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Graniteville Historic District


The Graniteville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

Ranged along Rope Ferry Road (Route 156) in Waterford are a group of 31 houses and other buildings, predominantly plainly detailed and mid-19th century in origin. Nearly all the buildings were at one time associated with granite quarrying, formerly a major industry in Waterford. Since at least the 1860s the settlement has been known as "Graniteville, an appellation that also was applied to the residence of quarry-owner John B. Palmer. In addition to residential buildings, the Graniteville Historic District includes the ca.1878 two-room Graniteville School and three barns, including a simple small board-sided barn with an unusual stone end and a Gothic Revival-detailed barn with a cupola.

Most of the buildings are plain structures with little in the way of decorative architectural detail. Some date from ca.1800, before the granite industry took hold, and exhibit the three- or five-bay broad-side facade, center-chimney form common in vernacular New England architecture as far back as the Colonial period. The mid-19th century buildings mostly have their gable ends facing the road, and many of those also have little architectural embellishment. Others exhibit Greek Revival elements such as pilaster-and-lintel entrance treatments, full cornice returns, and corner pilasters. Two features normally associated with earlier Federal style architecture persisted in the gables of Waterford's Greek Revival period houses: fanlights and three-part windows simplified from the arched Palladian window. One house has exceptionally intricate porch detail of the type commonly referred to as Carpenter Gothic.

Modern siding materials predominate in the Graniteville Historic District, but most houses retain their historical form and at least some of the detail that identifies their period. The condition of most of the buildings appears to be good, with the exception of the John Palmer House, which appears to be in danger of being lost to irreversible deterioration. There are five houses of modern construction counted as noncontributing buildings.

The Graniteville Historic District includes two small discontiguous portions, both of which are former granite quarries located in the woods north of Rope Ferry Road, on either side of the power-transmission line that marks the end of the district. That on the west side, known as "Somer's Prospect," is the smaller and consists of a shallow excavation surrounded by discarded stone; it was begun in 1902 and probably never reached commercial operation. The other, on the east side, appears to have been a larger operation, judging from the amount of quarried stone still in place, though the excavation itself is somewhat indistinct. The east-side quarry, dates of operation unknown, includes remains of a timber derrick that was secured by three cables anchored to eyes set in stone and a fourth that appears to have been secured to a tree; the tree has since grown around the cable. There also are the remnants of a hosting mechanism. Because of the scatter of stone that surrounds each of the former quarries, their boundaries must be regarded as only approximate; farther field investigation and research in land records could shed farther light on the physical extents. Although not directly adjacent to the district, separated in each case by open land or modern residential construction, these small quarries were included in the nomination because they directly relate to the Graniteville Historic District's role in preserving Waterford's granite-quarrying heritage.

The boundary for the main part of the Graniteville Historic District was delineated so as to form a continuous concentration of 19th-century houses associated with granite quarrying. Modern construction in the form of a large residential health-care facility and the St. Paul in Chains Church forms a distinct visual break at the northeast end of the district, even though Graniteville, as defined in the 19th-century, continued along Rope Ferry Road a short distance to the west. At the southwest end, the Graniteville Historic District stops at a point where there is a large swath of open land for a power transmission line; on the south side of the road, a house of modern construction is excluded. Generally, the boundary follows the rear property lines of the houses fronting on Rope Ferry Road, cutting across exceptionally large lots and driveways to back lots.

Statement of Significance:

Summary

The historic resources that make up the Graniteville Historic District are significant for their associations with granite quarrying, an industry that figured large in the social and economic history of Waterford. Nearly all the houses in the Graniteville Historic District are known to have been home to one or more of the many quarry owners, stone-cutters, and blacksmiths[1] who worked the town's quarries in the 19th century. Moreover, the two small abandoned quarries are important because they recall the working lives of the people who inhabited the houses. Although no definitive inventory exists of the town's former quarries, it is known that some have been obliterated by modern development, including the largest one at Millstone Point, which is currently an electric-power generation station. Graniteville's emergence as a distinctive place is also recalled by the ca.1878 Graniteville School, a replacement for an earlier district school that was located further west.

The Graniteville Historic District's houses are relatively plainly detailed, and its architectural merits are not the primary justification for its recognition as a heritage resource. Nonetheless, a number of the buildings have architectural interest as examples of 19th-century architectural styles, including the Italianate style, represented by the bracketed cornices of the John Palmer House and Graniteville School, and the Gothic Revival style, represented by the porch and barn details at 176 and 227 Rope Ferry Road, respectively.

