South Coventry Historic District
The South Coventry Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The South Coventry Historic District lies in the southeastern part of the town of Coventry, Connecticut, just east of Lake Wangumbaug. The South Coventry Historic District encompasses the historic village of South Coventry, which retains, to a significant degree, its historic and architectural resources dating from the late-18th to the mid-20th centuries. The village's buildings are clustered along Main Street (Route 31) and on several side streets, and the South Coventry Historic District also extends south on Lake Street to include the village Green and the early buildings ringing it.
South Coventry's natural features are a vital part of its visual impact. The hilly terrain rises in terraces from Mill Brook, which runs south of and parallel to Main Street, to a plateau at the Green. The brook occupies a central place in the village's significant industrial history, and along its course survive a few of the many millponds with stone dams, retaining walls, and sluiceways that were created in the 19th century . Other key physical aspects of the South Coventry Historic District are the rocky outcroppings, stone retaining walls or walls marking fields or property lines, and stone ruins of mills.
There are 218 major structures, buildings, sites, and objects in the South Coventry Historic District, of which 177 (81%) contribute to its significance. These include two sites, the Green and the Nathan Hale Cemetery, one object, the Nathan Hale Monument, and a number of outbuildings, primarily barns. The contributing buildings range widely in age from c.1716 to c.1940. Many of the resources are examples of recognized architectural styles, including the Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival; a sizable number of buildings, however, are stylistically ambiguous, including the 19th-century mills and the camp buildings in Patriots Park. While most of the outbuildings are plain and functional, several display clear stylistic associations, such as the c.1860 Italianate barn at 83 Mason Street.
Fortunately, few changes have impaired the architectural integrity of the South Coventry Historic District's resources. Alterations and additions are generally limited to non-original synthetic sidings and replacement windows. Non-contributing principal buildings are mostly less than 50 years old. The South Coventry Historic District buildings are primarily residential, although South Coventry's historic role in town commerce, religious life, government, and education is well represented.
Most of the contributing buildings are wood-framed, and the prevalent exterior wall cladding is clapboards. Wood shingles and brick are present to a lesser degree. Many of the buildings have corrugated metal roofs, and brick or granite are the common foundation materials. Two stories is the prevalent building height, but there are also a number of one-story structures, both residential and commercial. Setbacks are fairly uniform, although they vary from one street to another; the extant mills are an exception because their location is a function of the course of Mill Brook.
All of the buildings dating from the 18th century are residential, and they display the typical features of the period. The two-story Lyman House at 113 Lake Street, built in 1772, for example, has a five-bay facade with central front entrance, 12-over-12 sash windows, and a large central brick chimney. A more elegant design is the c.1775 Dr. Samuel Rose House on High Street, in which denticulated cornices embellish the roofline and first-floor openings of the facade. The South Coventry Historic District also contains a few one-story Colonial homes, of which the Thomas Porter House (c.1716) at 222 Lake Street is the best preserved.
The South Coventry Historic District's two examples of the Federal style differ completely from one another. Occupying a prominent location, the John Boynton House (c.1800) at 1365 Main Street is an elaborate interpretation, exhibiting the characteristic delicacy of the style in its arcaded front and side bays with slender supporting pilasters, a design element repeated in the unusual monitor roof, and a semi-elliptical fanlight over the front entrance. 1069 Main Street (c.1800) is a much less ambitious building whose stylistic identity is established by the attenuated proportions of the front entrance and the large blind fanlights in the side gables. The placement of the front entrance in the third bay of the seven-bay facade, together with the location of the two chimneys, suggests that two bays at the right end of the house may have been added onto a more customary five-bay plan.
Greek Revival buildings are the most numerous of any style, and they offer a range of plans and features. Dominating Main Street is the First Congregational Church (1849); its two-story pedimented portico with six fluted Ionic columns is the most monumental among the village's four temple-plan Greek Revivals. An imposing variation is the Wellwood Store, which is traditionally dated to c.1784 and later received a one-story Doric portico.
Wall Street has a row of four one-and-one-half-story Greek Revivals with five-bay facades and central entrances, roofline entablatures, and pilasters at the corners. Similar in plan, 106 Depot Road is distinctive because of its masonry construction and stylistic restraint. Several one-story Greek Revival houses on Main Street have three bays and gable fronts. At 1104 Main Street (c.1820), the entrance porch is recessed into the right front corner, while at 1082 Main Street (c.1853) the wings at either end contain recessed porches.
The Italianate style is represented in the South Coventry Historic District by some of the grandest designs, among them the boxy Henry Mason and Addison Kingsbury houses, both c.1860. Their wealth of appropriate features includes round-arched windows in molded surrounds and wide roof overhangs supported by heavy curvilinear brackets. The Capron-Phillips House (c.1864), which is individually listed on the National Register, displays an asymmetrical plan and elaborate porch ornamentation. The most imposing Italianate design is the Coventry Methodist Church of 1867, which lost the top of one of its towers in the 1938 New England Hurricane.
