Poquetanuck Village Historic District
Poquetanuck Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Poquetanuck Village Historic District is composed of a dense linear cluster of 18th and 19th-century one and two-story residences and buildings along a one-half mile stretch of Route 2A known as Main Street ranging east and west in the southern portion of the town of Preston. This area is intersected roughly at its mid-point by two roads, Schoolhouse Road and Cider Mill Road. Additional historic resources are located on Cider Mill Road, and a side street, Shingle Point Road, which runs parallel to Main Street. The Poquetanuck Village Historic District is bounded on the east by a road fork at the intersection of Route 2A and Route 117 and Saint James Church; by Poquetanuck Cove (an inlet from the Thames River) and the Ledyard/Preston town line on the south; and open agricultural lands on the north behind the Main Street buildings. The western boundary of the Poquetanuck Village Historic District is Middle Road. The prominent Captain John Williams House at the Middle Road/Route 2A intersection (2 Middle Road) and Saint James Church at the Route 2A fork (95 Route 2A) to the east are visually important brackets to the range of houses and other buildings fronting on either side of Main Street. Main Street is a narrow road and primarily runs straight through the Poquetanuck Village Historic District after following a downhill curve into the center of the village from the east. The houses and buildings of the Poquetanuck Village Historic District are primarily sited close to the street with minimal setbacks. No sidewalks exist for pedestrian traffic. The small scale of the setting is enhanced by the closeness of the buildings to each other and to the street, evoking a rural village character from the 18th and 19th centuries. The scale is further defined by the predominance of two-story gable and gambrel-roofed 18th-century building forms, many of which have 19th-century porch additions. In the 19th century, infill between these buildings included simplified cottages, many of which were modestly ornamented with brackets and bargeboards. Much of this decorative material has been removed. Exuberant Victorian architecture exists only in the western end of the village reserved to an historic resource, the Aaron Lucas House (135 Route 2A).
A large percentage of the structures in the village are contributing historic buildings (42/51 or 84%). The few buildings added in the mid-to-late 20th-century are compatible in scale and materials. Change to the district has occurred, however, in the form of vinyl and aluminum siding, and the removal of decorative trim work. For example, the Caleb Chapman House porch (119 Route 2A) has been stripped of most of its highly decorative early Victorian detail. A primary mixed-use commercial/residential building (126 Route 2A) has been altered by a porch infill to create additional retail space. The Gothic Revival Saint James Church lost its steeple in the 1938 hurricane and the dramatic vertical form was replaced with a shorter version before World War II. The 1841 temple-front Greek Revival parish house burned in the 1970s. Several houses in the village have been altered with additions, primarily on rear or non-public facades. Despite these changes, the village retains sufficient architectural character in form, scale, and context to convey its significance.
In addition to houses, other surviving village components include a large cemetery, stores, social clubhouses, portions of two stone mill dams and portions of the Lucas Mill.
The large principal village cemetery, located to the north off Main Street via a stonewall-lined lane, is well-kept and retains a rural character which features 18th-century, early 19th-century, and Victorian markers and monuments.
Although a commercial area in the west end of the village during the period of significance, Poquetanuck Cove is now primarily a natural resource of great prominence. There are no wharves, docks, or wharf-related warehouses extant, although foundations are reported to be visible. The stone masonry dam built by early industrial entrepreneurs on Poquetanuck Brook is partially extant as is a later 19th-century stone masonry dam to the south. These dams created impoundments northeast of the Captain John Williams House (2 Middle Road) which fed waterpower to fulling mill, gristmill, bloomery forge, and the Lucas Mill, all of which were located along the banks of the brook below the dam.
The Poquetanuck Village Historic District is a well-preserved, cohesive, and densely built concentration of primarily 18th century and early 19th century village residences which are representative of the development of a small scale New England coastal trading and manufacturing center and a vernacular interpretation of popular building techniques and architectural styles. The historic resources of the Poquetanuck Village Historic District retain considerable integrity and are important for their survival in scale, massing, and overall character with little 20th-century intrusion. As a group of buildings, these resources are distinguished as having the identity of location, feeling, and association of a center of colonial and early 19th-century daily life. Buildings of the Poquetanuck Village Historic District demonstrate the continuation of early building traditions as well as a range of conservative architectural taste for the 200 year period of significance, 1720-1920, during which the village retained an important place in the local and regional economies.
