Jaffrey Center Historic District
The Jaffrey Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Jaffrey Center Historic District is L-shaped. Its long leg is formed by Main Street which runs east-west and rises to crest at the Common and Meetinghouse on Meetinghouse Hill. The short leg is formed by the Common and by Thorndike Pond Road which runs parallel to the Common to the east, rising from its intersection with Main Street to crest just north of Melville Academy.
There are six approaches to the Jaffrey Center Historic District, five of which are visually well defined by open space or historic buildings. From the east a meadow and woods for natural boundaries for the Main Street approach, while the Cutter Cemetery (not included in the Jaffrey Center Historic District and woods define the bounds on Harkness Road which slopes to meet Main Street just below the John Cutter Homestead, the first historic building at this entrance. The northern approaches are defined by the rears of Melville Academy on Thorndike Pond Road and the so-called Cutter Currier Shop. Rising to the crest of Meetinghouse Hill from the south, Gilmore Pond Road approach is defined by meadow with a scenic view of the Mountains and the historic Ainsworth Manse. From the west, (the Main Street entrance) the Common and Meetinghouse are screened by the wooded slope of hill. This and a Colonial Revival summer cottage are at this edge of the Jaffrey Center Historic District.
The Jaffrey Center Historic District boundaries run generally 200 feet on each side of Main Street (Route 124) and on the east side of Thorndike Pond Road. The western boundary is historic, following that of the original Town Common which is now reduced in size.
The Jaffrey Center Historic District is primarily residential with Meetinghouse, Common Burying ground, and Church the focal point, both historically an architecturally and with an inn and general store/post office on the Main Street. Colonial, Federal and Greek Revival vernacular dwellings, mostly built during the late-18th and early-19th centuries are 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 stories high, have gabled roofs and constructed predominantly of clapboard, painted white. These are set back evenly from the roads and generally separated from one another by well-kept, tree-shaded lawns. The buildings harmonize in proportions, are similar in scale, and most are balanced by large white clapboard, gable roof barns to which they are attached by ell or shed.
All but five of the thirsty-six buildings in the Jaffrey Center Historic District were erected in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, and only three of the buildings represent post-Civil War styles — Shingle and Colonial Revival. Nearly every building contains elements of two or more styles however, and those three buildings constructed c.1945-70 are Cape-type Colonials. There are three brick buildings in the Jaffrey Center Historic District, two residences on Main Street (one of which has been painted white and the Congregational Church, facing the Common. A few of the buildings are painted other than white, but the soft greys, ochres and green are not intrusive, nor is the deep red of the schoolhouse.
On each of the streets the set-backs are even, yet differ in distance. On the south side of Main Street the buildings are from 30-50 feet distant, while on the north the buildings lie nearer the road and are spaced in three groups with fields between. The large houses on the west side of Thorndike Pond Road are regularly spaced from each other and from the road and lead the eye to Melville Academy, majestically sited at almost hill-top, and rising from lawn against a backdrop of trees. Three cottages placed near the road and a wooded lot comprise Thorndike Pond Road, east side. The buildings facing the Common to its east are clustered together and situated very near the road, in true village fashion.
There is a great deal of open space in the area which is formed by parks, fields behind or beside the dwellings, and lawns. A small pond lies on the south side of Main Street at the eastern end of the district. The major public open space is the Common located at the crest of Meetinghouse Hill and surrounded on the north and east by some of the most historically significant buildings in the Jaffrey Center Historic District. Cutter Park, a tree-shaded, triangular lawn with fieldstone retaining walls drops off the hill east of the Common and provides an important visual eastern approach to it. At the eastern end of the Jaffrey Center Historic District a small triangular area, with old apple trees lies at the fork of Main Street and Harkness Roads. The open space enhances the village character of the Jaffrey Center Historic District and by the landscaping bind the buildings together rather than separating them as could happen.
