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Mansfield Center Historic District


The Mansfield Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. 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

As only one section of the town of Mansfield, the Mansfield Center Historic District realizes a still existent pre-industrial rural village. There are many areas of the town: Gurleyville, Eagleville, Mansfield City, Mansfield Depot, Mansfield Hollow, Mount Hope, Spring Hill, and Mansfield Center are the most familiar. The largest and best known is Storrs, where the state university sprawls over 2850 acres.

The first settlement in Mansfield, in about 1692, was at Mansfield Center, in a quiet valley south, of the university, A highway eight rods wide was laid out and the land on either side was divided into twenty-one house lots. With each house lot came the right to 1000 acres in outlying parts of town. Gradually the woods were cut for building and on the clear land crops were grown and cattle pastured. As the outlying land was used, highways were built, resulting in a road pattern resembling spokes from a hub.

The Mansfield Center Historic District today remains essentially the same village it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a general store, a library, the town hall the Congregational Church, and an elementary school in the vicinity. The well-kept houses of Colonial, Federal, and Greek Revival styles are obviously cared for by conscientious owners. Of large proportions with some detail and ornamentation, the homes give evidence of the wealth derived from, local agriculture and commercial activity in neighboring towns.

As industry became the major force in the development of towns in the mid-19th century, mills and manufacturing sprang up on the rivers surrounding Mansfield Center, in Willimantic and Stafford Springs. Some of the Center's finest homes were built in this time by Colonel Edwin Fitch for the men who had been successful at business. Since late in that century there has been at least one store, but other commercial establishments have not threatened the character of the Center until recent years when the population of the town of Mansfield has exceeded 12,000.

The architectural characteristics of the area provide a sense of identity for the contemporary district with village life of the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a great sense of unity among the residents, many are professors at the university; all are people who take great pride in their homes and their community. There is much interest in the preservation of the Center as an unspoiled rural village.

The Mansfield Center Historic District includes the properties on each side of Route 195 from the intersection with Chaffeeville Road on the northwest to the intersection with Center Road on the south. The east boundary follows the rear property line of the properties fronting on Route 195, just north of Warrenville Road, Center Street, and the southwest shore of Echo Lake. The west boundary follows the rear property lines of the properties fronting on Route 195.

Significance

The way in which Mansfield has developed during the past two and a half centuries accounts for the historical and aesthetic quality still evident in the village of Mansfield Center. The Mansfield Center Historic District extends over the area of original settlement and includes twenty-six homes as well as the library, general store, town hall, and Congregational Church.

One of the most impressive parts of the Mansfield Center Historic District is north of the church. Here is located the oldest house in town (c.1710), a very large Greek Revival residence, five 18th century houses, several early 19th century and Greek Revival structures, and the library.

The Williams House (1710) — Probably the oldest in Mansfield, this house was the home of Reverend Eleazer Williams, who served as the first minister of the church there for thirty-two years (1710-1742). He was the son of the Reverend John Williams of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Eleazer, studying at Harvard, was the only member of his family who was not at home on the night of the French and Indian massacre, February 20, 1704. His father and five children were taken to Canada as prisoners. Two other children and a servant were killed on the doorstep of the family's home and Mrs. Williams was killed in Greenfield, Massachusetts, two days later. The youngest child, Eunice, married an Indian after years of captivity.

After Reverend Eleazer Williams' death, his daughter Mary married the Reverend Richard Walter, who came as the second pastor in 1743 and served the church until his death in 1787.

Between 1750 and 1775 the house was changed to a two-chimney, center-hall house, typical of the Boston area. The superb paneling of this period has survived in the north parlor and north chamber.

The late Elmer D. Keith considered this to be one of the most architecturally interesting houses in Connecticut. His comments are: "Few houses show the alterations of a family of means generation after generation more clearly than does this which served as the parsonage for about 75 years in the days when the clergy were not only the most learned, but the most affluent members of the community."

Construction of the house was started by Samuel Fuller, the Town Surveyor, on Home Lot No. 7, which was purchased in December, 1709. In June, 1710, the Town purchased the partly finished house and lot for £32 and authorized an additional £60 for its completion as a home for the first minister. The original construction of this period may be observed in the south chamber here the chamfered summer beam is exposed. The original clapboards with heavy bead nailed directly to the studs are still on the front. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, March, 1971.

The Fitch Mansion (1836) — This is the largest and most impressive house in the Mansfield Center Historic District. It was built in 1836 by Mansfield's most famous master builder, Colonel Edwin Fitch. Situated on the west side of Storrs Road, immediately north of the library, the house is surrounded by a tract of some sixty acres.

