Oswegatchie Historic District
The Oswegatchie Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Oswegatchie Historic District is located on a sandy promontory of land located along the western border of Waterford between the mouth of the Niantic River and Keeney Cove. The layout of the streets in the Oswegatchie Historic District, which mostly border the water and the vast swathes of open space located at its center together form a U-shaped district. The majority of the significant properties in this former resort area are predictably located along the water's edge. The main route that leads to Oswegatchie is Route 1A (The Boston Post Road), which connects to Oswegatchie Road, the principle north-south, and east-west thoroughfare in the district. The terrain of the area is characterized by level ground with a gentle rise located at the center of the U-shaped district.
The western side of the Oswegatchie Historic District begins at the intersection of Riverside Drive and East Street. The district then follows the shore line south and includes properties along Riverside, Plant and Park Drives as it then turns east to cross the point. It then continues north along Shawandassee Road and west along Oswegatchie Road to just before the crossing of Stony Brook as it feeds into Keeney Cove. Throughout the Oswegatchie Historic District, the streets retain the same layout seen in maps of Oswegatchie dating from 1899.
The properties include 51 parcels containing 106 buildings and structures, of which 71 (67 percent) contribute to the district's architectural significance. Of the 51 parcels, 50 are residential and one is a church. The non-contributing resources include residential structures that have been significantly altered, were built after 1950 or are modern auxiliary structures such as garages and sheds.
The northwestern boundary begins at the south side of East Street as it intersects with Riverside Drive. Many of the houses along Riverside Drive are fairly uniform in style. All were built in the first half of the twentieth century and in variations on the Colonial Revival style. The house at 19 Riverside Drive is a one-and-one-half story Colonial Revival, built in 1942. Typical Colonial Revival details of the period include a shed-roofed dormer and an attached gable-roofed garage.
The house located at 19 Riverside Drive is the first in a row of four similarly massed structures, which all have corresponding garages located on the eastern side of the street. An early and noteworthy example of a typical Oswegatchie cottage stands at 25 Riverside Drive. This one-and-one-half story Colonial Revival style house has a gambrel roof and a central entry and was built c.1920.
At 27 Riverside Drive stands the Martin Branner House, built c.1905. This one-and-one-half story home is also built in the Colonial Revival style, but with the gable end of the gambrel roof facing the street. The centrally placed entry is highlighted by a flat-roofed portico topped by a balustrade. A cross-gambrel extends to the north and a number of gable-roofed dormers set with single or paired windows are found on the south and east facades.
The two and one-half-story house found at 33 Riverside Drive is similar to the Branner House, but utilizes a more strict interpretation of the Colonial Revival style. Built in 1910, the house is oriented with the ridge side facing the street. The bays on the main facade are symmetrically placed around a central entry topped with a small gabled portico. The cottage at 36 Riverside Drive, located on the northeastern corner as the road turns east to meet with Oswegatchie Road is a single-story modified Bungalow. Built circa 1916, with half-timbered walls and a steeply pitched, hipped roof, this cottage and a number of the surrounding outbuildings once belonged to one of the original estates that once dotted the Oswegatchie peninsula.
Continuing along the water's edge, a non-contributing property at 37 Riverside Drive is contiguous with the portion of the Oswegatchie Historic District located along Plant Drive, a narrow winding road lined with large trees and granite curbing. Significant properties located on both the eastern and western sides of Plant Drive are included. The rest of the homes on this road are all rambling variations on the Colonial Revival style, such as 7 Plant Drive. This two and one-half-story, hip-roofed house built c.1900, has a large wrap-around porch supported by slender columns and sets of paired windows on the second story. A hipped-roof dormer punctuates each of the northern, eastern and southern facades and two tall chimneys extend from each of the various levels along the roofline.
The southern end of Plant Drive connects with Park Drive. Park Drive serves as the eastern boundary for this portion of the district. The house at 13 Park Drive is an interesting two and one-half story hip-roofed house built in a variation of the Colonial Revival style. The house dates from 1910 and reflects the influence of the Prairie style in the wide overhanging eaves and exposed rafter tails. The house has a distinctive U-shape formed by the mirrored ells that project off of the front of the main block.
