Downtown New London Historic District
The Downtown New London Historic District and the Historic District Boundary Increase were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and 1988, respecitively. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from copies of the original nomination documents. [†, ‡] Adaptation copyright © 2010, the Gombach Group.
The Downtown New London Historic District is an irregular U-shaped section of the southeastern Connecticut city. The Downtown New London Historic District borders the west bank of the Thames River, three miles north of the river's mouth on Long Island Sound. The base of the U-shaped district is a section of Bank Street, which runs 1,400 feet north and south along the river between Tilley Street and Captain's Walk. Tilley Street and Captain's Walk are the south and north arms of the U, which run east and west. Tilley Street extends 1,000 feet to Washington Street and Captain's Walk 2, 000 feet to Huntington Street. There are approximately 215 sites and structures in the district, occupying approximately 60 acres. Twenty structures are considered not to contribute to the historic character of the district. [See below for Boundary Increase.]
Bank Street, the base of the U-shaped district, derives its name from its location next to the river. The configuration of the street follows the curve of the river. In 1852 railroad tracks were laid between the river and the structures on the east side of Bank Street. These tracks, formerly the main line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, are now Amtrack/Conrail. The spaces between the buildings on the west side of Bank Street, now alleyways to the tracks, were, until 1852, passageways leading to the wharves.
Most of the buildings on Bank Street are three and four stories high. On both sides of the street the facades are continuous, except for cross streets, alleys, and occasional empty lots. The overall uniformity of the buildings' height and mass are a striking visual element in these three Bank Street blocks. The roadway is wide enough for one lane of automobile traffic in each direction, plus parallel parking at each curb. The streetscape is characterized by pedestrian traffic along the sidewalks. At street level most of the buildings are occupied by stores, restaurants, and other service establishments. During busy times of day a sense of activity prevails.
A variety of architectural styles is represented along Bank Street. The oldest structures are Federal. The Lawrence Hospital Building (c.1790), so named because it was owned by the hospital for many years, at 60-64 Bank Street, is built of red brick with a hip roof. Its exterior has been cleaned and restored. Another of the post-Revolutionary War buildings is the Bulkeley House (c.1790) at 109-115 Bank Street, which was built as a five-bay frame house with end chimneys, a central doorway, and upstairs windows placed directly under the eaves. In the 1880's it was altered to become a store. The Gurley House at 99-107 Bank Street dates from the same period as the Bulkeley House and has undergone greater alterations. Around the turn of the 19th century it was given a new mansard roof. The building was jacked up one story sometime after 1910 and a new first floor with two store fronts was slipped in underneath it.
The Smith House at 136-140 Bank Street built sometime after 1800 is an early example of the Greek Revival style, now obscured by a first floor cafe front. Next door is the granite U.S. Custom House (1833) designed by Robert Mills (National Register, October 15, 1970) with its imposing Greek Revival portico. The Brown House (c.1817) at 258 Bank Street is an earlier building constructed with the same materials, mass, scale and roof as the Custom House. The building at 40-42 Bank Street, built in 1833, with high end gables and deep dormers that are retardataire for its date, was constructed with a view to being designated the Custom House. It was not, and for many years served as the Whaling Bank. The Jonathan Starr Mansion at 181-185 Bank Street, built early in the 19th century, is another example of the Greek Revival mode, now covered with fake brick. A drug store has been located in this house since before 1900. Also altered from its Greek Revival appearance is the Winthrop Hotel just off Bank Street at 8 Captain's Walk which was built in 1844 as a warehouse for a whaling firm, and remodelled in the 1860's with its present mansard roof. The Harris Building at 79-83 Bank Street, distinctive for its pedimented facade and plain stone lintels, was constructed of brick in 1844. It is on the southwest corner of Golden Street. The corner of the building at the street intersection is round, not square.
The Second Empire architectural influence in the Bank Street area is not limited to the new roofs of the Bulkeley House and Winthrop Hotel. The Tate Block as originally constructed in 1890 at 181-185 Bank Street has a mansard roof. Late 19th century architectural eclecticism is also evident at the north end of the street where the buildings have Queen Anne two-story oriels and Romanesque round-headed masonry windows. At 90-92 Bank Street is a rough field stone building of medieval inspiration, dating from 1866-1867.
After the turn of the century the Italian Renaissance Revival bank building at 61-65 Bank Street was constructed; a bank has operated on this corner since 1807. Another example of elaborate design is the Capitol Theater at 35-41 Bank Street with its bigger-than-life Palladian windows and, under false cornice and pediment, giant pilasters that appear to be glued onto the facade. The Capitol Theater was built in 1921 on the site of an earlier theater and meeting place called Aborn Hall (1851). The Greek Revival facade of Aborn Hall served as the inspiration for the facade of the Capitol Theater.
