Baltic Historic District
The Baltic Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Baltic Historic District encompasses virtually the entire extent of Baltic, a village in the town of Sprague. The village stands at the confluence of Beaver Brook and the much larger Shetucket River. It includes substantial industrial structures from one major textile enterprise and one relatively minor one, workers' dwellings associated with both textile mills, commercial buildings erected by the major manufacturer and others erected by individual small businesses, and private and public institutional buildings. There are 233 buildings in the Baltic Historic District and six structures; 208 of the buildings and 2 of the structures contribute to the significance of the district, or 88 percent of the total resources. Resources were deemed noncontributing because they are less than 50 years old or because they have been so extensively altered that their original appearance is not apparent. Not included in the total of resources are minor structures such as garages and sheds.
Most of the buildings in Baltic went up between 1857 and 1861, when the Sprague family of Cranston, Rhode Island, established textile production in Baltic and created the village. The Sprague mill on the north bank of the Shetucket River was completed in 1857 and seriously damaged by fire in 1887. The mill was extensively renovated in 1900-1901, when the attached weave shed was added; foundations and portions of the lower-floor walls were retained from the original structure. Directly associated with the mill are the storehouse and freight depot to its north, the mill agent's house erected by a subsequent owner of the mill, and the remains of the water power system. The largest number of buildings in Baltic (117) are 2-family workers' dwellings built between 1857 and 1861. Built on a standard plan, they are all gable-roofed, 1 and 1/2 stories tall, and have two front entries; front dormers were added to most of the workers' dwellings in 1900-1901. There are three clusters of these houses: two rows along Wall Street and Fifth Avenue; a grid of blocks along High Street, Main Street, and River Street; and along Park Drive. The first group housed supervisory personnel and the other two housed operatives. The standard spacing of houses with standard design impart an appearance of relentless regularity to these streetscapes. The Spragues also erected a company store and, in the 1870s, a gristmill.
At the same time the Spragues were erecting their corporate infrastructure, individuals and small businesses came to Baltic to serve its growing population of operatives. Confined to the areas not owned by the Spragues, they erected closely spaced buildings along High and West Main streets. These streetscapes present a diverse collection of 19th- and early 20th-century styles, including Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Shingle style, and Colonial Revival. This tightly packed area held a mix of commercial, residential, and institutional uses, the latter including the 1911 Town Hall and the Methodist Church.
Most of the remaining buildings are related to two other institutions, the Shetucket Worsted Company and the Catholic parish of Sprague. Shetucket Worsted started in 1893, in a building alongside Beaver Brook north of West Main Street. The few workers' dwellings it erected, immediately west of Baltic center along West Main Street, were generally similar to the prevailing mode of operative housing in Baltic. Several more formal dwellings on the north side of West Main Street were occupied by the owners and managers of Shetucket Worsted. The firm built a new mill upstream on Beaver Brook in 1907. The buildings associated with Immaculate Conception parish stand along the south side of West Main Street at the western end of the commercial area. Since Baltic's population was a relatively early and relatively high concentration of Catholic people for eastern Connecticut, the village became a regional center for church-related activities, including primary and secondary schools and a convent. The Second Empire style St. Mary Convent, erected in 1888, is the earliest remaining building in the church-related complex, which also features Immaculate Conception Church (1911) and Academy of the Holy Family (1914), both Georgian Revival, as well as several more recent structures.
In its streetscapes and the proportion of buildings that survive, the village has a high degree of integrity. The mill complexes, the rows of supervisory dwellings, the grid of operatives' dwellings, the tightly packed Victorian commercial and residential district, and the institutional campus of the church-related buildings continue to reflect the distinctive spatial relationships of their diverse purposes. At the same time, the proximity of these diverse uses indicates the intimate relationship among all people and institutions in this "company town." The buildings offer varying degrees of architectural integrity. The workers' dwellings, which once all had identical exteriors of white-painted clapboards, now feature a diversity of siding materials and colors; on more than half, modern siding materials now obscure the clapboards. Several have had porches or small wings added in recent decades, but most retain their distinctive massing and plan and only two have been altered to the extent that their original character is not apparent. Of the 130 workers' dwellings erected by the Spragues, only 13 have been lost; most of the missing 13 stood between Park Drive and the Shetucket River and were destroyed in the 1955 flood. Many of the commercial buildings have some superficial alteration, although most changes are confined to the ground-level storefronts. Only a handful of buildings have been erected since the end of local textile production. In all, the village of Baltic retains a high degree of architectural and spatial integrity.
