Thompson Hill Historic District
The Thompson Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. 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 Thompson Hill Historic District in Thompson, Connecticut, contains approximately 550 acres. Its focus is the Thompson Common at the intersection of Routes 193 and 200, which is the historic town center. Within the Thompson Hill Historic District is a cluster of buildings that surrounds the common and extends outward for up to one-half mile. The common and the land around it are gently rolling and almost flat. To the north and east, the terrain drops off gradually, while to the west and south the descent is more pronounced toward the valley of the French and Quinebaug Rivers.
The Thompson Hill Historic District contains 130 major structures, buildings and sites, of which 101 contribute to its architectural and historical significance. The Thompson Hill Historic District's period of importance extends from about 1750 to 1935, which is determined both by the age and aesthetic quality of its significant elements, and by the related historical development of the area. The most prevalent formal style of architecture is the Greek Revival, of which there are sixteen examples, followed by the Colonial Revival (13) and Federal (10). Thirty-seven of the Thompson Hill Historic District's buildings and structures are not clearly associated with any one style and are termed "vernacular" for the purposes of this listing. They consist primarily of barns and garages related to the residences in the district, although there are also a number of houses of this description. Several residences, furthermore, have acquired stylistic features that mask their true age. The Winthrop N. Osgood House at 333 Route 193 is an example of the Queen Anne style although it was built c.1820.
Most of the Thompson Hill Historic District's buildings and structures are single-family residences and their outbuildings. Some of these are quite spacious and are located on sizable parcels. A few of the larger properties, at one time private estates, are now owned by the Marian Fathers and contain the buildings of the Marianapolis School and Marian Fathers Novitiate. The Thompson Congregational Church, Vernon Stiles Inn, and the public library, are the other prominent institutional buildings in the district. The non-contributing buildings date mostly from after 1950 (e.g., the c.1960 Boy Scout headquarters and several Marianapolis School buildings.
The aesthetic cohesion and distinction of the Thompson Hill Historic District arise from the high percentage of stylistically well-executed buildings, their widespread similarity in materials size, and proportion, and the district's physical characteristics. The buildings and structures lining the roads in the district are virtually all wood-framed, and their prevalent exterior sheathing material is clapboards. Wood shingles, flushboards, bricks (particularly end walls), and cobblestones are also present, but to a much lesser degree. Most buildings are painted white, typically with black blinds. Two stories is the most common building height. The area is dotted with old and very mature deciduous and fir trees set in well-tended lawns, and abundant shrubbery is everywhere. The Marianapolis School and Novitiate properties heighten the effect of these landscape features because of their size and design. The school grounds, formerly the Norman B. Ream estate, are a largely intact c.1915 landscape design that features rolling lawns, large groupings of shrubbery, and ornamental wrought-iron embellishments, such as tall light posts. Although much less intact and now considerably overgrown, the Novitiate property was designed by Olmsted Brothers in 1916-17. Remnants of that plan are still visible.
Of the six district buildings that appear to date from the 18th century, four are still recognizable as of that period despite alterations. Their common features include clapboard exteriors, fieldstone foundations, facades parallel to the street, and simple detailing. The most sophisticated is the Darius Dwight House (c.1780), which is a five-bay, central chimney Colonial. Highlights are the molded front entrance surround with flared brackets beneath a prominent projecting cap, and beaded corner boards. Its banked construction was a common practice in hilly New England. Similar in basic design is 104 Chase Road (mid-18th century, and with numerous alterations), with splayed lintels and a blind, semi-elliptical fanlight (a modern addition) over the front entrance. In contrast are the asymmetrical plans of 180 Chase Road (five bays, with off-center entrance, c.1790) and 10 Quaddick Road (three-bay residence with only two off-center second-story windows, c.1800).
