South End Historic District
The South End Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. 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 South End Historic District is a largely residential district south of the Main Street Historic District in the south central section of town. The northern boundary of the South End Historic District is South Street, with commercial, manufacturing, and educational structures occupying the north side of the street (the north side of the street lying outside the boundaries of the district), and mainly houses on the south side of the street. From South Street the lower slopes of Castle Rock and South Mountain rise to a summit to the south. At right angles to South Street, George and Hull streets ascend a steep hill in the direction of Castle Rock. Parts of Hull and Willis streets form the eastern boundary of the district, and George Street forms the western boundary. Carlson Street, Porter Court, Sigourney Street, and Murray Road run parallel to South Street between Hull and George streets. Murray Road and Sigourney Street form the southern boundary of the district. As currently configured, the South End Historic District contains approximately 132 structures, of which 112 contribute to the architectural significance of the district. The bulk of these are houses and both single and multifamily houses were originally constructed in the district. A number of the houses which were once designed for single families have since been converted for multi-family use. There are few empty lots within the South End Historic District. Most of the lots not built on by 1930 are occupied by houses built shortly after World War II. Houses built during this period are in scale with the neighborhood, few in number, and scattered throughout the district. The only major intrusion in the South End Historic District is a group of eight houses along Porter Court. This is a cul-de-sac off Hull Street which was undeveloped until the 1990s. All of these houses were built between 1994 and 1999. These frame houses are in scale with the neighborhood and they are set back from Hull Street and do not visually intrude on the district.
Within the South End Historic District there are a few properties which were built as residences but now serve other purposes, most notably the former Jerome-Dunbar House, now the Elks' Lodge, and the large Colonial Revival house on the southwest corner of South and George streets which was converted in 1921 to the first Bristol Hospital; it is now used as an apartment house.
The oldest houses within the South End Historic District lie along South and Hull streets. The oldest house in the South End Historic District, the large temple-form Greek Revival Elks' Lodge (former Jerome-Dunbar House) (built 1832) stands on the southeast corner of South and George streets. A few other houses in this part of the South End Historic District appear to date between 1830 and 1850, but most were built between 1875 and 1930. Most of the houses built prior to the turn of the century appear to have been constructed as single-family residences. They are mainly simple two-story frame dwellings with gable roofs and cross-gable wings and front porches. Although a number of houses have suffered from the application of aluminum or vinyl siding, or the removal of the original front porches, most still boast their original porches and decorative trim. These houses are notable for the variety of exterior decorative finish still preserved. In one case, at 59 Hull Street, the design of the decorative trim is rooted by the history of the neighborhood. Incised in the bargeboard is a tomahawk motif, inspired by the discovery of Native American artifacts on the site.
George and Carlson streets and Murray Road were developed by local builder George J. LaCourse in the 1910s and 1920s. These streets combine multi-family and single-family houses in styles typical of the period, including American Foursquares, Colonial Revivals, and Bungalows. Although the predominant material used in constructing these houses is wood, a number of brick residences were also built, using different colors and types of brick. Although most houses in this section of the South End Historic District are modest in size, there are a few that are larger, and set on bigger lots. Most notable of these are the Colonial Revival house LaCourse built for his own family located at 57 George Street (c.1920), the Craftsman Bungalow at 120 George Street (c.1925), and the brick English Cottage-style house at 94-96 George Street (c.1930).
A number of outbuildings have been preserved in the South End Historic District. Most of these are small frame barns or garages built at the same time or shortly after the associated houses were built. There is also a small carpentry shop complex on the west side of lower George Street, located on interior lots.
The South End Historic District is a well-preserved example of a residential neighborhood established in the second quarter of the nineteenth century with significant additions through 1930. It is typical of the kind of residential neighborhood constructed on the edges of a city center during that period, with large houses of community leaders nearest the city center built in the early years, and later development in the form of single and multi-family houses for working and middle-class occupants. The South End Historic District includes examples of construction techniques and styles popular during this period. The manufacture and sale of clocks was one of Connecticut's earliest, long-sustained, and largest industries. The South End Historic District includes the home built for Chauncey Jerome, one of the pioneers of American clockmaking, the only surviving structure associated with this important figure, as well as residences of a number of other leading citizens of Bristol. Its fine stock of intact early twentieth-century Bungalows, American Foursquares, and Colonial Revival houses is representative of the housing patterns of industrial cities that experienced a rise in population between the two world wars.
