Survey reveals wealth of architectural styles

Wilton Historical Society’s Burt Barn Gallery was packed the evening of Thursday, Sept. 27, with people eager to hear the results of a more-than-year-long survey conducted by architectural historians Stacey Vairo and Lucas Karmazinas this past spring and summer for the historical society.

Funded by a $30,000 grant from Connecticut’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the survey was the second of a multi-phase Wilton Historical Society project — the first of which was conducted in 1989.

For Phase II of the survey, Vairo and Karmazinas primarily focused on approximately 400 structures built  between 1920 and 1940. Styles of this time period include Colonial Revival, Craftsman/Bungalow, Spanish Eclectic, and Tudor Revival.

Karmazinas and Vairo visited the town assessor’s office to identify houses built during the time period. Then, Karmazinas said, they checked to see which ones had retained enough of their historical integrity to be identified as historic structures.

After narrowing down the list to 200, Vario said, she and Karmazinas went “on the ground” to take pictures of each building.

They not only drove around town looking at and taking photos of historic structures, but they also used various resources to conduct research, including old maps, town land records, census records, and archives at the Wilton Historical Society and in the Wilton Library History Room. They also consulted with people like Wilton Historical Society Co-Director Allison Sanders, local architect Rob Sanders, and town historians Carol and Bob Russell.

As a result of Karmazinas and Vairo’s work, about 160 structures have been added to Wilton’s Historic Resource Inventory (HRI).

Architectural styles

While surveying Wilton’s early-20th Century structures, Vairo and Karmazinas saw a variety of architectural styles. The most “by far,” said Vairo, was Colonial Revival.

Influenced by Georgian, Federal and other early-American architectural forms, Colonial Revival homes were popular from 1880 to 1955. Characteristics include side-gabled or gambrel roofs, accentuated front doors and dormers, and symmetrical door and window placement.

Two Colonial Revival homes surveyed by Vairo and Karmazinas were 39 West Meadow Road and 114 Sharp Hill Road.

The second most common style in Wilton was Tudor Revival, said Karmazinas.

This style was popular between 1890 and 1940, and was “loosely based on late-Medieval English building styles,” according to Karmazinas. Characteristics include steeply pitched gable roofs, brick or stucco siding, and prominent chimneys that are “sometimes on the front of the house, which you really never saw in Colonial buildings,” said Karmazinas.

Karmazinas said he and Vairo saw Tudor Revivals that range from “simple,” like 2 Fairfax Avenue, to “much more detailed” like 79 West Meadow Road — but “still have the same kind of basic principles.”

Other styles of the time period found in Wilton were:

  • Colonial New England Farmhouse (1650-1850) like 224 Danbury Road.

  • Georgian (1700-1800) like 395 Danbury Road and 239 Millstone Road.

  • Dutch Colonial Revival (1880-1955) like 7 Deerfield Road and 23 Own Home Avenue.

  • Cape Cod Cottage (1880-1955) like 167 Skunk Lane and 12 Deerfield Road.

  • American Foursquare (1890-1940) like 167 Sharp Hill Road.

  • Neoclassical Revival (1895-1950) like 238 Danbury Road.

  • Craftsman/Bungalow (1905-1940) like 78 Belden Hill Road and 2 Evergreen Avenue.

  • Spanish Mission/Eclectic (1890-1940) like 2 East Meadow Road.

  • Vernacular (1860-1930) like 355 Thayer Pond Road and 364 Belden Hill Road.

  • International Modern (1925-Present) like 128 Hulda Hill Road.

Potential historic designation

As part of the survey, Vairo and Karmazinas also identified two areas in town that could be studied for historic district designation: the Deerfield Road/Fairfax Avenue and Chestnut Hill developments.

“The Chestnut Hill development off East Meadow Road and West Meadow Road is an area that was built specifically as an architectural development,” said Karmazinas. That area not only has “a tight developmental history,” he said, but “the architecture is very well preserved and attractive.”

Karmazinas described the Deerfield Road/Fairfax Avenue development as a “small,” “specifically built real estate development” whose homes were built during the 1910s and 1920s.

Challenges and surprises

Karmazinas and Vairo said they were surprised by two things, one of which was how hard it was to conduct the survey.

“Wilton’s topography is rather challenging for surveying — windy roads and hills, and a lot of houses are kind of tucked up and hidden — and trying to find and photograph them without getting run over or run off the road was relatively challenging,” said Karmazinas.

Vairo said the second surprise was “the wealth” of Wilton documentation, materials, and resources available.

“You don’t usually see that for more rural towns,” said Vairo, noting that some of the maps she and Karmazinas used “came from the front flaps of directories.”

“Those often don’t survive,” she said, giving credit to the “wonderful job” Wilton’s archivists do in maintaining such materials.

Inventory forms

After surveying, Vairo and Karmazinas prepared historic resource inventory forms for the structures, each containing a photo, research sources, and information like the date built, style, roof style, condition, location integrity, notable site features, historic and architectural importance.

Karmazinas and Vairo also digitized the inventory forms for the approximately 319 structures in the Phase I survey to make it “as accessible as possible,” said Karmazinas. Because the photos used in the Phase I inventory forms were too small to use online, Vairo and Karmazinas went to the state archive at the University of Connecticut to access the originals.

Phase I and Phase II will both be available in paper form at the historical society, Wilton Library History Room and building department office in the town hall annex, as well as in digital form at Sanders said half the Phase I properties have been uploaded to the site, but the rest should be completed soon.