Norfolk Historic District
The Norfolk Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Norfolk, located in the scenic hills of northwestern Connecticut, was incorporated in 1758. It is not an old town by Connecticut standards, but because 20th century development and construction have passed it by, Norfolk today displays the architectural charm and country town ambience that were created during the 19th century years when the descendants of Joseph Battell helped establish the community's present character.
The traffic center and the visual center of the village is the green, which is a narrow, triangular park running 500 feet in the north-south direction. Just north of the green is the business and shopping center. The Norfolk Historic District is comprised of the green, with its abutting properties, and the business district. There are 37 sites and structures. All are considered to add to the historic character of the district.
Highways from north, south, and east converge at the green which is pleasantly planted with trees and shrubs. It is the site of three monuments. In the center is a tall stone obelisk commemorating local citizens who fought in the Civil War. At the northern edge of the green is a flag pole and bronze tablet mounted on stone in which are incised the names of those who offered their lives in World War II. At the southern tip of the triangle is a fountain, designed by Stanford White in 1889, honoring the second Joseph Battell. The fountain is executed in pink stone in the conventional arrangement of round column topped by a sphere with trough for animals on one side and fountain for humans on the other. Three fish are positioned over the sphere, from whose mouths issue streams of water that fall into the trough. A further stream issues into the trough from the mouth of a lion mounted on the column, while water for the humans' fountain comes from the mouth of a fish on the other side of the column. Two more animal heads on the side of the trough spurt water into shallow basins at grade for small animals. The mechanism for the seven streams of water is in good working order. The nearby marble bench was part of the original composition, and the two tall handsome free-standing bronze lamps were added at a later date to match the two on the column.
A sign made of wood giving direction and mileage to nearby towns is located at the northwest corner of the green. Round posts support two rectangular panels at a 90-degree angle to one another on which are shown not only the factual information needed by travellers, but also the likenesses of a hare and a stag. The present sign, painted in 1965 by Raymond Dowden, then director of the Yale summer school of art at Norfolk, duplicates the faded original that is now on display at the Historical Society. Artist for the original is unknown.
The structures surrounding the green are institutions and private homes. Every New England village green traditionally has a white church with a tall spire. Norfolk has a handsome specimen on the west side, built in 1813 to the design of David Hoadley. Set back from the street on an elevated site, and with its spire rising higher than any other building, the Church of Christ is altogether a commanding presence in Norfolk. Its square tower with a vertical oval window on three faces and a clock on the front is supported half by the roof of the body of the meeting house and half by a central projecting pavilion. The spire rises from the tower in two octagonal stages and is surmounted by a tall cone with cross finial, There are three balustrades, at the top of the tower and at the top of each of the two octagonal stages. Each face of the stages has a rectangular window. On the front facade the gable roof of the pavilion, forming a pediment, projects out over a porch of white marble, and is supported by four two-story Ionic columns. The traditional composition is completed by six windows, with twenty-over-twenty sash and shutters, at the first and second story levels along the sides of the body of the meeting house, under a dentilled eaves cornice.
Across the green from the church is a smaller, 30 by 41-foot white clapboarded building of similar plan and proportions, constructed in 1840 for the Norfolk Academy. It served as the Town Hall for a period of years starting in 1846 when the Ecclesiastical Society no longer would permit use of the church for town meetings. The Norfolk Historical Society now occupies these premises. The dominating feature of the building is its pediment, supported by panelled pilasters. The pediment has wide flush boarding running parallel to each of its three sides. A short, square tower rises above the pediment. The top of the tower carries a battlemented parapet in miniature.
Two more institutional buildings face the west and north sides of the green, both constructed in 1888. The Battell Chapel, a heavy granite Christian education building for the Church of Christ, was designed by J. Cleveland Cady in the Romanesque style. On the right, a massive, square, two-story tower with pyramidal roof surmounts a round arched entrance that is under two small, square medieval apertures and, at a higher level, paired round arched windows. At the left is a square porch for an additional entry. In the center, under gable roof with projecting eaves is a half-round one-story section with apsidal roof, separated from the porch by a small, round, two-story turret. The five windows in the central, round wall have stained glass, added later, signed Lewis C. Tiffany. They depict, mostly in shades of blue and green, the seasons at Norfolk, with hills, streams, trees, and snow-covered landscape. A later, one-story brick ell has been added to the left.
