Clay Hill Historic District – 1

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Thursday Doors Schedule Update – There will be no Thursday Doors post here on August 18th. Accordingly, there will be no Recap post on Sunday August 21st. I know, that’s a month away, but since some people don’t participate every week, I will include this announcement each Thursday between now and then.

Clay Hill, sometimes also referred to as the Clay Hill Arsenal District is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Hartford. Early in the 1800’s it was home to Irish immigrants who were being recruited to work on the Windsor Locks Canal. Early in the 1900’s, it was home to Jewish immigrants fleeing rising antisemitism in Europe.

Over the next two or three weeks, I’m going to be exploring the houses and buildings built during those two periods. Like other historic districts I’ve explored, this entire area has been established in the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP). Unlike many of those other districts, there are several buildings that have been independently listed in the NRHP. I’m going to start with two of those. Most of the information presented below is from the NRHP nomination forms. I have also included photos from those forms, including some rare interior images.

The first building is a firehouse built for Engine Company 2. According to the NRHP nomination form

1515 Main Street was the second firehouse built for Engine Company 2, organized when the City created the paid department in 1864. It is one of two surviving Hartford firehouses built to house both men and horses, which places it in a distinct period in the history of  the city’s fire service. Overall, the firehouse displays a high level of integrity and is an uncommon example of the Italian Renaissance style applied to the design of a firehouse.

National Registry of Historic Places

The other building I’m sharing today is the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. Again, according to the NRHP nomination form.

Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church is a large brick building built in the High Victorian Gothic style in 1873- 1874. Still in use for religious services, it has served the present congregation since 1926, before which it was known as the North Methodist Episcopal Church. 1 The area is a densely built, urban residential and commercial neighborhood along a wide and heavily traveled street. The building measures 60′ by 96′ in plan and, except for passageways on either side and a small area at the back of the church, almost entirely fills its lot. The building faces east, with the facade dominated by a 3 1/2-story gabled projection and towers at each of the front corners. The north tower is the smaller of the two, with its two stories surmounted by a steep hip roof with small gabled dormers. The south tower has three full stories, to which are added a tall gabled belfry with Gothic-arched louvered openings and a slate-covered octagonal spire. Each tower has an entrance at the base, with a wide dripmold, modern double doors, and a banding of stone along the jambs. On the second story of each tower are a set of adjacent small windows, five on the larger tower and three on the smaller. The projecting bay between the towers is symmetrically arranged, with two small openings on the first story, three windows on the second story, a triptych of three large windows on the third story, and a circular window in the gable. The windows all take the shape of blunt-pointed arches and have stone sills, heads, and banded sides. The larger windows are subdivided by tracery into two main panels and are filled with simple painted and stained glass, mostly in floral patterns. There are stepped buttresses with stone coping at all the corners of the building and stone stringcourses between stories. The stone details, the light color of which forms a distinct contrast with the red brickwork, are continued on the sides of the building and, except for the stringcourses, even onto the relatively plain rear elevation.

National Registry of Historic Places

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    • The AME church is an interesting building. Most of the older churches I’ve found in the city are symmetrical and they look like you’d expect a church to look. This one surprised me, but some of the others on this street have a similar look. I’ll share another one next week.

      I like the fun looking building you shared today, Sofia. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I loved finding the historic image with the horse-drawn apparatus ready to roll. It’s only one of two in the city that were built for men and horses that has survived. I have photos and information about several churches in the district, but I liked the AME church the best. I’m gld you liked this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Fascinating to see the inside of the fire house. I’ve been inside modern day firehouses (our neighborhood firehouse in San Diego and one here in Tehachapi). Like other readers, seeing the stables for the horses made me think of horse drawn fire wagons. Wonder when they were replaced by motorized vehicles, and what happened to the horses??

    Liked by 2 people

    • According to what I was able to find, they began to motorize the department in 1920. Some horse-drawn apparatus went to other towns. The city owned and operated a stable of police horses in nearby Keeny Park until they disbanded a mounted unit in the 1990s. Perhaps the horses when there. Perhaps they moved to NY City to draw tourists around. A lot of farm horses “retired” to that work, which is easier on them than pulling heavy wagons or plows.

      I loved finding the interior photos.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s very good to see these buildings being well maintained. This is not a thriving community these days, not by any means. It has been neglected by the city and by absentee landlords for many years. The city keeps promising to invest in this neighborhood. I hope they find a way to actually do that.

