The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society has brought back the West Hartford House Tour, featuring six beautiful and historic Farmington Avenue homes.
By Ronni Newton
“Not just a pretty house” is once again the theme of the West Hartford House Tour sponsored by the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, and in addition to viewing six homes on the western end of Farmington Avenue, participants in the tour will learn about the history of the neighborhood, the architecture, and the former residents who chose to make this town their home.
The tour will be held on Nov. 12, and feature six homes along Farmington Avenue west of the Center, between Pleasant Street and Garfield Road. But although all line the same roadway, each is distinct and unique in its size, shape, and history.
The newest house on the tour is two years shy of its 100th birthday, and the oldest was built in 1893. All were built as private residences, with architectural styles that include three Colonial Revival homes and a Victorian. Two are Shingle-style, somewhat unusual in West Hartford, said Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society Executive Director Jennifer DiCola Matos
“All have a certain character, and the type of charm to them that West Hartford is known for,” she said.
The response to last year’s house tour was overwhelmingly positive, Matos said. The plan was to sell 200 tickets, but 350 attended and she hopes to have that many again. Incorporating the history of the homes and the neighborhood was an attraction for the homeowners as well as the attendees, she said.
A strong theme of this year’s house tour is how the current residents have maintained the integrity of their historic homes while adapting them to a modern lifestyle, said historian and Noah Webster House trustee Mary Donohue, who did much of the background research on the six homes and the neighborhood.
The homes are occupied by a diverse group of modern families, said Donohue, who are single, married with toddlers, tweens, and teens, and retired.
Five of the six homes have additions. “The fronts remain historically intact but on the backs are additions that carefully complement the historical elements,” said Donohue.
Other modern lifestyle accommodations include incorporating the outside as part of the living area, and repurposing rooms for new purposes. One house has a small front room turned into an office, one homeowner uses the formal dining room as a TV room, and another has created a pool room out of an extra bedroom on the second floor.
“Bathrooms need to be updated, but several [homeowners] have kept the tile but updated the fixtures,” Donohue said.
The houses along Farmington Avenue really tell the story of Farmington Avenue, Matos said of the neighborhood which evolved along with the trolley line that once ran down the center of the roadway. “It really led to the area’s development,” said Matos.
The horse-drawn trolley service, which operated between Hartford and Unionville, launched in 1889. According to the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, when the trolley was electrified 10 years later, it took 25 minutes to travel from West Hartford to downtown Hartford.
The presence of the trolley was integral to the spread of development west along Farmington Avenue, with homes being built on streets like Westland Avenue, LeMay Street, Sunset Terrace, Wardwell Road, and Garfield Road early in the 20th Century.
Over the years the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society has hosted many house tours, but never in this particular part of town, Donohue said. “It’s really virgin territory to research.”
What Donohue has discovered is that the homes on the tour represent a real slice of everyday life in West Hartford, and were constructed by a diverse group of builders for an equally diverse group of occupants including insurance industry employees, manufacturers, laborers, soldiers, charity workers, and socialites.
The Victorian at 1130 Farmington Ave. was originally a workingman’s cottage, belonging to the foreman of an ice company who was also a farmer.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Anne and Jim Carroll’s 5,000 square foot Colonial Revival, built in 1913. Anne Carroll, a historical home enthusiast, said that after attending last year’s tour she was excited to participate this year and open her home to support the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.
Donohue said that Anne Carroll grew up around the corner and had always admired the house and wanted to live there. “She bought it as soon as it went on the market,” said Donohue, and has lived there for nearly 30 years.
Carroll retained the home’s original lighting and woodwork, maintaining its grandeur. “It was meant to be an impressive house, and it is,” Donohue said.
The home at 1087 Farmington Ave. was purchased in 2012 by West Hartford’s former mayor, Scott Slifka, and his wife Noelle. The Shingle-style house was built as a single-family home, but in 1956 was renovated to have a doctor’s office on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors.
The Slifka’s renovations have focused on returning the home to a single-family residence, and Donohue said visitors will appreciate the grand staircase, woodwork, and floors, quality craftsmanship in a home the builder originally constructed for his own use.
The first floor has now been stripped of the doctor’s office, but the kitchen has not yet been renovated, Donohue said. She said they are taking the approach of living in the house for a while to get a feel for it before undertaking the project.
The tour’s oldest home, 1077 Farmington Ave., is set back on a cul-de-sac. While not as noticeable from the road as the other homes, many may recognize it from a 2014 episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters.”
The six houses on this year’s West Hartford House Tour are:
- 1077 Farmington Ave., 1893, Shingle style. Built by George Hersey.
- 1087 Farmington Ave., 1908, Shingle style. Built by Henry A. B. Day.
- 1110 Farmington Ave. 1913, Colonial Revival. Built by Clarence F. and Annie B. Catlin.
- 1130 Farmington Ave., 1899, Victorian. Built by William E. and Grace H. Hayes.
- 1156 Farmington Ave., 1917, Colonial Revival. Built by Lincoln S. and Margaret M. Hickmott.
- 1159 Farmington Ave., 1919, Colonial Revival. Built by Willis O. Hart.
Tickets for the West Hartford House Tour are $30 in advance ($25 for museum members) or $35 at the door.
The museum will host a reception following the tour at Savoy Pizzeria & Craft Bar on LaSalle Road. Matos said that Managing Partner Dante Cistulli, who has been nominated for the Connecticut Restaurant Association’s Rising Star of the Year award, will be serving up hors d’oeuvres, charcuterie, and his signature wood-fired. Fountain drinks are included and the cash bar will feature a signature cocktail. Tickets to the reception are $20, and must be purchased in advance, either in addition to the House Tour or on their own.
For tickets and additional information visit noahwebster.yapsody.com.
The West Hartford House Tour will be held on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, from noon to 4 p.m., rain or shine. Advance ticket holders can begin the tour at any of the residences and visit them in any order they wish. Tickets will be available the day of the event outside of 1110 Farmington Ave.
The West Hartford House Tour is a fundraiser to benefit the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. Silver sponsors are J.P. Carroll Construction and Billie Reese, Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. Additional museum support comes from the Greater Hartford Arts Council and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
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