Willington Common Historic District
The Willington Common 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 Willington Common Historic District is a small residential community on Route 74 (formerly Route 44) in Willington Hill. The majority of the Willington Common Historic District's resources surround Willington Common, which is bounded on the south by Route 74, on the north by Common Road, and on the east by Jared Sparks Road. Route 74, locally known as the Tolland Turnpike, is a major thoroughfare between Ashford and Tolland.
The Willington Common Historic District contains 32 contributing resources which date from 1738 to 1938. They include 14 houses and their associated outbuildings, two churches, a town meeting house, one store (now a residence), the Willington Town Common, and a monument on the common. Two-thirds of the principal buildings predate 1850. All the buildings are of wood-frame construction, generally set on granite foundations.
The basic layout of the area has remained essentially unchanged since about 1800. Common land set aside by the town in 1757 and 1762 included acreage on both sides of the Tolland Turnpike. The northern section is the present Town Common. Land on the south side of the road remained undeveloped until 1797 when the town granted permission for a store at the southeastern end. By 1809 the rest of the southern section was divided and sold for building lots. Common Road, a dirt road for most of the nineteenth century, was accepted as a town highway in 1925 in an effort to halt encroachment by automobiles and wagons across the common. More recently, with the construction of Route 84 to the west, Route 74 has been widened to accommodate an increase in through traffic.
The Willington Town Common, a roughly triangular open grassed area of about two acres, is the focus of the Willington Common Historic District. It is bordered by mature trees along Common Road, its northern border. Three institutional buildings face the common: two on the north, the Congregational Church and the former Town Hall, and the Baptist Meeting House on the south, now the Federated Church of Willington and the only one of the three still in use in its original capacity. The Congregational Church and the Old Town Hall were both built in 1876. Despite their date of construction, they both are typical eighteenth-century types. The church, now vacant, functioned as the town hall from 1926 to 1974. It is a simple Gothic Revival style building with a small bell tower. Except for its pointed-arched windows and steep roof, it would appear to be an eighteenth century meetinghouse of the third style. The bell was removed during World War II and mounted outside at the front of the church. The old Town Hall is a gable-roofed building that resembles a typical earlier one-room New England schoolhouse, with its gable end facing the street and doorways at either side.
The Baptist Meetinghouse is more typical of its style and period. It was built in 1829 by a local carpenter/builder, Albert Sharp, in a transitional Federal/Greek Revival style. Its clapboarded facade has a projecting pavilion with two entrances flanking a two-story round-arched window. Four pilasters are surmounted by a wide entablature and the flushboarded pediment of the pavilion. Round-arched windows are repeated on the side elevations and the belfry, which is topped by an octagonal drum and a small dome.
Three of the houses facing the common were built in the eighteenth century, all in the Cape style, the predominate residential building form in the Willington Common Historic District. The Old Manse (4 Jared Sparks Road), built in 1738, is a five-bay, one and-one-half story Cape with an unusual combination roof form. The rear slope has only one pitch, while the front slope has the double pitch of the gambrel type with three shed-roofed dormers that appear original. Another more traditional Cape is the Rice-Merrick House (244 Tolland Turnpike). The windows of its five-bay facade are placed well below the eaves and flank a simple door surround with a five-pane transom. Alterations to the Minor Grant Store (242 Tolland Turnpike) tend to obscure its original Cape form. It is typical of eighteenth-century commercial buildings with its broad gable end with larger windows facing the street. Long shed-roof dormers and a decorative porch with spindle work across part of the east elevation were added in the late nineteenth century, probably when it was converted to a residence.
Three of the six houses constructed between 1810 and 1830 have an eighteenth century Cape form: the Daniel Glazier House (227 Tolland Turnpike), the Silas Glazier House (232 Tolland Turnpike), and the Jonathan Weston House (5 Common Road). The Daniel Glazier House, believed to have been built about 1810, retains several eighteenth century features, including the three small windows in the gable surrounding the main second floor window. The barn historically associated with this house, which stands on the opposite side of the Tolland Turnpike, appears to have been built in the mid-nineteenth century.
Of the three other houses from this period, two are individual examples of style or form. The Hiram-Rider House (238 Tolland Turnpike) was built in 1820 in the Federal style with a ridge-to-street orientation and is more elaborately detailed than its period counterparts. The five-bay facade displays flared lintels above the first floor windows and an Italianate door hood. The cornices of the main block and the end pediments are decorated with dentils and mutules, separated by an unusual molding with a repeating pattern of small round holes. The Federal period Daniel Glazier Tavern (1 Common Road), built about 1815, is the only hipped-roof building in the Willington Common Historic District. Its use of a central chimney and simple door and window surrounds is more typical of the eighteenth century. The last Federal period house is the Baptist Church Parsonage (7 Common Road), built in the same transitional Federal/Greek Revival style as the Baptist Meetinghouse.
