The Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District in located in the historic town center of East Hartford, Connecticut, where the town's first settlement occurred beginning c.1640. The district's resources, which date from 1710 to 1939 and lie on Central Avenue and the east side of Main Street, include the town's oldest cemetery (1710) and buildings and structures used for residential, commercial, and civic purposes. Across Main Street to the west are the historic First Congregational Church (1335) and parsonage (1850), and the Garvan-Carroll Historic District of primarily late-19th-century residences; all of these resources are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. With the exception of this district and the National Register properties just mentioned, the town center retains relatively few of its pre-1900 historic resources because of the tremendous growth and change experienced by East Hartford in the 20th century. Many of those that do survive have been greatly altered.
Most of the land in the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District is nearly level and was farmed in the early years of settlement. The single dramatic feature of topography is a ridge running east to west occupying most of the cemetery. The town's Civil War Memorial stands on the ridge near the front of the cemetery at the district's highest point. Beyond the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District to the southeast, the land slopes downward to the wetlands along the Hockanum River, a tributary of the Connecticut River.
The Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District contains 95 resources, of which 77 (81%) contribute to its historical significance. Center Cemetery, which is still in active use, is by far the oldest resource; the gravestones and monuments in the cemetery display a range in materials and artistic expression spanning its almost 300 years of existence. From its main entrance on Main Street through to Elm Street at the rear, the cemetery occupies approximately one-third of the district. The other contributing resources on Main Street and Central Avenue date from approximately 1760 to 1939, and among them are examples of the Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow architectural styles. A number of houses and most outbuildings are plain and functional.
Residential buildings predominate in the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District. Central Avenue was laid out about 1872 for development, and its houses date mostly from 1875 to 1915. Uniting them are their overall similarity in size, scale, and proportion, and their generous uniform setbacks from the street with tall shade trees and abundant plantings. In contrast, the Main Street buildings, typical of the more intensive development of this busy thoroughfare during the 20th century, are primarily institutional and exhibit more variety in features and size.
The Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District resources retain their historic appearances to a considerable degree. The older markers in Center Cemetery have experienced varying degrees of deterioration, those made of sandstone or marble having suffered the most. Vandalism has also wrought damage to stones throughout the cemetery. The Main Street buildings are perhaps the most nearly intact of all the resources, having received additions but few changes to their original components. With the exception of the wood-framed Albert C. Raymond House, these buildings are of load-bearing masonry construction and range from one to four stories. The Church Corner's Inn and the U.S. Post Office conform to the modern commercial street setback along Main Street, unlike the Raymond House and the Raymond Library that have expansive lawns. Town-owned Raymond Park surrounds the library, which is partly hidden from view by a grove of shade trees and several civic monuments, including a World War I Memorial.
Alterations to the homes on Central Avenue generally consist of non-original synthetic sidings and replacement windows, and some later additions that include front porch enclosures. All of the Central Avenue buildings are wood-framed, and most have clapboarded walls and brick, granite, or poured concrete foundations. Two stories is the typical residential building height, although there are a few one-story homes and outbuildings. During the 1960s, three modern brick apartment buildings were built toward the east end of the street.
The approximately 10,000 markers in Center Cemetery are organized in long rectangular sections oriented east/west. The cemetery is physically divided into three sections by their periods of development. In the westernmost third, the oldest part, are stones dating mostly from before 1820 arranged in long north/south rows, with the stones virtually all facing east. Many of the earliest stones have corresponding small footstones. The gravestone materials for the most part are brown or reddish sandstone, granitic schist, and white marble. Prominently placed near the west end of this section is a monument to East Hartford's Civil War dead, a tall brownstone obelisk decorated with laurel wreaths and surmounted by an eagle. Another dominant feature of this part of the cemetery is the Roberts family monument, a massive granite block embellished with decorative detailing and corner columns, and surmounted by an allegorical statue.
The oldest stones are upright tablets, many with segmental or curvilinear tops and a broad range of decorative embellishments surrounding the legends. Plain, undecorated stones may be found throughout the section, among them the monument for Pomp Equality (1759-1824), one of several African-Americans buried here. Stones from the first quarter of the 18th century are among the plainest; by mid-century, symbols such as skulls and winged soul effigies, and vine-like foliation in the lunettes and border panels had become common. The early 19th-century stones, mostly in white marble, are embellished with then-fashionable classical detailing, including urns and willow trees.
