Bridgewater Center Historic District
The Bridgewater Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. 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 Bridgewater Center Historic District, the town's institutional center, is a crossroads village that developed around the intersection of Route 133, Hat Shop Hill, and Clapboard Road. Until Route 133 slopes down into a valley at the north end of the district, it runs along the fairly level summit of a major north-south ridgeline, one of several that traverse the town. Called Main Street North above the crossroads and Main Street South below, this principal town thoroughfare forms the spine of the Bridgewater Center Historic District, which extends from Warner Road on the south to Bridgewater Center Cemetery on the north. Center Park, a small linear green just southeast of the crossroads, is bounded by Center Street on the east and South Main Street on the west.
The Bridgewater Center Historic District contains 77 resources (buildings and sites), of which 65 (86 percent) contribute to its historical and/or architectural significance. Contributing resources include 23 historic residential properties and their associated outbuildings and structures. Center Park and Bridgewater Center Cemetery are contributing sites. The institutional component consists of two churches, one school, the library, and the town hall. The only historic commercial building in the Bridgewater Center Historic District is flanked by a small modern non-contributing bank. All the rest of the non-contributing resources are garages and sheds built after 1950.
There are four major buildings in the vicinity of the crossroads. The Congregational Church, on the north side of Clapboard Road, is an unusual structure for its period (10 Clapboard Road). Although built in 1807, with its gabled main block and projecting square tower, the church resembles a late colonial meetinghouse. The tower is capped by octagonal louvered belfry with a projecting cornice and spire. Multi-paned windows with 20-over-20 lights are located in the center of the tower face and on either side. Similar windows with shutters line the side elevations. The facade pediment, which is interrupted by the tower, and the Greek Revival door surround were added about 1842. A Palladian window on the north end elevation was discovered and reinstalled in 1957 when a five-foot addition enlarged the pulpit. Other twentieth-century alterations include the reconstruction of the entrance and belfry cornices and remodeling of the interior. The Congregational Chapel to the east was built in 1885; the cupola dates from 1897, when the building was enlarged.
The southwest corner is occupied by St. Mark's Episcopal Church (5 South Main Street), a Gothic Revival edifice constructed of wood in 1859. Gothic Revival elements include pointed-arch door and window openings, steep gables, and stepped buttresses. An almost free-standing square tower at the northeast corner, which has arched louvered openings in each face at the second level, now terminates with small intersecting gabled roofs. This section once supported a 90-foot spire constructed around a 65-foot chestnut post, which was taken down in 1929. On the facade of the main block, which is flanked by corner buttresses, a full-height slightly recessed arch frames the entrance and the arched windows above. A series of gables frame the windows on the side elevation. The parish house, the south wing of the church, was added in 1924.
Just south of St. Marks's is the Grange Hall (11 South Main Street), which once housed Centre School on the first floor and Town Hall on the second. A long clapboarded two-story building, it has Greek Revival doorways at each end. The present Bridgewater Town Hall, erected across the street in 1904 (46 South Main Street), has a gabled three-bay facade. Features include a square cupola, a nine-light window in the gable, and slightly pedimented flat window surrounds. The recessed main doorway has a small pent roof with brackets and there are shaped rafter ends and outrigggers under the eaves of the main roof.
Just across from Center Park is the 1898 Charles B. Thompson Building (27 South Main Street), a large Queen Anne style structure with a tower. Its historic commercial function is expressed by the bracketed frieze and cornices that cap the facade and define the storefront, which has large plate glass windows and a recessed doorway in the center. The same cornice detailing continues around the tower, just under the round-arched windows in each face. Decorative scroll-sawn cutwork elaborates the pedimented window caps. The low modern addition on the north houses the post office.
Center Park was created about 1856 when the Town of Bridgewater was incorporated. A long narrow strip of land (approximately 50' x 650') was taken for the park from the eastern side of Main Street, then a much wider highway. The park originally extended east to include present-day Center Street and farther north alongside the Congregational Church. When this area was first landscaped by the Bridgewater Public Improvement Association in the 1870s, the park was planted with elm and maple trees, and a bandstand was erected in 1881. Now greatly reduced in size (about 15' x 200'), the present park was re-landscaped in 1995. Along its axis are a large fir and a few mature deciduous trees, some possibly nineteenth-century survivors, since similar trees continue in a line to the north on the church property. There are stone benches at either end of the park; the one on the south end is a Vietnam and Korean War memorial, with a bronze plaque. A large boulder in the middle displays bronze plaques honoring the veterans of the World Wars.
