Lyme Common Historic District
The Lyme Common Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. 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 Common Historic District is comprised of more than sixty primary structures with assorted outbuildings situated fronting the Lyme Common and the surrounding network of six roads which intersect at the Common. The centerpiece of the Lyme Common Historic District is the common itself, a long narrow open area laid out in an east-west direction.
The buildings facing the north side of the common have a Main Street address while those on the south side are given a numerical designation "On the Common." Six streets feed into the Common. Union Street enters from the southwest, East Thetford Road from the west, Market Street from the southeast and Dorchester Road from the east. North of the eastern end of the Common, the visual anchor of the district, the Congregational Church occupies a small triangular piece of land bordered by Main Street in the south, a short stretch of road known as John Tomson Way on the east and Pleasant Street which continues northward, along the west side of the Church. The travel-way consisting of Union Street, Main Street and Pleasant Street is also known as State Route 10.
Most of the buildings in the Lyme Common Historic District are set on relatively flat lots shaded by substantial mature trees. Street lines are defined by a border of granite curbing; electrical wires, and utility poles crisscross the streets. Several houses retain picket fences representative of the many fences which outlined the properties in the 19th century. Approaching the Lyme Common Historic District from the south, west and north, the landscape changes from open fields to the relatively dense pattern of development characterizing the village. Grant Brook acts as a natural southern boundary for the district.
The majority of buildings are residential in nature, constructed originally as single-family residences. In recent years, some, most notably those fronting the common and on Union Street have been converted to commercial use, though care has been taken to preserve the overall residential character. Also included in the Lyme Common Historic District are municipal properties including two school buildings, the Town Office/Library, a Church, cemetery, jail and hearse house.
Construction dates in the Lyme Common Historic District range from the late 1700's to the 1980's though the overwhelming majority predate the Civil War. With the exception of the brick school, library, jail and a single brick house, all of the buildings are of frame and clapboard construction. Though a few have been covered in synthetic sidings all can be characterized as being in good to excellent condition.
The Lyme Common Historic District is significant architecturally as a largely intact and unified traditional rural New Hampshire townscape possessing integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. Historically functioning as the local center of religious, educational, political and social activity, the buildings in the Lyme Common Historic District largely predate the Civil War with the periods 1790-1820 and 1840-1865 seeing the greatest amount of building activity. With the exception of door surrounds, there is a general lack of stylistic detailing on the structures, as is typical in small rural towns where local builders simplified the architectural styles they learned of only through builders guides. Yet, taken together, the simple vernacular buildings which were erected around the Common in the "Lyme Plain" village form a cohesive unit, representing a significant and distinguishable entity although the components may lack individual distinction. The period of significance terminates at 1938, the 50-year cut-off.
It was the construction of the meetinghouse in 1781 which established the importance of the village at the plain. Prior to the construction of a meetinghouse, some fifty-seven dwellings stood in the Lyme Township concentrated largely along the Connecticut River and south of the Lyme Common Historic District, known locally as Lyme Plain. Although there were only a handful of houses located at the Plain in 1781, owing to its level characteristics and location near the middle of the population spread, it was an obvious location for the construction of a meetinghouse. Built by the town, the simple frame building served as both a town hall and church for nearly thirty years before it was relocated further west along the Common to make way for the Congregational Church. Functioning as town hall until 1920, and then the building was operated as Nichols' Store.
The completion of the meetinghouse largely established Lyme Plain as the center of activity for the town and gave new impetus to development around it. A Town Common does not appear on the original Town Plan, but took form after construction of the meetinghouse, the result of several transactions including those in 1785 and 1794 in which individual citizens deeded parcels around the meetinghouse to the Town, parcels which include the Common, the cemetery land, land along Pleasant Street and land in front of the Cyrus Hamilton House (19 Union Street). The earliest actual reference to "The Common" appears in the 1794 deed. The pound was probably the first structure erected on the common land. Located north of the present horse sheds and fenced with stone, it was used to hold loose animals.
Examples of the simple vernacular houses erected by early settlers are still in evidence in the Lyme Common Historic District though in several cases early features have been obscured by later additions, alterations and as was common, construction of a more elaborate main house, using the original structure as an ell. One of the oldest surviving houses in the Lyme Common Historic District is the house situated in the backyard of the Ralph Balch property (9 Pleasant Street). The simple clapboarded Cape style structure displays close eaves, splayed door lintels and dates to about 1799. The Alanson Grant House (2 On the Common) typifies the two stages of construction which many early settlers followed. The ell was probably completed about 1802, followed by the main house in 1813. Stylistic details are limited to the hip roof form and the splayed lintel over the central entrance.
