Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District
The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District is located in the southwest corner of the Town of East Hartford. Generally situated between South Main and Porter streets on the east and the Connecticut River to the west, the district lies just over the border with the Town of Glastonbury. To the southwest is Keeney Cove, which joins the Connecticut River in Glastonbury. Broad Street enters the district from the east, Naubuc Avenue from the south, and they intersect at the district's north end.
The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District generally encompasses the local Naubuc Avenue Historic District, established in 1985, as well as the recently proposed extension of this district to the east along Broad Street. The boundaries of the National Register district differ slightly from those in place or under consideration by excluding modern houses at the perimeter.
The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District includes 120 resources (62 houses, one factory, and 57 associated outbuildings), of which 87 (73 percent) are contributing. Eighty-two percent of the principal buildings were constructed between c.1780 and 1941 and make a contribution to the district. Their distribution over time shows the progression of development. From four houses built up through 1800 (8 percent) 18 (35 percent) more were constructed in the nineteenth century, and 29 (57 percent) added in the twentieth century. All the non-contributing modern residential infill was added to the district after 1950.
Several district houses have been moved. Two were moved into the district: a 1941 Cape-style house (166 Naubuc Avenue) in 1947, and a vernacular Foursquare, built in 1927 and moved in 1949 (136 Naubuc Avenue, Mary Elizabeth Sweeney House). The c.1785 Kilbourne-Clarke House at the north end of the district (107 Naubuc Avenue) was moved from its original site at 149 Naubuc Avenue to make room for a new house there in 1907 (George Hollister House).
A generally uniform setback is maintained in the Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District, regardless of period. With the exception of one house of brick, district buildings are all wood-frame construction. Historic foundation materials were rubblestone up through the mid-nineteenth century, then brick until the 1920s, when concrete was introduced. For a brief period during the Civil War era, large granite slabs were used for foundations of four houses.
The oldest house in the Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District was built by Captain John Kentfield at 119 Naubuc Avenue even before this road was laid out in 1784. An exceptionally deep Colonial with a gable overhang, it faces south. The 6-over-6 sash windows, as well as the door surround with operable sidelights, were probably added in the early 1800s. Its associated barn dates from about 1900. Two similar Colonials face each other at the west end of Broad Street: the Eliphalet Roberts House (86 Broad Street) and a second house built by Kentfield (93 Broad Street). Both have pedimented end gables, a probable modification of the overhang in the Greek Revival period. The recently restored Roberts House has a simple doorway with a slight flare to its lintel, but the entrance of the Kentfield House has sidelights and may be a Greek Revival alteration. Another late eighteenth-century house at this intersection has retained the Colonial form of its main block, but additions and remodeling have created an early twentieth-century appearance (107 Naubuc Avenue, Kilbourne-Clarke House).
The 1797 Captain Jehiel Risley House farther south at 237 Naubuc Avenue was built of brick with integral end chimneys. Its unbalanced five-bay facade has a recessed doorway well to the left of center. Variations in the bond pattern and the type of brick indicate that it evolved from a one-story gambrel-roofed structure. Softer brick on the first-story is laid in a variant of American bond, with header courses at random intervals. The walls above the first-floor windows, which are capped with flared soldier courses, are laid with different brick and a wider spacing between the header courses. The original roof pattern is defined by the pattern of dissimilar brick on the end elevations.
Even though there is a wide range of size, gabled facades were the common denominator of the district's nineteenth-century vernacular architecture. There was a decided preference for two-bay facades with the entrance on a side elevation, both for small cottages and full-size farmhouses. Although they were built at different times, the c.1852 Henry Hills House (135 Naubuc Avenue) and the c.1825 Hiram Fox House (204 Naubuc Avenue) have features in common. Both cottages have two-bay facades with exceptionally large tripartite gable windows at the second floor, which in the Fox House is capped by a shallow pediment. Like many houses in the district the Fox House also displays later Victorian detailing, which, in addition to the trim boards at the eaves, includes a doorhood supported by carved brackets on the south side elevation.