The second 1888 institution is the library, the work of George Keller in a style that is difficult to categorize, but that owes much to the influence of Philip Webb and Norman Shaw. The first floor is built of rough-finished Longmeadow red freestone. Above it are scalloped red tile, and then a large expanse of roof, originally red tile and now shingles. The front facade at each of its three levels has a horizontal band of windows, an early use of this motif. At the right is a round tower with conical roof, a Queen Anne feature characteristic of Keller's work. At the left, the entrance porch arch is barely pointed, and above it is a shield in foil surrounded by foliate carving, a Gothic element. The interior of the library is similar to contemporary work by H.H. Richardson. The bookshelves of ash are arrayed in alcoved two tiers high, divided horizontally by balconies with low balustrades under a barrel vault ceiling. A large reading room addition was constructed on the back of the library in 1911 to Keller's design.
The land facing the west side of the green, except for that in the center occupied by the two Church of Christ edifices, is the former Stoeckel estate, now serving as summer quarters for the Yale school of music and art. The estate, roughly square in shape, is 78 acres in size and is by far the largest single component of the 90-acre Norfolk Historic District. At the north and south ends of the green are two houses lived in for many years by Joseph Battell and his descendants. The Joseph Eldridge House at the south, now called the Battell House, has undergone many alterations. It was built early in the 19th century as a modest farm house, and enlarged from time to time. At about the turn of the century Classical Revival details were added, such as a Palladian window in the front facade over the doorway, and a front porch with round columns. Early in the 20th century a wing was removed and replaced with a community meeting room, and the third story of the house was removed. The building is now used for administration of the Yale summer school. The 1799 Joseph Battell house at the north, always referred to as the Whitehouse, has also been enlarged and altered from time to time. It now provides space for a collection of paintings and for music practice rooms. It presents an impressive appearance visible for a distance at the end of the street as one approaches the green from the east. Its three-story front facade, formerly Italianate, now has a two-story, semi-circular portico of two Ionic columns and two Ionic pilasters supporting a high roof with balustrade. The entrance has four fluted Ionic colonettes in front of pilasters on either side of the door and its leaded sidelights. There is a balcony supported by consoles over the doorway. It has a graceful balustrade composed of spirally turned balusters and spirally turned newell posts that have urn finials. The house has an opulent interior, after the manner of Robert Adam (1728-1792), the English architect who popularized delicate and attenuated moldings, festoons, ceiling decorations, doorway surrounds and other classically inspired trim.
Much of the estate is enclosed by a stepped, six-foot-high, masonry fence built of brick on a stone base and capped by marble. It dominates the streetscape on the west side of the road north of the green. The music shed on the estate, not visible from the road, was built in 1904, Erick C. Rossiter, architect. A brown shingled building with white trim, it has a columned, pedimented portico size 10 by 19 feet, with a leaded semi-circular window in the pediment. Behind the porch is a 12 by 36-foot foyer, and then the principal part of the building, 60 by 162 feet, with seating for 1,200 in the redwood-finished interior. Other estate buildings are used by the school and new housing has been built on the grounds for the school.
Several other buildings face the green on the north and east sides. The house at the northwest corner was the Pettibone Tavern, 1794, a stop on the Hartford-Albany stage coach line. Enlarged from time to time, it presents a five-bay facade to the green that is covered with aluminum clapboard siding and aluminum trim. The central doorway surround, however, is the original wood, and there is a central chimney, and third-floor overhang at front and ends. At the southeast corner of the green, the influence of the Second Empire is apparent in the mansard roof added c.1887 to an older house known as Crissey Place. It is now painted white except for the shingles of the mansard that remain a weathered grey. There are pedimented dormers in the mansard, the central one a double window, and there is a cupola on the roof.
