Pomfret Street Historic District
The Pomfret Street Historic District was listed on the National Reigster of Historic Places in 1998. 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 Pomfret Street Historic District encompasses the historic center of the Town of Pomfret, which is located in Connecticut's northeast corner. A linear district approximately two miles in length, it runs almost due north and south along Pomfret Street (State Route 169 and U.S. Route 44), the main road through town also known as the Norwich Worcester Turnpike. Although at its southern end Pomfret Street rises steeply, the Pomfret Street Historic District is on relatively level terrain along the west side of Prospect Hill (also known as Pomfret Hill), which rises to its summit on the east. The Pomfret Street Historic District also includes part of a number of secondary roads and streets that join or intersect Pomfret Street along its length. At the major intersection at the north end of the district, Deerfield Road (Route 97) enters from the west and Route 44 veers off from Route 169 to follow Putnam Road to the east. Joining Pomfret Street on the east side are Church Road, Grosvenor Road, and Bradley Road. Entering from the west side are Mallory Road, Paradise Road, and a short portion of Kings Highway. At the north end of the district, Woodstock Road extends northwest from Putnam Road to return to Pomfret Street.
The Pomfret Street Historic District is remarkably unchanged. No modern or commercial development intrudes upon the historic appearance of Pomfret Street. Deep setbacks with wide lawns and mature trees still line this residential street, which includes many large summer houses built around the turn of century, as well as private schools and churches. Commercial development is limited to several buildings at the northern end of the district, which are part of a more concentrated historic residential neighborhood there.
The Pomfret Street Historic District contains 184 resources, of which 162 (88 percent) are contributing. Since most of the non-contributing resources are modern secondary buildings, such as garages, there is an even higher rate of contribution (94 percent) among the district's 105 principal buildings; only six of these are non-contributors, all built after 1948. Among the contributing associated outbuildings are garages, barns, sheds, and carriage houses. A few of these secondary structures have been converted to residential or commercial use.
Among several buildings that have been moved within the Pomfret Street Historic District is Most Holy Trinity Church, completed in 1887 on Woodstock Road. Now situated facing Pomfret Street at the intersection with Deerfield Road, it was relocated there in 1973. The property contained a Colonial Revival style house, which now serves as a rectory. The Ann Hall House, a late Colonial now on Kings Highway, was moved there before 1934 from its c.1780 site at the southeast corner of Putnam Road and Pomfret Street. Two relocated buildings are part of Pomfret School: the c.1920 Pyne Dormitory, which was moved on campus and modernized in 1994; and the c.1890 Admissions Building, originally a house on the Clark Estate to the south.
The variety of building styles, types, and materials found in the Pomfret Street Historic District represents more than 250 years of development. Residential types, which are generally constructed of wood, range from a sprinkling of early colonial houses to an impressive number of country estate houses (known as "cottages" despite their size) on Pomfret Street that are associated with the town's resort era (c.1872-c.1930). Three churches and a school chapel, all designed in the revival styles of the nineteenth century, utilize stone or wood. Other historic institutional buildings, primarily those associated with two private academies on the west side of the district, Pomfret School and Rectory School, are constructed of brick and wood and many date from the first decade of the twentieth century. (Note: Only the historic school buildings along Pomfret Street are included in the district; the rest of these 100+-acre campuses are excluded.
Although the crossroads village encompassed by the Pomfret Street Historic District dates from the earliest period of settlement, relatively few houses remain from the colonial period and many that are extant, especially on Pomfret Street, have been subsumed by later remodelings. Typically one of the earliest examples remains on a secondary street, present-day Woodstock Road (39 Woodstock Road). In its scale and simplicity, this c.1735 colonial Cape resembles the rest of this modest residential neighborhood, which generally consists of plain nineteenth-century vernacular houses, such as 37 Woodstock Road. A later Colonial, the c.1770 Thomas Hubbard House found at 23 Grosvenor Road, another side street, is one of the best-preserved examples from this period. Among several other Colonials that have survived on Putnam Road are two associated with the Grosvenor family (Leicester Grosvenor House, 31 Putnam Road and Lemuel Grosvenor House, 37 Putnam Road). North School at 46 Woodstock Road probably dates from the late eighteenth century.
