When this pocket in the Litchfield Hills was settled in the 1730s it was known as Mast Swamp because the tall pines that blanketed the area were much used in shipbuilding. The tumbling waters of the Naugatuck River provided ample water power for a mill that was built in the early 1750s but few residences followed. One family that did settle in town was the Browns and John Brown, who would become a fiery abolitionist and one of the most divisive figures of the 19th century, was born here on May 9, 1800.
In 1813 the Frederick Wolcott of Litchfield purchased some riverside property and erected a woolen mill. This enterprise did attract a sizable workforce and the community that sprung up around the mill became known as Wolcottville. It would not become Torrington until 1881.
In 1834 Israel Coe and Erastus Hodges began the construction of rival brass mills; Coe was making the first brass kettles in America, using a hammering technique known as the battery process. This was the beginning of the brass industry in Torrington, an industry that would later be synonymous with the entire Naugatuck valley. The Naugatuck Valley Railroad arrived in 1849 and the manufacturing ethos would hum for the next 100 years, attracting waves of European immigrant workers. Medical needles, woolens, lathes, skates, electrical goods and hardware all helped to place Torrington in the front rank of Connecticut industrial towns.
In August 1955 the Naugatuck River breached its banks during hurricanes Connie and Diane and the severe flooding destroyed the center of town that had been old Wolcottville, killing seven and causing $13,000,000 in property damage. In the years since the town has recovered and rebuilt but many of the workers that used to man the Torrington manufacturing plants began to commute to Hartford and Waterbury and Danbury. One of the steps taken to breathe life back into downtown Torrington was to recognize and preserve its architectural and historical heritage. Our walking tour to observe the fruits of this effort will begin on the banks of that fickle Naugatuck River, where a municipal parking lot awaits...
12 Daycoeton Place
The Torrington Library began life as a private, not-for-profit community library in 1864, organized by a small group of town businessmen. Each founding member supplied a quantity of books for the enterprise. Elisha Turner, president of the Turner and Seymour Manufacturing Company and the Torrington Savings Bank, donated the funds for a permanent home to greet the 20th century but he died in 1900 before it could be completed. His contribution totaled $100,000. New York City architect Ernest Greene crafted the Neoclassical library of white marble with a stack capacity of 42,000 volumes.
CROSS INTO COE PARK IN FRONT OF THE LIBRARY.
intersection of Litchfield Street and South Main Street
In 1834, Israel Coe, a Connecticut farmer, helped co-found a brass mill in town. Manufacturing kettles and brass buttons was a skilled process that required importing workers from Great Britain. This sometimes took the form of smuggling workers away from employers not anxious to lose their proprietary advantage in wooden casks. AS the brass industry spread, in 1863 Lyman W. Coe, brother of Israel, funded the Coe Brass Company that was to become Torrington’s dominant industrial concern. This triangular park was the site of the Coe home, created in 1906 when the land was donated by the Coe children to the town. The gift came with the stipulation that the house be removed from the site; the outline of the house is marked by low stone walls. The park now boasts several memorials, including a large boulder that was moved down from Migeon Avenue with a heavy-duty wagon and a team of 20 draft horses.
TURN AND WALK NORTH ON SOUTH MAIN STREET, ACROSS THE NAUGATUCK RIVER INTO DOWNTOWN.
11-21 Main Street
A fire in 1894 destroyed the buildings of the Turner and Seymour Manufacturing Company along the Naugatuck River. Waterbury developer George Leavens Lilley bought the land and erected this Victorian commercial block in 1896. He would build three more commercial buildings along Main and Water streets in the next 15 years. He managed to fit in a political career amongst his real estate dealings. Lilley served in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1901 to 1903, and was elected as a Republican for three terms in the United States Congress. He was elected governor of Connecticut in 1909 but died in office of unknown causes at the age of 49 before serving even one full year.
42 Main Street
Hometown architect William E. Hunt used Art Deco-influenced styling for this building, which was constructed in two stages in the 1930s. The first part of the two-story commercial block was the northern part, attached to the wood-frame Allen House on the corner. The hotel was crippled by fire in 1934 and after it was torn down Hunt stretched the building to the corner.
Nutmeg Conservatory of the Arts
56-66 Main Street
James E. Mallette was a penniless orphan who began his working life as a stable boy and became Torrington’s leading real estate developer and financier. He constructed this three-story Neoclassical brick building in 1916 for the local Chamber of Commerce. Today the building has been rehabilitated for the Nutmeg Conservatory and Nutmeg Ballet.
68 Main Street
The Warner Theatre was built by Warner Brothers Studios as a movie palace. When the Art Deco creation of noted theater architect Thomas W. Lamb on August 19, 1931 it was widely hailed as “Connecticut’s Most Beautiful Theatre.” Inside movie fans were greeted by murals of historic Litchfield County sites and a magnificent star-shaped chandelier in the auditorium. After a 1955 flood the theater staggered through years of neglect before closing in 1981. Grass roots preservationists helped the Warner dodge the wrecking ball and it has re-emerged as a performing arts center.
Mertz Department Store
84-94 Main Street
Walter Lewis established a retail emporium on this site on this site in 1883. The business was carried on by his son-in-law, W.W. Mertz, who remodeled the Victorian storefront with a Beaux Arts facade. The present building dates to 1931 and the drawing board of Torrington designer William E. Hunt. Hunt gave the store a modernistic look with intricate geometric details made of cut limestone and a front entry surrounded by smooth, dark green Vermont marble. Torrington’s oldest store went out of business in 1978 and today it is has been converted into a performing arts center by the Warner Theatre group.