At 22 and 30 Park Drive are two examples of a local vernacular interpretation of Victorian architecture. The house at 22 Park Drive, built in 1888, is a two-and-one-half story structure with a clipped gable roof and a porch supported by finely turned columns; while 30 Park Drive is a simpler version of a Victorian with a cross-gabled roof and as it turns eastward. Crossing Konomoc Road, the Oswegatchie Historic District continues along Shawandassee Road. Heading north, the roadway splits to form a small oval-shaped island, seen in early maps of the area. This break in the pattern of the road marks a particularly picturesque view of the water and the Colonial Revival estate at 23 and 26 Shawandassee Road.
The house at 23 Shawandassee Road, built in 1910, is one of the best preserved properties in the Oswegatchie Historic District. The main house is a large, two and one half-story, gambrel-roofed structure built in the Shingle style. Windows are a variety of sizes and their placement varies on all elevations. A flat-roofed porte-cochere with shingled balcony is located on the western elevation and is supported by large stone pillars. This same stone is used to form the pillars supporting the integral porch on the northern side of the house, the foundation and the chimneys. An associated carriage house, guest house and water tower are located on the property as well. The garage has a cross gambrel roof supported by large brackets and topped with a shingled, domed cupola; as well as a high stone foundation and all of the original windows and lower carriage doors intact. The Craftsman Cottage at 26 Shawandassee, built using the same materials as the house and garage, once served as the servants quarters for the estate.
Crossing to Oswegatchie Road, the stuccoed Colonial Revival residence, once home to Harvey Manwaring, at 132 Oswegatchie Road, occupies a prominent location. The main house of the estate, built in 1903, displays elements of the Prairie style with its wide overhanging eaves. A projecting bay with a set of four windows is located over the central doorway on the main (southern) facade. A set of hip-roofed dormers face the street and are flanked by a pair of end chimneys. A third chimney is located on the northern side of the house and a large hip-roofed porch spans the width of the facade. The windows on the second story and in the attic dormers have four narrow panes in the upper sash and a single pane in the lower. A stuccoed, garage with a pyramid roof is located at the rear of the property along with a small gable-roofed garage with clapboard siding.
This section of the Oswegatchie Historic District along Oswegatchie Road is one in which the houses are set further back from the roadway and the lots are larger. The former Aydelotte Estate includes the Colonial Revival style properties at 147 Oswegatchie Road. There are three buildings located on the property which all date from around 1900. Two of the properties are residential and the third serves as a garage. The primary residence is a one-and-one-half story, L-shaped buildings with a steeply pitched gable roof and wide overhanging eaves. The eaves have slight returns at the gable ends and there are gable-roofed dormers on the northern and eastern elevations. A single-story porch spans the northern elevation. A second stuccoed cottage, located close to the Cove, was constructed in the same L-shape.
The one-and-one-half story, gambrel-roofed French Revival style house located at 151 Oswegatchie Road was once known as "Petite Normandie." The half-timbered house was constructed around 1910 and many recall that it once had a thatched roof. A number of associated buildings have been constructed in the same style surrounding the property, including a single-story cottage on the street, a gable-roofed barn near the shore, and a small conical smokehouse with a shingled roof at the rear of the main house.
The unique property at 158 Oswegatchie is a one-and-one-half story Colonial Revival/Craftsman hybrid, built in c.1911. This low farmhouse has a large porch across the eastern elevation that is supported by wide, rounded columns. There are three sets of French doors leading onto the porch and a large shed-roofed dormer extends across the roofline above the porch. The eaves have wide overhangs with exposed rafter tails which lend a distinctively Craftsman-like quality to the structure.
The Friends Meeting House, formerly Oswegatchie Chapel stands at 176 Oswegatchie Road. This simple, vernacular, single-story structure, built in 1929, has a gable roof which faces the street and an octagonal, louvered cupola. A single-bay entry is enclosed with a gabled roof and the eaves have exposed rafter tails. At 184 Oswegatchie Road is one of a series of small Craftsmen style cottages that line the area just west of Keeney Cove. This one-and-one-half story shingled cottage, built c.1910, has a pattern of single and paired windows on each facade. The wide, overhanging eaves are bracketed with thin supports.
