places curving, crescent-shaped, tree-lined drives parallel major streets.
The Chelsea Parade Historic District interconnects on the south with the Downtown Norwich Historic District and the Little Plain Historic District, districts made up primarily of early 19th-century commercial buildings or houses. Chelsea Parade's distinctive character, created by the large and highly detailed Victorian houses which line Broadway, Washington Street, and side streets, forms a visual break with the older historic areas.
Broadway and Washington Streets are wider than other streets in the district, and historic buildings on them tend to be large and deeply set back from the street on large lots, many with their original walls or cast-iron fences. Some are estate-like in setting, with spacious grounds and curving drives. Architecturally, they represent high-style versions of the major 19th-century styles and feature varied exterior materials, complex forms, and elaborate window treatments. There are large Greek Revival houses; spreading, asymmetrical Italian Villas; mansard-roofed Second Empire houses; and Gothic Revival, Stick, or Shingle style mansions.
Side streets tend to be regular in layout and feature smaller and somewhat plainer houses set on very small lots. In side street neighborhoods, particularly on Sachem, Williams, and Lincoln streets and along Warren Street, Broad Street, and McKinley Avenue, large Italianate, Queen Anne, and Shingle style houses are interspersed among more common vernacular examples, including Gothic Revival cottages and modest, rectangular houses which bear Greek Revival, Gothic, Italianate, or Queen Anne ornament in their entries, windows, porches, or roof peaks.
Subdivision of estates during the early 20th century resulted in the Chelsea Parade Historic District's gradual infill with buildings of later styles and periods, including the Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and Foursquare.
Many of the larger Victorian houses in the Chelsea Parade Historic District still retain their original barns or carriage houses. Most of the district's many small garages are of wood-frame construction and appear to date from the early 20th century. Because the district's character is chiefly defined by its Victorian architecture, these have been classified as noncontributing, except for the garages that appear original to early 20th-century houses, such as Colonial Revival houses and Bungalows.
The Chelsea Parade Historic District has high degree of integrity. While houses and other buildings constructed during the past 50 years are interspersed throughout the district, they constitute a very small portion of the district's buildings and have little impact on its character. More widespread has been the use of modern siding materials on many houses. However, in most cases original ornamental features and trim have been left intact. Sided houses have been classified as contributing if they are identifiable as products of the district's period of significance.
The three churches in the Chelsea Parade Historic District are all large, important landmarks executed in stone in a highly detailed Gothic Revival or Richardsonian Romanesque style. The Norwich Free Academy, a private institution which functions as Norwich's public high school, is a major feature of the immediate neighborhood of Chelsea Parade, lying between Broadway and Crescent Street across from the east side of the park. Its campus includes large brick and stone structures ranging in period from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, as well as several large Italianate houses which have been converted to institutional use. Its most prominent building is the brick and brownstone Slater Memorial Museum.
Chelsea Parade Historic District is historically significant as a record of the residential growth and urbanization of Norwich during the 19th century. The area grew up as a residential area for Norwich's prosperous mercantile and industrial elite in the middle and late 19th century, and the many large and architecturally stylish houses reflect that growth. Chelsea Parade itself is an early example of a major development in the state's urban and village landscapes, the transformation of commons into cultivated parks intended as amenities to surround neighborhoods. Finally, the Chelsea Parade Historic District is architecturally significant for its scores of well-preserved houses which embody the distinctive characteristics of many diverse styles, ranging from the Federal style to the Colonial Revival of the early 20th century. It is especially noteworthy for its many examples of the domestic architecture of the Victorian period, including the Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne and Shingle styles. Many of the Chelsea Parade Historic District's houses and institutional buildings are among the most complete and elaborate examples of their respective types in the state, but even the less formal houses are collectively important for illustrating the range of domestic architecture from vernacular houses with limited stylistic detailing all the way to formal, fully elaborated styles embodied in the district's mansions.
Historical Development and Significances
Settlement in the Chelsea Parade Historic District preceded the establishment of Norwich by English settlers in 1659. Jail Hill, a rise of ground at the south end of the district, was the site in the 1640s of a fort built by the Mohegan people, situated so it could overlook the point where the Yantic and Shetucket Rivers join to form the Thames River. Uncas (fl.1626-1683), the sachem of the Mohegans and one of the leading figures in the political history of 17th-century New England, and his family are buried in the small cemetery on Sachem Street. The burying ground is marked by a simple granite obelisk carved with the name Uncas; its foundation stone was laid in 1833 by President Andrew Jackson. The cemetery thus has significance both as a commemorative site memorializing Uncas and as part of the development of the heroic historiography of the early 19th century, in which the machinations of Uncas, which redounded to the benefit of the English, were seen as part of the great pageant of New England.
