Stafford Hollow Historic District
The Stafford Hollow Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Stafford Hollow, also known as Furnace Hollow or simply Stafford, is a small village of houses, stores, churches, and a mill clustered around a small pond. Despite the name, the topography of the Stafford Hollow Historic District is fairly level; only on Leonard Road is there a distinct rise in elevation as one moves away from the center of the village. Stafford Hollow has one major intersection where Orcuttville Road, Route 19, Leonard Road, and Patten Road all come together. At this intersection are the village store, the 1845 old town hall, the post office, three social halls, and a small park with a single bench and flagpole. North of the intersection is Riverside Mill, an 1881 four-story brick factory; an ashlar dam under the bridge forms the mill pond by impounding Furnace Brook, which flows in a westerly direction through the Stafford Hollow Historic District. On the north side of the pond and brook are two other streets running off Leonard Road, Upper Road and Old Monson Road.
The houses in the Stafford Hollow Historic District are mostly from the 19th century and are predominantly vernacular designs, with only a hint of stylistic reference in the cornice detail or entry surrounds. Many of the later ones have typical Victorian elements in their porches, peak ornament, brackets, or shingled gables. There are a number of larger, more elaborate residences which stand out from their neighbors, with finely detailed examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Italian Villa, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles. The houses are spaced quite close together, though as one moves away from the village center the lots become larger. In addition to the houses, 25 associated old barns or carriage houses were inventoried.
In addition to the old town hall, the Stafford Hollow Historic District includes several important institutional structures: the 1845 Universalist Church, the 1833 Baptist Church, Memorial Hall, and the eclectic Victorian Pinney School, now used for administrative offices.
Of 125 buildings substantial in size and scale, 103 or 82% were judged to contribute to the significance of the Stafford Hollow Historic District, including the churches, halls, school, store, mill, and nearly all the houses and barns. Small outbuildings and garages and the ruins of two barns were not separately inventoried. Noncontributing buildings include four modern town garage structures, several houses and a store of relatively recent construction, large cinder block garages, and a few substantially altered old buildings. Although quite plain, most of the Stafford Hollow Historic District's buildings retain sufficient original form and materials to make evident their historical origins.
Stafford Hollow Historic District is significant because it contains within a few acres five of the town's most historic buildings: two early 19th-century churches, the old town hall, Memorial Hall, and Pinney School. These buildings reflect Stafford Hollow's former status as a religious and civic center for the entire town of Stafford, and they illustrate the historical development of major institutions within the town. The meetinghouses, for example, are among the town's oldest and accommodated two of Stafford's major sects. The town hall, built in 1845, replaced a system of rotating town meetings among the various parts of town with a permanent facility for holding meetings and storing public records. Memorial Hall, converted in the late 19th century from a Spiritualist church with funds from one of the town's leading mill owner families, provided a place for vaudeville, lectures, and other traveling entertainments. Pinney School, built in 1895, was the town's first graded school and illustrates the evolution of education away from the district or one-room schoolhouse system. The Stafford Hollow Historic District's other buildings also have historical significance, but of a more local character. Stafford Hollow is one of several manufacturing-based villages within the town of Stafford, but it is one which has changed relatively little since the 19th century. The mill pond, mill, dam, and stores remain today the focus of the village, around which the former homes of mill owners, machinists, and other workers stand as evidence of the role of textile mills and machine shops in the village's origin and development. Stafford Hollow Historic District also has architectural significance: many of the buildings are notable examples of particular architectural styles. The Stafford Hollow Historic District includes several buildings which embody the distinctive characteristics of Federal, Greek Revival, Italian Villa, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival architecture.