A two-bay main block was also the basis for much of the vernacular Greek Revival style. Even with this plan, the c.1850 Henry Fox House at 193 Naubuc Avenue still has the broad form and roof pitch of the more typical Greek Revival farmhouse. More detailed than most examples of this style in the district, it has applied molding on the pilasters and frieze that are said to be original. The same detailing is found on the frieze of the side porch, which is supported by round columns. However, it is probable that the present square-edge material is a replacement. The original molding may have resembled the type found on the larger Captain Leonard Fox House of this style (219 Naubuc Avenue). In both houses the expected pediment window is omitted. Although it may be concealed in the latter example by vertical artificial siding, there is no tympanum fenestration in other vernacular expressions of this style in the district. Such is the case in the houses built for Franklin Hollister (282 Naubuc Avenue) and John Warren (146 Naubuc Avenue), which have taller two-bay main blocks. It is possible that the existing side entrance porch on the Hollister House, with its elaborate wood brackets and pendant drops, is original construction.
Although both have been altered to some degree, the three-bay farmhouses built for George Persons at 47 Broad Street and Ralph Risley at the foot of Naubuc Avenue (266 Naubuc Avenue). The bold features of the Persons House, panelled pilasters at the corners and doorway, a flat roofed portico supported by heavy fluted columns, and a pediment with a rectangular gable window, fully express the Greek Revival style. The delicate arched spandrels with drops that appear on the porch of the wing are clearly a later feature. Alterations to the Risley House include the unusual imbrication of the main pediment. Rounded shingles also are found on the small entry pediment of its typical later Victorian front porch.
The function or style of three other buildings constructed in the antebellum period are unique to the Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District. The c.1855 factory erected by Dudley Fox at 171-173 Naubuc Avenue, now a dwelling, has a residential scale and form. The only indication of its original industrial purpose is the wide main doorway. The two-story stepped back wing on the left is a later addition. On the same property, in 1853, Fox erected a small vernacular house with an overhanging flat roof, which is essentially a villa in miniature (177 Naubuc Avenue). Like others owned by this family, it too has a narrow two-bay facade and one of its two south side entrances inside the Colonial Revival porch is accommodated in an angular projection on the left elevation. To the rear of the house is a well-preserved tobacco barn, the last of many that once stood in the district. The house next door, built the previous year for the Reverend Benjamin C. Phelps, is an Octagon, a type designed and promoted by Orson Squire Fowler at mid-century (159 Naubuc Avenue). Although it generally follows Fowler's design principals, instead of the usual masonry, it utilized plank-wall construction. Another departure is the placement of the entrance on the south side, away from the road, instead of the middle of the facade.
More houses were built or remodeled in the district through the turn of the twentieth century, mainly in the Queen Anne style. As interpreted by local builders, the basis for the style is an intersecting gable plan, as found in two houses constructed in the 1890s. The cross-gabled main block of the Risley-Fox House is detailed with imbricated shingles and an open facade porch (259 Naubuc Avenue). It is attached to an earlier house, which was moved back on the site and is now the rear ell. A simpler version built for August Noch across the street about 1903 also has retained its original porch, which is highlighted with sawn brackets and a spindle course (220 Naubuc Avenue). A more decorative porch was added to the much remodeled John Porter II House at 32 Broad Street. Built about 1820, it displays the same pedimented gables from the Greek Revival period found on other early houses in the district. The later porch is elaborated with a continuous band of rosettes in the open-work spandrels between the turned posts, a Gothic Revival motif repeated on the pedimented entry to the porch and the gable roof over the bay window on the east elevation. Horizontal bands of open work form the balustrade. More applied and open-work detailing is found under the roof at the ends of the porch and bay window.