At the south end of the Downtown New London Historic District, just beyond Tilley Street, there is a Y in the road. Bank Street is one arm of the Y and Blinman Street the other. At 11 Blinman Street is the Shaw Mansion (National Register, December 29, 1970).
Tilley Street is the south arm of the U-shaped Downtown New London Historic District. Starr Street, only one block long, runs parallel with Tilley Street. These streets are primarily residential. Their residential development occurred concurrently with and was related to the 19th century commercial development of Bank Street. The structures on Starr Street have a remarkable uniformity of shape, style, and mass, with the exception of a church at the east end and a house with an elaborate Greek Revival entrance at the west end. The church, at 157 Green Street, is located on the northwest corner of Green and Starr Streets. It was built of granite in 1881-1882 as a Universalist Church, on the site of a former marble yard. In 1896 it became the Brainard Masonic Temple, and continues in that function. Its round-headed windows and the rough finish of its granite are characteristics of the Romanesque Revival architectural style that was fashionable during this period. The house at the west end of the block, the other structure that is exceptional for the street, is 36 Starr Street at the southeastern corner of Washington Street. Its portico is made up of fluted columns, Ionic capitals, architrave and cornice in front of a panelled door with sidelights.
The other twenty houses on the street have a high degree of homogeneity, are built of wood except for one brick house, and all but one have their long axis perpendicular to the street. The majority were built in the mid-19th century not long after the street was laid out in 1835. Typically, the gable ends facing the street are treated as pediments and contain decorative fanlights. The facades are three bays wide with the doorway in one bay at right or left. Doorway and window surrounds of plain moldings and a plain frieze under the cornice complete the simple Greek Revival detailing. Italianate door hoods were added to many of the houses later in the 19th century. In the 20th century inappropriate asbestos siding, and in one case stucco, were applied over the original clapboard siding that covered vertical boarding.
The street and its sidewalks are narrow and the houses are built close together. This spacing, the similarity of the houses, and the lack of any major alterations combine to give the street an air of urbanity and intimacy. The mid-19th century ambience is intact. The physical condition of the houses ranges from poor to fair. Several are vacant. Several are in the process of being rehabilitated.
One block south of Starr Street is Tilley Street. The houses on Tilley Street are of a later period, larger, and spaced wider apart. The Greek Revival mode is continued on a larger scale. In addition, later 19th century styles such as Italianate with bracketed cornices and Queen Anne with porches and bays are also represented.
The origins of Captain's Walk, the north arm of the U-shaped district, derive from the westward commercial growth of New London from the river. During the late 19th century the street, known for most of its history as State Street, became the main thoroughfare of downtown New London. In 1977 State Street was renamed Captain's Walk as part of a general effort to give the street a new image after years of typical center city decline. The middle two-block section of the street has been converted to a cobblestone pedestrian mall with raised islands containing appropriate plantings.
At the top of Captain's Walk on Huntington Street is the New London County Court House (1784-1786) attributed to Isaac Fitch (National Register, October 15, 1970; not included in the district). Five blocks away at the foot of Captain's Walk is the New London Railroad Station (1887) designed by H.H. Richardson (National Register, June 28, 1971). Across Huntington Street from the Court House the first building on the south side of Captain's Walk is the Richardsonian New London Public Library (1889) designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (National Register, October 15, 1970).
Coming down the south side of Captain's Walk from the library is an assortment of buildings of various ages. At 326 Captain's Walk is a two-story structure with a glazed peach-colored facade from the second quarter of the 20th century. Almost next door at 302-310 Captain's Walk is the Plant Building (1914), a five-story office building with a facade of buff brick and marble trim with its decorative terra-cotta picked out in blue and red. At the southwest corner of Captain's Walk and Washington Street stands the Thames Club, a substantial buff brick building reminiscent of a Venetian doge's palace.
Across Washington Street is the First Baptist Church (1856). It is an Italianate design dominated by two square towers, one tall, one short, executed in red brick and brownstone. Continuing the variety of architectural styles its neighbor, a bank, is a 1922 version of a Greek temple constructed of red brick with marble trim. On the southwest corner of Union Street and Captain's Walk the telephone company has erected a one-story, modern, brick building. It has round, arched windows in an apparent effort to be sympathetic with the 19th century Romanesque style of some of the buildings on the street. Its low height of only one story, however, makes it conspicuously out of place with its neighbors.