All the buildings around the green, with the exception of the two masonry 1888 institutions, are painted white, irrespective of age or style, in accordance with the practice often followed by small New England towns. A fine exception to this rule is present on the west side of the road three houses below the southern edge of the Stoeckel estate. Here, tucked behind the trees, is an impressive 1884 Stick style house painted all over a deep red. It is asymmetrical in plan, with an array of porches and gables. The dominating feature is a heavy third-floor gable over the front entrance at the left corner of the house. The gable is corbelled out from the front wall and an arcade in wood is corbelled out from the gable, connecting the broad eaves.
The location of the present Norfolk business center was determined in 1871 with the arrival of the Western Connecticut Railroad. The tracks ran in a cut just east of the library and the station was established at a site behind (north of) the library. A street known as Station Place was cut through from the main road north of the Pettibone Tavern to the station. Center-village activities still line this short street. The largest and most elaborate structure in this group is the four-story Royal Arcanum Building at the northeast corner of Station Place and the main road. Alfredo S.G. Taylor drew the plans for this building, which was completed in 1905. At completion it housed the Post Office, drug store, Fire Department, Probate Court, telephone company, Royal Arcanum hall, and other offices. Construction material included stone foundations, brick walls, interior brick bearing walls, and terra cotta decorative trim in colors blue, white, light green, dark green, and buff. The style of architecture of the building can perhaps be characterized as Romanesque Revival with overtones of the Chateauesque. The facade facing Station Place has blind round arches at first and second stories that contain the entrance and windows. The broad roof starts above the second story and has banks of dormers at third and fourth story levels, jerkinhead at the third floor and steeply gabled at the fourth. There is a row of brick latticework below the second floor eaves, with the interstices of the lattice filled with green terra cotta panels. Terra cotta in colors is used for the lettering ROYAL ARCANUM over the front door and for the letters NVFD to right and left of the fire department entrance. A one-story porch at the corner of the main road, out over the sidewalk, has an arcade of five large, round arches with oversize brick keystones. Third floor gables at the corner have broad bands of diaper brickwork parallel to their eaves, and heavy pyramidal stone finials at the gable peaks.
Diagonally across Station Place from the Arcanum Building is a 1902 Spanish Colonial Revival stucco hardware store. It has heavy shaped central gable and gable ends and a red tile roof over round-headed windows. Terra cotta mosaic borders the brick doorway and the central window, and is used in panels above the foundations. Visible over the roof of the store is the cupola of a Victorian barn with a three-dimensional rooster weathervane. Further along on this side of Station Place is the former 1898 railroad station, a quarry finish granite ashlar building. It has a porte-cochere under hip roof in front of a projecting section of its oblong mass. The interior was rehabilitated for residential use in 1973.
Continuing north on the main road, the neighbor of the Arcanum Building is the small, one-story, grey granite, Greek Revival Norfolk Savings Bank building, built in 1857. It has buff granite surrounds for its segmental arched windows. The pilasters, entablature, and pediment of the entrance are wood. Next to the bank is the 1888 Opera House or Village Hall, a fanciful expression of the Queen Anne style. Its facade, covered with shingles in several shapes, has two gables with a long shed dormer between them on a high roof. The front wall flares out over the sidewalk. Above the flare, in the center, is a decorative group of seven windows surmounted by a large festoon. On the right, over windows arranged in the shape of a cross, is the image, in wood, of a new moon, with a man. On the left in a corresponding position is a sunburst. On the interior the hall remains in original condition, occupying the second and third floors. The painted and panelled proscenium arch, painted house curtain, shaped balcony balustrade and balcony, narrow, beaded wall and ceiling boards, roof struts, colored glass, and gas fixtures are all still in place. The hall is not used.
This confection is followed by a two-story frame plumbing shop, now  vacant, again with shaped shingles, in a composition that is Queen Anne with Greek Revival accents. Its first floor pent roof is supported by quarter-round brackets that have an incised radial pattern. Beyond it is a three-story brick commercial building, formerly the Wangum Hotel, built in 1913.