This original section of Center Cemetery contains nearly 375 gravestones attributed to known individual carvers. Thomas Johnson II (1718-1774), whose work is associated by scholars with the Connecticut Valley Ornamental style , is credited with the Jane Easton stone (1755) in sandstone, with a winged soul effigy in the lunette and ornamental drapery in the border panels. The often richer, more florid designs of later years of the 18th century is typified by the Lemuel White stone of 1780 attributed to Johnson's son, Thomas III (1750-1789). The granite Jonathan Cole marker (1753) in the Eastern Connecticut Ornamental style displays William Buckland's well-known bulbous-nosed soul effigy and more restrained border decoration. The stones attributed to carver, Ebenezer Drake, (1739-c.1803) are marked by their highly individualistic and stylized designs, such as that for Elisha Stanley (1786). Also present are several table-style monuments, the most elaborate of which is the one for William Pitkin (colonial Governor of Connecticut (1766-1769). The large flat tablet is supported by fluted and paneled columns. In the central third of the cemetery, the markers are primarily of brownstone or granite, and date mostly from the second half of the 19th century. These stones are organized into family lots, each typically having a single large monument, centrally placed, and small segmental-headed stones marking individual graves. Tall brownstone obelisks are common; many of these are embellished with wreaths or drapery. The granite monuments are more varied. The most elaborate are complex in shape and display extensive incised detailing; foliation bearing an artistic tie to the mid-19th-century Eastlake style is common. The balance of the cemetery, near Elm Street, contains mostly 20th-century markers that are smaller in size and less ornamented than those from the 19th century.
The oldest building in the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District is the Benjamin Roberts House of c.1760 at 58 Central Avenue. An 1870 deed suggests that the house was moved here around 1870 from a nearby site closer to Main Street. Although the siding and windows are not original, and the brick foundation dates from the move, the building retains the characteristic central chimney plan and double overhangs that identify its Colonial style.
The Italianate style, with nine examples in the district, is the best represented. Among them, the Albert C. Raymond House, built c.1874 by Raymond as his family residence, is the most imposing. The design combines an Italianate plan (three-bay facade) and Italianate shallow hipped roof with wide overhang supported by console brackets, with a central Federal style pedimented portico featuring a modillioned raking tympanum cornice and paneled square columns. The front entrance is set under a semi-elliptical fanlight, and the windows, which are paired in the facade, have triangular window heads at the first story and projecting horizontal lintels at the second. A one-story ell was added c.1911 upon the building's acquisition by the Masons.
The standard plan among the Italianate houses in the district is a two- or three-bay box with shallow hipped roof and wide overhangs, and a pavilion projecting on the front or a side elevation. The Frances and Martha Roberts House, built c.1877 is singular because of its central projecting two-story entrance pavilion. The front door, which appears original, has two leaves with round-arched windows. A feature common to most of the Italianates is a front porch wrapping around to meet the side wing, in some cases embellished with arched braces and brackets as at the Everett S. Williams House (c.1877). The Graham House is one of several residences with the entrance porch, embellished with chamfered posts and decorative brackets, on the front of the side wing.
The Albert C. Raymond Library (1889), designed by William C. Brocklesby of Hartford as a gift to the town by Mr. Raymond, is the town's sole example of the Romanesque Revival style. A characteristic Romanesque arch frames the main entrance, which is set within a gabled pavilion that projects from the steep hipped main roof. Quarry-dressed brownstone enlivens the masonry construction through its use in the foundation, window sills, and banding between the floors. Two-story wings on the north and east elevations (1956, 1968), carefully designed to match the original features, have altered the building's original symmetrical plan.
The Queen Anne examples, all residential, may be divided into two groups by their plans. The Joseph Hamilton House at 86 Central Avenue (1901), the best preserved and most sophisticated of the Queen Anne buildings, epitomizes those having a central hip-roofed plan with cross gabled projections. Fancy detailing abounds; the wraparound porch displays turned posts with curvilinear braces, a spindle frieze, a sunburst motif in the porch gable over the front steps, and a geometric-design railing.
A variation on this design is the Edmund E. Freeman House, 100 Central Avenue (1903), where the hipped roof extends downward in front, beside a gabled front-projection, to shelter the entrance porch. Several cross-gabled Queen Anne homes, exemplified by the Alfred Recor House (95 Central Avenue, c.1895), display simpler, more blocky plans and a minimum of detailing that anticipate the American Foursquare style; the Recor House also features a classically detailed wraparound porch.
