Mansfield Hollow Historic District
Mansfield Hollow Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Mansfield Hollow Historic District is a small neighborhood of early 19th-century houses and nearby, a stone textile mill. About a dozen houses are clustered around the intersection of Mansfield Hollow Road and Mansfield Hollow Road Extension, and the modal style is Greek Revival. There is a rural feel to the settlement, as two families have pastures and horses, another lot is hayed, and others have small barns, sheds, and gardens. Most of the houses and the mill are moderately well-preserved: modern roofing and sidings are found, but most buildings retain their form, fenestration, and important decorative details. There is one modern Ranch house within the group, but it is inobtrusive and detracts less from the district's historical integrity than the three greatly altered buildings at 86, 111 and 117 Mansfield Hollow Road. Although these three contribute little to the architectural value of the area, they are important for their historical associations.
Visually dominating the little village is the stone mill built in 1882 by the National Thread Company. Known locally as Kirby's Mill, it is located at a point on the Natchaug River (114 Mansfield Hollow Road) previously occupied by a silk mill and several smaller mills and shops. The mill is rectangular in plan 155 by 52 feet, two stories tall with a high basement and low attic story, and its walls are a random ashlar of gneiss quarried from the river banks. The only decorative features are round-arched windows lighting the attic in the gables at each end, exposed rafter ends, and a suggestion of quoins. At the midpoint on the east side is a tower with loading doors at each story in front and large round-arched windows on the sides; originally little higher than the main roof, it was later raised to its present height (about 75') and fitted with clock faces on four sides. The clock has been removed, as has a tall mast and weather vane which until recently surmounted the tower's flat hipped roof. Immediately adjacent to the mill is a smaller building of similar stone, probably the wash and bleach house. The mill used 14' of head and developed 60hp in good months. Steam provided auxiliary power. Little visible remains of the dam or headrace, the latter having been filled in a few years ago. Adjacent to the race was a wheel pit with a horizontal-shaft turbine about 5' in diameter, probably part of a saw and grist mill which shared the water privilege. Besides the bulldozing of the race, other changes made by the State of Connecticut, which owns the building and uses it for storage, include blocking the mill's basement windows with cinder blocks and removing some wooden sheds.
Across the road from the mill is a house (117 Mansfield Hollow Road) built in 1840 or 1841 by Edwin Fitch for Zalmon Storrs, owner of the first silk mill in the Hollow. The 2-1/2-story, clapboarded, gable-roofed building had until several years ago two pilastered entrances near the ends of its main facade, a central chimney, and small-pane windows. The building has been completely remodelled, with a recessed central entrance, three-bay facade, new smaller windows, and a simplified cornice. Almost identical is its neighbor, No.111, which originally had a five-bay facade, two chimneys near the ends, panelled pilasters, and an entrance portico with fluted columns. It is not known exactly when this formerly Greek Revival house was built. Both structures served at one time as boardinghouses for the mill and both are now apartment houses.
Next to the mill, at 110 Mansfield Hollow Road, is a small 1-1/2-story building with its gable end facing the road and its entrance on the east side. There are no decorative features other than a partial return of the molded cornice. The house is believed to have been built around 1840. Located on a slope, it has a basement story of rough-cut stone with alternating wide and narrow courses. Windows retain their original six-over-six sash.
The Fearing Swift House, 103 Mansfield Hollow Road, is a 2-1/2-story, gable-roofed dwelling built around 1815. The exterior is clapboarded and the roof has been redone with cedar shingles. Alterations include an enclosed porch on the west side, replaced sash, and a smaller, rebuilt central stack. The nine-window main facade is distinguished principally by the front entranceway. The transomed door is framed by a series of moldings, above which floats a two-part cornice, each stage consisting of a row of dentils and a pair of cyma moldings. There is a single band of dentils along the main cornice. To the rear is a one-room stone ell, and a small mid-19th century barn behind the house. In the cellar of the barn are the remains of a fireplace or forge built into one corner. The interior of the house includes a simple Federal pilastered mantel in the west front room, a kitchen with fireplace and oven and a dado of wide horizontal boards, and throughout, wide-board chestnut floors.
Across the road is the George Swift House, 100 Mansfield Hollow Road, a 1-1/2-story, gable-roofed dwelling built around 1804. Although originally clapboarded, it now has a wood-shingled exterior. Its four-bay main facade has the transomed entrance left of center. This asymmetry may be due to the house's orientation being changed about 1840, when the road which ran behind the house was shifted to its present position. The rear of the house is considerably altered, with a full-length dormer and second-story porch. The original kitchen is now the front room. Interior features include chestnut and oak floors and four fireplaces, two with baking ovens.