The history of the South End Historic District is synonymous with that of modern industrial Bristol. Bristol's fame from the early years of the nineteenth century until the early twentieth century was its position in the world of clock manufacturing and various other associated industries that sprang up along the banks of the Pequabuck River in what was then called "South Village" (now downtown Bristol). The chief of these early clock shops was established by Chauncey Jerome (1793-1868), a former apprentice of clockmaker Eli Terry, who moved from Plymouth to Bristol in 1821. Jerome's influence was to shape Bristol, and leave a lasting impression on the American manufacture of clocks, as well as to extend the marketing of American clocks overseas. By mid-century Jerome's firm produced more than half of the United States' annual production of clocks. Jerome began his working life as a carpenter, and between the ages of 13 and 21 he was apprenticed to Captain Allyn Wells, a house carpenter. After he completed his apprenticeship, he moved to Farmington, where he was hired by Captain Selah Porter to help erect a house for Major Timothy Cowles on Main Street. In 1816 Jerome moved to his hometown of Plymouth, where he worked briefly for Eli Terry. After only a few months, he left Terry's employ to set up his own factory, where he produced clocks until he moved to Bristol. Bristol was during this period a thriving small industrial community, where Gideon Roberts, the Ives family, and Antipas Woodward had previously established clock factories. In 1826 Jerome expanded his operations and in that year petitioned the town to lay out a road east of his factory, and build a bridge over the river. Jerome paid for the bridge, and half the cost of the land for the road, which became Main Street, the commercial heart of Bristol. Around 1824 Jerome formed a partnership with his brother, Noble, and Elijah Darrow. Jerome Darrow made the wooden movement shelf clocks which became so popular that the other firms soon began to manufacture the same style clock. By 1829 Jerome Darrow's factory was the largest in town.
It was natural that Jerome should celebrate his commercial success by commissioning the construction of a splendid Greek Revival residence in 1832, located not far from his factory, at the present intersection of South, Main, and George streets. This monumental residence is in an extremely visible position at the base of the hill at the terminus of Main Street, the thoroughfare which Jerome had caused to be built only a few years earlier. The house Jerome commissioned bears a striking resemblance to the Cowles House in Farmington, which he had helped to build between 1814 and 1816. Jerome hired a local man, Henry Robbins, to take charge of the construction. Little is known about Robbins except he lived in Bristol between 1831 and 1839, and in 1831 his occupation is given as "mechanic."
By the time the panic of 1837 was felt in Bristol, Jerome's firm was the most prolific clock factory in town. Near bankruptcy, Jerome gathered partners and capital in order to manufacture a new 30-hour brass clock for which his brother, Noble, had designed the movement. The new movement was cheap to manufacture, efficient, and rugged, and kept time reasonably well; the design was manufactured with few changes for 75 years. This innovation was the basis of most Connecticut-manufactured mass production movements until the 1930s. The new design was an immediate success; many clockmakers who had until then relied upon wooden movements followed Jerome's example, but not until Jerome himself had made a fortune. Besides being cheap to make and a good value, the new design had the advantage of being able to be shipped over long distances without damage, unlike earlier wooden movements. Jerome is famous in the history of American clockmaking for the scope of his vision, for it was he who introduced American clocks in markets in Europe and as far away as China. Jerome's factory complex in Bristol burned to the ground in 1845, and he decided to move all his operations to a factory he had previously established in New Haven. There he continued to manufacture clocks and supported the construction of yet another Greek Revival structure, the Wooster Square Congregational Church (1855; now St. Michael's Church). Through a series of poor business decisions, the Jerome Manufacturing Company became over-extended and filed for bankruptcy in 1856. Jerome's next move was to Waterbury, where he organized the casemaking department of the new Waterbury Clock Company, and the following year he took a similar job in Ansonia in William L. Gilbert's clock factory. Another business, a partnership with Joseph H. Remer and his nephew in Derby, ended in disaster in late 1858, and Jerome returned once more to New Haven. Bitterly disappointed, Jerome set out to defend his good name by penning his autobiography, which was published in 1860. During the last two years of his life he moved to the vicinity of Chicago where he worked briefly for the United States Clock and Brass Company. Afterwards he returned to New Haven, and died in that city. No single individual did more to provide working-class households with an inexpensive clock.
Other leading Bristol industrialists would follow Jerome's lead, establishing their homes along South Street, opposite the flat land occupied by factories, on the lower slopes of Castle Rock Hill. On the southwest corner of Willis Street Lydia Roberts, widow of Wyllys Roberts, and daughter-in-law of Gideon Roberts, Bristol's first clockmaker, commissioned an Italian Villa-style house c.1850.
