I like interesting architecture. I’ve been vaguely interested in it ever since I read an article in tenth grade or so about a guy who did stress analyses on models of flying buttresses in medieval cathedrals to prove how they carry load. (I’m such a geek – I looked it up: Gothic Structural Experimentation; Robert Mark, William Clark; Scientific American; Nov., 1984). I’m not educated about it or anything – I just think it’s neat. I’m the person at some famous building taking pictures of floors and doors and ceilings.
My daily commute to work takes me through the Marion area of Southington. It used to be its own town but like many of the little villages in Connecticut, over the years it was swallowed by its larger neighbor, and now retains its name only in reference. This is one of the things that makes it really, really hard to find places in this state. A few years ago Route 229 went under construction, and I went looking for a better route to work, because I’m not constitutionally suited to sit in stopped traffic every morning. I sat down with a map and found a back way that doesn’t involve the interstate. Later on, a co-worker told me how to cut even a little more off, and I settled in to my current route. Once I had it down well enough to stop obsessively searching for road signs and actually look around, I noticed a tiny monument park in the middle of a residential street. Naturally, in a car you’re going by too fast to read anything, but the guy on the plaque looked vaguely Revolutionary War. There isn’t really anyplace that you can park along there, so I turned to the internet. That was a chore, because at the time I didn’t realize that are was Marion, so I was searching for Southington monuments. Eventually I found it. It commemorates General Jean Baptiste Rochambeau’s encampment on that site, which afterward was called “French Hill.” Rochambeau himself, along with his officers stayed at the Asa Barnes tavern across the street.
In the course of digging for this information, I found a tiny web page on the Marion Historic District – which is as tiny as its website. I literally drive in one end and out the other on my way – it’s only a couple of miles long, and thirty eight acres. Despite that, it is incredibly rich – there are forty six buildings and outbuildings registered. According to the website, there are six from the 18th century, twenty-three from the 19th century, and five notable styles from the 20th century. Some of the 19th century houses even still have their barns. So I printed out that page, made myself a word document that lists them in address order (the article groups them by style), and set out to spot them.
Do you know how many people out there don’t post their house number anywhere on their home? I’m pretty sure that the emergency services don’t approve of that. Especially since the numbering on that road does some profoundly weird things. As I’m driving south on the road the numbers rise. Then 1433 is immediately next door to 1896 – even the odd side/even side seems to be screwed up. THEN the numbers begin to fall again, and there isn’t a town line right there. Some things I’ve read indicate that the Marion/Cheshire town line has moved over the centuries, and I think that may be part of it. Regardless – number your houses people!
Of the twenty-four significant sites/structures on my commute, I believe that I have spotted eighteen of them. I say “believe,” because some of them I’ve identified by virtue of the fact that they’re in the right area and side of the road (i.e. between two houses that have identifiable numbers posted) and match the description. A bunch of these houses have names, which is way cool: the Ira Frost House, the Lewis Frost House, the Harman Merriman House (which was later owned by another Frost scion), the Levi B. Frost House (which started out as the Asa Barnes tavern mentioned above), the Philo Barnes House, the Sutliff House, the Miles Upson House, James Porter House, DeWitt Upson House, and James Upson House. Now I know why I drive past “Frost Road” and “Upson Drive.”
Some of these houses are real gems – there is a spectacular Queen Anne style that even still has its barn. The beautiful Italianate isn’t being cared for the way I might like – they need to get those vines off. I’m not as taken by the Georgians, but there’s one quite beautifully restored Federal style. The one that really amuses me though is the one I was regretting. Who had the bad taste to build an ugly multi-family home right in the midst of these lovely old houses? AND it’s covered with bad aluminum siding. It should have been a hint to me that it was much closer to the road than it should be. It is the former L.B. Frost and Sons bolt factory. Levi Frost started as a blacksmith, and started a bolt business in 1842, and it is one of the last known surviving examples of industrial architecture in the district. On the flip side, some of the houses that I was sure just HAD to be historic… aren’t.
It’s interesting, and it’s keeping me amused on my drive, even if I have almost driven off the road a few times. I try to spot them in the morning, and then look at them on the way back in the afternoon. Right now I’m looking for a place I could park – I would love to take a walk along there, maybe with a camera.
This morning I failed yet again to spot either of the two Colonial Revival houses, although I have my suspicions about one that doesn’t have a number posted. I’ve just about decided that has to be one of them – it’s in roughly the right place, and seems to match the description. I’m also currently looking for the DeWitt Upson house. It should be between the tree farm and the James Upson house…
But they still need to number their houses...