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Hadlyme Ferry Historic District

Lyme Town, New London County, CT

The Hadlyme Ferry Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


The Hadlyme Ferry Historic District is a small district on the east bank of the Connecticut River in the village of Hadlyme. Located in the northwest corner of the Town of Lyme, it is the nucleus of a larger local historic district of the same name which extends farther east uphill towards the inland village center. Ferry Road (State Route 148), the main road of the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District, curves down through the district from the east and terminates at the ferry slip at the river, following the natural slope of a small valley between hills to the north and south. Its intersection with Geer Hill Road, which enters the district from the northeast, is the eastern border. The Connecticut River forms the western border of the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District. To the north of the district is Gillette Castle State Park and the Middlesex County line. The state park includes land in both Lyme and East Haddam and its property borders the district.

The Hadlyme Ferry Historic District consists of a cluster of six contributing buildings, five houses built between c.1760 and c.1820, a c.1780 ferry house, and an operating ferry slip owned by the State of Connecticut. Although the site dates back to at least 1769, the present structures here are post-1940 and therefore are non-contributing. They include two modern wooden tollhouses, flanking a metal grid ramp to the ferry. Four outbuildings associated with the houses, which include wood-frame and masonry garages and sheds, are also considered non- contributing because they were built in the early twentieth century after the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District's period of significance.

The lots rise steeply at the rear, so there was limited level land for building and the houses are generally set quite close to the roadway. Most of the properties are bordered along the road with low rock walls and wooden fences. Since the rock (granite and shale) was and is available from nearby weathered ledge outcroppings, which characteristically fracture in thin layers, many of these walls have a locally distinctive horizontal pattern, quite unlike the more typical field stone walls found elsewhere.

Although the earliest houses date to the last half of the eighteenth century, most display the architectural detailing associated with the Federal period. The Samuel Brooks House, built about 1760, is the earliest extant building at the landing (151 Ferry Road). Colonial in form and plan with a chimney, it is embellished with a fine Federal doorway surround. Narrow plain board pilasters flank the door, which is surmounted by a four-light transom and a full entablature with a projecting cornice. The boldness of the roof cornices and their slight returns suggest that the roof was replaced, possibly when the doorway was remodeled.

Two houses were built in the Federal period by the same family. The oldest, the Isaac Spencer House, which is located on a lot bordering the river at 162-1 Ferry Road, retains the rectangular five-bay colonial plan and form but displays end chimneys at the ridge. Its pedimented doorway is classically Federal in style with a fanlight over the door. The William Spencer House (158 Ferry Road) built by his son in 1805 to the same plan, is more elaborately detailed. Its features, which are characteristic of the late Georgian style, include wood quoining, modillions, and an pediment which breaks the facade roof line at the center. The pediment surmounts a detailed middle bay, defined by two-story pilasters with a prominent cornice above the door. In the center of what was a Palladian window at the second floor, a plain door has been substituted for the window. The operable double-hung side windows on either side there have six-over-eight sash, the same type which flank the door below. The balconette, which rests on the projecting cornice over the door, appears to be a modern feature. The first-floor facade windows have prominent flat pediments with pulvinated friezes and contain 12-over-12 sash. Other features of this house include clapboarding with very narrow exposure to the weather.

Because of its orientation and general appearance, the gable-to-street house at 159 Ferry Road may have been built as a store by William Spencer about the same time as his house. It too has a Federal doorway with a fanlight. The Ferry House associated with the Isaac Spencer House was built about 1780 and served as a toll house for the ferry master (162-2 Ferry Road). A second-story balcony added to the west side facing the river along with skylights in the roof are the only basic exterior changes to this simple structure. The ferry slip is immediately adjacent to this building.

The Comstock House (150 Ferry Road), the last to be built in the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District, is a late Federal farmhouse that anticipates the gable-to-street orientation and some of the features associated with the later Greek Revival, especially its flushboarded facade pediment with a fanlight in the tympanum. The narrow frieze board that extends around the house below the pediment and eaves is also a transitional feature. The Federal doorway surround is simply detailed and capped by a projecting flat cornice.


The Hadlyme Ferry Historic District contains an architecturally significant collection of well-preserved Colonial and Federal style houses that reflect the prosperity of this river landing settlement between 1790 and 1820. The site of one of only two colonial ferries still in operation on the Connecticut River, the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District is historically significant as a representative example of the type of settlement that developed around these important transportation links across this major waterway. Although a ferry had been in operation there since the late seventeenth century, the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District was settled primarily after it was officially established by the Connecticut Colony in 1769 and prospered as both a ferry landing and a small maritime port.