The Dunbar family, leading manufacturers of clock springs, and Elijah Darrow, Jerome's partner in the clock business all lived in houses on South Street. Darrow (1800-1857) had been employed in the town's clock industry since his youth. In 1826 he went into business with Chauncey and Noble Jerome and Chauncey Matthews. Darrow's specialty was decorative finishes, and he was responsible for finishing the clocks produced by the firm. The clock tablets, case decoration, and mirrors were designed and manufactured under his supervision.
Edward L. Dunbar (1815-1872), the son of a Bristol clockmaker, established a factory that produced clock springs and clock trimmings in Bristol in the second quarter of the century. He was also in partnership with Wallace Barnes in a firm that fabricated hoop skirts and crinoline steel. Dunbar and Barnes were responsible for the construction of the Bristol town hall in 1858, which for many years was known locally as "Crinoline Hall" because of its sponsors' business associations. Dunbar was also a principal mover in the purchase of the town's first fire engine in 1853 and represented Bristol in the General Assembly during the Civil War. His son, Winthrop Dunbar (1841-1913), a partner in Dunbar Brothers, built a large house in the 1870s on South Street, near his factory. His second son Edward B. Dunbar (1842-1907), worked as a young man in his father's factory in New York City, and returned to Bristol c.1865, where he devoted his energies to installing improved machinery in the Dunbar Brothers' factory and making the transition from supplying clock springs to finding other markets for the factory's output.
In the late 1880s Adrien Taillon was named superintendent of one of Bristol's most ambitious construction projects, the erection of Brightwood Hall, a 157-acre estate which boasted an immense granite replica of a European castle, an octagonal teahouse, a granite cottage, a villa, a greenhouse, a dairy complex, and other outbuildings. Built on West Street, it was begun for Mrs. Helen Welch Atkins McKay (the daughter of one of Bristol's wealthiest citizens, clock manufacturer Elisha N. Welch), and completed for one of the town's leading industrialists, Albert Rockwell, president of New Departure and Bristol Brass (built 1888-1912; demolished 1936). Together the Taillon brothers built a number of more modestly scaled houses in town. A cluster of cottages near the corner of Burlington Avenue and Curtiss Street (131,137,143,149,251 Burlington Avenue), outside the boundaries of the South End Historic District, was built by the partnership. Within the South End Historic District they are known to have built at least four houses on Hull Street, including Odilon Taillon's house at #23, a multi-family house at #29, Zoel Taillon's first house at #35, and Adrien's house at #122. The two brothers may also have built the houses at #59 and #117. The brothers specialized in well detailed Victorian cottages of which Adrien's house is an extremely well-preserved example. Slightly larger than some of the contemporary houses on the street, it is enhanced by stained glass windows and particularly interesting decorative trim on the gables and porch. Taillon occupied the house for 10 years, and then sold it to Zoel Taillon (1859-1928), who ran an express office on Main Street and was distantly related to the brothers.
By the 1910s the neighborhood was no longer the home of the town's leading industrialists; they were building their houses on the opposite side of downtown, mainly on the heights of Federal Hill. Taking their place on the lower slopes of Castle Rock and South Mountain were independent businessmen and factory workers. Nearby improvement like the construction of Memorial Boulevard (1921), a parkway divided by a grassy median running parallel to South Street just north of the district, and construction of the handsome new high school (1922) in the same vicinity made the neighborhood an enticing place to live. Another neighborhood feature was Bristol's first hospital. Although the local medical society had called for a hospital as early as 1909, it took the influenza epidemic of 1918 to spur the project. The Wallace Barnes Company sold the Hospital Association property at the intersection of South and George streets (110 South Street) and in October 1921, work to renovate the building for medical purposes was begun. The temporary home of the hospital housed 22 patients as well as quarters for the nurses when it opened in early December of the same year. After the present hospital complex was completed, the house was converted to use as a multi-family dwelling.