English settlement of Norwich commenced inland, a mile and a half north of the district, at Norwichtown. The area of the district was originally included within a 900-acre reserve known as "The East Sheepwalk," land used for common pasture and bounded by a straight fence between the two rivers. The land was held in common until 1726, when it was divided into 20-acre lots and distributed to 42 proprietors. In 1740 two new highways, one the West Road which eventually became Washington Street and the other what is now called Broadway, were laid out through this territory, linking Norwichtown with the public wharves at the busy port to the south called New Chelsea or Chelsea Landing.
The earliest houses in the Chelsea Parade Historic District were erected on Washington Street during the years before the War of 1812 when Norwich was a major coastal trading and shipbuilding center. Located at the head of navigation of the Thames River, Norwich shipped out agricultural products from the eastern Connecticut hinterland to the West Indies and other coastal ports. At the time of the Revolution, it was one of the busiest ports in Connecticut and the most populous town in the state. Chartered as a city in 1784, Norwich's commercial economy continued to prosper until the War of 1812; at the same time, small water-powered industries such as nailworks foreshadowed the city's intensive industrialization in the 19th century. The land encompassed by the district, for the most part flat and located between Norwichtown and Chelsea Landing, became a desirable place to live, and this phase of Norwich's history is evidenced in the Chelsea Parade Historic District by several remaining 18th-century houses such as the 1755 Captain Chester House, 276 Washington Street, and the brick 1789 Joseph Teel House on Chelsea Parade South.
In the 1790s the area's property owners took an important step in purchasing land for Chelsea Parade. Formerly an untilled field owned by absentees and known as the Great Plain, the land was dedicated as a public square in April, 1797. Used at first like other town commons simply as open land for militia drills, its perimeter was planted with a succession of trees and by the mid-19th century the parade had become a landscaped public park with trees and areas of lawn, an appearance the park retains today. It eventually acquired the name Williams Park, for General William Williams, who lived on its border for a half century, but its name reverted in the 20th century to Chelsea Parade. The park became a focal point for residential development and for the location of important town-wide institutions, such as churches and the Academy. Chelsea Parade's community importance is also reflected in its selection as the site of Norwich's public monuments, including the Civil War Soldier's Monument, erected near the northern point of the triangular park in 1870; an ornamental memorial fountain built on the point in 1889; and several monuments to the town's war heroes, including a field howitzer and several stone tablets. In both its present appearance and historical development, Chelsea Parade thus epitomizes the evolution of one type of New England small-city park.
Although Norwich's waterborne commerce dwindled in importance after the War of 1812, the city continued to prosper. Generous waterfalls along the Norwich and Shetucket rivers became the sites for huge cotton, cloth finishing, and paper mills, and numerous smaller manufacturers located in Norwich as well. Commerce benefited not only from the city's population growth but also from the fact that Norwich in the 1830s and 1840s was served by two major rail lines, the New London Northern and the Norwich and Worcester routes. Its transportation connections allowed Norwich to become a major commercial center reaching into the whole of eastern Connecticut, with numerous wholesale and retail merchants, professional services, and financial, institutions such as banks and insurance companies.
In the second half of the 19th century, Washington Street and Broadway, the major streets surrounding the park, became the desired address for the city's successful manufacturers, merchants, and professional men. Their estates ranged in size from five to twenty acres, were often enclosed by ornamental walls or fences, and had as their centerpiece large, elaborate houses set back from the street. These estates, as well as the open land provided by Chelsea Parade park and the wooded banks of the nearby Yantic River, allowed a residential setting which combined Romantic ideas toward nature and a location convenient to downtown places of business. In 1851 Henry Ward Beecher praised the advantages of Washington Street. Residents, he wrote, "can have the joys of the breezy wilderness at home. For, if you will go back through the garden, and then through a little pet orchard, you shall find the forest-covered bank plunging one hundred feet down toward the Yantic, and there, hidden among shrubs and wild flowers, oaks, and elms, you hear no din of wheels or clink of shops, but only the waving of leaves and the sport of birds."
Among the wealthy families relocating in the Chelsea Parade vicinity was that of textile magnate John F. Slater, the grandson of the founder of the American textile industry. (Only the carriage house remains of his huge estate.)