The Jaffrey Center Historic District has retained its original village character and alterations and additions have been minimal. The area is less commercial than in the 19th century. The Benjamin Cutter Tavern (c.1795), Old Thorndike Store (c.1793), Oribe Tearoom (John Ward Poole residence c.1826; tearoom and gift shop early-19th century) and John Cutter Homestead and Currier Shop (c.1790-2 and c.1810, respectively) are presently residences. These adaptations have had no effect on the village. The one-room schoolhouse and fire station are museums, Both were moved and restored. The Meetinghouse was raised in 1775, its tower and belfry added in 1822. It was altered, a floor inserted, in 1870 to provide for a school on the lower floor and town use above. Finally the building deteriorated when the town offices moved, until in 1923 the Village Improvement Society restored the interior, repaired the exterior and adapted the building to cultural use by constructing a platform stage in the location of the pulpit. This restoration was managed with matching funds.
The Village Improvement Society also transformed Cutter Park, which during the 19th century held a tavern and store, and later a summer hotel which was destroyed by fire in 1901. It was also responsible for the 1919 restoration of the 1833 Melville Academy which today serves as the Society's headquarters. At the corner of Main Street and Thorndike Pond Road, the Society demolished a cottage and blacksmith shop, both deteriorated beyond restoration and blights to the area.
Most of the buildings in the Jaffrey Center Historic District have been altered over the years by additions, ells, bays, porches, but all changes have been minor and have not affected the original style of the building. One noticeable exception is the addition made during the 20th century to the Monadnock Inn where the enlargement in the Colonial Revival style almost obliterates the original Greek Revival building.
The condition of all buildings and open spaces is excellent and there are no intrusions.
The Jaffrey Center Historic District was created by a Town Meeting in 1969 to protect the area around Meetinghouse Hill which as designated as the Common and town center prior to the 1773 incorporation of the town. Its surviving structures, dating from the 1775 Colonial Meetinghouse represent the economic, political, cultural and social and the architectural heritage of Jaffrey through the 19th century.
The greatest growth and prosperity came after the completion in 1802 of the Third New Hampshire Turnpike which ran through the district. The Center became a stagecoach stop where travelers from Boston to Keene refreshed themselves at the two inns on the Common. The three stores, also facing the Common, prospered selling goods brought by stage to the professional men, merchant and wealthy farmers who were constructing the houses which today line the streets. Many of these men joined to incorporate Melville Academy in 1832 and many became involved in local and state government. By the 1830s the Center became the political, religious and educational focus of Jaffrey, structurally represented today by the Meetinghouse, First Congregational Church (1831), schoolhouse (1822) and Academy building (1833). The Meetinghouse which faces the Common at its north end, was both the religious enter of the town (until in 1823 the first denomination constructed its own house of worship) and its political center (the location of town meetings and site of town offices until the latter part of the century). Now it is used as a cultural center.
At the east end of the Jaffrey Center Historic District lies the remains of the center's largest industry. The foundations of the early 19th century Cutter tannery lie at the south end of Tannery Pond, while the Currier Shop built c.1810 is presently a dwelling. The John Cutter Homestead built in 1792 in the Federal style (later altered by enlargement for a hotel) and the Federal style house built in 1810 for his son, Benjamin, complete the complex.
From the mid-19th century when Mt. Monadnock became a popular tourist attraction to the mid-20th century, many of the dwellings became used as guest houses or tearooms, while the principal inn was expanded into a hotel as the area turned into a leading summer resort.
Most of the 36 buildings in the Jaffrey Center Historic District were erected prior to the Civil War and combine elements of the Colonial, Federal and Greek Revival styles. Only the Inn and a house obviously built as a summer cottage, both in the Colonial Revival style, reflect the later decades of the resort era of development, and only three houses have been constructed since that time. The well-kept rows of dwellings with large connecting barns, are set back from the streets amid tree-shaded lawns. Located within walking distance of the Meetinghouse and Common, the Church, store and inn, they reflect the early days of the village prosperity. For this rural village, centered on the crest of a hill, is unspoiled by modern intrusions and unmarred by severe alterations or demolitions and untouched by later buildings developments.
