Hampton Hill Historic District
The Hampton Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. 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 Hampton Hill Historic District is the community center of the town of Hampton in rural, northeastern Connecticut. The frame structures that comprise the community, running along about a mile of Main Street (Route 97) in the north-south direction, include the churches, town hall, post office, store, and a number of homes. Long known as Hampton Hill because the ground slopes off sharply to the east, the community was founded in the 18th century and developed in the 19th century. The spacing and ambience, as well as many individual buildings, survive from the early years. The Hampton Hill Historic District is free of industrial or commercial intrusions, and has no 20th-century real estate subdivisions.
The Hampton Hill Historic District embraces approximately 120 acres and 62 principal structures. There are 10 buildings in the Colonial style of architecture, 5 Georgian, 9 Greek Revival, 3 Italianate, 2 Gothic Revival, 1 Queen Anne, 1 Shingle style, 1 Stick style, 11 19th-century vernacular, 1 Neo-Classical Revival, 1 Colonial Revival, and 17 20th-century vernacular. Of these, 12 structures are considered not to contribute to the historic character of the Hampton Hill Historic District.
Main Street in Hampton Hill is a wide thoroughfare lined with shade trees. There once was a green in the center. A large oak tree stands in the center of the intersection of Old Route 6 and Main Street.
The houses are set well back from the street with ample spacing between one another. As they were built over a period of more than two centuries, they represent a variety of architectural styles. The earliest houses were built in the Colonial style with heavy timber framing, gable roof and central chimney and doorway. Probably the best preserved example of this style is a 2-1/2-story, gable-roofed, 5-bay, clapboard house. Its central stone chimney and stone foundations are consistent with the construction date of 1764 that is associated with the house. A similar but even older house, c.1723, had a central chimney, but has been replaced with twin chimneys. A 1-1/2-story version of the Colonial style probably originally had a single window on each side of the central door, but at some point in its history was enlarged.
Other 18th-century houses also were altered to suit changing tastes in architectural styles. The twin chimneys of a house, c.1750, perhaps replace an original central chimney while the tall, first-story, floor-to-ceiling windows are a feature from the second half of the 19th century. The wraparound porch with square, paired posts on high pedestals is a Neo-Classical Revival addition typical of the turn of the 20th century. A more basic change was made in a 5-bay, central-chimney house, c.1760. Its added high, hipped slate roof gives the house a distinct Georgian-style appearance.
One house in the Georgian style, c.1820 or a few years earlier, is a 2-1/2-story, five-bay, clapboard house with hipped roof, twin chimneys, and 12-over-12 double-hung sash. Its central, six-panelled door has 6-over-6 sidelights, two panes wide, within a plain architrave under a narrow molded cornice. First-floor windows have narrow, molded caps, while at the second floor the window lintels abut the eaves soffit. The overall effect is chaste, restrained, and elegant. This house is one of the most sophisticated, in terms of design, in the Hampton Hill Historic District, and apparently is largely in original condition.
Several houses have chimneys of similar, distinctive design. The top four or five courses of brick in these chimneys are stepped inward, forming a tapered top to the chimney. Below this tapered top section, there are one, two or three vertical, rectangular openings in each face. A concentration of these chimneys is found in the cluster of houses near the intersection of Main street with Cedar Swamp Road and Old Route 6.
The Greek Revival style is represented by the Hampton Hill Historic District's most elaborate house. It is a two-story, five-bay, clapboard structure with pedimented central entrance. The facade gives the impression of a high first story and half second story, but as the eaves are above the level of the floor of the second story the two ceiling heights are not as different as the facade suggests. Fluted Ionic pilasters on both the front and side walls define the corners of the house and similar pilasters separate the bays of the facade which is covered with flush, vertical boarding. Freestanding Ionic columns of narrow, beaded boards protect the entrance. The doorway is flanked by attached Ionic colonettes while the side and transom lights are covered with a matrix of intricate carved wood. The tympanum of the pediment is entirely glazed in a diagonal pattern. The intricacy of the detail shows the continuation of the influence of the Federal style to the time when this house was built, c.1833.
A house, notable for the large scale of its three porticos, presents an example of a different version of the Greek Revival style. This house has the plan of a Greek cross, with two-story, pedimented porticos projecting to the front and sides. The three porticos are connected by a continuous frieze.
The low, hipped roof with overhang and the tall, paired windows of the Italianate style are found in another clapboard house. The porch of this house has a distinctive balustrade of turned balusters arcaded at the top under a molded hand rail; its periodic square posts have molded capitals and sawn brackets. The nearly identical Italianate houses next door to one another have fine, clapboard barns with cupolas. Each face of the cupolas has a peaked window and peaked gable.
