Starting in 1848, rail service connecting New Haven and New London, Connecticut commenced to provide transit between two of the state’s economic centers. The New Haven and New London Railroad was completed in 1852 and almost immediately, work commenced on extending the line eastward as the New London and Stonington Railroad. This completed the “Shore Line” route between New York City and Boston through other lines and the span became re-organized and named the Shore Line Railway. One of the many village stops along the route was in Noank, in this 1858 rail depot. The small train station is covered in board-and-batten siding with an overhanging gable roof supported by brackets. In 1976, much of the shoreline track was purchased by Amtrak, which is now known as the Northeast Corridor. The Noank station was cancelled as a stop, and the building was sold from the holdings, it is now office space, seemingly for the Noank Village Boatyard.
Thomas Jefferson Sawyer House // 1840
Thomas Jefferson Sawyer was born in 1807 in Groton, Connecticut as the tenth of 13 children of William and Prudence Sawyer. It appears that his parents were running out of names by the time they had ten children, so they named number ten after the then President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson Sawyer moved to Noank’s coastal village in 1840 and built this interesting Greek Revival house with an atypical hipped roof. Sawyer was a sea-captain who remained in Noank until his death and he was a very active member of the local Baptist church. The Sawyer House remains as a unique example of the Greek Revival style captains house, which the village is known for.
Lars Thorsen House // c.1850
I love that when walking around towns and cities in New England, I find charming old buildings and snap a photo only to learn later on that they were the home of someone amazing later on! New England is full of amazing stories! This charming cottage in Noank, CT, dates to around 1850 and measures just 16 x 22 feet and is set on a full-height raised brick foundation just steps from the harbor. Upon further research, it was uncovered that this cottage was the home of Norweigan artist Lars Thorsen (1876-1952) and his family since 1923, he added the shed dormer for his art studio. Thorsen was born in Stavanger, Norway, and was fascinated by ships as a boy. He first went to sea as a cabin boy at age 14, and crewed on both sailing and steam-powered ships. By 1903 he had made at five trips around Cape Horn, and crewed on the Columbia, an America’s Cup yacht designed by Nathaniel G. Herreshoff. A year later, Thorsen happened to sail into Noank, and chose to settle down there. Thorsen became known for his marine paintings of coastal areas and ships and painted murals for the WPA and other commissions.
Katherine Forrest Home and Studio // c.1860
This vernacular cottage in Noank was built in phases (and likely added onto from other historic buildings) since 1860. While the building dates to the 1860s, its significance derives from a later owner, Ms. Katherine Forrest. Katherine Forrest (1883-1952) was a graphic designer and part of the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 1900s. She specialized in textile design and printmaking. Forrest came to Noank in 1914 and purchased her house in 1926. She was locally known by the nickname ‘Speedy’ and was remembered for dying textiles in a bathtub outside the house. The building’s vernacular character and its significance as a locally historic site as part of the village’s rebirth as an artist colony in the 20th century showcases how even smaller, unpretentious buildings in New England can tell a story.
Robert Palmer Jr. House // 1907
Robert Palmer Jr. (1856-1914) was born in Groton, Connecticut as the son of Robert Sr., a prominent businessman and Deacon in Noank’s seaside village (his house was featured previously). Robert Sr. established the Palmer shipyard, which became the largest business enterprise in Noank. Jr. would later join his father’s business and did well for himself financially, eventually marrying and building this Neo-Classical mansion on Church Street in town. The company, under Sr. and Jr.’s leadership, built many seafaring vessels that were internationally renowned until the company closed in 1914 after the death of Robert Jr. This house is unique in town for the monumental two-story portico, Palladian windows at the first floor, and a projecting entry vestibule.
