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Goshen Historic District

Goshen Town, Litchfield County, CT

The Goshen Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


The Goshen Historic District comprises about 50 buildings in the center of the town, around the intersection of State Routes 4 and one of the highest places in the state, and most of the structures are on the high ridge followed by Route 63. The land drops off sharply to either side. Most of the land in the Goshen Historic District is open, and while some is used for pasture, in general it is not extensively cultivated. The buildings in the Goshen Historic District, for the most part, sit close to the tree-lined street, and are spaced quite closely together. In addition to the residences, the Goshen Historic District's historic buildings include two churches, the Goshen Academy, a store dating from about 1825, the 1895 Town Hall, and the remains of a forge, part of a carriage-making business, now preserved as a monument. Although there are a few 18th-century houses and some from the Victorian period, the majority of the dwellings are either Federal or Greek Revival in inspiration.

The architectural integrity of the buildings in the Goshen Historic District is generally intact. Although asphalt-shingled roofs are nearly universal, aluminum and other inappropriate siding materials are rare, and even then, some houses have been sided with close attention to preserving detail. Most houses have early if not original sash, doors, and chimneys. Several houses have small barns which, while of uncertain age, appear to date back to the 19th century. Interiors have been changed, but most retain their mantels and other woodwork. Few houses have out-of-scale additions or modifications which obscure the house's form or significant features. Exceptions to these generalizations include a small 18th-century gambrel-roofed house whose porch and built-out bay mask the house's original lines; two houses [one is a Second Empire style] which appear to have lost detail due to siding; and the Federal/Colonial Revival Moses Lyman House whose added portico (c.1910) has greatly altered the facade. Most buildings are inhabited, with some serving as part-time residences, but the store and Old Town Hall are presently [1982] unoccupied.

There are only a few structures which do not contribute to the Goshen Historic District's historical character: two comparatively recent dwellings [modern Capes, built in 1940 and 1947], a small shopping area of three modern stores, a barn and the town garage, both cinder block, a modern brick church, a new parish house, and two service stations, one of which is used as a tractor dealership. Of the fewer than a dozen noncontributing buildings, only the two service stations, which occupy two corners of the central intersection, seriously interrupt the march of classically-detailed, clapboarded old buildings which characterizes Goshen.

One landscape feature of note is the grove of trees on either side of Route 4 East, as one approaches the village. Known locally as swamp willows, the trees are gnarled and covered with shoots, presenting an unusual and distinctive entrance to the town.

The boundaries of the Goshen Historic District were delineated easily: on Gifford Road, the east side of Route 63 South, and the north side of Route 4 West, there were simply no more buildings. On the east side of Route 63 North, the Goshen Historic District is sharply defined by the large, modern brick school-library-town office complex (which was built on the site of the carriage factory). Similarly, a large barn with corrugated siding, the quarters for an animal show, forms a distinct break on the south side of Route 4 East. In all other directions, the boundary stops so as to exclude modern houses, mostly Capes or Ranches, which would not add to the architectural or historical significance of the district. There were no other historic buildings reasonably nearby which could have been included. In general, the Goshen Historic District boundary follows rear property lines, but it cuts across large tracts so as to avoid excessive acreage.

The houses in Goshen for the most part may be grouped into five categories. The 18th-century houses are 2-1/2 stories (except for the 1-1/2-story gambrel-roofed house dated 1769 in tax records), with five-bay main facades and 3-4" overhangs at both the second and attic stories. Federal period houses are either of the type with the five-bay main facade, or have the gable end turned toward the street. The Greek Revival houses mostly continue this orientation, but with bolder detail and heavier pilasters and entablatures. The last type of house form is derived from the Greek Revival, but is very plain and has only a pilaster-and-lintel doorway to indicate its antecedents, or in some cases, not even that. Many of these plain houses are said to have been put up by Simon Scoville, the carriagemaker. Finally, there are houses which cannot be put into any of the four above types: the later 19th-century houses, and a few which are unique: the Lavalette Perrin House, combining Greek and Carpenter Gothic elements, and the Myron Norton House, the only stone house in the Goshen Historic District.


The Goshen Historic District is significant as an extensive, well preserved and concentrated collection of early rural vernacular architecture. Moreover, the Goshen Historic District is important for local history: because it comprises the center of town, it includes buildings associated with important institutions in Goshen, such as the churches, the Academy, and the Town Hall. Other structures, such as the store or the remains of the forge, recall aspects of Goshen's economic history. And finally, many of the houses are associated with persons who in one way or another figure in the history of the town.