The ten Federal buildings share a similarity in plan (typically rectangular, with central entrance in a five-bay facade and gable-end chimneys), clapboard sheathing, and delicate Adamesque detailing. Their roofs are either pitched gable or hipped. A fully developed example is the Joseph Gay/Ellen Lamed House (c.1815), with an attenuated classical front entrance composition, centered Palladian window above, and corner quoins. The brick end walls are found in several other Federal houses, but in no other style. The William G. Larned House (c.1815) at 17 Quaddick Road is even more elaborate, displaying such embellishments as two-story pilasters across the facade and a frieze decorated with swags. Some of the ornament, however, is not original. An imposing three-story hip-roofed example is the John Nichols/Theodore Dwight House (c.1806). Its front entrance features sidelights glazed in a leaded star and circle design and a scalloped, radial pattern in the transom glazing. The Palladian-inspired window above is set under a blind wood fanlight. The portico, added in 1936, complements these original features. 69 Chase Road (Royal Watson House, c.1825 ) and 343 Route 193 (c.1820) have distinctive low monitors in their hipped roofs. The original clapboard corner section of the Vernon Stiles Inn (c.1814; 1820 and later addition) has a rich Adamesque entablature with mutules and drilled planters.
The Greek Revival structures (16) are diverse in plan and detailing. Three plans typical of the style are well represented: temple; rectangular, with ridge parallel to street; and rectangular, gable end toward street. The most historically significant temple-plan building is the Old Town Hall (1842). Its classically detailed one-story tetrastyle portico is set beneath a square tower with complementary detailing and pilasters. The clapboard sheathing, flushboard tympanum, and granite foundation are common to most district Greek Revivals, but the twelve-over-twelve sash windows contrast with the usual six-over-six arrangement. The other temple-inspired structures are five-bay residences with wide two-story porticoes and central entrances. The Erastus Knight House (c.1845) has a paneled front door surrounded by sidelights and a transom glazed in a geometric design, and a paneled surround with corner blocks and an oversized central over-panel. Connected to the house is a large mid-19th century barn that is simple in appearance except for its vernacular Victorian cupola.
The five-bay, two-story William H. Chandler House (c.1842, 304 Route 193 typifies Greek Revivals having their ridgepoles parallel to the street. Its detailing is well-executed; the one-story portico, with Ionic columns and a rounded corner projection, is a compatible Colonial Revival element. The most prevalent Greek Revival plan is found in the Henry Fountain House (117 Chase Road, c.1860) which has a pedimented gable-end facade and front corner entrance. Several similar houses have front porches added later in the century, such as the Italianate porch at the Comins House (365 Route 193, c.1835.
Examples of mid-to-late 19th-century and early 20th-century architectural styles are less numerous, but they exhibit a generally high level of sophistication and execution. The most elaborate and exuberant building is the William H. Mason House, a Gothic Revival creation of c.1845. Its wealth of Gothic-inspired features includes an elaborate porch with clustered columns, arched windows and porch braces, and heavily embellished bargeboards with pinnacles and drop pendants. The large barn to the rear repeats these details in simpler form.
The Thompson Congregational Church (1856) and the Reverend Edward P. Borden House (c.1875) are fine examples of the Italianate style. Of the two, the church is the more formal and unusual in its application of Italianate detailing (pedimented over-doors, round-arched windows and paired brackets) to a traditional church plan. In contrast, the Borden House displays a customary square Italianate residential plan and other typical features such as segmental-arched window surrounds, cornice window heads, wide eaves and a central cupola. Its tripartite round-arched second-floor window under a curvilinear cornice window head is an unusual feature and suggests a Palladian inspiration. The wide wrap-around porch is a Colonial Revival addition.
The five Queen Anne buildings display, in many different forms, the asymmetrical massing, combination of exterior sheathing materials, and ornamentation associated with this style. The George Crosby House, for example (375 Route 193, c.1895), has clapboard and wood-shingle sheathing and a classically detailed wraparound front porch highlighted by an engaged one-story corner tower. Carved wood sunbursts decorate the front porch cross gable and side-bay consoles. A completely different Queen Anne example is the Randolph Chandler Carriage House. Its imposing size is emphasized by the highly complex roofline, tall cupola, and largely unembellished wall surfaces. The recessed balcony and fluidity of this building suggest the influence of the then-emerging Shingle style.
Several styles are represented by one example apiece. Wood-shingle sheathing, complex massing, and rounded surfaces mark the Martha H. Chandler House as a Shingle style building. Its fieldstone porch piers and eyebrow dormer are picturesque details. The Thompson Public Library is a small rustic Tudor Revival building with fieldstone walls and a flared tile roof. In great contrast are the imposing Neo-Classical Revival portico, complex symmetry, and elaborate classical ornamentation of the Frederick Reed House (330 Route 200), which is complemented by its matching carriage house.