Northeast of the railroad station is a unique example in Norfolk of the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright — the Eldridge Gymnasium of 1892, now the Town Hall. Henry Rutgers Marshall drew the plans for this broad, shingle roofed, horizontally oriented exception to the colonial and revival styles found elsewhere in Norfolk. It is built of long, thin, pressed buff bricks that measure 1-3/8 by 4 by 12 inches. Its porte-cochere at the left is balanced by the entrance porch at the right, both having broad roofs that are extensions of the main roof. The main roof, originally covered with orange tiles, is high hip in configuration, with truncated dormers; yet the overall emphasis of the building is horizontal. The front wall, between the porte-cochere and the porch has a long rectangle of light and dark brown bricks in the pattern of a Greek fret. Because of the sloping site, the building which is one-story on the front is two-story in the back. The long rear expanse is broken by two bows in the wall. The upper floor was designed as an open verandah with a view of the Canaan Valley and the Taconic range. It is now closed in. Below the porch three massive bands of rough, dark brown sandstone at the top, middle, and bottom of the first-floor windows by contrasting in color and texture with the lighter, smooth brick introduce an H.H. Richardson accent to the design.
In 1962 Norfolk established one of the first local historic districts in Connecticut. Its boundaries surround the green, including the buildings but not the full depth of the properties facing the green, and several houses south of the green. The present National Register Norfolk Historic District encompasses all the structures in the local district and all of the land of these properties, plus the commercial district north of the green, and the Eldridge Gymnasium. The local district memorialized the white, primarily colonial-appearing structures around the green. The present Norfolk Historic District adds a group of primarily vernacular late 19th century commercial buildings, and the Eldridge Gymnasium. Together, they constitute the center of the town of Norfolk.
The amount of good architecture in Norfolk, Connecticut is quite surprising for a sleepy, country town. In addition to late colonial buildings of interest for their antiquity, the work of seven 19th and early 20th century architects of national standing is present in the Norfolk Historic District, a representation hard to match elsewhere in the state in towns of similar size. Moreover, the spacing and arrangement of the buildings around the village green and in the adjacent business district provide a charm and ambience of great merit.
The history of the town and its architecture is so intimately entwined with people related to Joseph Battell, that it is valuable to have in mind the basics of the Battell-Eldridge-Stoeckel family tree. The Reverend Ammi Ruhama Robbins (1740-1813) arrived in Norfolk in 1761 and served as minister for 52 years until 1813, the year the present church edifice was raised. Twenty years after his arrival, Joseph Battell (1774-1841) took up residence in Norfolk. He became a highly successful merchant and land speculator. Joseph Battell married the daughter of Rev. Robbins and became the father of nine children, including Robbins (1819-1895), Sarah (1809-1878), and Uraniah (1814-1887). His sons followed in his footsteps, owning extensive acreage in Vermont, the Western Reserve, and elsewhere. Robbins was the donor of the chapel. Sarah married Joseph Eldridge (1804-1874), who for 42 years was pastor of the church. Their three daughters, the Eldridge sisters, each made an architectural gift for the benefit of the town, Mary (1842-1926) the fountain, Isabella (1848-1919) the library, and Alice (1850-1926) the gymnasium. Robbins Battell's daughter, Ellen (1851-1939), in 1895 married Carl Stoeckel (1858-1925). It is their estate that includes the ancestral Battell and Eldridge homes and the Music Shed, now the summer home of the Yale school of music and art.
The first of the architects drawn to Norfolk to design buildings associated with the Battell-Eldridge-Stoeckel family was David Hoadley (1774-1838), a life-long resident of Waterbury. Though self-taught, he was one of the two or three fully-qualified architects in Connecticut early in the 19th century. The meeting house he designed for Norfolk is one of his best. Hoadley's other, similar work includes the United Church on the Green in New Haven, and Congregational churches at Killingworth, Avon, Milford, and Waterbury, all in Connecticut. His Norfolk church has been changed on the outside by late 19th century alterations to the front facade that included the introduction of round-headed windows, a pedimented hood supported by carved brackets over the central door, and heavy flat molded caps over the flanking doors. In 1926 these Italianate elements were removed in favor of the present imposing Ionic porch, the gift of Alice Eldridge Bridgman. Changes on the inside in 1846, 1880, and 1949 included a new pulpit and memorial window in the wall behind the pulpit. Nevertheless, the present basic size, plan, proportions, and Baroque steeple clearly are Hoadley's.
