Gurleyville Historic District
The Gurleyville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, the Gombach Group.
Gurleyville Historic District is a small village located at the intersection of two wooded country roads. Gurleyville Historic District consists of about a dozen houses, primarily from the 19th century, an 18th century grist mill, other industrial remains along the nearby Fenton River, a cemetery, and buildings, now used as residences, which once were stores, schools and a parsonage. Although most of the surrounding land is reforested, the Gurleyville Historic District includes meadowland on its north, west and south sides. In this way, the physical relationship of the village and its agricultural setting is preserved.
The industrial sites along the river are somewhat separated from the village, which is built on a natural terrace between the river and a high ridge. The Royce Silk Mill is the first site one encounters when entering the Gurleyville Historic District on Gurleyville Road, the main approach. This consists of the ruins of a timber and earth dam, with hewn crosspieces fastened with iron tie rods; a millrace, several hundred feet long, constructed of earth and unmortared rubble; and foundations and cellars of the mill and boarding house built in 1848. Like all of Gurleyville's mills, it was very small by New England textile mill standards.
Further downstream are the gristmill (134 Stone Mill Road) and dam begun by Benjamin Davis in 1749. The ruined dam reveals criss-crossed logs held together with wooden pegs. The gristmill is built of roughly hewn granite ashlar of local origin with some fairly regular courses and some randomness. It is 2 stories of stone with a gable roof and a framed and clapboarded attic. The roadside facade is backfilled so that the entrance is to the second floor. The original wheel (probably undershot) was replaced by a turbine in the 1870's. Machinery, including a corn sheller, cob grinder, two sets of stones (one of French buhrstone), and a silk flour bag, remains in workable order. Other features of this property include the foundation of an adjacent saw mill built in 1724, ruins of another dam upstream, and the 1-1/2 story clapboarded house across the road which was occupied by the miller. The latter has undergone such additions as a bay window and a veranda in its front facade, an ell, and possibly, a raised roofline.
The village itself is built along Chaffeeville Road, with houses closer together as one approached the center of the village, the intersection with Gurleyville Road. On the outskirts are a series of 1-1/2 story structures: the former schoolhouse (644 Chaffeeville Road) built in 1876, two houses built in the period 1840-1850 (656 and 657 Chaffeeville Road) and the Benjamin Davis, Jr. House (662 Chaffeeville Road), built in the 1750's with a later ell. The latter was also the residence of Ephraim Gurley (1765-1845), for whom the village was named.
Toward the center of the village is the Lewis Brown House (667 Chaffeeville Road), believed built by Edwin Fitch, a local architect-builder who worked in the second quarter of the 19th century. The facade of this 2-1/2 story house is distinguished by pilastered corners, simply molded capitals and an unadorned frieze and cornice. The sidelighted entrance is framed in a comparable manner. In the pasture behind this residence is the site of the trip hammer shop of Ephraim Gurley and the first silk mill in the village (the second in America); depressions in the pasture may indicate traces of the millrace, known as the "Ditch," which served these mills.
Next to the Brown house are two houses built by Lucius Gurley in 1831. The first (671 Chaffeeville Road) is a simple 1-1/2 story structure and the second (673 Chaffeeville Road) a 2-1/2 story house whose one-story wing was once a store. This house has been modified by the addition of oriel windows; a lean-to extends from the rear of the building. On the opposite side of the road is the Methodist parsonage (670 Chaffeeville Road), built about 1875, a 2-1/2 story house which once had a porch running along its front, which may account for the uneven placement of the door and other elements on the facade. A bay window projects from the first story on one gable end, and there is a two story ell. North of this building, which also at one time had a store in it, is the site of the Methodist church, razed in 1946.