On the southeast corner of Union Street and Captain's Walk is the Crocker House, a massive five-story, red brick structure. It was built as a hotel in 1873, and was operated as a hotel until the 1960's. The cast-iron columns and lintels of those of its store fronts that remain unaltered and the granite lintels and sills of its upper windows are notable features. Continuing the diversity of design, the next building has a peaked gable with a round-headed window and two truncated dormers in a gambrel roof, followed at 128-138 Captain's Walk by a four-story ashlar building known as Bacon's Marble Block (1868) that has a mansard roof with alternating pedimented and segmental dormers.
The rich panorama of bold and exuberant 19th century eclectic architecture continues on the south side of Captain's Walk from Green Street to Bank Street, the base of the U. This final block is a solid phalanx of imaginative commercial design, interrupted only by demolition recently accomplished, after a fire, for the purpose of extending Eugene O'Neill Drive to the south. Two Art Deco buildings, constructed as variety stores, are present on the south side of Captain's Walk. Their 20th century Art Deco style seems at home with the street's predominantly 19th century architectural eclecticism.
An overview of the north side of Captain's Walk shows the presence of buildings of similar idiom at the west end of the street. Notable among these are the Mohican Hotel, the First Church of Christ, the Municipal Building, and the Lena Building. At the east end of the street is the New London Railroad Station. Near it are a newspaper building and a bank building from the 19th century. Some of the land on the north side of this end of Captain's Walk has been cleared in an urban renewal program, and new buildings have been constructed. Discussion of the north side of Captain's Walk follows.
The Mohican Hotel at the northeast corner of Captain's Walk and Meridian Street is a ten-story, 250-room hostelry dating from 1896-1897. Cream colored sandstone ashlar faces the exterior of the first two stories and surrounds the round arch entrance with its iron marquise. Pilasters with Corinthian capitals support a stone cornice at this level. The upper eight stories are constructed of buff and orange brick. The lobby has marble walls and floors. Veined marble columns with capitals of gilded egg and dart moldings, and a panelled ceiling. Initially the guest rooms were fitted out in French Provincial decor. The building continues to function in part as a hotel, and in part is not used.
At the east end of this block, the northwest corner of Captain's Walk and the Union Street Mall, is Leopold Eidlitz's massive German Gothic First Church of Christ, built in 1851. Approached by a long flight of steps, it looks down on the street traffic from its high site with heavy granite dignity. The pointed arch of its central entrance contrasts with the round-headed windows in the three towers. The tall, square central tower which rises in three stages is flanked by shorter towers with pitched roofs.
Now in place in the Union Street Mall is a schoolhouse in which Nathan Hale taught from March, 1774, to July, 1775. It is a frame structure, painted red. The schoolhouse has been moved several times over the years, but when Nathan Hale was the school master it was located at the southeastern corner of (then) State Street and Union Street, only a few feet from its present location.
East of the Union Street Mall is the Beaux Arts New London Municipal Building of 1912, constructed of light grey granite. It has a high rusticated basement above which rises a shallow, two-story portico of four columns with Corinthian capitals. The columns support a full entablature that is surmounted by a balustrade. Next door in the same block at 159 Captain's Walk is the five-story, red brick Lena Building (originally J.N. Harris Building) of 1884-1885. Its first story is sheathed in granite, and it has a corner tower with high pyramidal roof.
On Eugene O'Neill Drive, just north of Captain's Walk, are buildings for a bank and a newspaper, the Savings Bank of New London and The New London Day. The facades of both structures are slightly curved to conform with the curve of the street. The center section of the bank was constructed in 1870, the two wings in 1890, and the entire facade brought to its present elaborate appearance in 1905. The festoons on either side of the carved keystones of the round arch arcade and the cartouche and foliate carving in the pediment are rococo. The simple design of the Day's building (1906) serves as a foil to the bank. An element of interest in the newspaper's building is the group of three recessed, vertical sections for the three central bays of the top three stories. The metal spandrels have a raised pattern of swags that does echo the decoration over the bank's windows.
At the northeast corner of Eugene O'Neill Drive and Captain's Walk two new connected buildings have been built as part of urban renewal. They house a bank and offices. To their east is an open paved area called the Parade, in which is located a Civil War monument. The bottom of this arm of the U is reached across the street from the east end of the Parade in the New London Railroad Station.
The center section of the U remains to be described. West of Bank Street are two large parking lots that run from Golden Street to Pearl Street and from Pearl Street to Tilley Street. West of the parking lots are several short streets including Green, Cross, Union, and Methodist Streets, that form interesting urban angles and spaces, on a small scale. The buildings along these streets are an assortment of small 19th century houses, commercial buildings, apartment houses, and one 20th century garage.
