Quaker Hill Historic District
The Quaker Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Quaker Hill Historic District is located on the west side of the Thames River in the northern part of the Town of Waterford. A linear residential district more than a mile in length, it runs north-south along the Old Norwich Road to encompass the village of Quaker Hill, which is centered around the intersection with Old Colchester Road and the western end of Smith Cove, the outlet for Hunt's Brook. The Quaker Hill Historic District also includes several side streets, such as Caroline Court and Rosemary Lane, and is bounded on the east for part of its length by Mohegan Avenue Parkway (State Route 32), which connects to Interstate 395 to the south.
The Quaker Hill Historic District's 109 resources consist primarily of houses and their associated outbuildings, as a well as a former tavern, a church, and three twentieth-century municipal buildings. Ranging in age from 1782 to the 1950, the majority (84 percent) of the resources contribute to the architectural and/or historical significance of the district. Only two historic houses are so altered that they are considered non-contributing.
Construction began in the Quaker Hill Historic District after the Revolution with several Colonials and Cape-style houses. The Christopher Green House of 1794 (153 Old Norwich Road), the only stone building in the district, has random ashlar walls set off by raised cut-stone quoining in the Georgian manner. The pedimented entrance portico that now enhances its five-bay facade, the dormers (or at least the center section), and the side porch with columns all date from the Colonial Revival period. The Benjamin Green House up the street is a four-bay Colonial with a center chimney (193 Old Norwich Road). The fenestration on the right side of the facade has been rearranged.
The John Rogers House (117 Old Norwich Road), which may date from 1782, is one of several Cape-style houses built in the Quaker Hill Historic District up through 1815. Because of its sloping site on the bank of Smith Cove, it has a full-height exposed brick foundation on the water side. In all other respects it resembles its counterparts in the district, the John Burch House (95 Old Norwich Road) and the Daniel Rogers House (196 Old Norwich Road). They all have a five-bay facade, with paired windows on either side of a central doorway. Instead of the more typical high plate found in Capes of this period, the facade windows are tucked up under the eaves. The side elevations display two full-size windows at the attic level; but none of these Capes have the usual fixed windows under the eaves that are associated with this style.
Although there was a lull in domestic construction up through 1860, this period is represented by two public sites. The present flush-boarded facade of the Quaker Hill Baptist Church was once the rear elevation (144 Old Norwich Road). The Red Lion Tavern, which also has a four-bay facade, clapboard sheathing, and six-over-six window sash, stands overlooking the crossroads and the present green (2 Old Colchester Road). Its rubblestone foundation is exposed on the facade due to the sloping. In the 1980s the church was rotated 180 degrees and moved forward on its elevated site to accommodate the construction of a parish hall addition at the rear. The double doors for the original main entrance are gone, but their frame with a heavy molded cornice, frieze, and pilasters was reinstalled on the present facade. Presumably the tower was relocated at the same time, and the upper stage with the open belfry with columns shown in historic photographs was removed.
Several vernacular cottages were built just prior to the Civil War. The well-preserved cross-gable example at 145 Old Norwich Road displays two entrances with narrow doorhoods supported by brackets in the Italianate manner. Characteristically for the period, the cottage has a paired front gable window, a feature also found on the James Moore House at the southern end of the district (97 Old Norwich Road). There the doorway and the first-floor windows have small bracketed pent roof hoods, and there are exposed rafter tails and outriggers under the eaves.
More elaborate versions of these houses employing Gothic Revival motifs were built about 1870. The house at 199 Old Norwich Road displays peaked windows in the front and wall dormer gables, which have molded hoods, and similar hoods are found over the rest of the windows. The doorway with its sidelights and transom is more Greek Revival in style. Another house near the center of the Quaker Hill Historic District approaches the Carpenter Gothic in the detailing of its eave and cornice brackets and scroll-sawn bargeboards (138 Old Norwich Road). The wraparound veranda has unusual slim columns with necking.
Porches are also featured on the several Queen Annes built later in the century. The first manifestation of this popular style in the Quaker Hill Historic District was limited to verandas embellished with turned posts and spindle courses. While the style persisted into the twentieth century with a cross-gable version at the head of the district (91 Old Norwich Road), the Colonial Revival influence also is found in the porches of two houses built after World War I (91 and 173 Old Norwich Road). The one at 91 Old Norwich Road also has the cut-away corners on the side bay that are typical Queen Anne, while the other example at 173 Old Norwich Road approaches what is sometimes called the "Free Classic," a style that combines Classical and Colonial motifs with Queen Anne massing.
