The John Barker House (1756)

April 5th, 2011 Posted in Colonial, Houses, Wallingford

The John Barker House, at 900 Clintonville Road in Wallingford, is possibly the oldest brick house in Connecticut. The gambrel-roofed structure was built by John Barker, a wealthy farmer and slave-owner. The Barker House shares similarities of construction with Connecticut Hall at Yale University, an even earlier brick building. The house has a wood-frame rear ell, built around 1814.

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  1. 2 Responses to “The John Barker House (1756)”

  2. By Lawrence H. Conklin on Jul 17, 2012

    THE JOHN BARKER HOUSE, 1756.
    (A work in progress.)

    by

    Lawrence H. Conklin

    The John Barker House, of 1756, is the earliest, surviving brick house in Connecticut.

    It was built for John Barker (1711-1801) who came from Branford, Connecticut and it was completed in the year 1756 (that date is displayed in burnt brick in the south, upper, gambrel end of the house. Now, (2010) designated as 900 Clintonville Road, Wallingford, Connecticut 06492, the house survives on 10.68 acres, down from the approximately 800 or 900 acre parcel known as Pond Hill Farm. The farm name survives with the house.

    The traditional builders of the Barker house were master masons Francis Letort of Philadelphia and Thomas Bills of New York. (Mr. Bills later settled in New Haven.) These gentlemen led the building of Connecticut Hall in New Haven on the Yale campus between 1750 and 1753 and it is generally assumed after that they traveled a bit north to North Haven (now Wallingford) to build the Barker house. Indeed, there is much similarity of detail of the two buildings. Connecticut Hall was inspired by Massachusetts Hall on the Harvard campus in Cambridge which was erected in 1718.

    “Completed in 1753, Connecticut Hall is the oldest building at Yale and one of four National Historic Landmarks on campus. Only the second structure ever built for the college, Connecticut Hall was commissioned as a dormitory by Yale College President Thomas Clap in 1750 to relieve overcrowding. Remodeled and expanded in 1797, Connecticut Hall, then called “South Middle College,” formed part of the Old Brick Row, the original building complex that lined what is now the Old Campus. While the rest of the Brick Row was demolished at the turn of the twentieth century, Connecticut Hall remained intact, serving many different purposes over the years. In 1925, the University constructed neighboring McClellan Hall in the same Georgian style to replicate the feel of the Old Brick Row. Having gone through several renovations, updates and repairs, Connecticut Hall now holds faculty offices, meeting rooms and a computer lab.”

    The Barker house survives with much interior and exterior Pennsylvania detail. An alternate way of thinking on the question of builders is that whoever designed and constructed the Barker house was heavily influenced by the New Haven building done by Letort and Bills.

    The Barker house is pictured and discussed briefly in The Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut by J. Frederick Kelly, New Haven, 1924. Its carved front doors appear in a full page, line drawing.

    In Some Notes on Early Connecticut Architecture, Elmer D. Keith (1888-1965) , a onetime owner of the Barker House, wrote of it on pages 25-26.

    All of the ten (10) surviving fireplaces of the Barker house are of brick, those used for heating are arched and parged and are atypical of Connecticut work of the period but firmly placed in the Pennsylvania fashion of the mid-eighteenth century. There was, originally, a total of eleven (11) fireplaces including two for cooking in the cellars. 

    The clapboard, two storey, addition to the house was added in 1814 and contains a then-new, larger, main floor, cooking fireplace. The modern kitchen is lodged in what started out as no more than rough storage or barn space in 1814.

    From Early families of Wallingford, Connecticut by Charles Henry Stanley Davis, (excerpted from History of Wallingford, Connecticut from its Settlement in 1670 to the present Time, Meriden, Connecticut, 1870,) page 29: “John and Sarah Barker were in Wallingford previous to 1739, from Branford, where he was born. He built the large brick house now [1870] owned by Samuel C. Ford, Esq. His farm was a large one, and one of the best in the county of New Haven. Of his history very little can now be learned.”

    The National Register listing is as follows:

    Barker, John, House ** (added 1974 – Building – #74002051)
    898 [sic.] [now 900] Clintonville Rd., Wallingford
    Historic Significance: Architecture/Engineering
    Architect, builder, or engineer: Unknown
    Architectural Style: No Style Listed
    Area of Significance: Architecture
    Period of Significance: 1750-1799, 1800-1824
    Owner: Private
    Historic Function: Domestic
    Historic Sub-function: Single Dwelling
    Current Function: Domestic
    Current Sub-function: Single Dwelling

    Recently I have been given a quantity of photographs of the Elmer Keith era of the house that includes detailed interior photos and several of the grounds.

    In a photograph showing one of the architects’ drawings, circa 1920s, Keith has designated the north chamber of the house as the “Denchworth Room” and no research so far has produced any explanation for it. Perhaps it is some reference to the fact that this room contains three (3) canted, “perspective” paneled window frames and they show clearly in the plan.

    Thanks, also, to one of these drawings I learned that the front wall of the house is 14 inches thick!

  3. By Lawrence H. Conklin on Mar 8, 2013

    An update. Dr. Abbott Lowell Cummings, noted architectural historian and one-time friend of Elmer Keith, informed me recently that the designation “Denchworth Room” came about because Keith acquired a bed, that he kept in that room, from Denchworth, England.

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