Some reputed Colonials, such as one at 440 Deerfield Road, were updated in the early nineteenth century. Although it may have started out as a c.1750 or earlier house, today this building, which utilizes a standard two-story colonial form, is clearly Greek Revival in style. Its neighbor, the Carter Store, also dates from before the Revolution (446 Deerfield Road). Another less encompassing transformation occurred to the c.1800 Augustus Hoppin House, which faces south to Putnam Road at its intersection with Pomfret Street (589 Pomfret Street). Here, the original hipped-roof late Georgian form displays a low monitor which fills the space between the twin interior chimneys, possibly original, or an 1820s addition.
The Greek Revival style was introduced in the Pomfret Street Historic District by the 1832 First Congregational Church (13 Church Road). The second church on this site, it displays an Ionic order colonnade, now restored to its original appearance. A historic photograph (c.1900) shows an enclosure of the space between the second and fifth columns and a Palladian window in the pediment above. Other changes still remain, such as the pointed arches added to the belfry windows and its bell-shaped octagonal-roofed dome. Similar arches with tracery have replaced the top sash on side elevations. All of these features probably date from when the right rear addition was added in the 1890s. At that time, contemporary neighboring houses on this cul-de-sac were built or remodeled (3, 5 and 9 Church Road).
Although some later farmhouses were influenced by the Greek Revival style, such as the one at the head of the district at 635 Pomfret Street and two vernacular examples on Woodstock Road (35 and 54 Woodstock Road), the few other houses constructed in this period were quite plain. Such was the case with the houses built by the Clemens family on upper Pomfret Street between 1860 and 1870 (Thomas Clemens House, 630 Pomfret Street and Richard Clemens House & Blacksmith Shop, 640 Pomfret Street).
Pomfret's resort era produced a building boom, reflected in the district by an array of country "cottages" associated with estates and inns on Pomfret Street. Soon after George Lothrop Bradley of Washington, D.C., bought the old Hutchins farm, the 30-acre site was transformed into his country estate. The main house, known as Rathlin Lodge, and a variety of stylish guest cottages were all designed by architect Howard Hoppin of Providence. Although the Bradley House is no longer extant, all six of these individually designed Victorian cottages have survived. After it was embellished with Eastlake and Queen Anne features, the original c.1840 Hutchins farmhouse was named Stilleben Cottage (349 Pomfret Street). Hope and Harry cottages are two rather eclectic versions of the Queen Anne style (Hope Cottage, 339 Pomfret Street and Harry Cottage, 7 Bradley Road). With its tall gambrelled form, Hope Cottage also recalls colonial precedent. An unusual decorative web pattern is applied to its facade peak and repeated in the balustrade of the facade porch. Originally a similar balustrade ran along its roofline, hence the presence of the tall round-arched windows at the second floor, which are set off by heavy quoining. Howard Cottage to the north, also sheathed with shingles and clapboards, is a concentrated pile of gabled forms in the Jacobean Revival style (365 Pomfret Street). Originally, the half timbering of the gables and the irregular window groupings were accentuated by a contrasting paint scheme.
Hoppin also was engaged to design a building for Christ Church to replace its earlier 1824 structure to the north on this street (529 Pomfret Street). Completed 1883 in a rural Victorian Gothic style, it employs cobblestone and a steeply pitched gable roof, pierced by gabled wall dormers. Cobblestones also were used in the facade porch of the neighboring manse, designed by Hoppin to complement the church (521 Pomfret Street). The Gothic arches of the porch, which are faced with brick and inset with cobblestones above the springline, are supported by squat Romanesque pillars. The Christ Church Episcopal Cemetery, located to the rear of these buildings, is bordered by low stone walls and contains ordered rows of gravestones).
The main building of the Grosvenor Inn occupied the corner of Pomfret Street and Grosvenor Road by 1872. It was basically an enlarged Colonial house with a gambrel roof, which was demolished in 1960, but several associated guest cottages and workers' houses from the 1880s have survived. Olive Cottage (375 Pomfret Street) and Orchard Cottage (377 Pomfret Street), both exceeding 80 feet in length, are massive three-story Colonial Revival buildings. They have intersecting cross-gambrel roof plans and display open porches supported by slender columns. The upper facade of Olive Cottage is detailed with a band of stepped pilasters under the overhang of the peak. Davis Cottage (441 Pomfret Street), another survivor, also has a gambrel roof but a low rectangular massing accentuated by an extended facade porch that includes a porte cochere on the south end. The facade roof is interrupted by a wall dormer with an arched pediment and pilasters. The gambrel-roofed form is repeated in the inn's smaller, nearly identical Colonial Revival cottages at 17, 29, 33 and 35 Grosvenor Road. Two small houses on the south side of this street were built for staff and another one for the coachman just behind the inn (28, 30 and 14 Grosvenor Road).