The Free Classic is exemplified by the Frank Alexander House and Glassbrenner House which face each other across upper Old Norwich Road (185 and 188 Old Norwich Road). Both feature truncated hip roofs with a balustrades and Colonial Revival porches. It is likely that before the second-story enclosure over the porch was added to the Alexander House, they were even more similar in appearance. Although slightly different in their treatments, both have facade bays, with a full pediment on the Alexander House, and a recessed gable window on the Glassbrenner House in the Shingle style mode.
A variety of other styles were built in this period. One of the four houses that were designed or remodeled in the Dutch Colonial Revival style is located on the edge of Smith Cove (119 Old Norwich Road). It has a pronounced flare to the lower slope of its gambrel roof, and, like other houses in this location, has a high basement at the rear because of sloping shore. Another house erected in 1836 was remodeled in this style about 1915 (120 Old Norwich Road). The American Foursquare, a popular suburban style, is represented in the Quaker Hill Historic District by just two contributing examples. The battered (slanted) posts supporting the front porch roof on the one at 169 Old Norwich Road are an unusual feature, one more often associated with the Bungalow style.
The Craftsman influence is displayed on several early twentieth-century houses in the Quaker Hill Historic District. It is evident in the exposed stone work at 154 Old Norwich Road and the braced overhangs of the Craftsman Bungalow at 140 Old Norwich Road. It is expressed as a full-blown style in the stuccoed house at the corner of Northwood Road, which was built shortly after World War I (3 Northwood Road).
The large brick Quaker Hill School (116 Old Norwich Road) was also erected in this period. Designed in a simplified Colonial Revival style with a recessed entrance flanked by two-story pilasters and square brick columns, it overlooks Smith Cove from its hill-top site. Other details include a round-arched doorway with a key block. Style and materials were selected for the 1927 Quaker Hill Firehouse at 17 Old Colchester Road, which displays the same parapeted facade often employed in buildings of this type.
The World War II era is represented by a Tudor Revival at the foot of the Quaker Hill Historic District (2 Richard's Grove Road) and a cluster of Ranch style houses in a subdivision on Rosemary Lane begun right after the war and completed in the 1950s (6, 8, 10, 12 and 15 Rosemary Lane). According to the architectural survey of 1997, the design of the subdivision was influenced by the International style. Of the three built on Old Norwich Road at the entrance to Rosemary Lane, the two unaltered examples present blank walls to the street, with only a narrow ribbon of windows under the overhanging eaves of low pitched hipped roofs. Typically, however, the other elevations display large areas of glass and brick.
Arising out of a non-traditional colonial culture, the Quaker Hill Historic District illustrates how successive forces of modernization turned an isolated dispersed farming community of religious dissidents into a nineteenth-century industrial village, which finally emerged as an early twentieth-century suburb. Of particular historical importance is Quaker Hill's original association with the Rogerenes, a legacy kept alive by the presence of their nineteenth-century descendants in the Quaker Hill Historic District. Since discrete periods of architectural development in the district kept pace with improvements in transportation, all the major styles of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and their vernacular interpretations are represented. Among them are Colonial, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival, as well as several individual examples of the Craftsman and Ranch styles.