J. Cleveland Cady (1837-1919) of New York, architect of the Battell Chapel, was well known in Connecticut. A graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, he worked as a draftsman for Town and Davis before opening his own office in 1870. He designed several buildings for Yale and Trinity, was invited to participate in the second 1872 competition for the Connecticut State Capitol but declined, was judge of the 1882 abortive competition for Hartford's Civil War arch, and in 1872 designed the Watkinson Library wing of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford (demolished 1968). His Battell Chapel remains essentially in its original condition, with the welcome addition of the Tiffany windows. The chapel was a benefaction of several members of the Battell family in memory of Joseph and Sarah Battell. The Tiffany windows were presented by Ellen Battell Stoeckel. A contemporary wing has been added for offices.
The Battell Memorial Fountain, designed by Stanford White (1853-1906), is a standard fountain of the times. George Keller did quite similar designs at the Ansonia, Connecticut, Library in 1891 and in honor of Cole Albert A. Pope in Pope Park, Hartford, in 1913. There is no question, however, that White designed the Battell fountain. The Norfolk Historical Society has researched the matter and has in its possession an invitation to the unveiling September 27, 1889, and contemporary clippings from a local newspaper and from the New York Herald, all of which state that White designed the fountain.
Isabella Eldridge engaged George Keller (1842-1935) of Hartford to design her library for the town. In this case, as in the others, the exact circumstances that brought the client together with the architect are not known. It can only be said that members of the Battell-Eldridge-Stoeckel family obviously were cosmopolitan and well-connected. Keller's libraries, here, at Ansonia, and at Granville, Massachusetts, were the crowning achievement of his career, though they did not bring him the national recognition that his Garfield Memorial (1885-1890), Cleveland, Ohio, did. The Keller library and Cady chapel were under construction simultaneously and used some of the same artisans and resources, although only Keller used Hartford's sculptor, Albert W. Entress (1846-1926). James T. Levi of Norfolk was the contractor for carpentry for both buildings, Snow and Wooster of Norfolk for the stone work, Maitland, Armstrong and Company of New York the stained glass windows, and the Baynes Mosaic and Tracery Company of New York the memorial tablets in both.
Henry Rutgers Marshall (1852-1927), architect of Alice Eldridge Bridgman's Gymnasium, was an author, and lectured at Yale, which may have been the point of contact with the Norfolk family. He conducted a substantial practice that included the library at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the home of Rudyard Kipling at Brattleboro, Vermont.
Erick K. Rossiter (1854-1941), who designed the Music Shed for the Stoeckels, was born in Paris and had his office in New York. He was responsible for a number of buildings in New England, including Hepburn Hall at the University of Vermont and St. John's Church in Washington, Connecticut.
All six of the architects discussed thus far were associated with Norfolk through the Battell-Eldridge-Stoeckel family. A seventh man was local. He was Alfredo S.G. Taylor (1872-1947). Taylor was born in Florence, Italy, and it is possible to see a Mediterranean influence in his frequent use of stucco, red tile roofs, shaped gables, and decorative terra cotta colors. After graduating from Harvard in 1894, Columbia School of Architecture in 1897, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1902, he opened an office in New York City and practiced architecture there with James Levi for several decades. His summer residence was in Norfolk and he designed some fifteen structures in the greater Norfolk area in addition to the Royal Arcanum Building and perhaps the hardware store. The other works included the Church of the Immaculate Conception, his own and other homes, the garage behind the Joseph Eldridge (Battell) House, the Country Club, the Dennis Pavilion, and the World War I monument. His early penchant for bold profiles, stucco, and red tile succumbed later on, to a degree, to the influence of the Colonial Revival.
The Royal Arcanum Building, built for the Norfolk Realty Company and named for its chief tenant at the time of construction, a fraternal order, over the years has lost its original tenants, except the Masons, who shared the fraternal quarters from the beginning. Several decades ago the building also lost the tower originally positioned at its north end. The tower had a heavy balustrade at fourth floor level above which, corbelled out, each face had a gable and finial similar to those at the southwest corner of the building. In addition to housing the fire bell, the tower also provided for drying the hose.
