Lyme Center Historic District
The Lyme Center 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 © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Lyme Center Historic District is comprised of seventeen primary structures and numerous related outbuildings arranged in linear fashion along Dorchester Road. Within the Lyme Center Historic District, several roads intersect Dorchester Road which is laid out in an east-west direction. East of the district is Acorn Hill Road which extends from the north side of Dorchester Road. At the center of the district, Baker Hill Road joins Dorchester Road from the south. Serving as a major impetus for the construction of buildings in Lyme Center is Grant Brook which also marks the southern edge of the district and serves as the rear lot line for properties, on the south side of Dorchester Road.
A profusion of black locust and sugar maple trees shade Lyme Center and help unify the Lyme Center Historic District. Many have grown up since the Hurricane of 1938 destroyed the previous generations of vegetation. A secondary rural road, Dorchester Road is without sidewalks though overhead wires and utility poles dot the district.
Approximately half of the buildings in the Lyme Center Historic District predate the Civil War. Stylistically, the Greek Revival style predominates, followed by a second period of substantial building activity and alterations in the late 19th-early 20th century as witnessed by the profusion of turned posts and decorative jigsaw woodwork seen in the district. Where construction has occurred in the twentieth century, largely replacing structures destroyed by fire, it is generally compatible in terms of massing and simplicity. All of the buildings in the Lyme Center Historic District are of frame and clapboard construction, a few have been covered in synthetic sidings. With the exception of the Baptist Church and Vestry, Academy and Lyme Country Store, the buildings in the Lyme Center Historic District are residential in nature.
The modest and unpretentious quality of these structures tells us much about their occupants, merchants and workers who found a ready source of employment in the mills and small industries powered by Grant Brook as it meanders through Lyme Center. Although the structures contained in the Lyme Center Historic District have evolved over the years and lack a "museum" quality, all remain fine examples of their respective styles and periods.
The Lyme Center Historic District is significant architecturally as a cohesive village grouping of modest frame structures spanning from the early 19th to the 20th century, unified by quality of setting, materials and workmanship. All of the structures in the Lyme Center Historic District are vernacular in nature, loosely based on popular architectural styles, as interpreted by unknown local builders.
The settlement pattern which created a village at Lyme Center in the early 19th century is a recurring theme in New England history, born out of the impact of early turnpikes and the quest of settlers for water to power mills and industry. Within the Town of Lyme's history, Lyme Center has played a key role as one of only two village centers in the Town since the 18th century. Early on, the construction of a meetinghouse at Lyme Plain, its level topography and proximity to the Connecticut River and Hanover gave the village at Lyme Plain the upper hand. Yet, it was not long before Lyme Center Village achieved importance and an economic base in its own right, encouraged by its proximity to the Grafton Turnpike and by a number of mills which sought to harness the power of Grant Brook.
In the Town's early history, what is now Lyme Center was known as Cook City (later also East Lyme or East Village). James Cook was the first to settle in what is now Lyme Center, arriving from Connecticut in 1783. He owned 64 acres located along Grant Brook comprising virtually all of the Lyme Center Historic District and built his first log house south of Grant Brook and west of Baker Hill Road. Cook's 14 children, the sawmill and clover mill he established on Grant Brook, and a tavern kept as a hotel for many years by his son, James Cook, Jr., helped Cook City to become a populated and prosperous village center. Cook's Tavern, which originally stood on the site of the Dimick House (55 Dorchester Road), was a stopping place for the six and eight horse teams that hauled freight from Boston before the railroad.
All of the structures contained in Lyme Center today were constructed after Major Cook's death in 1812. According to local tradition, Cook refused to allow a school on his land, and thus the School District serving Lyme Center (Lyme Center Academy, 53 Dorchester Road) was one of the last school districts established in Town. Because Major Cook had minor children when he died, his estate was not settled until the youngest of 14 reached his majority (21 years of age) in the mid 1820's, only then fully opening Lyme Center to development as well as schools. By 1830, the Town of Lyme reached its maximum population of approximately 1,800, and Lyme Center absorbed its share of population growth. Approximately half of the buildings in the Lyme Center Historic District predate the Civil War and reflect this period of growth in Lyme. The earliest structures within the Lyme Center Historic District (37 Dorchester Road and 43 Dorchester Road) are simple, Cape Cod structures constructed by 1826. Construction of the Lyme Baptist Church (47 Dorchester Road) in 1830, succeeding an earlier meetinghouse about three quarters of a mile east of Lyme Center, reinforces the fact the Lyme Center by this time was an established center of community activity.
As originally constructed in 1830 without benefit of a belfry, the church was a simple and handsome transitional exercise combining Federal and Greek Revival elements. The desire for a school in Lyme Center did not come to fruition until 1839, funded by a private corporation rather than the Town. A fitting companion for the Baptist Church, the Lyme Center Academy, was a rather late and simplified expression of the Federal style with ornament limited to a semi-elliptical opening in the tower.