Only two nineteenth-century residences were constructed after 1830: a circa 1850 Cape style house (253 Tolland Turnpike) and the Greek Revival style Deacon Turner House (243 Tolland Turnpike). The latter has a fully pedimented flushboarded gable supported by pilasters, frieze, and entablature. The entrance portico features fluted columns capped by Ionic capitals, and frames a transomed doorway with sidelights.
Four twentieth century houses, all built prior to 1930, complete the Willington Common Historic District: a Bungalow which has an enclosed porch, and three simple two-and-one-half-story vernacular farmhouses. The gable-to-street plan farmhouse at 248 Tolland Turnpike is representative of this latter type, and includes a related nineteenth century barn.
The Willington Common Historic District is architecturally significant as a small, cohesive, well-preserved rural town center whose development is illustrated from 1738 to 1938. The historical and architectural integrity of the Willington Common Historic District is exceptional; all of the vernacular residential, agricultural, commercial, and institutional buildings contribute to its historic character. They were built around the original eighteenth-century common in the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, and Gothic Revival styles.
The Willington Common Historic District, which comprises the original town center established in Willington in 1727, has continued to serve in that capacity to the present day. Because of the dispersed settlement pattern of Willington, no other villages in town ever grew large enough to become separate church societies, so Willington Hill remained the primary institutional/commercial center for the town. It was 12 years after settlement before the society built its first meetinghouse, the first of three buildings near the present site. The first town hall was built facing south over the common in 1876, the same year that the present Congregational Church was constructed. The church became the second town hall in 1926. By the time the Baptist Meetinghouse was built on the south side of the common in 1829, the Tolland Turnpike was laid out and the small residential community at Willington Hill was well established. In the late nineteenth century, the roadway extending to the north from east end of the Common was named for Jared Sparks (1789-1866), a locally-born historian best known for editing George Washington's personal papers for publication. Willington continued to develop as a rural village center through the early twentieth century and remained the civic center of the town until 1974. In that year the town offices were relocated from the former Congregational Church to a converted factory building on Old Farms Road southeast of the center.
The Willington Town Common with its surrounding rich variety of institutional and residential buildings establishes the Willington Common Historic District's distinct character as a rural crossroads village. The common's irregular shape and sloping lawn are typical of New England's early town centers. The town common has remained as the focal point of the area, much as it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Customarily, townspeople in that period used this type of communally-owned land for village musters, as a voting place, and often as the location the meetinghouse, school, or graveyard. Cattle were often grazed or impounded there. Unlike many commons which were landscaped as Victorian greens in the Victorian period, the Willington Common is virtually unchanged since 1800. The pattern of the roads around the common which has remained the same for almost two centuries, along with the dry-laid stone walls that border some of the properties, maintain the historic rural ambience of the village. The houses with their associated barns and outbuildings, and the institutional buildings are all well-preserved and display most of their original forms and types of material.
The institutional buildings are vernacular classics of their type: simple wood-frame structures influenced by the architectural trends of their periods. The Baptist Meetinghouse, which became the Federated Church of Willington in the 1920s, exhibits fine Federal form and treatment, yet is austere and sparing in its use of Federal or Greek Revival detail. In like manner, the Congregational Church expresses the Gothic Revival style only through its steeply-pitched roof and pointed arch windows. The Old Town Hall, built in the same period, is even plainer and more functional, characteristics of institutional architecture before 1850.
Several distinguished examples of Colonial-period architecture are located around the common. Both the Old Manse and the Rice-Merrick House are superior examples of the Cape style; each has exceptional exterior integrity. The Minor Grant Store is a rare survival of an eighteenth-century commercial building which has retained its essential form and orientation.
The Hiram-Rider House and the Deacon Turner House are excellent well-preserved rural interpretations of domestic Federal and Greek Revival architecture. Both display an exceptional degree of architectural detail for rural farmhouses and add architectural interest to the more typical rural streetscape.
Chronology of Willington, Connecticut, 1727-1917: the First 200 Years. History Committee of the Willington Historical Society, 1977.
Demers, Ronald F. Modernization in a New England Town: A History of Willington, Connecticut. Willington Historical Society, 1983.
"Report of the Willington Historic District Study Committee for the Proposed Historic District at Willington Common." Town of Willington, 1981.
† Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Associates, Ltd., and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Trust, Willington Common Historic District, Willington, CT, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.