Photo: House in the Thetford Hill Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Photographed by Username: Doug Kerr (own work), 2011, [cc-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed December, 2022.
The Thetford Hill Historic District [†] is comprised of 37 properties, including 64 structures (42 contributing) and one contributing site, representing the first village established in the Town of Thetford. As its name suggests Thetford Hill is a hilltop flat with breathtaking views eastward towards rolling New Hampshire hills and Mt. Moosilauke. Almost all of the buildings in the district are residential in nature, arranged in linear fashion facing Academy Road which extends in a north-south direction and Route 113 which intersects with the north end of Academy Road, running in an east-west orientation. The town common is located at the intersection of these two roads with a dirt road running along the west side of the common, also connecting Rt. 113 and Academy Road. The district also includes two structures on Houghton Hill which extends northerly from the Academy Road/113 intersection. The focal point of the district, the First Congregational Church, moved from its original location on the common and enhanced by a pavilion and tower in 1830, stands at the north end of the common. Indeed, it was the building of the meetinghouse that commenced the existence of the village and thus, this district.
With the exception of the Thetford Hill Academy buildings which rise from a low, cleared hill at the southern end of the district, most of the buildings in the district are set on relatively flat lots shaded by substantial, mature trees. For the most part those houses on the east side of Academy Road are set close to the street, their proximity to the road due in part to the straightening out of the road over the years. The rear of these lots slope gently downhill. Those on the west side are generally set back from the road by deep lawns, which in part consist of a border strip of common land along the street marked midlawn by granite posts. Several houses of later construction have filled backlots while a few older houses have been moved back from the road for privacy. The dense elm trees which once lined the common have all but disappeared. Similarly, Norway spruces were planted to line Houghton Hill Road. Ornamental plantings and fruit trees in the area northeast of the intersection of Houghton Hill and Route 113 recall the state's first commercial nursery established here in 1852. Open fields are located between some of the buildings at the lower end of the east side of Academy Road. A single house retains a picket fence representative of the many fences which outlined the properties in the 19th century.
With few exceptions, the buildings of the district predate the Civil War. Almost half of the structures were built before 1830 with the periods 1810-1830 and 1840-1860 seeing the greatest amount of building activity. Stylistically, the Federal and Gothic Revival predominate, followed by the Greek Revival and Georgian. Modest Capes and Classic Cottages comprise the majority, complemented by several very elaborate homes. Common design features include doorways capped by fans and framed by half sidelights. A number of houses are adorned by enclosed gable entrance porches. Where construction has occurred in the twentieth century, care has been taken to recreate the basic features including the plan, massing and details of the building being replaced. Building activity in the first third of the twentieth century has not negatively altered the villagescape.
Almost all of the buildings are of frame and clapboard construction; a few have been covered in synthetic sidings. The existence of a local brickyard operated by Hezekiah Porter during the 19th century made possible the construction of three brick houses within the district. All of the buildings in the district can be characterized as being in good to excellent condition.
The Thetford Hill Historic District is significant architecturally as a largely intact and unified concentration of late 18th to mid 19th century residential structures. With few exceptions, the buildings of the district predate the Civil War. Almost half of the structures were built before 1830 with the periods 1810-1830 and 1840-1860 seeing the greatest amount of building activity. Forty-two of the district's sixty-four structures (and one site) are considered contributing. Building activity in the first third of the twentieth century has not negatively altered the villagescape.
Construction of the meetinghouse between 1785 and 1788 on Thetford Common resulted in the establishment of Thetford Hill, the first village in Town. Prior to its being moved from the Town-owned parcel in 1830, the Meetinghouse was a simple two story gable-roofed structure measuring 3x2 bays with its main entrance centered on the broad east side. The original appearance of the structure was apparently similar to the Rockingham, Vermont Meetinghouse (entered on the National Register, 9/10/1979). Alterations following the move in 1830 changed the orientation of the entrance from the east to the south and added a Federal-Greek Revival style pavilion and tower.
The laying out of roads and travelways kept pace with early settlement on the Hill. A number of east-west roads, each two rods wide separated the various divisions relating to the original survey of town lots. According to local historian, Charlotte McCartney, the orientation of the Loomis House northward rather than facing Academy Road is explained by the existence of one of these two rod roadways. Route 113 east of the common was laid out in 1793; it was laid out westward from this point in 1818. Houghton Hill Road dates to between 1805 and 1810. The common, established as part of the original lot configuration, was enlarged through deeds on the south in 1795 and on the west in 1818.