Historical Background and Significance
The area where Quaker Hill is located was once part of New London, founded by John Winthrop, Jr., the son of the famous Massachusetts Bay Puritan. The earliest documented activity in what was known as West Farms, was the haying of the grassy meadows along the river in 1645 in preparation for settlement. Although 700 acres had been previously set to John Winthrop at Millstone Point at the mouth of the Niantic River, the first division of the common land of West Farms began in 1651. Roads were laid out to give in-town New London farmers access to their plots and the salt marshes along the rivers. In 1653 Winthrop reserved for himself the water privileges along Hunts Brook (then known as Alewife Brook) and by 1660, he owned the ferry rights across the Niantic River. Called to be governor of the colony in 1657, Winthrop leased his New London oil mill to James Rogers from Rhode Island. Rogers, a baker, added a stone mill and bakery, and began to buy up land in West Farms set to the original patentees in Quaker Hill and Great Neck. As a member of the First Congregational Church of New London, Rogers paid one tenth of the entire ministerial rate because of the value of his land holdings. By the late 1670s, however, soon after the Rogers family rejected Congregationalism and became Seventh-Day Baptists, James Rogers and his son John founded a radical religious sect known as the Rogerenes. Largely due to the early presence of these anti-establishment dissenters and their Seventh-Day Baptist brethren, Quaker Hill and the town as a whole did not evolve in a traditional manner. Operating outside the religious establishment for most of the eighteenth century, West Farms Parish never had a Congregational church society or meetinghouse. In fact, when the Town of Waterford was established in 1801, town meetings were held in a Baptist church, in effect making this denomination the locus of civil authority, an unprecedented event prior to disestablishment in 1818.
Rogerenes refused to recognize the religious or civil authority of the colonial government. Since some of their theology was derived from the Society of Friends, Rogerenes were thought to be Quakers, hence the name of their community. Although more radical and subversive than either the Baptists or the Quakers of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, Rogerenes had similar beliefs, particularly in their opposition to a hierarchical learned clergy, the cornerstone of Congregationalism. Like Seventh-Day Baptists, Rogerenes celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday. They did so in each other's homes, rather than in a special meetinghouse. Ostracized like the Quakers, one of the few religious sects excluded from the Toleration Act of 1708, Rogerenes often were publicly whipped or imprisoned for acts of civil disobedience that threatened the good order of society. Not only did they refuse to bear arms or pay taxes, Rogerenes regularly disrupted Congregational services in New London in the 1700s, chopping wood on the front porch of the church or hawking vegetables in the aisles. It is said that John Rogers, who died from smallpox in 1721, spent a third of his life in prison.
They left few records, so little else is known about the Rogerenes of Quaker Hill. They may have lived independently like the Rogerenes in Quakertown across the river in Ledyard, who practiced endogamous marriage and had their own schoolhouse and mortgage society. Having come to terms with the town on tax matters, that Ledyard community endured well into the nineteenth century as a religious sect. Perhaps the Rogerenes in Waterford did not disband or become Baptists by the 1780s, as has been believed, but found it easier to keep their faith and political convictions in the more tolerant pluralism of the 1800s. It is known that they intermarried with the Green and Bolles families, and others who shared their beliefs, and their descendants remained in Quaker Hill.
Whether their isolation in the West Farms back country was self imposed or simply due to geography, the settlers of Quaker Hill were far removed from the mainstream of commerce and government centered in New London. Colonial Quaker Hill was a community of dispersed farmsteads. Unlike the people who lived near the Thames and Niantic estuaries and often engaged in shipbuilding and trade, for most of the eighteenth century Quaker Hill residents were subsistence farmers. Although in 1723 the Smith family had a mill on Hunt's Brook, the most reliable and efficient source of waterpower in West Farms, water privileges there were not fully developed until after the Revolution. While there are no surviving colonial farmhouses within the Quaker Hill Historic District, at least one was built there in 1742 by Benjamin Green from Warwick, Rhode Island, who bought a 120-acre parcel on the east side of Old Norwich Road. One of Green's daughters was imprisoned with other Rogerenes in 1766. The present house on this site was built by a Green descendant about 1800 (193 Old Norwich Road). The 1782 John Rogers Cape perched on the bank above Smith Cove is believed to be the oldest surviving house in the Quaker Hill Historic District (117 Old Norwich Road). His son, Thomas Rogers, who was born there in 1792, became renowned as a designer of steam locomotives, including the General of Civil War fame, and Union Pacific 119, the engine used at the ceremonial completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869.
The isolation of Quaker Hill ended in 1792 when the Norwich-New London Turnpike passed right through the district. Now known as Old Norwich Road, it followed the path of the country road laid out along the old Mohegan Trail in the early 1700s. The first turnpike in the state, and the second oldest in the new nation, it was only the first of a series of improvements in transportation that had an impact on the architectural development of the district and ultimately made Quaker Hill one of the two largest population centers in town.
