The Southmayd Building, at 542-544 Main Street in Middletown, is an outstanding example of a nineteenth-century commercial block with a cast-iron facade. It was built by George M. Southmayd, who was in the undertaking business. His father John B. Southmayd had started the business at his home, which stood on the same site. In 1911 Ludwig Krenz bought the building (It is also known as the Southmayd-Krenz Building) and opened a bar and restaurant and it has been used for that purpose ever since under various owners. Read the rest of this entry »
O’Rourke’s is a world famous diner in Middletown. Located at 728 Main Street, the diner was built by the Mountain View Diner Company (it was manufactured in 1946 and has the serial no. 223). In 1930 “Pete the Greek” Asvestras moved his lunch wagon here and by the 1940s James Dunn was running Dunn’s Diner on the spot. John O’Rourke purchased Dunn’s Diner in 1941 and soon acquired the Mountain View dining car as his business expanded. The diner, which did not have fire insurance, suffered severe fire damage in 2006 after a hamburger steamer was left on overnight. A fundraising campaign with support from the local community and around the world led to successful renovations and the diner reopened in 2008.
The three-story commercial building at 52-56 State Street in New London is known as the Marsh Building. Built in 1916, it was designed by Dudley St. Clair Donnelly, who was also the architect of a number of other buildings in New London, including the the Manwaring Building (1913) and the Dewart Building (1914), both on State Street. The building was erected by Daniel S. Marsh, who sold pianos. In 1908 he had constructed a building at 230-232 State Street for his piano store, having previously had a store in Lyric Hall on State Street. The Day newspaper reported on April 20, 1916 (“State Street Will Have Handsome Brick Building“):
Daniel S. Marsh, the State street piano merchant, is soon to erect a new three story building at 52 State street after tearing down the building now occupied on the ground floor by the Royal Lunch and the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.
The new building is to be brick, fireproofed throughout, designed by Architect Dudley St. C. Donnelly. H. R. Douglas, Inc. has the contract for the work. The structure will have three stores on the ground floor in the space now occupied by two. On the second floor there will be six offices and six on the third floor. The work will start during the month of May, the present tenants having received notice to vacate within two weeks.
[. . .] The new building will add materially to the looks of State street in that section. The present building is an old fashioned structure and the new one, which is to be up to date in every particular, will be in direct contrast to it.
The old building was taken down, but disaster struck on June 20, 1916, when the neighboring building at 62 State Street, owned by Mrs. Mary L. Cady and containing the dry goods store of Huber & Chittenden, collapsed. As The Day reported the following day (“Three Story State Street Building Crumples Into a Heap of Bricks and Twisted Timbers“) that the building “collapsed like a house of cards at 5:59 Tuesday afternoon and fell with the dull roar of a muffled explosion into the excavation in the D. S. Marsh property adjoining. Clouds of dust like the smoke of battle rose from the ruins. Five persons are known to have been injured by the falling debris.” The employees “escaped entombment beneath the mass of timber by the barest interval. Bystanders were miraculously spared from the showers of broken lumber that strewed the street. The structure was completely demolished as though it had been dynamited.”
A number of law suits soon followed the collapse of the Cady Building, including several by the injured against Marsh, Douglas, Cady, Huber and Chittenden. The first suit to be filed however was brought by Huber & Chittenden against Marsh and Douglas. As related on by The Day on August 22, 1916 (“Cady Building Collapse To Cause Many Suits“):
The plaintiffs allege that the walls of the Cady building and the adjoining building which was torn down by Marsh were contiguous and adjacent, being practically one wall and that the building was torn down without providing protection by way of bracing up and shoring up the walls. The wall of the Cady building was permitted to remain standing without any support, although the defendants knew its weakened and dangerous condition.
[. . .] The plaintiffs allege that the defendants were notified of the weakened and dangerous condition of the wall but that they took no precautions. They claim negligence and carelessness on the part of the defendants, alleging that the collapse could have been avoided by reasonable and proper care.
In the case of Huber v. Douglas, Inc, the plaintiffs also argued that the defendants, as related in Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, Volume 94 (1921):
not only allowed the Cady wall to remain in this unprotected condition, but “wrongfully, carelessly and negligently made excavations” on Marsh’s property within five feet of the foundation of this Cady wall. The soil at that point was sandy “and of such a treacherous and unsafe character that excavations made in said soil within five or six feet of the place where said soil was sustaining the great weight and pressure of supporting said easterly wall of said Cady building, would easily cause . . . said soil to shift, slip and move into said excavations, thereby removing the support afforded by said soil to the foundation of said easterly wall of said Cady building.”