Next door at 98 Mansfield Hollow Road is the house said to have been built for Marcus Monroe Johnson between 1839 and 1845. It is 2-1/2-stories tall and like its neighbor has its ridge parallel to the road. The main entrance is somewhat off center, with two windows on each level on the north side and three to the south. The exterior is clapboarded and windows retain their six-over-six sash. Exterior Greek Revival features include a full cornice return across the gable ends, panelled corner pilasters with dentils in the necking, and the doorway with pilasters and dentillated entablature. The interior is plain but shows an interesting plan. The house has a central hall with a staircase, but also a center chimney. As there is no evidence of original fireplaces or hearthstone supports, it is supposed that the house was built with stoves in mind. The central stack has a brick oven built into it in the kitchen. Floors are of pine boards.
On the opposite corner, 95 Mansfield Hollow Road, is another 2-1/2-story Greek Revival-detailed house of about the same period. The facade facing Mansfield Hollow Road Extension is five bays wide; its central side-lighted entrance has plain pilasters and a simple entablature. The gable end facing Mansfield Hollow Road also has a pilastered entrance, full cornice return, and in the gable a semi-elliptical window now missing its original sash. The exterior is covered with asbestos shingles. Both the main house and a one-story ell have original central brick chimneys and six-over-six windows.
East of the intersection of the two roads at 97 Mansfield Hollow Road is another house attributed to Edwin Fitch and probably built in the 1840s. It is 1-1/2-stories high, L-shaped in plan, with its gable end facing the street. The exterior is clapboarded, except for the gable which is covered with flush boarding; within is a rectangular window with fluted frame. The main entrance is offset to the right and has a flat-roofed portico with fluted Doric columns. Plain corner pilasters support a simple, heavy entablature. The windows have their original six-over-six sash and, like the entrance in the ell, have molded frames and slightly projecting caps. Interior features include molded window treatment and small fireplaces with very simple mantels.
The small building at 93 Mansfield Hollow Road was formerly a store. The gable end and entrance of this 1-1/2-story clapboarded building face the road, and there is a small added lean-to on the southwest side. A square false front or parapet which formerly concealed the roof was destroyed in the 1938 hurricane. The building is of uncertain age, but it is thought to date from mid-19th century. There is a small shed or barn in the rear.
The Jonathan Hinckley House, 89 Mansfield Hollow Road, was built in 1843, and tradition ascribes it to Fitch. The gable end of the 2-1/2-story house faces the road, and there is an entrance portico with square panelled columns. At the corners are corresponding panelled pilasters, and except for the flush-boarded gable, the exterior is clapboarded. There is a full return of the cornice across the front. The house has its original sash, and in the interior of the ell in the rear are a kitchen fireplace with oven and a cellar fireplace.
On the south side of Mansfield Hollow Road are a small Ranch house, 90 Mansfield Hollow Road, and next to it, the Oliver Bingham House, 88 Mansfield Hollow Road. The latter was built around 1800 and is likely the oldest house in the Mansfield Hollow Historic District. The house is 2-1/2-stories high, five bays wide, with clapboarded exterior. The nine-over-six windows are a restoration, as is the brick central stack which has been rebuilt to its original proportions. The exterior is very simple, with a door frame of plain boards. Unlike the other attics inspected, the Bingham House reveals a roof framed with collarbeams; like the others, it incorporates a ridgepole. The interior of the house includes a number of original features, including wide oak floors, floral stencilling (now repainted) in the parlor, five raised-panelled fireplace walls (one partially restored), and beaded-edged wainscotting in the rear rooms.
Close by is a narrow, 1-1/2-story, gable-roofed house of uncertain age at 86 Mansfield Hollow Road. The entrance is on the southwest end; along the road are five windows and on the attic level, a dormer. The exterior is covered with wide aluminum clapboards. This lot was first set off from Bingham's land next door in 1869, when it was described as having a small barn where this house now stands. The house must date from about that year unless it was made over from the small barn, a possibility considering the unusual form of this dwelling.
Also included in the Mansfield Hollow Historic District is a large red barn that goes with the house at 127 Mansfield Hollow Road; the house is a modern brick ranch and not particularly visible, so it was not included within the boundary. The barn, however, sits upon a hill and is visually related to the rest of the Hollow. Built around 1900, it has vertical board siding and a square cupola atop its gable roof.
The boundary of the Mansfield Hollow Historic District was delineated on historical, architectural, and topographical lines. To the north is a steep ridge which isolates the Hollow from Mansfield Center, while to the south is the unbridged Natchaug River. Mansfield Hollow Road east of the district rises upward sharply, running past three modern houses which are visually and topographically removed from the Hollow, and then the road terminates in front of a large 1956 flood control dam. To the west along Mansfield Hollow Road are several modern Cape style houses; they do not relate well to the houses in the Mansfield Hollow Historic District because they are set much further apart and further back from the road, as well as being distinctly modern in style.
Mansfield Hollow Historic District is of local historic significance because of its association with the industrialization of the town of Mansfield. The Mansfield Hollow Historic District is also of architectural importance as a coherent collection of simple early 19th century dwellings.
