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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Heritage Trail, New London, Connecticut

Union Railroad Station (30) with whale sculpture in foreground.

New London was founded in 1646 by John Winthrop, the younger, who chose this shore-ringed "plantation" for its excellent harbor. This land, with its great natural assets, became one of the largest whaling ports in the country in the mid-19th century. As this industry waned, manufacturing flourished bringing an influx of foreign labor.

A heritage walk of 30 bronze plaques, which can be found in the sidewalks, celebrates the rich history and important buildings and sites in downtown New London. Following the plaques takes visitors on a tour from Colonial times to the early 20th century. Along the way, highlights include stories of Captain Bulkeley, who sailed with American Naval hero John Paul Jones, and buildings designed by several of America's greatest architects.

Harris Building (1)
The walk is laid out starting at the Harris Building, 156 State Street. The path then goes up the street to the courthouse. From there visitors turn right to see Whale Oil Row, before returning down the south side of State Street. The tour continues on Bank Street heading up the west side, and finishing on the water side of Bank Street.

Please note: This post is a work in process. Additional photos and text are needed. Those wishing to share this material are welcome to Contact Us.

  1. 165 State Street, Harris Building, 1885. By Leopold Bidlitz, born in Prague and educated at Viennese Polytechnic for Jonathan Newton Harris who made his fortune in patent medicine.
  2. New London City Hall (2)
    181 State Street, City Hall, 1856.
     Built in the Italianted style. Completely redesigned and enlarged in 1911 in the Beaux arts style by local architect James Sweeney.
  3. Lyric Hall (3)
      243 State Street, Lyric Hall, 1897.
      By New London architect James Sweeney. Originally built to house a theater, which later became a dance hall.
    1. 281 State Street, Mohican Hotel, 1897.
    2. Whale Oil Row (5)
      105-119 Huntington Street, Whale Oil Row, ca. 1835.
      Greek Revival styled homes built by prominent whaling captains. Legacy of wealth generated by New London whalers from 1820 to 1850.
    3. Dewart Building (6)
      310 State Street, Dewart Building, 1914.
      By new London architect Dudley St. Clair Donnelly for Morton T. Plant, a railroad and steamship magnate of Groton. 
    4. The Thames Club (7)
      290 State Street, The Thames Club, 1905.
      Built in the Italian Rococco architectural style. Originally a private men's club. The marquee side entrance overlooked an elegant garden.
    5. National Bank of Commerce Building (8)
      250 State Street, National Bank of Commerce Building, 1922.
      The 5th bank to establish itself in the city relocated from the Crocker House into this Classic Green Revival style building.
    6. Crocker House, 180 State Street (9)
      180 State Street, The Crocker House, 1873.
      Opened on New Year's Eve as New London's first modern hotel. Patronized by U.S. presidents and playwright Eugene O'Neill.

    7. 158 State Street (10)
      158 State Street, Timothy Greens, 1771.
      Oldest building on State Street. Originally Timothy Green's print shop, which published one of the colony's earliest newspapers.
      140 State Street (11)
    8. 140 State Street, ca. 1873. Originally the site of L. Lewis Co., a crockery and glassware store. Local architect James Sweeney, designer of 143 and 181 State Street, had his offices here.
    9. 128 State Street, Bacon Marble Block, 1868.
    10. 80 State Street, Cronin Building, 1892.
    11. 54 State Street, The Marsh Building, 1916.
    12. 15 Bank Street, Lawrence Hall, 1920.
    13. 57 Bank Street, Royal Hotel, 1897.
    14. 111 Bank Street, Bulkeley House, 1790.
    15. 133 Bank Street, 1900.
    16. 181 Bank Street, 1790.
    17. 243 Bank Street, 1867.
    18. 258 Bank Street, 1833.
    19. 194 Bank Street, 1800.
    20. 150 Bank Street, U.S. Custom House, 1833.
    21. 138 Bank Street, Franklin Smith Home, 1840.
    22. 90 Bank Street, 1876.
    23. 74 Bank Street, Exchange Building, 1848.
    24. 42 Bank Street, 1833.
    25. 16 Bank Street, 1900.
    26. 2 State Street, 1844.
    27. 35 Water Street, Union Railroad Station, 1888. By Henry Hobson Richardson, inventor of Romanesque Revival in America and architect of Trinity Church in Boston and Harvard University's Sever Hall.

    Other Sites to Consider for Inclusion on Heritage Trail

    There are several additional sites of great significance not located on the Heritage Trail, though that could be possible contenders.