[. . .] On June 14th, 1916, the plaintiff Huber, acting also for the owner of the Cady building, had an interview with Douglas concerning the protection of the Cady building, and Douglas, as manager, agreed that the company would look out for and protect the building.
The jury accepted Marsh’s defense that he was not responsible because he employed an independent contractor, but held Douglas liable:
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant Marsh, and for the plaintiffs to recover damages, assessed at $23,500, of the defendant H. R. Douglas, Incorporated. The court accepted both verdicts and rendered judgment upon them.
Douglas lost an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1919.
At 668-670 Harbor Road in Southport is a 1787 building that was significantly altered in later years. It may give the impression of being a nineteenth-century mansard-roofed commercial block, but the upper floors began as the homestead of Miah Perry. It was possibly altered and expanded in 1834. By that time the building displayed the influence of the Dutch Colonial style with two low-pitched gambrel roofs intersecting at the street corner. In the 1870s, the house was raised by Nehemiah Jennings to sit above a commercial section. In one part of the new ground floor Jennings ran a market and post office, while the other part contained the John Wood dry goods store. Miss Mary Allis (1899-1987) purchased the building in 1947 and refurbished it the following year. She had started renting space for her antiques store on the southeast corner in 1945. Mary Allis was a major figure in the world of folk-art collecting.
This the 3,000th post at Historic Buildings of Connecticut! That’s 3,000 great buildings throughout the state!
The commercial block at 410-416 Main Street in Winsted was erected in 1878 by John G. Wetmore, founder of the New England Pin Company. Wetmore had earlier built two attached buildings, the Winsted Opera House and the Wetmore East Block, the latter of which later became a post office. Neither of these two buildings survives today (the Opera House was gutted by a fire in 1901).
Riley Ives and his son Edward produced uniform buttons during the Civil War in Plymouth Center. After the War they switched to the production of parts for mechanical wind-up toys. They assembled their toys in several shops in the village. In 1868, Edward Ives founded his own factory on Maple Street. Called the Ives Manufacturing Company, he soon moved it to Bridgeport where it became the largest manufacturer of toy trains in the United States from 1910 until 1924. His father continued to make toys in Plymouth. In 1921 an Ives factory building, built c. 1870, was moved from Maple Street to 694 Main Street to be used as the Plymouth Grange Hall. Plymouth Grange, No. 72, was organized on December 7, 1887. As described in the History of the town of Plymouth, Connecticut (1895), compiled by Francis Atwater:
The grange now own the building on Main street next to the post office, in Plymouth Center, and have a well furnished hall where meetings are held every alternate Wednesday evening. One prominent feature at each meeting is the “lecturer’s hour.” This is composed of select readings, essays, and discussions on farm topics, recitations, music and debates. In fact, anything that pertains to the household or the farm. This gives the farmer and his family an opportunity for social intercourse and intellectual improvement, which, owing to their isolated vocation, were it not for the grange, they would be deprived of. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity,” is one of the underlying principles of the order.
The building now houses businesses.
Happy Fourth of July! As described in my book Vanished Downtown Hartford (pp. 143-144), Hartford’s First Unitarian Society built a church, known as Unity Hall, on Pratt Street in 1881. It functioned as both a church and a public hall and was used by the Unitarians until 1924. They then moved to a new building on Pearl Street, which later became Ados Israel Synagogue, and then to their current building on Bloomfield Avenue. In 1891-1892, when they were still based at Unity Hall, the Unitarians constructed a five-story brick Romanesque Revival commercial building in front of their church. It was no doubt built to provide additional income for the church to add to that gained from renting out Unity Hall. A similar move was made by the Universalist Church of the Redeemer on Main Street, when it constructed a commercial building in front of the church in 1899 (it only stood until 1906 when Travelers acquired the property). Unity Hall was eventually demolished, but the Unity Building survives today. There is an interesting article about trouble early on with the buildings foundation: see “Foundation Stones Tipped: The Pratt Street Building Trouble Laid to a Surface Drain” in the Hartford Courant, April 13, 1892. The Unity Building has a Jacobethan first-floor facade that was added in 1928.