Center Cemetery at the north end of the Bridgewater Center Historic District on North Main Street is bordered at the road by a cast-iron fence with anthemion finials. Although the cemetery was established in 1824, many of the gravestones date from the later nineteenth century and include a number of stone obelisks.
At the south end of the Bridgewater Center Historic District, a library and a school designed in the Neo-Classical Revival style complete the institutional development of the center. The 1926 Burnham Library, constructed of random ashlar granite, has a hipped slate roof and pedimented entrance pavilion (62 South Main Street). Embellishments include Egyptian capitals and a swagged cartouche in the tympanum. An inverted scalloped molding that resembles a dentil course details the rakes and cornices of the pediment and continues under the eaves of the building. The round-arched main doorway has a fanlight and sidelights under flat-arched projecting cornices. Equally spaced double-hung windows on either side have six-over-sash and flared stone lintels with keyblocks. A rear wing addition was built in the 1970s.
The yellow-brick Burnham School, which was built in 1929, has a lower hipped roof (80 South Main Street). Slightly projecting gabled entrance pavilions, centered in the long facade and end elevations, have recessed round-arched doorways with keyblocks and fanlights. On either side of the front door is a single window and a band of five windows, which contain 20-over-20 double-hung sash. The modern flat-roofed addition, set off by a connector on the north, was constructed about 1958.
Residential properties line the rest of the streets in the Bridgewater Center Historic District. While some houses have a ridge-to-street orientation, gabled facades predominate. Most of the houses are set back at some distance from the road with deep front lawns. On Main Street, which is generally bordered by mature trees, frontages include sidewalks and/or picket fences along the highway easement.
The majority of the houses, generally vernacular dwellings that combine the late Federal and Greek Revival styles, were built between about 1820 and the Civil War. Regardless of their orientation or date of construction, there is little stylistic differentiation. Throughout this period, Bridgewater Center Historic District houses are embellished with rectangular gabled windows in either the facade or end elevations. Most display cornice returns rather than full pediments. Doorway surrounds have high entablatures and pilasters of varying widths. The narrower pilasters flanking the doors at 67 South Main Street, 20 Hat Shop Hill, and 66 Main Street North, which are more characteristic of the Federal period, may be indicative of earlier dates of construction. Although the 1835 George W. Warner House at the corner of Warner Road has more elements of the Greek Revival style, such as end pediments, corner pilasters, and a wide frieze board, the doorway does not have the very broad pilasters usually associated with this style (1 Warner Road).
Among the other more fully developed Greek Revivals is the George Lyon House just south of the Thompson Building, which has a wide hipped-roof portico sheltering two doorways (41 South Main Street). Even though the wing has the typically small attic windows of this style, it may be a modern addition. The frieze of the Oliver W. Phippeny House, a Greek Revival cottage, displays similar windows, but again, the doorway is transitional (59 North Main Street). A more conventional Greek Revival farmhouse is found at 79 North Main, a four-bay example with a boldly delineated flushboarded pediment and paneled pilasters.
The Charles H. Sanford House, an Italian Villa located north of the crossroads, was also built in the antebellum period (20 North Main Street). In addition to heavily bracketed eaves and a cupola with round-arched windows, the Sanford House incorporates a recessed Tuscan porch at its southeast corner. The large wing on the north side of the main block is a later addition. A tall water tower, sheathed in wood, is located just off the southwest corner of the house.
After the Civil War, decorative Victorian porches were added to several older houses in the district, including the William G. Burnham House of 1851 at 59 Main Street South. A similar porch was once found on the Edwin G. Sanford House at the crossroads (10 North Main Street). A notable porch on the Samuel Smith House at 19 Hat Shop Hill displays scroll-sawn posts elaborated with brackets. The porch and bracketed entryway of the c.1820 Elijah Peck House was probably added when this Federal style residence was moved to its present location, where it now serves as the headquarters of the Bridgewater Historical Society (48 South Main Street).