During the later Victorian period, the land in the Chelsea Parade Historic District gradually became more densely settled, as the city's upper middle class continued to build stylish houses which, if not quite mansions, were nevertheless large and exceptionally well-detailed examples of then-current tastes. Despite the closer spacing of the houses, the area continued to offer a more spacious setting than the crowded streets of the older parts of Norwich. A further impetus to development came at the turn of the century, when many of the large, open estates were divided up for speculative building lots or houses. Thereby emerged a common pattern in Chelsea Parade: a large 19th-century house imbedded among smaller early 20th-century dwellings, the whole marked out by walls or gateposts which once surrounded the original estate.
Today the area around Chelsea Parade continues to reflect the rise of Norwich's upper classes. There are numerous examples of large, well-preserved houses built by the city's elite, and many of these retain the ornamental walls and fences and original barns and carriage houses which mark them as the homes of the city's most privileged residents.
There are several streets of large Victorian houses which suggest the diversity of the class structure in late 19th-century Norwich. The city's prosperity was not confined to a few wealthy families such as the Slaters but extended to a sizeable upper middle class of doctors, lawyers, and small business owners.
Parts of the Chelsea Parade Historic District, particularly those removed from the two major thoroughfares, were from the start developed more densely and with more modest houses than those areas immediately bordering on the main streets or near the Parade. Oneco, Sachem, Williams, and Lincoln Streets proved convenient to workingmen, who occupied small houses within walking distance of the factories and mills at Yantic Falls. McKinley Avenue and its side streets are also typical of the more ordinary Victorian housing of the city.
Chelsea Parade's importance as a town-wide ceremonial center, its central location, and its prestige as a well-to-do residential area led to several institutions with town-wide importance in the social history of Norwich locating within the area encompassed by the district. These include the church buildings both of the religious organizations of Norwich's Yankee elite, such as Christ Episcopal Church and Park Congregational Church, and of the Roman Catholic faith of the city's predominantly Irish immigrant population. By the 1890s some residents of Irish descent had made inroads into the upper class, only one example being doctor and real estate speculator Patrick Cassidy, who lived in a large house on Washington Street. In 1928 the Masonic Temple, home to several of the city's leading fraternal organizations, was added to the institutional structures surrounding Chelsea Parade.
The Norwich Free Academy was founded opposite the eastern side of Chelsea Parade in the 1850s, and grew into a campus of several large institutional buildings offering both Classical and practical education to the youth of Norwich. Generously endowed by wealthy Norwich families, many of whom (such as the Slaters) had estates nearby, the Academy provided the secondary education which in other cities was assumed by public high schools, to the point where today the Academy explicitly serves that function. With the Slater Memorial Museum, the Academy undertook an additional role as the center of Norwich's cultural life; its collection of plaster casts of Classical and European sculptures was (and is) especially notable.
The houses of the Chelsea Parade Historic District represent a virtual catalog of domestic architecture in the United States from the early national period through the early 20th century. Reflecting in their chronological clustering the periods of growth around Chelsea Parade, the houses include numerous well-preserved and representative examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne, Shingle, and Colonial Revival styles, with many of the houses ranking among the more elaborate examples of their types in the state. The Chelsea Parade Historic District also includes architecturally prominent institutional buildings, notably the Richardsonian Romanesque Congregational Church and Slater Memorial Museum, and the Italian Renaissance Revival Masonic Temple.
In applying the example of design in late-Renaissance England to the buildings of the new republic, the Federal style became the first distinctive mode of formal American architecture. The Joseph Teel House of 1789 provides a clear indication of the style's origins. The house's square shape surmounted by a balustraded hip roof, corner chimneys, symmetrical fenestration, raised courses of brick at the floor levels, and wide, arched entry, contribute to a balanced composition that reflects the Classical inspiration of the English precedents to the Federal style.
Closely following the Federal style in time, and generally characterized by bolder detailing than the Federal style and adherence to academically correct Classical orders, the Greek Revival style is well-represented in the district. The Learned-Aiken House, as an 1867 remodeling of an earlier house, well illustrates the style, most notably in its monumental Ionic portico and the flush-boarded facade that was thought to resemble masonry. A principal feature of the style was placing the gable-end to the street — difficult to accomplish when remodeling. The Aiken House presents the plain and prominent pediment of its portico to the street to compensate for its lack of the characteristic Greek Revival temple front. Another example, 108 Washington Street, is a more conventional Greek Revival dwelling, featuring the preferred gable-end siting along with many characteristic features modeled on Classical Greek precedents: Ionic pilasters, columns, and a bold mutulary cornice.