The arrival of the first settler on Thetford Hill, Beriah Loomis, preceded both the construction-of the Meetinghouse in 1785 and the surveying of what is now Route 113 east of the common in 1793. According to Charlotte McCartney, Loomis' original homestead was situated roughly in the middle of the west side of the current common with his land also including the current Young Property. The house currently occupying this property is the oldest surviving house on the Hill and dates to 1792, built by James White who bought the lot from Loomis. Although simple in detailing, it was no doubt a very substantial house for its time.
By 1800 at least two other structures had been built in the district. According to deed research, part of the White-Fowle House was standing in 1795. If this is true, its handsome Federal style enclosed entrance porch would appear to be a rather early example of the style for the area. An ornate, denticulated and modillioned cornice further distinguishes this house.
Beriah Loomis' second house (Loomis House) constructed in 1792 is certainly the most elaborate example of residential architecture in the district. Full entablature lintels with pulvinated friezes and dentils cap the first floor windows while a Palladian window dominates the second story of the Georgian facade. This, the second of four houses Beriah Loomis was to live in on the Hill during his lifetime was certainly the finest he was to own. Today only two of the four survive.
Building activity on the Hill in the first two decades of the 19th century was limited to the construction of three modest Cape dwellings. It is interesting to note that two of these are marked by enclosed entrance porches, a rather unique feature in the region and state. The Latham-Kendrick Houses constructed in 1817 are fine examples of the Federal style, and are of additional interest because of their rather unusual double house form.
The establishment of Thetford Academy in 1819 was to give great impetus to the growth of Thetford Hill and the construction of buildings serving the Academy and its staff. The Academy's original buildings, located between what are now the Cekich House and Eclipse Grange were destroyed by fire in 1942.
The vast majority of the structures within the Thetford Hill district can be attributed to the hands of unknown builders. The year 1819 however, marked the arrival of two men, Joshua Turner and son Thomas Porter Turner who were to leave a major imprint on Thetford Hill through the construction of four houses including two simple frame housesand two substantial brick Federal buildings, all constructed between 1819 and 1825. Joshua Turner apparently moved to Norwich in 1825 while Thomas later moved to Oberlin, Ohio where he was responsible for the construction of several residential and church buildings.
The years 1840-1850 were marked by substantial building activity within the district. A fire in 1842 was certainly responsible for some of this change while the growth of Thetford Academy also contributed as evidenced in the construction of two Academy Halls. Whereas the Cape Cod form had predominated the first part of the century, the Classic Cottage, embellished in vernacular Gothic details including cross gables, became the popular house form at mid century.
It was not until the 1930's and 1940's that the absence of construction after the Civil War was broken. Infill along Route 113 and construction along the southern part of Academy Road following the Academy Fire of 1942 are the visible manifestations of this activity. In general, construction during this period carefully recreated the form, massing and details or earlier buildings as is seen in the Estabrook House and to a lesser degree in the neo-Colonial Thetford Academy.
The twentieth century has had limited effect on the district. Non-contributing structures within this architecturally significant assemblage of 19th and 20th century structures are limited to the much altered Vaughan-Hyzer House, the Academy structures and the Bicentennial Building. For the most part modernization has been limited to new windows, garages and several cases of synthetic siding. In most cases additions and alterations are relegated to rear elevations and are not readily visible from the street. New, though sympathetic, construction includes built in 1942; built in 1986 and dating to circa 1940. The once densely tree-lined streets have suffered their share of loss through disease; asphalt has replaced dirt road surfaces and the watering trough has been moved to an inland position.
In addition to its architectural significance, it should be noted that the Thetford Hill Historic District is also of historical interest as an early intellectual and spiritual center in the State. The First Congregational Church, one of the first five churches established in Vermont, is also the oldest meetinghouse in the state still in continuous use. Equally influential in shaping the character and built environment of the Thetford community has been the Thetford Academy. Established in 1819 and coeducational since its beginning^ the Academy is the oldest secondary school in continuous operation in the state. The contribution of the Academy to the Town's social and economic development cannot be underestimated, nor can the success of its graduates who have included numerous graduates of Dartmouth College, Senator Justin Morrill and the founders of Wabash, Oberlin and Gainesville Colleges.
Adapted from: Lisa B. Mausolf, Preservation Planner, Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Council, Thetford Hills Historic District, nomination document, 1985, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Academy Road • Houghton Hill Road • Route 113