Williams Memorial Park Historic District
The Williams Memorial Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010. The Gombach Group.
The Williams Memorial Park Historic District includes 22 contributing resources including a monument and the large 19th and early 20th-century homes and affiliated outbuildings which face Williams Memorial Park, located on the southeastern intersection of Broad and Hempstead Streets. This lower end of Broad Street rises moderately from the western edge of the Central Business District to a ridge along Hempstead Street. Hempstead Street also crests at this intersection, after a steady rise on its northern course. Because of the gradation changes, many of the buildings along both streets have granite retaining walls abutting the sidewalks. The width of the streets, combined with the setbacks of a number of the buildings in the district and the park, creates a sense of open space which contrasts with the closeness of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Williams Memorial Park is designed for passive recreational use, with broad shady lawns interspersed with granite outcroppings. Paths meander down the hill from Hempstead Street to Broad Street. A wide variety of ornamental trees, many of which have reached a substantial size after nearly a century of growth, are spread throughout the park. A granite obelisk, erected by the State of Connecticut in honor of Connecticut soldiers who fought in the Civil War, is in the northwestern corner of the park.
Located on approximately eight acres, the Williams Memorial Park Historic District contains 18 principal buildings representing a variety of late 19th-century and early 20th-century architectural styles. Several older homes edging the park were altered after the formal establishment of the park in 1886, including 33 Broad Street, an Italianate house which now resembles a Tudor Revival building. A square mansard-roofed tower and jig-sawn porch were added to another Italianate house at 144 Hempstead Street. Three other buildings, 30 Broad Street and 121 and 140 Hempstead Street, still retain the basic massing and details which identify them as Greek Revival dwellings, despite the influence of Queen Anne, Italianate, and Colonial Revival alterations. Three large revival-style dwellings dominate the west side of the Williams Memorial Park Historic District along Hempstead Street and are good local examples of their styles, which include Gothic Revival (130 Hempstead Street), Tudor Revival (160 Hempstead Street), and Colonial Revival (164 Hempstead Street). The Gothic Revival Second Congregational Church, a large granite edifice with a clock tower, defines the northern edge of the district as it reaches a crest along Hempstead Street. A polychrome brick Queen Anne building, formerly the church parsonage, at 27 Broad Street and the three houses at 26, 30, and 32 Broad Street smooth the transition from the commercial activity of the Central Business District into the residential neighborhood surrounding the park.
Of the 18 principal buildings, only two do not contribute to the architectural and historic themes of the district. 43 Broad Street is a one-story brick office building which is set behind the church. 127 Hempstead Street is a nine-story apartment building providing housing of the elderly and is sited on the rear third of the park, partially screened by tall evergreens. In addition, there are six outbuildings in the Williams Memorial Park Historic District, four of which are identified as contributing to the district.
The Williams Memorial Park Historic District provides tangible evidence of the prosperity which whaling brought to New London in the mid-nineteenth century and the extraordinary wealth and control which was held by a few prominent families. The Williams Memorial Park Historic District also illustrates the development of a wealthy residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the downtown through the first decade of the twentieth century, with the pastoral setting of Williams Memorial Park as a central focus for the neighborhood. The skillful design of the park, attributed to Frederick Law Olmsted, and the variety and quality of the homes which ring the park create a cohesive turn-of-the-century streetscape. Good local examples of Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, and Colonial Revival are found in the Williams Memorial Park Historic District.
In 1793, the City of New London purchased a tract of approximately four acres and established the Second Burial Ground on what were then the outskirts of the city. No buildings were existing in the immediate vicinity of the cemetery, nor were any built for at least 40 years thereafter. Initial development in the district began in the 1830s with the purchase of portions of the Christopher Manwaring estate west of Hempstead Street by Enoch Ames in 1832 and Archibald Mercer in 1833, the property north of Broad Street by Joseph Hurlbut that same year, and the development of land east of the cemetery by Thomas W. Williams in the 1840s.
Mercer was a physician who lived downtown. He laid out Mercer Street, which forms the southern boundary of the district, and immediately began selling lots for development. In 1833, John Winslow purchased a tract and built the house at 144 Hempstead Street. Ames never developed his property, instead selling four tracts in 1839 to Dyer T. Brainard, a physician. Within three years, Brainard had moved a vernacular Georgian style dwelling to his property at 154 Hempstead Street and used it as rental property. By 1853, a number of dwellings had been built around the cemetery along Hempstead and Broad Streets. With three noteworthy exceptions, the residents of these houses were working-class people involved in skilled trades. A sailmaker, blacksmiths, a boat-builder, a printer, and a machinist lived here as well as people who worked in trades requiring less apprenticeship, including an ostler, waiter and seaman.