This house was a strong-willed man's response to his prospective father-in-law's demand that he provide a house before he could marry his daughter. In 1835, Fitch, only twenty-three years old, bought 1-1/2 acres on which to build the most elaborate house in the Center. Massive Ionic columns support a pedimented portico across the front of the house while the door is framed with intricate moulding. In so small a village people naturally talked about a poor young man building such a pretentious house; it was dubbed "Fitch's Folly." Some years later Fitch built and moved to a more modest though still imposing house on Centre Street.

Since the main structure was built it has been enlarged, attractive outbuildings have been added, and the estate has been well-landscaped. "Fitch's Folly" has become the Center's Pride. It is presently [1972] owned by Mrs. Kenneth Kinney.

The First Church of Christ (Congregational) — Established in 1718, it was the first church in Mansfield and perhaps in Tolland County. In 1753 a second, larger church was built. The present building was built in 1866 after a fire had destroyed the previous structure. It is said to have been built by Ralph Chappell, one of Fitch's apprentices.

Mansfield Center Library (1923) — The Library stands on the site of the old school house, just across Brown's Road from the Church. It is a one-story brick and stone building in the style of the Georgian Revival which sits on a rise above and faces out on Storrs Road (Route 195).

The Town Pound (1801) — On April 13, 1801 the town meeting voted to have two stone pounds, one in each Society. Both were built, and this one, for the South Society, survives on the estate of Mrs. Kenneth Kinney. It is of rectangular stone construction.

Originally the village was laid out in twenty-one lots along Town Street, (present Route 195), for about a mile. North and south ends of the street were marked by unpretentious blockhouses.

The Old Uncle Hall Place — Built perhaps as early as 1694, this house was placed on a slight rise at the north end of the village and was apparently fortified by its first owner, Joseph Hall. The historic, colonial qualities are more apparent inside than out for it was faced with native stone in this century. A small attractive cottage, also of stone, stands immediately in front of the main house. A wood frame barn is the only other structure. All of the buildings are well back from Storrs Road (Route 195) and hidden from view by abundant trees and shrubbery.

The Dodd House — Another of the oldest homes in the Center is that owned by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Dodd. It is named for a Civil War Veteran, Enoch Dodd, Alfred's father. Its precise age is a matter of some speculation because of the evidence of seventeenth century foundations. It may well be that the building was once Joseph Hall's fortified north outpost of the village. The cottage and its large red barn are set on tidy grounds on quiet Dodd Road.

On Centre Street, which curves to the east from Storrs Road, are some very attractive 18th and 19th century houses.

Week's Store — Located at the corner of Centre Street and Storrs Road is one of the central buildings in Mansfield Center — the country store. Built by Charles M. Weeks in 1886, it has retained its 19th century qualities which include its interesting facade and the continued practice of posting notices and advertisements on a bulletin board on the front porch. One of the few remaining country stores in Connecticut, it is now known as "Barrows and Burnham" and is owned by Mrs. Willard Robb.

The Fitch House — This Greek Revival house was built in 1848 by Colonel Edwin Fitch. An older, small structure was the base upon which Fitch built the handsome front section. It was Fitch's home and center of operations for his trade after he lost his first home, and Fitch Mansion, to the village money lender, Zalmon Storrs.

Large and commodious without being pretentious, the house is set in spacious and well-manicured grounds.

The Aspinwall House — At the point where Centre Street runs abruptly north there is situated one of Mansfield's oldest houses. It was built in 1740 by Prince Aspinwall. Described in 1880 as "a quaint one-story, very high gabled-roof structure," it has been remodeled often yet retains its grey-shingled colonial appearance with much of the original material left intact.

The Payne Cottage — The first two rooms of this house were built in 1794 as a saddler's shop for the Aspinwall house. Since then the house has undergone a steady growth down to 1966 so that it now has ten rooms and extends well back from the bend in Centre Street toward the Town Pond (Echo Lake). Sometime in the 1840's it is said that the front rooms were raised to second-story level and new rooms built underneath. The old front door was then sealed up. This accounts for the peculiar arrangement of the second-story windows. The present [1972] owners, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Hamill, encountered a full cistern 8 feet deep under the floor when they remodeled the back part — a relic of the days when a cooper owned the house. There are no outbuildings which stand near the property although a barn was once associated with it.

References

Crofut, F.S.H. Guide to the History and the Historic Sites of Connecticut. Vol.II. (New Haven: Yale University Press), 1937.

Report of the Historic District Study Committee for the Proposed Historic District in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, (April, 1968).

Susan Babbitt, Connecticut Historical Commission, Mansfield Center Historic District, nomination document, 1972, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Mansfield Center Historic District Map

Street Names
Browns Road • Center Pond Road • Center Road • Chaffeeville Road • Dodd Road • Route 195 • Storrs Road

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