At the time of its incorporation as a town in 1719, Stafford, like most areas in Connecticut, was a sparsely populated area of farming families. What industry existed was closely tied to the agricultural economy: grist, saw, and fulling mills located on fast-moving streams such as Furnace Brook. In 1779, however, John Phelps started what would become an industry of lasting importance in Stafford Hollow, the manufacture of iron and iron products. Phelps built a blast furnace which utilized ore from nearby beds of "bog iron." Phelps produced iron for Revolutionary cannon and cannonballs. In 1796 he was joined by Nathaniel Hyde, who set up another blast furnace, foundry, and forge. Products included cast kettles and stoves and forged items such as agricultural implements. Although the ore for the blast furnaces gave out in the 1830s, the production of metal products continued, with foundries and trip-hammer shops near the site of the present mill dam and also on the small brook which flows near the northwest corner of the district.
The development of textile manufacturing in the 19th-century affected Stafford in two ways. First, the expertise of local residents with metal-products manufacture enabled some of them to capitalize on the market for textile machinery. Eli Horton in the 1830s supplied spinning mules and other machines to mills as far away as East Killingly, on the Rhode Island border; Moses B. Harvey invented and manufactured a flock cutter and other cloth-dressing machines; and Elijah Fairman patented a satinet loom. The blacksmiths and molders of Stafford Hollow were joined by machinists and "mechanics" who made the shafting, gears, and machines needed for industrial production. One significant result of Stafford's machine-shop activity was the invention by Elijah Fairman's son Simon of the universal scroll chuck, a lathe fixture which would become part of every machine shop.
The second aspect of textile manufacture was more direct: in the 1830s the waterpower of Furnace Brook was harnessed to power a satinet and wool-cloth factory built by foundryman Jasper Hyde and machine-builder Eli Horton. This factory was later controlled by Ephraim Hyde, one-time lieutenant-governor of Connecticut, and after its rebuilding in 1881 as Riverside Mill, by the Pinney and then Park families. A second mill, the Valley Mill cotton factory on Pinney School Road, was organized by Amos and Moses B. Harvey, Jr.
The industrial activity of Stafford Hollow led to modest commercial expansion, and many of the manufacturers had interests in the several stores clustered in the center of Stafford. These stores also benefited from travelers on the Norwich and Monson turnpike, a road which followed present-day Patten and Old Monson roads. At one time, a large Greek Revival style hotel stood across from Mill Pond store on the site of the present park. Built by Jasper Hyde, the inn is the Hollow's only major loss which represents a departure from its 19th-century appearance.
These pages in Stafford Hollow's history are illustrated by the Stafford Hollow Historic District's many old buildings. The mill and several old stores directly reflect the village's economic growth; houses of moulders, machinists, and textile and machine-shop entrepreneurs abound, as do the homes of farmers, for agriculture remained viable even while manufacturing expanded. The relative wealth of factory owners like Eli Horton, Jasper Hyde Bolton, and William Park is made obvious, especially in the context of the relatively plain architecture which characterizes most of the Hollow. Many other houses were either built by or owned by the mills.
The hollow's industrial and commercial vitality and its central location within the town made it the natural choice for important town-wide institutions. Prior to 1845, town meetings rotated among Stafford's several sections, leading to acrimony when one locality could pack a meeting to the detriment of other sections. The construction of the "town house" in Stafford Hollow solved the problem. The 1840s were a period in which many towns built their first town buildings; Stafford's old town hall is one of few which remain. The Hollow was also the place of choice for religious institutions: although the Congregational majority continued to worship on Stafford Street, the site of the town's 18th-century common, the Baptists and universalists built their meetinghouses in Stafford Hollow. Both were products of the religious heterogeneity which developed in most Connecticut towns in the early 19th century. Memorial Hall brought vaudeville and other nationally known entertainments to town in the late 19th century (Joseph Jefferson's troupe was on hand for the grand opening), and when in 1895 the town decided to replace its district schools (one of which survives in altered form in the Stafford Hollow Historic District) with a consolidated school, it chose the Hollow, even though by this time the population center had decidedly shifted to Stafford Springs to the south.