On a slight knoll in the center of the village is the house built by Lucius Gurley in 1842 (326 Gurleyville Road). Next to it is a woodshed which Gurley converted into a dwelling. Both are 1-1/2 story clapboarded structures; the former is distinguished by its more pronounced cornice and the molding around its side-lighted door. Across Gurleyville Road is a small garage which was the first schoolhouse (2 Codfish Falls Road) in the village. Built in the late 18th century, it was removed from its foundation further up the ridge after 1876. Although a door has been cut in one end, small windows are found on the other three walls and inside are visible heavy posts and sills which reveal its age.
Chaffeeville Road continues north of the village as Codfish Falls Road. Here are two houses dating from the mid to late 1860's. The first (2 Codfish Falls Road) is a 2-1/2 story house with a porch across the facade and a bay window which projects from both stories on the gable end. Next to it is a simple 1-1/2 story house (4 Codfish Falls Road) with a wing of similar size and construction.
Also in the center of the village is the David Royce House (309 Gurleyville Road) built in 1735. The house is one room deep and two stories tall; an original ell was replaced by a 20th century one of similar proportions. A tavern in the 18th century, this house has a swinging partition on strap hinges which makes the upper floor into one large room. The end chimneys, though not original, have been rebuilt to their proper size, and are part of attempts to restore the 18th century appearance of the house. Next to it is a 1-1/2 story stable (305 Gurleyville Road) converted to a dwelling around 1870. Across the Road is the Emory B. Smith House (310 Gurleyville Road) in the front room of which presided the Justice of the Peace. The house was built before the Civil War and is in a simple Italianate style: flat roofs, horizontal flush siding, bracketed cornices, a veranda on two sides and secondary wings on an asymmetric plan. In the 1870's, however, a gable roof and clapboarded attic were substituted for the flat roof over the main part, bringing the height to 2-1/2 stories.
Leaving the village on Gurleyville Road one finds the 2-1/2 story house (304 Gurleyville Road) built in the 1870's for one of the children of mill owner James Royce. This is the only house in Gurleyville built with the gable end facing the street. Other features are two-story bay windows on the side, a veranda on the front and side, segmental pointed arches above the windows, a round-arched attic light a one-story ell and a large frame barn with gable roof and cupola. Finally, in leaving Gurleyville, one encounters by the river the cemetery acquired in 1847.
Except for the modern houses on Codfish Falls Road, the least trafficked entrance to the district, Gurleyville is free of intrusions. The modern structures on Gurleyville Road are set back from the road and are shielded by stands of evergreens, and with the exception of minor outbuidings, such as a garage or a greenhouse, there are no intervening intrusions. Nor does the effect of alterations significantly reduce the historical character of the area. In some cases, such as the E.B. Smith House (310 Gurleyville Road) the modifications are themselves of historical interest; in most cases, such as the Benjamin Davis Jr. House (662 Chaffeeville Road), the alterations — dormers, an ell, rebuilt stack — still do not obscure the basic lines and details of the house. Finally, Gurleyville's impact as a historic district depends less on the integrity of any individual structure than the total impression gained from the area. Gurleyville today retains the sense of scale, closeness to agriculture, simple building and population density which set it apart in the 19th century from both the larger towns and the rural countryside.
Gurleyville Historic District effectively preserves the physical contours of 19th century rural village life. In its scale, density and relationship with its surroundings the Gurleyville Historic District as a whole evokes the past in a way which individual buildings cannot. Architecturally the Gurleyville Historic District illustrates the plainness and conservatism of country construction. The ruins of dams and mills and the grist mill which still stands are significant not only for themselves and what they reveal about early industrial building, but also as symbols of the transformation of Gurleyville from a mere rural crossroads to a village.
The ability of the Gurleyville Historic District to recall the 19th century is aided by the detailed documentation written by one villager born in 1862: Wilbur L. Cross, the popular and progressive governor of Connecticut from 1931 to 1939. Cross was born in the house across from the mill (134 Stone Mill Road), then lived in the Gurley House (326 Gurleyville Road) and worked in the store across the street (673 Chaffeeville Road). He describes in detail the contents of the store, the horse-trading and political discussions which took place there, the family disputes settled in the home of Justice of the Peace E.B. Smith (310 Gurleyville Road), lessons in the old school (2 Codfish Falls Road) in which the children sat four abreast at one desk, his father's job as miller and in many other ways, reveals the fabric of life in a village where everyone was acquainted if not related. The schools, stores and houses mentioned by Cross are almost all still standing, with the Methodist church and the silk mills most notably absent. Moreover, Gurleyville today retains the sense of compact centrality which made this cluster of buildings a lively meeting place.