Historical Background of Graniteville - Graniteville began to coalesce as a settlement of quarry owners and workers in the 1830s, as families such as the Prentices, Champions, Johnsons, and Beebes, farmers and fishermen, sold land in this vicinity for the quarrymen to build houses for their households. Rope Ferry Road was at that time one of two major east-west roads in Waterford, connecting Jordan Village (and by extension, New London) with the village of Niantic in East Lyme, on the other side of the Niantic River, and there were both established quarries and unexploited outcroppings of granite in the near vicinity. One of the first to come was Warren Gates (1797-1867), who came to Waterford in 1832 from East Hampton, where he had operated a small granite quarry in the Cobalt section of town. Gates had obtained a contract for building stone from the Harlem Railroad, then under construction, and he needed a better source of granite. He leased part of the Millstone Point quarry, located a half-mile to the south, and began work with 15 men. After completing his railroad contract, he went on to furnish stone for several forts and lighthouses, including forts in New York Harbor, Hampton Road, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina (Fort Sumter), and Key West, Florida. He also furnished paving blocks for Mexico City's Grand Square and the building stone for New York City's old reservoir. Statistics from the industrial censuses indicate that Gates's quarry typically employed 30 to 40 people; in 1860 the works produced 2,000 tons of finished granite, worth $8,000; 2,000 tons of rough-cut stone, worth $4,000; and a like quantity of "wall stone," worth $500. It is not known where in Graniteville Warren Gates himself lived, but son Philo Gates, who was a partner with his father in the quarry business, lived in the house at 227 Rope Ferry Road in the 1860s.

John B. Palmer operated an even larger quarry business. He began as a quarryman working for others at Millstone Point. Then in 1862, he leased a portion of the quarry on his own, eventually employing several hundred workers. His house (218 Rope Ferry Road) is the largest and one of the most architecturally elaborate houses in Graniteville, a name that he applied to the estate itself.

At the other end of the spectrum was Patrick Somers (1850-1934), born in Ireland but a resident of Graniteville for some 60 years, the whole of which time he pursued his trade as a stone-cutter. Around 1902 he opened a small quarry for himself known as "Somers's Prospect;" however, it appears that this quarry, which may have had stone that split irregularly in the horizontal plane, did not reach commercial viability. It is not known exactly where in Graniteville he resided.

Many other names from Waterford's granite industry are associated with the houses in the Graniteville Historic District. In many cases households had more than one member employed in the quarries, or had boarders living with the family who also worked in the quarries. A few were owners or foremen, though the distinction between workers and owners was not as great for this settlement of home-owning individuals as it was with the later, more mechanized quarry operations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1840s many of the area's quarry workers had banded together in a cooperative to work the stone and though short-lived, it remained possible for stone-cutters to set off on their own, as the careers of both John B. Palmer and Patrick Somers showed.

Importance in Waterford History

Granite quarrying was an important part of Waterford's history for more than 200 years. The town's involvement with granite extraction goes well back into the 18th century, when, as part of what was then New London, a quarry located a short distance south of the district was a source of granite millstones for grinding grain; the area is still known today as Millstone Point. In a deed of 1737, Edward Buor reserved the right to quarry millstones at this location, and in addition to supplying local millers, some of these stones were exported to the West Indies. In 1788, the quarry came into the possession of the Gardiner family, which owned it continuously through the first half of the 20th century. The Gardiners leased the quarry to a succession of operators, including Warren Gates and John B. Palmer, until 1893, when Henry Gardiner assumed the management of the entire operation.

There were several other granite quarries in town, producing both building stone and more mundane products such as pavers and curbing. The Flat Rock Quarry was started by Irish immigrant John J. Ryan about 1880 and supplied stone for several notable New London buildings, including the U. S. Customs House (1883), St. Joseph's Church, and some of the early buildings at Connecticut College. The Booth Brothers quarry on Long Neck opened in 1892; earlier, William, Francis, and John Booth had worked a portion of the Millstone quarry. Booth Brothers became a large, mechanized operation and eventually acquired several other quarries in New England; their last major project was supplying granite for the Lincoln Tunnel in the 1930s. The Goos quarry (1897) and Scott quarry (1898), Richards quarry, and Somers quarry (1902) were smaller, and all were out of business by 1923. The town's larger quarries remained in business through the 1930s, but World War II brought a halt to operations; none re-opened after the war.

For many years, the granite quarries accounted for a major part of Waterford's non-farm employment. In 1900, for example, the quarries employed 115 workers to extract and finish the stone, in addition to 6 managers and 14 blacksmiths; undoubtedly, many of the town's 25 teamsters were also dependent upon the quarries. This was far greater than the next largest industrial activities in town: textile manufacture employed a total of only 35 people that year, and papermaking 23 workers. The quarries also introduced a measure of ethnic diversity to Waterford. A good number of Irish, English, and Scottish immigrants had brought their stone-working skills to Waterford by the time the Civil War began, and later in the 19th century they were joined in the quarries by immigrants from Italy and the Scandinavian countries. Some 45% of the quarry workers were immigrants in 1870, a figure that had risen to 67% by 1900.