The other popular Queen Anne design is the "L" plan with cross-gabled roof. The Burney House (90 Central Avenue, c.1890) and the adjoining Elizabeth Callinan House (96 Central Avenue, c.1890), the most elaborate of these, are distinguished by pyramidal-roofed towers. The Callinan House porch presents another intact example of intricate woodworking.
The Norman Foster House at 15-17 Central Avenue (c.1900) is the most nearly intact and sophisticated among the four two-family residences that combine the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Typical of these gable-front houses, the building displays clapboard siding with wood shingles in the gables and a two-tier front porch. Large wall dormers distinguish the side elevations. Embellishing the front gable is a Palladian-inspired tripartite window with a curvilinear casing and Queen Anne style diamond glazing.
The U.S. Post Office (1939) is the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District's most ambitions Colonial Revival building. The symmetrical design with shallow hipped roof and wide granite pilasters defining the front entrance composition features a diamond-lighted octagonal cupola inspired by Mount Vernon. The relatively few Colonial Revival houses are modest compared to their Italianate and Queen Anne counterparts.
The largest building in the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District is 860-868 Main Street (c.1913), which faces the First Congregational Church. Built as a multi-unit apartment building and known for most of its history as "Church Corner's Inn," its first story was converted to commercial use in the 1930s, and the building acquired a two-story portico in recent years. Symmetrical in plan with four floors, the Renaissance Revival plan features rusticated arched entrance surrounds and rusticated pilasters supporting a classical denticulated cornice with console brackets.
Several of the houses are vernacular construction from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of these display two- or three-bay gable-front plans and a minimum of ornamental detail. The L-plan Anderson House (19-21 Central Avenue, c.1890) typifies these designs. Like many in the district, this building has received a classically inspired porch. The one-story Joseph Morris House at 135 Central Avenue (c.1912), in contrast, has a side-gable plan and well-executed Victorian window casings and entry canopy.
Historically, the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District is a cohesive group of buildings, structures, and sites, mostly from the 19th and early-20th centuries, that document the development of the oldest part of East Hartford from the time of first European settlement until the mid-20th century. The district includes several of the town's most historically important institutions, among them Center Cemetery, the town's oldest burying ground, and the Raymond Library. The area is also significant architecturally because it is a concentration of resources of both local and statewide distinction that has retained a high degree of integrity. The Center Cemetery is an assemblage of excellent examples of 18th- and 19th-century New England funeral art created by recognized masters of gravestone carving. Among the markers is the table monument for William Pitkin, Governor of Connecticut (1768-69), a member of the colony's powerful Pitkin family and individually one of the period's most important civic leaders. The buildings include fine examples of the Italianate, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, and Colonial Revival styles.
Cemeteries typically are ineligible for listing in the National Register. However, in the case of East Hartford's Center Cemetery eligible criteria applies. The site is an integral part of this historic district, its stones have high artistic merit, and the cemetery is an early town institution. The monument to Governor William Pitkin, furthermore, is the sole object directly associated with the life of this outstanding figure in Connecticut history.
East Hartford possessed a number of natural advantages that encouraged English settlement soon after the arrival in Hartford of Thomas Hooker and his party in 1636. The soil in the Connecticut River floodplain was highly fertile and rock-free, ideally suited for cultivation, and the riverside meadows were natural pastures. The Hockanum River could easily be harnessed for waterpower, meeting the milling needs of the new community.
Located on the first terrace of high ground east of the meadows, the area containing the historic district was safe from the Connecticut River's periodic flooding, and from the community's inception was the center of town life. Present-day Main Street was laid out in 1670 as "King's Highway"; opposite the Church Corner's Inn is the historic route to the river crossing linking East Hartford and Hartford, a trip made by ferry until the construction of a bridge in 1808.
In 1694, Connecticut's General Assembly established the autonomous Third Ecclesiastical Society of Hartford for the town's inhabitants east of the Connecticut River. This recognition of East Hartford's growth was followed by the creation of other civic institutions; in January, 1710, for example, the Town of Hartford acquired one acre of land for a public burying ground. This original part of Center Cemetery was gradually enlarged over time. The cemetery remains in active use and contains the graves of a large cross section of East Hartford residents, including the graves of several African-Americans.
Cultivation of the rich soil was the community's primary economic activity for over 200 years. From early days onward, furthermore, the Hockanum River stimulated water powered industries. East Hartford's first mill, for sawing lumber, was built c.1645 by John Crow. Other mills nearby were created; by the late 1770s, the four dams on the river at "Pitkin Falls" supplied waterpower for a fulling mill, powder mill, foundry for mills screws and other castings, and forges for producing nails and iron bars. The community prospered, and fine residences rose on Main Street in the district and elsewhere, including those of Benjamin Roberts (c.1760, 58 Central Avenue) and the ecclesiastical society's minister, the Reverend Eliphalet Williams (1727-1803).