46 Prospect Street (c.1890) exhibits the asymmetrical massing, complex roofline, and elaborate decorative detailing of the Queen Anne style. At 28 Prospect Street (c.1900), a more complex Queen Anne plan is blended with a Colonial Revival style classical portico of clustered columns on pedestals. The American Legion Hall on Wall Street (c.1900) is typical of many rural institutional designs that were built toward the end of the Queen Anne's popularity and show the influence of the oncoming Colonial Revival style in their restraint and overall symmetry.
The South Coventry Historic District contains a few examples of other defined architectural styles, many vernacular buildings, and six industrial buildings surviving from the dozen or so complexes that stood along Mill Brook in the mid-19th century. Articulating the Georgian Revival style in elaborate fashion is the Booth and Dimock Memorial Library (1912), with a central domical cupola. Among the many well-executed features of this brick building are Palladian windows in the facade flanking a pedimented portico and in the side elevations. A recent (1989) rear addition carefully follows the proportions of, and bases its detailing on, the original. The representative Bungalow at 84 Prospect Street (c.1915) is embellished with clustered Tuscan porch columns, a Colonial Revival influence.
34 Bradbury Lane (c.1880) is one of several examples of utilitarian mill housing that exhibit decorative front porch detailing. The Old Town Office (1876), also a restrained design, is distinguished by brick hood molds. Patriots Park, on the shores of Lake Wangumbaug, contains several c.1935 buildings that are remnants of Camp Nathan Hale, a summer facility operated by the Salvation Army from the late 1920s until the town bought the property within the past decade. The extant buildings of this complex are modest in design and size, one-story in height, and sheathed in weatherboards.
The Kingsbury Box Factory and Kenyon Mill (c.1868 and 1859, respectively) are the South Coventry Historic District's most nearly intact 19th-century industrial facilities. Built with heavy wood framing and clapboard exterior sheathing, their straightforward plans are marked by bands of large double-hung sash windows and minimal ornamentation. The Kenyon unfortunately has lost its cupola, a feature that graced many of the village's mills, and has received a long concrete-block addition.
Several outbuildings display some sophistication in design, evident particularly in the louvered cupolas with bracketed overhanging roofs in the buildings at 1117 Main Street and 83 Mason Street. At the highest point in the district on Lake Street is the Nathan Hale Cemetery, which contains grave markers in the varied materials, styles, and proportions of 18th-through 20th-century funereal art. The centerpiece is the granite Nathan Hale monument (1846).
The South Coventry Historic District is architecturally significant because it is a cohesive village of well-preserved buildings and their surroundings that illustrate the continuum of the area's history, from the early 18th century onward. Fine examples of many period architectural styles are present, among them the Colonial, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne, together with vernacular buildings typical of small New England villages. Of particular interest are those buildings and sites that clearly express the village's historic role as the center of town life and its 19th-century industrial heritage and milieu.
Settlement of South Coventry began around 1707, with people arriving from Hartford and Windsor, Connecticut, and Northampton, Massachusetts. Incorporation of the town of Coventry followed in 1712, by which time 16 families, drawn by the fertile soil, had established homes. Farming was the principal economic pursuit during the 18th century, and Mill Brook provided the waterpower for mills serving the local needs, the earliest of which, a grist mill, was established in 1716.
From time of settlement onward, South Coventry was the center of activity of the entire town. Early buildings were concentrated around the Green, which was set out by the 1730s, and along Lake Street, with others scattered along the length of Main Street. Funds for the first meetinghouse were voted in 1715, and though enlarged in 1736, this building was replaced in the 1760s by a larger one built on High Street facing the Green. During the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, the Green served as a military training ground. The town's most noteworthy contribution to the Revolution was Nathan Hale, who is commemorated by an impressive monument raised to his memory in 1846 in the town cemetery, which was also named in his honor.
The abundant waterpower provided by Mill Brook, which drops 250 feet over a two-mile course between Lake Wangumbaug and the Willimantic River, stimulated considerable growth in South Coventry during the 19th century. A succession of manufacturing facilities were established at 17 waterpower privileges along the brook. At the first water privilege, closest to the lake, is the village's oldest extant industrial facility, Boynton's Mill of c.1815. Contributing to industrial growth was the arrival of the railroad around 1850. The South Coventry station, located several miles outside the district, gave village manufacturers a more efficient means of transporting production and expanded their markets.
The history of these ventures is a cycle of creation, decline, and new efforts, a pattern typical throughout New England. Despite the turnover, activity remained fairly constant throughout the 19th century. These ventures included the expected grist, carding, and textile mills, together with paper, box, and rifle cartridge manufacturing, among others. Some of the industries prospered for decades. Morgan's Silk Mill, c.1868, grew from 10 employees to over 100 at the turn of the century. Addison Kingsbury's paper box manufactory nearby was the first building in an enterprise that expanded to five locations and produced 30,000 boxes daily by 1888.