Granite quarrying is included as a major theme within the Graniteville Historic Distoric context of 19th-century industry in the state's historic-context report for Connecticut's Eastern Coastal Slope, which specifically cites the houses of Graniteville as a historic resource for that theme (Herzan 1997; pp.60-61). Graniteville was also recommended for consideration for the National Register in the town-wide survey of Waterford's historic resources conducted by Gay Wagner in 1997.

Architectural Significance

On a local level, the buildings in the Graniteville Historic District have architectural significance as examples of 19th-century styles of architecture. The distinguishing characteristics of the Greek Revival style are modestly embodied in the Graniteville Historic Ddistrict's several buildings that allude to the architecture of Classical Greece with corner pilasters, pilaster-and-lintel doorway trim, and full cornice returns suggestive of the pediments of ancient Greek temples. The bracketed cornices that are the key feature of Italianate architecture are evident in the Graniteville School and the John B. Palmer House. Finally, the Graniteville Historic District has two buildings that are exceptionally interesting illustrations of the influence of Gothic forms on 19th-century American builders. The barn at 227 Rope Ferry Road not only has pointed arch loft windows but paneled doors in which the design suggests Gothic tracery. The porch on the house at 176 Rope Ferry Road epitomizes "Carpenter Gothic" with its scroll-sawn vine and leaf ornament, even though the house itself is Greek Revival in origin and the porch is Italianate in its overall conception (bracketed roof, columns on pedestals). These buildings are an important part of the stock of structures in Waterford that can illustrate the architectural tastes and building practices of past generations.

Information Potential

The principles and methods of 19th-century quarrying are well-documented in written sources, such as Gillette (1916) and Greenwell (1913). However, the two small quarries that are part of the Graniteville Historic District may have some potential to add to knowledge about this particular activity. It is possible, for example, that the splitting feathers left in place at the Somers quarry, as well as the irregular shape of much of the stone that was removed, indicate a difficulty in obtaining marketable granite and hence, the reason the operation was not continued. The objects that are visible at the other quarry, particularly the hoist drum and the derrick components, may represent artifacts that are not commonly found at quarries that operated further into the modern period. In both cases, tools, personal possessions, and other objects that can illuminate the process of quarrying or the lives of the quarrymen may lie undetected beneath the surface.

Endnote

  1. Quarries required a large force of blacksmiths to keep the drills and chisels sharp. Tool-sharpening was a constant process in the 19th-century quarry.

References

Bachman, Robert L. An Illustrated History of Waterford. Waterford: Bicentennial Committee, 2000.

Beers, F.W. Atlas of New London County, Connecticut. New York: Beers, Ellis and Soule, 1868.

Dale, T. Nelson, and Herbert E. Gregory. The Granites of Connecticut. Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1911.

Gillette, Halbert P. Handbook of Rock Excavation, Methods, and Cost. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1916.

Greenwell, Allan. Practical Stone Quarrying: A Manual for Managers, Inspectors, and Owners of Quarries, and for Students. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1913.

Harper, Mary G., et at. Town-Wide Archaeological Assessment Survey, Waterford, Connecticut. Waterford: Town of Waterford, 1998.

Herzan, John. Historic Preservation in Connecticut. Volume V. Eastern Coastal Slope: Historical and Architectural Overview and Management Guide. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1997.

Hurd, D. Hamilton (ed.). History of New London County, Connecticut. Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis, 1882.

Reed, Willard A. The Granite Industry of Waterford. Waterford; Waterford Historical Society, 1997.

Somers, Patrick. Obituary, New London Day, January 29, 1934.

U.S. Census Office. Census of Industry, 1850-1870, manuscript schedules, microfilm, Connecticut State Library, Hartford.

________. Census of Population, 1850, 1860, manuscript schedules, microfilm, Connecticut State Library, Hartford.

Wagner, Gay. Architectural and Historical Survey of Waterford. Town of Waterford and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1997.

Wall, R.B. "Stories of Waterford: Graniteville." The Day (New London), July 2, 1915.

Walling, H.F. Map of New London County, Connecticut. Philadelphia: William E. Baker, 1854.

† Bruce Clouette, Public Archaeology Survey Team, Inc, Graniteville Historic District, New London County, CT, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Graniteville Historic District Map

Street Names
Rope Ferry Road • Route 156

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