An explosion of residential construction in the South End Historic District occurred in the 1910s and 1920s. The developer of much of the west side of the district was local builder George J. LaCourse (1880-1941). Initially apprenticed as a young man to his father, a builder, LaCourse also worked for the Taillon brothers before going into business for himself in 1900. His firm flourished to such an extent that he became the leading individual taxpayer in town from 1925 until 1940. His first major job was the construction of St. Joseph's Church Rectory in 1921, followed by the congregation's new sanctuary in 1925. Other large commissions were the North Side Bank and Trust Company (1929), the Bristol Saving Bank, and the Bristol Bank and Trust Company (1907), as well as numerous commercial buildings on Main and North Main streets. His industrial buildings included the E. Ingraham Casting Shop and additions to the New Departure plant. He also constructed buildings in Torrington, New Britain, Meriden, Madison, and Middletown. LaCourse is credited with having built 250 residences in town, among them many of those built within the district. He began in 1916 by establishing George and Carlson streets and Murray Road. Murray was the maiden name of his wife, Mary, and Carlson Street (originally Eden Court) was named for Elof Carlson, the occupant of #31, the first house on the street.
Here LaCourse constructed a mixture of single-family and multi-family houses. He built or added onto 30 houses in the district. His carpentry shop, barn, garage, and storage sheds were located behind 31-47 George Street. The builder lived in two different houses in the district. The first of these was a large house on the corner of South and George streets which later became the first Bristol Hospital (110 South Street). LaCourse moved an older house, formerly occupied by the Barnes family, and built his Colonial Revival house on the site. He later built a residence for his family at 57 George Street (1919). LaCourse became the contractor for a dozen multi-family houses on George and Hull streets built for the Bristol Realty Company, an enterprise organized in 1907 by eight Bristol manufacturing companies for the purpose of providing desperately needed tenements for their workforce. He also erected multi-family houses for himself, his brother, Leon (31-33 George Street, 1921), and Zephere Choinere (35-37 George Street; 1919). LaCourse built several single-family houses in the district for clients. Among these were houses for his employee, Albert Barnfield (122-24 George Street, 1917), and Charles E. Dunbar, of Dunbar Brothers, who moved around the corner from South Street in the early 1920s (85 George Street; 1921)
Following LaCourse's lead, others decided to build in the neighborhood. These houses ranged from speculative multifamily houses to substantial houses for prominent businessmen. Neighborhood residents were representative of Bristol's multi-ethnic population, and pursued a variety of occupations. Although many of the large Bristol manufacturing operations employed the residents of the district, the early homeowners also included a meat cutter (Louis Dudek), a cattle dealer (Albert Bernstein), a druggist (Joseph Mastrobuoni), and a carpenter (James Murray). The neighborhood was also the boyhood home of one of Bristol's most decorated soldiers, Brigadier General Edward F. Wozenski (1915-1987), who was brought up at 76-78 Hull Street. One of the most prominent families in the district was that of Carlos V. Mason. Mason (1863-1937), a real estate broker who also owned an insurance business, married Alice, daughter of Winthrop Dunbar, and sister of Charles E. Dunbar. Mason and his son, Carlos H. Mason, both owned distinctive houses on George Street (120 George Street, C.V. Mason House ; 94-96 George Street, C.H. Mason [c. 1930]). The elder Mason's house and grounds were considered so impressive that an entire paragraph in his obituary was devoted to a description. C.V. Mason was active in town and state politics, and was prominent in local fraternal organizations, including the Elks' Lodge. In 1917 he was on the committee which acquired the Jerome-Dunbar House for the Lodge. He was the second owner of the state's first gasoline powered car, and his lasting legacy to Connecticut was drafting laws governing vehicle registration and operators' licenses. Ironically he was killed when his car was hit at a grade crossing.
Another well-known resident of the neighborhood was George Moulthrope (1870-1964) of 102 Hull Street. In his youth Moulthrope worked at the Wallace Barnes Company, and then he trained as a tool and die maker. He apprenticed to Charles Tredwell, regarded as one of the town's most skilled mechanics in the late nineteenth century. In 1888 Moulthrope became one of the first employees of New Departure, the firm which was destined to revolutionize industry in Bristol. At the turn of the century he began a career with Dunbar Brothers, later Associated Spring Company, which would span 28 years. Moulthrope's avocation was photography, and his home town of Bristol and its citizens became his most frequent subject; not only was he hired to record family gatherings, fraternal, school, church groups, and factory outings, as well as major events, but he also documented the natural world. He received prizes for his work, and his photographs were exhibited as far away as London. The images he captured were on steriopticon slides and published in the Bristol Press. Hundreds of his photographs were used in Smith's history of the town, published in 1907. The photographs illustrating many houses on Hull Street may be Moulthrope's work, although his house (#102-104 Hull Street), built to his own design, was not constructed until 1917.