The suburban styles of the early twentieth century, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and Bungalow, proliferated in the Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District. Most of these houses were built in the 1920s on small lots, especially on Broad Street, and many have original garages. Because of the then common perception that automobiles were a fire hazard, these garages are placed to one side at the rear of the lots. Some of the Colonial Revivals took their design cues from the George Hollister House, a gambrel-roofed example at 149 Naubuc Avenue built in 1907 and reputedly designed by an architect (unknown). A large gambrel dormer, flanked by smaller shed dormers, dominates the lower slope of the facade roof, which flares out over an open porch. Sometimes called Dutch Colonial Revival, this form was used for another house built by carpenter Emil Schultz in 1912 at 140 Naubuc Avenue, although there the porch has been enclosed. A similar gambrel roof form (sans porch) is found on houses at 60 and 69 Broad Street, which have full shed dormers on the front slope (John Kelley House and Robert Jones House). On the Curtin House, which has a docked gable roof, the deep soffit extends along the side elevations under a pent roof (46 Broad Street). Its cove-ceiling entry porch or portico has been enclosed, but that type of entrance was one of the most popular in the district.
Porticos and pedimented doorway surrounds appear on two-story Colonial Revivals, where sometimes the division between floors is accentuated with a facade overhang, a feature of a later house built by Schultz at 81 Broad Street (Emil and Gertrude Schultz House). Another two-story type, which has a side-hall plan and pedimented portico, was built for Arthur Jacobs across the street (76 Broad Street).
The two Tudor Revivals in the district, both on Broad Street, have the characteristic steeply gabled facade, which is so typical of this style in a suburban setting (70 Broad Street, Otto R. Kamm House; 75 Broad Street, I.P. Fenner House). The one built for I.P. Fenner in 1928 has retained its stuccoed facade with a half-timbered main gable and displays brick detailing around its gable-roofed round-arched entrance.
A series of similar Bungalows were built on Broad Street, especially at the eastern end, and a much earlier house there was remodeled to resemble its neighbors (65 Broad Street, George Persons Cottage). In some of these Bungalows, the characteristic porch is sheltered by an integral roof; in others, a break in the roofline, with a shallower pitch over the porch, may indicate an addition. All but two porches have been enclosed (9 and 35 Broad Street). However, some that are now glassed in as sun porches may be original construction or near-contemporary additions. In one such example, earlier porch windows are now retrofitted with modern casements, but shallow fanlights in the transoms over the windows and porch entrance appear to date from the 1920s (17 Broad Street).
The last historic houses added to the streetscape just prior to World War II were an early precursor of the Ranch style and two vernacular cottages with a Cape form (89 Broad Street, 166 Naubuc Avenue and 172 Naubuc Avenue). Even though much of the surrounding farmland became a suburban subdivision shortly after the war, most modern construction in the Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District took place after 1960, when several versions of the Ranch style were built on remaining vacant lots.
The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District encompasses a generally well-preserved village that embodies the agrarian and maritime history of much of East Hartford. It derives particular importance from its nineteenth-century association with tobacco cultivation and the regional silver industry, and its later development as an early suburban residential community. The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District is architecturally significant for its large collection of well-preserved vernacular domestic architecture, in which the distinctive imprint of local country builders is found on many types and styles from the early National period through the late nineteenth century. It also contains a number of generally well-preserved early twentieth-century houses.
Historical Background and Significance
East Hartford was settled in the seventeenth century by proprietor families of Hartford. Although present-day Broad Street was on the route of the old country road laid out in the early 1700s to connect the river towns on the east side of the Connecticut River, settlement in the district was delayed until after the Revolution. At that time Naubuc Avenue was laid out to Pratt's ferry on the Connecticut River and provided access to nearby Keeney Cove. A small shipbuilding and shipping port developed at this natural river harbor, which was shared with people from Glastonbury. Among the first settlers in the district were river captains John Kentfield (93 Broad Street and 119 Naubuc Avenue) and Jehiel Risley (237 Naubuc Avenue).
