Changing Lives, Changing Places
Changing Lives, Changing Places: New Listings on the National Register
History is the story of change. People move and adjust to new homes, technological innovations offer new ways of making a living or render old ones obsolete, architectural fashions come and go. Four sites recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places point to periods of change in Connecticut communities.
The Marlborough Street historic district, in Portland, is a residential neighborhood from the first half of the 19th century, when prosperous residents, many connected to the town’s brownstone quarries, built new homes with views of the Connecticut River. The district’s oldest house was built in 1829 for the Reverend William Jarvis, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church. The house, an early example of the Greek Revival style, has a graceful Ionic portico. In 1854, Gilbert Stancliff, a quarry superintendent, and Joseph Williams, a merchant, built matching octagonal houses, an unusual form that enjoyed a brief burst of popularity.
The most imposing dwelling belonged to quarry owner Erastus Brainerd, Jr. Built in 1852, it was designed by the New Haven architect Henry Austin, who drew inspiration from Italian farmhouses and Indian temples to showcase the wealth that the quarries created.
While Portland’s quarries boomed, other industries struggled. In New Haven, the M. Armstrong and Company carriage factory represents one response to changing markets.
Many of the city’s carriage makers, which in 1858 had been ranked fourth in the nation, failed during the Civil War or the economic instability that followed. An exception was the company founded in 1859 by Montgomery Armstrong, which survived by concentrating on high-end products, leaving the less expensive segments of the market to others. In the 20th century, the company switched to producing equally high-end automobile bodies, until competition from the Midwest forced it to close in 1927. The Armstrong factory, built in 1882 as the company was solidifying its position in the post-bellum market, is one of only two carriage factories still extant in New Haven.
In Connecticut’s cities, industrial and commercial growth created new housing patterns, as illustrated by the Vine Street apartment buildings, in Hartford. As the city expanded, developers bought parcels of land and subdivided them for sale to individuals who erected one or two buildings at a time. A new building type also emerged: a symmetrical three-story building with two units per floor, known locally as the “Perfect Six.”
Vine Street was developed by the firm of Meyers & Gross, who bought fifteen acres north of Albany Avenue in 1922. They laid out Vine Street for “high-class apartment houses.” Between 1922 and 1925, developers put up ten Perfect Sixes plus one larger apartment building. The buildings’ uniform scale, setbacks, and spacing create a consistent streetscape. Within this framework, different styles—Classical Revival, Tudor Revival, and Spanish Mission Revival—give each building its own identity.
Change came to the countryside as well. With people moving to the cities, farmland lost value. The depressed prices attracted new immigrants, among them the founders of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society synagogue and creamery site, in Montville.
Beginning about 1890, Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Russia began settling in the town’s Chesterfield section, where they created a close-knit enclave. The settlers received financial support from the Baron de Hirsch Fund, which helped Jewish immigrants escape city slums and become farmers.
Organizing themselves as the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society (NEHFES), the settlers built a synagogue, a simple structure consecrated in 1892. By 1910 they had added a mikvah, or ritual bathhouse. The farmers also formed a cooperative creamery association in 1892 to process milk into cream, butter, and cheese for market. Like other cooperative creameries throughout the state, the enterprise operated only intermittently; it closed for good in 1915.
Eventually, the immigrants’ descendants moved on. The synagogue closed in 1953 and it, along with the mikvah, creamery, and associated buildings, were demolished or burned. Today, the only visible remnants of the community buildings are some foundations and a marker erected by the NEHFES, which has been reconstituted to preserve the site.
This article originally appeared in Connecticut Preservation News, July/August 2012