Although Quaker Hill had been part of the Northward School District as early as 1724, there was no town-supported schoolhouse there until 1794 (no longer extant). In 1824 Asa Wightman built the Red Lion Tavern (2 Old Colchester Road) overlooking the crossroads, his second such establishment in Waterford. It is said that the tavern had only four bays due to Wightman's Baptist belief that five would be ostentatious. In addition to the Colonial four-bay house built on the site of the Green family homestead already mentioned, another member of this family built a fine stone Federal nearby in 1794 (153 Old Norwich Road, Christopher Green House). Of the several new Capes along the turnpike around 1800, three of the five in the Quaker Hill Historic District were built by Rogers descendants (117, 135 and 196 Old Norwich Road). Among them was Daniel Rogers, who was a cod fisherman, as were three of his relatives. In the first town assessment of 1809, they all were exempted from paying taxes because of their occupation. Such an unusual exemption may simply have been a pretext on the part of the town to avoid confrontation with a still-rebellious family.
While Baptist societies were established in Waterford in the early 1700s, the movement did not start in Quaker Hill until 1835 when a group met at the old Quaker Hill schoolhouse. Plans were made for a church, the present Greek Revival edifice, which prior to 1944 was called the Second Baptist Church (144 Old Norwich Road). The first pastor was a layman, Elder Erastus Denison of the Groton Baptist Church, who continued to serve until 1850 when the first ordained minister was settled.
Typically the early waterpowered industry on Alewife Brook (Hunt's Brook) included the usual grist- and sawmill, and a fulling mill by 1807. A deed recorded that year transferring the 900-acre Alewife Brook farm (west of the district) to the Miller family noted these mills belonged to Stephen Miller & Son. Even discounting their mill property, which was not assessed in this period, the Millers were the wealthiest farmers in town. In the federal census of industry in 1820, only one industry was recorded in Waterford: Arthur Scholfield's woolen "manufactury" on Miller's Pond. Scholfield and his brother John, English immigrants from Yorkshire, are credited with the invention of the American carding machine. Like several later industrial entrepreneurs in Waterford, the Scholfields also developed water privileges on the Oxoboxo River in Montville.
The most enduring industrial enterprise in Quaker Hill was the manufacture of paper. It began in 1830 and grew rapidly after 1849 when the New London-Northern Railroad ran up through Quaker Hill alongside the Thames River, with a bridge over Smith Cove. With such ready access to markets, the paper industry flourished into the twentieth century. The first mill was started by a member of the Bolles family, Rogerenes in the 1700s, and operated under the name of Woodworth from 1840 to 1918. New dams were built on Hunt's Brook for several other paper mills in the mid-1800s, starting with one owned by John Robertson on the west side of Old Norwich Road. Robertson, one of the wealthiest industrialists in Waterford, with an estate valued in the federal census of 1870 at $45,000, chose a site west of the district for his new house, but James Moore, another paper mill owner, had a Gothic Revival cottage in the southern end of the district (97 Old Norwich Road). It was one of a half dozen houses built or enlarged in the village by 1900. Given the extent of the paper industry, it is somewhat surprising that there was no company-built workers' housing in Quaker Hill, a common practice elsewhere in Waterford, especially at the quarries. Census records confirm, however, that the paper mill operatives lived or boarded in nearby homes, possibly in the vernacular cottages built in this period. Also, unlike the quarries that largely depended upon immigrant labor, the workforce in Quaker Hill was all native-born.
The early twentieth century saw a veritable building boom in Quaker Hill, largely due to an electric trolley line that ran up the east side of Old Norwich Road from about 1895 to 1924. All the typical styles of this period are represented as the district became a trolley-car suburb, and some homes near the line were electrified. Residents could commute to New London jobs and city dwellers soon used the trolley to come to Richard's Grove, a park on the Thames near the foot of the district. Frank Alexander, first selectman of Waterford, who built a house in the district (185 Old Norwich Road), owned a general store that once stood in the middle of the crossroads, the site of the present green. Horse-drawn vehicles were still in use, however, as demonstrated by the blacksmith shop (144R Old Norwich Road) built about 1900 by a Mr. Glassbrenner, a German immigrant, who also built his house about that time (188 Old Norwich Road). His shop, which was converted to a residence in 1936, was probably moved to its present location at the rear of the Baptist Church property. The shift to the automobile when trolley service ended is quite evident in the district. After World War I all new houses were built with detached garages; many were added to existing properties or located in former barns.
