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History Corner: Let’s Look Around Town…

History Corner: Let’s Look Around Town…

Several years ago, I wrote two stories entitled “Do you know where you are?” and “Do you know where you live?”  Like people, houses have personalities, with traits that bind them together as a group.  A house is known to have a style, not like clothes with fancy high heels, button down shirts or rainbow-colored hair but a common “look” if you will.

Let’s start with the New England farmhouse dating from 1700.  Usually rectangular, two stories high with a central entryway.  Clapboards most likely with centrally located chimneys.  Given the look of windows in England, these houses had windows known as “12 over 12”.  That is to say twelve panes of glass on the top portion and 12 on the bottom.  The 2nd story often jetties out beyond the first floor, the advantage being an additional space without impacting the street.  This technique was used in medieval homes, a style held over from the 17th century.

Cape Cod style appears to be common in New England as well, again from the 1700s.  These houses tend to be smaller in size and a single story.  With a 19th century home, 12’ corner posts would be utilized and eaves would be raised enough to allow usable space often referred to as a garret.  As with the farmhouse, a central chimney and entryway.  The windows were balanced on each side of the façade with a half house or ¾ house showing an imbalance.  The outside was also clapboards with shingles being introduced as well.  It might be appropriate to define a clapboard at this point.  A clapboard is a long, flat piece of wood horizontally overlapping in a series.  A shingle on the other hand is a flat, rectangular shape laid vertically, overlapping one another, with each one being started from the bottom with the one above covering the top, nailed portion.

As our government began to take shape, the Federal style came into being starting in 1790.  Symmetry is the watchword for this style with the entranceway, the signature of a Federal home, located at what would appear to be the end of the house or the gable end.  It does, however, face the road.  Given the traditions so common in New England, many Federal houses maintained the doorway in the center of the long side with a fancy door containing 6 panels with sidelights.  These houses would be decorated with swags and dentils defined as a square block used for decoration having been used in Roman times.  The Stone- Otis House has dentils.

This leads me into the Stone-Otis House, built as a Greek Revival.  With a start date of 1830, it was one that dominated the American expression until 1860.  Unlike the others above, the gable end was to the front, facing the street with the roofline, side to side, often with columns not unlike the temples in Greece.  Windows of six over six appear to be part of the definition of a Greek Revival home, but the Stone-Otis house has 12 over 12 with some very old glass.  This would lead one to ask if Dennis Stone, in building his house in 1830, used windows from a previous homestead, perhaps a home in New Haven.  Glass was expensive and smaller panes would have been practical.  Hmm.

Italianate from 1840-1880 was very popular with low-pitched roofs, wide overhanging eaves and decorative columns.  The windows are larger and sporting two over two.  Another clarification to be made here would be that the 12 over 12 configuration, common in the early days, would say that the owner, wanting to save money would buy the smaller pieces and also avoid a tax on the glass.  The larger windows not only made the style, but would indicate prosperity of the owner to be able to afford lager pieces.  Breakage was common and glass could be purchased more inexpensively than a larger piece which would often break during shipment.  Bay windows, elaborate porches, towers and cupolas can also be part of an Italianate structure.

A vernacular style was style seen throughout southeastern Connecticut being exemplified by the Bryan-Andrew house.  This is also known as a vernacular cape and now can be found throughout Connecticut.  The exact footprint of the home is in Watertown, previously owned by a Bryan and another one in Tolland, known as the Benton House.  Visiting this house was like being in the house on Old Tavern Road.  The Bryan-Andrew House indeed has the second floor with the slanted roof with the earlier 8-foot corner posts of the 18th century.  This 2nd floor was used as bedroom space with its own small fireplace.  For safety reasons this fireplace has been closed off.  This style lacked decorative details associated with any other style with fieldstone or brick foundations, wood frame and clapboard sheathing.

Well into the 20th century houses were built in the Colonial Revival style in large numbers throughout Connecticut showing the details from those early Colonial built homes.  The Homestead House appeared similar to the Greek Revival with the roof side to side with the front gable facing the street, but it lacked the details of the earlier model.  The English cottage also made its debut widely in America with its quaint look of the earlier time.  It boasted a steep pitched roof, prominent chimney at the street side, enclosed entry porch with a round-arch door.

The Dutch Colonial continued the 20th century with two stories and a gambrel roof.  Now this roof is in 4 pieces with the sides dipping down from the top much resembling a barn.  A good way to identify this style is with its solid panel shutters, arched entryways to the left or right, end chimneys, and dormers in the front and rear.  A more identifiable house is the Ranch House originating in California in the 1930s spreading east after World War II.  This is seen as a single story, long with a low-pitched roof, and an attached garage.  Sometimes it has an “L” shape but whichever the shape, it offers an open floor plan, a buzzword on any television house restoration program today.

A raised ranch is a two-story house with a finished basement.  The look is similar to the ranch, but with its central doorway, it has a set of stairs going up to the first floor and one to the right going downstairs.  The garage is on the level of the finished basement providing storage which would ordinarily be in a basement area.  Now that you have the descriptions perhaps our town will look different to you as you spot the various styles.  Of course, there are the mega-mansions which don’t appear to have a particular style, but more a combination of the others.  What do you think?

Our town has been built since the members of the 1639 Milford Colony moved north into Native American territory.  Buying acreage as needed, the colonists purchased the land, piece by piece from the Sachem Antsantawae of the Paugussett tribe.  My next article will highlight the areas of town built by the various builders and the names attached to each one.  I have found deeds for the houses in the New Haven Ave. area that have the name Tyler City in the deed as its identification.  So, until next time.  Happy New Year to all my readers.

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