Monument Square Historic District
The Monument Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Monument Square is an open space, roughly triangular in shape, in the center of Alton village. The Square was formed by the intersection of two roads Main Street (Route 11) on the southwest side of the Square, and the former Wolfeboro Road, on the northeast side of the Square. (The Wolfeboro Road was later rerouted to intersect with Main Street north of the Square. That portion of the former road from the Square to the rerouted section passed to the abutting landowners and ceased to be a public way.) Three additional streets enter the Square at its corners, all of them perpendicular to Main Street. At the southeast end of the Square, Church Street enters from the southwest and Depot Street opposite it enters from the northeast. At the northwest end of the Square, Factory Street (Route 140) enters from the southwest. The Square is paved, save for two small grassed and landscaped triangles, the southern triangle containing the town's Civil War Soldiers' Monument, the northern triangle containing its War Memorial for the World Wars and the Korean War. Curbed sidewalks are found on both long sides of the Square and along the other streets included within the Monument Square Historic District.
Besides the two monuments and one small empty lot, the Monument Square Historic District includes eleven buildings which face the Square. (Only one of the buildings has a detached outbuilding the White Lodge whose barn is found on Factory Street.) All eleven buildings are set on or very close to the street line, giving the sides of the Square consistent facade lines. The lots are relatively small, so the buildings occupy much of their street frontage with narrow side yards between them, thus further reinforcing the Square's sense of enclosure and visual coherence. With the exception of the Alton Town Hall and the Harold S. Gilman Museum, which are both brick or brick faced, the buildings are all wooden structures with clapboarded walls. These wooden buildings were either built in the 19th century vernacular tradition, or show the strong influence of the Greek Revival, giving the Monument Square Historic District a stylistic consistency. The exceptions, again, are the Romanesque Revival Town Hall and the modern "Colonial" Gilman Museum. Four of the buildings were erected as residences, one as a store with a residence above, two as stores, one as a hotel, and two as public buildings, the town hall and the museum. With the exception of the hotel, now the local American Legion post, all are still dedicated to their original functions.
The Monument Square Historic District is significant in the two areas of architecture and community planning. It is notable for the quality of its 19th century buildings and for the unusual layout of those buildings around a triangular Square.
History and Architecture
The Square was created by the intersection of two major 18th century highways. In 1722, the Provincial legislature established a committee to survey a road from Dover to Alton Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee. When built, this road, part of which is now Alton's Main Street, became one of the most important highways in the area, a major route from the Lakes Region to the seacoast. The Wolfeboro Road, from Wolfeboro to Alton, is mentioned in late 18th century deeds, and was of equal importance for the residents of the eastern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, traveling south. The intersection of these two roads at an acute angle created the triangular open space that became Monument Square.
The Square was certainly not the center of Alton village in the village's earliest years. The first house lots sold in the village, at a large auction in June of 1804, were located south of the Square, along Main and School Streets. The center of the paper village laid out for the land sale was the meetinghouse, which stood a little south of the intersection of Main Street arid School Street, then the major road east to Gilmanton from Alton. The Main Street Wolfeboro Road intersection was then on the northern fringes of the village.
But as the village developed in the 19th century, the Square grew in importance. The construction of the Cocheco House (American Legion Post No.72), at the northwest end of the Square about 1830, was the first major event in the Square's history. The Cocheco House was an important inn in its time, and is today one of the best surviving early hotels in the area. Its distinguished Monument Square facade, a symmetrical facade with two wings flanking a two-story, columned veranda, set a high standard for the Square's later buildings.
In the later 1830's and the 1840's, the Square saw the construction of three residences that still survive. Two, the Wheeler House and the Tobias Berry House are good examples of the Cape, then the standard New Hampshire house. The Wheeler House of 1838-9 has notable Greek Revival fretwork ornament around its doors. The Tobias Berry House, probably built in the late 1840's, was later elevated above a new first story, but its attractive entry and moulded window trim can still be seen. The James N. Jones House, probably built in 1841 or 1842, is a larger two and a half story house, distinguished by paneled window and entry trim, and two quarter-circle louvers in the pedimented gable facing the Square. The building was also the site of one of the village's earliest stores, operated by the Jones family. This store was prophetic of the Square's next period of growth.
The completion of the Cochecho Railroad from Dover to Alton Bay in the summer of 1851 really established the Square as the center of the village, for the depot serving Alton village was built just east of the Square. The new importance of the Square can be seen in the layout of the three streets entering it, and in the construction of the three surviving store buildings. In June, 1851, Church Street was laid out by the Selectmen. It was followed soon by the layout of Depot Street, from the Square to the new depot, in January of 1852. Factory Street was laid out in May of 1855 and soon superseded School Street as the main road from Alton village east to Gilmanton.