Despite a degree of necessary modernization which took place as Oswegatchie changed from a summer community to a place of year round residence, the majority of the historic properties within the Oswegatchie Historic District remain in good condition.
During the first decades of European settlement, during the 1700s the area of Waterford known as Oswegatchie served as a farming community. Widely spaced farm lots with large areas of open space dotted the peninsula. As the popularity of summer shoreline retreats grew around the turn of the last century, the area evolved into a summer colony — one of many to dot the Connecticut shoreline. After World War II the demand for housing resulted in the division of many of the remaining farm lots, and the area was again transformed into a more densely settled, year-round community. The significance of this district lies in the stylistic range and quality of the remaining residential properties, many of which date from the "summer colony" period. The remaining historic properties — from vernacular farmhouses to Shingle-style estates — that line the streets of Oswegatchie retain a fairly high degree of preservation and display the varied and evolving architecture of a Connecticut shoreline community.
The first settlers of Oswegatchie were members of the Nehantick tribes who would often spend the summer months living close to the waters of Long Island Sound, fishing and farming the lands near the shore. By 1674, Colonial settlement had driven most of the native people from these lands, known at that time as the "West Farms" of New London. During the 1700s and 1800s, settlement continued in the West Farms area and in 1801, the town of Waterford was incorporated (Bachman, 10).
Yet, the Oswegatchie area remained fairly open, and only a few families chose to set up their homesteads on this rocky peninsula. Among some of the first settlers in the area were members of the Manwaring family. The Manwarings were one of three families who owned property on land that was then known as Pine Neck (Wagner, 47). Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Waterford remained an agriculturally based community. Slowly, a number of industrial concerns began to flourish along the banks of the town's many tributaries which ran into Long Island Sound. Shipbuilding and fishing became important sources of income and quarries were opened at Millstone and in East Lyme, across the Niantic River from Oswegatchie. In 1849, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad built a main line through Waterford that provided transportation and freight connections to New York, Boston and the rest of Connecticut (Wagner, 34).
John "Squire" Manwaring, owned a large farmstead on Oswegatchie — known by the nineteenth century as Sandy Point — where he provided rooms and hot meals to the Oswegatchie Hill quarry workers. The workers crossed the river each night from East Lyme to Manwaring's farm, located along the southern end of Riverside Drive. Operation of the quarry ended in 1873, but Manwaring continued to provide meals and take in boarders and the popularity of his establishment soon grew (Bachman, 138).
In the late nineteenth century, wealthy Americans began to flock to Connecticut's waterfront each summer. A number of factors contributed to this trend, but it was primarily improved transportation which allowed people to "weekend" away from major cities. Increases in the number and usage of rail and trolley systems, as well as a rise in the popularity of automobiles among the wealthier classes, allowed city dwellers to periodically flee from the stifling urban confines into the country. In addition, regulated working hours and wages allowed for a new phenomenon, "leisure time."
In response to this trend, Squire Manwaring's son Selden, expanded the "Oswegatchie" House (named for the hill and old quarry across the river) after his father's death in 1907, enlarging the Sandy Point Inn and adding cottages (Bachman, 138). Local lore has it that Oswegatchie House was named for an elite Adirondack resort. Meanwhile, demand for property along the shore had grown considerably beginning just before the turn of the century.
Farmland was purchased by wealthy urbanites, who became seasonal residents. Their summer "cottages" were almost exclusively built along the water, and were often rambling homes on large plots of land. Many homes included detached servants quarters, carriage houses, and tennis courts. By 1910 there were some 20 homes located on the point, filled mostly with seasonal residents (Rinek Papers). By this time the name "Oswegatchie" was indelibly linked to the growing summer colony. By 1950 the name "Oswegatchie" came to include an area considerably beyond Sandy Point to the north and east. To this day, however, the name remains most closely associated with the former summer colony district. At the same time it is generally accepted that "Sandy Point" is confined to the most southern extremity of the point.
In 1905, the Shoreline electric railway constructed a route directly to Oswegatchie, thus significantly increasing the number of visitors to the area in the summer (Wagner, 47). The trolley left the Lyme Turnpike (Boston Post Road) at Niantic River Road where it crossed Keeney Cove to Oswegatchie Road before continuing on to the turnpike (Bachman, 45). The trolley served both the Oswegatchie House and Konomoc Inn located on Park Drive. Indeed passengers would often stop at the Oswegatchie House on the way to their destination to enjoy one of the famous meals in an idyllic setting (Rinek Papers). In addition to trolley service, many resort-goers came by way of the New York, New Haven Hartford rail line, with stations at Niantic, Waterford and New London.
