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Talcottville Historic District

From the nomination of the Talcottville Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, by S. Ardis Abbott and Robert B. Hurd of the Vernon Historical Society, 1988. Listed 1/5/1989.

Talcottville is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a nineteenth century factory village. The district encompasses the site of an early cotton-spinning factory and is associated with John Warburton and Peter Dobson, pioneers of the cotton manufacturing industry in Connecticut. The early development of the manufacturing village is reflected in the Greek Revival style of the majority of the residential buildings. The maturation of industrial development and the social organization of the village through the second half of the nineteenth century may be traced through the buildings added by the Talcott brothers, who bought the village in 1854. The village contains a representative collection of residential and public buildings, as well as an exemplary mill building. Among these are significant examples of the Greek Revival, Italianate, Romanesque Revival and Colonial Revival styles as well as excellent vernacular examples of Greek Revival and late-nineteenth century workers' housing. Because the Talcott family continued to hold the entire village land, mill, houses, and public facilities for nearly a century, Talcottville has survived as a rare example of a nineteenth-century New England planned industrial community.

The manufacturing village, first introduced by David Humphreys at Humphreysville in Derby, Connecticut in 1808, was a uniquely American response to the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. Paternalistic in concept, these first planned communities, often named for their founders, were intended to avoid the exploitation and degradation of workers prevalent in so many English factory towns. Taking Humphreysville as a model, the American manufacturers often assumed a nearly parental responsibility for their workers., providing housing, churches, schools, libraries and company stores. Sometimes they also undertook the task of supervising their workers' moral character and behavior as well. Forsaking the English suffix "ford" or "burg," these villages frequently added the French suffix "ville," reflecting the post-Revolutionary enthusiasm for all things French, to their name. The social and industrial organization of the manufacturing village and. the philosophy behind it are particularly well-expressed in Talcottville, the village which developed around the site of one of the earliest cotton-spinning mills in Connecticut.

Mechanized cotton spinning was introduced in Connecticut in 1795 by John Warburton, an English immigrant, who had been employed by the influential Pitkin family of East Hartford in 1794 to make cider screws. Shortly after beginning to work for the Pitkins, Warburton persuaded them to allow him to install cotton-spinning machinery in a snuff mill they owned on a fall of the Hockanum River in North Manchester (then a part of the town of East Hartford). Warburton was a mechanic of considerable ability and had been employed in the construction, and possibly the operation, of cotton-spinning machinery in England. He was familiar with the Arkwright system, used so successfully by Samuel Slater, and about 1795 had in operation a water-powered cotton-spinning mill. In 1802, Warburton left the Pitkins, and in partnership with Daniel Fuller of Bolton, bought land on the Tankerhoosen River in Vernon (then known as North Bolton). There Warburton built a dam, mill, and two dwelling houses and put into operation the first successful cotton-spinning factory in Connecticut. This was the nucleus of what was to become the manufacturing village of Talcottville. One vernacular brick house remains from this early development.

In 1809, Warburton was joined by another English immigrant, Peter Dobson. Dobson worked for Warburton for a time and then bought land and built another mill east of the Warburton and further upstream on the Tankerhoosen River. The product of Dobson's mill was stocking yarn, which was sold to Suffield peddlers and put out to farmers' wives to be woven into coarse cloth. In 1811, Peter Dobson, along with a Vernon farmer, Delano Abbott, initiated the first manufacture of satinet in Connecticut. This was an inexpensive woolen cloth which had a cotton warp and a woolen weft, and was a significant development in the fledgling woolen industry just getting underway in Connecticut.

