Old Lyme Historic District
The Old Lyme Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Old Lyme was settled in 1647 or 1648 and until 1857 was known as Lyme. The Old Lyme Historic District runs the length of the town's main street, known as Lyme Street, and a very short distance along the Old Boston Post Road, a total of approximately a mile and a half. At the southerly end, facing the street, is a distinguished Greek Revival residence, the Marvin-Griffin House. Diagonally across is the McCurdy House, a fascinating composite structure built in 1754, where both Washington and Lafayette were guests. At the northerly end where Lyme Street divides into Sill Lane and the Old Boston Post Road is a modern house in the Colonial style. On the westerly or Sill Lane side is a handsome modified Greek Revival house of 1858. Within the Old Lyme Historic District are 71 structures: 8 date from 1700 to 1800; 9 from 1801 to 1820; 11 from 1821 to 1850; 7 from 1851 to 1875; 15 from 1876 to 1900; 21 from 1901. From the 1700's through the mid-19th century, sea captains, shipbuilders, and merchants built houses along Lyme Street, many of which are among the finest in Connecticut as well as in Old Lyme. Fire and time have taken their toll but many houses still remain, and as civic needs grew, new buildings were accommodated in a homogeneous manner. The World War I Memorial Town Hall (1920) is next to the historic Justin Smith House of the early 1700's. The Phoebe Noyes Griffin Library, built in the Carnegie style of the 1890's on the corner of Library Lane and Lyme Street, is opposite the 1790 Maxon House. The Elementary School, diagonally across from the Town Hall, built in 1934 of fieldstone, brick, and wood trim, blends harmoniously with old structures.
Master builder, shipwright, architect Colonel Samuel Belcher in 1817 designed three structures in Old Lyme: the John Sill House; the William Noyes House, now known as the Florence Griswold House; and the Fourth Meeting House, which was destroyed by fire in 1907. Its replica, built in 1913, now the Congregational Church, stands today at the southerly end of the district.
Renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis, designer of Lyndhurst-on-Hudson, a National Trust property, designed the Bartlett House in his "country cottage" style. This house, set well back, faces Belcher's John Sill House. The second house built for William Noyes is the headquarters for Lyme Historical Society — Florence Griswold Association and housed at the turn of the century such famous artists as Childe Hassam, William Metcalf, Henry W. Ranger, and such distinguished guests as Woodrow Wilson and his family.
Some other buildings are the Lyme Art Association, designed by Charles A. Platt in 1920, a few small stores dating from earlier days, an imposing residence of 1842 built by the Griswold family of clipper ship fame — "no loss and all gain" — and now converted into apartments by the land-owning branch of the Griswold family.
Route I-95 cuts a four-lane swath through a portion of Lyme Street adjacent to Belcher's John Sill House and only two properties away from his Florence Griswold House. This is the major damage the area has suffered.
Old Lyme is situated at the mouth of the Connecticut River on Long Island Sound, giving it a unique setting with a long and varied shoreline, many tidal marshes, and extensive pen land. These very attractions threaten the town with incongruous development. Within the established historic district of Old Lyme, the main street has retained many agreeable characteristics now difficult to find even in historic New England. Nevertheless, the pressures for change in an age when decisions are made without careful evaluation are increasing.
The Old Lyme Historic District shows a remarkable continuity from village life of the earliest pre-Revolutionary years to the present day. It is a compact area of 71 structures within which architectural growth is reflected in a wide range of historical needs.
Adjacent to the man-made setting of the district is the still unspoiled Lieutenant River. For two centuries a center of shipbuilding, it figures prominently in the history of the town. Today the river's tidal marshes remain a haven for birds, fish, and wildlife. The Old Lyme Conservation Trust, Inc., founded in 1966, is acquiring wetlands of its marshes for their protection. Many of the properties in the Old Lyme Historic District extend from Lyme Street to the river. Preservation of the center of Old Lyme complements the existing conservation program.
Allis, Margaret: Connecticut Trilogy. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1934.
Barber, John Warner: Connecticut Historical Collections. E.J. Hamlen, New Haven, 1836.
Burr, Joan Chandler: Lyme Records, 1667-1730. Pequot Press, 1968.
Crofut, Florence S.M.: Guide to the History and the Historic Sites of Connecticut. Yale University Press, 1937.
________:"Lyme, a Chapter of American Genealogy." Harper's Magazine, vol. LII, February, 1878.
James, May Hall: Educational History of Old Lyme, 1636-1935. Yale University Press for New Haven Colony Historical Society, 1939.
† Mrs. John Crosby Brown, Lyme Historical Society-Florence Griswold Association, Old Lyme Historic District, nomination document, 1971, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.