Chaplin Historic District
The Chaplin Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. 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 Chaplin Historic District is composed of 43 properties along both sides of four-fifths of a mile of Chaplin Street in the town of Chaplin in northeastern Connecticut. Most of the village was built soon after 1815 and the buildings, the street, and the general ambience remain largely unchanged after 150 years. Chaplin Street runs in a curve. When the state highway, Route 198, was put in, it was constructed in a straight line bypassing most of the district and thereby helping to ensure its continuity.
In the center of the Chaplin Historic District are a church and a tavern. Houses, town hall, library, post office, store, school, and cemetery are disposed along the street in both directions from the center. The chief architectural interest lies in the houses which are a uniform blend of late Georgian and early Greek Revival styles. The group includes three brick houses, eight frame houses with five bays, central doorway, and Federal trim, and eight frame houses with gable ends toward the street forming Greek pediments. All of the frame houses and one of the brick houses are painted white, as is the church.
The church and tavern are located at the corner in the center of the village. The church, built in 1812-1815, has a commanding site on a knoll overlooking the rest of the street. It is a plain building on a high stone basement free of architectural detail and embellishment in the simple tradition of New England meeting houses, but with the entrance at the end facing the street rather than on the side. It is dominated by a square tower with pinnacles at its corners that has a short pyramidal spire rising from its center.
Across the street, the elaborate detail of the Gurley Tavern makes a strong contrast. Here the focus of interest is the center bay of the five-bay facade which consists of a recessed entranceway on the ground floor and a Palladian window of impressive size and proportions above. Over the front door is a sun-ray fanlight while the head of the center of the Palladian window has spider web muntins. The six-inch frieze which runs under the eaves cornice is exceptional. Starting at the ends, over corner pilasters, are pairs of incised spirals. Then the main sections of the frieze, coming toward the center of the house, are bands of incised diamonds alternating with squares. Finally, over the Palladian window is interlaced strapwork in relief. On either side of the entranceway and its over-window are colossal pilasters which are echoed on a smaller scale at the side entrance which also has a fanlight similar to that over the front door. Windows at the second floor are twelve-over-twelve under small flat cornices which have narrow bands repeating the pattern of alternating diamonds and squares from the main frieze.
The other five-bay frame houses on the street enjoy similar detail on a less elaborate scale. The two on either side of the church, now the Rafferty House and the Griggs House, are essentially similar structures and are representative of the group. In each of these two, the front doorway again is the focus of interest. Four pilasters frame the door and its double-hung side lights. The fanlight above has panes in a spider web pattern. Such delicate embellishment of fanlights is characteristic of doorways throughout the Chaplin Historic District. Above the fanlight is a plain frieze under a flat cornice with modillions. The modillions are repeated in larger scale along the main cornice and at gable ends along the cornice return and raking cornice. At the corners of the house are large pilasters on plinths with sections of architrave and frieze well below the cornice in lieu of capitals. A one-story wing with attic extends to the rear. The house of this pair north of the church (the Griggs House) in its gable end has a semi-oval window in a molded frame with a keystone and muntins in a globe pattern. Other windows are twelve-over-twelve and have shutters.
One of the three brick houses (the Witter House), which has a monitor roof, already is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Another (the Goodell House) is dominated by a central bay which has a large Palladian window over its doorway with fanlight and side lights. Molded pilasters separate the elements of both the window and the doorway. The large semi-oval fanlight again is leaded in a spider web design. A similar fanlight appears over a side door on the south. This doorway is recessed under a round brick arch.
The third brick house (now the Chrysler House), like the others, is thought to have been constructed of bricks made from clay obtained from a pit in the southern part of town. This house has been considerably altered but some of the original architectural detail is in place. The cornice has mutules with augur holes to represent guttae and the ground floor windows have deep raked reveals. A wide front porch was added in the 1920's; it cuts off half of the fanlight opening over the front door and the fanlight opening is filled in with bricks.
The eight houses in the Greek Revival mode are typified by the Church House. The spider web fanlights used in these houses as well as in the five-bay houses already discussed are unifying elements in the streetscape. The use of the same elements of architectural detail visually ties together the houses from two different styles. Corner pilasters serve the same purpose.
The typical Greek Revival house in the village has its gable end toward the street with the gable at third floor level projecting over the second story. The front facade consists of three bays with the door, at right or left, surrounded by the community's distinctive fanlight and side lights. A companion oval window at attic level has muntins in a globe pattern. Several of these houses have dressed granite foundations.
