Architectural Monographs: 17th Century Connecticut Houses

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This issue of the historic White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs explores the earliest wooden structures of Connecticut, celebrated as excellent surviving examples of simple yet elegant colonial architecture. Thanks to a certain notorious American traitor, who ordered his British command to loot and burn the town of New London in 1781, this monograph focuses on 17th century Connecticut houses in the river towns and their offshoots, especially New Haven. Some of these date back as early as 1636.

“That means to say that most of our material is drawn from the New Haven settlement, for, thanks to the gentle incendiary attentions of Benedict Arnold, the burning of New London left but little of the seventeenth century work undestroyed in that city.”

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The number of affluent, influential landowners who settled in these towns led to substantial estates, but there are also houses built by people who weren’t quite as well-off, which are described by the authors here as “by no means contemptible.” Many still stood by 1919, when this monograph was written, leaving behind a good idea of the average 17th century Connecticut dwelling.

Of course, over the years, the houses have been modified, so that the way they appear today is much different than they did nearly a century ago, let alone in the 17th century. The authors note that the additions that had already been made by 1919 were “revolting examples of proprietary vandalism.”

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“All the windows, save those that have escaped the intolerable desecration of recent sashes with large panes, exhibit the double hung sashes with small panes and wide munitions that supplanted the earlier diamond-paned leaded casements in the fore part of the eighteenth century.”

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Connecticut’s Charming Old Hill Towns

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Only the hardiest settlers made it through the “hideous and trackless wilderness” on the Connecticut Path to access the hills that would later be known as Woodstock, Connecticut in the late 1600s. The first of them came from Massachusetts, establishing a community that looked out over the countryside from a vantage point that protected it from altercations with the Native people and later, from industrialism.

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The location also prevented the aesthetics of the Victorian era from wiping out the simple, refined charm of the Colonial architecture in the late 19th century, preserving the earlier period. Even after stage-coach routes made the hill towns of Windham County accessible, these places retained their character. The townspeople married amongst each other, eventually creating a population that was “knit together in one great family circle.”

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This issue of the historic White Pine Architectural Monographs explores the history of this area, its standout structures, and its people. One particularly humorous anecdote recounts the story of a dark summer night in 1750 amidst fears of the French and Indians, when “a roar and tumult filled the town.”

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“The people, perplexed and greatly frightened, stayed behind barred doors and listened with horror, no one venturing out to face the foe. Next morning it was discovered that it was only a migration through the town of noisy bull-frogs in search of water, their own pond having dried up. Much to the mortification of the Windham people, the story flew all over the county and the country.”

Architectural Monographs: The Town of Suffield, Connecticut

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How would you picture the archetypal American home today? Maybe you envision a suburban neighborhood filled with nearly identical cookie-cutter houses with two-car garages and pristine lawns. Our ideas about what constitutes an iconically American residence have certainly changed since 1921, when this issue of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs was published. Focusing on the town of Suffield in Connecticut, it celebrates the Colonial “white house with green blinds” as the quintessential American home to which builders should aspire.

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“Regardless of the many and varied kinds of houses we build, to satisfy architectural whims, the early tradition of the ‘white house with the green blinds’ is never entirely absent from our thoughts or from our instinctive desires,” writes author David E. Tarn. Some of those idyllic homes can be found a bit off the beaten path in Suffield, founded in 1670.

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“A typical bit of New England history, this brief chronicle of the achievement of a group of determined colonists, who turned a wilderness into a town in less than twelve years. They wrought industriously and untiringly with their hands, and must have possessed a will to survive and to progress almost unbelievable in our present era of easy methods and ready-made necessities.”


Take a detailed look at these houses in Volume VII, Issue VI of the White Pine Monographs.

Architectural Monographs: Old Woodbury in Connecticut

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Architect Wesley S. Bessel clearly didn’t think much of contemporary architecture back in 1916, calling it “a conglomerate mass of uninteresting work.” In fact, Bessel wrote in this issue of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, “Why this unfortunate development should have been permitted to take place when so many examples of the best of our seventeenth and eighteenth century dwellings remain all about us for our guidance and emulation is a source of wonderment to all thinking persons.”

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Volume II, Issue V of the Monographs delves into the colonial architecture of Old Woodbury and adjacent areas of Connecticut. Bessel credits ‘Revolutionary spirit’ for the dignified and inspired buildings of this particular time and place. Located along the Post Road in the Northeast, an important travel route, Woodbury is home to houses that are modest, yet well-thought-out and built to the highest standards of craftsmanship.

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Though many modern homes were, by 1916, quickly and shoddily built with little care for a cohesive architectural style, there was somewhat of a revival of the colonial ways. “There is aversion to a consideration of those subtle qualities which produced the many homes of past centuries that possess a charm that age alone cannot give, but which is the result of that true art of the Colonial builders whose lives were expressed in the design of their dwellings.”

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Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: The Boston Post Road

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Connecticut’s earliest settlements were made not along the water, like most, but inland, in the center of the state. This fact may seem surprising at first, but it’s because the first outsiders to arrive there came not from the sea, but overland from Massachusetts to found a small group of colonial communities in the fertile bottomlands along the Connecticut River. Smaller towns that cropped up around it were often found along the Boston Post Road, the route between Boston and New York City.

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Written in 1920, Volume VI, Issue I of the White Pine Architectural Monographs examines the homes in these towns. “Where in the big and prosperous cities the proportion of old houses is almost negligible, and the absolute number very few, in the small old towns one could almost fancy one was miraculously returned to the Colonial period, so many old wood-built houses remain.”

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The houses along Boston Post Road are described as “alike as beads on the string – beads of the same pattern and the same color.” Each little town was centered around the “green”, which was dominated by a church. The houses are simple square boxes with low-pitched gable roofs. Architectural details in cornices, doorways and windows were sparingly deployed, resulting in homes as unfussy as the English names of the towns. Yet one one looks closer, there is still variety to be found.

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.