March 06, 2012

Thanks FDR! - WPA photo of the Enos Kellogg Homestead

A few months ago I received an email via the Norwalk Historical Society announcing that the Connecticut State Library had begun providing online access to the state's Works Progress Administration (WPA) archives.  As you probably already know, the WPA was a Depression-era governmental agency that was charged with providing job opportunities for unemployed American workers.  In addition to constructing roads and buildings, the WPA oversaw efforts in the arts (including a mural program, one of the premier collections of which is located here in Norwalk) and even ventured into the realm of historic preservation.  As part of this New Deal program, starting in 1934, a small group undertook the creation of a "Census of Old Buildings in Connecticut."  The surveys provided written documentation of what were deemed to be historic buildings in the state, and the census takers frequently supplemented their field notes with photos.

WPA Mural - "The Purchase of Norwalk" by Harry Townsend
Of course, as soon as I heard that this WPA survey was available online, I had to check it out.  Having assumed that my house was too modest and out of the way to have been included in the survey, I was amazed to see an image of the Enos Kellogg House as the third building listed in the archive.

WPA Photo: 1935-1942
As you can see, the house really has not changed much over the past 75 or so years.  The only real difference is the elimination of the small window to the left of the front door, which was certainly not original to the house.  Even the grass in the yard looks as shabby as it currently does!

The very sketchy notes that accompany the file are unfortunately of interest primarily for their inaccuracy.  The WPA surveyor dated the house to 1740 (whoops) and the stone barn across the street to 1690 (bigger whoops).  The writer does state that the part of the original farm that is located across our street, including one of the farm's timber framed barns and the stone barn, was part of the town of New Canaan, rather than Norwalk.  I guess that the town line was subsequently moved, given that the property across the street is now part of Norwalk. 

The survey also misidentifies the original builder of the house as a Comstock, which is an understandable mistake given that the house descended in the Comstock family after Enos' daughter, Esther, married into that family.

Otherwise, there are a few words of description of the home's architectural details, but nothing particularly enlightening.  Still, I was psyched to have another old photo of the house from a point in time on which we have little pictorial documentation.





2 comments:

  1. Adelaide in IllinoisMarch 7, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    What a stunning find! The house looks wonderful, even the non-original little window by the front door. They had lost the porch (pictured in your oxen photo) by then.

    It is interesting that your house is a 4 bay design (4 windows on top; a door and 3 windows on the bottom.) Although that design is not uncommon for 18th century houses in Southwestern CT, it seems rare to non-existent in other parts of New England.

    In the 1980's I searched by was not sucessful in finding anything written about the subject. Have you found anything?

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  2. I've spoken with architectural historians about the four bay design, but haven't read anything about it. As you say, it seems to be one of those quirky design elements that is fairly unique to this part of Connecticut. I guess the more stringent adherence to symmetrical window and door placements just didn't take take precedence over cost savings here, particulalty out in the "country" of West Norwalk.

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