While not a true village in the institutional meaning of the term, nevertheless, the agrarian community that evolved in the district was bonded by social and economic ties. Blessed with the fertile level farmland of the first river terrace and direct access to the Connecticut River, families, such as Risley, Fox, and Hollister, farmed here for generations. In the early years, field tobacco was a secondary cash crop for many farmers and some of them were engaged in the river trade. Surplus farm products and some early manufactured goods, such as shoes, were shipped to coastal ports. Captain Leonard Fox maintained a fleet of freight boats that operated out of Keeney Cove (219 Naubuc Avenue). Among others identified with the maritime trade were Henry Hills, a farmer and sailor, who owned an unusual cottage at 135 Naubuc Avenue where he lived until his death in 1882, and John Warren (146 Naubuc Avenue). By the 1840s some of these mariners were shipping broad leaf tobacco, which became the major crop for the region, or bringing stable manure, the traditional fertilizer for this crop, upriver from as far away as New York City.
Broad leaf had been introduced in Connecticut in Windsor in 1833. Although labor-intensive, often involving whole families, with its high yield per acre this type of tobacco was profitable and generally reserved for fine cigars. The relative wealth generated by its production is reflected in the new, more stylish houses erected in the district at mid-century, many in the Greek Revival mode. Some were even designed with high cellars lighted by oversized foundation windows, so tobacco leaf could be sorted and graded there (146 and 159 Naubuc Avenue), and typical Connecticut tobacco barns, with their ventilating board louvers, were located behind the houses (171-173 Naubuc Avenue).
A further boost to the local economy was provided by Dudley Fox, who built a steam-powered factory to manufacture silver-plated hollow ware at 171-173 Naubuc Avenue. His business, later run by his son, Martin, as well as the succeeding tinware company there operated by Francis Smith, provided jobs for people in the district for at least the rest of the century. Among those in the district who may have worked at the factory were silversmith Charles Ashley, the mid-century owner of the John Porter II House (32 Broad Street), and George Curtis, who lived in the Octagon in the 1860s (159 Naubuc Avenue). Curtis was a member of the family that established a thriving silver business in Curtisville, an industrial village just over the line in Glastonbury.
The continued prosperity of tobacco farming is illustrated by the new houses built or remodeled in the district in the late Victorian period. In the 1890s Queen Annes were built for Ralph Risley's son Elmer (252 Naubuc Avenue), and for Edmund Fox on former Risley property; the latter also had a sorting room in the cellar (259 Naubuc Avenue). George Hollister, another farmer, had an architect design his 1907 house, the first Colonial Revival in the district (149 Naubuc Avenue). A number of older houses were dressed up in the Victorian manner and probably repainted in period color schemes. According to the local newspaper, even Leonard Fox's Greek Revival was enlivened with lavender trim (219 Naubuc Avenue). At the time his barn (no longer extant) and one still standing across the street were painted red.
Some of the first German immigrants in East Hartford made their homes in the district starting in the late nineteenth century; many of their descendants still live there. A number were skilled workers, like Ferdinand Noch, a silver polisher who may have worked at Fox's factory. His first residence has not been identified, but he and his son, August, a parts inspector for a typewriter company, built a cross-gabled Queen Anne here in 1903 (220 Naubuc Avenue). His daughter, Helena, and her husband, Herman Schroeter, lived there after their marriage and later built a new house nearby (212 Naubuc Avenue). Although Schroeter was a cutler and his wife a silver packer, it is likely that they were employed outside the district, probably in Curtisville, since by then the local company was out of business. In 1926 the Schroeters moved to 282 Naubuc Avenue and the property is still owned by the family.
Another German-born resident who had a decided impact on the neighborhood was Emil Shultz. A carpenter by trade, Schultz was probably responsible for many twentieth-century suburban houses in the district, although only two have been directly attributed to him. He built his own house (140 Naubuc Avenue) about 1912 on land owned by Harriet Wadsworth (93 Broad Street) and soon married her granddaughter, Gertrude. By the 1920s the rest of the Wadsworth property was subdivided and Schultz built another house on speculation there shortly before his death by drowning in 1932 (81 Broad Street).