The architectural significance of the Jaffrey Center Historic District is attained, not from many outstanding examples of an architectural style or period but from the similarities in scale, proportion and style of the buildings, their sites and their relationships to each other and to the surrounding open space, all of which achieve balance and harmony. Although the periods of construction reflect the eras of the development of the district, the styles adopted are regressive to their construction date and are all vernacular adaptations. The styles characteristic to the post Civil War urban areas do not appear within the Jaffrey Center Historic District, although there are examples of these in other parts of the town. The most significant buildings will be discussed below.
Since 1906 when the Village Improvement Society was formed the condition of land and buildings in the Center has improved. Short after its formation the Society removed a blacksmith shop and cottage in ruinous condition from the corner of Main Street and Thorndike Pond Road. It then improved the land. In 1909 the area now known as Cutter Park was created from a plan by Edward Whiting. This was the site of the Danforth Tavern and held the ruins of the Cutter Hotel which burned in 1901. Two other major undertakings by the Society have been the restorations of the Melville Academy in 1919, and of the Meetinghouse in 1923. In 1960, the Jaffrey Historical Society moved to its present location in the little red Schoolhouse.
Areas of Significance
Political — The Meetinghouse, raised 1775, was the scene of town meetings from the date of its construction throughout most of the 19th century. From 1831 when the Congregational Church was constructed, it served as the Town Hall, and by 1871, the house was altered and town offices were maintained on a newly formed upper floor.
Religious — The Meetinghouse was also the place of worship until after the 1823 apportionment, when, one by one, the denominations withdrew from holding services in it. In 1831 the First Congregational Church (the Brick Meetinghouse, 1831) was constructed. This church is one of only three which now remain in the whole town.
The church parsonage was bought in 1877, and its barn adapted to a Parish house.
Most of the ministers have lived in the houses around the Center. One of the most important residences belonged to Laban Ainsworth, the revered pastor for 76 years until his death in 1858. His house, The Manse, built in 1788, is one of the few buildings in the Jaffrey Center Historic District whose date can be documented by Town Records. The property is still in family ownership.
Education — The first schoolhouse erected, in Jaffrey was built in this school district in 1795 and located, approximately on the site of the present little red schoolhouse. The one-room school building was erected in 1822 and moved here in 1960. Melville Academy, incorporated in 1832, was built in 1833 through the generosity of its principal benefactor, merchant Jonas Melville for whom it was named. The height on its enrollment came in 1834 when there were 174 students representing all of the New England states. Many of these boarded in homes in the Center. During the depression of 1857, however, the Academy declined. For short periods in the 1860s and 70s the District school and newly formed High School was held here.
Commerce — Hotels and taverns have played a great role in the economy of the Center. The Benjamin Cutter Tavern, c.1795, located behind and east of the Meetinghouse, and Jacob Danforth's Tavern, first licensed in 1792, were the earliest in this area and were coach stops, as well as local meeting places. Danforth's Tavern lay directly on the County Road (which later became part of the Third New Hampshire Turnpike). As one of the most prominent public houses in town, when the original building burned in 1816 a new one was built immediately in brick. Under the subsequent ownership of Ethan Cutter and his descendants this inn, known as Cutter's Hotel, became the pioneer in the area of the summer business, it being the first to take summer boarders. At the opposite end of the district lies the John Cutter Homestead (c.1790-2) which Laban Rice enlarged and converted into a hotel for summer boarders around the middle of the 19th century. It was known as Central House. (Much of the Rice addition has now been removed, and the building is once more a residence). For similar purposes, the Monadnock Inn was created by enlarging in the Colonial Revival style a Greek Revival residence. Additions were made to this building as late as the 1930s and today it is the only inn in the Center. Earlier in this century, the Old Poole House was for many years a gift shop and tea room.
