The Colburn Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nominaiton document. [‡]
The Colburn Park Historic District consists of twenty-three structures (nineteen of which are contributing) and several objects facing and including a large, rectangular green in the center of downtown Lebanon called Colburn Park. Since the late 18th century, the town's buildings have grouped themselves around the common in rectangular fashion. Today, the streetscape combines residential, civic and commercial structures with styles ranging from Federal and Greek Revival to the eclectic modes of the late 19th century and the classically derived of the twentieth. The Colburn Park Historic District includes all of the buildings facing the park as well as two buildings which face the pedestrian mall; the latter representing all that survive of the 19th century commercial district which once continued up Hanover Street.
Park Street surrounds the common on four sides, six streets feed into the park: Campbell Street from the northeast corner, Bank Street from the east, School Street from the southeast corner, Church Street at the southwest corner, Hanover Street to the west, and Court Street from the northwest. Hanover Street once entered from the northwest, through what is now the pedestrian mall (a major downtown fire in 1964 resulted in new streets, bridges, and traffic patterns as well as the mall). Sidewalks line each side of Park Street on all four sides. Parking spaces surround the common. Traffic islands mark the intersection of the various streets with Park Street, two of the islands, at Campbell and at School Street, contain fountains. The siting of the buildings responds to the grid of the street layout but only the commercial and civic buildings on the north and west are built right to the street line. Those structures on the east and south sides of the park are set back on generous lawns surrounded by lush plantings and substantial trees, the street line defined by a border of granite curbing.
Regardless of the overall diversity of style, period and scale, each respective side of Park Street individually manages to present a unified image as a result of similar materials, heights, building types, design features and site qualities. The west side forms almost a solid wall of brick displaying typical late 19th century detailing. The rhythm of the brick buildings on the north side seems to climax at the central tower of the City Hall (51 North Park Street), the symbolic focus, of the downtown, with common design features including quoining and the rhythm of columns unifying the streetscape. Severed by Bank Street, the east side is comprised of a pair of elaborate frame residences of similar scale and siting balanced by a pair of brick institutional buildings. Finally on the south side the series of residential structures are marked by repeating details including Palladian windows with each end of the streetscape framed by a church steeple, the Congregational Church (10 South Park Street) acting as another focal point of the Colburn Park Historic District, balanced by the spire of the Baptist Church located down School Street in the distance.
The Colburn Park Historic District in Lebanon figures significantly in the related areas of architecture and community planning. Comprised of a high concentration of architecturally interesting structures designed by both local and metropolitan architects and unknown builders, the Colburn Park Historic District forms a panorama of architectural styles from the 19th and 20th centuries. Unifying the diversity of these structures is their common siting fronting Colburn Park, a fine variation of the New England common, dating to the late 18th century and affecting the plan of the downtown to the present day while acting as a sort of showcase for the structures surrounding it.
The formation of Colburn Park in the late 18th century and its continued preservation through the twentieth owe much to community planning achieved by a balance of public and private decisions. Lebanon's earliest settlers arriving in 1762, established themselves on the bank of the Connecticut River expressing their initial orientation southward. Settlement eastward was sporadic at first though as early as 1765 the first home site in the center village was occupied; with the Colburn house located roughly where the Carter Homesteaders now situated. A nucleus of population began to grow in earnest at what is now Lebanon Center in 1792 after Robert Colburn sold his wheat field to the town with the stipulation that a meetinghouse be constructed there. Located in the north triangle of what is now Colburn Park, it was to have a powerful influence on the siting of the downtown buildings around it. The completion of the Fourth New Hampshire Turnpike, linking Lebanon to the seacoast, and the incorporation of the Croydon Turnpike, both in 1804 further advanced Lebanon as a regional center of activity. The convergence of the two highways in the center of the common resulted in a proliferation of inns and taverns catering to those passing through town. Similarly, these two roads, now Bank and School Streets, were the first in the central village lined with residences. Downtown buildings logically grouped themselves around the meetinghouse nucleus. Owing to the location of the meeting house, it is not surprising that the first church to be built in town was constructed in Lebanon Center rather than East Lebanon or West Lebanon, other centers of population. The Congregational Church built in 1828 was quickly joined by a bank in 1829, located for many years on the present site of the library. However, it was not until the mid-century that the assets of the Mascoma River were utilized and urbanization begun. The demise of the mills in East Lebanon, the superiority of the water provided by the Mascoma River and the availability of railroad transportation and resulting lower freight rates made possible by the completion of the Northern Railroad between Concord and Lebanon in 1848, all encouraged the growth of Lebanon Center.