Poquetanuck Village was settled in the 17th century when the first land grants were achieved from Uncas of the Mohegan Indian tribe. Poquetanuck Cove was the site of early settlement, with coastal trading, lumber production, iron-making, and ship-building enterprises being the major source of employment and occupation. A 17th-century corn mill was located here and later an iron forge. Other late 17th-century small-scale commercial enterprises included a sawmill and a gristmill. These operations and a potash house were located at or near Poquetanuck Cove at the outfall of Poquetanuck Brook in the western end of the village in proximity to shipping and trading. Poquetanuck Cove is an inlet from the Thames River with easy access via Brewsters Neck to the southwest. By 1730 the initial settlement at Poquetanuck Cove had grown to the east, and from Shingle Point on the cove northeasterly to Cider Mill Road (formerly Avery Hill Road). Production of lumber and pig iron along Poquetanuck Brook, use of the Cove as a small port facility, location of a Catalan forge off Cider Mill Road, shipping and trading of agricultural products from the surrounding countryside, and shipbuilding enterprises increased the village's prosperity during the early and mid-18th century. Cotton and wool spinning and weaving became the chief 19th-century manufacturing concerns.
In addition to commercial and manufacturing activities, the London-based Society of Brays (the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts) had established an Anglican missionary in the vicinity of Poquetanuck in the early 1730s. The avowed mission of the society was establishment of the Church of England in the colonies. Ebenezer Punderson, a converted Congregational minister and merchant-wharf owner, established the present Saint James Parish in 1734. No other religious institution dominated Poquetanuck village life. Originally located to the south of the village, the original church building was moved to Shingle Point in 1785 and in 1841 a Greek Revival church building was erected at the eastern edge of the village, marking its eastern boundary. During Poquetanuck's initial 18th-century prosperity, which is reflected in a wealth of historic resources, Punderson reported that Saint James Parish included 104 male members over 16 years of age, a sizeable population and assumed to include a large percentage of Poquetanuck residents. In 1739 Punderson reported to the society that 400 persons had attended Christmas services.
Poquetanuck's early prosperity was a result of its protected location at the head of Poquetanuck Cove, two miles east of the Thames River and four miles east of Norwich, from which its first settlers migrated. As early as 1715, sailing vessels belonging to Captain John Williams are reported to have been trading in the West Indies, a popular destination for agricultural products from the New England colonies. Williams became one of the wealthiest merchant/traders of the region in the early 18th century. He controlled with land purchases and development various shipping-related facilities at the cove. The 18th-century village included a variety of enterprises: shoemaking, cabinetmaking, clockmaking, silversmithing, blacksmithing, and coopering, in addition to shipbuilding. A gristmill and a rolling mill were located on Poquetanuck Brook, fueled with waterpower from a stone dam forming an impoundment. Lumber production was a local activity. John Williams developed a sawmill on Poquetanuck Brook before shipbuilding became a local activity. During the Revolution, a 36-gun Frigate, possibly the Alliance, was built in the Poquetanuck River west of the Cove, at the order of the Continental Congress. In 1786 the Lady Strange, a uniquely designed and built snow attributed to local businessman and lawyer Jeremiah Halsey, was built at Poquetanuck.
