Photo: Homes on South Whitney Street, ca. 1905 and 1907, Sisson-South Whitney Historic District, Hartford, CT. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Photographed by Lucas A. Karmazinas, 2011, for Sisson-South Whitney Historic District, nomination document NR# 13000526, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, accessed November, 2014.
The Sisson-South Whitney Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Sisson-South Whitney Historic District is located in the West End neighborhood of Hartford, Connecticut. The district is situated on the western edge of the city, approximately one-quarter mile east of the West Hartford line, one-third of a mile northwest of Interstate 84, and just over one-half mile south of Elizabeth Park. Farmington Avenue delineates the district's northern boundary and Capitol Avenue forms its southern terminus. The area is generally flat and includes four existing National Register Historic Districts—West End North (1985), Little Hollywood (1982), West Boulevard (2007), and West End South (1985)—which surround the district and largely determine its boundaries. The district includes two resources previously listed on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places, the Colonial Theater (488-492 Farmington Avenue), and the Rusden Lake House (553 Farmington Avenue).
Most of homes within the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District share a similar setback and are located on moderately sized lots of roughly one-eighth to one-quarter of an acre. Several larger lots can be found, these typically being the site of larger apartment, mixed-use, or commercial buildings, such as those found in proximity to Farmington Avenue. The parcels within the district tend to be smaller and the homes more tightly arranged than those found in sections of the West End neighborhood north of Farmington Avenue, yet are larger and more generously spaced than those in the Parkville section of the city, a primarily working-class neighborhood located to the south. These special characteristics are the result of the unique development patterns that shaped the district, those that make it architecturally and historically unique from the four historic districts that surround it.
The Sisson-South Whitney Historic District's oldest surviving house is the ca. 1865 Italianate farmhouse at 170 Sisson Avenue. This two-and-a-half-story brick residence has red-brick masonry walls, widely overhanging eaves with decorative brackets, attic-story windows, and a low-pitched hipped roof. The Italianate style traveled from England to the United States during the late 1830s and lasted until the late 1880s. Popularized as part of the Picturesque movement, Italianate homes were inspired by rural Italian farmhouses as well as by a resurgence of interest in Renaissance classicism. Common throughout Hartford and the majority of the United States during the period of its construction, the Italianate house at 170 Sisson Avenue possesses many of the details that are representative of the style. This includes its box-shaped plan, symmetrical three-bay facade, pedimented and full-arched brownstone window hoods, brownstone sills, attic-story windows, large eave brackets, and hipped-roof cupola, as well as a one-story entry porch with classical supports, wide modillioned entablature, and flat roof.
The Sisson-South Whitney Historic District is an example of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth-century residential and neighborhood commercial development. The district is located along the western edge of the City of Hartford, an area that remained essentially rural as late as the early 1880s, yet felt the increasing pressure of suburban expansion between 1890 and 1930. The development of the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District is typical of Hartford's suburbs and is demonstrative of the effects of population increases and sprawl that followed economic growth and the build up of the city's central neighborhoods during the late nineteenth century. As such, the district is significant as an example of one of Hartford's working- and middle-class Streetcar Suburbs. Of particular importance is the developmental transition that redefined the character of the neighborhood during the 1910s and 1920s, thus making it architecturally and demographically unique from the historic districts that surround it. Initially marketed and developed as scenic enclave for Hartford's upper-middle class, the increased mobility provided by Hartford's trolley system meant that those of more modest means could also afford to live in this part of one of the city's premier neighborhoods. As such, the district saw the increased construction of housing and businesses oriented towards the needs of the working and middle classes. The district is a highly intact, architecturally cohesive neighborhood of single- and multi-family homes, small apartment buildings, as well as commercial blocks, that reflect the significant residential architectural styles of the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. Italianate, Late-Gothic Revival, Folk Victorian, Queen Anne, Shingle, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical Revival, Beaux Arts, Italian Renaissance Revival, and modern vernacular forms, can be found, many being demonstrative of the frequency with which designers combined a number of influences to create eclectically-styled homes. A number of local builders and prominent architects designed and constructed homes in the district, contributing further to the significance of this historic neighborhood.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the City of Hartford consisted of an area just a fraction of its current size. Maps depicting the western edges of the urban district and the town of Hartford beyond indicate it only extending as far as a north-south line drawn just west of High Street, Cooper Lane, and the western boundary of Bushnell Park. At this time, the area between Hartford's still contentious municipal boundary with West Hartford, Prospect Avenue, and the north branch of the Park River was largely farmland. Individual parcels were delineated as large swaths cutting across the countryside and only a handful of structures could be found scattered across the land.
