The Burnett's Corner Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
Burnett's Corner Historic District is a small linear district located one mile west of the center of Old Mystic in Groton. Most of Burnett's Corner Historic District is located on the Old Post Road south of the Gold Star Highway (Route 184), which bypasses the district on the North 9. Today the Old Post Road here has several names. To the east above Route 184, it is known as Welles Road. After it crosses the highway, it becomes Packer Road, which runs in a westerly direction through the district and then rejoins Route 184. Near the center of the district at the "corners," Packer Road intersects with Cow Hill Road, which enters from the south. To the west of this intersection is Godfrey Road, which veers off from Packer and continues to the southwest. A small stream, Haley's Brook, flows through the Burnett's Corner Historic District.
Altogether, the Burnett's Corner Historic District includes 35 resources, of which 33 are contributing. Its 18 historic houses, dating from c.1750 to 1944, were constructed in three distinct time frames. The first group dates from the late Colonial period and continues into the early National period. Some 40 years later in the mid-nineteenth century, building resumed and lasted until the Civil War. The rest of the historic houses are all early twentieth century construction. Since Burnett's Corner was once a self-contained mill village, the Burnett's Corner Historic District includes a former school, store, and post office, all converted to residential use, an early Masonic hall, and a cemetery, as well as the standing ruins of two industrial sites.
Four buildings have been moved in the Burnett's Corner Historic District. The house at 710 Cow Hill Road was relocated from its earlier site to the north on this road when Route 184 was constructed and the Burnett's Corner School was moved to its present site at 330 Godfrey Road about 1920 from within the district. It was once located next to the millpond on Packer Road, now a mill site with the ruins of a dam that dates back to c.1760. Haley's Tavern (2750 Route 184) was moved here in 1986 from Groton Center along with a c.1800 water tower on Route 184.
Two of the houses that date from the eighteenth century are two-story, center-chimney Colonials. The c.1770 Crary Homestead (2800 Route 184), a five-bay Colonial with a rear kitchen ell, is located at the east end of the district just above Route 184 at Welles Road. The six-light transom over the door is original but the rest of the door surround, with its flanking pilasters and dentils, was added in the Federal period. Above and to the northwest on the same property is the reconstructed c.1768 Elisha Haley Tavern (2750 Route 184). While this larger house has the same full-size colonial form, it has a proportionally narrower main block and recessed wings on either side. Its central doorway, which has a pedimented Georgian surround and a multi-paned overlight, is a reproduction of the original feature.
Across the highway from these houses at the entrance to Packer Road is the burying ground associated with the Crary family. It is a small, well-maintained graveyard, bordered by a metal fence with horizontal rails, with cobblestone pillars at the entrance. It was established in 1739, but most of the graves, which have simple sandstone or granite markers, date from c.1760 to c.1820. A few are carved with a death's head pattern.
Most of the colonial houses are one-story Capes, a form that predominated in Burnett's Corner well into the nineteenth century. One at 306 Packer Road just east of the crossroads is probably the oldest in the district. Its irregular facade fenestration and off-center chimney indicate that it was built in stages, the one-room-deep west end possibly as early as 1750 The rear of the main block was added in 1826. Two more Colonial Capes found farther west on Packer Road date from about 1780. One on the south side of the street is sited perpendicular to the road and faces west (159 Packer Road). On the same site is the foundation of a witch hazel factory that was built in the nineteenth century. Its walls are drylaid of quarried granite, the same type of construction and material used for free-standing walls on several properties elsewhere in the district. Diagonally across the road to the northwest is the last unaltered Cape built in this time-frame (142 Packer Road).
The nineteenth century buildings include the Pequot Hotel, built about 1842 for Richard Burnett (725 Cow Hill Road). Prominently sited in the center of the district at the intersection of Cow Hill and Packer roads, the Pequot Hotel is the most fully realized expression of the Greek Revival style in the Burnett's Corner Historic District. Its gable-to-street main block, which has recessed wings on either side, has pediments on both the facade and rear gables, which both display shallow fanlights in flushboarded tympanums. A continuous broad frieze extends all the way around the main block, which has panelled pilasters at all four corners. A Doric-order portico, located on the left side of the facade, shelters a doorway flanked by sidelights and pilasters and surmounted by a transom. A simple Greek Revival doorway frames an entrance to the north wing, which predates the main block. The second floor of the main house was designed for use as a Masonic hall. Previously, the order met in a c.1832 building diagonally across the intersection to the northeast, also owned by Burnett (276 Packer Road). Although now in a deteriorated state, there are plans to restore the building, which is owned by the Burnett's Corner Preservation Society. A two-family Greek Revival style house is located well back from the north side of Packer Road (242 Packer Road). It has a temple-fronted main block and a long narrow right wing.