Architectural Significance

The flowering of the Federal style in the Connecticut River Valley in the early national period is fully expressed and preserved in the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District. Each stage of its development is represented here. Soon after it first appeared in the larger riverport towns, the Federal style was found at every landing on the river; merchants with means quickly adopted the features of this style to update their older colonial houses. In Hadlyme, the style first found expression in the doorway of the Samuel Brooks House (151 Ferry Road), which was originally built before the Revolution. There were more sophisticated vernacular interpretations, such as the Isaac Spencer House (162-1 Ferry Road), that maintained the colonial form but adopted the style's center-hall plan. More elaborate homes were commonly influenced by the Georgian style at the height of the river trade, as found in the William Spencer House (158 Ferry Road), an especially fine example of the Georgian/Federal style. Near the end of the Federal period a complete change in form and style occurred. Houses like the Comstock House (150 Ferry Road) were built with a new orientation with their gable ends to the road. With its closed pediment, this house is a fully developed example of the late manifestation of the style.

The variety of the finely crafted and stylish doorways in the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District is exceptional for such a small community. Adapted by local carpenter builders, they range from the simple high entablature with narrow pilasters to the pedimented version with fanlights. As is typical for vernacular architecture, several retain earlier features. The traditional multi-light transom, a holdover from the colonial period, persisted here until 1820.

The integrity of the Hadlyme Ferry Historic District is remarkable. Except for the modern ferryboat which pulls up to the landing several times a day, the historical setting is undisturbed. The topography and historical development of the district since its period of significance have combined to perpetuate this integrity. There has been little room or reason for new construction since the early nineteenth century. The only modern intrusions are the secondary structures, which are generally in such unobtrusive locations that they do not detract from the principal buildings. Modern day custodians have carefully preserved their houses and little remodeling has taken place.

Historical Background and Significance

The origins of Hadlyme go back to the settlement of East Saybrook, which was settled by people from Saybrook and officially named Lyme in 1666. The early settlements were in the southern part of town. The northern section encompassed part of the Joshua Tract, an area granted to members of the Mohegan tribe in the seventeenth century, but there was some scattered European settlement by the early 1700s. Lyme remained undivided until 1857, when Old Lyme, on the coast, and Lyme, to the north, were incorporated as separate towns. Lyme began to divide into four separate parishes starting in 1719. Hadlyme, the last to be formed, was composed of people from Lyme's northwest quarter and East Haddam; the latter had become a separate town in 1734. The process began in 1723 when the settlers of both towns petitioned the General Assembly for permission to join together in a separate parish to be known as the Hadlyme Society, but parish privileges were not granted until 1742. Their meetinghouse was actually built in East Haddam.

Until a bridge was built at Saybrook in the twentieth century, ferries remained the only means of transportation across the lower Connecticut River. There were three operating from Lyme in the colonial period. The first official town ferry authorized by the Connecticut Colony was at the Saybrook crossing in 1706, soon followed by another one upriver, granted to a Mr. Brockway. In 1769 Jonathan Warner was granted the ferry rights at Hadlyme by the colony. There is some indirect evidence, however, that a ferry was operating here as early as 1696, which was run by Andrew Warner, one of his ancestors and an early settler of East Saybrook. When Andrew Warner and Samuel Church had the town's permission to set up a sawmill that year, it was located near the road to Warner's ferry.

The community at Hadlyme Ferry was typical of other settlements that developed at ferry landings along the east side of the lower Connecticut River. Each of these landings was the commercial center for a small and generally dispersed inland population. The landing at Hadlyme not only provided access to Chester and other towns on the west side of the river; it also was the center for river trade for a self-sufficient farming community. The evident level of prosperity at the landing is surprising given the limited agricultural potential of the area. The Connecticut River cut through a rocky gorge here and wooded hills rise on either side of the river. Even though there was some level farming acreage in some larger inland valleys, most of the soil was poor and thin with bedrock close to the surface, quite unlike the easily cultivated Connecticut River Valley farther north. As a result, the people of the Hadlyme quarter were generally subsistence farmers with only a small agricultural surplus for trade. They had to exploit other resources to supplement their income or obtain imported goods. Cattle were raised for export and to supply a local tanning and leather goods industry. Until the local timber stands were depleted, sawmills produced barrel staves and hoop poles for export. Lumber was also needed at the local shipyard, which was located south of the district and run by one of the Comstocks. Quarrying was also carried out a limited basis.


"Hadlyme Ferry Historic District." The Report of The Hadlyme Ferry Historic District Study Committee of The Town of Lyme, June 1987.

Harding, James E. Lyme Yesterdays: How Our Forefathers Made a Living on the Connecticut Shore. Stonington, Connecticut: The Pequot Press, Inc., 1967.

Hartford Courant, April 19, 1991.

Little, David J. Revolutionary Lyme: A Portrait 1765-1783. Town of Old Lyme, 1976.

Stark, Bruce P. Lyme, Connecticut: From Founding to Independence. Lyme Bicentennial Commission, 1976.

‡ Jan Cunningham, consultant,Cunningham Associates, Ltd.. Hadlyme Ferry Historic District, New London County, CT, nomination document, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Ferry Road • Route 148

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