Danielson Main Street Historic District
The Danielson Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. 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 Danielson Main Street Historic District includes the principal commercial area of Danielson, Connecticut, a densely built commercial, industrial, and residential settlement within the Town of Killingly, within which Danielson was formerly an incorporated borough. Main Street (Connecticut Route 12) runs in a northeasterly direction, with the district extending about four-tenths of a mile from Water Street at the southerly end to Spring Street at the northerly end. The Danielson Main Street Historic District is bisected at its midpoint by the single-track right-of-way of the Providence & Worcester Railroad, which crosses Main Street at about a 45-degree angle. The Danielson Main Street Historic District extends only a short distance along side streets so as to include related historic buildings; Main Street itself represents the principal concentration of historic resources.
The Danielson Main Street Historic District's buildings fall into two main categories: commercial blocks, two or three stories high, sited close to one another or actually joined at party walls, with no setback from the street; and institutional structures, large buildings generally sited apart from surrounding commercial uses. The commercial blocks are mostly of brick construction and include Italianate style buildings from the 1870s, Romanesque style buildings from the 1890s, Colonial Revival style buildings from the early 20th century, and Commercial style blocks from the 1920s. In general, the storefronts of Danielson's commercial area have been extensively modernized, particularly with the addition of shingled pent or mansard roofs. However, most buildings retain at least some remnants of historical storefronts in the form of cast-iron columns or sheet metal cornices. Several interiors exhibit the elaborately embossed metal ceilings that were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most buildings retain their original appearance on their upper floors, with decorative window trim, cornice details, and commemorative tablets intact.
A few buildings in the Danielson Main Street Historic District have undergone changes that in themselves have architectural significance. There are, for example, two examples of Victorian period buildings with Carrara-glass storefronts from the 1930s. Another case of significant alterations is the Attawaugan Hotel, which was built in 1856 in the Greek Revival style, remodeled with ornately detailed porches in the Victorian period, and given an elaborate brick facade with Acanthus-leaf pilasters in the early 20th century.
In addition to the large blocks, the Danielson Main Street Historic District includes a number of wood-frame buildings, mostly Greek Revival in style and dating from the middle 19th century, that are much closer in size and scale to houses. Despite their domestic appearance, nearly all were either built as stores on the first floor with living space above or converted to such use within only a few years of their construction. Most have had their ground stories altered over the years with storefront enlargements. By the 1930s only three buildings in the Danielson Main Street Historic District, one of which was a mill-related tenement on Water Street, were solely residential. The wood-frame buildings also include some unusual structures, such as a former photographic studio from the 1860s and a mansard-roofed former hotel adjacent to the railroad tracks.
Among its historic institutional structures, the district includes four current or former churches, ranging in age from the 1855 Westfield Congregational Church to the 1918 Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church; the 1901 Bugbee Memorial Library; the 1908 Danielson Fire Station; and two public buildings from the 1930s, the Connecticut State Armory and the Danielson Post Office. Danielson's institutional buildings are among the largest and most architecturally elaborate buildings in the district. One historic institutional building, the Killingly Town Hall, was built in 1876 in an ornate Gothic Revival mode, with a tower and extensive stone trim. It was originally known as the Music Hall Block and was built by a private company as a hall for entertainments and as a meeting place for the Grand Army of the Republic and other organizations; in 1906 it was purchased by the town and has served ever since for town offices, public meetings, and court sessions.
The Danielson Main Street Historic District includes only one former industrial building imbedded among adjacent commercial or institutional uses. It originally was a factory that made reeds for loom harnesses, and at later times it housed knitting and woolen mills. Several small artisan shops, formerly 19th-century carpentry, woodworking, and carriage-painting enterprises, have been incorporated into commercial buildings on Center Street and Commerce Avenue. Although altered from their original appearance, they have been counted as contributing buildings because their age is readily apparent and their historical associations support the theme of Danielson as a commercial hub.
The Danielson Main Street Historic District's period of significance extends through the 1930s, when two of the district's institutional buildings (the Post Office and the Armory) and two large commercial blocks were built. However, two later buildings, the 1942 Telephone Building and a 1960 bank, were counted as contributing because their elaborate Colonial Revival architecture represents a continuation of one of the Danielson Main Street Historic District's major architectural styles.