In summary, the U-shaped Downtown New London Historic District is based on Bank Street, close to the river, with its 18th and 19th century commercial and residential buildings. The 19th and 20th century commercial structures of Captain's Walk form the north arm of the U, and the 19th century houses of Starr and Tilley Streets the south arm. Most of the area can be characterized as a downtown business district that has suffered the economic decay and decline common to many city centers during the mid-20th century. A substantial program of revitalization has been carried forward for Captain's Walk in the past.. Similar efforts are now in late planning stages for Bank Street and Starr Street.
New London was founded in 1646 by John Winthrop, Jr. The good harbor provided by the Thames estuary was attractive for a new settlement, and maritime activities were important to New London from its beginning. Bank Street, the street that ran along the river and its wharves, was a convenient location for warehouses near the wharves and for homes near the warehouses. Ship building plus coastal and West Indies trade were important activities until the time of the American Revolution, when New London's good port facilities made it a center for action by the state navy and by privateers.
The British recognized the importance of New London's war effort by sending a raiding party under the command of Benedict Arnold to attack and burn the city on September 6, 1781. Bank Street was substantially destroyed by the British raid. Thus, the oldest structures now extant on the street, such as the Bulkeley House, the Gurley House, and the Lawrence Hospital Building, date from the 1780's and 1790's. These late-18th century buildings are important for their architectural interest and for their portrayal of living conditions in a post-Revolutionary Connecticut seaport town.
Coastal and West Indies trade flourished again after the Revolution, but was brought to a halt by the War of 1812. Thereafter it was the era of whaling that brought to New London its next wave of maritime prosperity. In the second quarter of the 19th century New London was the country's second largest whaling port, after New Bedford. Sealing was also important. These were the years of the Greek Revival fashion in architecture, and buildings required by whaling-related activities were built in that mode. The Winthrop Hotel and the Harris Building, both structures constructed in response to needs associated with whaling, were built in the Greek Revival style. The Harris Building, which survives without major alterations, is an important Greek Revival commercial building, relatively rare compared with the greater number of Greek Revival houses and public buildings that now exist. The Whaling Bank and Custom House both date from this era and owe their existence to maritime prosperity.
Part of the maritime-related activity on Bank Street was the entertainment and night life that catered to sailors, and still does. Local bars and cafes have always been part of the scene. The Flamingo Cafe now welcomes guests in the Smith House at 136-140 Bank Street, a pleasant hip roof structure built early in the 19th century. Today the sailors come from submarines rather than sailing ships.
A nearby residential neighborhood was situated along Starr Street. For years the space occupied by Starr Street had been a rope walk. When the rope walk burned down in the 1830's, Starr Street was developed on its site. The houses were built in the Greek Revival mode that was reaching its height of popularity throughout the country at that time. Whereas the names associated with Bank Street buildings are those of their early owners rather than architects or builders, the name of the architect/builder for five of the modest houses along Starr Street is known. He was John Bishop. In 1839 Bishop built identical frame Greek Revival houses at 15, 17, 19, 23, and 25 Bank Street. At that time a marble yard was located on the corner of Green Street east of the five new houses, and a soap factory occupied the rest of the block west to Washington Street.
Houses on the south side of Starr Street were constructed in the 1830's and 1840's by several different builders. The houses generally are similar in style to the five built by John Bishop. One brick Queen Anne style house was built in 1862 at 20 Starr Street, and when the soap factory on the north side of the street was replaced in 1895 by four houses, two of them were built of wood in the Queen Anne style, then still in fashion. In 1869 the marble yard was replaced with the Universalist Church, built by John Bishop 30 years after he put up the adjoining five-house row.
This compact block has a well-defined history. The chain of title on each property has been traced through the land records. The occupations of the owners and residents give depth to the history of these modest homes. A whaling agent, whaling captain, doctor, tavern keeper, marble polisher, soap factory worker, plumber, blacksmith and, later in the century, a railroad clerk and engineer lived there. A neighborhood grocery store existed for many years in the house at the southeast corner of Starr and Washington Streets. Other residents conducted businesses from their homes, adding an element of diversification to a primarily residential street. Starr Street is an example of a modest 19th century neighborhood that owed its existence to and functioned in support of the maritime prosperity of Bank Street. The Starr Street buildings fortunately remain free of major alterations.