By 1917 the village had outgrown its one-room schoolhouse and a new Colonial Revival style brick grammar school was erected on the hill overlooking Smith Cove. The last historic civic building was the brick firehouse built just west of the main crossroads in 1927. Until the present post office was erected in 1961 (132 Old Norwich Road), mail service was located in one of the village's general stores, the last being the c.1880 house with a storefront next to the firehouse.
The Quaker Hill Historic District was completed after World War II. Although in Quaker Hill most postwar suburban development, small tracts with names such as "Thames View" or "Best View," were located between the river and the Quaker Hill Historic District at its southern end, there were a few new houses added to the Old Norwich Road streetscape. They include several at the entrance to a small but unique development on Rosemary Lane. It consists of a group of early Ranch houses influenced by the International style, which are arranged around a pond. According to the 1997 architectural survey of Waterford, the developer or contractor had been involved with Frank Lloyd Wright.
The collective architectural significance of the Quaker Hill Historic District is undeniable. While few houses are individually significant, together they represent an architectural continuum, one which reflects the history of the village. Generally well-preserved and maintained, the Quaker Hill Historic District streetscape displays exceptional variety of style and form, even in the early twentieth century when the majority of the houses were constructed. Many from that period are quite urban in character, especially the fine Queen Annes and Colonial Revivals which would be equally at home in the trolley-car neighborhoods of New London or New Haven. In fact, this urban overlay on what essentially is a rural village setting gives Quaker Hill a very special character. Instead of the uniform setback and rectangular street grids common to city neighborhoods, the rolling terrain of the Quaker Hill Historic District produces a variety of settings, in which each house can be more fully appreciated.
Some houses were built quite close to the road with fields stretching out behind, the siting of the very urban Glassbrenner House, but others, such as the Carpenter Gothic at 138 Old Norwich Road overlook the road from the hillsides on the western side of the district. Two nearly identical Queen Annes illustrate how such different siting affects architectural character (161 and 166 Old Norwich Road). Water views, such as the glimpses of Smith Cover between the houses along its shore, add another scenic component to the district. A more intimate rural atmosphere is created by the pond encircled by the houses on Rosemary Lane.
Certainly the many periods, styles, and forms adds to the overall significance of the Quaker Hill Historic District. Houses built more than a century apart stand as neighbors along upper Old Norwich Road. Such is the case with the Benjamin Green House 193 Old Norwich Road), an 1800 Colonial, which stands next to the sophisticated Frank Alexander House ( 185 Old Norwich Road) built in 1913. In the southern reaches of the Quaker Hill Historic District, the low lying form of the Colonial Cape (95 Old Norwich Road) 93 Old Norwich Road) stands next to the more vertical massing of a Foursquare and they have a Gothic Revival cottage as a neighbor (97 Old Norwich Road).
Several houses from different eras are notable for their design, materials, and/or exceptional level of preservation. The Christopher Green House with its unusual stone masonry also stands out as an example of Colonial Revival style remodeling (153 Old Norwich Road). The three-quarter Colonial design of the Red Lion Tavern is a fine illustration of a form once common in Waterford that is attributed to Baptist tradition (2 Old Colchester Road). Other important examples from the late nineteenth century include the well-preserved Gothic cottage at 199 Old Norwich Road and the quite stylish Carpenter Gothic at 138 Old Norwich Road. This handsome house which is fully elaborated with various bracketing and bargeboards, is further enhanced by its fully landscaped hill site. It is more difficult to single out a twentieth-century house since there are so many good examples from that period. However, the Glassbrenner House is especially noteworthy for its excellent state of preservation, level of style, and well-maintained historic setting (188 Old Norwich Road).
Bachman, Robert L. An Illustrated History of The Town of Waterford. Town of Waterford: Bicentennial Committee, 2000.
Beers, F.W. Atlas of New London County, Connecticut. Philadelphia, 1868.
"Historical and Architectural Survey of Waterford: Northern Half." Town of Waterford and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1997.
Map of New London County, 1854.
dagger; Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Preservation Associates, LLC, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Trust, Quaker Hill Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.