Elmcrest's Historic Buildings

 

The Hart-Jarvis House (1829-30)

 

The Hart-Jarvis House is a Greek Revival home constructed in 1829 for William Jarvis, Reverend of Trinity Church in Portland. William Jarvis's daughter, Elizabeth, spent her early years in the home. Elizabeth grew up to marry Samuel Colt of Hartford, CT, legendary firearm tycoon, and with her brothers proceeded to run the Colt empire after Samuel's death. Erastus Brainerd, Sr., founder of the Brainerd Quarry Company, also occupied the home, as did the Gildersleeve family of Portland shipbuilding fame.

 

The following information is courtesy of the Portland Historical Society:

 

The Hart/Jarvis House, built in 1829-30, is an impressive Greek Revival Temple form with flanking wings.  Set on a cut brownstone foundation, it is clapboarded, except for the façade of the portico wing faces and gables, all of which are flushboarded. It sits on a well maintained yard, part of the Elmcrest Manor complex, on the south side of Marlborough Street.  Originally, however, it faced west onto Main Street.  The main block of this 2 1/2 story house displays a 3 bay façade with shuttered 6/6 sash windows and a central entry door.  Four large flushboarded ionic columns support a pedimented portico with dentil moulding.  The effect of quoins has been created on the corners of the structure with carved wooden blocks showing a Georgian influence. The central house has a baluster railing around the edge of the gable roof, with dormers, two on each side, and four chimneys, one in each corner.  The wings are patterned  after the main block, with flushboard faces under a roof supported by three smaller ionic columns, The third "bay" under the open portico of the wing - in each case the one closest to the main block - is enclosed with an entry door surrounded by transom and sidelights.  Above the portico roof of the wings are 3/3 sash "eyebrow" windows. The east gables display Federal style gable fans with a blind fan in the southeast wing.  The southeast ell, nearly as large as the main block, was added later.

 

Elizabeth Hart Jarvis was the daughter of Col. Richard W. Hart of Hartford and Saybrook.  In 1825 she married Rev. William Jarvis and they moved to Portland where he became pastor of the Trinity Episcopal Church. Her father purchased a parcel of land on the corner of Main and Marlborough Streets from Jesse, Joel, Joseph and Samuel Hall in 1829, and deeded it to his daughter almost exactly a year later with a "New House" thereon.  (EHLR 21:382) During his term as minister (1829 to 1837), Jarvis superintended the construction of the second Trinity Church built in 1832 where the present Trinity Church now stands. However failing health forced him to retire and move to Middletown.  Jarvis family letters also complain of the noise from the ferry landing, audible at the house, and the difficulty of keeping up contacts in Middletown.  In 1851 the house was sold to Erastus Brainerd, one of Portland's most successful quarry owners, remaining in that family for 48 years.

 

This house stands on a well landscaped yard between an Italianate style house and a plain Queen Anne style structure.  Marlborough Street is a busy four-lane highway at this point, but is obscured by fencing and trees.  Comparable in some respects to Middletown's Samuel Russell House, this building embodies architectural styling rarely found in a community the size of Portland.  With its associations with prominent citizens of the town, it is an important part of Portland's heritage.

 

The Erastus Brainerd, Jr. House  & Carriage House (1851)

 

The Erastus Brainerd, Jr. House is an elegant Italianate brownstone home designed by Henry Austin (1804-1891), a famed New Haven architect. The younger Brainerd, superintendent of the Portland Brownstone Quarry, chose the site after his father settled in the neighboring Hart-Jarvis House. James O'Gorman, Grace Slack McNeil Professor Emeritus of the History of American Art at Wellesley College, calls Henry Austin "Connecticut's most important nineteenth-century architect," and the Erastus Brainerd, Jr. House "one of the finest of his cubical residential designs with ogee-arched portico." O'Gorman notes that the building is important for more than its design, since it "represents an important part of local history with its ties to the Brainerd family and the development of the brownstone industry that colored cities from New York to Portland, Maine, and beyond." The building "links present day Portland to her industrial and cultural past" and serves as "a major example of New England architecture." O'Gorman warns that removing the structure would "erase a chapter of the Town's history" and "leave physical and emotional scars."

 

The following information is courtesy of the Portland Historical Society:

 

The 3 bay, cube shaped Erastus Brainerd, Jr. House was probably built around 1852.  Facing north toward Marlborough Street, it is two stories plus belvedere, built of stuccoed brownstone on a brownstone foundation in a predominantly Italianate style.  The Islamic Revival style front entry porch of this house displays fluted columns on modified floral urns with ogee arched decorative brackets supporting a balustraded roof. The low hip roof of the main block, supported by massive paired brackets, is crowned by a rectangular belvedere with a lattice work balustrade which echoes the pattern of the wrought iron balconies of the second story windows. A rectangular wing extends from the east side of the main block, with a street side porch. A stair tower has been added to the rear of the building, compatibly styled.

 

Erastus Brainerd, Jr. probably chose this site to build his house because his father had recently purchased the Hart-Jarvis House to the west. The elder Brainerd had founded the Brainerd Quarry Company, and young Brainerd was one of its leading members. This building was probably designed by New Haven architect Henry Austin.  (This architect is known to have supplied the design for the Portland Congregational Church, built in 1838.)  Although no drawings for the Brainerd house have been found in Austin’s papers, a very similar plan for the Nathan Peck House in New Haven has the name “Erastus Brainerd” penciled in, in what is believed to be Austin's own hand.