Despite this pastoral status quo, however, the foundations for future development were in place even at this early date. Farmington Avenue, one of the first notable pathways to cut west through Hartford, had functioned as an important corridor providing access from the Connecticut River and the city's central business district to the farmland to the west for decades before it was officially adopted by the General Assembly in 1800. Prospect Hill Road—now Prospect Avenue—had been laid out between Farmington and Asylum Avenues in 1754 and was highly used by residents despite not being deeded to the City of Hartford by the various property owners along the corridor until 1862. By the late 1860s, the city line had been extended westward to the current border with West Hartford and the newly established "West Middle District", bounded by Asylum Street, Prospect Hill Road, Park Street, and the Hartford-Providence and Fishkill Railroad, showed signs of blossoming into one of the city's premier residential areas.
Development in the West Middle District west of the Park River began as the build-up of its eastern half, currently Hartford's Asylum Hill neighborhood, began to result in increased competition for land closer to the city and along its more prominent thoroughfares, including Farmington Avenue. As a result, land owners and speculators started dividing and selling off parcels of large landholdings to new and individual owners in and around the area that would become the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District. One of the immediate requirements was the creation of new cross streets. One of the first, Sisson Avenue, was deeded to Hartford by Samuel Hubbard, a real estate agent, in 1866. Originally dubbed Hubbard Street, after Susan and Antonette Hubbard, who lived at the southwest corner of Hubbard Street and Farmington Avenue, the street was eventually renamed after resident Albert Sisson, who owned the first house constructed in the district. Built in 1865, the Sisson house still stands at 170 Sisson Avenue, its prominent size and attractive Italianate design a testament to the wealth its owner accumulated through the operation of a leaf tobacco business located downtown.
Further moves intended to facilitate development came as major city thoroughfares, most notably Farmington Avenue, were straightened. This occurred between Forest and Owen Streets in 1869, and then again between Sisson and Prospect Avenues in 1883. The straightening of such corridors illustrates the high value placed upon clear boundary lines and predictably-shaped lots, which made it easy for speculators to sell or develop available land. Such pressures established a distinct delineation between the area's rural roots and the urban expansion that was to reshape it, this still observable in the West End neighborhood's grid-like system of streets.
Despite these early moves towards infrastructure improvement, the West Middle District remained predominantly rural in 1869. Farmers such as M. H. Hunter continued to work the land and till their fields. Another resident, William B. Smith, lived on Oxford Street during this period of transition. Smith operated a horse farm and maintained a half-mile horse track in the area currently between South Whitney Street and Prospect Avenue, just south of Farmington Avenue. Originally known as Smith Street, Whitney Street had been named after this early resident when it was first laid out around 1870.
A few prominent city residents, however, like Sisson, had chosen to make their homes on rural estates mixed among the well-established farms. These less agriculturally-oriented residents included an E. C. Roberts, who owned property in the district despite working downtown as a director of the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. Others were entrepreneurs, such as S.A. Ensign, who lived in the district while maintaining a "boot and shoe emporium" downtown on State Street. Another, a Colonel A. Gerloff of the Russian army, immigrated to the United States in 1867 and by 1869 had settled on Sisson Avenue, just south of Farmington Avenue. As the character of the neighborhood shifted, all of these residents relocated. By the mid-1870s none could be found in the district.