The Peck House was moved to make way for the Hatch-Van Wyck Brooks House which faces Center Park (9 Clapboard Road). One of two Colonial Revival style houses in the district, this Foursquare is detailed with a recessed Palladian window in the center of the facade and diamond-paned sash in the dormer windows, and has a wraparound veranda, supported by doubled columns. A Colonial Revival facade porch and a fanlight over the door are some of the features of the other example of this style at 36 Main Street North. Columned porches were added to several older houses, including the Queen Anne at 69 Main Street North and the Federal style Simon R. Weeks House at 23 Main Street North.
The Bridgewater Center Historic District encompasses an exceptionally cohesive crossroads village that embodies and illustrates 150 years of historic civic and residential development. The Bridgewater Center Historic District's fine collection of institutional, commercial, and domestic architecture includes many well-preserved examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, and Queen Anne styles, as well as several significant examples of Neo-Classical Revival and Colonial Revival architecture.
Historical Background and Significance
Settled in the mid 1700s as an outlying community of New Milford and incorporated as a separate town in 1856, Bridgewater represents the end stage of one of the last major colonial population movements in Connecticut...the northward migration along the principal river valleys in the western part of the state. Since it was located just above the convergence of the Housatonic River and Shepaug River, Bridgewater was first known as New Milford Neck, or simply the Neck, part of the land purchased for the New Milford Plantation in 1702. Although settlement in New Milford on the west bank of the Housatonic River began in 1707, development of the Neck, isolated by its riverine borders, was delayed for many years. Few New Milford proprietors actually settled there. Some like Governor Robert Treat, the leading proprietor and largest landowner, reserved their Neck allotments for descendants; his grandsons were among the first to live there. Others sold their shares in the Neck to speculators, especially in the 1730s, a period when land scarcity drove up prices. The pace of settlement picked up after the Housatonic River was bridged in 1737. The Neck became known as Bridgewater, with a school and burying ground established there by mid-century. Although there was a small village at Southville on the Housatonic River, most of settlers lived on isolated scattered farmsteads.
In 1771, weary of the long journey to attend church services at the New Milford meetinghouse, Neck inhabitants sought permission to worship locally during the winter. "Winter privileges" were granted for a period of three years and renewed periodically after the Revolution. Later, after several petitions to the General Assembly to form a separate Congregational Church society, the Bridgewater Parish of New Milford was officially established in 1803. Construction began on the present Bridgewater Congregational Church in 1807 (10 Clapboard Road). Evidently the site was selected for its central geographic location, since, at that time few people lived near the crossroads. Although a lottery was held to raise money for a building fund, the church was not completed or even painted for several years. Repairs done in 1831 and 1842 included work on the steeple and new clapboards replaced the shingles on at least three sides of the building. Presumably the Greek Revival features were added in 1842.
Not surprisingly, the church soon became a locus of a bustling village. Tradesmen and shopkeepers congregated nearby, building homes and shops. In fact, most of the houses in the district were standing by the time St. Mark's Episcopal Church was erected across the street in 1859 (5 Main Street South). Elijah Peck built his house and store across from the church (48 Main Street South); the house was relocated down the street about 1910. Tailor Simon Weeks built his house (23 North Main Street) and shop (17 North Main Street) just north of the Congregational Church about 1840. When Weeks served as postmaster, his tailor shop doubled as the post office. Later in the century, a meat market (no longer extant) was located on the Samuel Smith property at 19 Hat Shop Hill, and farther up the road, beyond the district, were the hat factories run by the Sanford family, the basis of Bridgewater's economy from 1823 until 1870.
The Sanfords were descendants of New Milford proprietor Nehemiah Sanford. Glover Sanford, who started the business, lived with his son Frederick across the street from the factory on Hat Shop Hill (National Register, 1989) and two of his other sons lived in the district. Charles H. Sanford, postmaster and first selectman after the town was incorporated in 1856, was responsible for the exceptional Italian Villa just north of the crossroads (20 North Main Street) and Edwin G. Sanford lived next door in a much smaller Greek Revival style house (10 North Main Street). Both men were members of the Episcopal Church; Edwin donated the land across the street from his house for the present church. After the company relocated to Bridgeport in 1870, Edwin sold his house, but Charles kept the villa for a seasonal residence.