In addition to the individual integrity retained by most of its buildings, the Danielson Main Street Historic District as a whole possesses considerable integrity. Noncontributing buildings are limited to c.1950 additions to historic buildings on the Danielson Oil Company property on Commerce Avenue; three modern buildings accommodating a restaurant, gas station, and bank; and two one-story commercial buildings of relatively recent construction. Of greater impact are the vacant lots that mark the location of historic buildings lost to fire or demolition. These include six sites on Main Street, where the rows of historic commercial buildings are now punctuated by empty spaces, and the entire area along the lower end of Commerce Avenue. Currently used for a parking lot and the previously mentioned modern bank building, this formerly was Railroad Square, the site of Danielson's passenger depot, freight station, and additional late 19th and early 20th-century commercial buildings. Despite these losses, Danielson's historic commercial district as it exists today retains visual cohesiveness. The large buildings that recall Danielson's historic role as a commercial, religious, and political center are easily visible from all parts of the district, and nowhere are the vacant lots so extensive as to prevent the perception of the district as a single entity from a particular historical period.
The boundary of the Danielson Main Street Historic District was chosen to reflect the theme of the area as a commercial and institutional center. It includes contiguously sited historic buildings of long-term commercial and institutional use. Abutting areas of historic residential or industrial buildings were excluded. The Danielson Main Street Historic District also excludes buildings at the edges that no longer retain integrity, such as an old livery barn imbedded within a modern shopping center on Furnace Street or a former laundry on Academy Street that has become completely deteriorated (both these buildings are also separated from the main concentration of historic buildings by one or more vacant lots). With only a few exceptions involving properties of extensive depth, the boundary follows lot lines as shown in the records of the Town of Killingly Assessor.
The Danielson Main Street Historic District is significant because its many historic buildings recall Danielson's role as a commercial, social, religious, and political center. In the 19th century, industrial growth based upon textile production combined with commercial expansion engendered by the railroad to make Danielson one of the busiest communities in eastern Connecticut. Numerous restaurants, saloons, and lodging places sprang up around the depot, which stood just north of Main Street on the site of the Commerce Street parking lot, and a variety of groceries, dry-goods stores, banks, and specialty shops served the needs of travelers, residents of Danielson, and people from the surrounding mill villages and countryside. Toward the end of the 19th century, large business blocks, mostly of brick construction, began replacing the smaller wood-frame commercial buildings of the earlier era. Several of these had entertainment halls on their upper floors, as well as meeting spaces for social organizations such as the Knights of Pythias and the Grand Army of the Republic. The Main Street area was also the meeting place for several religious denominations, as evidenced by the district's four 19th and early 20th-century church buildings. Finally, Danielson became the political center of the Town of Killingly when, in 1906, town offices, town meetings, and court sessions were relocated to the Music Hall Block on Main Street.
The Danielson Main Street Historic District is also significant for its architectural qualities. There are relatively few comparable examples of late 19th and early 20th-century commercial architecture in eastern Connecticut. Although Danielson's business blocks have been altered over time, especially on the first-floor level, they retain the distinctive characteristics of the period's commercial architecture: they are mostly large multi-story buildings of brick construction; they are sited close together, with no setback from the sidewalk; and they have repetitious facades in which a basic storefront/window module is repeated across the breadth of the street-facing elevation. In general, they retain the distinctive ornamental details characteristic of particular styles of architecture, ranging from Italianate bracketed cornices from the 1860s and 1870s to stylized Moderne parapet decoration from the 1930s. Several of the buildings, including the 1855 Westfield Congregational Church, the Italianate style Evans Block, the 1901 Classical Revival style Bugbee Library, and the 1928 Colonial Revival style Brooklyn Savings Bank, are among the most formal and architecturally elaborate buildings in the area.