Poquetanuck's employment base shifted to cotton and wool manufacturing in the early 19th century, following regional trends in industrialization. Stone masonry dams (portions of which are extant) had been built across Poquetanuck Brook early in the 18th century. The impoundments had been used by Walter Capron for waterpower for a bloomery or iron works located at the western end of the village. By the 1830s this site and the area to the south near the cove became the focus of small-scale textile manufacturing. The first such enterprise was known as the Brewster Mill, involved in cotton manufacturing. Later in the 19th century it was known as the Lucas Mill, manufacturing woolen fabrics such as flannels and women's dress goods. Utilizing Poquetanuck Cove nearby, manufacturers shipped products via Poquetanuck River and the Thames River to New London and Norwich. During the mid-to-late 19th-century period of prosperity, the Lucas Mill had an output of 350,000 yards of finished woolen goods annually and employed upwards of 50 workers. With expansion of textile manufacturing in Poquetanuck, the Lucas family converted many 18th-century and early 19th-century village residences into millworkers' housing, erected a social hall for workers and the community (Lucas Hall, 113 Route 2A), and built substantial residences for their own use adjacent to the mill complex. (Aaron Lucas House, 135 Route 2A; Samuel Lucas House, 137 Route 2A) A trolley track (Norwich-Westerly line) was laid in the north side of Main Street in 1904, connecting Poquetanuck Village with points east and west.
Poquetanuck Village Historic District retains a distinct 18th and 19th century residential architectural character and associated setting of a small New England coastal village from this period. A large number of 18th-century houses remain, as does the original linear circulation system through the village. Not conceived as a unified plan, the evolution of the village as a linear district reflects its early commercial nature and religious orientation. Other architectural aspects of historic village life remain, including a large number of 18th-century houses, several of which were used as meeting places, taverns, and retail establishments. Structures were added to the village in the 19th century primarily as infill to accommodate the growing textile manufacturing orientation. These buildings include a millworkers' social hall and several 19th-century cottages in conservative styles.
Of the 18th-century buildings in Poquetanuck, the Captain John Williams House (2 Middle Road) is one of the earliest, having been built in 1723 on land occupied by the area's first settlers in the 17th century on Poquetanuck Cove. Sited on a bluff at the western end of the district, this imposing five-bay center-chimney Colonial style house is one of the largest dwellings in the Poquetanuck Village Historic District. It contained at one time fine decorative features such as imported Dutch tiles in a fireplace surround and Dominican mahogany panelling. Williams was engaged in the West Indies trade, as early as 1715 owning vessels sailing to Barbados and also operating two warehouses and a wharf at Poquetanuck Cove. He established the early use of Poquetanuck Brook for waterpower with a sawmill, grist mill, and fulling mill, and held five African slaves at his death in 1741.
Another early house is the Samuel Whipple, Jr. House located at 3 Cider Mill Road. This 1-1/2-story, three-bay, Cape with a center chimney retains a jetty between the first and second floors characteristic of medieval building traditions. Facing south and built in 1740, the house is a locally rare survivor of the gambrel-roofed cape. Nearby on Main Street is the flank gable-roofed Brooks House (120 Route 2A), an early single-story double house with an end-gable jetty. To the west of this dwelling stood the gambrel-roofed old post office and store, a similar single-story building which was replaced by a house in the late 19th century. Other gambrel-roofed houses with end-gable jetties include the Captain William Grant House (109 Route 2A), possibly built in 1754 and altered in 1810 with a center-hall plan, and the John Wight Store (131 Route 2A), built about 1757.
The Walter Capron House (140 Route 2A), located in the western end of the district across Poquetanuck Brook from the Captain John Williams House (2 Middle Road), is a four-bay two-story Colonial style dwelling with massive framing, a central chimney, and a gable roof. Walter Capron established the ironworks or bloomery forge at a location nearby prior to 1746 and possibly as early as 1730.
Other substantial and early center-chimney two-story dwellings with gable roofs include the five-bay Whipple-Gallup House, ca.1740 (100 Route 2A), and the Ezra Chapman House, ca.1770 (117 Route 2A). The Ezra Chapman House and the John Wight Store are dwellings on raised foundations with large basement windows facing Main Street. Another example of the five-bay type on a raised foundation is the Captain George Benjamin House, ca.1750 (124 Route 2A). This imposing house, built for a whaling ship captain, is set back a distance from Main Street and may have been constructed in two phases with chimneys in each of the end gables.