Federal and Greek Revival detailed houses predominate in Goshen. The Federal period houses are quite plain in comparison with those in nearby Litchfield, lacking the elaborately carved ornament or complex cornices found there and elsewhere nearby. Nevertheless, many elements common in the architecture of the period may be seen within the district: Palladian, elliptical and semi-elliptical windows, fanlights, and pilastered mantelpieces. Several houses have an entranceway which shows the Adam influence on country building: slender fluted pilasters, a band of dentils above the transom, and a cornice of narrow moldings, convex in shape, with breaks over the pilasters. A simpler version, with plain pilasters and frieze, is found in other buildings, such as the Academy or the Goshen Store. The attenuated proportions of the doorway, the small-scale ornament, and the subtle shape of the cornice epitomize the principles of lightness and grace espoused by the Scottish Adam brothers, late 18th-century architects whose influence was felt throughout the English-speaking world.

The Goshen Historic District's Greek Revival buildings present a clear contrast to the Federal motifs. The pilasters are thicker, the entablatures heavier, and where there is ornament it is bolder and decidedly Greek rather than simply classical in inspiration. Often, however, there is only the pilaster-and-lintel entrance to provide a basis for stylistic categorization.

Nevertheless, there are several buildings from the early 19th century which are of architectural importance in their own right. The Congregational Church was designed by Benjamin Palmer of Brooklyn, Connecticut, a carpenter-builder who also built the Windham County Courthouse in Brooklyn and directed the reconstruction of the Burlington Congregational Church. The Goshen Church (1832) is a transitional building: the three arched entrances and the multistage tower are similar to Federal-period churches in the region, while the proportions of the columns and the fret design around the doors are Greek. The central location of the building, its high visibility, and its interesting details make it a pivotal structure.

The Goshen Academy building is also significant, in part because the number of surviving academies from this period is not great. Except for the cupola, the building (1824) is not markedly different from contemporary dwellings. However, the large gilded eagle on the front is a major piece of architectural sculpture with few if any peers in Connecticut. The carver of the large wooden bird is not known, but the carving is apparently original to the building, known as Eagle Hall. It is tied into the framing members with iron rods.

Among the residences, the two large Federal houses (David Wadhams House, 1803 and David Thompson House, 1803) are interesting because they are nearly identical in form and detail and because they are the most elaborate residences of that period. Their Palladian windows, modillioned cornices, and fine interior woodwork come closest to the standards of Federal architecture found in the larger towns. Among the Greek Revival houses, the most richly-detailed is the Frederick Lyman House (c.1840). The carved capitals of the entrance pilasters and the Greek fret on the doorway jambs are complemented within by the interior woodwork, an extensive system of molded boards and carved corner blocks. The device is common in Greek Revival houses, but it is rarely carried out so extensively. Other houses of exceptional architectural significance include the Moses Wright House, c.1750, a good example of the lean-to form, and the Dr. Elisha Sill House, 1776, whose several rooms of raised panelling, fine beam casings, cornices and dadoes are outstanding because of their completeness.

Three buildings are so unusual that they merit special attention. The Myron Norton House, 1840, stands out in several respects: it is the only stone house in the Goshen Historic District; it is the only Greek Revival house that departs from the usual gable roofed form, having a square plan and hipped roof with monitor; and it has two identical entrances at its cut-away front corners. The columns are said to have been salvaged from the previous church building. Although hipped roofs are found in other substantial houses of the period, the combination of the roof, the columns and cut-away corners, and the stone quoins make this house a highly individual specimen of Greek Revival architecture.

The Lavalette Perrin House (c.1843) is of interest because it combines Greek Revival and Carpenter Gothic details. An engraving of the house less than ten years after its construction shows it nearly as it appears today, so it is not unreasonable to consider it as all of a piece. The pilaster-and-lintel motif used on every window and door opening relates the house to the other Greek Revival detailed houses in the district, whereas the bargeboard is a Gothic element. Such combinations were quite common in the pattern books of cottage designs popular at the time. However, there are not many actual executions of these romantic flights of fancy.

The final unusual building is the Town Hall, erected in 1895 and now [1982] unoccupied. When it was built, it provided office space for the clerk and selectmen, and a large meeting room with a stage. With its rectangular plan, gable-end-to-the-street orientation, quarter-round windows and full cornice return, it would resemble its earlier neighbors, were it not for the shingled tower in front. The old Town Hall is a pivotal building because of its position on a key corner, its compatibility with the earlier structures, and its intrinsic historical significance as the first official town building.