Baltic Historic District is significant in the history of its immediate local area, the history of eastern Connecticut, and the history of the southern New England textile industry. Baltic and the town of Sprague owe their existence to the textile firm that built the majority of buildings in the district. That firm, A. & W. Sprague, was among the largest textile producers in the region when it built Baltic. Its growth and its catastrophic demise in the depression of 1873 exemplify the regional pattern of development in this industry during the 19th century. The Spragues' westward expansion into the Shetucket watershed was part of a significant trend in this pattern, in which Rhode Island interests established and controlled the textile industry of eastern Connecticut. The village's history also provides insight into assimilation and mobility among French-Canadian people in Connecticut. The Baltic Historic District has further significance because it embodies the distinctive characteristics of several types and styles of architecture, as well as the characteristics of both a planned industrial community and the unplanned development that accompanied the establishment of industry. The Spragues' mill, modified in 1900-1901, is among the largest three textile mills in Connecticut, and its construction illustrates the most up-to-date industrial architecture of its day. Outstanding examples of other architectural types include the Sprague Store and Hall, a Greek Revival commercial building; the eclectic, Victorian Roderick Block; and the modestly scaled Shingle style dwelling on West Main Street. Baltic also retains the distinctive spatial qualities of the 19th-century mill village, with its common components of mill, waterpower and transportation systems, housing, and community facilities, all arranged around the central purpose of industrial production. The non-corporate residential, commercial, and institutional area of Baltic illustrates the development of the small-town center in Connecticut during the 19th century.
The Sprague industrial empire began as a family partnership in the early 19th century: Amasa Sprague, an expert in textile dying and printing, oversaw production, and his brother William looked after the finances and marketing. William was also a banker and a leader in the Whig party. In the 1850s he combined his political and financial power as the president and primary promoter of the Hartford, Providence and Fishkill Railroad. The railroad project coincided with the Spragues' decision to expand production of the woven cotton used in their printing works. They looked along the railroad in Connecticut to find a manufacturing site, and in 1856 selected a small settlement on the Shetucket River in Lisbon (near its boundary with Franklin) known as Lord's Bridge, which would soon become Baltic.
The expansion was carried out by William's son Byron and Amasa's sons Amasa Sprague, Jr. and William Sprague II. They hired Lisbon resident Samuel Ladd to buy the hundreds of acres they would need, as well as the water rights on the Shetucket all the way upstream to Willimantic. The dam, power system, and 5-story granite mill went up first, opening in 1857; over the next four years the 130 workers' dwellings were completed. By 1860, A. and W. Sprague employed 250 men and 400 women in Baltic, making cotton yarn that was shipped via rail to the firm's weaving and print works in Cranston, Rhode Island. The sudden demand for town services in Baltic, such as fire protection and schools, resulted in some tension between the new industrial and older agricultural communities. Accordingly, Samuel Ladd, elected to the General Assembly in 1860, successfully sponsored a bill to set off the new town of Sprague, taking land from Lisbon and Franklin. Their position thus secured, the Spragues completed their village, erecting a single men's boardinghouse (not extant), a company store with a community hall on its upper floor and, in the early 1870s, a gristmill. In 1870, 804 men, 396 women, and 210 children worked in the Baltic mill. The new community held opportunity for others besides the Spragues, and by 1870 the land bordering the western edge of their holdings had been built up with commercial and residential development, lining the streets now known as High Street and West Main Street.
The doubling of employment at the Sprague mill during the 1860s coincided with the first mass emigration from Quebec, and perhaps half the residents of the new village were French-Canadians. Yankees and Irish (who built the railroad) were also present in Baltic, but they arrived at the same time as the French-Canadians, who accordingly did not encounter a local small business sector dominated by the other groups. As a result, from its inception Baltic saw unusually rapid class and economic mobility among its French-Canadian citizens, who moved very quickly into the provision of goods and services to the mill worker population, as well as small-scale real estate speculation. The leading French-Canadian businessman was Raymond Jodoin, whose family came to Baltic in 1865, when he was two months old. At age nine Raymond worked in the mill for three dollars a week, saving enough to open a livery stable when he reached majority. He developed commercial property in the emerging town center, west of the mill village, opening a hotel and a saloon, and renting space to other businesses. He became Baltic's largest individual landowner, and built the most prominent commercial building in town, the Roderick Block, named for his son. Jodoin was Sprague's first selectman in 1899-1900, 1908-14, and 1916-25, and served several legislative terms.
Debt from their massive expansion crippled the Spragues when credit tightened in the depression of 1873. Their mortgage-holders kept the mill open with reduced operations until 1887, when a fire destroyed the mill and Baltic became a virtual ghost town. The workers who remained were a pool of experienced labor that helped to attract Michael Donahoe, when he was looking for a site to start a worsted mill in 1892; his firm, Shetucket Worsted, employed over 100 people. In 1900 Frederick Sayles of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, bought the Sprague mill and associated properties. His Baltic Mills Company rebuilt the mill and the agent's house, and repaired the workers' dwellings. As New England textile production declined the Sayles family sold off assets to keep going. In 1939 the dwellings were auctioned, many going to the occupants. Textile production ended in the 1960s and the mill has seen various minor tenant uses since then.