The future of Colburn Park was largely shaped by the decision in 1849 to move the Meetinghouse out of the common to the present site of the City Hall. The impetus for this decision is not clear in any of the records of the day. By that time all four sides were occupied by a mixture of residences and businesses with the lavish residence of H.R. Campbell, (now Carter Homestead, 1 Bank Street) railroad executive, just completed within the last year according to the designs of Ammi Young. In 1850 it was voted that the village could grade face and ornament the common but it was not until 1860 that the legislature offset the turnpikes resulting in the erection of the iron pickets and granite posts which survive today and turning former roads to footpaths within the common.
The streetscape around the green was also continually evolving throughout the mid 19th century. In the 1850's, at least two stores were physically moved to locations elsewhere in town for use as tenements in an apparent attempt to order the downtown to a greater degree.
A major fire in 1887 which destroyed some eighty buildings on 12 acres in Central Lebanon, historically isolated the downtown buildings around the common as the path of the fire was stopped at the Pulsifer Block (10 Lebanon Mall) on what was then Hanover Street (now the Lebanon Mall) sparing the district. Nearly the entire manufacturing community was wiped out as were many residences, tenement houses and business buildings. Despite the effects of the fire on local industry, Lebanon's population between 1880 and 1890 increased. Rapid regrowth, a building boom and general optimism resulted in the construction of a number of downtown structures during this period including the National Bank (16-20 West Park Street), Churchill House and Soldiers Memorial Building (North Park Street). The formal arrangement of impressive buildings around the perimeter was expedited by the further relocation of residential structures on the north side, to make room for new structures, many of which were moved northward to Flynn Street where they still stand. A fire in 1923 which destroyed the Town Hall, necessitated public decisions involving the layout of the downtown, the result being a new focal point for the downtown in the form of the Town Hall and adjacent Richards Block and a successful design which manages to unify the streetscape in terms of materials and common design features. The final factor shaping the plan of the Colburn Park Historic District was Lebanon's second major fire in June, 1964, which destroyed twenty downtown buildings in much the same location as the fire of 1887, sweeping away many structures which had been rebuilt at that time. The path of the fire once again was blocked at the Pulsifer and Whipple Blocks and Hildreth's leaving them sole survivors of a once bustling commercial area extending down Hanover Street. The resulting pedestrian mall and new traffic patterns and demolition conducted in the name of Urban Renewal have only served to insulate and strengthen the unified sense of the park and surrounding streetscape. Beginning in the 1790's, a combination of private and public decisions have managed to safeguard and preserve the formal relationship between open space and built form which makes Colburn Park and surrounding environs a unique and fine example of the New England common.
The assemblage of buildings of the Colburn Park Historic District represents a cross section of American architectural styles, during the 19th and 20th centuries, with potential diversity unified by varying adaptations of classical detailing and principles. Each building embodies distinctive characteristics of its period. It is interesting to note that three different architects are each represented by a pair of designs in the Colburn Park Historic District, giving us unusual insight into the variety of their work.
The residential structures on the south side comprise as a group the earliest structures in the Colburn Park Historic District, a credit to the work of unknown local builders who developed formal symmetrical designs enriched with classical designs. Each of the structures survives basically intact, two retain carriage houses, though Colonial Revival elements were added to embellish the structures in the early 20th century. The hand of architect Ammi Burnham Young born in Lebanon in 1798 is evidenced in two of the structures facing the park. Young later achieved national prominence as Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury, designing countless custom houses across the country including those at Boston, Massachusetts and Windsor, Vermont as well as the Vermont Statehouse and buildings at Dartmouth College. One of the earliest known examples of Young's work is the Congregational Church, constructed in 1828. Details borrowed from Asher Benjamin's American Builder's Companion and Young's own talent combine to make the church an unusually fine example of the Federal style church of the Asher Benjamin type in the region. The use of the rear balcony which made possible longer windows, letting in more light, a marked improvement over earlier horseshoe balconies and two-tier windows, seems to be an early innovation in Church architecture of the region.
Later in his career, Young designed the Campbell-Carter House at the corner of Bank Street. An exercise in the more romantic Italianate style, the house was extensively altered in the Colonial Revival style in 1895 following a fire. In addition to brackets and bay windows, a tripartite Roman arch window, a detail frequently seen in Young's work survives on the Bank Street elevation.
Many of the downtown buildings are illustrative of the eclectic modes of the 19th century. The Whipple Block (2 West Park Street) and Soldiers Memorial Building standout as fine examples of Queen Anne architecture. Both were designed by local architect Ferdinand Davis (1840-1921) who came to Lebanon from Cushing, Maine in 1858 to learn a carpenter's trade. Each building retains significant period detailing including round arched openings, colored glass, brick detailing and polychromy between brick and stone and the use of terra cotta. A fire in the 1930's unfortunately resulted in the removal of a mansard roof and tall panelled chimneys which once further enlivened the silhouette of the Whipple Block.