In 1842, Henry P. Haven purchased a tract immediately north of the Brainard land and built a large house (since moved to a site outside the district) for his own residence. Haven, barely 27 years old, was four years into a career as a whaling merchant, which ended with his death in 1876. By 1838, Haven had worked his way up from an indentured position to partner in the whaling firm of Thomas W. Williams, the most active in the city. Haven's involvement in the whaling industry, and with members of the Williams' family, led him into the partnerships Haven and Smith (1838-1846), Williams and Haven (1846-1869), Williams, Haven and Company (1869-1875), and Haven, Williams, and Company (1875-1876). During the course of his career, 69 different vessels made 222 voyages under his auspices, including the 1838 voyage of the "Columbia" whose return cargo of 4,000 barrels of whale oil set a national record and the 1863 voyage of the "Anne Mary" which returned to New London in six months with a cargo valued at $321,278.00.
Haven provided the same tutelage for Richard Chapell which he received from T.W. Williams. Chapell lived with Haven and was trained in his office. By 1855, he had become an active partner in Williams and Haven, and continued in partnership with Haven until his untimely death in 1874, at the age of 48. 1855 was an auspicious year for Chapell; besides his new status in the firm, he married Cornelia Wetmore and built the large Gothic Revival house at 130 Hempstead Street for his new bride. Chapell involved the firm in new ventures all over the world, including sealing and guano mining.
T.W. Williams launched the local whaling industry in 1819 with the successful voyage of the brig "Mary." Williams' estate occupied the entire block between Huntington, State, Meridian, and Church Streets, just outside this district's eastern border. Williams was involved in real estate development throughout the city, and the park district was not excluded from his activity. He purchased a tract abutting the eastern edge of the burial ground and opened Cottage Street on its eastern periphery in 1845. Together, these three families, Williams, Haven, and Chapell, all partners in the same firm, dominated the local whaling industry.
The three families were also deeply involved in the Second Congregational Church. T.W. Williams was one of the original proprietors of the new Congregational Society in 1835 and donated the land for the erection of the first church, which was destroyed by fire in 1868. The society then voted to purchase the lot at the junction of Broad, Hempstead, and Federal Streets. The building committee included Richard Chapell and Henry Haven. The church building was completed in 1870; the spire was donated in 1872 by the whaling firm, Williams and Haven. The location for the new church was most likely greatly influenced by the prominence of both the hilltop site and that of the society members who lived in the immediate vicinity. Other residents of the district were also active in the church, including Artemas Douglass, partner in Albertson and Douglass Machine Co., who lived at 30 Broad Street.
Real estate speculation in the district was not inhibited by the proximity of the residences of leading business figures. Andrew Frink purchased 121 Hempstead Street in 1865, selling it the same year to John B. Clark, an emancipated slave, for a $500 profit. Several of the houses in the Williams Memorial Park Historic District were used as rental property. 154 Hempstead Street was rented out by Dyer Brainard, and later, Lucius Whiton. By the turn of the century, the Chapell family expanded their holdings in the district. The family continued to rent both 140 and 130 Hempstead Street, selling the former in 1917 and the latter in 1924. In 1922, they sold the lot to the south of their former home, upon which was built the Bungalow house at 126 Hempstead Street.
The park movement of the late 19th century may have influenced the mayor of New London, Charles Augustus Williams, T.W. Williams' son, who contacted Frederick Law Olmsted to investigate the possibility of transforming the Second Burial Ground into a park in 1885. Olmsted surveyed the site and cited the various problems to be overcome, including the exhumation of bodies and closing down a quarry which was operating in the back of the burial ground. Williams provided the funds to accomplish this. In 1886, all the bodies were removed to Cedar Grove Cemetery. The eastern and southern boundaries of the park were terraced with granite retaining walls, perhaps the result of filling in quarry. Olmsted did draw up plans for the park; it is uncertain at this time whether the landscaping reflects his plans. Williams paid for landscaping the park; Mrs. Richard Chapell also contributed to the project.
The presence of the church and the establishment of the park combined to make the district an increasingly attractive place for prominent New Londoners to reside. In 1897, the Second Congregational Church built its parsonage at 27 Broad Street with money given by Mrs. J.N. Harris, widow of a self-made millionaire and philanthropist. Two large houses were erected on the site of Henry Haven's house. Dr. Leonard Shipman built his Tudor Revival house at 160 Hempstead in 1904; Richard Morris, City Clerk, built his Colonial Revival house next door at 164 Hempstead the following year. Other houses went through a metamorphosis. In 1889, Cassius Harris petitioned the City Council for permission to raise and alter his house at 32 Broad Street. In 1896, when the house was sold, Frank Smith tore down the older house and built a more stylish Queen Anne house on the site, adjacent to the park. Colonial Revival features were added to the Greek Revival facade of 140 Hempstead Street, and a Stick-style porch was added to 144 Hempstead Street. An Italianate house at 33 Broad Street was modified with Tudor Revival features in the early 1920s.