Growth of the village paralleled the industries, and Main Street replaced the area around the Green as the heart of South Coventry. While the Dr. Samuel Rose House on High Street continued to serve as an inn, by mid-century the post office had moved from Martin Lyman's house on Lake Street to the Bidwell Hotel (1822). Shops opened in Main Street homes and in new or remodeled commercial buildings, such as the Wellwood Store (c.1784, with substantial 19th-century alterations). Erection of a Congregational Church on Main Street occurred in 1849, with the old serving as town hall until a new building rose in 1876 on Main Street. The village filled in with housing that included impressive mansions for mill owners, such as the Addison Kingsbury House on Wall Street, and modest residences for mill workers (e.g., the double houses along Bradbury Lane from the mid-19th century). By the late 19th century, the village had assumed much of its present-day appearance.
South Coventry's growth peaked around the turn of the century. The number of enterprises and their output stabilized and thereafter began to decline. Beginning in the late 19th century, many of the wooden mill buildings burned and were not rebuilt. Population fell after 1900, and little new construction occurred, a notable exception being the Booth and Dimock Memorial Library. Another exception, the buildings erected by the Salvation Army in the 1930s at Camp Nathan Hale, now town-owned Patriots Park, demonstrate the larger economic role, assumed during this century by Lake Wangumbaug because of its popularity for seasonal recreation.
The Great Depression and the 1938 New England Hurricane brought the village's economy to an almost complete standstill, and most factories closed. By 1930, the entire town's population had fallen to 1552, fewer than the total in 1756. Since that time, construction of new buildings, both residential and commercial, has occurred at a slow pace in South Coventry, reflecting the continuing lack of a strong economy.
The South Coventry Historic District's strong sense of time and place is a product of many factors, both built and natural. The architectural resources cover the entire history of the village, from early 18th-century settlement to the mid-20th century, in cohesive streetscapes with few non-contributing buildings. The historic street pattern, established by the mid-19th century, is little changed. Historic landscape elements likewise remain mostly intact, and the rocky terrain and omnipresent stone walls marking fields and terracing the hillsides clearly establish the district's New England locale. Taken together, these features clearly set the village apart from the areas outside the district that are either more rural or have experienced modern development.
Architecturally, the buildings in the South Coventry Historic District present an impressive range in style and quality, embodying the diversity that characterizes small New England villages of its age and history. The historic styles represented run the gamut chronologically from the Colonial to the Bungalow. The Dr. Samuel Rose House (c.1775), First Congregational Church of Coventry (1849), Capron-Phillips House (c.1864), and 46 Prospect Street (c.1890) are fine examples of the Colonial, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne styles, respectively, with the Greek Revival and Italianate especially well represented. A number of less sophisticated buildings, such as 34 Bradbury Lane, incorporate fancy turned and sawn front porch detailing into overall vernacular designs. Alterations incorporating features of later styles are also found, not surprisingly, throughout the district, such as the two-tier Colonial Revival porch on the Greek Revival style Bidwell Hotel (1822). These changes have not compromised the integrity of the district; in fact, some have acquired value in their own right.
All major aspects of community life are represented by extant structures, including South Coventry's historic civic, cultural, and economic importance in the town of Coventry. The central place of the Congregational church in local and state history is represented by the First Congregational Church (1849). On Monument Hill Road, the old schoolhouse (c.1830) is evidence of the importance placed on education in community life since the town's founding. South Coventry's continuing role as a center of town affairs is demonstrated by the old Town Office (1876), which serves now as the town visitors' center, by the South Coventry Volunteer Fire Association (c.1880), and by the Booth and Dimock Memorial Library (1912, 1989). The Camp Nathan Hale buildings in Patriots Park that date from the 1930s illustrate the impact that Lake Wangumbaug's recreational value has had on both the village's and town's architecture and economy.
The associations of South Coventry's buildings and sites with its 19th-century industrial prosperity are strong, providing a significant measure of the district's significance. Surviving buildings and structures present a nearly complete picture of the village during its heyday. Their stylistic sophistication, compared to those in the village from the 18th and 20th centuries, indicates the vitality of the local economy and residents. The mill buildings, and the network along Mill Brook of mill ponds, dams, and sluiceways, graphically portray the nature of the local industrial operations. The mills are also distinctive because of their frame walls, a feature that had been replaced for safety reasons by masonry in much of the region by mid century.. While the Kenyon Mill and Kingsbury Box Factory are the most nearly intact, the changes to the others document their adaptation to a succession of commercial uses. Mill-related housing is also well represented, ranging from the architectural pretensions of mill owners and managers, seen in the homes of Addison Kingsbury and C.H. Kenyon, to the functional, simply designed homes for mill workers, such as 34 Bradbury Lane.
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Maps and Views
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Map of Tolland County. 1857. Woodward & Bartlett, 1857.
View of South Coventry, Connecticut, 1878.
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† Gregory E. Andrews, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, South Coventry Historic District, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.