Reliable public transportation—via comprehensive streetcar networks—provided the middle class with an affordable method of commuting to urban jobs from outside of the central city. As a result, streetcar-based expansion opened up what had become an idealized rural enclave to the middle-class at a budget rate. New residential subdivisions offered families an alternative to downtown tenements while retaining access to industrial employment. In Hartford's West End neighborhood this occurred in 1872, when the Hartford & Wethersfield Horse Railroad (H. & W.H.R.R.) established a line on Farmington Avenue, thus effectively opening up the neighborhood to the city's middle-class workers. Although speculators had turned their eyes to the West Middle District during the 1860s, it was the availability of a horse-drawn trolley along Farmington Avenue that triggered development within the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District in earnest.
While economic conditions related to the Panics of 1873 and 1877 stunted the majority of development plans in Hartford during the 1870s, a quickened construction pace followed the end of the recessions beginning in the early 1880s. This resulted in the division of farms and other large plots of land into smaller parcels, thus fueling new construction and the growth of the city's grand list. By 1880, two large tracts of land within the southwestern section of the West Middle District were controlled by prominent local development companies, S.F. Jones and Loomis & Woodruff. The two firms owned almost all of the land between Sisson and Prospect Avenues, south of Farmington Avenue and north of Hawthorn Street—what would later become Warrenton Avenue—and, as such, the majority of the historic district.
An 1880 Hartford street atlas illustrates how Loomis & Woodruff had prepared to sell off plots of land in small acreages of approximately two-tenths of an acre spanning the section of the neighborhood south of Farmington Avenue, north of Hawthorn Street, and between Prospect Avenue and what would eventually become South Whitney Street. S.F. Jones, the Hartford lawyer and real estate developer who owned the majority of the portion of the district east of what is now South Whitney Street, to Sisson Avenue, had similarly subdivided his parcel into small lots for individual sale. Jones's efforts were focused along Evergreen Avenue, north of Hawthorn Street, and a limited frontage on the south side of Farmington Avenue, to the east and west of its intersection with Evergreen Avenue. Jones's landholding forms the heart of the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District, however few structures had been constructed by Jones's clients or other new residents by this point in time. Completed structures were limited to a small handful of wooden residences and outbuildings, and three brick homes—the latter including the Sisson and Dennison residences on Sisson Avenue, and the Fales house at the southeast corner of Fales Street and Evergreen Avenue.
Despite the rapid expansion of Hartford's horse railroad throughout the 1880s by the end of the decade the system was beginning to reveal several technological disadvantages. The prospect of utilizing electrically powered, as opposed to horse-driven, cars demonstrated an opportunity to reduce the costs associated with maintaining, feeding, boarding, and cleaning up after the necessary stock of horses. Following the example of the Connecticut cities of Derby and Meriden the H. & W. H.R.R. moved to electrify its routes and horse-drawn rail cars. The first trolley lines were electrified in Hartford in 1888 with the entire local network converted by 1894. Renamed the Hartford Street Railway in 1893, the company soon gained permission to extend lines to other towns, including Newington, New Britain, South Glastonbury, East Windsor Hill, Elmwood, as well as the Burnside neighborhood of East Hartford. These changes accelerated the pace of development in the city's West End neighborhood as the quality of trolley service was improved and the number of lines increased.
By the 1890s, the expansion of Hartford's trolley network had transformed the character of the district from a rural landscape of fields and farms, to an area poised to become a bustling and populous suburb. As new homes were erected and occupied, the increasing numbers of residents settling in the district created a demand for further infrastructure development. As was the case several decades earlier, these improvements largely included the construction and adoption of new streets. Fales Street was formally approved in 1892, this extending one block west from Sisson Avenue to what officially became Evergreen Avenue a year later. The street was named after Thomas J. Fales, a lawyer at the firm of Fales & Gray. His counterpart, John S. Gray, also had a street within the district named after him, this, however, not taking place until years later. Gray Street was laid out parallel to Fales, one block south and likewise between Sisson and Evergreen Avenues, in 1907.