The first decade of the 1900s ushered in the first period of significant growth for Oswegatchie. The area provided abundant recreational opportunities and the river allowed for canoeing, sailing and swimming. A yacht club was formed in the early 1920s. Tennis and croquet were also popular pastimes — many of the homes had tennis courts and almost all featured a section of lawn dedicated to the then popular sport of croquet (Rinek Papers).
Oswegatchie counted a number of prominent citizens in the realms of business, entertainment and art as residents and visitors. Sculptor George Gray Barnard lived with his wife, actress Sarah Barnard at an estate known as "Petite Normandie." Residents of local and national prominence included: Dr. Frank Aydelotte, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, associate of Albert Einstein and key member of the Manhattan Project team (Bachman, 139); Martin Brainier, creator of the famous Winnie Winkle cartoon, and Congressman George F. Darrow.
The Oswegatchie House experienced its heyday in the 1920s (Rinek Papers) under the management of Manwaring's wife, Edna (Selden died in 1921). In addition to tennis and all kinds of water sports, there was dancing at the newly-built casino. The inn and ten cottages accommodated up to 150 guests, but things soon changed with the coming of Prohibition.
In 1930, the effects of the Depression made an even greater impact. The end of the trolley era and economic unrest worked together to cripple the area's resort trade. In 1932 Edna Manwaring sold the Oswegatchie House to Phillip Plant. Plant reputedly had plans to convert the hotel into his residence, but it burned to the ground in 1935.
Although the inns and a number of the houses have gone, and many new houses have been built, the grandeur of those homes that remain along the point, as well as the secluded and quiet nature of the area have all been remarkably preserved. It is important to note that both the sophistication of Oswegatchie's resort past and the agricultural tradition that served as its core are both still prevalent.
As part of Connecticut's coveted shoreline property, Oswegatchie has experienced its share of development and infill, yet the narrow, tree-lined roads, water views and remaining historic homes work together to retain the architectural integrity of the area. This is a district that is focused on the water — nearly all of the significant properties have water views and therefore, the natural elements of the Oswegatchie Historic District play an important and unchanged role in the historical importance of the place. The diversity of housing types and styles found on the small Oswegatchie peninsula is also surprising. Many important homes in the district such as those found at 17 and 24 Park Drive and at 7 Plant Drive are all excellent examples of Colonial Revival architecture. All exhibit symmetrically placed openings, bay windows, large, columned porches and dormers. These houses are some of the most formal in the Oswegatchie Historic District, but they are still not as strictly planned as comparable homes found in urban or town centers.
Summer homes of the elite are commonly characterized by a more relaxed style and it is this whimsical quality that makes the architecture of Oswegatchie so unique. For the wealthy who summered at Oswegatchie, society dictated a certain level of propriety and expectation in the design and deportment of their main residences. Formality was stressed in many urban residences, yet in the relaxed atmosphere of the summer cottages, owners became free to indulge in more fantastical and personalized styles. This can be seen in the Romantic Revival/French-inspired "Petite Normandie" at 151 Oswegatchie Road. This fanciful vision continues the French countryside theme through to the design of the tiny, conical, shingle-roofed smokehouse. Inside and out, this unique house is a tribute to the whims of the former owner, sculptor George Gray Barnard. This unusual house remains architecturally significant and slightly curious with its distinctive barn shape and half-timbered walls. Popular history states that this home was originally built with a thatched roof.
Elements of Romantic Revival style architecture can also be found at 36 Riverside Drive, a single-story cottage with stuccoed walls and a hipped roof and 16 Park Drive.
Early examples of Victorian inspired farm houses dating from the late 1870s and 1880s can be found at 22 and 30 Park Drive. Both of these homes display simple detailing and serve as a contrast to the later, more elaborate houses built by the summer crowds.