As the century progressed, residents of Starr Street and of all New London depended less on whaling for economic well-being and more on the burgeoning railroad. A stop on the main line from Boston to New York, New London also was a transfer point for freight and passengers from rail to steamboat. The city's importance in these respects is memorialized by H.H. Richardson's famous railroad station. The steamboat dock reached out into the river in front of the station, conveniently located for railroad and steamboat connections. Stretching to the west behind the station was State Street, now Captain's Walk, on which were located banks, offices, department stores, and other needed services for city life during the late 19th century and 20th century.
The work of several good architects who are known, and of others who are anonymous, is represented on Captain's Walk. Isaac Fitch's Court House stands at one end, and H.H. Richardson's railroad station at the other. In the middle is Leopold Eidlitz's church. Near the Court House is Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge's Richardsonian library. The Mohican Hotel, Lena Building, Thames Club, Baptist Church, and Municipal Building, among others, all appear to be the work of talented professional architects, although their names are not currently known. It should be noted that Eidlitz, a New Yorker, did other work in New London including Bulkeley High School.
The variety of 19th century eclectic styles of the buildings along Captain's Walk is an unusual demonstration of architectural history, well worth study and care. The sense of "downtown" that still prevails despite the malls and urban renewal land clearance derives, in large part, from these buildings and their setting along the street. Perhaps the principal element of significance along Bank and Starr Streets and on Captain's Walk is the continuity of scale and functional interrelationship. The buildings' cohesive affinity to one another is more important than are the buildings individually.
Bank Street tells the story of early maritime activity. Starr Street illustrates a modest mid-19th century residential neighborhood that grew up with the maritime commerce. The Bank and Starr Streets neighborhood preserves with considerable fidelity the spatial configuration typical of 19th century seaport towns — a dense cluster of buildings with principal thoroughfares along the water and at right angles to it. Access to the wharves and water's edge is preserved in the alleyways of Bank Street. Behind the commercial waterfront are the residential streets such as Starr and Tilley, where the merchants and artisans of Bank Street lived. In many seaport towns this arrangement has been obscured by various influences such as highway construction, often found along water's edge, fires, and land clearance.
In New London this 19th century arrangement continues in place adjoining the 20th century downtown ambience of Captain's Walk. Together they constitute a district of outstanding historic quality and integrity.
The Downtown New London Historic District Boundary Increase contains 37 buildings, 33 of which are classified as contributing to the district. The boundary is increased in three distinct sections on the western, northern, and southwestern edges of the existing district. For clarity, they are identified as Sections 1, 2 or 3, and are described separately.
Section 1 includes the portion of Huntington Street between Tilley Street and Captain's Walk, 9, 12, and 16 Jay Street, and Washington Street on the western edge of the existing Downtown New London Historic District. A high ridge running in a north-south direction bisects Section 1 of the Downtown New London Historic District Boundary Increase along Huntington Street and marks the highest elevation in the central business district. The valley created to the east of this ridge is defined by Washington Street, and adjoins the existing district. Behind Huntington Street on the west side, the land again drops dramatically, so that neighboring buildings along Jay Street are as many as two stories below the grade of Huntington Street. The 1784 Georgian New London County Courthouse at 70 Huntington Street is one of the dominant buildings in Section 1 and visually dominates the upper portion of Captain's Walk located in the existing district. Its position at the crest of Huntington Street overlooking Captain's Walk, a major downtown thoroughfare, creates a visual terminus for this street and, in effect, for the western edge of downtown.
Section 1 adds approximately 13-1/2 acres to the Downtown New London Historic District. Huntington Street is a major artery through the city connecting with Tilley Street in the existing district. Together with Captain's Walk and Bank Street, Huntington Street defines the central business district. Section 1 contains a mix of commercial, educational, residential, religious, recreational, and public buildings.
Eight of the 25 structures in Section 1 are Greek Revival frame or masonry buildings. 5-9 Huntington Street, a Commercial Greek Revival apartment building c.1857, fills an oddly shaped lot at the intersection of Washington and Huntington Streets. Across the street and within the existing Downtown New London Historic District are frame Greek Revival houses, gable-end to street. The Greek Revival dwellings at 35, 52, and 56 Huntington Street and 9 Jay Street are similar to these Washington Street houses. 58 Huntington and 16 Jay Street are three-story brick Greek Revival houses with flat rooflines and denticulated cornices. The 1843 church at 25 Huntington Street has two-story Corinthian columns supporting a denticulated pediment, and a square belvedere with engaged Ionic columns. This church is listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places.