Two factors, textile manufacturing and railroad development, account for Danielson's transformation from a thinly settled agricultural area within the Town of Killingly to a bustling community having many of the attributes of a small city. Two rivers converge in Danielson just west of the district, the Quinebaug River and the smaller but fast-flowing Five Mile River (formerly Assawauga). Starting in 1809, these rivers were harnessed to power small textile mills, and by the 1830s these and other sites in Killingly accounted for more cotton-spinning capacity than any other town in Connecticut. The industry received a further boost in 1850 when the Quinebaug Company built a huge new mill on the Brooklyn side of the Quinebaug River. Although the company built many brick tenements near the mill, it also developed tracts of mill housing on the Killingly side, and much other residential development occurred in Danielson as a result of industrialization. The mill's managers were instrumental in having the Westfield Congregational Church relocated to Main Street in 1854, in order to benefit the growing community near their mill. In addition to the Quinebaug Company on the west side and the smaller but substantial Danielson Manufacturing Company located between the Quinebaug and Five Mile Rivers, Danielson's industrial base included many smaller companies, such as woodworking shops and loom-reed manufacturers, that were wholly or partly dependent upon textile manufacturing. Smaller knitting factories and woolen mills drew upon Danielson's expanding labor force experienced in textile manufacture. Despite ups and downs reflective of the national economy, the textile industry grew throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in the World War I period, and even prospered into the 1930s, with new specialized products such as tire canvas and curtain fabric sustaining an industry formerly devoted to plain cotton cloth.
The expansion of the industrial work force provided one source of commercial growth. The other source was the completion of the Norwich and Worcester (now the Providence and Worcester) Railroad in the late 1830s. The railroad supplemented the important roads that converged in Danielson, such as the Windham County Turnpike (present-day Main Street) and the Norwich to Worcester colonial road (Broad Street and part of Main Street) and made Danielson, then known as Westfield or West Killingly, a place where lumber, coal, groceries, dry-goods, and other merchandise were distributed for the entire region between Putnam and Norwich. Hotels, saloons, and restaurants were built close to the passenger and freight facilities which formerly stood just north of Main Street, and many other wholesale, retail, and artisan enterprises followed suit. Professionals such as doctors, dentists, and lawyers found Danielson to be a central places where their offices, often on the upper floors of the increasing large commercial buildings lining Main Street, could serve more clients than in the thinly settled rural areas or small mill villages that characterized the surrounding countryside. A business directory of Danielson for 1869 listed two hotels, three lawyers, five doctors and dentists, and twenty-seven merchants selling sewing machines, medicines, books, groceries, clothing, boots and shoes, hardware, furniture, grave stones, watches, stoves, and millinery. Among the many services offered were those of a civil engineer, photographer, blacksmith, and insurance agent.
In 1854 the area's manufacturers and entrepreneurs secured a charter that established Danielson as an incorporated borough, including the built-up settlements on both sides of the Quinebaug River and thus embracing parts of Killingly and Brooklyn. Named Danielsonville after one of the community's leading manufacturing families, the borough provided fire protection and other municipal services such as street and sidewalk construction. Later charter revisions excluded the Brooklyn side and shortened the name to Danielson.
As Danielson merchants prospered, they replaced their small wooden store buildings with larger blocks, often of brick, that housed not only their own businesses but provided rent from other retail stores, office space, and meeting halls patronized by social organizations. Beginning with the Shumway Block, c.1875, and the Evans Block, 1878, Danielson's Main Street began assuming the appearance of two continuous rows of large commercial buildings. While not as tall as those in the big cities, they shared in the scale, material, and architectural stylishness that characterized urban commercial architecture. In building these large, ornate buildings, the borough's merchants expressed not only a need for more space, but also a vision of Danielson as a thriving, prosperous community with a bright future. The process of building new commercial blocks continued into the 1930s; even in the Depression, some businesses were able to continue their expansion.