Large private homes were added to the Pomfret Street streetscape in this period. While typically some of these country retreats have been converted to other uses, and a number are now owned by the boarding schools in the district (the latter described below), a few are still in private hands. Among those clustered at the south end of the district is a c.1900 Shingle style house, which is just one of the many examples that have retained the original matching outbuildings (342 Pomfret Street). Most of the wall surfaces are wood-shingled, with a more elaborate imbricated pattern in the main facade gable of the house, which displays a scrolled pediment over its window. Another Shingle style house built nearby about 1885 once served as a girls' school and later as the Pomfret Inn (330 Pomfret Street). La Plaisance, once the country estate of Josephine Clark of Boston, is a much larger rambling structure with a combination of roof types; it is now a retirement home for a religious order (364 Pomfret Street). The extensive facade veranda supported by round columns includes a porte cochere at the entrance and a large round porch on the south elevation. Some of the Adamesque and Palladian detailing of windows and dormers remains but other original features of the house, such as roof cresting and second-floor balustrades, are no longer extant.
A shingled Georgian Revival style house, the centerpiece of the 1928 Colman Estate, is set on a rise well back from the east side of Pomfret Street (507 Pomfret Street). Among the outbuildings are two service cottages connected by a three-bay garage (509 Pomfret Street). Features of these shingled buildings, such as the use of arched openings, echo the Palladian detailing of the main house.
Several large houses are found on the side streets of the district. Among them are the Queen Anne built for Mary Gilman at the north end at 51 Woodstock Road in 1884. Its facade pavilion projects as a turret above the gabled roof and the wraparound veranda is supported by slender columns. A turn-of-the-century Victorian vernacular house built at 6 Putnam Road has similar massing, with its gable end facing the road.
Two large estates were acquired for the main campuses of the private schools on the west side of Pomfret Street. The c.1795 Thomas Grosvenor House, which was remodeled and greatly enlarged about 1885 by Thomas Skelton Harrison, a Philadelphia industrialist, is now the Main House at Rectory School, which was founded in 1925 (528 Pomfret Street). The school created a complex of attached wood-frame Colonial Revival structures around the estate house between 1925 and 1938. The c.1900 house built to the south for Marian Harvey, Harrison's sister, is also owned by the school (500 Pomfret Street). Its intersecting gambrel roof form is sheathed with wood shingles, combining the Colonial Revival with the Shingle style. Among the other historic houses on the campus is the Headmaster's House, a Colonial built about 1800 (552 Pomfret Street). Two c.1900 Colonial Revivals across the road also are part of the school (561 and 571 Pomfret Street).
In similar fashion, the Charles Grosvenor Estate to the south became the Pomfret School in 1894. The present Admissions Building, a Queen Anne distinguished by its detailing, was moved to the campus (386 Pomfret Street). Of particular interest is the molded shell design of the round-arched roof of the portico at the entrance, which leads to the veranda. Among the estate outbuildings still in use is the former carriage house at 24 Paradise Road, an internal campus driveway. Across the road from the main campus is the Headmaster's House, another large country cottage that combines the Queen Anne and the Colonial Revival styles, probably a remodeling of an earlier house on the site (431 Pomfret Street). It is one of a number of historic houses now owned by the school on the east side of the district, which also include nearby cottages once associated with the Bradley Estate (Howard Cottage, 365 Pomfret Street and Darius Cottage, 371 Pomfret Street) and the Colonial Revival Olmsted Thayer House, built about 1920 (373 Pomfret Street).