The visual anchor of the Lyme Common Historic District is the Lyme Congregational Church (1 Dorchester Road), its handsome Federal style spire visible from all parts of the district. Constructed between 1809 and 1811, the "order and stile of both the inside and outside work of the church were built" according to the plan on which the meetinghouse at Dartmouth College in Hanover was built." The church was built under the direction of master builder John Tomson, twenty five years of age and the great, great, great, great, grandson of John Tomson who built the first church at the Plymouth Colony. Decorated by a central Palladian window, pavilion front, ornate fanlit doorways and an unusual three stage tower, the church is one of the region's finest examples of a Federal style meetinghouse. Built by John Tomson, Sr. while his son was building the church, the row of 27 horse sheds behind the church is reportedly the largest line of contiguous sheds in New England and possible in the U.S. Like the meetinghouse, the sheds were built on common land.
Contemporary with the Congregational Church and attributed to the same master builder, the Cyrus Hamilton House (19 Union Street) clearly set a new standard for Lyme Plain and is still the most imposing residential building in the Lyme Common Historic District. Adding onto an earlier structure now functioning as an ell, the Federal style main house, constructed in 1812, displays sophisticated stylistic details including two-story facade pilasters, an elliptical fanlight, decorative tracery and a central cupola projecting from the low-pitch hip roof.
The advent of the Greek Revival style in Lyme and elsewhere in the period prior to the Civil War gave rise to gable-fronted structures replacing earlier broad-sided buildings. Within the Lyme Common Historic District, the greatest number of buildings, approximately a third, were constructed between 1840 and 1865. During the 1840's alone, a dozen structures were built, primarily on the roads leading into the Common which was already surrounded by residences. In Lyme, as in many rural communities, the Greek Revival style was simplified by local builders. There are no high style exercises in the Greek Revival within the Lyme Common Historic District, nor even a pediment front. Evidence of the style is limited to the use of corner pilasters, projecting cornices with two part friezes, sidelit entrances with fluted surrounds, corner blocks and entablature lintels. Good examples of vernacular Greek Revival doorways can be seen on several buildings including the Daniel B. Dimick House, 1 Union Street; Frederick Dodge House, 11 Union Street; Benjamin Lamphere House, 15 Union Street; Samuel W. Balch House, 9 Pleasant Street; Hannah Haskell Boardman House, 10 Pleasant Street. Fretwork or running meander motifs frame the entrances of the Lyme Inn (14 Market Street) and David Carroll Churchill House (14 On the Common). On the Latham House (5 Main Street) smooth Roman Doric columns support a small entrance porch framing an entrance displaying sidelights, pilasters and a fluted surround. In almost all of these cases, builders continued to apply Greek Revival detailing to the traditional Georgian/Federal five-bay facade form. The Asa Thurston House (11 Market Street) is notable for combining the latest sidehall plan with Greek Revival details including full sidelights and pilasters supporting a peaked lintel corner pilasters and cornice returns. On the Calvin P. Fairfield House (9 Union Street) the number of bays on the gable front decrease as you rise in height on the 1-3/4-story building, evoking some sense of a Greek temple front.
Bearing the imprint of both the Greek Revival and Italianate styles is the Samuel E. Wales House (16 On the Common) which owes its gable-front sidehall form, sidelights and transom lights, entablature lintels, corner pilasters, two part frieze and cornice returns to the ebbing Greek Revival and its cruciform plan with symmetrical side porches to the Italianate style. Chamfered porch posts and brackets, other earmarks of the style also appear on several structures in the Lyme Common Historic District, suggesting an Italianate influence.
Existing concurrently with the development of the Greek Revival style and sidehall form was the popularity of the Classic Cottage house type which largely replaced the Cape Cod house after 1825. Simple examples of the Classic Cottage form, typified by 1-1/2-story 5x2 bay configuration and a high knee wall space above the first floor windows, include the Ruel Warren House (3 Union Street) and George Wilder House (9 Market Street). The George Pearsons House (19 East Thetford Road) combines the Classic Cottage with a central gable wall dormer, crowning the building like a pediment.
Limited new construction occurred within the Lyme Common Historic District at the end of the 19th century, although many property owners applied the porches, brackets and turned posts popularized by the Queen Anne style to dress up and update their otherwise simple, early 19th century frame houses. Structures which received porches around the turn of the century include 5 Union Street, 8 Union Street, 10 Union Street, and 7 Market Street. In the case of the Judge D.C. Churchill House (9 Main Street) a single-story porch was wrapped around the facade and side elevation of the 1850 house, decorated by a spindle frieze, turned balusters and fancy brackets with the corner marked by a conical-roofed gazebo. In other cases, wood shingles, in a variety of patterns were used to stylize the gables of older buildings including 7 Market Street, 18 On the Common, and 16 Union Street. A Colonial Revival porch was added to the Lyme Inn (14 Market Street) in 1923 while a porch of Doric columns on the Rufus Conant House (18 On the Common) dates to 1911.