Besides LaCourse, a number of other builders and crafts people lived or worked in the district. In addition to those already mentioned were Delphis Brault, who built his residence at 20 Murray Road, and Dan Peters, who built a multi family house at 25-27 Murray Road. Bernard Fallon, a painter and decorator, lived at 59 Hull Street. Arthur J. Belanger and John Volovski both built speculative houses in the district, although they never lived there. The work of a number of other builders, like Walter J. Murphy (128-130 George Street, 1927), Cosmo Vacca (140 George Street, 1925), C.D. Vetrano and A. Solomon (135 George Street, c.1928), and Elof J. Anderson (22-24 Carlson Street, 1926) is also represented in the district. Some homeowners acted as their own general contractors, even though they were not associated with the building trades as contractors or crafts people.
A handful of Capes and Ranches were built on Hull and George streets and on Murray Road during the post war building boom. A few newer structures have been built in the South End Historic District, most notably the brick bank building on the corner of South and Hull streets, and a group of single-family houses on Porter Court. The Elks' Lodge erected an incompatible brick addition to the Jerome-Dunbar House c.1955, but few other buildings in the district have received unsympathetic additions or been so changed by the removal of porches or application of newer sidings as to be significantly altered. In fact, the massing, plan, and details of most structures have been preserved to a remarkable extent within the South End Historic District boundaries. The historic use of the majority of the surviving buildings has remained unchanged over time. Thus, the South End Historic District continues to reflect residential use patterns established between 1825 and 1930. It is a mixed-use neighborhood, although residences predominate over other building types. Most manufacturing buildings which were interspersed with houses during the early years have disappeared from the district, including Darrow's shops on South Street which later housed a firm manufacturing metal toys, but the LaCourse carpentry shops complex is preserved on George Street.
The names of the original owners of the houses in the South End Historic District illustrate the multi-ethnic nature of the community, which is typical of industrial centers that expanded their output in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was towns like Bristol that attracted first and second generation immigrants to busy factories and the promise of jobs. The simultaneous construction of multi-family houses adjacent to single-family residences dates to the 1910s and this pattern of use continues today.
The South End Historic District is notable for the number of crafts people who chose the neighborhood as their home, beginning in the early nineteenth century with Chauncey Jerome, who had begun his working life as a carpenter, through the occupancy of Odilon and Adrien Taillon, and in the 1910s and 1920s with the construction of homes for George LaCourse and his contemporaries in the building trades, as well as the numerous mechanics like George Moulthrope, who spent their working lives in Bristol's factories. The result of so many crafts people living within the district has resulted in many solidly built houses with interesting details in a number of styles throughout the period of significance for the district.
Bailey, Chris H. "From Rags to Riches: the Story of Chauncey Jerome." Supplement to the Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, no.15 (Spring 1986).
Cheryl Barb interview (May, 1999) with Jeanne Edwards, daughter of George and Mary M. LaCourse.
Cheryl Barb interview (April 2000) with Norman Taillon, grandson of Odilon Taillon.
Barnes Scrapbook, Bristol Public Library.
Bristol Building Permit Records, Bristol Town Hall,
Bristol City Directories.
Bristol Press (Bristol, Conn.)
Bristol Tax Records, Bristol Town Hall.
Clouette, Bruce, and Roth, Matthew. Bristol, Connecticut: a Bicentennial History 1785-1985. Canaan, N.H., 1984.
Griggs, Leverett Discourse at the Funeral of Deacon Elijah Darrow. n.p., 1857. Bristol Public Library.
Hull, George C. "The Housing Problem." Typescript, Bristol Public Library.
Jerome, Chauncey. The History of the American Clock Business. New Haven: F.C. Dayton, Jr., 1860.
Palmer, Brooks. "Elijah Darrow of 'Jeromes and Darrow.'" The Antiques Journal vi (Sept. 1950).
Peck, Epahroditus. A History of Bristol, Connecticut. Hartford: The Lewis Street Bookshop, 1932.
Sanborn Insurance Maps of Bristol, 1884, 1890, 1895, 1900, 1905, 1911, 1916, 1921, 1928.
Smith, Eddy N., Smith, George Benton, Dates, and Dates, Allena J., comps. Bristol Connecticut. Hartford, 1907.
Souvenir History of the Town of Bristol. Meriden: Journal Publishing Company, 1897.
Woodford, E.M. Map of the Town of Bristol, Hartford County, Connecticut Philadelphia, 1852.
† Kate Ohno and Cheryl Barb, Bristol Preservation Trust, South End Historic District, Bristol, CT, nomination document, 2000, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.