      I loved walking along with you., Good that you’re feeling better.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those are two more buildings that seem to say “I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE!” There is such commitment built into their appearance that the builders must have had an eye to the future. Church and firehouse. They certainly differ in looks but I can’t help wondering if they differ so much in purpose. I love the contrast of stone and brick on the church.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They were built almost 50 years apart, but clearly while builders still thought they should make the neighborhood look good while serving the people. The AME church is a remarkable building. I love the buttresses, and the taller tower on the south side. The firehouse serves the neighborhood in a different way, but you’re correct, they both still serve, and that’s a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Impressive buildings. You’re right that the firehouse hasn’t changed except for the equipment, but also the window air conditioners! Can’t imagine how much time was lost hooking those amazing horses up when rushing to a fire.

    The church is a beauty. I love the white stone mixed in with the brick on all the trim. Very impressive building, inside and out. Couldn’t help but notice the floor fan in the back of the church. At least that’s what it looks like. It wouldn’t have been any help during heat waves, like the one we just experienced!

    I enjoyed seeing inside these treasures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have to laugh at your comment about the fan. I grew up in a Methodist church. On those hot days during heat waves, the minister would end the service by saying – “In deference to the oppressive heat, we will sing only verses one, two and four of the closing hymn.” That was it, we got to skip one verse.

      I had the same thought about hooking up those horses. I guess they had the process down to a science, and I’m sure they practiced. I wonder if they had a horse crew who got the horses ready and hitched while the firemen got everything else ready.

      I hope you’re having a good week.


    • I always love seeing fire department doors, especially the ones on the buildings built when they cared about how they looked.

      You have a wonderful collection of doors and gifted doors today. Keep that painting in mind for next year’s writing challenge ;-)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] I had blanked out on what ‘indigent’ meant. I read the words, ‘weaker patient’ and decided that the ward was for those who were ‘very sick.’ It was enough to frighten me more than I already was (hospitals and doctors have that effect on me). I googled the word when I left. ‘Indigent’ meant ‘needy’ or ‘destitute’ which explained the number of beds in the ward and probably the response of the ward boys towards me. Before leaving for the twin-sharing room for which we had paid, I took a picture of this door as a reminder of my experience at this well-known hospital in Mumbai.I’m linking this post to Dan’s Thursday Doors challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like seeing our history, Smitha. It only dates back a couple hundred years, but it’s always good to find examples that have been preserved and maintained.

      You have a nice collection of doors and an thought provoking door as well. I hope you’re feeling better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do enjoy it and I appreciate the trouble you take of finding these historical doors and sharing their history with us.
        I’m glad you liked the last of my Fort Kochi doors. I need to travel soon to be able to participate again :). Thank you for asking, I am feeling much better now.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What an interesting tidbit of history, Dan. It always strikes me how history dominates in any area, but especially in the earlier settlements. It’s heartbreaking when progress tries to destroy history. Love the church!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Dan – the firehouse hasn’t changed at all really … still serving its purpose. While the Church looks impressive -it’d be great to see inside, if pos… one day – Clay Hill an interesting area. Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked these, Hilary. I doubt the inside of the church has changed much. The pictures in the nomination form were taken in the late 1990s. I am so glad they’ve preserved these buildings.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I had a funny feeling you would like peeking inside that firehouse, Teagan, and I know, given your preference for odd vehicles, you must have liked seeing the horse-drawn fire engine.

      I enjoyed your post. We’re getting closer to understanding the mind of Teagan.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I love it when I can find a well written and illustrated nomination form that’s available to read. It makes it easy to figure out the history.

      You got some nice doors from a favorite city.


  7. Whenever I step through a building, I sense the whispers of past conversations. Buildings hold our history, especially churches. Think of all the weddings and funerals that were held in this beautiful church. Many thanks, Dan, for taking us on a tour of Clay Hill Historic District. Looking forward to part 2.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Both of these buildings are so lovely, probably because they are so untouched. Do they have to get on the NRHP pretty early on as a deterrent to having any modifications done to them? Or is it sheer luck that no one has made major changes to them before they have a chance to be listed on NRHP?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if, in this case, they rushed to get the district on the registry to prevent a wholesale demolition. This area of Hartford is not in good shape. The city has been promising to fund some improvements, but that hasn’t happened. Many of the residential and small commercial buildings are owned by absentee landlords, many of who haven’t paid taxes in a ling time. The city has been taking property throughout the area.

      Most places in between the main roads would probably be ignored by developers, but any property on Main St would be desirable. There are a lot of vacant lots on that street today.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My favourite are the doors in the weight room in the firehouse. Actually it’s the door frame that intrigues me. I’m assuming it was built to accommodate horses. What a wonderful thing to be preserved, history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to split up the churches in this district, Frank. Otherwise it might be too hard to choose. I was so happy to see the picture of the horses rigged and ready. I hope you have a great weekend.


    • Thanks Miriam. Hopefully, getting these buildings added to the registry will make it more likely these buildings survive for future generations to see. There are so many developers who would just as soon tear them down and replace them with something “modern” – as if that’s always an improvement.

      You photos are wonderful. And congratulations on the prep for your upcoming book.


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