Warrenton Avenue—originally known as Hawthorn Street—was laid out on the eastern side of the Park River by developers Francis Gillette and George Hooker from Sigourney Street to Forest Street, and officially accepted in 1892. Its western stretches were made official starting in 1897, with the length from Prospect Avenue to what was then Smith Street (now South Whitney Street) approved first, and an extension to Sisson Avenue added in 1900. Evergreen Avenue, originally running from Farmington Avenue to Hawthorn Street, was officially extended another block south to Boulevard—currently West Boulevard—in 1899. South Whitney Street, which had originally been opened as Smith Street by Eugene Kenyon around 1870, was renamed after Amos Whitney in 1897.
The prominence of speculators and growth machines in Hartford was at its peak by the last decade of the nineteenth century, these forces fueling a citywide building boom during the period. Hartford's grand list grew by seven percent in 1895, and increased by another 30 percent between 1895 and 1900. It was during this time that the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District experienced its first substantial growth. The construction of approximately 26 of the district's 186 primary contributing historic resources took place during the decade from 1890 to 1899. By 1909, roughly 42 additional buildings had been erected, with similar numbers to be added in each of the next two decades.
A sharp increase in the diversity of property owners accompanied the rapid growth that took place in the historic district around the turn of the century. These included the arrival of a number of significant institutions in addition to individual homeowners and other residents. Institutional arrivals included the construction of the brick First Methodist Episcopal Church, currently at 571 Farmington Avenue, which took place in 1904. Situated behind this by 1909 was a drug store operated by a Mary H. Stoughton, and located nearby at 538 Farmington Avenue was a church erected by the Church of Christian Science. It was also by this time that The House of the Good Shepherd, a charity dedicated to aiding and educating homeless young women, had established itself on the former estate of Albert Sisson. By 1909, the facility consisted of several buildings, including the three-and-a-half-story Colonial Revival dormitory and classroom building designed by Hartford architect John J. Dwyer, and erected in 1905. A fire station could also be found in the district by this time, along with a number of banking institutions, all of which illustrating the increased demand for such services by local residents.
After the turn of the century, as Hartford's population continued to increase, additional homes and apartment buildings were constructed in the district. As was the case during the 1890s, new residents, particularly homeowners, tended to be entrepreneurs connected to downtown businesses, or white collar workers of various persuasions. Such included James E. Smith of 21 Evergreen Avenue, who worked as a cashier for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company and likely commuted to work via the Farmington Avenue trolley. Another typical resident was Michael J. Griffin, of 256 South Whitney Street, who had immigrated to Hartford from Ireland and was a forger with James Pullar & Company. For 15 years, up to the end of his life in 1925, Griffin manufactured steel horseshoe caulk of his own invention at 39 Spruce Street.
Throughout this period, Hartford's infrastructure grew increasingly complex as it was modified to accommodate growth throughout its outer neighborhoods. The sewer system in the district underwent expansion just before 1900. The move was controversial, as although the city's street board strongly favored new sewer lines, residents balked at the idea of paying for a sewer assessment as many did not see it justified by a demand for new construction. On the other hand, many argued that further development had been hampered by a lack of sewer service. A general need for adequate sidewalks, street lighting, water, gas, and drainage systems were also evident at the time, however, planning for these likewise drew criticism from residents. Such included disagreements over the public versus private character of the street, and the delineation of building lines. The majority of arguments came from individuals, such as James B. Cone, who, as they owned large tracts of property in the neighborhood, incurred a heavier cost burden related to improvements than those individuals living on densely populated blocks. Public discussions about the development of the neighborhood are perhaps best documented in the record of the street board's consideration of the building line along Warrenton Avenue. Residents disagreed strongly about whether the appearance of the avenue would be ruined by narrowing the building line. In 1898, the Warrenton building line was 25 feet on the south side, and 15 feet on the north, largely to accommodate an unusual lot at the corner of Beacon Street. That year, owners along the avenue protested a proposed reduction to 15 feet on the south side by resident Solon C. Kelley, claiming property values would decrease as a result. One resident, Horace W. Fox, argued against the proposal stating that he had sold three lots on Warrenton to buyers who understood the building line to be permanent. Another resident, T.M. Hamilton, claimed he had purchased a lot and built a house on Warrenton after careful investigation into the building line, and would not have bought the lot if he knew the line would change. Frustration focused on Kelley's property being on the south side of the avenue, and only 300 feet wide, while other lots were much larger and had more room to build. At a later hearing, Kelley explained that the unevenness of the building lines made the street one-sided and therefore a "drawback" to all property owners, and even an injustice to those such as himself. The petitioner was eventually successful and the building line along Warrenton Avenue was reduced, despite the fact that development of the avenue had already been largely completed.