New construction at the end of the century includes the Laura Smith Barnes School (Union Street) which, typical of the Queen Anne style, displays a first floor sheathed in clapboards with a second story covered in regular, staggered built and diamond patterned wood shingles.
The twentieth century has had a limited effect on the cohesiveness of the Lyme Common Historic District. The Colonial Revival Converse Free Library (18 Union Street), although constructed of brick in 1936, fits in well with the Lyme Common Historic District. Losses by fire have resulted in several new buildings including the Congregational Church Parsonage (7 Union Street), the house at 17 East Thetford Road, and the Lyme Country Store (7 Main Street) (the design of which closely echoes its predecessor). More obtrusive examples of new construction include the new Barnes School (Union Street) and the houses at 10 On the Common and 12 Union Street (Dorsie Pond House).
For the most part, modernization has been limited to new windows, garages and several cases of synthetic siding. In most cases, additions and alterations are relegated to rear elevations and are not readily visible from the street. The once densely tree-lined streets have suffered their share of loss through disease, asphalt has replaced dirt road surfaces and the Common's original hay field appearance has been forsaken for a manicured lawn. Where alterations have occurred, they have been incremental in nature and do little to compromise the quality of design, setting, materials, workmanship and feeling which characterize the simple vernacular buildings of the Lyme Common Historic District.
In addition to its local significance, the Lyme Common Historic District derives added significance and uniqueness when compared to others of its type in the region. In terms of its linear common and the density of vernacular 19th century structures retaining their integrity with minimal commercial evolution, the Lyme Common Historic District is without parallel in the region.
The long rectilinear nature of the common which is the centerpiece of the Lyme Plain Village is a unique landscape form locally, and contrasts sharply to the more spacious, square-shaped greens seen in other New Hampshire communities such as Haverhill, Hanover and Lebanon, as well as Norwich, Vermont. More rectilinear but less impressive commons of this general type are also seen in Newport, New Hampshire and in Thetford, Vermont.
In terms of the buildings arranged around the common, the patterns seen in Lyme also differ from those seen in other communities in the region. In Haverhill, the 19th century structures grouped around the large open common are more sophisticated and commodious than those found in Lyme and bear witness to that community's greater property in agricultural, professional and mercantile pursuits in the last century. A similar combination of more elaborate structures and a squarish green characterizes the town center in nearby Norwich, Vermont. As in these two communities the blend of residential and village uses which are grouped around the Lyme Common have changed little over the years. In contrast, the residential buildings around Hanover's common were gradually pushed out by college buildings beginning in the late 18th century and continuing into the 19th. Similarly the common in Lebanon (see Colburn Park Historic District) is evidence of a more pronounced evolution spanning two centuries. Over the years various buildings in Lebanon were relocated to make room for new structures. Today's mixture of civic, residential and commercial structures ranging from one to four stories and expressive of a panorama of materials and architectural styles including those of the 20th century, contrasts sharply with the unified image put forth by Lyme Common's simple, small-scaled clapboard structures dating primarily to the mid 19th century. Today, Lyme Plain continues to provide a core of community services for local residents yet without sacrificing its sense of place to modern construction. The cohesiveness which characterizes the village is reinforced by the concentration of closely spaced buildings on small lots in contrast to the more expansive village centers broken up by tracts of open space such as in nearby villages including Hanover Center and Etna. The impact of roads is another factor which separates the Lyme Plain from neighboring village centers. Despite the substantial volumes of traffic which use Route 10 each day, the length of this road through the Lyme Common area has avoided road widening 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 which State Routes 25A and 5 and the resulting development have had on these once cohesive community centers.
Cole, Luane, ed. Lyme, New Hampshire: Patterns & Pieces, 1761-1976. Canaan: Phoenix Publishing, 1976.
Nichols, Guy. "Making Nichols Hardware Store," Insight (Spring 1982):14-16.
Sears, Dorothy W. Lyme Common, Part II, 1785-1977. Lyme Historians Inc., 1973.
Sears, Dorothy and David Jescavage. "Unpublished Annotated List of 257 Structures in Lyme, New Hampshire." (On file at Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Council and State Historic Preservation Office.)
Tolles, Bryant, Jr. New Hampshire Architecture Hanover: University Press, 1979.
Town and City Atlas of the State of New Hampshire. Boston: DH Kurd & Co., 1892.
Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Council "The Lyme, NH Historic Resources Survey Report and Map," 1982. (Copies available at UV-LSC Office, and State Historic Preservation Office.)
Woodford, E.M. Map of the Town of Lyme. Philadelphia: E.M. Woodford, 1855.
† Lisa Mausolf, Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Council, Lyme Common Historic District, Grafton County, New Hampshire, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.