The Chelsea Parade Historic District features several distinct modes of architecture that reflected the application of medievalism. There are many relatively modest dwellings whose steep dormers and lacy bargeboards embody the distinctive characteristics of the mid-19th century Gothic Revival. The ornate bargeboard, peak bracing, and other decorative woodwork of Gothic styling architecture remained for a long time in the Victorian architectural vocabulary. The most elaborate expression of this trend is known as the High Victorian Gothic; the Charles Converse House has served to define this style for one authority on American architecture. Its highly complex plan as well as the steeply pitched roof punctuated by equally steep dormers and covered by multi-colored slates, fulfill the major elements of the style; and the medieval-inspired decorative motifs, from the pointed-arched openings to the heavy peak bracing, create the lively, picturesque appearance that the style sought to achieve.
Related to the Gothic-derived styles in its use of medievalism was the Romanesque style. The most notable variation is called Richardsonian Romanesque after the distinctive designs of its foremost practitioner, H.H. Richardson. The Slater Memorial Museum is a striking illustration. Its many characteristic features include the rough-textured masonry, heavy massing, numerous rounded elements such as the corner pilaster at the entry and the tower with conical roof, the deeply recessed entries, and medieval motifs such as trefoil transoms in the tower windows and quoins around many of the windows.
Italianate houses are numerous in the Chelsea Parade Historic District; among the more fully elaborated examples are the Italian Villa mode Pinehurst, 154 Washington Street and 270 Broadway. To an extent not usually seen, Pinehurst displays the influence of the homes of rural Italy on the villas of the American proprietor class. Conceived as a conglomeration of rambling wings, it strives for the appearance of a home that was added to over several generations. The stucco walls and round-arched windows also place Pinehurst solidly in the unfolding of Italianate architecture. At 270 Broadway, the boxy massing, wide eaves on jigsawn brackets, and abundance of arched shapes also provide a characteristically Italianate appearance. In its profusion of applied detail at every opening, and especially in the cluttered and over-elaborate portico, 270 Broadway demonstrates how the Italianate style was often used as a rationale for massive amounts of decoration, and provides an interesting counterpoint to the more austere Pinehurst. In its period of most frequent use, Second Empire styling overlapped the Italianate, and resembled the Italianate in many particulars, from boxy massing to the use of brackets and round-arched shapes. The principal difference between the two was the mansard roof that marked the Second Empire. The close relationship between the two styles, especially in the later years of the Victorian period, when elaborate ornament itself was a prime aesthetic goal, is demonstrated by the many representative Second Empire dwellings in the district, such as those at 24 Broad Street, 242 Broadway, and 173 Washington Street.
All the important later Victorian styles are represented in Chelsea Parade Historic District. The Stick style, noted for its symbolic expression of the house's balloon-framed structure, is epitomized in the Dr. Patrick Cassidy House, with its varying wall textures, cross-bracing used as applied ornament, and abundance of sawn-wood elements. The Queen Anne style, well exemplified in numerous district buildings such as 41 Williams Street, was characterized by complexity in its major elements: a plan made intricate by bay windows, towers, porches, and cutaway corners; a roof interrupted by dormers and cross-gables; turned, carved, and applied ornament everywhere, especially on porches; and varied wall surfaces of clapboard and several shapes of shingles. The transformation of the Queen Anne style into a simpler and more unified form is apparent in the district's many houses which can be classified as Shingle style; these have the type's characteristic shingled exterior, heavy-appearing roofs, and the eyebrow and curving-recess windows typical of the style.
The fine architecture of the Chelsea Parade area can be attributed in part to the work of architects with regional or national reputations, such as Henry Austin and Gervase Wheeler, both masters of the Romantic villa, or Worcester-based Stephen Earle, a major practitioner of rough-hewn Gothic and Romanesque modes with commissions throughout New England. Of greater numerical importance, however, is the work of local architects, such as James Hiscox, who designed the early (c.1891) Colonial Revival house at 45 Greene Avenue and many other large Victorian houses along Broadway and Washington Street, and Cudworth and Thompson, whose Renaissance Revival Masonic Temple is but one of many major Norwich institutional buildings designed by the firm in an imposing architectural style.
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Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham. A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co.,1922.
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† William Devlin and Bruce Clouette, consultants, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Chelsea Parade Historic District, Norwich, CT, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.