Colonial Houses


The colonial category used here at Historic Buildings of Connecticut covers a wide range of structures built by the colonial settlers of Connecticut from the 1640s through the period of the Revolutionary War. The earliest surviving structures are houses, built in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in what is called the “First Period” or Post-Medieval English style. Made of wood, these houses usually feature a prominent central chimney and are often in the form of saltboxes. Later houses tended to follow the center-hallway (with two chimney) model, with ornamentation in the Georgian style. Built of wood or brick, the more elaborate homes often had large gambrel roofs. In addition to houses, many churches survive from the colonial period, displaying the stages of the transformation from the old Puritan Meeting House (seat of both government and religion) to the typical New England church on the green. Below, the architectural styles of houses are briefly discussed, using buildings which have appeared on this site as examples.


Post-Medieval English Houses

The oldest surviving house in Connecticut is the Henry Whitfield House in Guilford, although this building is not typical of the other houses which survive from the seventeenth century: it is made of stone and has been significantly altered over the years. More typical, are houses like the Buttolph-Williams House (fig. 1) in Wethersfield and the Stanley-Whitman House (fig. 2) in Farmington (both open to the public as museums). Both of these houses were built in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, but reflect the continuing tradition of the earliest houses in Connecticut. They feature the massive central chimney, wood clapboards, diamond-paned casement windows and overhanging second story that are typical of the period. The Buttolph-Williams House features carved brackets over the first floor, while the Stanley-Whitman House features carved pendants. At one time, the former had a rear kitchen ell attached, while the latter has the form of a saltbox (see below). Two other interesting variations of this style are the 1682 Bedford Mass. House (now in Glastonbury) and the 1690 George Hyland House in Guilford. Not all of the Seventeenth Century houses in Connecticut have been authentically restored like the above examples: for instance, the very early 1649 John Hollister House in Glastonbury, among other changes, is painted a Colonial Revival white and no longer has diamond-paned casement windows. Some early Connecticut houses with one-story, like the Philip Goffe House in Rocky Hill, the Timothy Stevens House in Glastonbury and the Ezra Webb House in Wethersfield, would create an extra half story by having the large gambrel roofs which which would become popular later in the eighteenth century on the much larger houses of the wealthy (see below)


The New England Saltbox

Many of the houses built in Connecticut in the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth centuries took the form of the New England Saltbox. This distinctive shape was created by adding a one-story, full-length extension to the rear of a two-story house and having the roof slope down in the rear at a steeply pitched angle. The resulting irregular shape resembled the wooden lidded boxes in which salt was stored. Later saltboxes were not modified houses, but were built all at once with that form. Wethersfield has a number of notable saltboxes, including the early Hale-Newsom House and Sgt. John Deming House and the 1730 Michael Griswold House (Fig. 3). The 1750 Matthew Sadd House in East Windsor Hill (Fig. 4) is an excellently preserved example of a house originally designed and built as a saltbox. The Glebe House in Woodbury is an interesting example of an amalgam of the gambrel roof and saltbox.


Georgian Houses

As the colony’s affluence grew during the eighteenth century, the larger houses were typically two rooms deep and had two full stories. This type of house, sometimes called a “New England Large House” or “Second Period House,” usually had a symmetrical five bay facade with a central door and sash windows. Ornamentation was in the fashionable Georgian style, featuring classical detailing, particularly around the windows and main doorway, which would frequently have a row of small rectangular windows (lights) in the transom above the door. Two excellent examples of this kind of house can be seen in Lebanon: the houses of Jonathan Trumbull, senior (fig. 5) and junior. There are numerous other examples throughout the state (and on this blog!).


In the Connecticut River Valley, a cultural region extending from Deerfield, Mass. to Middletown, Conn., builders of high style homes displayed a preference for large gambrel roofs and distinctive broken-scroll (also called swan’s neck) pedimented doorways. One of the earliest and most influential homes of this type was that of Seth Wetmore in Middletown. Other good early examples of this type include the 1725 Josiah Dwight House (originally in Springfield Mass and now in Deerfield) and the Gay Manse in Suffield (Fig. 6).


Center Hall Houses

Another variation of the Georgian-style house features a central hallway, with stairs stretching from the front to back of the house and two chimneys on either side. Such Center Hallway Colonial houses can be found in large numbers throughout Connecticut. The Daniel Hooker House in Wethersfield represents an interesting transition, as it has two chimneys, but not yet a center hall. Among numerous examples of this kind of house featured on this blog are the Ebenezer Plummer House in Glastonbury, the Hiram A. Terry House in Enfield and the Isaac Stevens House (Part of the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum) in Wethersfield (Fig. 7).


The Stevens House is an example of a more middle-class home from the later eighteenth century, but in the middle years of the century, wealthy merchants in the Connecticut River Valley built elaborate center hall homes with Georgian detailing and broken scroll door pediments. The Ebenezer Grant House in East Windsor Hill (Fig. 8 ) is a classic example.


Large Center Hall Georgian houses with gambrel roofs were also popular among elite merchants and sea captains. Wethersfield has a number of notable examples, including the Joseph Webb House (Fig. 9), which has a later nineteenth-century Greek Revival entryway, and the Simeon Belden House, which has its original doorway (Fig. 10).



Some Other Examples

There were not too many Connecticut Georgian-style homes in the eighteenth century as grand as such Massachusetts houses as the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House in Cambridge, but some builders found ways to stand out from their neighbors. While the eighteenth-century desire for balance and symmetricality can be seen in the above examples, a few homes were more distinctive in having an irregular front facade and internal arrangement of rooms. The Silas Deane House in Wethersfield (Fig. 11) has a four-bay facade, with an off-center door. Other examples of similar houses are the Capt. Francis Bulkeley House in Wethersfield, the Moses Brace–Uriah Cadwell House in West Hartford and the John Goodrich House in Glastonbury. Irregular arrangements would become more popular with the Federal and Greek Revival styles of the early nineteenth century.


Another way to stand out was with an unusual roof. Mansard-style roofs were rare at the time, but were impressive, as seen on the Moses Wells House in East Windsor Hill (Fig. 12) and the Dr. Daniel Sheldon House, in Litchfield, which also has an irregular facade, like the Deane House. Sometimes grander roofs and additional ornamentation in other architectural styles were added to colonial homes much later, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


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