Deacon Robert Palmer House // 1884
Perched on the highest hill in the coastal village of Noank, Connecticut, you will find this absolutely enchanting gingerbread Victorian mansion. The house was built in 1884 for Deacon Robert Palmer (1825-1913), a wealthy man who wasn’t only deacon of the village’s Baptist church, he was the owner of a flourishing shipyard, and it was his shipyard workers who built him, with loving care, a house he could be proud of! Robert ran the shipyard in town first with his brother, and then with his son. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the shipyard was the largest facility for building and repair of wooden vessels in southern New England, employing over 300 men. The yard specialized in building railroad car floats, schooner barges, and dump scows as well as fishing smacks. Robert Palmer and Son went out of business in 1914 with the passing of the Robert. The Stick style mansion with mansard roofed tower remained in the Palmer family until the early 2000s when it sold and was restored to her former glory. The residence features exposed rafters, a pagoda-like second story balcony, a frieze with geometric cut-outs, and a wrap-around porch which provides sweeping views of the ocean. I can only imagine how beautiful this old Victorian is on the inside!
Former Noank Methodist Church // 1902
Adaptive reuse of old buildings always makes me so happy to see! Besides the obvious benefit of preserving an old building which contributes to the history and character of an area, there are clear environmental benefits to renovating older buildings for new uses when older uses are no longer viable. In 1902, the village of Noank was bustling with workers in the shipyards, many of whom attended or hoped to attend religious services close to home rather than travelling to adjacent towns. As a result, the local Methodist church-goers had this building constructed. Architecturally, the building is a hodge-podge of styles with interesting lancet windows as a nod to the Gothic style, shingle and clapboard siding which reads Queen Anne. The Noank Methodist Church merged with the Groton Methodist Church to form Christ United Methodist Church, which moved to a new building in 1972. The former church was converted into a residence. Preservation wins!
Josephus Fitch House // 1809
Not far from the Pelatiah Fitch House is this charming Federal Cape house in Noank, CT, built for Pelatiah’s grandson, Josephus (there are a lot of great names in this family)! Pelatiah’s eldest son Josephus was born in 1745 and was equipped for service in the American Revolution by his father. He survived the war, but in 1778, he perished at sea aboard a whaling vessel. Josephus Fitch Jr., his mother and siblings remained in Noank and tried to re-establish a life after losing their father who was just 32 years old. He grew up and married, and eventually purchased land in town, building this cape house in 1809. The house is vernacular with modest trim surrounding the door, 12-over-12 windows, and two small dormers at the roof.
Pelatiah Fitch House // 1754
One of the oldest extant homes in the charming fishing village of Noank, CT, is the 1754 Pelatiah Fitch House which has survived nearly 300 years on the waterfront site. The home was built for a Pelatiah Fitch (1722-1803) upon the time when he relocated to Noank to work as a doctor. Dr. Pelatiah Fitch came from a long line of distinguished ancestors, and was born in Norwich, CT. After practicing medicine twenty-eight years in Noank, he removed to Vermont, later moving a to Salem, NY about 1780 where he lived out his final days. This Georgian seaside cottage was built by Dr. Fitch and his new wife Elizabeth when they were in their mid-twenties. After the Fitch Family moved out, the cottage was expanded a few times, notably with the addition of the oversized dormer at the roof.
Moses Latham House // c.1845
Noank is a charming seaside village within the town of Groton that is centered on a peninsula at the mouth of the Mystic River where it spills out into the Long Island Sound. Historically, the area was known as Nauyang (meaning “point of land”) and was a summer camping ground of the Pequot people, but they were driven out in 1655 following the Pequot War. White settlement was slow here until the mid-19th century, when the shipbuilding and fishing economy took off here. As a result, houses, stores, churches and industries were built, and an entire village was formed. Most extant homes here were constructed starting in the 1840s as the village (and nearby Mystic) saw economic growth from the maritime trades. This house, the Moses Latham House, was constructed for Mr. Latham in about 1845. The house is Greek Revival in style with flush-board siding, a fan light in the gable which reads as a pediment, and a simple portico supported by fluted Doric columns.