Ellington Center Historic District
The Ellington Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 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 Ellington Center Historic District, which encompasses the town green, is rectangular in shape and runs in an east-west direction along Main and Maple streets. The streets are continuously lined with houses built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, giving the Ellington Center Historic District its pervasive residential character. In addition, two churches, the library, and two stores face the green.
The area now known as Ellington was settled as part of Windsor in 1717, organized as an ecclesiastical society in 1735, and incorporated in 1786. Five houses of the Colonial style, representative of the type built during those early years, remain standing in the district. Probably the oldest is the Reverend John McKinstry House, 1730, at 85 Maple Street. It is a one-story five-bay frame structure whose high gambrel roof has no dormers. This house was moved to its present location in 1815 from north of where the library now stands on Main Street. Another distinctive house from the early period is 127-137 Maple Street, 1767, a two-story gable-roofed house with five bays, twin chimneys, and central entrance, the only example of this description from the 18th century.
The Federal style is well represented in the Ellington Center Historic District by seven examples constructed in the first three decades of the 19th century. Two of them, built of brick, are exceptions to the general rule in Ellington of frame construction. They are 69-79 Maple Street, 1805, and 80-86 Main Street, 1806. Both have five-bay central-entrance plans with splayed brick lintels and coursed embellishment under the eaves. Others include 70 Main Street, 1812, the home of the Ellington Historical Society, which also has elaborate moldings under the eaves, 99 Main Street, 1813, shingled, with four bays in its gable end toward the street and tall 2-over-2 windows at the first floor, and 98 Main Street, 1815, which displays the archetypical radially glazed window in its tympanum.
By far the largest number of houses in any one architectural style is the 20 in the Greek Revival mode, all built during the second quarter of the 19th century, thereby indicating the Ellington Center Historic District's period of fastest growth. Several variations are represented. The temple form of gable end to street with three bays at first and second floors and tympanum above appears several times, for example at 57 Maple Street, 1842. In this house the doorway surround of flanking pilasters supporting frieze and cornice is repeated at the tympanum window, a practice followed in half a dozen of Ellington's Greek Revival houses, including 116-118 Main Street and its neighbors, which were built by Nelson Chaffee. The configuration of three-bay facade with central entrance, somewhat unusual, is found twice in the district. At 113-115 Main Street, 1842, under ridge line parallel with the street, the house has a shed-roofed portico with fluted Doric columns, while 47-51 Maple Street, 1848, is L-shaped, its front elevation being smooth tongue-and-groove boards under gable-end pediment.
The house at 89 Maple Street is a four-bay Greek Revival style structure, while there are four in the district with five bays. 108 Main Street, 1839, is unusual because its five bays are under a gable-end pediment. A further unusual feature is the row of small rectangular windows under the frieze in its facade; small windows of this description more commonly are located in side elevations. A Greek Revival house with significant later addition is 97-99 Maple Street, which has an added wraparound porch with sawn-and-turned components characteristic of the Queen Anne style.
One of the four houses in the Ellington Center Historic District displaying Italianate style features is 113-119 Maple Street, 1835, which has the roof overhang supported by brackets and three-sided bays for which the style is known, but these are features added to an earlier basic five-bay Colonial style house. Another version of the Picturesque mode, the Gothic Revival, is represented in the district by two examples, 100 Main Street, 1876, a 1-1/2-story L-shaped house with tall paired windows at the first floor, wall dormers at the second, and steeply pitched gables. A more striking example is directly across the road where 101 Main Street, 1860, displays a full panoply of characteristic Gothic Revival trim features including board-and-batten siding, pierced porch facia, pointed-arch attic window, and curvilinear bargeboards, but the mass of the building is plain.
Two Queen Anne houses round out the group of 19th-century styles. At 76-78 Main Street, the plan has the asymmetry of the Queen Anne, and the front and back porches have sawn brackets and picket frieze also associated with the style. Yet, the octagonal porch posts on pedestals and the tall paired windows, round-arched at the second floor, are Italianate. In a further stylistic layer, the wall dormers and gable peaks of the roof are decorated with braces of the Stick style and the flat boards periodically dividing the clapboards are from the same style. The house at 91-93 Maple Street, 1907, with its gables, high roof, asymmetry, and brick foundations, is a purer example of the Queen Anne.
The last of the 19th-century styles represented in Ellington is the Shingle style of 145-147 Maple Street, a 1-1/2-story L-shaped house that was not built until 1908. Later construction in the 20th century was mostly in the Colonial Revival mode, a notable example being 139 Maple Street, 1916, where the wide two-story front porch is reminiscent of Mount Vernon. The grounds of 139 Maple Street still have a pergola, suggesting the earlier presence of pleasant gardens.
Several houses of a somewhat different character, more modest than others, are located on the south side of Maple Street, east of the green. 92 Maple Street, 1932, is a tiny 1-story frame vernacular house, while next door 88-90 Maple Street, age undetermined but older, is a 2-story double house with full-width shed-roofed front porch supported by round floor-to-ceiling columns. At the second floor, eaves above the paired 6-over-1 windows are cut away in the manner of wall dormers.
Many of the houses in the Ellington Center Historic District have outbuildings, including several substantial barns. There is a tobacco barn at 63 Maple Street, while the barn of 76-78 Main Street is two stories with a cupola. The outbuildings are related to the farming activity which in many cases was carried on behind the houses and in some cases still is.
The three institutional-buildings around the green are the two churches and the library. The Ellington Congregational Church, 1915, is a frame Colonial Revival structure in the Federal manner with a tetrastyle Ionic front portico and side elevations each pierced with three Palladian windows. The Church of St. Luke is an L-shaped brick building in a contemporary interpretation of the Colonial Revival. Its door transoms and the heads of its round-arched windows are radially glazed.