Pomfret School undertook a construction program on the main campus in the first decade of the twentieth century that produced a series of formal brick institutional buildings, designed in the Georgian and Colonial Revival styles. Separate structures, some joined by hyphens with arched passageways, they face east toward Pomfret Street and are set well back from the road, forming a nearly continuous line (390, 398, 406, 412, 420 and 428 Pomfret Street). The four Georgian Revival dormitories, identical brick buildings with hipped roofs and pedimented doorways, are arranged in two groups. Between them, Classical Revival annexes with pedimented gabled roofs, later additions to Pontefract and Plant dormitories, face an entrance to the inner campus. The School Building, oriented at 90 degrees at the south end of dormitory row, has a gable roof and a cupola. Its east facade is distinguished by a large Palladian window above the Colonial Revival portico. Most of these early buildings and the campus master plan were the work of New York architect Ernest Flagg, who also was responsible for the 1908 Clark Chapel, a cruciform-plan Renaissance Revival stone building sited nearer the road at the south end (392 Pomfret Street), as well as the free-standing Pyne Dormitory to the north at 59 Mallory Road (a private campus drive). Among the features of the chapel's crenellated main block are buttressed corners with gargoyles, with a narrow cylindrical tower at the northwest corner. Some of the round-arched windows are integrated into the stone masonry; others are highlighted by limestone cornices.
Throughout this period of resort development and school expansion, the north end of the Pomfret Street Historic District continued to grow. Historic additions to this neighborhood, generally smaller vernacular houses with limited detailing, were added until about 1930. They include a c.1885 vernacular Italianate house at 42 Putnam Road, which is distinctive because of its exceptional facade porch. Its decorative pierced posts may be the hallmark of a local builder since they are also found on other houses nearby at 42 and 73 Woodstock Road and elsewhere in Pomfret. They are just two of a number of period cottages on that street that have retained open facade porches. One built about 1900, a typical and well-preserved example of this type, has a Colonial Revival style porch (23 Woodstock Road).
The Pomfret Street Historic District is a picturesque and unique exemplar of Connecticut's resort and country estate period. No other town in the state contains such an impressive and cohesive ensemble of stylish summer houses, the major contributors to a district that is further enhanced by the quality of its well-integrated institutional architecture and the exceptional integrity of its historic setting. Historically significant as an illustration of the development of a summer colony, the Pomfret Street Historic District embodies its two interdependent worlds: the leisure class, as represented by their elaborate houses and cottages, and the more modest homes of the workers who supported the grand lifestyle of the period. Architecturally distinguished for its large well-preserved collection of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century domestic and institutional architecture, designed by architect Howard Hoppin (1854-1940) and other unknown professionals, the Pomfret Street Historic District contains numerous examples of the early Colonial Revival style, often in combination with Shingle and Queen Anne styles, along with individual notable examples of Jacobean Revival, ecclesiastical Victorian Gothic and Romanesque Revival. Added significance is derived from the presence of a number of Colonial and Georgian Revival academic buildings in the district; many were designed by Ernest Flagg (1857-1947), a classically trained architect noted for both his institutional and domestic architecture.
Historical Background and Significance
That privileged urbanites flocked to Connecticut's hill country for the season in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is well known. Country retreats and resorts are found in many communities. Some small summer colonies are found in the region, but none are as concentrated, fully developed, or as large as the one in Pomfret. That the process literally transformed what is now the Pomfret Street Historic District is evident. What combination of historical circumstance produced this rural mecca for the wealthy is less obvious, but some of the answers are found in Pomfret's early history. For a number of reasons, its colonial infrastructure, which set the stage for this transformation, survived essentially intact. Bypassed by industrial development in the nineteenth century, which preserved the rural character of the community, for many years this country crossroads lay dormant, awaiting its late nineteenth-century revival.
Pomfret was just one of the many eastern Connecticut towns produced by land speculation in the late seventeenth century. In 1686 more than 15,000 acres of James Fitch's Mashamoquet Purchase was sold to shareholders from Roxbury, Massachusetts. King Philip's War and Connecticut's charter problems delayed settlement until after 1694, when the northern and eastern parts of the purchase were laid out, the first areas settled in Pomfret. Since by then many of the original shareholders had died, the land passed to their descendants or was sold to new proprietors, many from Woodstock. Among the people who lived in the district were descendants of John Grosvenor, an original shareholder, who died before the area was settled. His widow, Esther, moved here to claim his large allotments in the district, and the Grosvenor name would continue to resonate throughout Pomfret's history (Ebenezer Grosvenor House, 13 Putnam Road and Lemuel Grosvenor House, 37 Putnam Road).