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Hartford's West End neighborhood emerged as a fine residential district. This was especially true of the blocks north of Farmington Avenue, where large single-family homes were common, however those to the south were characterized by mixed building and demographic patterns. Warrenton Avenue was largely recognized as a potentially "prominent" avenue, but as the area around it only saw "scattered" initial development, it became increasingly shaped by speculative builders who took advantage of the area's accessibility to working- and middle-class residents. The trolley system was the major contributor to such growth, as not only did it make it easy for workers to commute between the neighborhood and downtown, lower fares broadened the spectrum of residents who could afford to do so. Another demographic influence on the character of the district's development was its orientation along the northern border of the city's Parkville neighborhood, long an enclave of Hartford's working-class citizens.
Rapid population growth led to the expansion of trolley lines in the district, including the highly controversial addition of a double track along Sisson Avenue, connecting Farmington Avenue and Park Street, in 1906. A petition against the new tracks was signed by 52 property owners on Sisson Avenue (all but two of those on the street) and Farmington Avenue. The protest noted a suspected increase in "noise, dust and confusion" on the streets, and argued that peace and quiet was preferable to the new transit connection to the popular amusement facility, Luna Park, located along New Park Avenue in West Hartford. The requisite street widening would also harm the appearance of the street, they claimed, which was largely residential, unlike Park Street and Capitol Avenue where other trolley lines were available. Outspoken city residents from other neighborhoods likewise supported this point of view concerned about ruining the character of these two city corridors, however the new tracks were put in place and the line opened on September 1, 1906.
Plans for paving Farmington Avenue west of Woodland Street were presented to the Board of Street Commissioners in 1909, thus opening the way for the creation of a major thoroughfare in and out of downtown. The corridor had become increasingly congested with both trolley and automobile traffic, and the city was forced to find new ways to accommodate both types of transportation. Traffic jams in the district were likewise notable in the area surrounding a city dump on the east side of Sisson Avenue. In 1913, the dump drew complaints from tenants of 114 Sisson Avenue, including William W. Evans, who threatened to leave over the unsanitary conditions and traffic.
Despite the challenges presented by the district's rapidly expanding population, new construction continued, this largely facilitated by efforts to improve the area's sanitation and transportation infrastructure. In 1915, plans to construct a 102-room, three-story apartment block at the southeast corner of Sisson and Farmington were announced. Designed to, "accommodate the many families desiring apartments," the building was slated to be one of the largest in the area at the time. Despite this lofty proposal, it appears that the owner of the property eventually modified his plans. An attractive apartment building was still built at the southeast corner of Sisson and Farmington between 1915 and 1916, however the Italian Renaissance style building constructed was reduced to nine units, as opposed to the originally planned 15. Five years later, another massive brick apartment block was slated for the area near the intersection of Sisson and Farmington. The Tudor Revival structure built at 249-255 Sisson Avenue in 1920 consisted of 36 units and 130 total rooms.
The 1910s and 1920s proved to be a busy period for apartment block construction throughout the district. Many of these were marketed as being appropriate for families, this illustrating an increased demand for housing in this section of the West End among those with working- and middle-class incomes. A full-page display ad published in the Hartford Courant in 1916 lists numerous properties in Hartford's West End neighborhood available for purchase as either a personal residences or real estate investments. These including 31 single-family homes, 38 two-family homes, 18 three-family homes, and 15 apartment houses accommodating five to eight families each. The exchange of property appears to have been relatively active during this period, a further indication of the population growth and shifts impacting Hartford's suburbs in response to evolving transportation technology, including the trolley and automobile, and the rapid pace of new construction.
