St. John’s Episcopal Church, located at 679 Farmington Avenue in West Hartford, was preceded by the parish’s original church, located on Main Street in downtown Hartford. Designed by noted New Haven architect Henry Austin during the period he had an office in Hartford, the first St. John’s Church was consecrated on April 30, 1842. The main body of the church and the lower section of its tower were constructed of Portland brownstone. The upper tower and spire were made of wood and had to be removed in 1875 due to structural decay. In 1905, the parish decided to sell its land on Main Street to the trustees of the Wadsworth Atheneum. The church was taken down in 1907 and the Atheneum’s Morgan Memorial Building was erected in its place. (You can read more about the original St. John’s Church on Main Street in my book Vanished Downtown Hartford, pp. 128-131).
Downtown Hartford had been developing rapidly as a business and commercial center at the time and many churches there were relocating to more residential areas to the west. The new St. John’s Church was built in 1907-1909 on Farmington Avenue, just across the Hartford line in West Hartford. The new church, designed by noted architect Bertram G. Goodhue, was consecrated on June 9, 1909. Due to budgetary limitations, Goodhue’s plans for an adjoining parish house were not completed until 1914-1915. The cornerstone for a new and larger parish house was laid in 1927 and at the same time the church built a cloister and outdoor pulpit. In 1928 the nave was lengthened to the north, toward Farmington Avenue, and a new entrance was built on that side (the previous entrance had faced west towards Highland Avenue). The church was extensively restored and altered inside after a fire in 1992.
A subscription library was organized in West Hartford in the eighteenth century by members of the Congregational Church. This became officially the West Hartford Public Library with town funding in 1897. The library remained at the church until 1917, when the first Noah Webster Memorial Library building was dedicated at 7 North Main Street. The building was also used for meetings by local clubs and organizations as well as the Town Council. This first library was soon outgrown and a new building on South Main Street was dedicated in 1938. Since then the old library has had various tenants, most recently Fringe Hair Works of West Hartford.
West Hartford’s first bank, the West Hartford Trust Company, opened in 1926 and located at 4 North Main Street at the corner of Farmington Avenue. One of the building’s architects, Milton Hayman, was known for his Colonial Revival designs. The bank merged with Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. in the 1930s and today is a branch of Bank of America. Read the rest of this entry »
Renbrook School in West Hartford, a private school for children age 3 through grade 9, began in 1935 when several area families decided to start a progressive school. Originally named the Tunxis School, it was first located in a rented house on Albany Avenue in West Hartford. Within months it moved to a larger house at the corner of Farmington and Outlook Avenues and was renamed Junior School. In 1937 the school erected its own building on Trout Brook Drive. By the mid-1950s the enrollment had increased and the school needed to expand again. The next move would be to the estate called Renbrook. This was the name given to the West Hartford mansion built (c. 1931) by famed aviation engineer Frederick Rentschler and his wife Faye Belden Rentschler. Frederick Brant Rentschler (1887-1956) co-founded Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in 1925. In 1929 he purchased 80 acres on Avon Mountain and soon constructed a Tudor Revival/French chateauesque mansion on the site. After Rentschler‘s death his estate announced it would lease the mansion to a worthy non-profit. The Junior School was chosen and in 1958 moved to its new home, also taking the new name of Renbrook School. Read the rest of this entry »
An Ecclesiastical Society to serve the West Division of Hartford (now the Town of West Hartford) was first established c. 1712. A series of meetinghouses have stood in the vicinity of the intersection of Main Street and Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center. The original meetinghouse, erected c. 1712, was replaced by a new one, erected between 1742 and 1744. The Society’s next three meetinghouses reflected changes in architectural taste during the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. In 1834 the Society voted to erect a new building that was designed in the fashionable Greek Revival style. In 1882, the congregation moved into their fourth building, called the Greystone Church, a granite edifice designed by George E. Potter in the popular Gothic Revival style. By the early twentieth century, the Colonial Revival was dominant and plans for a new building in that style were already underway when the Greystone Church was destroyed in a fire on January 3, 1942. The basement floors were completed by November 1943 and services were held there until the sanctuary of the new First Church of West Hartford was built in 1946, after delays caused by material shortages during World War II. The chapel was built in 1956.
In 1911 the First Company Governor’s Horse Guards became Troop B Cavalry, Connecticut National Guard. Troop B soon began construction of a privately funded armory (with stables and drill shed) at 836 Farmington Avenue in West Hartford. The plans were provided by architects and troop members A. Raymond Ellis and Francis E. Waterman, who made the building very functional without extra features in order to keep costs down. Built in 1912-1913, the armory was soon officially acquired by the state. The unit served along the Mexican border in 1916 and in World War I as a Machine Gun Battalion. By the late 1930s mechanization was bringing an end to horse cavalry in the US Army. In 1940 the unit became part of the 208th Coastal Artillery Regiment and the Armory was converted to store large vehicles. After the War, the First Company Governor’s Horse Guards was reorganized as a state militia unit and today has a facility in Avon. The Army continued to house various units in the West Hartford Armory until the early 1980s, when the building was decommissioned and sold by the state. It was then extensively altered for use as professional office suites.
At 821 Prospect Avenue, just across the Hartford city line in West Hartford, is the circa 1880 Queen Anne house first owned by Henry Wood Erving (1851-1941). The house is located next to one built in the same style for Erving’s brother, William Augustus Erving. Henry W. Erving, vice president of the Connecticut River Banking Company, was also an author and antiquarian who gathered one of the first great collections of American furniture. Read the rest of this entry »