    St. James Episcopal Church,
    New London

    St. James Episcopal Church. Organized on September 27, 1725, and seat of Samuel Seabury, America's First Bishop who served as rector from 1785-1796 and was buried here in 1849. This third church building was designed by Richard Upjohn and consecrated on June 11, 1850. Noted for impressive stained glass windows and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    The Public Library of New London
    The Public Library of New London. This was the gift to the city of Henry Philemon Haven, one of New London's most prosperous whaling merchants. Construction was completed and the building opened to the public in 1892. The well-known architect Henry Hobson Richardson is credited with the spirit of the style of the building although actual construction was supervised by his successors Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston. Construction of the addition to the south began in 1974 and was made possible through funds donated by the city, state, foundations, and public subscription.

    Garde Arts Center, 325 State Street
    Garde Arts Center, 325 State Street. This Art Deco building was a historic movie/vaudeville house built in 1926 during the golden era of motion pictures and vaudeville theaters. The theater and several adjacent buildings sit on the site of the baronial mansion of whaling merchant William Williams. The Moroccan interior provided a touch of the exotic for patrons. The theater was named after Walter Garde, a Hartford and New London businessman. Warner Brothers purchased the theater for $1 million in 1929 and continued to operate it through 1978 when it was sold. The Garde Arts Center purchased the theater for $300,000 in 1985. In 1994 a $15.75 million campaign to restore the Garde Theater began. In 1998 the new lobbies and storefronts opened, and one year later in 1999, the theater opened with a restored interior.

    Unitarian Church

    Unitarian Church (existing marker, faded).

    The 19th Century Port (existing marker).

    The Submarine Industry (existing marker).

    The Atlantic Trade (existing marker).

    The Roots of the US Coast Guard (existing marker).

    The Amistad Incident (existing marker).

    Native Americans (existing marker). Connecting to the Sea for Centuries. The Mohegan and Pequot people of southeastern Connecticut and their ancestors have used the coastal resources of eastern Long Island Sound for thousands of years. Native people made ocean-going canoes to harvest fish, trade, and visit with their neighbors and relatives throughout the region. The resources of Connecticut's coastal waters allowed Native people to develop year-round villages thousands of years before agriculture. After European contact, quahog and whelk shells from local waters made into beads known as wampam quickly became central to the growing fur trade. Native Americans continued to participate in New London's maritime economy working on whaling, merchant, and naval vessels. More recently, the Mohegan and Pequot tribes have invested in maritime-related businesses such as the Pequot River Shipworks and the Mohegan Aquaculture project. Where can you go to learn more? Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Mystic Seaport Museum, Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum.

    Whaling in New London (existing marker). Human relationship with sea mammals has evolved through the past 300 years. Oil from whales and seals was exploited, yet essential to developing our industrial revolution in the 19th century. The wealth accumulated from whaling was invested in railroads, industrial development, the hospital and the creation of cultural institutions still in use today by the New London community. Growth of environmental awareness in the 20th century has led to 21st century recognition of the need to save the whales and preserve a sustainable ocean environment for the health of our planet. This life size sculpture represents a sperm whale sounding - diving back into the ocean after coming to the surface to breathe. Sperm whales can reach 59 ft in length, weigh up to 45 tons, dive to 10,000 ft below the ocean's surface and swim at a speed of 23 miles per hour.

    Nathan Hale Schoolhouse

    Interior of Nathan Hale Schoolhouse.
    Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, 19 Atlantic Street. Where Nathan Hale taught from 1774 to 1775, several years after graduating from Yale. In 1775, Hale enlisted in the American Revolution and was promoted to the rank of Captain. he was the only soldier to volunteer to spy on the British who had taken control of Long Island when George Washington needed valuable information. "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Nathan Hale's immortal last words on being hanged as a spy by the British in New York on September 22, 1776.

    16 Bank Street. Figureheads adorn the cornice.

    36 Bank Street. Present storefront built around a mansion.

    United States Post Office
    United States Post Office, 27 Masonic Street. The post office was built in 1932 in Classical Revival architecture and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.


    1. This is a terrific product and great effort!
      It was just exactly what I was looking for.
      Many thanks! Helen Sandalls

      1. Thanks Helen. If you by any chance have access to the plaque text that I was unable to transcribe, and/or photos of those sites that you'd like to share, I'd be more than happy to upload these.

    2. Can you tell me when the L. Lewis County was in operation? I have some China that indicates it was manufactured for them, and am trying to find an approximate date range. Great website!