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formerly the Naugatuck Railroad Station

ARTHITECT - HENRY BACON - CONTINUED (Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3)

Stylistically distinctive and generally well-preserved, the Naugatuck Railroad Station is a fine example of the Spanish Colonial Revival-style, a design rarely used for public buildings in Connecticut. It is primarily significant as the work of Henry Bacon (1866-1924), a major American architect who is best know as the designer of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The station derives added importance from its local historic context, particularly its association with John H. Whittemore (d. 1910), a wealthy Naugatuck industrialist who had a profound and lasting influence on the town's architectural development around the turn of the century.

Architectural Significance: For Henry Bacon, the Lincoln Memorial was the culmination of a distinguished career as a classical architect. At a special ceremony there in 1923, President Warren Harding presented him with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal, the highest award bestowed by this professional organization. To have achieved this level of recognition by his peers was quite remarkable, given that Bacon never had any formal academic training in architecture. He began his career as an apprentice in the Boston offices of Chamberlin & Whidden. Within a few years he was hired by McKim, Mead, and White, then one of the most prestigious architectural firms in the country. During his tenure there, Bacon was allowed a two-year leave to accept a traveling scholarship to study in Europe. He returned to New York in 1891 in time to assist on the firm's designs for buildings at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and also was one of the supervising architects during their construction. In 1897 Bacon left to set up a partnership with James Brite. By 1902 he had established his own office in New York at 160 Fifth Avenue, where he practiced until his death.

Throughout his career, Bacon was inspired by the classical Beaux-Arts tradition, undoubtedly influenced by his mentors at McKim, Mead, and White, his studies in Europe, and his lifelong friendship with a fellow classicist, architect Daniel Burnham, whom he first met at the Columbian Exposition. Although Bacon designed a great number of public, academic, and commercial buildings in the Neo-Classical or Classical revival styles, he spent much of his professional life on commissions for pedestals and monumental settings for statuary. In his collaboration with renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French, Bacon completed more than 50 projects (including the Lincoln Memorial). He also designed architectural settings for Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Europe and the United States.

Bacon had strong ties to Connecticut. For a number of years, he was a resident architect at Wesleyan University (then a college) in Middletown, where he designed the master plan for the campus expansion. Among his major buildings there was Olin Library, which demonstrated his continued preference for the monumentality and ordered conformity of classical architecture.

Clearly the design of the Naugatuck Railroad Station was quite a stylistic departure for Bacon. Indeed, the Spanish Colonial Revival style was such an unusual choice for an urban New England setting that it may have been selected by John Howard Whittemore, then director of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, who commissioned the project. This style was almost the exclusive genre of the American Southwest and West, where its popularity rivaled that of the Colonial Revival in the East. It is interesting to note that the style was used exclusively by the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads or stations and hotels in this period.

Bacon's design for the railroad station was actually an architectural compromise. While remaining true to his architectural ideals, he was able to please the client by combining the Spanish Colonial and classical precedent. Such a potential dichotomy would be obvious in the hands of a less skillful architect. Since the essential integrity of the building has been preserved, the subtlety and harmony of his solution is still apparent. Even though the Spanish influence was clearly conveyed by low tile roofs, the use of stucco, and the single design reference of the shaped gamble hood, the building draws extensively on classical theory. Its balanced symmetry and three-part massing recall a Palladian villa, an effect emphasized by the tripartite windows of the facade, and certainly the trabeated main doorway is more classical than Spanish. The formal ordering of the exterior is carried out in plan, with secondary spaces perfectly balanced on either side of the principal room. Interior finishes are austere and refined, especially when compared to the rough stuccoed walls and various other materials employed outside.

Classical principles also were expressed in Bacon's site plan, with the building making a terminating cross-axis to the approach to the site down Cedar Street. On either side of the street, twin pocket parks were designed by Bacon to enhance this approach, but much of that effect has been lost. Only part of the landscaping on the north has survived. A large industrial complex to the south associated with the rubber industry was demolished and in 1999, a United States Post Office building was erected on this site.

Next: Architecture, Henry Bacon, Architect continued
Compiled by: Jan Cunningham of Cunningham Preservation Assoc, LLC, 1998

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