Textile production continued but did not expand in the 20th century. The power available from the stream was limited, and the owners had interests in many other mills, not only in other parts of Stafford but in the case of the Parks, throughout eastern Connecticut. Industrial, commercial, and residential expansion also suffered as the large village of Stafford Springs grew. The routing of the railroad through Stafford Springs, a superior waterpower, and long-standing commercial development (its role as a mineral-spring resort dated to the 18th century) also contributed to the ascendance of the larger village.
Many of the Stafford Hollow Historic District's buildings, especially institutional buildings and homes built by manufacturers, have architectural significance as examples which embody the distinctive characteristics of particular types or styles of architecture. The earliest houses, such as the house on Murphy Road, illustrate the clapboarded exterior, central-chimney plan, and symmetrical five-bay facade which characterized the vernacular architecture of Connecticut in the 18th century. Early 19th-century houses exhibit in their pilasters, fanlights, cornice detailing, and window surrounds the Federal or Adam aesthetic of finely proportioned ornament based upon Classical motifs and geometric shapes.
The Greek Revival is evident in the gable-end-to-street orientation and molded cornices of even the very modest mid-19th century houses, and others in the Stafford Hollow Historic District have typical Greek Revival entrances. The bolder proportions of the Greek Revival are also expressed in the pilasters of the Baptist Church (which retains the central-pavilion facade typical of Federal style meetinghouses) and in the full Doric portico of the Universalist Church.
Mill Pond Store is of particular architectural significance because of the rarity of surviving commercial buildings from its period. It demonstrates the divergence of commercial and residential architecture in the middle of the 19th century: it resembles a house, but it is both larger and more stylistically elaborate than the average Stafford Hollow Greek Revival house, none of which has a portico. The use of ornamental cast-iron is another feature it shares only with the Universalist Church; not usually found in rural buildings of the period, its use in Stafford may perhaps be explained by the presence of foundries in the village.
The village has outstanding buildings from the Victorian period as well. The Jaspar Hyde Bolton house on Old Monson Road is an early and well-preserved specimen of the Italian Villa fashion. It includes such key features as a flat roof, boxy form; overhanging cornice with brackets; and bay window. Like many early villas, the house also includes some elements from the Greek Revival, evident in the entrance portico. The mansions of other mill owners are similar in their elaborate detail and embodiment of the architectural fashions of their day. Both the E.H. Pinney house and the earlier William Park house exhibit the irregular massing and eclectic detailing characteristic of the Queen Anne style, though the original siding of the former is obscured by the present exterior. Victorian eclecticism is also evident in Pinney School, combining dentils, arches, a tower, and rusticated brickwork into an impressive monument comparable (though smaller and using clapboards and shingles) to the architect's commercial and institutional buildings in downtown Hartford. Well-preserved, large examples of 20th-century revival styles are represented by the second Park house and the Universalist parsonage.
Cole, J. R. History of Tolland County, Connecticut. New York, 1888.
Commemorative Biographical Record of Tolland and Windham Counties. Chicago, 1903.
Stafford Bicentennial Commission. Stafford Historical Highlights. Stafford Springs, 1976.
Stafford, Connecticut, 250th Anniversary. Stafford, 1967.
Stafford Library Association. The History of the Town of Stafford. Stafford Springs, 1935.
Thresher, H.C. Stafford Springs, Connecticut, Including Views From Villages in the Town of Stafford. Stafford, 1895.
Witt, Earl M. A History of the Schools of Stafford, Connecticut. Stafford, 1946.
Young, William. Stafford Illustrated. Stafford Springs, 1895.
Maps and Views
Eaton, W.C. and H.C. Osborn. Map of Tolland County, Connecticut. Philadelphia, 1857.
Keeney, C.G. Atlas of Windham and Tolland Counties. Hartford, 1869.
Stereopticon Collection, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.
View of Stafford Hollow, 1869. Original drawing, Connecticut State Library, Hartford.
† Bruce Clouette, Matthew Roth, and Robert Griffith consultants, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Stafford Hollow Historic District, Stafford Springs, CT, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.