Glastonbury is said to possess more pre-1800 Colonial houses than any other town in Connecticut. The area on the east bank of the Connecticut River was settled early, as part of the Town of Wetherfield. In fact in 1695 the “Glistening Town” became the first town in the state to be creating by splitting away from an existing town. The first division of land was in narrow strips of land running three miles eastward from the river to provide each owner an assortment of the the several qualities of the land rather than favor a few with the best land.
From the start there were two town centers, known today as Glastonbury and South Glastonbury. The first house was in South Glastonbury, the first meeting house in Glastonbury. The town was a typical Connecticut river town in its early days; the water provided power for mills and supported an energetic shipbuilding trade. Most of the economy was pegged to the crops that were grown nearby, tobacco for export and foodstuffs for local trade. Modest industries took hold - textiles and metalworking and tanneries.
The railroad failed to come. Development no longer continued to grow apace in Glastonbury. It evolved into a residential suburb of Hartford. There was no need to replace all that housing stock from the 1700s with bigger and more modern buildings.
Glastonbury’s Main Street initially was an Indian trail running from East Hartford south along the east bank of the Connecticut River, eventually leading to the mouth of the Thames River on Long Island Sound. It was adopted as a town street in the last decade of the 17th century and has been maintained for three centuries. Its layout has not been compromised; the wide thoroughfare is flanked by grassy strips and sidewalks from which the houses are comfortably set back. There are no parking spaces for cars along the street to intrude on its centuries-old feel. Our walking tour will begin at the edge of encroaching suburbia and quickly disappear into a leafy streetscape of Dutch and English Colonial architecture...
Welles-Turner Memorial Library
2407 Main Street
Harriet Welles Turner Burnham lived in a house here and when she died in 1931 she left $350,000 to build and maintain a public library as a memorial for her ancestral and married families.
2400 Main Street
Travelers 200 years ago would look forward to seeing this tavern as the stop-over on the road between Hartford and New London, although they would find it on the opposite side of the road (it was moved to the east side in 1974 when the modern bank expanded). Joseph Welles built the structure in 1785 and it was purchased by Azel Chapman in 1808. Today, it is owned by the Historical Society of Glastonbury.
Giddeon Welles House
17 Hebron Street at Main Street
Born into the prominent Welles family in 1802, Gideon Welles became the only man in Connecticut’s history to hold all four top offices: governor, deputy governor, treasurer, and secretary. On the national stage he served in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet as the Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War. He was a direct descendant of Governor Thomas Welles, the Fourth Colonial Governor of Connecticut and the transcriber of the Fundamental Orders. The Colonial-style core of the house was constructed in 1783 by his grandfather, a Revolutionary War captain. The house remained in the Welles family until 1932, located on the site of the Welles-Chapman Tavern. It was slated to be torn down for a new post office when town citizens mobilized to save the historic house and rotated it 90-degrees. That movement resulted in the Historical Society of Glastonbury. In 1974, the house was again moved further up Hebron Avenue. Still owned by the town today, the building now houses local shops.
Benjamin Taylor House
2300 Main Street
In Colonial times this was the location of the blacksmith shop of Andrew Phelps. When Hartford merchant Benjamin Taylor purchased the property in 1830 he constructed a three-bay house that spanned the architectural era of earlier Federal and the newly popular Greek Revival. The building has obviously picked up numerous additions through the years.
2205 Main Street
This house was built in 1854 and has received two remodelings, the first in 1897 and, most notably, in 1936 by owner Dr. Lee J. Whittles. Whittles was the leader in preserving Glastonbury’s old houses. Here he gave his home a Georgian Revival appearance with slender Ionic columns at the entrance, a Palladian window on the second floor and a cornice of modillion blocks at the roofline. Today the house is a bed-and-breakfast.
Connecticut River Valley Inn
2195 Main Street
Samuel Benton built this substantial three story Georgian frame house under a gambrel roof around 1800. An ell to the rear of the rear of the main house is thought to be of 17th century vintage. The property now operates as an inn.
First Church of Christ
2183 Main Street
While blending in visually with its neighbors on Main Street the Greek Revival church building is actually the fifth for the congregation, constructed in 1940 after the Hurricane of 1938 destroyed its predecessor. The 1837 church had burned and been replaced in 1866. It was built with original synthetic siding to resemble clapboards. A two-stage tower rises behind the gable peak. There is a balustrade on the first stage, while the second stage has recessed corners, a tall, round-headed window of small panes in each face and a molded cornice that supports urns. Above the tower a high 8-sided spire embellished with swags at its base rises to a gilded weather vane.
Thomas Hale House
2169 Main Street
The core of this house dates to around 1715 when Thomas Hale was licensed as a tavern keeper. Hale was a founder of the town and one of the petitioners for separation from Wethersfield in 1690. The house was purchased by the neighboring First Church of Christ in 2006; it retains original clapboards and floorboards and some hardware.
Town Hall Complex
2155 Main Street
This site has had a busy building history and a legacy of 150 years of serving the community. The first structure erected here was an Italianate frame building that was occupied by the Glastonbury Academy. It is gone today but its successors remain in use. The oldest extant building. facing the street, was the Williams Memorial that served as a community recreation center with bowling lanes and a gymnasium. It was built by the family of James Baker Williams in 1915. Williams came to Glastonbury in 1847 to manufacture Williams’ Genuine Yankee Soap, the first manufactured soap for use in shaving mugs. The company, that would develop such iconic products as Aqua Velva, Lectric Shave, and Skol, remained in the family until 1957. A complimentary Georgian Revival building was added in 1923 and a one-story brick-and-glass addition came along around 1960.
William Wickham House
2071 Main Street
This early colonial home was built in two sections--the first, facing south, in 1685 and the second, facing west, in 1717. The oldest part was built in the salt-box style--with a roof that climbed steeply in front and sloped down long in back, making it look like the boxes once used to store salt. The gambrel roof is a hold-over of Dutch-style architecture in the Connecticut Valley.
Old Town Hall
1944 Main Street at Hubbard Street
This 1840 Greek Revival building rendered in pinkish brick served as the Glastonbury Town Hall for over 100 years until it was moved to its current park-like setting on Hubbard Green. The simple building packs a surprising amount of architectural detail: tall 16-over-16 windows with brownstone lintels, a ten-paneled front door andand a round-arched louver in the recessed triangular section of the pediment’s tympanum. This was the site of the town’s first meetinghouse back in 1693. The building is the home of the Historical Society of Glastonbury and operated as a museum.
TO CONTINUE TOURING HISTORIC GLASTONBURY YOU CAN CONTINUE A WAYS DOWN MAIN STREET UNTIL THE SIDEWALK RUNS OUT. TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT, RETRACE YOUR STEPS.