The Federal and Greek Revival styles in the first half of the 19th century are represented in Poquetanuck by a small number of structures. Among these are the altered 18th-century hip-roofed six-bay Caleb Chapman House (119 Route 2A), with its Gothic Revival inspired porch; the Captain Gurdon Kimball House, ca.1809 (110 Route 2A); the Erastus Avery House, ca.1837 (114 Route 2A); and the Noah Lucas House, ca.1850 (130 Route 2A). The latter is an end-gable two-story Greek Revival style house with pediment. Although compromised with 20th-century additions, the Thomas S. Covel House, 1857 at 6 Cider Mill Road retains high-style Greek Revival ornamentation on a cottage scale with wide corner-board pilasters supporting broad entablatures, cornice returns, and a heavy Greek Revival door entablature for the street-facing end gable door.
Mid-to late 19th-century picturesque Victorian architectural styles are represented by several infill cottages along Main Street, including the L-shaped Gothic Revival Raymond-Mansfield House (116 Route 2A) with its bracketed and chamfered porch supports and steeply pitched roofs. The Lucas houses at the western edge of the village, built for owners of the Lucas Mill, represent the growing appreciation and evolution of late 19th century Gothic taste. The Samuel Lucas House, 1871 (137 Route 2A), is a cruciform-plan Gothic Revival villa with steeply pitched gable roofs and bay windows. The nearby Aaron Lucas House, ca.1881 (135 Route 2A), is considered the most elaborately styled house in the village. Executed in a transitional late Victorian High Gothic-Queen Anne style reminiscent of the work of architect Henry Hudson Holly and others popular at the time, the house has asymmetrical massing, projecting oriels, and steeply pitched roofs. It represents the apogee of Poquetanuck's late 19th-century industrial economy and most likely the hand of a professional designer.
________. Genealogical and Biographical Record of New London, Connecticut. "J.H. Beers & Co., Chicago, Ill., 1905.
Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. History of New London, Connecticut. H.D. Utley, New London, CT, 1895.
Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. History of Norwich. Connecticut. Published by the author, 1866.
Fennelly, Catherine. Textiles In New England. 1790-1840. Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA, 1961.
Hall, Marion. Notes, photographs, deed research, biographies, building inventory, maps, Unpublished, in the Collection of the Preston Historical Society, Preston, CT.
Hall, Marion. Preston Early Homes and Families, Preston Historical Society, Preston, CT, 1983.
Hall, Marion, ed. Preston in Review, Preston Historical Society, Preston, CT, 1971.
Hurd, D. Hamilton. History of New London County, J.W. Lewis & Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1882.
Kelly, J. Frederick, AIA. Architectural Guide for Connecticut, Tercentenary Commission of the State of Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1935.
Kelly, J. Frederick, AIA. Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut, Dover Publications, Inc, New York, 1963 (reproduction of 1923 edition).
Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham, ed. A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut. Vol. 1. Lears Historical Publishing Co., New York, 1922.
McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1984.
Minor, Robert G., ed. Early Homes of New England Architectural Treasures of Early America (The White Pine Series), The Early American Society, Arno Press Inc., 1977.
Mullins, Lisa C., ed. The Evolution of Colonial Architecture, Vol. IX in the Architectural Treasures of Early American Series (The White Pine Series), The National Historical Society, Main Street Press, Pittstown, NJ, 1987.
Norman, Diane, ed. Meet our Craftsmen, a presentation of 18th century Preston Cabinetmakers, Preston Historical Society, no date.
Pierson, William H. American Buildings and Their Architects. Technology and the Picturesque, The Corporate and the Early Gothic Styles, Anchor Books, Garden City, NY, 1980.
Rifkind, Carole. A Field Guide to American Architecture, Bonanza Books, New York, 1980.
Trumball, Benjamin, D.D., A Complete History of Connecticut, (2 vols), H.D. Utley, New London, CT, 1898.
Walton, Gary M., and James F. Shepherd. The Economic Rise of Early America, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1979.
Baker: 1854; Whitlock: 1854; Whitlock: 1868.
† Richard C. Youngken, Newport Collaborative Architects, Inc. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Poquetanuck Village Historic District, Preston, CT, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.