Among the several other Bridgewater natives and residents who made architectural contributions to the district was Charles B. Thompson, who was known as the "Mail Order King." A flamboyant manufacturer and purveyor of exotic toiletries by mail, Thompson started his company in the "Old Ranche," the former Northrup Palmer House at 33 North Main Street. Because of the volume of business generated by his ingenious promotion and sales schemes, a new larger factory building was erected in the center in 1899 (27 South Main Street). Thompson's office was in the third floor of the 50-foot tower; his secret compounds were developed in the basement laboratories; but most of the space was used for packing and shipping. The scale of the operation was impressive: up to 45 people were employed; more than $4,000 per month was spent on postage and advertising. As many as a thousand mail orders a day poured in the Bridgewater Post office for "Perfumo," Thompson's principal product, which he claimed was made from a rare mineral found only in Arabia. Orders were sent in by thousands of field agents all over the United States, who were rewarded with prizes for meeting sales quotas. Before postal laws brought an end to his empire, Thompson built an elaborate Queen Anne style house across the road from the earlier factory. The house was destroyed by fire but its matching carriage house, now a residence, still stands (46 North Main Street). It is said that postmaster Charles Hatch resented the burden of the mail-order business, while Thompson always claimed it was his patronage that made it possible for Hatch to build his own impressive Colonial Revival house across the street in 1910.
Captain William D. Burnham (1847-1919) made a name for himself much farther afield. When his family moved to Bridgewater from Cornwall in 1851, they lived in Burnham Cottage, then located in the middle of the present cemetery. It now stands next to the Bridgewater Historical Society. Burnham went to sea at age 14 and rose through the ranks to command clipper ships and other sailing vessels. He established the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company in 1898, soon after the Hawaiian Islands were ceded to the United States. His original fleet of four freighters, which grew to 28 by 1914, was requisitioned by the government during World War I. Before his death in 1919, Burnham consulted on the construction of the railroad across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico and the Panama Canal. The chief beneficiary of his estate was the Town of Bridgewater. The bequest, designated for educational purposes and received after the death of his wife, funded the construction of the Burnham Memorial Library (62 South Main Street) and the Burnham School (80 South Main Street).
Van Wyck Brooks, who purchased the Hatch House in 1949, was one of many well-known artists and writers who came to live in Litchfield County (9 Clapboard Road). A literary scholar and winner of the Pultizer Prize in 1937 for The Flowering of New England, the first of a five-volume series on American literary history, Brooks lived in Bridgewater until his death in 1963. Visitors to his home included other celebrities such as Carl Sandburg, Mark Van Doren, Norman Mailer, and Frederic March. At least two of his guests, sculptor Alexander Calder and writer William Styron, lived nearby in Roxbury.
Remarkably little modern development intrudes upon the historic architectural integrity of Bridgewater Center Historic District. Contiguous historic properties line the roads, conveying the nineteenth-century origins of this crossroads village and its progress through the early twentieth century. Center Park, although reduced in size, still provides a landscaped focus for the crossroads, where an impressive, well-preserved group of stylistically diverse institutional and commercial buildings span the nineteenth century. This historic architectural framework for the district is further delineated by the early twentieth-century institutional buildings at the southern end. With broad front lawns and gabled facades, most of the historic houses maintain the rural architectural rhythm so characteristic of nineteenth-century village streetscapes. The scale, gable orientation, or setback of some civic structures, such as the turn-of-the-century Town Hall, contribute to this pattern. Period outbuildings, especially the tailor shop and the two water towers, add to the historic atmosphere, as does the nineteenth-century cemetery at the head of the district.