By the second decade of the twentieth century, the area within the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District included a mix of working- and middle-class residents living in a variety of dwelling types. The 1918 Hartford city directory confirms residents from a variety of occupations, including teachers, insurance examiners and agents, foremen, carpenters, court clerks, salesmen, grocers, dentists, draftsmen, jewelers, doctors, business proprietors, and a plumber. By this point in time, the district's demographic profile included an increase in the number of young, professional women living alone, typically in their own apartments. For example, Katherine McKone, a forelady at 150 New Park Avenue; Helen J. Pratt, a music teacher; and Jessica C. Crandall, a clerk at the State Board of Education, each resided in their own unit in the Tudor Revival apartment building at 236 Sisson Avenue. Meanwhile, women living alone in the district's single- and multi-family homes tended to be widows, and largely unemployed. The occasional exception did exist, however, this including Jane MacMartin, a high school German teacher who lived at 28 Gray Street in 1918, and a few years later, Anna Rogers of 208 South Whitney Street, who was employed by the Dwinnell-Wright Company of Boston, Massachusetts.
Demands on the city's infrastructure increased as development throughout the district continued. Unsurprisingly, new pressures were applied for needed upgrades and zoning changes. By 1923, demands on the public water utility was higher than ever, this most notable in an area along South Whitney Street and Evergreen Avenue. By this time, apartment block construction had spread along Evergreen Avenue, and a proposal to rezone Farmington Avenue for business use between South Whitney and Kenyon Streets elicited a powerful response from local citizens intent on maintaining the residential character of the neighborhood. Similarly, in 1928 an attempt was made to rezone Fales Street from residential to light industrial use, partly to accommodate the Aetna Life Insurance Company's property on Farmington Avenue. While these efforts were eventually defeated, attempts to alter the character of the district could only be rebuffed for so long. Although the district would never see the arrival of industrial entities, the increased commercialization of Farmington and Sisson Avenue had a distinct impact on this otherwise residential area.
Motor coach operation along transit lines gradually replaced the trolley system in Hartford beginning with downtown in 1921. The controversial Sisson Avenue trolley line was abandoned by 1928, as were many other lines in the system that had either fallen out of use or were converted to motor coach operation. The streetcar system continued, largely within Hartford city limits, until 1940 when all trolley service was discontinued. Increased reliance on the automobile was clearly evident in the district by the 1930s as a number of gas stations had been established. Neighborhood resident A. Cone operated a filling station at 258 South Whitney Street in the mid-1930s, and in 1939 the, "largest service station of the Sun Oil company," was announced along the southern edge of the district, at the intersection of South Whitney Street and Capitol Avenue, where a frame house and garage were demolished in order to make way for the new construction. Similarly, a brick mansion built by John C. Mead for Lester L. Ensworth at 510 Farmington Avenue, circa 1885, was demolished in order to build a Shell gas station in 1934. The popularity of the automobile also affected the occupational character of the neighborhood as residents sought to benefit financially from the technology. Such moves included the application by resident Kenneth Austin, of 180 South Whitney Street, to use his back yard, for the sale and display of used cars.
During the 1930s, residents of the district continued to include working- and middle-class tradespersons, as well as prominent citizens. One, Fred E. Innes of 204 South Whitney Street, was notably appointed as marshal of a parade, part of a patriotic celebration that was inclusive of several civic organizations, in the spring of 1930. Another, an experienced woodworker and Canadian native, Hiram O. Traver, lived at 220 South Whitney Street when he was featured in The Hartford Courant for his unusual craftwork in 1934. Traver had practiced woodworking in Hartford for 27 years creating inlaid tables, largely from repurposed wood and old storage trunks. One of his most notable pieces even included wood from Connecticut's Charter Oak.