The Queen Anne style influenced the irregular plan and massing, prominent gables, and important porch of another house. The two-story porch runs across the front and wraps around into the angle of the ell formed by the irregular plan. The porch at both levels has turned posts with sawn brackets and railings of square spindles.
Other styles are represented in the district. One house is an interesting combination of early (1909) concrete block construction with the broad, sweeping roofs and shingled porch columns of the Shingle style. A cottage in the Gothic Revival style adds a touch of romantic interest, while a farmhouse is a country example of the impact of the Stick style on a vernacular 19th century structure.
The Hampton Hill semi-public and public buildings vary in age from more than two centuries to less than two decades. The oldest structure is the Congregational Church, originally built in 1754 with doors on the south side. The entrance was moved to the east end and bell and tower added in 1796. In 1806 it was voted that "The roof and back side of the meeting house be painted red, the ends a stone yellow, the window frames white, the doors and bottom boards a chocolate color." The church was further altered, and perhaps repositioned on its site, in 1838, and in appearance now is an 1838, white, Greek Revival style church with columned, pedimented portico and four-stage steeple and spire.
The Catholic Church was built in 1877 in frame construction and in the Gothic Revival style. The doorway and windows have pointed arches and the windows on both the facade and the side elevations are paired. The pilasters at the corners of the central tower and at the corners of the buildings are shaped as buttresses but probably do not perform the support function of buttresses. The building, including the pilasters/buttresses, is now entirely covered with aluminum siding.
The former Center School Building was built in the late 19th century. School was conducted on the ground floor; town offices were on the second floor. Now adapted to residential use, the two school doors, in plain surrounds, readily identify the original function of the building.
When the Hampton Consolidated School was built in 1957 the town offices were allocated space in the new building. This one-story school is handsomely sited on a large lot overlooking the view to the east. Its architectural style is a restrained, contemporary interpretation of the Georgian Revival mode, as suggested by its recessed entrance with simple, flanking pilasters. The frame construction with clapboard siding, the scale and massing, and the site placement all are a contemporary extension of the architectural history of the community. Unfortunately, the later addition on the north is less successful. In any event, being less than 50 years old, the school is considered not to contribute to the historic character of the district.
The town offices were moved from the school in 1961 to the present Town Hall. This small, two-story, frame building, undistinguished architecturally, was built in the 1920s as a fire house. It is considered to contribute to the historic character of the district largely because of its function.
The general store occupies the ground floor of the building, a turn-of-the-century vernacular structure that fits in well with others on the street. The new (1960) post office, however, with its aluminum siding and highly visible concrete retaining wall, is not a sensitive addition to the district.
All the buildings in the Hampton Hill Historic District are frame, and most of them are painted white: not one is constructed of brick or stone. Despite their variety of ages, the houses and public buildings comprise a homogenous grouping knit together by their common building materials, scale, massing, and spacing, and by their common function as components of a rural northeastern Connecticut community as it has developed since colonial times.
In the Hampton Hill National Register Historic District a group of buildings in 18th and 19th-century architectural styles is preserved in their original setting. As important as the buildings themselves is their relationship to one another and the sense of the community as a whole, which today remains unimpaired and free of intrusions. The Hampton Hill Historic District provides an unusually authentic picture of a historic, rural, Connecticut community. Two well-known painters and a governor of the state were native sons.
The first settler to arrive in the part of Connecticut later known as the Town of Hampton was David Canada, who came there from Salem, Massachusetts in 1709. When the ecclesiastical society was formed in 1717, it was called Canada Parish. The term Hampton Hill was in use as early as 1712 for the central crossroads section that roughly constitutes the district. The first meeting house was constructed in 1728. A separate Town of Hampton was split off from several adjoining towns and incorporated in 1786. The first town meeting was held November 13 of that year.
The census figures provide a dramatic insight into the history of the Town of Hampton. In 1790, four years after the town was formed, the population was 1332 whites and one slave. By 1800 the population had grown to 1379, the all-time high, During the 19th century the number of people living in the town gradually declined to a low of 475 in 1920. The population has now (1970) increased again to 1129.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the chief occupation of the residents of the town, including the district, was agriculture. Bountiful harvests from the land provided the raison d'etre of the community. Because the land, by comparison, was relatively free from boulders, the endless stone walls that characterize the part of Connecticut south and east of Hampton are not as prominent in the district. This is a major difference between the appearance of the Hampton Hill Historic District and many other communities in eastern Connecticut.