Stores, too, prospered in the Center during the 19th century. In the first decade of the century three stores were located in a row on the east side of the Common. The first recorded on the tax lists was the Old Thorndike Store (1792-1858) followed in 1794 by Benjamin Cutter who sold European, India and West India goods. From 1801-09 when it burned, the store of David Page stood on the site of the Congregational Church. Even Asa Brigham, successor innkeeper of the Danforth Tavern had a store in conjunction with his inn. And in these same years David Emory had a store on the property of Laban Ainsworth. After the 1820s the trade and commerce began to shift to East Jaffrey, and today there exists only the general store located in the same building as the post office.
Industry — The main industry within the district was the Tannery established by John Cutter on his Homestead. In 1792 Cutter dammed the brook on the south side of Main Street and at the south end of Tannery Pond erected the industrial building, of which the cellar hole remains. The Tannery burned in 1820 but was immediately rebuilt. By 1835 the business had been taken over by Cutter's son, Benjamin, who later removed the industry from the Center. The complex now consists of the Federal style John Cutter Homestead, which was described in a road survey of 1804 as "new," the brick Federal house of his son, a house said to have been built for workmen, later occupied by family, and the so-called Currier shop.
Landscape architecture — The plan for Cutter Park was created by Edward Whiting, "the youngest member of the Olmsted firm," who also advised on the location of the red schoolhouse.
Transportation — The main Boston-Keene route during the early 19th century was over the road built as the Third New Hampshire Turnpike. This closely follows Main Street (Route 124). This was completed in 1802 and made a free road in 1823. All of the present roads in the area date from early in the 19th century, except, perhaps, Barren's Lane, which may have been a drive. The great number of remaining large square or rectangular white wood barns attached to the houses are reminders not only of the town's agrarian past, but also of the 19th century transportation.
Architecture — The Meetinghouse, Congregational Church and Melville Academy are the three most significant buildings in the area, and of these the purest stylistically is the Meetinghouse. This handsome edifice is one of a handful in the state built prior to 1775 in the gabled roof, barn style. It was raised in 1775; Samuel Adam's was the builder. John Buckley was the original cabinet maker for most of the interior work. The building was planned with one-story entrance porches at the east and west ends. The lower part of the tower added in 1822 may incorporate the west porch. Joel Oakes Patrick was the master carpenter for the tower and belfry and funds to build it were raised by public subscription. Restoration to the interior was made in 1923 by Allen W. Jackson, architect, and B.F. Cann, who lived in the brick Jonathan Gibbs House (c.1833), the master builder. Restoration was made possible by descriptions in the town records and from remaining portions of the interior details
The First Congregational Church erected in 1831 is the most formal building in the Jaffrey Center Historic District. In an attempt to achieve elegance, a number of architectural elements and details have been combined to make up the front elevation and bell tower. In actuality, these create an incoherent facade.
The last of the three spired edifices to be constructed in the Jaffrey Center Historic District is the Melville Academy building, a combination of Federal, Greek Revival and Gothic elements. This building represents the simple, functional vernacular architecture typical of the period in which it was built.
Cutter, Daniel B. , History of the Town of Jaffrey. New Hampshire 1749-1880. Concord. N. H.. The Republican Press Association, 1881.
Annett, Albert and Lehtinen, Alice E.E. History of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. New Hampshire, Town of Jaffrey, 1937. 2 Vols. I Narrative, Vol II Genealogies.
Lehtinen, Alice E.E. History of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. New Hampshire, Town of Jaffrey, 1971. Vol III.
Speare, Eva. Colonial Meetinghouses of New Hampshire Compared with their Contemporaries in New England, New Hampshire, Littleton, Daughters of Colonial Wars, 1938. pp.121-27.
Chamberlain, Helen, The Annals of Grand Monadnock. Concord, New Hampshire, The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, 1936.
† Anne R. Wardwell, consultant, Jaffrey Center Historic District, Jaffrey, NH, nomination document, 1974, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.