The property at 23 Shawandassee Road is a remarkably intact example of the quintessential resort-era New England summer estate. The massive Colonial Revival/Shingle style house is set on a particularly picturesque piece of waterfront property and surrounded by large trees. Windows of differing sizes and shapes are used throughout the structure and are set random groups of twos and threes. There is no sense of symmetry on this structure, with the result being a house that, despite its mass, blends naturally into the landscape. The irregularity of the intersecting gable and gambrel roofs and the texture of the shingle and stone finishes all contribute to the sense that the house belongs on the site. An accompanying barn, guest house and water tower all follow in the same design and achieve the same naturalistic result.
Manwaring's house at 132 Oswegatchie Road is another example of the melding of the Craftsman and Colonial Revival aesthetic. The hipped roof and vertical 4/1 window details all speak to a Craftsman influence, but the symmetry of the paired chimneys, dormers and centrally-placed, formal entry are all informed by the Colonial Revival style. Many of the homes along Riverside, Plant and Park Drives are variations on the Colonial Revival style. A fine example of the many excellent Colonial houses in the district stands at 27 Riverside Drive.
The only non-residential resource in the district is the Oswegatchie Meeting House at 176 Oswegatchie Road. This small structure was built in 1929 to serve those who summered at the colony and represents a simple, but elegant form of vernacular church building.
Elements of the Prairie or Craftsman influence can be seen on a number of homes in the Oswegatchie Historic District. The H-shaped house at 13 Park Drive is an example of this Prairie influence, with its low, hipped roof and overhanging, bracketed eaves. The house at 21 Shawandassee Road shares similar elements such as an irregular plan and hipped roof, but the exterior of this house is sheathed in stucco, resulting in a more Mediterranean look. The farmhouse at 158 Oswegatchie Road is a unique interpretation of the Craftsman style, with its five-bay porch supported by wide columns, narrow dormer windows and bracketed eaves. This house, surrounded by open fields and woodland and set back from the road on a small knoll, is part of a visually intact farm.
New construction in the Oswegatchie Historic District ranges from smaller, Ranch style homes, to prominent neo-classical style residences. Generally, the new construction in the district follows the massing and scale of the original structures. And excellent example of the new construction can be found in the Colonial Revival style home at 19 Park Drive. This large, shingled and gable-roofed house was built in 1999, but appears to be one of the original point's original homes. Many of the garages along Riverside Drive have been subtlety converted to residences, but the original pattern and visual character of the area remains unchanged, with the homes lining the waterfront and the garages located across the street. It is this thoughtful use of resources, seen throughout the area that has allowed the Oswegatchie Historic District to retain a great deal of its historic character.
Oswegatchie is now a quiet residential community comprised of small cottages, large estates and rambling beach homes. Connecticut's eastern shore is lined with former resort villages, but Oswegatchie uniquely retains a number of qualities that have been lost elsewhere. The infill of modern structures on precious waterfront property is a common phenomenon in Connecticut's shore towns, but the growth of Oswegatchie is uniquely balanced by the retention of large lots, visually integral estates, and large tracts of open fields and woodland. Also, the massing and scale of new buildings within the district are generally in keeping with the original homes. As a result, what remains of Oswegatchie conveys the grandeur of the early twentieth century resort community that it once was. The remaining houses, streetscapes and open spaces of Oswegatchie combine to create an insulated community with a visibly evident agricultural past.
Bachman, Robert L., An Illustrated History of the Town of Waterford. Norwich, Connecticut: Thames Printing Co., 2000.
Bretherton, Rex. Paper Read at Oswegatchie Colony Association, Summer, 1965.
Hall, Nancy. "Oswegatchie: full of warm memories of summer whites, seaplanes and straw hats," by Nancy Hall. Source not available.
Wagner, Gay Architectural Resource Survey of the Town of Waterford, Connecticut, Connecticut Historical Commission, 1997.
Waterford Land Records
The following undated resources were found in a file kept by Municipal Historian, Robert Nye:
Handwritten notes of time spent in Oswegatchie by longtime resident Lynn Rinek.
A second set of notes entitled Days of Yore in Oswegatchie, by former resident Betty van Arnam.
Copies of original Oswegatchie House brochures c.1920.
† Stacey Vairo, Fitzgerald and Halliday, Inc., Oswegatchie Historic District, New London County, Connecticut, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.