The rest of the land on both sides of Broad Street also was subdivided for residential use. On the north side a subdivision of small, nearly identical building lots was set up by William Dunham in 1925 and was restricted to homes that cost at least $5,000. Contractors and builders quickly bought up the lots, built new houses and sold them off to new owners. Many who lived there were true suburbanites who commuted to work. Although streetcar suburbs were common in East Hartford at this time, it is probable that many here commuted by automobile, given the number of garages built with the houses. Suburbanization was less intense on Naubuc Avenue, but houses were built there on individual lots carved out of larger parcels right up to World War II.
Suburbanization of the district signaled that tobacco farming was on the wane. Overproduction had created large stockpiles, which led to falling prices after World War I. In addition, with the trend to large mechanized plantations, smaller growers were either absorbed by major tobacco companies or turned to new crops, such as potatoes. Because of New Deal government subsidies, tobacco land still not developed in the district lay fallow during the Depression. After World War II, although some tobacco was still grown here, large subdivisions were created out of surrounding farmland to meet the demand for new housing.
The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District presents a rare opportunity to analyze and evaluate a significant body of indigenous vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture is found throughout the state, especially in the more rural areas. The extent and richness of its contribution to historical architectural development in Connecticut has only become evident in the past 30 years. While there was some region-specific variation in size or form, as a rule, early Colonial architecture was fairly standardized in Connecticut. The vernacular period really began when the styles of the later eighteenth and nineteenth century were interpreted by carpenter/builders, producing variations that were peculiar to a region or town. Even in the late eighteenth century, when carpenters' handbooks were readily available, pure style was rarely found in rural communities. Features like doorways were often translated into the vernacular by the hand and eye of local builders. In the nineteenth century, domestic style was more standardized, especially in the Greek Revival period. While in some places this style was simply an elaboration of the two-story Colonial form, most carpenters understood the design principals of the Greek Revival and similar temple-fronted farmhouses were turned out in great numbers all over the state. Indeed, master builders, not architects, produced most of the Greek Revival churches that proliferated in this period, which generally have classically correct orders and proportions.
The Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District's architecture runs counter to these general trends in several basic ways. In the first place, in view of its location, the number of vernacular houses in the district is surprising. The community here was part of a bustling river town and right across the river from a major city, hardly an insular culture. Its residents had ample opportunity to observe the architecture of the outside world, especially those engaged in the maritime trade, a field often associated with more formal high-style architecture. Secondly, although there was some vernacular variation in the late 1700s, it was precisely in the Greek Revival period that the more idiosyncratic houses were constructed. Furthermore, the district's vernacular architecture went well beyond stylistic interpretation and involved plan and form.
In most of the Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District's nineteenth-century houses, the gable end faces the street, a conventional orientation for residential neighborhoods in this period, but here, in an extraordinary number, the main doorway faces away from the road. The pronounced preference for two-bay facades in the district up through the antebellum period accounts for some of this custom, but not for the fact that all of them have a southern entrance, often sheltered by a porch. As late as 1860, after more standard three-bay Greek Revivals were built in the neighborhood with side-hall front doors, the same plan was still in use (65 Broad Street, George Persons Cottage; 219 Naubuc Avenue, Captain Leonard Fox House). Both the Greek Revival farmhouses built for John Warren ( 146 Naubuc Avenue) and Franklin Hollister (282 Naubuc Avenue) have narrow two-bay facades and the main entrance on the south side. Even for the houses that were wide enough to accommodate a facade entry, such as the Henry Fox House, the doorway is on the south (193 Naubuc Avenue). This location was also used in the vernacular Octagon built for the Reverend Benjamin C. Phelps (159 Naubuc Avenue). Of course, in that house, the side-entry placement indicates a complete rotation of the interior plan.