The buildings that make up the Danielson Main Street Historic District serve as reminders of its development as a commercial center. The early phase, in which businesses were located in wooden structures of domestic size and scale, is represented in several Greek Revival style buildings and in two small buildings that formerly housed a cobbler shop and a photographic studio. The next phase, the construction of large business blocks, is also well represented. The artisanal enterprises that were part of the commercial economy are represented by the buildings that formerly housed carriage-painting, woodworking, and tin shops. The social activities that accompanied Danielson's emergence as a center are also recalled by the district's buildings. The Music Hall Block, for example, was developed by a private company to provide a place for public entertainments, as well as a meeting hall for the Grand Army of the Republic. Several other buildings in the district had halls on their upper floors as well. Although some churches located their buildings in the residential areas that border the Main Street commercial core, four religious institutions built on or within a block of Main Street. Danielson's role as a political center is epitomized by the Killingly Town Hall, the former Music Hall Block, which since 1906 has served as town offices, a place for town meetings, and a courtroom facility. The borough's civic role was further sustained by construction of the town's public library in 1901, the Connecticut State Armory in 1932, and a relatively large post office building in 1935.
The buildings in the Danielson Main Street Historic District also reflect the participation of women and European ethnic groups in Danielson's community life. Millinery was one of the chief entrepreneurial avenues open to women in the 19th century, and several of the district's buildings formerly accommodated millinery shops. One Danielson milliner, Mme. Joseph Cyr, built the Cyr Building, a large commercial block that housed not only her shop but a clothing store and shoe store as well. Mme. Cyr was of French-Canadian heritage, a member of Danielson's single largest nationality group. Although concentrated in the ranks of mill operatives, a few French Canadians became business owners, and this is reflected in the names of the buildings on Main Street which, in addition to the Cyr block, include the LaClair and Jodoin buildings. Greeks also made up a sizeable portion of 20th-century mill workers, a fact made evident by the Orthodox Church on Water Street, and an Eastern European influence was asserted by Stanley Hajdun, proprietor of the Pulaski Cafe, in renaming the Hyde Block after his family in the 1930s.
The Danielson Main Street Historic District includes several buildings of outstanding individual architectural significance as well as numerous buildings that contribute to the district's significance as representative examples of commercial architecture. Among the former are the 1878 Evans Block, an unusual example of the use in commercial architecture of picturesque elements, such as the jerkinhead roof, dormers, and large central gable, in addition to the usual Italianate features such as the bracketed cornice. The 1876 Town Hall/Music Hall Block embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Gothic mode sometimes referred to as High Victorian Gothic: polychrome masonry, tower, cresting, and elaborate window treatment. The 1854 Westfield Congregational Church is significant because it illustrates the transition in meetinghouse architecture from the Classicism of the Greek Revival to a kind of early Victorian eclecticism in which Italianate, Greek Revival, and Georgian elements (the Wren-inspired steeple) are combined; it was built by George Truesdell from nearby Dayville, where he had earlier built several buildings, including a meetinghouse, in a more standard Greek Revival mode.
Among the Danielson Main Street Historic District's several well-preserved early 20th-century revival-style buildings are two small but ornate buildings which are outstanding examples of their respective styles. The 1901 Bugbee Memorial Library embodies the Classical Revival's distinctive simplicity, symmetry, and sense of massiveness. Designed by Boston architect Walter J. Paine, its richly detailed interior, featuring marble columns and a rotunda, shows how this monumental style could be adapted to a very small space. The former Brooklyn Savings Bank on the adjacent lot represents the Colonial Revival in its most elaborate form. Designed by the noted New Haven firm of Norton and Townsend, the building incorporates an unusually rich concentration of Colonial Revival style detailing. As was typical of financial institutional buildings in this style, the bank uses more high-style ornament, such as the freestanding columns, broken scroll pediment, and eagle motif in the pediment, than ever appeared in any single 18th-century building. Both the bank and library are especially notable for being virtually unaltered, preserving intact both their ornate exterior detail and their period interiors.