The Greek Revival style is well represented within the Lyme Center Historic District by two structures (Beal-Pike House, 41 Dorchester Road and Webster-Ward House, 50 Dorchester Road). Both are embellished by pilasters supporting full entablatures and contain sidehall entrances reflective of a national trend away from broad-sided to gable-fronted silhouettes.
A second substantial period of building activity impacted Lyme Center during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Encouraged by the location of Sanborn's sawmill in Lyme Center (present site of the Webster-Ward House, 50 Dorchester Road), this building period took on two forms: alterations to existing structures and new construction. Turned posts supporting new porches and decorative jigsaw trim were applied to several buildings in the Lyme Center Historic District (such as the Blake-Gaylord House, 54 Dorchester Road). New buildings dating to this period include the Cutting-Gray House, 40 Dorchester Road, a simple gable-fronted structure with wood scalloped friezes, and the Blanding House, 46 Dorchester Road, embellished by bay windows and turned porch posts. Three notable examples of early 20th century design include the Sanborn-Wetherell House, 45 Dorchester Road, an unusual gambrel roofed complex of house, wing and barn; the former Baptist parsonage (49 Dorchester Road), a nearly square structure capped by a hip roof and distinctive porch with machine-cut woodwork; and the Dimick House (55 Dorchester Road), a unique local example of the houses available in the early 20th century from mail order catalogues such as Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Montgomery Ward.
The history of the Lyme Center District is an evolution which has spanned over 150 years. Expectedly, the 20th century too has had its effect on the district. Unfortunately, several structures have been irretrievably altered by unsympathetic additions and synthetic siding (34 Dorchester Road and 36 Dorchester Road). Modern freestanding garages have taken the place of 19th century barns and carriage houses for several buildings. Although it is non-contributing to the district because of its fairly recent date of construction, the Rich House (southeast corner of Dorchester Road and Baker Hill Road), a Cape style structure, is fairly compatible with neighboring structures in terms of mass, setback and detailing. The sense of a unified district is further enhanced by the compactness of the Lyme Center Historic District and the minimal distances between buildings. As one approaches the Lyme Center Historic District from the west, rounding a curve, the village is at once in full view. Acting as a visual barrier, this curve reinforces the sense of place while on the eastern edge a decline in the concentration of significant properties signifies exit from the village district, and demarcates the eastern district boundary. The Lyme Center Historic District is further buffered by the existence of Grant Brook which acts as a natural southern boundary.
As would be expected in any village of this nature, Lyme Center continues to provide a core of community services for local residents through a school, church and post office. Yet, thanks to several factors, the Lyme Center Village remains relatively unspoiled and unique, especially in comparison to others of its type in the general area. As has been noted, the Lyme Center Historic District is largely insulated by natural and visual boundaries and is without vacant lots where detrimental infill construction could take place. The sense of place which is so important to the Lyme Center Historic District is reinforced by the concentration of closely-spaced buildings, on small lots, in contrast to more expansive village centers broken up by tracts of open space, such as in the nearby villages of Hanover Center and Etna.
The impact of roads is the second factor which separates Lyme Center from neighboring village centers. Ironically, while the incorporation of the Grafton Turnpike did much to encourage the development of Lyme Center, today only a mile east of the Lyme Center Historic District the Dorchester Road becomes a dirt road servicing only a few vehicles each day as it continues, as a town road, toward Canaan Center [see Canaan Street Historic District]. In contrast to more substantial routes servicing heavy volumes of cars and trucks, the road leading to and through Lyme Center has avoided road widening, curbing, sidewalks and development which would lessen its rural character and integrity. It takes only one look at the nearby villages of Orfordville, NH and East Thetford, Vermont to see the adverse effects State Routes 25A and 5 respectively and resulting development have had on these once cohesive community centers.
Although none of the buildings in the Lyme Center Historic District could be described to be of "museum quality," the majority of the structures within the Lyme Center Historic District remain good vernacular examples of their respective styles and periods, enhanced by a cohesive rural character. Taken collectively, the assemblage of 19th and 20th century structures comprising the Lyme Center Historic District represents a significant example of the tastes and talents of a rural New Hampshire village center.
Luane Cole, Ed. Lyme, New Hampshire; Patterns and Pieces, 1761-1976. Canaan, N.H.: Phoenix Publishing, 1976.
Unpublished Annotated List of 257 Structures in Lyme, N.H. Prepared by Dorothy Sears and David Jescavage. (On file at Upper Valley - Lake Sunapee Council and State Historic Preservation Office.)
Map of the Town of Lyme, from actual survey by W.C. Eaton, CE, Published by E.M. Woodford, Philadelphia, 1855 (Photographed in Cole, Lyme, New Hampshire: Patterns and Pieces, 1761- 1976.)
Interviews with various owners and local historian Dorothy Sears.
† Lisa Mausolf, Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Council, Lyme Center Historic District, Grafton County, New Hampshire, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.