Mansfield today has little or no industry, but in the 19th century, there were several small manufacturing enterprises along the Willimantic, Fenton, Mount Hope and Natchaug Rivers, producing powder, organ pipes, stockings, wool cloth, and silk and cotton thread, among other products. Typically, the mills were very small compared to most textile mills, were locally owned, and became the nuclei of neighborhoods which grew up around the mill and the one or two houses built for employees. Agriculture continued to play a role in these villages, as families and individuals combined farming with their manufacturing activities, as workers or entrepreneurs.
Mansfield Hollow is one of the best remaining examples of this pattern of small-scale industrialization. Not only are there the stone mill and the now unexposed turbine as evidence of the industrial past, but most of the houses were built for or later occupied by people who owned or worked in the various enterprises. Although only two of the buildings can be properly called mill housing, the usual pattern in the Hollow was for the leading mill owner or owners to buy most of the other houses to rent out to employees.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there were a number of small water-powered mills along the Natchaug River, including fulling, saw, grist and oil mills. Early entrepreneurs whose residences have been preserved include George Swift (No.100), Oliver Bingham (No.88), and Fearing Swift (No.103). At this time the area was known as Swift's Hollow or Swift's Mills, after Barzillai Swift who owned most of the water privileges, one of which he leased to Bingham. Swift's sons George and Fearing continued these enterprises and along with Bingham's son Jesse, became involved in silk manufacture. They may have had an interest in the silk mill which Zalmon Storrs built in 1838. Storrs's was the first mill of some size in the Hollow, and he built one of the boardinghouses across the road (No.117). In the 1840's most of the property was bought up by Nathan Rixford, who lived in No.100 and may have built Nos.95, 97, 98 and 111 as well. Rixford continued silk manufacture, aided by Jonathan Hinckley, a machine builder formerly involved in manufacturing in nearby Coventry, and Marcus Johnson, Rixford's supervisor. Hinckley and Johnson lived in Nos.87 and 98, respectively. Rixford fell on hard times, and Hinckley turned to full-time farming, but Johnson later appeared as the principal in the National Thread Company, which built the present mill in 1882 to finish cotton thread for market. The company was bought out by American Thread in 1899 and three years later, the building was sold to George J. Kirby, who made small brass items until some time after World War II.
The architectural importance of the Mansfield Hollow Historic District is largely derived from the scale, spacing, and setting of the little village. The clustering of houses and the former store about the intersection of Mansfield Hollow Road and Mansfield Hollow Road Extension and the isolation of the district on three sides create a distinct sense of place. The sheds, barns pastures and gardens recall the settlements rural past, just as the mill represents the small-scale industrialization of the Hollow.
If there is a theme to the Hollow's architecture, it is that of country classicism. The Fearing Swift House, No.103, c.1815, is the first departure from the plainness of the earlier houses, Nos.88 and 100. Its dentillated cornice and pilastered fireplace are typical Federal elements, but its double-dentillated entrance is a free interpretation whose precedent, if any, is unclear. The Greek Revival houses continue the theme and give the Mansfield Hollow Historic District its flavor. The Marcus Johnson House, No.98, is a large house with a traditional shape but transformed with Greek Revival dentils, pilasters and cornice. Somewhat similar is No.95; it also is on a corner, but it has two principal facades, one with the gable end to the street. The Hinckley House (No.87) and the smaller No.97 unequivocably have their main entrances in the gable end, and thus achieve a temple effect. These last two are somewhat more developed than the others, with their flush boarding and entrance porticoes.
The Hinckley House and No.97 have been attributed to Edwin Fitch (1812-1875), a local builder. Fitch may also have built No.110, as it is known he built the 1838 silk mill, and he built the house at 117 Mansfield Hollow Road, which has been stripped of its detail. These buildings are or were fairly plain, with a few Greek details added at entrances, corners, and cornices. Explanations for country simplicity often suggest that it derives from the limited knowledge and ability of local builders, yet with Fitch this was not the case: he is known to have built quite elaborate structures in nearby Mansfield Center, one with a large Ionic portico and another large, hipped-roof house. Rather, the plainness of the Hollow's buildings probably reflects the tastes of their first owners and their unwillingness to spend on their residences.
Most of the Mansfield Hollow Historic District lies within or is being added to a local historic district with preservation provisions. The State is not subject to these controls, however, so the future of the mill is uncertain. Three houses, Nos.87, 111 and 117 were not included in the local district, despite their historical associations, because their fabric has been so altered. The preservation of the remainder of the village seems assured, conserving a good collection of buildings representative of the town's social and economic history.
Cole, J.R. History of. Tolland County, New York: W.W. Preston, 1888, pp.264-65, 295.
Mansfield Historical Society History Workshop, Chronology of Mansfield, Connecticut. 1702-1972. Storrs: Parousia Press, 1974.
A Passing Sketch of the Village. Willimantic: Journal Steam Job Printing, 1880.
U.S.Census Office. Water-Power, 1880, Pt.I. Washington: G.P.O., 1885, p.199.
† Bruce Clouette, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Mansfield Hollow Historic District, Mansfield, CT, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.