There were some mills in the town. Dam sites are still visible at the Little River and Fuller's Creek on Route 97 north of the district. The water power was used mostly for grist, fulling and saw mills to perform services for the local economy, grinding the farmers' grain, processing woolen cloth made in the homes, and sawing up trees felled locally. Exceptions to this general rule were a potash works, a clock maker, and a hat manufactory, but, like the service mills, none prospered and none survived the 19th century.
When the railroad came through in mid-19th century, at the urging of the town's most prominent citizen, Governor Chauncey F. Cleveland, the Hampton station was located two miles north of Hampton Hill. The impact of the railroad and of 19th-century industrialization in general on the district was minimal. The railroad did bring some summer vacation trade. At the turn of the century the Chelsea Inn and Cottages advertised that it could accommodate 75 guests, with rates of 2 single rooms at $8.00 to $10.00 per week, presumably including meals.
Farming continued into the 20th century. One house is of interest in this connection because its buildings span three centuries of farm function. The 1764 house is an Early American, five-bay, 2-1/2-story, gable-roofed, frame structure on stone foundations. Its long ell to the rear changes from domestic use to become a shed and a barn for farm purposes. In addition, there are four detached farm buildings, one of which is an early-20th century, gambrel-roofed, cinder block milk house that was constructed at a time when this cluster of buildings was the base of operations for a dairy farm. The dairy farm is no longer in operation and the process of subdivision [in 1982] has started. Today Hampton Hill is primarily a residential community. Some householders commute to jobs at nearby cities, some are engaged in trades or professions, and some are retired.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, three Hampton Hill men assumed positions of some prominence in the state. Two of them were painters. One, the Rev. Joseph Steward (d.1822) was the son-in-law of Rev. Samuel Moseley. Moseley married the widow of the first pastor of the parish, became the second pastor, serving from 1734-1791, and built a house about 1735. Into this large, 2-1/2-story, gable-roofed, five-bay, clapboard house was born his daughter Sarah who married Rev. Joseph Steward. Steward often preached in the Hampton Hill Church when Moseley was ill. Steward was also a painter. In 1793 he was commissioned by the trustees of Dartmouth College to paint a portrait of John Phillips, the college president. In 1796 Steward opened a painting room and museum in the State House in Hartford, giving up the ministry, in part because of poor health, to pursue his artistic career. His work has been favorably compared with that of his more well-known contemporary, Ralph Earl.
Steward encouraged a younger painter in Hampton Hill, John Brewster, Jr., whose father, a physician, built a house about 1760. Of the large family born into this 2-1/2-story, five-bay, clapboard house, (the slate, hipped roof is a later addition), one child was deaf and mute, John Brewster, Jr. (1766-1854). Despite his handicap, he learned to paint, and was self-supporting. He advertised in 1797, in Hampton Hill, as a portrait and miniature painter. In 1817, the year it was founded, he enrolled in the Connecticut Asylum for Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons (now the American School for the Deaf) in Hartford. He was 51 years old at the time. An exhibition of his work was held at the Connecticut Historical Society galleries in autumn 1960.
The third famous son of Hampton Hill was Connecticut's thirtieth governor, Chauncey Fitch Cleveland (1799-1887). Born in Hampton, he taught school there as a young man, was admitted to the bar in 1819, and elected to the legislature, for the first of several terms, in 1826. His law practice prospered, for he first lived in the large Greek Revival style house with three colossal porticos and then built an exquisite house about 1833. The person who planned and executed this elaborate example of Greek Revival architecture for him is unknown. The house has the basic proportions, columns and pediment of the Greek Revival style with extensive, delicate, classic detail in the manner of Robert Adam, the late 18th-century Scottish architect. It is also to be noted that while the house looks like a 1-1/2-story structure, it really has two full stories. On the facade the eaves are above, not at, the level of the second floor, making the first story appear to be higher than it is, in somewhat of the same trompe-l'oeil effect as is found at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. An unexpectedly awkward element in the design, the only one noted, is the juxtaposition of the corner pilasters and window frames of the extreme left and right windows of the facade. Usually, there is space between these members, and its absence in this house is a jarring element in the design.
After serving as Speaker of the House several times, Cleveland was elected governor in 1842 and again in 1843. As ex-governor, he returned to his home in Hampton Hill and continued to practice law for 36 years. He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. His law office was in a separate, small building in the side (south) yard, that burned some years ago. As governor he carried through an act abolishing imprisonment for debt, a child-labor law, and appropriations for support of the Retreat for the Insane (now Institute of Living) in Hartford. After being a Democrat for many years, Cleveland, an anti-slavery man, helped form the Republican party in Connecticut. In this endeavor he was allied with Gideon Welles, and correspondence between the two is preserved in the State archives.