Instead of the usual cluster of home lots around a green, land in Pomfret was divided into large parcels, creating a dispersed population. Although the town eventually developed the linear village center that was so characteristic of hill towns in northeastern Connecticut, the lack of a true institutional focus was a problem for most of the colonial period and led to an early formation of breakaway parishes. Early connections to the outside world were established by a major road laid out to Providence, Rhode Island. Completed in 1721, the Providence road forded the Quinebaug River where Route 44 crosses today at Putnam. The road not only provided farmers in landlocked Pomfret with access to major maritime markets, it helped establish social ties that survived into the twentieth century.
While a population node began to develop at the crossroads at the north end of the district (present-day Putnam and Woodstock roads), it was quite a different story on Pomfret Street, where early proprietors had established large farmsteads. Even the building of the Congregational meetinghouse there in 1715 had little effect on the general land-use pattern. Many farms there survived virtually intact to become the estates of the late 1800s. No community grew up around the meetinghouse, or even its replacement, which was built in 1767 on the same street, literally by default. Attempts to find a more suitable site failed because, as 1760 town records reveal, no one could really identify or agree upon the town's "center of interest and travel." Indeed, by then, the town was divided into four districts by the compass, each with its own tavern and schoolhouse.
Like most of the hill towns in eastern Connecticut, Pomfret experienced a demographic decline in the early nineteenth century. Its population of more than 2000 in 1820 proved to be a high for the century. Though some loss can be attributed to Western migration, young people were also flocking to the newly industrialized valley towns in the region, which were connected by rail in the late 1830s. In the next decades, even though the town supported two churches, the first Episcopal church erected in 1824 on the site of the present building, and a new Greek Revival building for the Congregationalists in 1832, there was little new family formation and a virtual lack of new domestic construction in the district until just before the Civil War. The first Irish immigrants started arriving in the 1860s, and by 1870 foreign-born residents, primarily from Ireland and Sweden, represented ten percent of the population, then at a low of 1506. Irish heads of household in the district included brothers Thomas and Richard Clemens, who lived in an evolving working-class neighborhood at the north end of the district that included adjacent Woodstock Road (Thomas Clemons House, 630 Pomfret Street and Richard Clemens House, 640 Pomfret Street). The descendants of many of these immigrant families would remain in Pomfret as an integral part of coming era.
Part of the decline in population was due to a loss of territory at mid-century. Earlier attempts in Pomfret to industrialize were located on the Quinebaug River. A mill village there, once part of Pomfret, was absorbed into the new town of Putnam in 1855, along with part of Killingly and Thompson. Although people from Pomfret were investors and directors in Putnam's industry, the mills were founded and run by others from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. With the ascendency of Putnam as an industrial center and market town for the region, Pomfret seemed destined to remain a sleepy country town.
The Resort Era (1872-1930)
Though it is said that Pomfret's salubrious climate was well known in the eighteenth century to such notables as John Hancock of Boston, who had a country seat there, the catalyst for the resort era was clearly the arrival of the railroad in 1872. Ben Grosvenor was the first to recognize the town's potential; the inn he founded that year soon became well known in Providence, Boston, and New York society. Prosperous families flocked to this summer colony for the season. For the wealthiest, the season was June and September; they spent the rest of the summer at the shore. The country life for the social set was in full swing by 1900. By then insular Pomfret was fully served by mail, telephone, and telegraph, and passenger trains between Boston and New York stopped several times a day at the depot.
Writing for the Connecticut Quarterly in 1896, John Addison Porter described the changes that had taken place. His promotional piece, entitled "Picturesque Pomfret," was liberally illustrated with engravings (or photographs) of the Grosvenor Inn, the Pomfret Inn, and some of the Pomfret Street estates. While noting that Pomfret Street was so completely developed that any new estates would have to be built in the rural hinterland, Porter assured his readers that Pomfret remained a bucolic enclave "blissfully innocent" of commerce. He summed up the era thusly: "The edict of society [was] that Americans should, in the English fashion, live in the country a good part of the year. Pomfret's future was assured socially when people of means and position, having the entree of society in the large cities, began to see and utilize its possibilities. They quickly made places for themselves, bought old farms, changed over old houses, or built new ones... [in the] various approved styles of country architecture ... [on] ample grounds so necessary to give an air of naturalness to rural life. No town of its size in Connecticut represents more wealth [but it] is used unostentatiously and in perfectly good taste..."
