Charter Oak Bank Building

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Rounded corners and corner doors are two of my favorite architectural details.

Hartford is a small city. There are two major north-south streets in the center of the city, Main and Trumbull and one significant east west local road, Asylum St. Asylum exits Hartford to the west, and splits into Asylum Avenue and Farmington Avenue. In the days before Interstates 91 (north-south) and 84 (east-west) were built, the corner of Asylum St, and Trumbull would have been a prominent address. Two buildings anchor the east side of Trumbull, The Charter Oak Bank Building and the Stackpole, Moore and Tryon clothing store. These buildings date to about 1861, although accurate construction records proved difficult to establish. The buildings were standing in 1862. The following segments have been extracted from the National Registry of Historic Places nomination form.

Built in the mid-nineteenth century, the Charter Oak Bank building is a fine example of elaborate, Italianate commercial architecture, and the only one of its type in Hartford. Free from alterations damaging to its elegance and integrity, the finely detailed classic fenestration and period cornice make the structure architecturally important. In addition, the Charter Oak Bank building’s association for three-quarters of a century with Hartford banking gives it an important place in the city’s financial history.

The stone was presumably quarried in nearby Portland, Connecticut, which furnished the famous Portland brownstone for many of the brownstone blocks in New York City. Hart[1]ford, though close by, used relatively little of Portland’s brownstone. Only a handful of brownstone front row houses were built, of which two rows remain. Of the half dozen brownstone faced commercial buildings still standing in the downtown area all have plain, unadorned windows. Only the Charter Oak Bank building has the classic window caps, acanthus consoles, and projecting sills which mark the palazzo mode and give this building its surface interest and stylish presence. The second, third, and fourth floors remain as they originally appeared, while on the ground floor original windows have been replaced in a compatible manner.

The first floor along Asylum Street was divided into two parts, with the bank occupying the western half. Entrance was through double doors under an arch in the bay just east of the rounded corner. Continuing east were three tall rectangular windows, completing the bank’s half of the facade. The eastern half was the Hartford One Price Clothing Company, which had large plate glass windows on either side of the central entrance, all under an awning.

The Charter Oak Bank building was home to a few banks over time, but even as far back as the late 1800s, life for a small bank in the northeast was precarious. Small banks were gobbled up by larger banks. Banks at this location became part of Connecticut Bank and Trust (CBT) which was a thriving bank when I moved to Hartford in 1981. From 1981 until 1988, I worked for consulting firms, and I was primarily involved with banks and financial institutions. In 1988, CBT was acquired by Shawmut National Corporation. The consumption has continued and, as many of you are aware, the US banking market is dominated by several large nationwide banks, many regional banks and a smattering of local banks.

Once again, from the nomination form. Equally as significant as this synopsis of banking history associated with the building is its demonstration of the popularity and problems with the use of brownstone as a building material. In his book Bricks & Brownstone Charles Lockwood points out that brownstone is a soft, close grained sandstone with a humble background as an inexpensive substitute for marble or limestone. Nevertheless, by a quirk of fashion in the late 1840’s it had come to epitomize luxury and architectural sophistication. To last, brownstone must be cut across the grain and laid with the grain running perpendicular to the building facade, but as these procedures were time-consuming they were ignored more often than not. As was rather common, here the stone was laid with the grain, allowing water to seep in over the years and, upon freezing, split the stone. The Charter Oak Bank building amply demonstrates the use of brownstone for high fashion and prestige, and the mis-use of brownstone whereby cost-cutting methods brought on deterioration, which now has been remedied by restoration.

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  1. Hartford is a charming city, Dan. I like how the old buildings hold their own against the glass giants creeping from behind. This is a sight we encounter in Bucharest too, and recently.
    I know we speak doors today, but I kind of like the sky reflected in the glass panels.

    Thank you for the heads-up re: your holiday. Hope it will be a relaxing one. :) I wish to create another Thursday Doors post soon. I’ve got myself tangled in an article for an Academic website, but I’m pushing through the mountain of research and I already see a door… ;)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Patricia. I do like the way these smaller older buildings are appreciated for their history and charm. I think I see that you did share a door with us. Good luck working through everything for the article. That must be a challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That is a pretty building, as well. I like the fact that they compliment each other. At one point, they (and a building that used to be across thre street) were owned by the same person.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice shots, Dan!

    As much as I’ve zipped by Hartford en route to Mass., I don’t think I’ve been in the downtown since the late 80’s (en route to the Twain and Stowe houses, of course).

    My father was stationed at the Naval Reserve and Training Center in the late ’60s, so my main memories of Hartford were trying to be the first to spot “Daddy’s work” from the highway and arguing with my siblings about whether the Phoenix building looked like a boat or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I also prefer the windows of the bank building, Dan. I like fancy work. I laughed at your comment about the woman in the picture, I sometimes do that too. When we visited Shakespeare’s house I just couldn’t get a clear shot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought it was funny, since that photo supported the description of the historic main entrance to the building. I guess they didn’t expect that one day there would be a thing like Thursday Doors. The decorations above the windows were mentioned early in the nomination form. Since I know you enjoy history and research, Robbie, here you go:

      “The Italian palazzo character of the building is expressed by the Renaissance fenstration.The smooth brownstone ashlar walls above the first floor are accented by window caps different at each floor, which cause a changing pattern of shadows. At the second floor the window caps are segmental arches, at the third floor rectangular pediments, and at the fourth floor flat cornices. On all floor levels tie window caps are supported by carved consoles faced with acanthus leaves. The sills rest on simple brackets; the sash are one-over-one.”