While less elaborate than the foregoing, the district's many other buildings almost all contribute to the architectural significance of the Danielson Main Street Historic District as examples of commercial architecture or as buildings that embody the distinctive characteristics of particular styles. Both domestic-scale store buildings and the continuous rows of large brick business blocks are represented. The Greek Revival style is evident in the full cornice return, suggestive of ancient Greek temple pediments, on several buildings. The round-arched windows, bracketed cornices, and bay windows that are the hallmarks of the Italianate style are found throughout the district, and there are examples of the French Second Empire style's distinctive mansard roof, the elaborate corbelling of the Romanesque style, the medievalisms of the Gothic Revival, and the stylized geometric design characteristic of Moderne or Art Deco. Several of the later buildings in the Danielson Main Street Historic District are derived from the style that is known as the Commercial style, distinguished by bands of wide three-part windows, stepped parapets, and simple brickwork ornamentation.
Although many of Danielson's commercial buildings have been modernized, much detail remains that is characteristic of turn-of-the-century commercial architecture. There are several storefronts that incorporate cast-iron columns, wooden or sheet metal storefront cornices, and embossed metal ceilings, representative material of the period that once were common but now have become increasingly rare. The Carrara-glass storefronts with which some buildings were altered in the 1930s have likewise become rare survivals of a once-common technique. In preserving these details, and as architecturally outstanding buildings and typical examples of several historical styles, Danielson's Main Street Historic District serves as a cultural resource unique to its part of Connecticut.
Arnold, H. V. Birds-eye View of Danielson Borough: An Explanation of the Conant Painting of Danielson. Larimore, N.D.: priv. pr., 1926.
________. Memories of Westfield. Larimore, N.D.: priv. pr., 1908.
________. The Making of Danielson. Larimore, N.D.: priv. pr., 1905.
Bayles, Richard M. History of Windham County. Connecticut . New York: W.W. Preston & Company, 1889.
Dowe, Marshall P. "The Borough of Danielson," The Graphic, II, no.2 (1897). Moosup: C.F. Burgess, 1897.
Larned, Ellen D. History of Windham County, Connecticut. 2 vols. Worcester: priv. pr., 1874, 1880.
Lincoln, Allen B. A Modern History of Windham County, Connecticut. 2 vols. Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1920.
Weaver, Margaret. Miles of Millstreams. Killingly: American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1976.
Directories and Biographical Sources
Commemorative Biographical Record of Tolland and Windham Counties, Connecticut. Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1903.
Connecticut Business Directory. Boston: Mercantile Publishing, 1851-1900.
Danielson, Connecticut, Directory. Providence: C. DeWitt White Company, 1921.
Historical, Statistical and Industrial Review of the State of Connecticut. New York: W.S. Webb and Co., 1884.
Illustrated Review of Northeastern Connecticut. New York: Sovereign Publishing & Engraving Company, 1891.
Leading Business Men of Webster, Southbridge, Putnam and Vicinity. Boston: Mercantile Publishing Company, 1890.
Windham County, Connecticut, Business Directory. West Killingly: Windham County Transcript Office, 1861.
MAPS AND VIEWS
Aero View of Danielson, Connecticut, 1913. New York: Hughes & Bailey, 1913.
Conant, Albert. "Danielsonville," Pen and ink bird's-eye view, c.1864, Bugbee Memorial Library, Danielson.
Danielsonville, Connecticut, 1877. Bird's-eye view. Boston: O. H. Bailey, 1877.
Gray, O.W. Atlas of Windham and Tolland Counties. Hartford: C.G. Keeney, 1869.
Map of Windham County, 1855. Philadelphia: E.P. Gerrish, 1856.
Sixty Glimpses of Danielson. Danielson: McEwen & Hopkins, 1908.
Previous Surveys (All deposited with Connecticut Historical Commission)
Historical and Architectural Survey. Phase 1: Residential Areas in Danielson, Dayville, Attawaugan, and Rogers. Historic Resource Consultants, 1982.
Historical and Architectural Survey. Phase 2: Main Street Extension in Danielson. Historic Resource Consultants, 1984.
Historical and Architectural Survey. Phase 4: North and East Parts of Danielson. Historic Resource Consultants, 1991.
State-Owned Properties Thematic Survey. Connecticut Historical Commission, 1986.
Historic Theaters Thematic Survey. Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, 1983.
U.S. Post Offices in Connecticut Thematic Survey. U.S. Postal Service, 1983.
† Bruce Clouette and Matthew Roth, Consultants, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Danielson Main Street Historic District,, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.