Sources for Research on Historic Properties in Connecticut


Goodspeed Opera House, East Hampton, Connecticut, from the Connecticut Historic Preservation Collection, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Goodspeed Opera House, East Hampton, Connecticut, from the Connecticut Historic Preservation Collection, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.

The architectural surveys in the Connecticut Historic Preservation Collection are a tremendous source for those who are researching historic properties in the state, and one of our most regularly requested collections here in the archives. But there are several other ways to find information about historic properties, including:

The Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress:

The National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places:

The Connecticut State Library’s database of 1930s WPA Architectural Surveys/Census of Old Buildings in Connecticut:

List of Historic National Landmarks in Connecticut:

Let me know if you know of others so that I can add them to the list.

Documentation studies — a wealth of information about Connecticut’s historical properties

There are few sources as rich in information about the state’s historical properties as the Connecticut Historic Preservation Collection (CHPC).  While its architectural surveys for about two-thirds of Connecticut’s 169 towns and over 1800 archaeological surveys are worthy of discussion, the documentation studies will be the focus of attention in today’s blog post.

Former White Tower Restaurant at 123 East Main Street, Waterbury, Connecticut. Photograph taken by Geoffrey Rossano, 2001.

Documentation studies are generated when a federal or state-funded project has to take into account its affects on historical archeaological resources. The studies document the “before” structure or when changes in the structure mitigate adverse effects of changing or destroying the building. If the building is considered irreplaceable or very important historically then the State Historic Preservation Office decides whether or not to allow the project to proceed. 

White Tower Restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1930 (as the Waterbury restaurant would have looked in its heyday)
Industrial historian Geoffrey Rossano conducted a historical overview and assessment of current conditions of the former White Tower Restaurant, built in 1935, in Waterbury, Connecticut, in August 2001.  The report gives extensive information not only about this particular property in Waterbury, but also shows how the property was significant to the formation of White Tower restaurants (a copycat from the more famous White Castle chain), and to the history of fast-food service in the United States.  The survey tells us about the history of the neighborhood of East Main Street, and how the structure, possibly the last surviving example in the U.S. when the study was done in 2001, was an example of  “the ‘kitschy’ vernacular commercial architecture that has appeared throughout the [20th] century.” 
My fellow librarian Norma Holmquist, who works at the UConn Waterbury campus library, verified for me that the old White Tower building at 123 East Main Street is no longer standing.  Thanks, Norma!  Located on that spot is the Coop bookstore for the UConn Waterbury campus library (that information is courtesy of Janet Swift, another Waterbury campus librarian — thanks, Janet!). 
This documentation study is just one of hundreds in the CHPC, with historical details about many properties that held a special place in their towns and cities across the state.  For more information about the contents of the collection, visit the listing at
Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collection

James Klar Photograph of the Old Saybrook switch tower

Old Saybrook, Connecticut, switch tower, on the New Haven Railroad. Photograph taken by James S. Klar, 1975.

James S. Klar spent his working life as a city planner, but his first love was photography. After he retired he indulged in his passion full-time, and received training in photography techniques. In 1975 he received a grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts to photograph 75 railroad stations in southern New England for an exhibition. This photograph of the Old Saybrook Interlocking, or switch, tower, was taken on June 10, 1975, for the exhibition.

James Klar died in 1985 and in 1990 his wife Marjorie donated the photographs from the exhibition to the Railroad History Archive at the Dodd Research Center. The photographs show exquisite details of old railroad stations and structures, many of them dilapidated.

The interlocking tower in Old Saybrook was built in 1912, for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. An interlocking, or switch, tower was an important feature for railroad safety. It allowed the tower operator to communicate with railroad personnel about train movements, and to control junction switches and signals with a bank of levers on the second floor. In the 1920s the mechanical interlocking was replaced by banks of electrical relays, which were replaced by pneumatic assists. By the 1970s changes in dispatching technology rendered the tower obsolete and it was closed. The tower was razed in June 1998.

This photograph of the switching levers on the second floor of the tower was taken in 1997 by Robert Brewster when it was recorded for a Historic American Buildings Survey, which you can find in the Connecticut Historic Preservation Collection at the Dodd Research Center.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections