Litchfield During the Colonial Revival

The Litchfield train station, canoeing on
Bantam Lake and the Hotel Berkshire.
BY THE 1840s, WATER, power, and railroads had become critical components in the growth of manufacturing. Industries by-passed Litchfield’s hilltop location in favor of the valley towns, and the village settled into a sleepy rural existence.

In 1872, the Shepaug Railroad opened a passenger spur into Litchfield, paving the way for the town’s re-emergence as a resort community. In the last decades of the 19th century and into the early years of the 20th century, Litchfield and nearby Bantam Lake offered over a dozen well appointed hotels with modern conveniences. Visitors discovered a town that industry and economic prosperity had passed by. Litchfield retained the look of an earlier era, with its 18th and early 19th century homes still lining the streets of a small and quiet town. Wealthy New Yorkers purchased many of the old homes in the center of town and added new houses to the community as they sought a seasonal escape from the city.

Members of the Village Improvement Society, or VIS, worked tirelessly to modernize the community with streetlights, sidewalks, and other amenities. Yet they also looked backward as they refurbished their homes and businesses to fit their ideal of colonial architecture. This dramatic pair of photographs shows one local house before and after it was renovated during the Colonial revival.

In the last years of the 19th century, Litchfield’s abundance of early homes fit in well with the country’s growing interest in its past. The town embraced the colonial revival movement, transforming itself into an idealized vision of the colonial past. Colonial, federal and Victorian era homes were renovated to capture a vision of traditional architecture loosely based on the most elegant styles of the colonial and federal periods. At the same time, a local Village Improvement Society was founded to modernize the town’s infrastructure. By 1915, the VIS had constructed sidewalks, installed street lamps, established regular trash removal, enlarged and improved the village green, planted trees and purchased a clock for the courthouse tower.