Architecture and Town Planning
Baltic is among the most fully intact corporate-built mill villages in Connecticut. Besides the mill, with its waterpower and transportation systems, the village includes corporate-constructed housing, as well as commercial and recreational facilities. Several of these buildings are among the most significant of their type in the state, but more important is the survival of virtually an entire community that was laid out to fulfill many functions all geared to the single purpose of profit-making. The Baltic Historic District also includes substantial historic fabric from the non-corporate Baltic: the commercial, residential, and institutional buildings that grew up around the mill village. Bordering directly on the mill village, the non-corporate buildings display a diversity of styles and functions, in contrast to the rigid regularity of the mill village.
The Spragues' mill utilized the most advanced factory architecture of the 1850s: long in relation to width for maximum natural lighting on the work floors and most efficient mechanical power transmission; unjoisted floors of layered planks; stair towers outside the main building envelope to prevent fire from spreading via the stairs; and the integration of power generation with the structure itself by use of wheel pits below the building. The 1887 fire left much of the walls standing while destroying the wooden interior framework and floors, and the contents. As rebuilt by Sayles, the mill embodied many of the same distinctive aspects of industrial architecture as the original mill. The major differences were that it was enlarged, a square stair tower was added to the river side, a near-flat roof was installed (the original was gable), and the 1-story sawtooth-roof weave shed was appended to the northwest corner.
The layout of the workers' village was governed by factors of topography, efficiency and conscious social stratification. The level land on the mill's side of the Shetucket accommodated 18 dwellings (along today's Fifth Avenue and Wall Street), which were set aside for supervisory personnel. The workers' and supervisors' houses followed the same standard design, but the latter were differentiated by their location: the closer to the mill, the higher the status. The steep knoll northeast of the mill dictated that the majority of the dwellings would be across the river from the mill, along what are now Main, High, and River streets. In the workers' village the spacing of houses was determined by the capacity of the pumps used to supply them with water: each pump could serve four houses (or eight families). The wider spaces between the groups of four became the streets known today as Brookside, Maple, Elm, First, Second, and Third. At the foot of what is today Elm Street, a footbridge over the Shetucket connected the village and the mill. Sprague Store was built at the corner of West Main and Main, convenient to both the operatives' housing and the major road through the village. The second floor of the store was known as Sprague Hall, a large room for meetings and entertainment. The company painted all the workers' dwellings white, emphasizing the regularity resulting from their common pattern and spacing.
Immediately west of the corporate village, speculators like Jodoin created an entirely different-looking community. A steep ridge southwest of High and West Main streets limited the area appropriate for building, resulting in densely packed development: buildings with virtually no setback from the street and no side or back yards, a pattern characteristic of 19th-century cities, but rarely seen in a village this small. The buildings themselves offered lively stylistic diversity, in further contrast to the corporate village. The last vestiges of the Greek Revival influenced the commercial and residential stock. Before long, the appearance of other Victorian styles deepened the contrast between corporate and non-corporate Baltic. The 1887 fire halted growth, which revived at the turn of the century when Sayles reopened the cotton mill. Thus the village includes representative examples of early 20th-century styles, notably the Georgian Revival institutional buildings. Town Hall, Immaculate Conception Church, and Academy of the Holy Family all followed this nostalgic and monumental style, with its characteristic use of red brick and Classical details, such as quoins, arched openings, and the church's cupola.
In conclusion, the mills, churches, houses, and stores of Baltic provide a rare opportunity to examine the spatial and stylistic characteristics of the 19th-century mill village, and to compare the different built environments created by corporate and non-corporate development in close juxtaposition.
Atlas of New London County, Connecticut. New York, 1868.
Connecticut Business Directory, 1866.
Delaney, Dennis, History of the Town of Sprague, Connecticut. Sprague, 1986.
Hurd, D. Hamilton, History of New London County, Connecticut. Philadelphia, 1882.
Kulik, Gary, et al., Rhode Island; An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites. Washington, D.C., 1978.
Lamb, James H., Lamb's Textile Industries of the United States. Boston, 1916.
Peckham's Annual Report and Directory of the Textile Manufacture and Dry Goods Trade. Boston, 1896.
Prospectus of the Academy of the Holy Family. Norwich, n.d.
Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island, 2 volumes. Chicago, 1908.
U.S. Census, "Products of Industry for the Year 1860," 8th Census, 1860, Original Returns of the Assistant Marshalls, microfilm at Connecticut State Library, Hartford; also 9th Census, 1870 and 10th Census, 1880.
† Matthew Roth, Bruce Clouette, Robert Griffith (Historic Resources Consultants) and John Herzan (Connecticut Historical Commission), Baltic Historic District, Town of Sprague, CT, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.