The Yankee Pedlar Inn
93 Main Street
Frank Conley sailed to America as a nine-year old apprentice shoemaker. As an adult Conley went into the hospitality business, always keeping a personal ambition to open a hotel unrivaled in Connecticut. He saw his chance in 1890 when he purchased this corner of Main Street and Maiden Lane for $8,000. Another $40,000 later Conley had a modern structure built of brick and trimmed in Vermont marble fronted by a wide verandah on both sides of the street. Inside guests found marble floors in a black and white diagonal mosaic, wainscoted carpeted floors and pictures on every wall. There were 52 bedrooms and private and public dining rooms could seat 150 people at one sitting. The chairs and tables were of antique oak, each room had a two-light chandelier and hot water was always available. The success of Conley’s Inn from the start was in no small part due to Alice Conley - an outstanding cook and hotel manager. In 1918 the Torrington Company, expanding rapidly due to the need for surgical needles in World War I, purchased the hotel and expanded the number of rooms to accommodate over 200 female employees. The selling price was $75,000 - the largest single property transaction ever made in Torrington up to that time. Back in the hospitality game by the 1950s, the hotel/restaurant became the Yankee Pedlar Inn in 1956.
Torrington Savings Bank
129 Main Street
Chartered in 1868, Torrington Savings Bank is one of the longest established banks in the state. The bank survived the Depression and moved into this Colonial Revival home in 1938. The design came from the pen of Torrington architect Carl Victor Johnson.
140 Main Street
Carl Victor Johnson was working both sides of the street in the mid-1930s. He incorporated classical Colonial Revival elements into his design for City Hall, just as he did for the savings bank it faces.
Center Congregational Church
155 Main Street
In 1828, there was no church in the growing community of Wolcottville, the section of present-day Torrington where the church is located. Captain Uri Taylor, who built the community’s first school and first hotel, inspired the building of a simple, white frame structure. The congregation itself was not officially gathered until July 11, 1832. A new stone structure was erected in 1867 and still stands as part of our sanctuary that was expanded to it’s present size in 1900 and was reborn as Center Congregational Church. The church was torched by arsonists in 1979, destroying all but the gray granite walls which retain its 19th century appearance.
U.S. Post Office
8 Church Street at Main Street
Another Depression-era that added a Colonial Revival building to the Torrington streetscape, like the savings bank and city hall. Completed in 1936, the old post office has be adapted for commercial use.
St. Francis of Assisi Church
160 Main Street
The first Catholic Mass was held in Torrington in 1835 under the auspices of the Hartford parish. The area’s six Catholic families then passed to Waterbury’s charge in 1847 as circuit pastors celebrated Mass in the Academy building on South Main Street. The congregation’s first frame church was constructed in 1860 and today’s soaring brick Gothic church with its 151-foot steeple was dedicated and consecrated on November 13, 1887.
192 Main Street
Local businessman and politician Orasmus Fyler has this late Queen Anne mansion constructed in 1900. The house was constructed by Hotchkiss Brothers Company, into whose family Gertrude Fyler married. She donated the home to the Torrington Historical Society in 1956 as a house museum.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO CHURCH STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON PROSPECT STREET.
Allen G. Brady House
258 Prospect Street
Before the Civil War, Allen Brady operated a cotton mill on Water Street. He served during the war as Major and commander of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. At the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he took over command of the regiment following the death of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Fowler on July 1, 1863 during the fighting at Barlow’s Knoll. He then remained regimental commander throughout the rest of the war. When he returned to Torrington after Lee’s surrender hebuilt a hotel and this Victorian home in 1867. Later he moved to North Carolina to rebuild a cotton mill there. He died in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1905 a few days before his 83rd birthday and was buried back in Torrington in Center Cemetery. His old house has served as a funeral home since 1927.
Torrington National Bank
236 Prospect Street
Torrington National Bank was founded in 1899 and moved into this trend-setting Colonial Revival headquarters in 1917. The grand building cost $75,000 to construct and became the model for several subsequent buildings around town seeking to exude the same sense of strength and stability for their institutions. Torrington National melded into the Hartford National Bank and Trust in 1958 and later with the Connecticut National Bank.
Trinity Episcopal Church
220 Prospect Street
The original Episcopal Church on this site was built of wood in 1844. It also had a square bell tower. Some of the earliest members of this church were English laborers imported to work in the Coe Brass Company. The present Gothic Revival church made of granite was constructed in 1897. The Tudor style rectory located on the corner of Maiden Lane was built in 1917. The church, parish house and the rectory surround a central courtyard and create an enclave unlike any other in downtown Torrington.
Lilley Block #3
29-57 Water Street
Dominating the west side of Water Street is this Romanesque (note the arched upper windows) block that steps up in segments from Main Street. It is another of the commercial properties built by developed George W. Lilley at the end of the 19th century. Architect Theodore S. Peck designed the ground floors for retail businesses and the upper floor for high-end residential apartments.
63 Water street at southeast corner of Prospect Street
Italianate was the most popular architectural style for downtown commercial buildings across America. This well-preserved 1896 example was constructed by William H. Morrison who operated his plumbing and hardware business from this location. The front of the building still has splendid examples of pressed metal trim above the windows and at the third story cornice. The first floor of the building has been occupied by a hardware store since the building opened.
CONTINUE ON PROSPECT STREET ACROSS THE RIVER TO THE LIBRARY PARKING LOT ON THE LEFT AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.