Among East Hartford residents during the 18th century, the Pitkin family achieved unequaled stature. Through their commercial success as owners of Hockanum River mills and their active roles in civic affairs, the Pitkins became one of Connecticut's most influential families. From the time of earliest settlement, Pitkins occupied positions of responsibility in virtually all aspects of colonial life. The ascendancy of this family was crowned by the career of William Pitkin III (c.1692-1769), whose impressive table monument stands in Center Cemetery. Pitkin served successively as Speaker of the House in the General Assembly (1728-1734), Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court and Deputy Governor (1754-1766), and then Governor of the Colony of Connecticut until his death in 1769.
By 1774, 2,000 of Hartford's 5,000 residents lived east of the Connecticut River. Beginning in 1726, the people in East Hartford had begun seeking separation from Hartford, claiming the hardship of travel to public functions occasioned by the Connecticut River. The General Assembly finally yielded over the opposition of Hartford in 1783, incorporating East Hartford.
During the eighteenth century and most of the nineteenth, East Hartford experienced gradual development. Manufacturing remained centered along the Hockanum River, where the number and diversity of mills grew. The railroad came to East Hartford in 1849, facilitating shipment of goods. Agricultural production also changed with the advent of tobacco farming, which claimed an increasing share of the town's arable land. East Hartford's population grew slowly, allowing Main Street to retain a semi-rural character with its well-known rows of Dutch elm trees and 18th-and 19th-century homes.
Development accelerated in the half century after the Civil War. Improvements in transportation increased traffic through East Hartford, which lay on the route connecting Hartford and Boston, and made the town a logical place for growth as Hartford expanded outward. Stimulating development were the extensive expansion of town railroad facilities in the 1880s, elimination of tolls on the Hartford Bridge in 1889, and the commencement of trolley service to downtown Hartford in 1892. During the 1880s and 1890s, the town's housing stock doubled, commerce increased 400%, and the population grew 50%.
Edward W. Hayden (1840-1878) was one of the first of several speculators who anticipated this post-Civil War growth and subdivided farms along Main Street for residential use. Hayden gained local fame for his service in the Civil War, bought the Roberts farm, and in 1872-73 created 46 lots of uniform size along a new street named Central Avenue. The neighborhood grew in typical fashion; some lots were built on immediately, while others passed through the hands of several owners/investors prior to construction. Over a 30-year period, the street was fully developed with both single- and multi-family homes. The occupants were employed in a variety of trades, and some commuted to Hartford. Without the constraints of zoning, some residents operated home businesses, including a butcher's shop and grocery store.
Albert C. Raymond (1819-18801, a wealthy farmer, bought the property on Main Street on both side of Central Avenue in 1874 from Edward Hayden. Shortly thereafter, Raymond built his own family residence on the south side of the intersection; in 1879 he donated the land across Central Avenue to the town for a public park, the town's first, and a public library. Upon his death one year later, Raymond donated $17,000 for the library's construction.
The present character of the balance of Main Street in the historic district reflects the continuing rapid growth of East Hartford during the first half of the 20th century. Old single-family residences gradually yielded to more intensive uses, and Main Street's small-town residential ambiance was incrementally destroyed. The Orient Lodge of the Masons acquired the Raymond House in 1911 and converted it into their meeting rooms. In c.1913, "The Brewer," a four-story multi-unit apartment building, was erected opposite the First Congregational Church. The building's scale was a marked departure in the town center's visual appearance. Plagued by Dutch elm disease and perceived as a barrier to progress, the last elm trees of the once-venerated rows lining the street were removed in the 1920s. Two more homes were demolished for the erection in 1939 of the U.S. Post Office building, the present successor to the original East Hartford post office established in 1806. A few residences survived until the 1960s through conversion to commercial use; in 1992, Main Street is lined primarily with one- and two-story vernacular brick office and retail buildings that have been built since World War II.
Artistic and Architectural Significance
The contributing resources in the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District have retained, to a great extent, their historical and architectural integrity. Despite vandalism and expected deterioration, the cemetery markers, including those from the early 18th century, remain largely intact. The houses on Central Avenue and buildings on Main Street, dating primarily from c.1870-1939, likewise retain most of their original style-defining features. The district's physical integrity and diverse collection of resources and institutions make it a unique link to East Hartford's past.
