Connecticut Trust For Historic Preservation

Industries and Industrialists: New Listings on the State and National Registers

Four sitesrecently added to the State or National Register of Historic Places illustratechapters in Connecticut’sindustrial history.

The Chamberlin Mill in Woodstock, listed on the State Register, istypical of small-scale industrial sites in rural areas that served localpopulations, primarily grinding grains or sawing lumber.

This saw mill was in existence by1869 and operated until the1970s. It is unique in its completeness andpreservation, including most of its machinery—even a cut-down 1928 Studebakertruck which supplanted water power in the mill’s later years.

The NatureConservancy acquired the mill in 2008 as part of the Still River Preserve, anda group of local residents, including the Woodstock Historical Society, anagricultural society, and some old-tractor buffs, is working to ensure themilll’s long-term preservation (see CPN, September/October 2009).

Like much of Connecticut,the Silvermine Center Historic District,lying on the border between Norwalk, New Canaan,and Wilton,might be called a postindustrial community. In the 18th and early 19thcenturies various small and medium-sized mills appeared along the banks of the Silvermine River. Together with stores, a tavern, andthe homes of the people who worked there, they made Silvermine aself-sufficient community, one of many scattered across Connecticut. Later in the 19thcentury the village entered a period of decline, as most of the mills succumbedto competition from larger companies in larger cities.

In the 20th century, artistsand writers discovered Silvemine. In addition to their own remodeled homes andstudios, the old tavern became an inn catering to travelers, and a number of otherbuildings became antique shops. But the small-scale vernacular architecture andirregular layout of the older community, preserved by the period of poverty,absorbed the changes. Most recently the community has become a more generalsuburb, although one still characterized by a strong arts community.

Either bytheir absence or their presence, company owners played a dominant role indetermining the physical appearance of industrial communities. In the Case Brothers Historic District, in Manchester, members of onefamily founded and ran a paper mill that that operated from 1862 to 1971. Inaddition to the mill itself, they built housing for workers and a company store(both now separated from the historic district by a highway).

Most importantly, the ownersthemselves lived in the community. They surrounded their own houses withgardens and a larger naturalistic landscape that included a 391-acre naturepreserve that functioned (and has become) a town park.

The Case family’s lifestyle, set inelegant houses and gardens, was an example of the County Lifemovement of the early 20th century, which advocated a genteel rurallifestyle as an antidote to the stresses of the cities. The houses are also anexample of the compounds that many upper-class families built during the era(another such compound is the Cheney family’s Great Lawn, also in Manchester).

Even awayfrom their factories, owners added to the state’s built environment, asillustrated by Restmore, the summerhome of Dr. Ira DeVer Warner, co-owner (with his brother Lucien) of the WarnerBrothers corset company in Bridgeport.Warner’s architect, Ehrick Kensett Rossiter, chose an unusual architecturalmodel for the house: Groote Shuur, the home of Cecil Rhodes, in Capetown, SouthAfrica. The house’s stuccoed walls, shadedloggias, and shaped gables all reflect the Dutch colonial architecture of South Africa. Whetherthis stylistic choice was Rossiter’s or Warner’s, the unusual design reflectsthe architectural eclecticism of the early 20th century. However,the interiors revert to the conventional Colonial Revival of the time.