What Porter failed to mention was the impact on the town's economy. While it is true that there was limited local commercial development and none at all on Pomfret Street south of the crossroads, resorts and estates provided jobs and a market for farm products. According to the federal census, in 1900, the height of the era, as many as 150 people worked for these establishments, including more than 100 domestic servants. The Grosvenor Inn, with accommodations for 200, would become the town's largest employer and even maintained its own farms to provide fresh produce for its guests. Thirty-five nurserymen and gardeners were needed to maintain the estate properties and another 16 were coachmen, grooms, or gamekeepers. Some of this latter group may have worked for the Harrison Estate's stock farm, which bred Arabian trotters. The building trades were flourishing. Among the more than 56 people listing skilled occupations in this category were 27 carpenters and several plumbers and electricians; an almost equal number were day laborers. Most of these workers were first- or second-generation immigrants, a substantial group which by then comprised 38 percent of the total population of 1883. Some lived on the estates and, as already mentioned, Grosvenor provided staff quarters, but it can be assumed that the majority owned or rented houses in the district's north end. However tangentially connected to the elite by service, this separate community was defined by class and ethnicity and had its own institutions. Local Roman Catholics, first served by a mission priest from Thompson, built their own church, Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, in 1887 (570 Pomfret Street), and the Ancient Order of Hibernians met in the old North School (46 Woodstock Road).
Pomfret School's development of the Charles Grosvenor Estate took place at the height of the resort period. Undoubtedly it was located here because its founder hoped to attract the scions of urban society. Boarding schools then were another English tradition embraced by the socially elite, and they were founded all over the state in the early 1900s. There was some historical precedent for a preparatory school in Pomfret. In the mid-1800s this type of school was run by the Episcopal Church for young gentlemen. Among them were James McNeill Whistler (the later artist) and his brother, who moved to Pomfret with their widowed mother. It is said that they lived in a house at 440 Deerfield Road. The later Rectory School of the 1920s, the actual successor to this institution, was founded by the rector of the church. That the Harrison Estate, one of the largest properties in the Pomfret Street Historic District, became available for conversion to a school, signalled that an era was coming to a close. In fact, additions made by the school to the estate house were among the last historic construction in the district.
Estate construction had almost ended by 1900; most of the large farms in the district had already been developed for this purpose. As Porter had predicted, for the most part, estates in Pomfret dating from the early 1900s were built in more rural areas of town. Colonial Revival houses of more modest proportions had been built along Pomfret Street, but only one estate there dates from this period (Colman Estate House (Namloc Farm), 507 Pomfret Street). Indeed, with the depressed economy of the 1930s, fewer people could afford to maintain large seasonal estates or country homes, and a number went on the market. Furthermore, thanks to the automobile, an increasingly mobile society was less inclined to ensconce itself for the season in one place, and today most of residents live here year round.
In describing Pomfret Street in 1896, John Addison Porter observed that "...Seen separately, no one feature is particularly impressive. The charm lies in the harmony and completeness of the ensemble." These few words capture the essential significance of the Pomfret Street Historic District. Despite some losses, it is still an exceptionally cohesive entity composed of distinguished architecturally compatible buildings. Its historic rural character is still preserved in the "ample grounds" on Pomfret Street, as well as in the more modest neighborhood at the north end of the district, which has retained much of its country village atmosphere. Although any evaluation of architectural significance of the district must inevitably focus on the imposing estate cottages and schools, the colonial and vernacular domestic architecture that preceded and accompanied the resort era is significant in its own right as an integral and vital part of this historic community.
The Colonial Revival style, the major architectural influence in the Pomfret Street Historic District, had several stages of development. Two are well represented here: the early period, in which the style was freely explored and interpreted, often in combination with other styles, and the more limited stylistic range of the early 1900s that produced several proto-subtypes that were the basis for much of the Neo-Colonial architecture of the modern period. There is little evidence of an intermediate stage, in which historical accuracy was paramount.