 

Located on a busy four-lane highway, this house is shielded from the road by trees and fencing.  To the west are two other houses of the period; to the east are modern clinic buildings, also [formerly] owned by Elmcrest Psychiatric Institute. One of the more elaborate historic houses built in the mid-19th century in Portland, it stands today as a succinct statement of the Brainerd family's success and prominence in the town.

 

“The 3 bay, cube shaped Erastus Brainerd, Jr. House was probably built around 1852. … Erastus Brainerd, Jr. probably chose this site to build his house because his father had recently purchased the Hart-Jarvis House to the west.”  There is only one house on this site on the 1851 Clark map—the Hart/Jarvis house.  This one came along the next year!

 

The John H. Sage House (1884)

 

The John H. Sage House is a Queen Anne-style home built for the descendent of one of the Middletown, CT-area's first settlers. Sage's father, Charles H. Sage, was the Town's Judge of Probate in the mid-1880s. John Sage gained national prominence as an ornithologist.

 

The following information is courtesy of the Portland Historical Society:

 

Built in 1884, this relatively plain, 2 1/2 story Queen Anne style structure, which [formerly served] as the infirmary building for the Elmcrest Psychiatric Institute, stands approximately 30 feet from the south side of busy Marlborough Street (Route 66) behind a high wrought iron fence and dense evergreen growth.  The balloon frame structure is currently sheathed with wood shingles and has a foundation of regular coursed, brownstone ashlar blocks. The building displays the picturesque, asymmetrical qualities normally associated with the Queen Anne mode in both its massing and detailing.  Off-center, shed dormers with three, square, six pane windows project from the façade portion of the building's asphalt shingled, intersecting gable roof.  The house's three chimneys (one exterior, two interior) each display decoratively corbelled tops.  Three diamond pane windows adorn the second story of the façade's two story, projecting central shed bay, and overlook a single bay, intersecting gable roofed, one story entry porch.  Each of the building's gables features an overhang, and a pent overhang, a highly popular local Queen Anne feature, encompasses the house between the first and second stories.  Alterations to the structure include the superimposition of wood shingles over the original clapboard sheathing, the enclosure of the open first story of the western wing, and several, recent 20th century additions to the rear elevation.

 

The house was originally built for John H. Sage, a descendant of one of the Middletown area's first settlers, on land which he later acquired from the estate of his father Charles H. Sage, who served as the town's Judge of Probate during much of the mid-1800's and whose house formerly stood on the corner of Marlborough and Main Streets. (The Charles Sage House was demolished when Route 66 was widened in the 1930's.)  [LATE WORD: THE CHARLES SAGE HOUSE STILL STANDS AT 204 MAIN STREET—IT’S A GREEK REVIVAL STYLE.  THE 1827 JESSE HALL HOUSE AT 197 MAIN STREET, THE 1828 CHARLES WILLIAMS HOUSE AT 187 MAIN, AND THE 1830 ALMYRA HALL EDWARDS HOUSE AT 181 MAIN WERE DEMOLISHED IN THE 1930s.] John Sage gained national prominence as an ornithologist.  In the last few decades of the 19th century he maintained one of the largest collections of that branch of science in the State of Connecticut in this house. He also served as Treasurer of the Freestone Savings Bank and Cashier of the First National Bank of Portland, two local, late 19th century financial institutions. The property remained in the Sage family until 1930.

 

The house is the last of a small group of relatively elaborate structures to have been constructed near the eastern end of Marlborough Street during the 19th century.  The area now forms the eastern fringe of the town's central commercial district.  The John H. Sage House is one of the better preserved Queen Anne style homes remaining in Portland and a fine example of modern, adaptive reuse of an historic and architecturally significant building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical and Cultural Significance

In a review of these structures architecture and their history, Cox Architects of Glastonbury, CT determined that the existing site and buildings are historically significant as defined by the standards set out by the US Secretary of the Interior and as documented by The Portland Historical Society, The Greater Middletown Preservation Trust, The New Haven Preservation Trust, The CT Trust for Historic Preservation, The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Historic sites of this quality are critical to Portland's future, as elucidated in the Portland's Plan for Conservation and Development, which states, "[H]istoric sites, buildings, and structures...are key components for helping to understand the Town's cultural heritage and development. It is imperative that these historic sites and structures be preserved in order to pass along some of Portland's history to future generations." These values are further entrenched through the Town's zoning ordinance, which calls for consideration of historic preservation efforts during mixed-use development project evaluation.

 

Moreover, these structures represent a significant opportunity for future economic and community development. Portland's brownstone once was world famous: in the early 1880s, silver-baron James C. Flood shipped Brownstone from our quarries by boat around Cape Horn (the sourthern tip of South America) and back up to San Franscisco, so that he could build his family home of it. It was one of only two structures to survive the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In the words of Claire Frisbie, president of the Portland Historical Society, "integrity and significance, authenticity, embodied energy and heritage all play a part in the value of historic structures. Antiques have an important role in modern development." Let's not abandon our past just to search for our future. These buildings can be an important force for the redevelopment of Portland's Main Street corridor.

 

 

JOHN SAGE Biographical Memorial