Several other period buildings are influenced by the Greek Revival style. Among them is the George Packer Store located at the "vee" between Packer and Godfrey roads (347 Godfrey Road). It is two stories in height, with the first story built of brick. The wood-framed second floor is detailed in the Greek Revival manner with pronounced cornice returns and corner pilasters. The Victorian two-story facade porch, with its sawn brackets, is a later addition. On the same property is a small shed which once served as a witch hazel shop. A tall one-story Cape built in this period displays the characteristic narrow attic windows found under the facade eaves of vernacular Greek Revival cottages (340 Packer Road). The relocated house at 710 Cow Hill Road was also built in this period.
An intersecting facade gable was added to a Colonial Cape about 1860 (200 Packer Road). While it is now somewhat reminiscent of the rural cottages advocated by landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, the detail is quite simple. The newer gable peak is sheathed with board-and-batten siding and highlighted by a round-arched window.
Among the houses built in the early twentieth century are several simple vernacular houses at 200, 352 and 362 Packer Road. They have few stylistic features and some have enclosed porches or additions. As shown by its form and orientation, another house dated at 1932 could have been constructed in the nineteenth century (164 Packer Road). The schoolhouse was moved in this period (330 Godfrey Road). Its main block retains the form of the original building, but it too has an enclosed porch.
Burnett's Corner Historic District is primarily significant for its association with the turnpike era in Connecticut. Midway between New York and Boston, this crossroads village on the old Post Road flourished as a stagecoach stop on the New London Providence Turnpike in the mid-nineteenth century, and derives further significance for its association with the development of Freemasonry in Groton. Not only does the district incorporate this early history, it also reflects the domestic growth of the 1930s that followed the building of the Gold Star Highway. All this historic development forms an exceptionally cohesive district, which contains a representative collection of vernacular domestic architecture that is distinguished by fine examples from the Colonial and Greek Revival periods.
Historical Background and Significance
Groton was once part of the New London plantation, founded by John Winthrop, Jr., in 1646, which encompassed land on both sides of the Thames River estuary at Long Island Sound. Settlement at Groton on the west side of this natural harbor began by 1700. Set off as a separate parish in 1702, Groton became a new town in 1705. As did many communities with a dispersed farming population, Groton tried to create an institutional focus in its geographic center. Although a meetinghouse and school were built in Center Groton 1703, it never became the thriving village envisioned by the proprietors. Instead, villages to the west and east grew in importance because of their riverine location especially Groton Bank on the Thames River, the western border of town. On the east, Old Mystic thrived as a riverport on both sides of the Mystic River until the center of maritime activity shifted to Lower Mystic on the coast, the seaport village today known Mystic.
When the old Post Road was laid out through town in the 1750s, this inland route followed the old Pequot Path for convenience as well as necessity. Although the highway was sited nearer the coast in the western part of the colony, here the Thames estuary was too wide and deep for fording or bridging at this time; the chosen route crossed the river at the first fordable location above the head of the estuary. The district originated as a farming community that grew up on the outskirts of old Mystic around Crary's sawmill (outside the district) and Fanning's gristmill on Haley's Brook, the latter established by about 1760. Several houses that date from this period were located along the Post Road. Among them are one of the earlier Capes 306 Packer Road) in the district and the Crary Homestead (2800 Route 184). Farther west on the Post Road was the original location of Haley's Tavern, which was built in 1768 in Center Groton (2750 Route 184). Scheduled for demolition because of highway construction, it was dismantled and rebuilt on its new site in the district. Along with the Crary Homestead, it continues to function as the Red Brook Inn. The Haley family already had historic connections in the district. Not only did they own land there, their daughter, Sally, married Richard Burnett, for whom the village is named.
Richard Burnett (1801-1890) was a central figure in the nineteenth-century growth of the district. A former sea captain, he had been active in the coastal trade and the founding of Key West, Florida. He was one of the mariners from Mystic and Noank that developed a profitable marine salvage trade at this winter station. Burnett also was active in Freemasonry, which until 1824 was a secret society. That year Groton was visited by the Marquis de Lafayette during his triumphal tour of America. Lafayette, himself a Freemason, encouraged the local Charity Lodge #38 to "reveal" itself. Because of political opposition locally and in the state, the order continued to meet in secret, but it openly participated in the establishment of the Groton Monument. Built to honor the soldiers who died in the 1781 Battle of Groton in the Revolution, it was dedicated in a Masonic ceremony in 1831. Burnett was a member of the lodge at least by 1832. It first met in Center Groton, but by 1837 was meeting in the old house and store that Burnett and his wife inherited from the Haleys (276 Packer Road). Within five years the lodge met in the new Greek Revival house that Grand Master Burnett built across the street (725 Cow Hill Road). The entire second floor of the main house was devoted to the meeting hall, which had a vaulted ceiling and matching Rumford fireplaces at either end. The rest of the building, known as the Pequot Hotel, served as an inn and stagecoach stop on the New London Providence Turnpike laid out in 1818. This turnpike was part of the major route between New York and Boston, a distance of 270 miles and a several days journey by stage. The Pequot Hotel, located about midway, was one of the customary overnight stops. The lodge continued to meet here until 1850. At that time it moved to Lower Mystic, which had surpassed Old Mystic as the maritime center. Until a new building was erected later in the century, the lodge met in a sail loft there. The meeting hall at the Pequot Hotel was divided into two more guest bedrooms. The original doors of these new rooms still have their room numbers and period hardware.