The large Georgian Revival buildings at 73 and 81 Washington Street share many similar design features, including Flemish bond brickwork, splayed lintels with keystones, and sectioned parapets above modillioned cornices. First-story windows on 73 Washington Street are surmounted by ornamented semi-circular panels, a pattern which is reflected in the semi-circular transom windows of 81 Washington Street. St. Mary's School at 28 Rear Huntington Street displays many decorative elements, including splayed lintels over transom windows, round-headed windows with Gothic tracery, and recessed panels in the brickwork. A denticulated cornice with modillions supports a hipped slate roof.
A cluster of three French Second Empire houses at the intersection of Huntington and Jay Streets and the Gothic Revival complex of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church on, Huntington Street create small concentrations of these two styles within the extension. Other styles of the 18th and 19th centuries are represented by single buildings, including 70 Huntington Street (Georgian), 62 Huntington Street (Romanesque Revival), 49 Washington Street (Dutch Colonial), 21 Huntington Street (Italianate), and 15-17 Huntington Street (Queen Anne). There is one early 20th-century commercial structure at 13-23 Washington Street with decorative elements distinguishing the one-story front office from the attached three-story utilitarian garage/warehouse in the rear. 41 Huntington Street shares the rear wall of the third story of this building. The other non-contributing buildings include the Southern New England Telephone Company six-story office and radio tower at 26 Washington Street (1960), and the 1963 Gothic Revival granite convent, which is well-integrated into the historic church complex.
Section 2 contains a single building, the former YMCA, on 1/2 acre at the corner of Meridian Street and Governor Winthrop Boulevard on the northern border of the existing Downtown New London Historic District. The building fills half the block of both streets on which it fronts and butts up against the Mohican Hotel (which stands within the existing district), forming a solid wall along Meridian Street. This well-designed Georgian Revival building uses polychrome brick to emphasize the Flemish bond pattern and contrasting cut stone for second-story window details, keystones, watertable, and cornice for additional visual interest. The wooden cornice has modillions and geometric fretwork in the frieze.
Section 3 extends the southwestern edge of the existing Downtown New London Historic District to include 11 commercial buildings facing Bank Street and contains approximately four acres of flat terrain created in the mid-19th century by the filling in of portions of the Thames River shoreline and Bream Cove. The Shaw Mansion, a 1756 Georgian stone residence in the existing district, and the 1903 Armstrong-Perry Block at 314-330 Bank Street in the extension face each other across Perkins Green, a small triangular parklet at the intersection of Bank and Blinman Streets and Lane A. The buildings in Section 3 are late 19th-century and early 20th-century brick commercial structures lining Bank Street west of Tilley Street. Bank Street defines the southeastern edge of the central business district.
The block of buildings from 341 through 385 Bank Street share common walls and present a solid facade to the street. The commercial Greek Revival building at 341 Bank Street is similar to many buildings in the district, with a plain brick facade, granite lintels and sills, and raking parapet. The adjacent buildings include early 20th-century vernacular commercial structures, two Second Renaissance Revival buildings, and a three-story Queen Anne commercial brick building with details highlighted in molded brick.
The embellishments on the Armstrong-Perry Block on the south side of Bank Street use a highly ornamental design as in Sullivanesque commercial buildings. The main block at 313-320 Bank Street rises four stories and is flanked on both sides by the one-story buildings with parapets at 314 and 330 Bank Street A denticulated cornice unites the three sections. Terra-cotta is used extensively in decorative panels with repetitive foliage designs and in framing the major openings in the upper stories of the building, including windows in the center bay, and the banks of windows in the upper three stories. Brickwork is also used decoratively in the entablature. Short brick pilasters support an arcaded corbel table. Roman brick is used in this building and in the more modest adjacent, structure at 334 Bank Street, creating unity within the block of buildings.
The Downtown New London Historic District illustrates the growth of New London as a center of political, religious, social, commercial, and residential importance. The area of the boundary increase complements the significance of the existing district. The 1784 courthouse reflects the status of New London as a county seat since the 18th century. Three of the five downtown churches are located in the district extension. Major institutions located in downtown New London have catered to the social, educational, and recreational needs of city residents and employees since the late-19th century. Many of the residences built in the Downtown New London Historic District Boundary Increase, as in the existing district, were the homes of downtown merchants. As the demand for valuable downtown real estate increased in the early decades of the 20th century, older frame structures were replaced by substantial masonry buildings. The buildings in the Downtown New London Historic District Boundary Increase are notable examples of their style, possess a high degree of integrity, and are generally in a good state of preservation. Two are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places, and several others are unique examples of their style in the city. Overall, the buildings exhibit a continuity of scale and function which is integral to the urban character of downtown.