      Thanks for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Remarkable building. I like the details along the roofline. Brilliant colour too. Have they changed the colour since you moved there?

    I have one of the first doors I ever posted on my blog, and now I’m surprised to see that Norm had commented on it. It was a long time before I joined this community. I’m posting it again because it was a bit of a puzzle to me then, and I hope some door lover will be able to solve the mystery of what lies behind it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The color hasn’t changed since I’ve been here, other than the effect of erosion, But the color was changed from the original. Because they cut the brownstone incorrectly (to save money) it deteriorated. In repairing the stone, they used a mortar that didn’t match, so they painted the entire facade a slightly darker color. They included brownstone dust in the paint to give it an authentic texture.

      I liked your door!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Portland brown stone – very interesting. In the UK, Portland stone is quarried from a limestone formation laid down in the Tithonian stage of the Jurassic period . It comes from the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. The quarries are cut in beds of white-grey limestone separated by chert beds. It is off-white or greyish in colour. The stone used to build New Court at St John’s College Cambridge (where I studied in the early 1970s) contains impressions of marine life and shells. More famous buildings constructed from Portland stone are in London, the Tower, Buckingham Palace, the Cenotaph, Bank of England and the Palace of Westminster.

    My tour of Berwick continues:

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting. So many places in New England are named after places in England. The original settlers came to Portland in order to quarry the brownstone. The town is ringed by the Connecticut River, so shipping was easy. Stone was cut and shipped to New York, other east coast cities and as far away as San Francisco.

      I enjoyed the history and photos you shared, today.


  6. The craftsmanship in these buildings is outstanding. That’s a very interesting piece of information about the brownstone itself. The Charter Oak Bank building is quite impressive. All of them are! Arched windows, great doors, unique trim. Glad they’re still standing and functional.

    Even back then contractors cut corners in order to put a few more dollars in their pockets. I guess greed is as old as civilization!

    Artichoke Pizza? Really?!! 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tanks Ginger. It is sad to realize that they cut those particular corners even though they knew what would happen. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s hard to justify spending tons of money to repair something that could have easily been avoided. I am glad they made the decision to repair it, and to get it on the registry. This particular block in Hartford would be attractive to the developers who come out of the woodwork during good times.

      I had to include the pizza doors. I hope you have a good rest of the week. Stay safe from the storms.


    • The cost of restoration is always a challenge to be met. I am so glad they entered this onto the registry and have kept it well maintained since the 70s. Hartford went through several building booms and modernization efforts since then.

      Nice theme for your doors :-)


  7. It is so important that history is remembered. We have the buildings as a visual clues but it’s also so important that the people don’t forget how those buildings came to be and how they were used.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love how the shadows play on the brownstone building. The 1860s architecture is very similar to what we have here for that time period. It’s great that it has been repaired after the water damaged.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a magnificent old building! Once again the sleek modern buildings in the background make their silent statement about time. I’m grateful for those who save such remnants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have always like this building. When I first arrived in Hartford, I worked downtown, and I frequently passed this building and its mate across the street. I found its history interesting, but I am very happy it was saved.

      We have a lot of blue doors today, Janet. I really liked the doors you shared with us, as well as your surprise quest.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The ‘palazzo mode’…now I can’t wait to look at our buildings downtown, because I think we have something like this. It is always fun for me to hear a new architectural term on your blog, Dan. Artichoke Pizza…made me think of a Little Rascals episode from eons ago. One of the kids looks at an artichoke and says, “It may have choked Artie, but it’s not gonna choke Stymie!” Kind of like that ‘And don’t call me Shirley’ line. Makes me laugh every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was drawn to the old joke about the guy that killed three people for a dollar with the punch line “Artie chokes three for a dollar.” These silly thoughts never leave us, despite the fact that I don’t remember where I put my keys. I hope you find a few buildings that meet the conditions of the new term.

      Liked by 1 person

    • There are many distinctive buildings in the area. Many others were destroyed for Urban Renewal and during a development binge in the 80s. I am very happy these were saved.


  11. I didn’t know that brownstone was “an inexpensive substitute for marble or limestone.” Here I thought that it was something swanky. Your door photos are intriguing as usual. Doors on a corner for the win!

    Liked by 2 people

    • As much as this is a challenge about doors, I think the windows are the signature feature of this building.

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing you beautiful doors.


  12. I love the age on these buildings and am happy they are still standing They look sturdy. Love the details in that last one.
    Thanks for informing me🙂. Now I want to visit Hartford.


    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love corner buildings with the door on the corner. I love the decorations over the windows. Are there apartments upstairs or did I miss that in the post?

    I would have loved doing my banking, shopping, and dining out in that building…actually today too! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Deborah. There is a certain fascination with the idea of going into a small building, taking care of business and grabbing a bite to eat.

      It’s hard to say what’s upstairs today. The nomination form says the second floor was offices and the upper two floors were still being renovated. The only reference I saw now says “offices and apartments” your guess is as good as any.


  14. Thank you for joining us for Thursday Doors. You shared some lovely doors and delightful scenes.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the history of this building. I look forward to the next doors you find.


  15. Ah, this was a feast for the eyes! The lighting on the first photo complements the detail. Those rounded corners, decorated windows and dramatic dental molding are really beautiful. Thank you, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I now have a name for this style :
    “elaborate, Italianate commercial architecture”
    And the color does stand out and I wonder why they would cut corners and not slice the stone properly – seems like maybe they didn’t really realize the seriousness or just didn’t care about long term imoact

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Dan – thanks for sharing the history and these photos – also the aspect about the brownstone being cut and laid correctly: I’m glad it’s been restored … an impressive building – appropriate for the time. Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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