The site of Peter Dobson’s first cotton mill, the Ravine Mill, and a later mill built by Dobson to manufacture woolen goods, known as the Vernon Woolen Company, was the subject of an archaeological survey done in 1979-80 in connection with a state highway project. The Vernon Woolen Company had burned to the ground on October 12, 1909, and the mill was never rebuilt. None of the mill buildings were left standing and the site had been left undisturbed except for the removal of large pieces of machinery by the Talcott Brothers Company who purchased the property in 1926. During the archaeological survey, all of the buildings in the complex were identified and the site gridded. During the course of the survey, a considerable number of small machinery parts, such as, pieces of heddles and reeds, weights, gears, and frames, were recovered from all gridded squares. Many of these artifacts were found to be in an excellent state of preservation. The site is significant for its association with Peter Dobson, an important pioneer of textile manufacturing in Connecticut, for the archaeological integrity of cultural artifacts uncovered in the survey, and for the association of the site with the early development of textile manufacturing in Connecticut.

The Warburton mill changed hands several times in the early nineteenth century. In 1835, it came under the sole proprietorship of Nathaniel O. Kellogg, and it was Kellogg who developed the first manufacturing village there known as Kelloggville. Kellogg operated the mill for twenty years, adding several more dwellings and a new three-story mill building. Six of the houses built by Kellogg are extant.

When Nathaniel Kellogg died in 1854, the management of the factory was entrusted by his executors to the brothers Horace Wells Talcott and Charles Denison Talcott, who had been working in the mill for several years. In 1856, the Talcotts bought the property, renamed it Talcottville, and brought to completion the manufacturing village so typical of the early nineteenth-century textile industry in Connecticut. The remainder of the buildings in the district were built by the Talcott brothers and their descendants or were adjacent farms acquired, by them as they expanded their holdings between 1856 and 1918.

Between 1854 and 1869, the Talcott brothers added four more Greek Revival houses to the village and built their own identical Italianate mansions on the hill opposite the mill. These houses are extant, but one Talcott house was substantially altered in 1920 to conform to the prevailing fashion for the Spanish Eclectic style. Between 1870 and 1880, the Talcotts built five more vernacular two-family dwellings to house the mill workers. In this same period, the Talcotts built more elaborate Italianate and Gothic Revival homes for nephews Emerson W. Moore and Morris Hathaway Talcott, who were associated with the business. A Colonial Revival house was built in 1905 for John G. Talcott, who was a descendant of Horace Wells Talcott and was associated with the management of the mills. Six adjacent Greek Revival farmhouses ultimately were incorporated into the village. Some were converted to mill housing, but the Talcotts also continued to cultivate the farmland and supply their workers with produce and dairy products.

The Talcotts continued to operate in the original mill buildings until they were destroyed by fire in 1869. Like many other woolen mills of this period, they produced satinet. Following the fire and the rebuilding of the mill, production was converted to "union cassimeres," and finally, in 1907, to fine woolens. The present complex dates from the rebuilding in 1870. The main 2½-story brick and frame vernacular mill building was built in 1870 and has been added to over the years. Major additions consist of a c.1880 2-story frame and brick addition at the south end, a c.1880 3-story frame and brick addition at the west side, a c.1900 2-story frame and brick addition with monitor roof at the north end, and a c.1920 steel and brick addition with monitor roof at the north end. Other additions added in the later twentieth century are within the complex and between these additions. The additions reflect the growth and change in woolen textile manufacturing over the period 1854 to 1940, when the mill was owned and operated by Talcott Brothers.

Industrial development is also reflected in the mill pond and dam that are extant adjacent to the mill complex, and the wrought-iron lenticular bridge that spans the river at this point. The bridge was built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in the early 1890s. The town of Vernon is studying the feasibility of retaining and preserving this historic structure, which presently serves only three houses and is not strong enough to sustain the weight of modern emergency vehicles. (The bridge was updated and is due to be updated again.)