The thirteen Colonial Revival designs are marked by their sophistication and diversity. Equalling the Reed House in its formality and stylistic elaboration is the Georgian Revival infirmary at the Marianapolis School (c.1915). Designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston as the carriage house on the Norman B. Ream estate, this building has a 5-part plan (main block and side wings, connected by hyphens) and elegant Georgian detailing. The John R. Gladding House (c.1917; Jackson, Robertson and Adams, Providence, Rhode Island) is a restrained, sprawling stucco-clad design in which attention focuses on its small Georgian Revival 1-bay entrance portico. Its matching carriage house is almost more imposing because of its greater height and seemingly greater bulk. The Coffee-Russell House (c.1905) nearby is an entirely different and highly complex plan with classical detailing that is a creative juxtaposition of the Colonial Revival and Queen Anne styles.
The Thompson Hill Historic District is architecturally significant because of the outstanding quality, diversity, and high state of preservation of its buildings and structures which, with their surroundings, span and effectively document the Thompson Hill Historic District's long history. Located here also are residential designs of the nationally known and respected Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, and the Providence, R.I., firm of Jackson, Robertson and Adams, a prolific and prominent firm in that city during the first half of the 20th century.
Rare and elegant features mark the Thompson Hill Historic District's examples of the Federal style. The brick end walls and monitor roofs of a few buildings in this group are unusual components of this style in Connecticut (duplicated elsewhere in only a few cases), and they add considerably to the district's architectural value. The Joseph Gay/Ellen Larned House, furthermore, displays a comprehensive and beautifully executed array of classic Federal features. Its Adamesque detailing is equal to that in many large and more cosmopolitan communities of the period.
The Greek Revival buildings are noteworthy because of their diversity in plan, ranging from the temple-inspired massing of such structures as the Old Town Hall and Erastus Knight House to the more familiar and widespread gable-end-toward-street orientation of many residences. While ranging in its formality, the classical detailing of these buildings is uniformly appropriate and well-proportioned.
Though fewer in number, the examples of other styles do not suffer in comparison. The surviving 18th-century homes are well-preserved and illustrate the simple detailing and variety in house plans in early Thompson. In contrast, the William H. Mason House is a superb Gothic Revival design in which the expected intricacy and medieval-inspired embellishments of this style are present in abundance. This structure is matched by few others of its style in the state. The Congregational Church and the Reverend Edward P. Borden House offer distinctive interpretations of the Italianate style. The church is an effective, clear and rare combination of restrained Italianate detailing and traditional Gibbs-inspired plan. In contrast, the Borden House is a well-executed example of a typical residential design.
The turn-of-the-century buildings are no less distinguished than their predecessors. The Martha Chandler House is an elegant Shingle-style dwelling that possesses a fluid massing and formal detailing. The Frederick E. Reed House, "Thornfield Hall," is a highly elaborate and sophisticated Neo-Classical Revival design. A stimulating contrast in Colonial Revival interpretations is offered by the John Russell Gladding and Coffee-Russell Houses. While the former is an example of restrained good taste, the latter boldly ventures to the limits of this style in its strong and visually stimulating juxtaposition of eclectic stylistic forms.
The Thompson Hill Historic District also contains an unusually fine and stylistically diverse collection of outbuildings, primarily carriage houses. In several cases, these buildings are closely related in design to the larger residence on the property, which adds considerable architectural interest to their appearance. The carriage house behind the William H. Mason House, for example, is embellished with Gothic Revival detailing that is shared with the main house. The largest and stylistically most sophisticated of these buildings is the Randolph Chandler Carriage House. Its bold and complex roofline, simple detailing, and recessed balcony are a creative and singular architectural statement that draws its inspiration from both the Queen Anne and Shingle styles.
Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (designers of the infirmary at Marianapolis School and the primary surviving building from the Norman Bruce Ream estate) was one of the most distinguished American architectural firms at the end of the 19th century and during the first decade of the 20th. This firm was the successor to the practice of H.H. Richardson, and its noteworthy commissions included the original plan for Stanford University (1892), the Art Institute of Chicago (1897), and the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University (1904). Jackson, Robertson and Adams (1912-1956) were the architects of the John Russell Gladding House. This prolific Providence firm is best known for its Providence County Courthouse (1923) and other Colonial Revival designs. Frederic Ellis Jackson (1879-1950) received a diploma at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1905), while his partner John Howard Adams (1876-1924) also studied in Paris after receiving his degree from M.I.T. (1899). Among their other well-known and extant designs are the Rhode Island State Office Building and the Myron Taylor Hall at Cornell University.
Key aspects of Thompson Hill's once preeminent role in town life are embodied in the district buildings. The evolution of town government from a theocracy to democracy is represented by the Old Town Hall and by the Congregational Church, which has remained an influential religious and social presence in the town. The presence of many late 18th and early to mid-19th century buildings confirms the era of the village's greatest prosperity and influence. The Vernon Stiles Inn, at the intersection of the two old turnpikes, is the best surviving symbol of this prior age, while the residences, in the breadth of their ages, materials, and other features, portray the habits, tastes, and affluence of the local residents, both in the early part of the 19th century and later during Thompson Hill's popularity as a summer resort.
Scattered European settlement of the area now known as Thompson Hill began soon after 1700, at which time the area was the far northeastern corner of the Town of Killingly. Though the terrain is rocky in many places, efforts began to farm the land, with some success. A few prosperous farmers are known to have shipped their produce to larger, more populated settlements, even occasionally to Providence. The first commercial establishment in the area was the "Old Red Tavern," which was built about 1716 at Thompson Hill to serve travelers on the rudimentary "main road."
Repeated petitions by the local citizenry for the creation of a separate Thompson parish within Killingly succeeded in 1730 when the Connecticut General Assembly approved the idea. Having thereby gained a measure of local taxing power, the residents were able to build a meetinghouse on Thompson Hill in 1735. Their efforts thereafter obtained the incorporation by the General Assembly in 1785 of the Town of Thompson.
Thompson Hill's fortunes changed and improved dramatically with the upgrading of local roads into major "turnpikes" after 1797. In that year and again in 1803, the General Assembly granted charters to local entrepreneurs for highway improvements. Thompson Hill sat, fortuitously, at the intersection of these two "modern" turnpikes, one linking Boston and Hartford (now Route 193) and the other connecting Providence and Springfield (now Route 193) and the other connecting Providence and Springfield (now the Quaddick Road and part of Route 200). The Hill witnessed a marked increase in traffic, trade, and the attendant growth of retail and service establishments. The Vernon Stiles Inn opened in about 1814 to serve this trade, replacing an older inn on the same site. The brick extension on the Inn's north elevation was added around 1820 to house the "New York Hat & Cap Store," a sign of the growing sophistication of passersby and local residents. Famous guests, including the Marquis de Lafayette (1825), demonstrate the Hill's prominent location for travel. Across the green, the John Nichols/Theodore Dwight House (c.1806) was originally both a residence and a store, and it also, later in mid-century, housed a tavern. Darius Dwight operated a blacksmith's shop across the street from his home on Quaddick Road.
Growth in Thompson Hill continued, and prosperity reigned, until the advent of the railroad in the 1850s. This new mode of transportation bypassed the Hill and ran through the eastern part of town. The concurrent drop in traffic on the turnpikes was precipitous. Thompson Hill declined economically to a point from which it never recovered. One mark of the devastation was the closing, for a time, of the Vernon Stiles Inn. With the sole exception of a cabinet and coffin-making shop, every enterprise on the Hill closed.
The railroad spurred the development of the textile industry in the river valleys west of Thompson Hill, an event that further eroded the Hill's economic and political importance. The booming mills and their accompanying mill villages soon far outstripped Thompson Hill both in commercial power and in population. The increasingly immigrant make-up of the mill workers (in 1900, e.g., roughly 90% of the townspeople were of mixed or foreign parentage) also isolated the predominately Yankee population of Thompson Hill.
