How to Download a Walking Tour of Torrington

The Torrington Historical Society has put together an interesting walking tour of downtown Torrington. In Colonial Times downtown Torrington was known as Mast Swamp. It was a low-lying, wet area covered with massive pines and hemlocks that were claimed as ship masts for England’s Royal Navy. The land in Mast Swamp was divided among Torrington’s early settlers and most of the trees were sawn into lumber at Wilson’s Sawmill (1751) on the upper end of Water Street. Few, if any, became ship masts. Torrington’s downtown was built here because the Naugatuck River supplied water power for mills and factories in an era before steam power and electricity. A woolen mill was built on lower Water Street by Frederick Wolcott in 1813. This mill brought workers to the river valley and a village of stores and homes sprang up around it. The village became known as Wolcottville and would continue to grow into the urban center that we now call downtown Torrington.

Immigration from Europe greatly expanded Torrington’s population between 1870 and 1900. During that time most of Wolcottville’s wooden buildings were replaced with more fire-resistant brick structures. In the decades that followed, buildings were built or remodeled in the popular Art Deco, Art Moderne, and Colonial Revival styles. Along the streets of downtown Torrington, you will see the work of architects, builders, and property owners who have created a unique sense of place. Today, many of these historic buildings are home to arts and cultural
organizations that are breathing new life into downtown Torrington. For your printable walking tour of Torrington visit https://www.torringtonhistoricalsociety.org/virtual-walking-tour.html

A few of the highlights include the following

1. HOTCHKISS-FYLER HOUSE, 1900 192 Main Street Built-in 1900, before the automobile arrived here, the Hotchkiss-Fyler House typifies an era when stately homes were built within walking distance of downtown. This house was built for Orsamus and Mary Fyler. Mr. Fyler was a Civil War veteran and had a notable business and political career. The house was designed in a Queen Anne, “chateauesque” style and was constructed by Hotchkiss Brothers Company of Torrington. In 1956, Fyler’s daughter, Gertrude Hotchkiss, donated the home to the Torrington
Historical Society for use as a museum. The home remains furnished as it was during Mrs. Hotchkiss’ lifetime.

2. The Brick Academy, 4 George Street – This is the oldest building in the downtown historic district. It is now a private residence and it is an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture. By 1835, downtown was expanding with new businesses and homes and this school was constructed to serve the growing school-age population. Typical of the Greek Revival style, the gable end with its triangular pediment faces the street. The Greek Revival style was popularized in America during the early nineteenth century when Americans looked beyond traditional English architecture and politics to the pure forms and ideals of ancient Greek democracy

3. ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI CHURCH, 1887 168 Main Street. Irish immigrants began arriving in Torrington around 1845. Roman Catholic religious services were first held in Irish homes until a wooden church was built on this site in 1859. As Torrington’s Irish-Catholic population grew, so did the need for a larger church. The present Gothic-style church with its 151-foot steeple was built to replace the wooden church that once stood here. Shortly thereafter, the parish constructed a rectory, two brick school buildings behind the church and a convent.

4. CENTER CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, 1867
155 Main Street
Although not the first church on this site, the present Center Congregational Church is one
of the older buildings in downtown Torrington. The Congregational Church built a wood-framed meeting house on this site in 1829. It was replaced with the present Gothic Revival
style church built of local granite in 1867. The parish house with its distinctive square tower
was added in 1899. Tragedy struck in 1979 when an arsonist set fire to the church and
destroyed all but the solid granite walls. Although the interior of the church is modern, the
building retains its historical appearance and significance.

5. TORRINGTON SAVINGS BANK, 1938
129 Main Street
This bank building as well as the Torrington City Hall (1936) across the street
were designed by Torrington architect Carl Victor Johnson. Both buildings
show the influence of the Colonial Revival Movement. The bank also
incorporates classical influences such as the triangular pediment above the
second floor. The bank also shares several stylistic elements with the
Torrington National Bank which was built twenty years earlier on Prospect
Street. The Torrington Savings Bank was established in 1868. Until this
building was built, the bank was located in the Granite Block, which at one
time stood opposite the Warner Theatre.

6. CONLEY’S INN, 1891
93 Main Street
When Conley’s Inn opened in 1891, it was billed as “equal to
any in Connecticut.” Frank Conley had been a hotel keeper in
Philadelphia when he entertained a group of men from
Torrington. These businessmen saw a need for a first-class hotel
to boost Torrington’s image and convinced Conley to relocate
here. The original hotel had 52 rooms and was thoroughly
Victorian. During World War I, a large demand for surgical
needles prompted Torrington Company officials to recruit workers
from outside Torrington. A shortage of housing led the company
to purchase Conley’s Inn in 1918. Two years later, a large
three-story addition was constructed to serve as a boarding
house for female employees. A Tudor-style pub called the Yankee
Pedlar was added along Maiden Lane in 1940. In 1956, the name of the
hotel itself was changed to the Yankee Pedlar Inn.

