Newfane Village Historic District
The Newfane Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content of this page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
The Newfane Village Historic District represents a small rural county seat that developed principally during the relatively short span of the second quarter of the nineteenth century and that retains essentially intact its 19th to early 20th century architectural character. The village's buildings display an extraordinarily homogeneous appearance, generally being domestic-scaled vernacular interpretations of the Greek Revival and Gothic Revival styles; early 20th century structures maintain the scale, form, massing and in some cases emulate the design of the earlier buildings. Landmark public and commercial buildings around the Village Common include some excellent examples of more high-style expressions of architectura1 design. Focused on the Court House and its Common, the complementing vernacular buildings, many exhibiting attached wings, ells and barns in the manner of "continuous architecture," form a highly cohesive and distinctive entity largely unscathed by twentieth century changes and intrusions. Newfane village retains its primacy in county government despite the emergence of much larger towns in Windham County, an evolution that elsewhere in Vermont has usually caused the shift of the county seat to the larger center.
The development of what became Newfane village began in two different locations during the 1760s and 1770s. In 1768 (six years prior to the townships organization), Jonathan Park constructed the first frame house on a site north of the present Newfane Inn. However, a hilltop two miles to the west attracted more concentrated settlement, and a small village emerged there. Owing to the persistent efforts of Judge Luke Knowlton—an original proprietor, land grantee, and storekeeper—the seat of Windham County was moved in 1787 from Westminster to Newfane Hill (coincidentally, almost the geographical center of the county), bringing the county court house and jail with it. The original block of the Newfane Inn was built during the same decade at the hilltop crossroads.
By the early nineteenth century, the village at Newfane Hill had expanded to include a meeting house, an academy, two hotels, three stores, various shops, and some twenty houses. Anthony Jones owned the Inn mentioned above, and, in 1822, Austin and Roger Birchard established their store at the village.
Meanwhile settlement had continued on "Park's Flats," as the nearly level area along Smith Brook was known. Small water-powered mills were built along the brook but development proceeded slowly until 1825. In that year, Jonathan and Ephraim Park donated four acres to the "inhabitants of the County of Windham" for the site of a new county court house and jail, and the county seat was shifted the two miles downhill to a "place more convenient of access." Deacon Jonathan Park declined the honor of lending his name to the place so a compromise, Fayetteville, was chosen in favor of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had visited the United States in 1824.
Newfane's buildings display an extraordinary homogeneity of exterior appearance. Their nearly universal size of one- or two-and-one-half stories—regardless of type—gives the entire village a domestic scale; the majority have gable-front orientations. The greatest uniformity involves materials: with but two exceptions—the brick Historical Society museum and the Vermont National Bank—the principal buildings are wood-framed and sheathed with clapboards or, occasionally, synthetic substitutes. The most visually striking characteristic is the color of the buildings: regardless of their original, and in the case of the late nineteenth-century, (Queen Anne) examples, more appropriate colors, fully ninety percent are now painted white with dark green or black trim.
† Hugh H. Henry, Historic Preservation Consultant, Newfane Village Historic District, Windham County, VT, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.