Several of the Greek Revival houses have front porticos with Doric columns. The Smith House has a row of dentils running across the porch frieze, and above it is a parapet with raised central and corner blocks and banded edges. To one side is an addition running parallel to the road consisting of one story plus dormered attic. At first floor level is a porch with turned posts and other sawed and turned woodwork indicating turn-of-the-century construction.
Additional structures in the Chaplin Historic District worthy of mention are the Old Town Hall, store, and library. The Town Hall is a one story structure with a gable end which forms a pediment facing the street. The walls are constructed of flush vertical boards which make a smooth plane. In the pediment a similar smooth surface is formed by horizontal boards.
The Old Store is built with its projecting gable end toward the street, resembling some of the houses, and may initially have served as a home or as a combined store and residence. Over the front door is a typical spider web fanlight in a molded frame with a keystone and a companion semi-circular window above lights the attic. Twelve-over-eight sash remain in the side windows.
The Ross Library is an example of late (1911) Romanesque architecture with a typical rounded arch entranceway and tower constructed in a combination of brick and stone. It provides a foil to the other buildings dating from almost one hundred years earlier.
Several fine, large barns, essential to households in the mid- nineteenth century, remain in place and in good condition along the street.
The boundaries of the Chaplin Historic District are contiguous with those of an already existing local historic district.
The Chaplin Historic District is an entire village built between 1815 and 1840, standing today in complete integrity, free of intrusions. The church, tavern, Town Hall, store and nineteen houses in late Federal and early Greek Revival styles provide a unique example of the architecture and ambience of a New England village entirely constructed in a compressed period of time a century and a half ago, and unaltered since that time.
Chaplin is unique because it was created on site where before there had been no settlement, was created complete in a brief span of time, and subsequently has experienced no development or changes. Chaplin provides a unique record of the architecture and community planning of the 1820's and 1830's.
The impetus for establishment of the Town of Chaplin derived from the hardship entailed in regular Sunday travel to a distant church. To alleviate this problem a wealthy local citizen, Deacon Benjamin Chaplin, who died in 1795, provided in his will for a portion of the money needed to erect a new church, providing it was built within one-half mile of his house (which burned in 1928). Thus was the locale designated.
The procedure for organizing a new church was complex indeed in those times because the Congregational Church wasn't established in Connecticut until 1818. Church and civic government operated in tandem. Benjamin Chaplin's will by providing funds for a new church led to consideration of a new town as well. While it was possible to raise the additional funds needed for cost of construction and build the church in 1812-1815, it was not until after the Congregational Church became disestablished in 1818 that the new town was formed in 1822 by Hampton, Mansfield, and Windham each giving up some land area.
The initial considerations for site selection for most towns in Connecticut had to do with features of the natural environment, often along rivers. River mouths for harbours, river falls for power sources, or fertile lands created by river flooding often were determining factors in site selections. None of these usual considerations prevailed in site selection for Chaplin. Consequently, later industrial growth or mercantile development did not occur. In Chaplin there has been no mill, no court house, no trading center to bring growth and development. The reason for Chaplin is the church and there has been no occasion for anything in Chaplin to change since the church was built.
In the twentieth century a great boon to the preservation of Chaplin came in the form of a decision by state highway engineers to lay out State Highway 198 in a straight line rather than to have it follow the meandering curve of Chaplin Street. Thus, the highway bypasses almost all of Chaplin Historic District, permitting the street to remain free of heavy traffic and commercial exploitation.
Because of this happy circumstance, the entire original town remains in place. The church was the activity center and the reason for the town's existence, but the tavern across the street was needed, too, and from time to time over the years served as stage coach stop, school, and post office. The Town Hall, store, and cemetery, all present in original condition, help to fill out essential features of the town as it originally existed and still exists.
Architecturally, the three brick houses constructed from local clay and the sixteen late Federal and early Greek Revival frame houses give a good cross-section of domestic building practices in rural New England at the time. The fanlights, side lights, and oval attic windows which are similar in all these houses are a chief decorative feature, and tend to tie together all the houses. The classic inspired trim in the form of pilasters and moldings around the doorways of both the Federal and Greek houses is a further unifying element. The quality and detail of these architectural features creates considerable elegance, more so than might be expected from the work of country craftsmen, and testifies to the considerable talents of the anonymous joiners and builders responsible for the construction of the buildings which line the street,
Such architectural cohesiveness is matched by the complete array of town functions furnished by the various structures. Chaplin provides a complete community both in terms of forms and functions and is a unique historical resource.