Roswell Burrows Fitch (1833-1908) was born in the seaside village of Noank to parents Elisha and Mary P. Fitch. At twelve years of age he commenced to be self-supporting, and from then until he was fourteen, occupied a clerkship in a general store in town. In his teens, summers were spent aboard ships fishing for a livelihood, and his winters attending school. Upon completing his education, he became clerk in a store, and was afterwards engaged to assume the management of a union store which was erected for the special purpose of being placed under his charge. The store, located on Main Street in Noank, was eventually fully purchased by Fitch, and he did well financially. He may have had this house built or merely bought it years after it was built in the mid-19th century. When he sold his business in 1890, he “Victorianized” the classically designed Greek Revival style house with Queen Anne embellishments. The renovations in 1890 included an octagonal tower, an elaborate porch, a two-door entry likely replaced the sidelights and transom, brackets and applied decoration at the gable and cornice, and a Palladian window which was a Colonial-inspired addition. Hodge-podge or eclectic houses are some of the most fun!
New London County
Roswell B. Fitch Store // 1851
Roswell Burrows Fitch (1833-1908) was born in the seaside village of Noank to parents Elisha and Mary P. Fitch. At twelve years of age he commenced to be self-supporting, and from then until he was fourteen, occupied a clerkship in a general store in town. In his teens, summers were spent aboard ships fishing for a livelihood, and his winters attending school. Upon completing his education, he became clerk in a store, and was afterwards engaged to assume the management of a union store which was erected for the special purpose of being placed under his charge. This building was constructed as the union store in 1851 with eighteen-year-old Roswell becoming an active partner in the business. In his twenties, he slowly bought out, one-by-one, the twelve other owners, until he possessed absolute control. The eclectic Greek Revival and Italianate style building features classical detailing, but with a bracketed cornice and gambrel roof which is capped by a parapet. Mr. Fitch retired from business in 1890 and got to work “Victorianizing” his nearby home. Stay tuned for the next post which features his home in Noank.
Robert Henry Peckham House // 1872
Another of Noank’s stunning Victorian-era seaside cottages is the 1872 Robert Henry Peckham house which is located across the street from the village’s most ornate cottage, the Deacon Robert Palmer House (featured previously). The house exhibits a gambrel roof which reads as a mansard roof at the side elevations. A round arched window is set into the gable end. Decorative cut bargeboards add much complexity to the design. It appears that in the early 20th century, as Noank was re-establishing itself as an artist colony, the owners added the small wrap-around porch and stone garden wall.
Noank Train Depot // 1858
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!