Like the many other manufacturing villages that dotted the Connecticut countryside in this period, Talcottville was modeled on David Humphrey's ideal of the planned industrial community. The Talcott brothers provided their workers with not only housing, but also a church, school, library, social hall, and store. A Talcott-owned farm provided dairy products and produce as well. It was the stated purpose of the owners to operate an orderly and well-regulated industrial village. A contemporary historian provided the following description of the village in 1888:

Talcottville is admirably located, beautiful in appearance and cleanly almost beyond comparison. The similarity of design, color of ornament, and general appearance of its residences, is sufficient evidence that the aggregate are under the control of one corporation. Mill, store and dwellings are of Puritanical whiteness, and the window-blinds are of the regulation and time-honored green. Not a fence of any description mars the beauty of the well-kept lawns.

The social organization of the village is reflected in its extant public buildings. The original church built by the Talcotts burned and was replaced in 1913 by the present church. The parsonage built in 1880 by the Talcotts is extant, but has been moved from its original location to Elm Hill Road and is now privately owned. The original schoolhouse was moved and converted to residential use, and a new Romanesque Revival schoolhouse, built in 1880 and considered a "model," replaced it. About 1870, the Talcotts added a building which served as the social center for the village. The first floor housed the store and post office and the second floor served as a social hall. This Gothic Revival-style building has been converted to apartments. In 1867, the Talcotts gave land for Mount Hope Cemetery, which was dedicated June 30, 1867. At the left of the entrance to the cemetery stands a memorial to Civil War veterans a brownstone shaft with four names inscribed on it.

Few of the 203 manufacturing villages that developed in nineteenth-century Connecticut survived into the twentieth century, but Talcottville remained intact until- 1940, when the mill was sold and converted to other manufacturing processes and the land divided and sold to individuals. New owners have made some changes, but the district retains much of its architectural integrity. Most houses now have garages, but they are detached, and placed well back on deep lots where they do not intrude on the streetscape. Some buildings have been adapted to different uses, but without much exterior alteration. Setbacks have been maintained. The mill is still used for manufacturing purposes, though not for textiles. (The mill was redeveloped into The Old Talcott Mill Apartments in 2017.) Overall, the village of Talcottville saw no major changes after 1913, and appears much as it did at the height of its development in the late nineteenth century.

Talcottville retains a remarkably intact collection of buildings which represent the spectrum of nineteenth-century architectural styles and construction methods.

The Nathaniel 0. Kellogg House, c.1840, is an excellent example of the full two-story Greek Revival House, characterized by Doric corner pilasters, a three-part entablature, and pedimented gables. The Kellogg legacy includes several fine examples of vernacular Greek Revival workers' housing exemplified by the house at 79 Main Street, c.1840.

The Horace W. Talcott House, 1865, is a well-preserved example of the Italianate style, characterized by broad verandas, bracketed cornices, and a roof-top belvedere. The Charles D. Talcott House, constructed in 1865 and altered extensively in 1920, survives as an example of the Spanish Eclectic style of the early twentieth century overlayed on a mid-nineteenth century Italianate structure and plan.

The Talcott Brothers Woolen Mill, constructed in 1870, is a well-maintained example of a mid-nineteenth century frame and masonry mill building. Its well-preserved central tower is linked to the Italianate mansions of its owners by bracketed cornices, round arches at the belfry, and other decorative features. The mill structure is linked both to the Greek Revival workers' houses via shallow-pitched roof and cornice returns and to the Rockville mills of the period by its timber frame and masonry construction. Its numerous additions document the growth of manufacturing in Talcottville, as well as changing construction technology between 1880 and 1920.

The Talcottville School, 1860, is a good vernacular example of the Romanesque Revival style, characterized by round-arched windows, articulated masonry, and a tall central bell tower. The John G. Talcott House, 1905 , is an excellent example of the Colonial Revival style, characterized by a broad veranda, a symmetrical facade, and a steep hip roof. The Talcottville Congregational Church, 1913, designed by Russell P. Barker, is a good example of the late Gothic Revival style, typical of turn-of-the-century ecclesiastical and institutional buildings. Several fine two-story double houses, c.1880, represent vernacular workers' housing at the end of the nineteenth century and complete the Talcott brothers' legacy.