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Historic Districts

Celebrating Branford's Architectural Heritage

by John Herzan

Branford's sense of place is the culmination of 350 years of settlement and re-development within the town's 27 square miles. A rich and varied past can be read in Branford's architecture as well its town histories. Buildings tell a story, yet it is easy to take them for granted until the bulldozer is at the door.

In 1983 the Architectural Preservation Trust of Branford was formed to identify and recognize the historic resources of the town through listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The trust identified about 800 buildings throughout the town from which four National Register districts were formed reflecting   nearly every period of the town's historical development, as described below.

The Branford Center Historic District, roughly bounded by Route 1, the Branford River, and Monroe and Kirkham Street, was the focus of early community life. Originally part of the New Haven Colony, the Town of Branford was settled in 1644 by a group of English settlers recruited from Wethersfield by the leaders of New Haven. The colony thrived due to productive cropland and it’s located on the Branford River, which provided the only deep harbor between New Haven and New London. This district’s buildings, streets, waterfront, and open space form a cohesive example of an 18th century Connecticut farming/maritime village which developed over the course of the 19th century into the core of a small coastal town dominated by an industrial based economy. The district’s focal point is the Town Green with its old Academy and monumental public buildings. The area surrounding the green includes relatively well preserved commercial, residential and public buildings illustrating various 19th and 20th century architectural styles.

The Branford Point Historic District located principally along Harbor and Maple streets and on Bryan Road, documents the development of residential architecture in Branford between the Revolutionary and Second World Wars. Once a successful coastal farming area which retained its strong rural character well into the early 19th century, the district now contains many well-preserved examples of 19th and 20th century styles of construction, including late Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts/Bungalow, Shingle and Colonial Revival.

The Stony Creek/Thimble Islands Historic District and the Route 146 Historic District, each located in the southeast corner of Branford, possesses related historical significance. Both areas originally comprised a thinly settled coastal farming district. Route 146 still recalls that era because of its intact rural character. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Stony Creek evolved as a notable Connecticut summer colony and as a center for a small but profitable commercial quarrying industry. Stony Creek and the Thimble Islands contain striking examples of Victorian resort architecture as well as vernacular housing which served quarry workers.

The fourth district is a thematic nomination, Colonial Houses of Branford, which records the best preserved examples of residential architecture (C. 1700 TO C.1820), each of which is an important link to Branford’s origins as a farming community and active seaport. An example is the Harrison House on West Main Street (headquarters of the Branford Historical Society). Although no buildings from the 17th century survive in town; an unusually high number exists from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The most recent addition to Branfords Historic Districts is the Short Beach District. Short Beach is a quiet and compact shoreline community in the Town of Branford which began as a seasonal destination during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of its distinctive natural featues and recreational opportunities. Geographically, it is nestled along Granite Bay in Long Island Sound at the southwest corner of town. The development of Short Beach as a waterfront recreational area is reflected in the built environment. Of the 203 resources included within the district the majority are minimally ornamented, wood-frame buildings oriented towards the water. There are also four beaches, a network of stone walls, seawalls and a boathouse foundation that all contribute to district. and create the distinct sense of place found in the Short Beach community.  

The burst of preservation consciousness that led to inventorying and registering Branford’s historic resources will not be effective unless town government agencies, local groups, and private citizens factor historic preservation into all levels of decision making. It seems appropriate on the occasion of Branford’s 350th anniversary not only to remind ourselves of historical achievements but also to reconsider what we are doing to ensure the preservation of Branford’s treasured buildings and neighborhoods for future generations.

Further information on preservation programs is available from the Connecticut Historical Commission, 59 South Prospect Street, Hartford, Ct.06106, telephone 860-566-3005

Last Updated: Thu, 12/03/2020 - 12:00pm