Hall Memorial Library is located on the West Crossover, just west of the green. One of the largest buildings in the Ellington Center Historic District, along with the two churches, it is constructed of tan brick and limestone in a strong interpretation of the Neo-Classical Revival. Details tend to be heavy, for example, the long quoins and the thick columns in antis with pronounced entasis.The library's interior is fully as elaborate as the exterior, featuring a great brick mantelpiece and fluted Ionic columns of cast iron.
The green is divided by the street pattern into two sections. Both are open spaces with tall shade trees and little shrubbery or other landscaping or development. The west green is the location of the Connecticut Historical Commission historical marker, a granite monument on the site of the first meetinghouse (1739), and granite slabs in memory of those from Ellington who served their country in various wars. The open space of the east green is interrupted only by a bandstand.
The McKinstry Family Cemetery, on Main Street north of the intersection with West Crossover, displays 18th-century craftsmanship in the stone carving of lettering and funereal symbols such as death heads and foliate borders in the stones. The granite obelisk with polished granite dado and raised wreath reflects the best practice of the mid-19th century.
The Ellington Center Historic District is significant architecturally because it consists of buildings in an array of architectural styles from the Colonial to the Colonial Revival in a good state of preservation and in their original relationship to one another. Many of the houses are fine examples of their styles. The Ellington Center Historic District is free of intrusions, still exhibiting its original orientation to the central open space of the green.
The Reverend John McKinstry, first minister of the Ellington Church and a leader in the settlement of the Center, was important to the district during his lifetime and now, two and a half centuries later, artifacts associated with him continue to have a significant role in the appearance of the Ellington Center Historic District. His one-story house, because of its great gambrel roof, is by far the most distinctive of the handful of Colonial houses that survive. Curiously, it was moved in 1815, perhaps reflecting the breach that had developed between the minister and his flock over church discipline. The disagreement led Rev. McKinstry to elect not to be buried with others of his congregation, but to establish the McKinstry Family Cemetery near the original location of his house. The family plot has a fine iron fence, and good examples of the stone cutter's art from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Following the colonial period, houses were built in the Federal style. Two of them are brick, the only masonry houses in the district. Obviously, brick was available, if scarce and expensive, but what forces caused it to be used in Federal style houses but not before or after, to this day, are unexplained. The proportions of the Federal houses are pleasing, in accord with the established principles of the style, and the decorative features, notably the molding courses under the eaves, show good workmanship and attention to detail. The number of Federal style houses was far exceeded by the multitude of Greek Revival houses that sprang up in the ensuing decades of the 19th century.
Ellington Center as a farming community reached its greatest building boom during the second quarter of the 19th century with a panoply of variations within the Greek Revival style. Two, three, four, and five bays, temple form with gable-end toward the street treated as a tympanum, ridge line parallel with the street, L-shaped plan with side entrance, and front and side porches are on the impressive list of Ellington interpretations of the Greek Revival. Nelson Chaffee built several of the houses which repeat the entrance surround at the tympanum window, making it into a local specialty of merit. The fluted Doric columns of front and side porches are a Greek Revival feature that ornament the district.
During the Picturesque period that followed the Greek Revival, the rate of construction fell off sharply in the Ellington Center Historic District, but at least two significant examples exist. One is the Gothic Revival cottage at 101 Main Street. It appears to be a basic three-bay Greek Revival structure clothed in the details of the Gothic Revival, probably as alterations. The second, 76-78 Main Street, combines several styles into a visually satisfying design which demonstrates success without purity.
Houses in the 20th-century Colonial Revival style are generally less distinguished, with the exception of 65 Maple Street, 1929, whose overscaled doorway broken pediment is carefully executed. On the other hand, the Colonial Revival Congregational Church is highly successful and imposing. The architects, Clark & Arms of New York, practiced from 1915 to 1937, thus, this church was done in the first year of their practice. The present structure is the fourth church building; the first, c.1738, faced south in the west green, the second, 1805, stood in the east green, the third, 1868, on the present site, was destroyed by fire in 1914.
The Neo-classical Revival library is like nothing else in the Ellington Center Historic District, obviously the product of a designer whose references were found elsewhere than in Ellington. The donor was Francis Hall, a native son who left Ellington to live in Elmira, New York, where he made his fortune. He gave the library in honor of his father, John Hall, founder of the Hall School which educated Ellington youth for half a century. His architect was Wilson Potter (1868-1936) of New York, who worked for Richard Morris Hunt and William Van Brunt before starting out in practice himself, specializing in the design of schools and libraries. His other work in Connecticut includes the United Bank, New Milford, for which the contractors were Carpenter & Williams of Norwich, the same as for the Hall Library, the Bristol High School, and the Bristol Public Library. All are Neo-Classical Revival style buildings, the two libraries having several features in common, such as the Ionic columns.
Probably the most important component of the Ellington Center Historic District and the one most difficult to quantify is the overall sense of integrity which the district possesses. The absence of intrusions, the relatively good state of maintenance, the fact that while the road surface has been improved the street rights of way have not been widened, the absence of development on the green, and the basic good quality of the architecture combine to form the character-defining features of the historic New England village. Since the green has not been injured, its integrity as a landscape feature of typical importance to the society of a New England village remains unimpaired.
Ellington Historic District Study Committee Report, 1974.
Stiles, Henry R. The Histories and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor, Conn., including East Windsor, South Windsor, Bloomfield, Windsor Locks, and Ellington, 1635-1891.Hartford: 1895. v.1.
The Ellington Congregational Church. 250 Anniversary, 1733-1983.
Hall Memorial Library Dedication, November 11, 1903.
† David F. Ransom, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Ellington Center Historic District, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Wahsington, D.C.