MERTZ DEPARTMENT STORE, 1930
84-94 Main Street
The W.W. Mertz Company operated Torrington’s premier
department store in a period when locally-owned department
stores were the anchor and pride of America’s Main Streets.
This pride was reflected in both the quality of merchandise as
well as in the design of the building itself. The façade of the
Mertz building is a fine example of modernistic architecture
in Torrington. Designed by Torrington architect William E.
Hunt, the building displays intricate geometric details made
of cut Indiana limestone and a front entry surrounded by
smooth, dark green Vermont marble. The retail business was
established by Walter S. Lewis who built a Victorian-era
commercial building on the site. After the death of Lewis, the
business was taken over by his son-in-law, W. W. Mertz who greatly expanded
the floor space and built the modernistic façade. It is now owned by the
Warner Theatre.

CONLEY’S INN, 1891 (YANKEE PEDLAR INN)
93 Main Street
When Conley’s Inn opened in 1891, it was billed as “equal to
any in Connecticut.” Frank Conley had been a hotel keeper in
Philadelphia when he entertained a group of men from
Torrington. These businessmen saw a need for a first-class hotel
to boost Torrington’s image and convinced Conley to relocate
here. The original hotel had 52 rooms and was thoroughly
Victorian. During World War I, a large demand for surgical
needles prompted Torrington Company officials to recruit workers
from outside Torrington. A shortage of housing led the company
to purchase Conley’s Inn in 1918. Two years later, a large
three-story addition was constructed to serve as a boarding
house for female employees. A Tudor-style pub called the Yankee
Pedlar was added along Maiden Lane in 1940. In 1956, the name of the
hotel itself was changed to the Yankee Pedlar Inn.

WARNER THEATRE, 1931
68 Main Street
Built by Warner Brothers, the Warner Theatre replaced several Victorian-era, brick, commercial
blocks on the east side of Main Street. Construction began in 1930 and the theatre opened on
August 19, 1931. Designed by noted theatre architect Thomas Lamb, the Warner incorporates
many modernistic design concepts of the period both on the exterior façade and in the interior
finishing. Lamb’s aim was to create an atmosphere of “compelling abandon and relaxation” for
the spectator. The theatre operated primarily as a movie palace until 1981 when it closed. There
was talk of turning it into a parking lot when, in 1982, a group of preservationists and theatre
enthusiasts spearheaded a grassroots fundraising campaign to purchase this landmark and create
a performing arts center. The theatre is operated by the Northwest Connecticut Association for the
Arts which has completed the theatre’s exterior and interior restoration.

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BUILDING, 1916
56-66 Main Street
The original Neo-Classical architecture of this building and its recent restoration and
rehabilitation represent the aspirations of two successful organizations in two separate
centuries. The original three-story brick building was built by James Mallette, who came to
Torrington as a stable boy and became Torrington’s leading real estate developer and financier.
His strong support for the Chamber of Commerce led him to construct this substantial building,
in part, as a home for their operations. The building is now the headquarters of the Nutmeg
Conservatory and the Nutmeg Ballet, who have rehabilitated the original structure, adding a
new first-floor façade and a soaring glass-and-steel dance studio to the rear of the building.

ALLEN BUILDING, 1930, 1935
42 Main Street
This building is another fine example of modernistic architecture by Torrington architect
William E. Hunt (see also Mertz Building). The northernmost part of the building was built
in 1930 adjacent to a nineteenth-century wood-frame hotel on the corner. The hotel,
known as the Allen House, was severely damaged by fire in 1934 and demolished to
make way for the rest of this building (1935) that wraps around the corner. As a whole,
the building is a significant modernistic statement in an important commercial location.

LILLEY BLOCK #2, 1896
11-21 Main Street
This building is an elegant example of a type of commercial block built in American cities at the turn of the century. These mixed-use buildings often contained first floor stores with apartments above which gave cities a resident population to support a variety of businesses. The third story arched windows and arched
brickwork of the cornice identify this building as Victorian Romanesque
Revival. Waterbury developer George Lilley built this commercial block in
1896, 13 years before becoming governor of Connecticut. Lilley purchased
most of the property between Water Street and the river after an 1894 fire
destroyed the Turner and Seymour Manufacturing Company buildings on
this site. Between 1896 and 1912, Lilley built four commercial buildings
along Main and Water Streets.

VENETIAN RESTAURANT, 1844, 1901
50-52 East Main Street
The Venetian building showcases several architectural styles
as well as the history of two prominent immigrant groups,
Germans and Italians. The rear portion of the Venetian is a
wood frame building constructed in 1844 as a store and
dwelling. It is probably the oldest structure in the commercial
district. The neo-classical masonry addition on the front of
the building was built around 1898 by German immigrants
William Witzke and Oscar Stoeckert who operated a saloon.
At this time, many of the businesses on East Main Street
were owned and operated by people of German descent.
Meanwhile, Torrington’s Italian population was growing and,
in 1925, the building was purchased by Charles Giampaolo
who opened an Italian restaurant and named it the Venetian.
In 1930, the façade and interior were remodeled with the
addition of art deco glass block, a classic neon sign, and
interior murals of Venice.

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