The architecture of the Gurleyville Historic District is marked by an adherence to traditional forms. The typical house is a 1-1/2 or 2-1/2 story, clapboarded, gable-roofed block with the ridgeline parallel to the road. Similarly conceived ells were built when the original rectangle did not enclose enough space. The David Royce House (309 Gurleyville Road), 1735, one of Gurley's 1831 houses (673 Chaffeeville Road) and the Methodist parsonage (670 Chaffeeville Road), 1875, show a remarkable continuity over 140 years. In each case the object is defined almost entirely by mass, not line, and the problem of enclosing a given amount of space is solved with the simplest of shapes. The force of older forms and materials was so great that the only house in Gurleyville with an unusual design, the Italianate E.B. Smith House (310 Gurleyville Road), was remodelled in the 1870's with a gable roof and then partially clapboarded.
A corollary of traditionalism is the absence of elaboration. Some houses (e.g., 2 Codfish Falls Road) after 1860 were built with bay windows, but this feature was not well integrated and in most cases seems extraneous to the design of the house; indeed, the effect is little different from that of a house 150 years older (134 Stone Mill Road) which has had bay windows added. Only one house (304 Gurleyville Road) successfully integrates all its nineteenth century features. Even the Lewis Brown House (667 Chaffeeville Road) is plain by comparison with other houses by the same architect: the pilasters are not fluted or otherwise shaped and there is no carving on the friezes or classical molding on the cornice. This house, built for a mill owner, displays only the most basic suggestion of Greek Revival ornamentation, and yet it is the most elaborate house in Gurleyville.
Among Gurleyville's industrial sites is the grist mill (134 Stone Mill Road) built by Benjamin Davis around 1750. It is perhaps the most important single building in the Gurleyville Historic District. An early mill, it is typical in its stark outline and unusual in its stone construction. Its excellent state of preservation, including workable machinery from the 19th century, makes it an outstanding artifact, an example of the mills which served local farmers in the pre-industrial age. The grist mill and the earlier saw mill, the homes built by the miller's family (134 Stone Mill Road and 662 Chaffeeville Road) and the contemporary tavern (309 Gurleyville Road) and school (2 Codfish Falls Road) formed a core of 18th century buildings around which the village grew. Already Gurleyville was a center providing certain services for the surrounding farmers.
Nineteenth century growth was encouraged by small industries which made products for a larger market. In 1801 Ephraim Gurley set up a trip hammer shop and made screw augurs which were widely sold. He and his family built several houses in the village which bears his name. A silk mill was built in 1814 and in the 1830's became the first mill to make mechanized winding a commercial success. Mansfield, including Gurleyville, produced a great deal of raw silk in the 19th century, and mills located near the supply; later, raw silk was imported from Asia. In 1848, James Royce built a large silk mill, perhaps five times as large as the grist mill. This was the height of industrialization for the village. Stores, a church and eventually, a new school were built to accommodate the increased population.
Although decline did not occur until the 20th century, the village never became very large. The Royce mill was bigger and, as the remains point out, involved more elaborate engineering than the 18th century mills, but it still represented small-scale manufacturing. The industrial remains, the physical structures of the village and their simple architecture combine to illustrate the historical developments which made Gurleyville, and other villages like it, distinct from both the mill towns and the surrounding farms.
Interview with Annarie Cazel, Mansfield Historical Society, June 20, 1975.
Cross, Wilbur L. Connecticut Yankee, an Autobiography, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943.
Mansfield History Workshop, Chronology of Mansfield, Connecticut 1702-1972. Mansfield: Parousia Press, 1974.