The hardware store was built in 1910 for the Norfolk Water Company, which had its office in the building. Most of the space has always been occupied by a hardware store. The walls were covered with stucco in 1967 as a matter of maintenance and because other Taylor buildings have stucco. Prior to that time the original cement blocks, poured at the site at the time of construction, were exposed, without finish. The rear wall of the building continues in this condition.
The impressive 19th and early 20th century work of these seven architects is important to Norfolk today. Two other important aspects of Norfolk's history have left little impression in the present village. One of these was the late 18th/early 19th century industrial development. Water power was available from the falls in the Blackberry River just northwest of the Norfolk Historic District and several manufacturing establishments, including a silk mill, were located nearby. Little or nothing remains of these structures. In common with similar industry in other Connecticut hill towns, these enterprises succumbed in the 19th century to the combined influences of steam power and rail transportation that were available in the valleys. The industrial buildings themselves were eventually torn down as being unsightly, at the expense of a private benefactor (not a member of the Battell-Eldridge-Stoeckel family).
In 1871 the railroad (Western Connecticut, later Central New England) did come to town, bringing the second important influence that has now largely disappeared. The railroad right-of-way was first laid out through the green, which the town was willing to sacrifice in order to have the railroad. The Rev. Joseph Eldridge mounted a strong one-man campaign against this plan and eventually carried the day, to the later satisfaction of his fellow townspeople. The Norfolk station was declared to be at the highest elevation, 1,250 feet above sea level, of any in Connecticut; therefore, the air was healthful; therefore, the town became a summer resort. Several summer hotels were built, now destroyed. A number of summer homes were also constructed, and these survive, now as year-round residences, and, while none of them is in the district, their presence is to be noted as a factor in the present condition of the wider town that supports the Norfolk Historic District.
The Battell-Eldridge-Stoeckel family had a long association with Yale. Robbins Battell was an 1839 Yale graduate. He was a musician and a benefactor of Yale, a combination of pursuits that brought him into contact with Gustav J. Stoeckel, the university's first professor of music. Gustav's son, Carl, became secretary to Robbins Battell and married his daughter, Ellen. Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel continued active in the world of music, built the Music Shed, and left the estate in trust for use as summer quarters for Yale studies in music and art, now in their 38th season.
The Academy building has had a checkered career. It was built as a private secondary school and did double duty in mid-19th century by providing a place to hold town meetings. Then the Academy was bought out by Robbins and Anna Battell, who built a new building across the street just south of the green called the Robbins School, in honor of their forebearer. The Stick style house next door was built at this time as the residence for the school's headmaster. This institution operated from 1884 to 1912. Both the school building and the headmaster's house were designed by J. Cleveland Cady. They are now private residences. Meanwhile, the old Academy became part of a summer boarding house complex and by mid-20th century had fallen into disuse. It was then rescued by private philanthropy, title lodged in the town, and the premises given over to the Norfolk Historical Society, newly formed for the purpose, and now presenting an appearance that couldn't look more venerable.
The Norfolk Historic District memorializes, first, the 18th century layout of the town that established the position of the green and the church; second, the unique 19th century influence of the Battell-Eldridge-Stoeckel family in bringing good architects to Norfolk; and, third, the late 19th century business district that is particularly notable for the work of Alfredo S. G. Taylor.
Joan Candler, "Alfredo S .G. Taylor," (typescript, available at Connecticut Historical Commission).
"The Chapel, Norfolk, Connecticut," program of dedication ceremonies of the Battell Chapel, December 13, 1888 (available at the Church of Christ).
Theron Wilmot Crissey, 1744-1900 History of Norfolk, Everett, Mass.: Massachusetts Publishing Co., 1900.
Our Town, Norfolk, Connecticut, Norfolk: Norfolk Historical Society, 1975.
James H. Potter, Church of Christ (Congregational), Norfolk, Connecticut (available at the church).
David F. Ransom, George Keller, Architect, Hartford: The Stowe-Day Foundation, 1978.
Sydney Thompson, The History of the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Trust, n.d. (available at the office of the Trust, Norfolk, CT).
Alice V. Waldecker, Norfolk, Connecticut, 1900-1975, Norfolk: Norfolk Bicentennial Commission, 1976.
† David F. Ransom, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Norfolk Historic District, Norfolk Connecticut, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, national Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.