The Square's new importance as a transportation center led to its growth as a commercial center. On the west side of the Square, we find Dudley Barker appearing as the first known owner of two stores (Dudley Barker Store and Morrell's Store) on lots carved out of his property. Barker may well have had both buildings erected. Certainly, the similarities of their design would suggest a common origin. Their paneled corner pilasters and wide cornices with deep friezes show a developed interest in the Greek Revival style, which is also apparent in Dudley Barker's fine house still standing on Church Street. The same features are also found on the equally attractive J. Jones & Son Store, built on the east side of the Square in 1855 to house the expanding business of the Jones family. The 1859 county map shows another store standing on the present site of the Harold S. Gilman Museum, but the building was replaced by the Alton Shoe Factory, built in 1883 and burned to the ground in 1930. (The Shoe Factory did have a store, and later the Post Office, in the first story of its Monument Square front.)
The elevated status of the Square was reflected and reinforced by the erection of one of the village's grandest homes, the White Lodge, probably in the third quarter of the 19th century. This fine house with its Greek Revival temple form, enriched by some Victorian details, is among the most interesting 19th century houses in Belknap County.
At an 1893 meeting, the voters of Alton decided to permit the Boston and Maine Railroad, which had taken over the Cochecho Railroad, to replace the Main Street and Wolfeboro Road bridges over the railroad north of the Square with a single bridge on a slightly rerouted Main Street. Wolfeboro Road was also rerouted to intersect Main Street north of the new bridge and the Square. That portion of the former Wolfeboro Road between the Square and the rerouted section was abandoned. This change somewhat diminished the Square's role as a major intersection. But its symbolic importance as the center of the community was soon confirmed by the erection of the Alton Town Hall and the Soldiers Monument. The Alton Town Hall of 1893-4, designed in the Romanesque Revival style by architect A.T. Ramsdell of Dover, is the most impressive town hall in Belknap County. It is certainly one of the best Victorian public buildings in the Lakes Region. In 1897, the Soldiers Monument, a zinc statue of a Union soldier on a granite pedestal, was placed in the center of the Square. Still Alton's only public statue, the Monument became one of the town's landmarks, and the Square's namesake.
One indirect result of the Town Hall project was the remodeling of the Tobias Berry House. In 1893, the town purchased Tobias Berry's property, reserved the corner lot for the Town Hall, and sold the remainder of the property, including the house. By 1906, if not sooner, the Cape had been raised and a new Victorian first story built beneath it. But, none of the Monument Square Historic District's other buildings have seen such drastic remodeling. All three store buildings (Dudley Barker Store, Morrell's Store and J. Jones & Son Store) were given one-story storefronts in the 20th century. The J. Jones & Son Store also received an extension to the rear, as did the Cocheco House. But, with the exception of a few alterations and additions, the Monument Square Historic District's buildings have survived almost intact. This century's most significant changes have been the erection of the War Memorial c.1919; and the burning in 1930 of the Alton Shoe Factory and its replacement some forty-five years later by the Harold S. Gilman Museum.
In summary, the Monument Square Historic District's contributing buildings include a fine early 19th century hotel (Cocheco House), an attractive Cape with Greek Revival ornament (Wheeler House), another attractive Cape that has been raised above a Victorian first story (Tobias Berry House), an interesting mid 19th century two and a half story house (James N. Jones House), three mid 19th century stores with some Greek Revival ornament (Dudley Barker Store, Morrell's Store and J. Jones & Son Store), a distinguished Greek Revival temple form house with interesting Victorian decoration (White Lodge), and a fine Romanesque Revival town hall (Alton Town Hall). This group of buildings deserves recognition for the high quality of its architecture.
It cannot be said that Monument Square was designed as a public square. The creation of this open space in the center of Alton village was almost fortuitous. Two major roads intersected at an angle so acute that a large triangle at the intersection was kept open for traffic and public use. The creation of the Square was unpremeditated and its development was not guided by any official plan. However, from the beginning, the space was treated by both private and public developers in a formal way as a public square. The earliest building, the Cocheco House was built to close the northwest end of the Square with a distinguished symmetrical facade, that emphasized the axis of the Square. The two long sides were developed in the 19th century with closely spaced buildings, all set near the front lot line. The buildings surrounding the open space vary somewhat in style, size and material, but they do give that essential sense of enclosure and coherence that makes the space a public square and not simply a street intersection. Finally, the placement in 1897 of the Soldiers Monument, a public statue, in the center of the space, gave it a focal point and an identity as a public square. In essence, then, the Alton villagers took the accident of a street intersection and turned it into a public square that could function both visually and symbolically as the center of the community.
Belknap County Registry of Deeds, Laconia, N.H. (deeds of Monument Square properties).
William R. Clough — "Alton Road Inventory" manuscript, Alton Town Hall.
Albert V. Fisher — A Brief History of Alton Corners — 1765-1810 (Alton, 1973).
Barton M. Griffin — The History of Alton, New Hampshire (Alton, 1965).
Warren H. Hay — "The Cochecho Railroad" — B & M Bulletin (Summer, 1977) Vol. VI, No.4, pp.6-14.
Interview — Albert Fisher, February, 1983.
George E. Morris — Alton and Alton Bay, N.H. (Brockton, Mass., 1888).
Sanborn Map Company — Alton, Belknap County, N.H., (September, 1887; November, 1892; June, 1912; August, 1923).
E.M. Woodford — Map of Belknap County, New Hampshire (Philadelphia, 1859).
† David L. Ruell, Lakes Region Planning Commission, Monument Square Historic District, Belknap County, New Hampshire, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.