Development in the district during the 1930s and 1940s largely focused on the retrofitting and repairing of streets to make navigation easier for both automobiles and pedestrians. The proper maintenance of street infrastructure was widely accepted as a public good by this period and federal funds were eagerly pursued to support it. A major local effort to pave streets and create concrete sidewalks took place as a result of the Federal Works Progress Administration, under which interested property owners paid for materials and the WPA provided for the necessary labor. Warrenton Avenue was targeted in early 1936 for improvements. Some months later, a WPA project was established to repave South Whitney Street, a task which also included installing new curbs and sidewalks. By the 1940s, WPA funds were being used to remove abandoned trolley tracks along Farmington Avenue, and the city repaved the corridor at its own expense.
The creation of new retail services in the area likewise continued apace during the 1940s and 1950s. Included among these was the construction of a basement duckpin bowling alley with five street-level storefronts—originally a bakery, beauty parlor, drug store, Stop and Shop grocery, and a dyeing and cleaning shop—at the northwest corner of Farmington Avenue and Whitney Street (currently 560 Farmington Avenue) in a structure dubbed the Midtown Building. The appeal of the commercial development of properties along the corridor at the time was characterized by realtor Moses J. Neiditz in 1950, when he described the area as a "strategic crossroads," connecting the northwest and southwest sections of the city. Adding to the auto-centric development of the area during this period was the fact that parcels along Farmington Avenue in particular were deep, allowing for larger potential parking areas.
The Sisson-South Whitney Historic District retains a considerable degree of architectural cohesion and integrity. And its building stock helps provide a clear narrative of the history and nature of its growth. Construction methods in Hartford's streetcar suburbs were largely characterized by repetition of design and the mass production of working- and middle-class housing. In the West End neighborhood, like many other sections of the city, a sizable percentage of this was erected by local builders and shaped according to their interpretations of popular architectural designs. As such, it is not surprising that the significant number of non-architect-designed, contractor-built homes throughout the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District demonstrate a mix of stylistic influences as well as distinct evidence of the tensions present during the transition between Victorian forms, such as the Queen Anne, and revival styles, such as the Colonial Revival, around the turn of the century. During the early decades of the twentieth century, characteristic designs mainly illustrate the dominance of the Colonial Revival style.
The builders responsible for 138 of the district's contributing resources could be found, for which there were roughly 65 contractors or building firms involved. Approximately 90 buildings, roughly 48 percent of the district's 189 contributing resources, were constructed by identified local builders without the guidance of notable architects. Of the 65 contributing contractors, eight were responsible for more than three buildings, while five erected five or more. The majority of these were single- or multi-family homes, rather than apartment buildings, which tended to be architect-designed. The prevalence of these types of homes demonstrates not only the demand for affordable working- and middle-class housing in the area but also the degree to which attractive, desirable residences could be constructed by local contractors.
The district's most prolific builders were among those which contributed heavily to the residential and commercial development that took place in Hartford in the decades just before and after the turn of the century. Builders including William H. Scoville, John A. Farrell, J.F. Glynn, Arthur H. Merrill, B. Black, Thomas Ratigan, and M. Weingeroff contributed dozens of homes to the West End and the city's other suburban neighborhoods. The Sisson-South Whitney Historic District's biggest contributor was William H. Scoville, one of the most notable and prolific builders in Hartford's history. Between 1893 and 1915, Scoville erected over 150 residential buildings in Hartford, including 15 multi-family homes within the district along Fales and South Whitney Streets and Sisson and Warrenton Avenues. Professionally, Scoville is perhaps best described as a hybrid architect/builder as while not formally trained as an architect he oversaw a staff of draftsmen and architects who created much of the work that he was ultimately responsible for constructing. Scoville also operated a millwork shop on Dean Street in Hartford where much of the wood trim and interior details for his homes was produced.
‡ Lucas A. Karmazinas, Consultant, Future-Past Preservation, Sisson-South Whitney Historic District, Hartford County, CT, nomination document, 2012, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Capitol Avenue • Evergreen Avenue • Fales Street • Farmington Avenue • Girard Avenue • Gray Street • Kenyon Street • Sherman Street • Sisson Avenue • Tremont Street • Warrenton Avenue • West Boulevard • Whitney Street South