Because of the extent of the style's influence and early inception, Pomfret can be considered one of the early proving grounds for the Colonial Revival. In the 1880s' when the style first appeared here, professional architects had just begun to recognize the potential of the American Colonial tradition. Indeed, an interest in America's architectural heritage was first awakened by the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876. Some of the most noted architects of the day, Charles F. McKim, William R. Mead, Stanford White, and Henry F. Bigelow, toured New England to garner ideas and by 1884 had produced the Appleton House in Lenox in the Massachusetts Berkshires and the 1886 Taylor House in Newport, Rhode Island, both recognized as Colonial Revival landmarks.
That architect Howard Hoppin was experimenting in this new style in Pomfret at least as early as 1881 is quite remarkable, but such an early date can be confirmed from the publication of his designs for the Bradley Estate in American Architect and Building News in August 1882, one of the first of many articles on the Colonial Revival style that appeared in this journal in the last decades of the century. For Hoppin, then a young man at the start of his career, the Bradley Estate was an important commission. He had studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as did his younger brother, one of his early partners, Francis L.V. Hoppin (b.1866). Given Howard's auspicious start in Pomfret, as well as the example of his brother's career in the country estate field, it is somewhat surprising that he later specialized in academic and ecclesiastical, design. Among his commissions were Cassell Hall at Brown University, the original buildings at the Rhode Island School of Design, both in Providence, and, of course, his designs for Christ Church Episcopal and the Manse in 1885 in Pomfret, which also were published in American Architect. That he had travelled extensively studying the cathedrals and churches of England and Europe is reflected in these Pomfret buildings.
Some of the characteristics of the early Colonial Revival are found in Hoppin's designs for the Bradley Estate cottages, especially in the exaggeration of form and detail, most evident in Hope Cottage with its outsize quoined facade windows and the gambrel-roofed form which dominates the design (339 Pomfret Street). Hoppin's design for Howard Cottage is influenced by the Shingle style, as are many Colonial Revival buildings in the district, but its overall Jacobean Revival design owes more to late medieval precedent, which seems somewhat incongruous in the extant estate context (365 Pomfret Street). But its half timbering and gabled massing were echoed in buildings that have not survived: Rathlin, the estate house, basically a rambling Queen Anne appointed with Georgian details and features, as well as the caretakers (?) lodge, in which steeply pitched gabled jetties projected out over a stone first story. Although the latter building appeared in an illustration of the estate in an 1889 history of Windham County, it is not known if it was ever constructed.
European precedents also inspired Hoppin's commissions for the Christ Church Episcopal (529 Pomfret Street). That the English country chapel form was selected for the church is not surprising. It was a tradition often preferred by this denomination, one appropriate for a rural residential setting. The bold and original execution of the church and the Manse, however, is hardly traditional, and together they make an impressive architectural statement. The church design, as expressed in cobblestone and brick with an exaggerated roofline that extends well below the wall dormers, is well-composed, but it makes no concessions to the domestic country architecture of the streetscape. Its later modern additions are well conceived and allow the church to dominate the complex. In the neighboring Manse, which incorporates a number of disparate style elements, Hoppin was less successful in integrating the design (521 Pomfret Street), even though the introduction of cobblestone in the porch arches helps relate the building to the church.
Unfortunately, none of the other residential architects who worked in Pomfret are known but it is clear from the overall quality of design that there was professional input. Many of these buildings are integrated into the streetscape by the use of similar roof forms and styles, an approach which adds to its cohesiveness. The gambrel roofline is often used to delineate a facade projection, as illustrated by the Marian Harvey House (500 Pomfret Street) which combines the Shingle and Colonial Revival styles. Here the broad gambrel form is a key feature of a pleasingly asymmetrical design. Sometimes the gambrel form is so fully engaged in the overall design of the building that it is the dominant feature. Such is the case in the design of Olive and Orchard cottages (375 and 377 Pomfret Street). The same roof appears to a less obvious degree in the lower horizontal massing of Davis Cottage (441 Pomfret Street). The dates of these buildings are not certain but it is known they were in place by 1889, the year that they appeared in the county history. The facade of Olive Cottage is particularly interesting. By breaking up the broad plane of the upper stories with overhangs and the suggestion of a piano nobile, the designer has visually reduced its mass to more residential proportions. The similar but smaller cottages on Grosvenor Road may be much later (14, 17, 29, 33 and 35 Grosvenor Road). Although they echo the form of the original structures, their basic design seems too conventional for the earlier period and the gambrel with roof dormers was certainly a prototype for many of the suburban Colonial Revivals still popular today.