Since its founding in 1646, New London's residential and commercial development has been intimately connected with its location along the harbor created by the Thames River and Long Island Sound. Bank Street, running along the western bank of the Thames, was one of the first streets in the city, laid out in the 1640s. Shipbuilding and West Indies trade, major activities of the 18th and early 19th centuries, were overshadowed by New London's entry into the whaling industry in 1819. Whaling brought a new prosperity to New London, seen in the substantial maritime activity along the waterfront and in the supporting industries which flourished through the 19th century. George Washington Crandall manufactured clothing for whaling vessels from a shop on Bank Street. In 1872, he built a new home at 38 Huntington Street. The adjacent house was the home of Reuben Palmer, a manufacturer of cotton cordage.
From colonial days, New London was an important political community. John Winthrop, Jr., founder of the city, went on to become the first governor of Connecticut. During the Revolutionary War, New London was a major port for shipping supplies to Washington's troops. The British raid and ensuing fire of 1781 destroyed much of downtown New London, including the courthouse. When a new courthouse was built, its location on the hill overlooking downtown was considered symbolic of the supremacy of the law. Since its construction in 1784, the courthouse has served as the setting of a school, hospital, a peace ball following the War of 1312, and fiery political speeches.
The courthouse was also the place for organizing new churches, including the Universalist Society in 1835. The religious diversity of New London was established early with the formation of the Rogerene sect in 1677, with ties to the Seventh Day Baptists. Not surprisingly, the center of town was usually the setting for the churches of the different religions. In 1804, the Baptist church was organized. Political differences led to the formation of a second Baptist church in 1840. A third Baptist church was established in 1849, when a group from the First Baptist Church took over the former Universalist church at 25 Huntington Street. The Universalists survived financial misfortunes which forced the sale of their first edifice to the Baptists and another on Starr Street to a Masonic order in 1896. In 1908, they merged with the Unitarians, one of the early mergers of the two denominations on the local level. The new society met in the Baptist church while their church at 62 Huntington Street was under construction. Organized Catholic worship in New London first began in the 1840s, and was firmly established by the time St. Mary Star of the Sea Church was dedicated in 1876. In 1898, St. Mary's School was built to strengthen the education of the parish children.
The B.P.O.E. Lodge #360 at 81 Washington Street, built on the site of the former lodge, is representative of the social habits of city residents. It was located in the commercial center of town close to members' homes and businesses. Similarly, the 1915 YMCA was located downtown to fulfill the educational, recreational, and social needs of an urban population. The former Rialto Theatre at 334 Bank Street, built in 1909, was used as a motion picture theatre and later as a vaudeville theatre. The functions of these buildings relate directly to buildings in the existing district, such as the Public Library of New London, Lyric Hall, and the Capitol Theatre.
New London has traditionally provided commercial services to its residents and to those in surrounding towns. As stated in the Downtown New London Historic District nomination, the 18th and 19th-century structures were the center of commercial, maritime-oriented activity of their era. As the second-largest whaling port in the country in the mid-19th century, New London was the hub of commercial activity in the region. By the turn of the century, population growth in the region led to increasing mercantile activity and consequently to the expansion of many businesses. Banks, hotels, and major retail stores were located here and steadily attracted visitors and residents from outlying areas into the city to transact business. Land in the business district was becoming increasingly valuable. Between 1890 and 1920, older frame buildings were replaced with brick commercial structures, vacant land was developed, and the shoreline filled in to create buildable land, where, in 1903, 314-330 Bank Street was erected as a speculative venture by two prominent New London businessmen, B.A. Armstrong and W.R. Perry.
There is a visible relationship between the structures in the Downtown New London Historic District Boundary Increase and the structures in the existing district. Good examples of various commercial styles are found in both, including Greek Revival, Second Renaissance Revival, and early 20th-century vernacular buildings. The Greek Revival style, with gable-end to the street, predominates among the residential dwellings in both areas, although other variations of the style and later 19th-century styles are also represented. Architectural details enhance the well-proportioned facades, creating a sense of texture and variety in the streetscape.
Several of the buildings in the Downtown New London Historic District extension are noteworthy examples of their style. The 1784 Georgian courthouse is a rare and excellent example of this style in the city and is the only surviving Georgian government building in Connecticut. The design of the courthouse is attributed to Isaac Fitch, master carpenter, joiner, and architect. 314-330 Bank Street is the only example of Sullivanesque design employed in New London. The intricacy of the decorative elements is balanced by the massing of the building. Small details, such as the repetition of brickwork patterns, combined with judicious use of terra-cotta in outlining large building surfaces, are indicative of high quality design and workmanship. 383-385 Bank Street may be the only example of a commercial Queen Anne building in the city. Bricks molded in a helix pattern, rosettes and spindles are incorporated into the design. Use of the arcaded corbel table is reflected in neighboring buildings.