The village continued to flourish until the railroad supplanted stagecoach service in 1858. Bypassing Old Mystic and Burnett's Corner, the line ran through Lower Mystic. Although it is said that the Pequot Hotel was still used as a boardinghouse into the early twentieth century, few travellers passed this way. Burnett's Corner reverted to its earlier role as an agricultural community; even Burnett, who lived here the rest of his life, turned to farming. During its heyday, however, the hotel brought prosperity to the village and considerable architectural growth, with a village store and at least three other houses built or remodeled in this period.
By the turn of the century some people in Burnett's Corner had turned to small-scale manufacturing to make living, such as T.N. Dickinson, Jr., who built the witch hazel mill in the district about 1907 (159 Packer Road). The words "witch hazel" are still discernible on the wall of the shop where he sold his product (347 Godfrey Road). A sawmill east of the district eventually became a machine shop, but it is probable that the gristmill in the village continued to function. On the north bank of the stream across from the gristmill, Leander Barber, a twine manufacturer, built a ropewalk. Nothing remains of the long narrow building next to Packer Road that housed the operation, but it is said that many villagers were employed there.
When the Gold Star Highway was built during the 1930s, Burnett's Corner became an early suburban community. Another group of houses was built for people who lived here but commuted to work by automobile. Today Burnett's Corner has come full circle. Modern travellers who come here to enjoy its rural atmosphere can stay at two inns in the district. The Pequot Hotel has hung out its shingle once more and the Red Brook Inn also welcomes visitors.
The collective significance of Burnett's Corner Historic District, which represents two centuries of architectural growth, is derived from several factors. It is a historic rural enclave of exceptional internal integrity. Though located within sight and sound of a busy highway, little of the modern world intrudes to disturb its well-preserved historic setting. Of particular note are the siting and orientation of the houses, several of which are enhanced by bordering stone walls, all features reminiscent of a nineteenth-century village. By and large it was not a wealthy community. The ebb and flow of the village economy can be read in the modest vernacular architecture that prevailed for most of the district's history, expressed by the one-story houses of the colonial and National periods and the Depression-era architecture of the 1930s. While none of these houses are large or elaborate, collectively they make a significant contribution to the Burnett's Corner Historic District as honest reflections of their respective times.
The Cape form predominates. Generally well preserved, these simple one-story houses bring an architectural unity to the district and establish its historical period. Its developmental stages are well represented, progressing from the often unbalanced facades of the colonial period to the symmetry of the later eighteenth century. As it did all over Connecticut, the Cape remained popular in the early nineteenth century. By that time some Capes had a taller form and narrow attic windows under the eaves, features that are found in the Burnett's Corner Historic District's example (340 Packer Road).
Individually significant houses have survived from two periods. The c.1770 Crary Homestead, which marks the eastern entrance to the district, is a classic example of its time and very well-preserved (2800 Route 184). Even though a modern highway passes by its dooryard, the exceptional integrity of its rural setting has been maintained and is enhanced by the bordering stone walls. The centerpiece of the Burnett's Corner Historic District is the Pequot Hotel (725 Cow Hill Road), which is both architecturally and historically significant. Prominently sited, a commanding presence at the "corners," this fine Greek Revival style house is exceptionally stylish. Its superior exterior architectural integrity carries into the interior, which is also highly detailed and well-preserved.
"Burnett's Corners: A nostalgic look at Groton's once bustling hamlet." Tidings (June 1996): 4-7.
Havrilla, Kristin. "Cemetery Survey, Groton, Connecticut." Prepared for the Town of Groton Planning Department, 1996.
"Historic and Architectural Resources Survey Report. Town of Groton, Connecticut, Phase I, Vol. I. Connecticut Historical Commission, 1992.
‡Janice P. Cunningham, Cunningham Preservation Consultants, LLC, Burnett's Corner Historic District, New London, CT, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Cow Hill Road • Godfrey Road • Packer Road • Route 184