Although the Williams Memorial Park Historic District contains only 19 contributing buildings, nine architectural styles are represented in the district. Most are good examples of their style, and some are the finest examples found in New London. Their setting and juxtaposition creates a panorama of mid-19th and early 20th-century styles.
The earliest architectural style found in the Williams Memorial Park Historic District is the vernacular Georgian style dwelling at 154 Hempstead Street, moved to the site c.1839. Interior details, including wrought-iron "H-L" hinges and wide horizontal wainscot, indicate its 18th-century origins. Despite later renovations which occurred after the move, including 2/2 sash, elongated first-story windows, and an Italianate porch, the plain clapboard siding, Doric pilasters, and entablature convey a sense of its earlier history.
The Williams Memorial Park Historic District contains interesting examples of early and late Italianate dwellings. 150 Hempstead Street is a well-executed example of early vernacular Italianate dwellings in New London with massing similar to its Greek Revival counterparts. Clipped gables on 73 Broad Street lend a picturesque quality to this otherwise staid 1868 Italianate house. This feature may reflect the influence of A.J. Downing, who espoused the use of "truncated gables" on rustic, picturesque houses. 144 Hempstead Street sports a conglomeration of stylistic elements: a square tower with a mansard roof with Gothic Revival windows, and a Stick-style porch coexist with paired second-story windows and bracketed eaves. The later elements reflect the influence of other buildings in the district on this earlier dwelling, c.1835.
The 1855 Gothic Revival house at 130 Hempstead Street may have provided the inspiration for the Gothic windows at #144. Despite the addition of siding and the alteration of the front porch, the Gothic qualities of this building are undeniable. Its size and high-style features indicate the magnitude of Richard Chappell's prominence and fortunes. Foliated bargeboard, pointed-arch dormer windows and a multitude of gables piercing the eavesline, corbelled chimneys, and slate roof are characteristic of Gothic Revival, a style which was not used extensively for dwellings in New London.
The Gothic Revival Second Congregational Church at 171 Hempstead Street, built in 1870, is the work of Nichols and Brown, an Albany architectural firm responsible for at least eight churches in the six years of the partnership (1864-1870). The Gothic theme is clearly expressed in the pointed arch and lancet windows and doorways, buttresses, finials, and crenellation, and the arched openings in the bell tower and spire. A severe fire in 1926 destroyed the original barrel vault interior and roof, leaving only the granite walls standing. Allan Jackson, a Boston architect and son-in-law of church member Lucius Whiton, redesigned the church in its present form. The only major exterior difference is the solid slate roof which had previously been pierced by small triangular dormers.
In the decade bracketing 1900, several stylish dwellings were erected around the park. A modest Greek Revival house at 32 Broad Street which was remodeled in 1889 was later torn down and replaced with the 1896 Queen Anne house which borders the park. One year later, the church parsonage was built at 27 Broad Street, a brick Queen Anne with the irregular massing and roofline characteristic of this style. This well-designed building makes use of Roman brick, a phenomenon found only in a few contemporaneous structures in New London, most notably the Mohican Hotel (1896). It is the only extant example of a Queen Anne dwelling rendered in brick within the city.
By 1904, Henry Haven's large Italianate home was removed from the site and replaced by two large revival-style buildings. The 1904 Tudor Revival dwelling at 160 Hempstead Street is one of two unaltered examples of the style in New London. The stuccoed wall surfaces are punctuated with half-timbering, copper gargoyles, a panelled chimney, and classical window detail. The intricate patterns of the balustrades over the porch and bay windows have a Moorish flavor. The building was the work of the local architectural partnership of Donnelly and Hazeltine (1899-1906). In 1905, a large Colonial Revival dwelling was erected next door at 164 Hempstead Street. The classical detailing, including a Palladian window in the projecting central bay, Ionic pilasters, fluted columns, modillions, turned balusters, bow windows, and swags, makes it an impressive representation of the style in the district and the city.
Overall, the scale and attention to detail prevalent in the designs of these buildings create a cohesiveness in the district, despite the variation in architectural style. This impact is strengthened by the orientation of the buildings to Williams Memorial Park and the extensive use of retaining walls along the streets.
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† Gregory E. Andrews and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Williams Memorial Park Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.