Center Cemetery is a noteworthy expression of the art of gravestone carving as it has evolved in New England over nearly three centuries. It possesses grave markers of diverse sizes, materials, and stylistic elaborations, including 18th-century brownstone tablets with winged soul effigies, 19th-century brownstone obelisks, and 19th-century faceted granite blocks incised with delicate Eastlake-inspired detailing.
Eighteenth century New England grave markers, in particular, are valued as notable expressions of American folk art; those in Center Cemetery are fine examples of the time, illustrating contemporary stylistic trends and the works of many skilled stonecutters. Two major traditions dominated 18th-century carving in Connecticut, the Eastern Connecticut Ornamental style and the Connecticut Valley style, the former executed mostly in granite/schist, the latter in sandstone. Center Cemetery, containing works in both styles, has been described as "one of the most striking examples of the mixing of Connecticut Valley sandstones with the eastern granites". The stonecutters represented in the cemetery, including brothers William and Peter Buckland, Thomas Johnson and his family, Gershom Bartlett, Aaron Haskins, and Ebenezer Drake, are recognized as masters of the genre for their high technical skill and creativity. The Johnson family of carvers "set the standards for stone art throughout most of Connecticut", while Center Cemetery contains some of the finest examples of the Bucklands' work.
The buildings themselves are fine examples of several different architectural styles, displaying a range in sophistication and use appropriate to their various functions and aspirations. The Albert C. Raymond House is an imposing and unusual combination of the Italianate and Federal styles, unique in East Hartford, satisfying the pretensions of its builder Albert Raymond, a self-made East Hartford resident of some prominence. William C. Brocklesby, recognized along with George Keller as "Hartford's best trained...and most professional architects" of the late 19th century, utilized the Romanesque Revival style for the Raymond Library in a design of solidity and restraint that both expressed the fashion of the time and dignified its civic purpose.
The buildings on Central Avenue, of which the Joseph Hamilton House is the finest architecturally, comprise East Hartford's most extensive residential neighborhood from the second half of the 19th century. Built over a span of 40 years and embellished with elaborate porch and roofline detailing, the homes typify the interpretation of the Italianate and Queen Anne styles, the most popular of the day in East Hartford, in moderate-sized housing. Also present on the street are a number of houses and outbuildings whose simplicity in plan and design illustrates the period's vernacular building traditions.
The resources in the Central Avenue-Center Cemetery Historic District are also significant because they document the evolution of part of the town center over the course of three centuries. Center Cemetery contains the oldest physical artifacts related to early settlement and life in East Hartford. Most of the first 17th- and 18th-century residents are buried here, among them the Reverends Samuel Woodbridge (1684?-1746) and Eliphalet Williams (1727-1803), the town's first two resident ministers; Daniel Bidwell (1656?-1719), the first constable; and Sergeant William Williams (1652-1743), one of the committee appointed after the 1704 massacre in Deerfield, Massachusetts, to fortify four houses in town against attacks by Native Americans.
During the mid-19th century, Main Street in East Hartford, well established as the town center, was an assemblage of small businesses, homes, and civic institutions. Very few of these survive, a notable exception being the c.1874 Albert C. Raymond House. Late-19th-century improvements in transportation helped spur both commercial and residential expansion; the Central Avenue neighborhood, which was developed beginning in the 1870s, is one of the town's first and most nearly intact expressions of the phenomenon of speculative residential subdivisions known as "streetcar suburbs." Its development for the expanding middle and working classes presaged other similar neighborhoods such as the Garvan-Carroll Historic District, Wells Avenue, and Olmsted Street.
The Raymond Library is one of few extant of a number of public buildings erected during the town's expansion in the 1880s and 1890s. Adding distinction is the fact that the building and grounds are the town's first significant instance of private philanthropy for a public purpose. The c.1913 construction of the Church Corner's Inn, one of the largest buildings on Main Street, foreshadowed the almost complete commercial and visual transformation of Main Street in this century. The decade of the 1930s, the height of the Depression, was a time of retrenchment; except for the U.S. Post Office (1939) and new Town Hall, little construction occurred on Main Street or throughout the town. The presence of the post office is a further sign of Main Street's continuing role as the location of the town's most important civic institutions.
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Slater, James A. The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them. Hamden: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1987.
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‡ Gregory E. Andrews, Town of East Hartford and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Central Avenue - Center Cemetery Historic District, East Hartford, CT, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Central Avenue • Elm Street • Main Street • Route 5