An eclectic combination of styles is found in the well-preserved Headmaster's House at Pomfret School. (431 Pomfret Street). Its steeper and more vertical gambrel roof caps a projecting pavilion and frames the shingled peak. The classical element is present in a tripartite window of unusual proportions and wooden consoles or brackets under the overhang. Exposed rafter ends on the veranda and porte cochere suggest the influence of the Craftsman style on this Colonial Revival feature.
Often the transitional Queen Anne is embellished with Georgian or Classical features, producing a distinctive subtype, sometimes called the free classic. Palladian windows are common features, as are arched and broken pediments, illustrated by the Josephine Clark Estate House (364 Pomfret Street). The Admissions Building for Pomfret School, once a companion cottage on this estate, is a better preserved example (386 Pomfret Street). Its cross-gable form is detailed with a variety of window treatments and highlighted by the original shell portico. The cobblestoned foundation and veranda may have been added when the building was moved, since their almost rustic appearance makes quite a contrast with the delicacy of this detailing. The house at 342 Pomfret Street, one of the best examples of the Shingle style in the district, also displays a few classical details.
The Pomfret Street Historic District also clearly demonstrates how the Colonial Revival entered its penultimate period of stylistic attenuation in the twentieth century. Such is clearly the case with the exceptionally well-preserved main house on the Colman Estate (507 Pomfret Street). Here the free expression of the nineteenth century has given way to a more formal construct, one that more closely resembles its colonial prototype. The overall massing of this hipped-roof house is still asymmetrical, but the main block, detailed with neo-Palladian windows, is balanced. Its two-story five-bay form became a standard type later in the century. One of last country estates built in Pomfret, this property is particularly notable for its many well-preserved contemporary dependencies and gardens.
Pomfret School makes a major architectural contribution to the Pomfret Street Historic District. Designing an institution of this size for a residential rural setting required the skill of a major architect like Ernest Flagg. Flagg, who studied architecture at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris, practiced in New York City from 1891 to 1940. A versatile designer, he received commissions for major buildings, such as the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C., to office buildings, skyscrapers, and townhouses in New York City. In Connecticut he designed the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Building in Hartford. His previous experience in the academic field included the U. S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, which was widely acclaimed.
Pomfret School, like many private secondary schools of the period, mirrors its collegiate counterparts in plan and design. Essentially it is a college campus scaled and sited to blend with the residential streetscape. To accomplish this virtual reduction, Flagg employed several devices. A green separates the traditional campus row from the street to lessen the total impact. Connecting passageways punctuate and reduce the overall mass of the dormitories to individual Georgian Revival houses. Clearly the period in which they were designed influenced the form and style of the campus row buildings. Coming as they did on the heels of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, the buildings are formally proportioned and display accurate classical Georgian detail. The focal point of Flagg's campus is the medieval chapel, the metaphorical set piece of many academic institutions (Clark Chapel, 392 Pomfret Street). Typically, its dominate position in full public view and contrasting style serve to emphasize the importance of religion at the school at that time. Like many academic chapels, it invokes English traditions so revered by the school and its clientele; here the allusion is made explicit, since this chapel is a copy of one in Pontefract, England. Its architecture, which is Romanesque in feeling, was called Norman style by its designer, perhaps due to its castellated battlements. Also, few schools of the period missed a chance to make some connection with the grand academic traditions of Oxford University, and the campus green displays a replica of the Turnbull sundial at Corpus Christi College.
American Architect and Building News.
Bayles, Richard M., ed. History of Windham County. New York: W.W. Preston and Co., 1889.
"Historical and Architectural Survey of the Town of Pomfret, Connecticut." Pomfret Historical Society and Connecticut Historical Commission, May 1996.
Larned, Ellen D. History of Windham County. Vol. I & II. Privately published: 1874 and 1880.
Porter, John Addison. "Picturesque Pomfret." The Connecticut Quarterly, Vol. II, No. I (January-March 1896), pp.3-24.
Withey, Henry, and Eloise Rathbun. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects Deceased. Los Angeles: New Age Publication Co., 1954.
† Jan Cunningham, consultant, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Pomfret Street Historic District, Windham County, CT, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.