Because so few people built in the Octagon mode, it is remarkable to find an example in the district. But those who did build inevitably followed the design and masonry construction methods advocated by Orson Squire Fowler. Here again, a local builder put his imprint on the style, one that is not readily apparent. Intending to have the wood-framed building look like the masonry model, he planned to use stucco veneer and adapted post-and-beam construction to the octagon by using horizontal planking for sheathing. This method may have achieved structural rigidity, but it did not work well with stucco. It is known that several attempts to stucco the walls failed and the house was sheathed in clapboards, now hidden under artificial siding.
There were other departures from traditional building practice in the district as early as the late eighteenth century. The two Colonials built for Captain John Kentfield (93 Broad Street and 119 Naubuc Avenue) had unusually deep floor plans, as do others in East Hartford. Instead of the more common three-to-four ratio of width to length, these houses are almost square in plan. The end pediments found on several of this period are also a common feature outside the district. While it is possible that they were integral Federal style features, or what is more likely, alterations in the Greek Revival period, these pediments were not part of a general stylistic remodeling. Another example is the Jehiel Risley House (237 Naubuc Avenue). Even though it is known that it evolved in stages, its final evolution is not at all typical. Brick houses of this period, especially in Connecticut River towns, generally have formally balanced facades.
Two well-preserved nineteenth-century cottages in the district built for Henry Hills and Ralph Risley are extraordinary expressions of vernacular style. The pilasters, pronounced cornice returns, and small windows in the eaves of the side elevations of the 1852 Henry Hills House are all typical Greek Revival style indicators (135 Naubuc Avenue). However, its facade, dominated by the exceptionally large tripartite window at the attic story, is decidedly unconventional. Since such windows are not normally found in cottages and certainly would be quite rare in a gable location, it is tempting to think that this one was a later modification, perhaps even as late as the modern period. However, at least one other Greek Revival cottage was built exactly the same way in another part of town, probably by the same carpenter builder. Since the Risley cottage in the district was built much earlier, it is likely that its similar classical window, embellished by a shallow pediment, was an alteration. The final notable example of radical stylistic interpretation in the district is the Dudley Fox House, which defies categorization (177 Naubuc Avenue). Enough of the villa influence is present to assume that Fox wanted a house of the latest style. However, one wonders if this curious house started out as a Greek Revival and achieved its present form by replacing the gabled roof with a flat one.
The vernacular also found expression through various kinds of embellishment, which adds considerable architectural character and interest to the district. The earliest examples were the applied moldings on the two Greek Revival houses built by the Fox family at mid-century (204 and 219 Naubuc Avenue). The practice became more extensive later in the century, when the more elaborate Victorian trim was common. By that time most builders simply made good use of standardized turned millwork, products of the Industrial Revolution. The posts and brackets of the well-preserved August Noch House display some of these stock items (220 Naubuc Avenue). On other houses in the district, however, vernacular detailing was hand-fashioned by one or more local carpenters; similar decorative work is displayed on other houses in town. The open-work patterns, mostly fashioned with a band saw, are highly creative. Some examples of this enrichment are the ball and drop pattern of the barge and fascia boards of the Risley cottage (already mentioned) and the porch of the Elmer Risley House (252 Naubuc Avenue). There, the carpenter incorporated machine-made wooden balls in the wave pattern of the spindle course. In a similar fashion, the creator of the fine Victorian porch on the Franklin Hollister House used lathe-turned drops in combination with sawn brackets 282 Naubuc Avenue). The veranda added to the John Porter House is the Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District's most distinctive for its degree of style and exuberant execution (32 Broad Street).
East Hartford Preservation Survey II, 1981, and III, 1983.
"Report of the East Hartford Historic District Study Committee." East Hartford, Connecticut, November 1985.
Sherrow, Doris Darling, ed. An Architectural History of East Hartford. East Hartford, Connecticut, 1989.
† Jan Cunningham, consultant, Cunningham Associates, Ltd and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Naubuc Avenue-Broad Street Historic District, East Hartford, CT, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.