The Congregational Church is said to have been designed and built in 1754 by Thomas Stedman, then just turned 20, and to be the second oldest Congregational church in the state. Built to replace the 1723 meeting house, initially it did not have portico or steeple, but did have pews arranged in square boxes. A tower was added in 1792, and a bell in 1796. In 1838 the box pews were replaced and the Greek Revival portico and corner pilasters were added. The inference is that the present steeple dates from 1792, but visually it appears to be part of the Greek Revival alterations of 1838. The position of the building was also changed in 1838, perhaps rotated 90 degrees on the site or perhaps moved from another site; the details are not clear.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church, on Cedar Swamp Road, built in 1877-78, is of interest as an example of the Gothic Revival style executed in wood, and as a symbol of change in the ethnic make-up of the community. The land for the church was given by E.S. Cleveland, a nephew of the governor, and the building was constructed for $4,000 to serve an initial group of 34 families. Presumably, some of the original Gothic Revival detail was lost when the present aluminum siding was added to the structure.
The impact on the community of the forces leading to construction of the church are recorded in a history of the county published in 1880: "A new church edifice, conspicuous on Hampton Hill, illustrates the change now going on in many parts of New England. A large Catholic church in the heart of a small farming population is indeed a strange and suggestive sight. Thrifty Willimantic (mill) operatives, hoarding their wages in convenient savings banks, invest finally in a permanent homestead, and take with them their families and religion, and the homes and churches of Puritan ancestors are thus gradually replaced by those of alien blood and worship. Industrious and orderly in the main, it yet remains to be seen whether they will sufficiently assimilate to take their place as good citizens. This Catholic church, built in 1878, is attended by a considerable congregation gathered from Hampton and adjacent towns." In this limited way, 19th-century industrialization and immigration made some impact on Hampton Hill, on trial.
Another building on Cedar Swamp Road, the 19th-century Center School, is easily recognizable because of its two doors, for boys and for girls. The upper floor was used for town meetings and town offices, an arrangement that was continued from an earlier Center School building that stood on the site of the present Post Office and was continued to the Hampton Consolidated School when it was built in 1957.
The town offices were moved from the Consolidated School to the former fire house on Old Route 6 when a new fire house was constructed outside the district. The building lacks architectural distinction but is over 50 years old and is the Town Hall, and therefore is considered to contribute. The Little River Grange #36 on Main Street is a vernacular, turn-of-the-century frame building in approximately original condition, and clearly contributes to the character of the Hampton Hill Historic District. The 1960 Post Office on Main Street, on the other hand, while not objectionable in mass or shape, does have inappropriate large windows and aluminum siding. It is non-contributing.
A library, started in Hampton Hill in 1807, soon contained over 100 volumes, but soon ceased to function. It was started again in 1827, this time lasting three years, and again in 1856. The Fletcher Memorial Library now occupies a fine Italianate house on Main Street.
The Colonial, Georgian, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and contemporary 20th-century styles of Hampton Hill provide a panorama of American architecture from the 18th century to the present, with emphasis on the 18th and 19th centuries. The houses, churches, schools, and other public buildings of a rural New England community can be viewed and studied there on their original sites and in their original relationship to one another. Many of the houses are large and several are sophisticated or elaborate. As an entity, the Hampton Hill National Register Historic District provides, through architecture, a record of a rural community that is significant to the cultural history of the state.
Richard M. Bayles, ed., History of Windham County, New York: W.W. Preston & Co., 1889.
Bi-Centennial, The Congregational Church, Hampton, Connecticut, 1723-1923, Souvenir Program.
"Chelsea Inn," Philadelphia: Art Press, c.1904. Advertising brochure.
F.S.M. Crofut, Guide to the History and Historic Sites of Connecticut, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937, v.2.
Mrs. Richard Dickerson, "Main Street, Hampton, Conn.," notes for a walking tour May 10, 1969.
Ellen D. Larned, History of Windham County, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1880.
Nina Fletcher Little, "John Brewster, Jr., 1766-1854," Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, 25 (October 1964 4, pp. 97-113.
Susan J. Griggs, Early Homesteads of Pomfret and Hampton, privately printed, 1950.
"Joseph Steward and the Hartford Museum," Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, 18 (January-April 1953) 1-2, entire issue, no author.
† Davide F. Ransom, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Hampton Hill Historic District, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.