Notwithstanding this drastic change of fortune, Thompson Hill remained for some time at least the nominal town center. The Town Hall, built in 1842, continued to serve that purpose, although during the early years of the 20th century it began to share that role with the Salle Union in North Grosvenordale. The Congregational Church remained an important religious and social institution. Also nearby were the public library (1902), the Fourth District School (1899) and the Thompson Fire Engine Company (c.1900). Despite the presence of these community institutions, Thompson Hill never recovered the central role it had formerly occupied.
The Hill's decline provided the conditions, however, for its temporary resurgence as a vacation haven for the affluent. Its archetypically New England green and fine old buildings, remnants of a more influential past, attracted the eyes of wealthy capitalists such as Norman Bruce Ream and John Russell Gladding, who built lavish homes on the village's outskirts. This interlude passed around the time of the First World War, in most instances with the deaths of these owner/builders. The Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception acquired the Ream and Gladding estates in the early 1930s and relocated their educational facilities here from Clarendon Hills, Illinois.
Thompson Hill was the home of individuals prominent in all aspects of town affairs throughout its long period of significance. The Nichols family, among them John Nichols (the Nichols/Dwight House), were key participants in the organization of the turnpike companies which led to the village's commercial boom. Darius Dwight (the Darius Dwight House) served as the local blacksmith, Erastus Knight and William H. Mason were prosperous entrepreneurs, the former a merchant and the latter an owner of Thompson's most extensive mid-19th century textile mill complexes, The town's noted historian, Ellen Larned, lived at 327 Route 193 in a residence long associated with the related Gay and Larned families. Charles Searls (1846-1926), state legislator, Secretary of the State (18801, and prominent local attorney, resided in the Borden House for many years.
Architectural Record, 12:447 (September, 1902) and 10:190 (October, 1900) (photographs of Norman Bruce Ream House, Thompson, CT, as designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge).
Bayles, Richard M. Ed. History of Windham County, Connecticut. New York: W.W. Preston & Co., 1889.
A Brief Historical Tour of the Town of Thompson. Thompson, CT: Thompson Historical Society & Thompson Bicentennial Committee, n.d. (c.1976).
Collection of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, MA (National Park Service) (information re John Russell Gladding estate landscape design, prepared by Olmsted Brothers, 1916-17).
Collection of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (information re John Russell Gladding estate landscape design, prepared by Olmsted Brothers, 1916-1917).
Collection of Shepley, Bullfinch, Richardson and Abbott, Boston, MA, successor to Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge (information re architectural design of Norman Bruce Ream House, Thompson, CT, as designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge).
Gray, O. W., Surveyor. Atlas of Windham County, Connecticut. (framed folio leaf, exact title not cited). Hartford: C.G. Keeney, 1869.
Interviews with the following owners and or residents of the Thompson Hill Historic District (Spring and summer, 1987): Father John Petrauskas, Headmaster, The Marianapolis Preparatory School; Margaret Payne, 330 Route 200; Harriet and Norman Macht, 24 Quaddick Road; Jane Vercelli Anderson, 376 Route 200.
Larned, Ellen Douglas. Historic Gleanings in Windham County, Connecticut. Providence: Preston & Rounds Co., 1899.
Lincoln, Allen B. A Modern History of Windham County, Connecticut. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1920.
McDonough, Mark. Historic and Architectural Resources Survey of Thompson, Connecticut. (unpublished manuscript) 1986.
Sanderson, Edward F. & Woodward, Wm. McKenzie. Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources. Providence: Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1986.
The Putnam Patriot, volume LIII, #29, July 17, 1925:1 (obituary of Charles Searls).
Thompson Bicentennial Memory Book, 1785-1985. Thompson Bicentennial Book Committee, 1985.
Town of Thompson land records (Town Clerk's office, Town Hall).
Whitlock's Atlas of Windham County, Connecticut, from Actual Surveys by E.T. Garrish, W.C. Eaton and D.S. & H.C. Osborn. New Haven: Whitlock Publishing Co., 1855.
Who Was Who In America, volume I: 1897-1942. Chicago: Marquis — Who's Who, 1966 (information re Norman Bruce Ream [1844-19151).
†David Ransom and Gregory Andrews; John Herzan, editor, Connecticut Historical Commission, Thompson Hill Historic District, Thompson, Connecticut, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.