With a few notable exceptions, the historic houses in the Bridgewater Center Historic District are local interpretations of Federal and Greek Revival styles. The characteristic simplicity of their well-preserved facades, which often combine features of both styles, is enhanced by the almost universal use of white paint. The movement from the attenuation of the Federal style to the bolder Greek Revival was quite subtle, even when expressed on the newer side-hall plan houses in the district, which include the Samuel Clark House at 20 Hat Shop Hill or the dwelling at 67 Main Street South. The generally conservative nature of the Bridgewater Center Historic District's domestic architecture, however, is shown in the late 1830s by the George Warner House at 1 Warner Road or the Oliver Phippeny House at 59 North Main Street; both still utilized a basic gabled colonial form and plan, as well as a ridge-to-street orientation. By mid-century a well-preserved temple-fronted farmhouse was built at 79 Main Street North, but this house is the only example in the district of the fully integrated Greek Revival style. Even as late as 1860, applied Greek Revival detailing still elaborated older colonial forms, as demonstrated by the George Lyon House (41 South Main Street).
Among the individually distinctive houses is the Italian Villa built by Charles H. Sanford about 1850 (20 North Main Street). Exceptionally well-preserved with an atypical rectangular plan and recessed porch, the Sanford House and the other villas owned by the family on Hat Shop Hill (outside the district) are sophisticated interpretations of a style found more often in Connecticut's cities. The Hatch House across the street at 9 Clapboard Road is another example of urban influence. It is a fine representation of the Colonial Revival Foursquare, a style popular in streetcar suburbs of the early 1900s. Embellished with Neo-Classical exterior features, this well-preserved house reportedly has a fully detailed period interior.
The two churches in the Bridgewater Center Historic District demonstrate the contrasting sectarian influences on ecclesiastical design that emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century. The essentially conservative nature of Congregational architecture, at least prior to the Greek Revival period, is conveyed by the 1807 Bridgewater Church (10 Clapboard Road). A focal point for the Bridgewater Center Historic District because of its commanding position and the basic integrity of its boldly delineated form, this church is clearly patterned on the Congregational meetinghouses of the colonial period. St. Mark's is a good example of a Gothic Revival style country church, a type favored by this denomination after about 1840 (5 South Main Street). Its wooden construction is rather unusual; most examples of this style, which is derived from the Anglican parish churches and chapels of rural England, are stone masonry. The loss of the tall spire, a symbolic representation of Episcopalian faith, is unfortunate, but the rest of the original building and its later matching wing are well preserved.
With its unusual form and eclectic design, the Charles B. Thompson Building makes a dramatic architectural statement, an effect heightened by its village setting (27 South Main Street). The Queen Anne tower has a residential appearance, but the well-preserved main block could have graced any late nineteenth-century downtown business district. Its continued use as a store has helped preserve its exceptional integrity of form and detail, a state of preservation only slightly compromised by the modern post office addition on the right elevation.
The Burnham School (80 South Main Street) and Burnham Memorial Library (62 South Main Street) are a fitting summation to the architectural development of the Bridgewater Center Historic District. These handsome Neo-Classical Revival buildings are skillfully designed structures with superior integrity. Their modern wings are carefully sited to limit the impact upon the original designs. In addition, both buildings maintain the residential setback, thus preserving the continuity of the historic streetscape.
"House that stamps built is postscript to an era." The News-Times. May 21, 1995.
Kelly, J. Frederick. Early Connecticut Meetinghouses: Being an Account of Church Edifices Built before 1830 Based Chiefly upon Town and Parish Records, Vol.1. New York: Columbia University Press, 1948.
Olivea, Charles Laurence. "Origin of Town Names." Photocopy on file Burnham Memorial Library.
Orcutt, Samuel. History of the Towns of New Milford & Bridgewater, Connecticut. Hartford: Case Lockwood & Brainerd Press, 1882.
Landmarks of Bridgewater. Bridgewater Historical Society, Bridgewater, Connecticut, 1958 (forward by Van Wyck Brooks).
"Mail order king puts Bridgewater in big time." Waterbury Republican. August, 1993.
Map of Bridgewater, c.1870.
75 Years: the Changing face of Bridgewater, 1920-1995 as witnessed by Mary Johnson Allen and Dorothy Allen Gustafson. n.p., 1995.
Town Greens. Statewide Architectural and Historical Survey, 172 properties. Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1996.
† Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Preservation Associates and John Herzan, Connecticut Hitorical Commission, Bridgewater Center Historic District, Litchfield, CT, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.