Reportedly the first building of its kind in the State, the Soldiers Building was designed to be a memorial with civic usefulness rather than a simple statue or metallic shaft for the common as was previously proposed.
The construction of the National Bank Building in 1893 witnessed the introduction of Chicago skyscraper elements to downtown Lebanon. A fitting companion for the Whipple Block, especially before fire removed the latter's roof, thus altering its scale, the Bank was designed by prominent Manchester, New Hampshire architect, William M. Butterfield. In its original form the bank was meant to be reflective of its steel frame construction with a high proportion of glass articulated by a wealth of brick detailing. Though the effect has been lessened by insensitive window replacement, the Bank remains an important visual element in the downtown.
The work of Boston architect John A. Fox (1835-1920) is witnessed in two very different buildings in the Colburn Park Historic District, a credit to the breadth of his designs as well as an indication of the variety of styles coexisting in the late 19th century. The Churchill House (1892) remains an excellent example of the Queen Anne style. Displaying a typical blend of clapboards and shingles embellished by a profusion of towers, porches and other decorative elements, it was designed for prominent local resident Frank Churchill (3 Campbell Street) who served under President Theodore Roosevelt. In contrast, twentieth century classical revival ideals are well represented in the Rogers House (1911; 39 North Park Street), also by Fox.
Typical of many Carnegie funded libraries across the country is the didactic exercise in classic vocabulary embodied in the Lebanon Public Library (1909; 9 East Park Street). Combining Greek details with forms borrowed from Roman and Egyptian sources and abstracted designs, it was designed by Boston architects McLean and Wright.
In contrast, the reliance on Colonial form for the Lebanon City Hall (1923) and U.S. Post Office (1937; 11 East Park Street) is reflective of the search by twentieth century architects for a style which would be uniquely American and a repudiation of styles based on European forms and experience. These designs are typical of many governmental structures, a restrained composition which reflects a strong nationalistic self-image as well as the growing popularity of Colonial Williamsburg motifs. The City Hall was designed by Jens Fredrick Larson of the firm of Larson & Wells who designed similar works at Dartmouth College. Illustrations of the City Hall were published nationally in both Brickbuilder and American Architect and Building News.
Not surprisingly, the twentieth century has had its effect on the Colburn Park Historic District, A plethora of road signs attempts to channel the disoriented out-of-town driver around the park. Parking spaces, street lights, traffic islands and commercial signage further complicate the downtown. Outside the Colburn Park Historic District, the fire of 1964 swept away a 19th century commercial business district and replacing it with a prototypical Neocolonial pedestrian mall. Urban renewal left an empty lot in the downtown streetscape which as of yet has not been filled, but twentieth century intrusions thus far are limited to the fire station, bank and a service station. Modernization of the downtown buildings has been limited to new windows, several new storefronts and a single case of vinyl siding with the exception of 1 School Street, these alterations have not been so extensive as to threaten the integrity of the downtown's architecture. Comprised of a fine example of the New England common, fronted by a series of buildings of architectural merit, the, Colburn Park Historic District is certainly worthy of inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
American Architect and Building News, V.127 no. 2465, p.143-144,Feb. 11, 1925 (illus. Lebanon Town Hall).
Benjamin, Asher. American Builder's Companion. Boston, R.P. & C. Williams, 1827. Reprinted, New York, Dover Publications,1970.
Chapman, Bernard F. History in a Nutshell; A Brief History of Lebanon, NH. Lebanon: Lebanon Historical Society, 1961.
Downs, Charles A. History of Lebanon, N. H. 1761-1887. Concord: Rumford Printing Co., 1908.
Granite State Free Press, selected editions 1848-1920 (Lebanon Public Library).
Lebanon Historical Society Annual Reports. 1959-1975 (Lebanon Historical Society, Lebanon Public Library).
Lebanonian, selected editions. Dec. 1897-Oct. 1899. (Lebanon Historical Society, Lebanon Public Library).
New Hampshire Homes. 2 volumes. Concord: James A. Wood, 1895.
Services at the Dedication of Soldier's Memorial Building, Lebanon, N.H. Lebanon: Press of A.B. Freeman, 1890.
Smith, Helen K. "History of Lebanon", Insight, Spring 1984, p.8-14.
‡ Lisa B, Mausolf, Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Council, Colburn Park Historic District, Grafton County, New Hampshire, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Bank Street • Campbell Street • Park Street East • Park Street North • Park Street South • Park Street West • Route 12 • Route 4 • School Street