The work of prominent local architects and builders is found throughout the Downtown New London Historic District extension. John Bishop, a noted local builder/architect, designed the Huntington Street Baptist Church, the only Greek Revival church in the city, incorporating details found in The Beauties of Modern Architecture by Minard LaFever. Bishop was responsible for at least 18 buildings in the Downtown New London Historic District. Dudley St. Clair Donnelly was well established locally as an architect of several prominent downtown buildings, including banks, commercial structures, and office buildings, when he designed several of the buildings in the district extension. The utilitarian 1914 Monte Cristo Garage and automobile showroom at 13-23 Washington Street and the elaborate Georgian Revival YMCA (1915) at 190 Governor Winthrop Boulevard are indicative of his versatility as an architect. The 1922 Georgian Revival office building at 73 Washington Street bears close resemblance to the YMCA, and its design has been attributed to Donnelly. James Sweeney and Asa Goddard, a local architect and a builder, respectively, were responsible for the well-executed design and construction of St. Mary's School. The major churches imported architects known for their work in this particular genre. Edwin Lewis, Jr., had designed many churches for the Unitarian-Universalists. P.C. Keeley of New York had recently completed the Cathedral of Boston when he undertook the design of St. Mary Star of the Sea.
The three churches in the area are indicative of the differences in church architecture over a period of 55 years, representing notable local examples of Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Romanesque Revival buildings. The commercial architecture found in the Downtown New London Historic District extension is well-integrated into the context of downtown New London. Styles, scale, materials, and architectural detail are generally like those found throughout the central business district. Exuberant use of polychrome brickwork, as in 357-363 Bank Street, and surface detail, as in 314-330 Bank Street and 333-385 Bank Street, highlight the variety and quality of turn-of-the-century commercial architecture. Residential buildings in the area of the boundary increase illustrate the diversity of 19th-century architecture. The groupings of Greek Revival and French Second Empire dwellings show the variations within the stylistic genres.
Connecticut Trust Survey of Buildings for Landmarks of the Constitution, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, 1987.
Minard LaFever, The Beauties of Modern Architecture, Plate 11, 1835. Reprint ed. 1979.
Letter, February 23, 1978, from Harold J. Cone, President, New London County Historical Society to author.
Request for Determination of Eligibility for Inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, Starr Street Area, City of New London, November, 1977.
Request for Determination of Eligibility for Inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, Bank Street Historic District, City of New London, March, 1977.
Bank Street Rehabilitation Study, Hermann & Joncus, Mystic, CT, nd.
Caulkins, Frances M. History of New London, Connecticut. New London, Connecticut; H.D. Utley, 1895.
Decker, Robert Owen. The Whaling City. Chester, Connecticut: The Pequot Press, 1976.
Grube, Kenneth and Weis, Alma C. New London Courthouse — 1784-1984. Uncasville, Connecticut: Sunshine Press, 1984.
LaFever, Minard. The Beauties of Modern Architecture. 1835; reprint ed. New York: DeCapo Press, 1979.
Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham, ed. A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut. Vol. 3. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1922.
New London City Directories, 1853-1976.
New London Land Records, New London City Clerk.
New London Tax Abstracts, 1864-1925.
Picturesque New London And Its Environs. Hartford: The American Book Exchange, 1901.
The Story of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church. South Hackensack, New Jersey: Custombook Inc., 1976.
Wall, Richard B. Bank Street Fifty Years Ago. New London, Connecticut: Press of The Day, 1902.
Wall, Richard B. Wall's Scrapbook, columns from The Day, 1906-1924.
Bailey, O.H. & Co. Boston. "New London, Connecticut," 1876.
Beers, F.W.; Ellis, A.D.; Soule, G.G. "Atlas of New London County Connecticut." New York, New York: F.W. Beers, A.D. Ellis and G.G. Soule, 1868.
Hughes and Bailey. New York. "Aero View of New London, Connecticut, 1911."
Sanborn-Perris Map Company. "Sanborn Map of New London, 1891."
________. "Sanborn Map of New London, 1901."
________. "Sanborn Map of New London, 1954."
Sidney, J.C., Civil Engineer. "Plan of the City of New London, New London County, Connecticut." Philadelphia: Collins & Clark, 1850.
† David F. Ransom, consultant, Connecticut Historical Commission, Downtown New London Historic District, New London Connecticut, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
‡ Sharon P. Churchill, New London Landmarks, Inc. and John Herzan, Connecticut Hitorical Commission, Downtown New London National Register District Boundary Increase, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.