The architectural importance of the Goshen Historic District goes beyond the individual virtues of the buildings, however, for it is the grouping of so many historic houses along Route 63 that gives the Goshen Historic District its character. Except for the two service stations and one modern house, there is an uninterrupted line of old and distinguished buildings. The repetition of details (entire entranceways are virtually identical), materials (the cut-stone underpinnings and clapboarded exteriors), and the scale and shape of the houses, mostly 2-1/2 stories tall with the gable end to the street, gives the Goshen Historic District an exceptional degree of coherence.

Goshen was a rather small settlement throughout the 18th century, but in the early years of the 19th century the population expanded. The town benefited from the building of turnpikes from Litchfield to Canaan (1799), from Goshen to Sharon (1802) and from Litchfield to Cornwall (1814), making Goshen into a crossroads of some note. There were several stores in the center, of which only one (Goshen General Store, c.1825) survives, though now [1982] vacant. Two merchants, David Wadhams and David Thompson, ran a store in Goshen and built the two nearly identical Federal houses north of the intersection, apparently carrying their partnership in business over to their taste in houses. Moses Lyman, whose house was enlarged, also was a storekeeper. These buildings, as well as the preponderance of early 19th-century houses in the Goshen Historic District, illustrate how important these years were in the history of the town.

Most of the residents in the early 19th century were not merchants but rather farmers, including Giles Griswold, who lived in a Federal style house built in 1833, and Moses and Erastus Lyman (Moses Lyman House, c.1815 and Erastus Lyman House, 1802), the latter two pursuing full-time farming after retiring from business. Much of the effort of Goshen's farmers went into commercial dairying. The town was famous for its "Pineapple Cheese," a cheddar the shape and color of that fruit. Not only did the cheese industry consume most of the milk of Goshen's farms, it also called for thousands of wooden cheese boxes each year, which were locally produced. After 1850, many Irish immigrants came to Goshen to work as farm laborers. St. Thomas' Church is the second Catholic church on the site and was built in 1876. It is important as a symbol of the Irish role in the town's economic history.

There was hardly any industry in this part of town. An exception was the carriagemaking business of Simon Scoville, who began as a blacksmith about 1840 and expanded until he had several forges and a large painting shop. He is said to have built many of the plain houses on either side of Route 63, near the site of the carriage factory. The partial forge which remains is locally significant as a reminder of this once-important industry. Its value for industrial archeologists while not actually determined through test digging would seem limited due to the construction of the driveways, tennis courts, and municipal complex on the site.

The Goshen Academy, like most of its contemporaries, was established by private subscription of prominent townspeople. Its original purpose was partly to prepare scholars for college, and also to provide general education for young people with the time and money to attend. Girls were admitted from the earliest years. In time, the academy came to serve as Goshen's public secondary school, until outgrown in the 20th century. Notable graduates include T.S. Gold, a pioneer in Connecticut scientific farming associated with the Cream Hill Agricultural School (a National Register site in nearby West Cornwall). The Academy is now the research and exhibition headquarters of an active local historical society.

In the nineteenth century, the church was an essential landmark in nearly every Connecticut village. Indeed, it was the church building itself which identified a location as a distinct entity. Goshen was no exception, and the Congregational Church here played an important social role. In the years just before the present building was erected, the Goshen congregation was active in promoting missionary work in the Pacific islands. The Lavalette Perrin House (c.1843) is also associated with the church: Perrin was the minister from 1843 to 1857. The present parsonage (Giles Griswold House) was given to the church in 1851 by Giles Griswold's will.

In short, the buildings of the National Register Goshen Historic District convey a real sense of time and place. Most of the houses, with some noticeable and significant exceptions, are simple dwellings with just a few stylistic details typical of 19th-century rural architecture. Moreover, many of the necessary components of village life churches, stores, a school, the remains of a small factory, and private residences are preserved in good condition, providing the physical context for local history.


Hibbard, A.G. Historical Address Delivered at the 150th Anniversary of the First Congregational Church of Goshen. Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainerd, 1890.

________. History of the Town of Goshen, Connecticut. Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainerd, 1897.

Woodford, E.M. Map of the Town of Goshen. Philadelphia: Richard Clark, 1852.

Manuscript Sources

"Oviatt House, Goshen." Colonial Dames Collection, State Library, Hartford.

Porter, Samuel (comp.). "Scrapbooks." Goshen Historical Society. Important source of early pictures and information.

U.S. Census Office. MS Schedules, Industry, 1850, Goshen; Population, 1850, Goshen.

‡ Bruce Clouette, consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Goshen Historic District, Goshen, CT, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
North Street • Old Middle Street • Route 4 East • Route 4 West • Route 63 North • Route 63 South • Sharon Turnpike • Torrington Road