Arts and Leisure

Flashback Photos: Ithiel Town Revives Greek Architecture and Covered Bridges

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The Bath-Haverhill Bridge in Grafton County, N.H. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The Bath-Haverhill Bridge in Grafton County, N.H. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

New England would look a lot different today if Ithiel Town hadn’t created covered truss bridges and Greek Revival architecture.

He was an architect as well as a builder who popularized the Greek Revival style in the early 19th century, though he also worked in the Federalist and Gothic styles.

He was born in Thompson, Conn., on Oct. 3, 1784, to Archelaus and Martha Johnson Town. He studied with Asher Benjamin in Boston. His first known commission was the Asa Gray House in 1810.

Asa Gray House. Photo by By George M. Cushing, photographer. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Asa Gray House. Photo by By George M. Cushing, photographer. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The house, built in the Federal style, was built in Cambridge, Mass., for the first head of the Harvard botanic garden. Asa Gray, the most important American botanist of the 19th century, lived in the house later on, as did English ornithologist Thomas Nuttall. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Samuel Wadsworth Russell House. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Samuel Wadsworth Russell House. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1828, he designed the Samuel Wadsworth Russell House  in Middletown, Conn., for Samuel Russell, founder of the largest American trading house in China. The house set a new standard for luxury and grandeur and also helped launch the Greek Revival style of architecture in the United States.

Wadsworth Atheneum by Carol Highsmith. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Wadsworth Atheneum by Carol Highsmith. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The next year, Ithiel Town and Andrew Jackson Davis formed one of the country’s first architectural firms. They designed the state capitol in New Haven and, in Hartford, City Hall and the Wadsworth Atheneum.

Ithiel Town Trinity_Church_on_the_Green,_New_Haven,_circa_1865_(photograph)

One of Town's most important early works was Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, Conn. Built from 1814-16, it was one of the first Gothic Revival churches in the United States.

The Skinner-Trowbridge House. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The Skinner-Trowbridge House. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Town built a number of mansions, including his own, on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven. Charles Dickens called it 'the most beautiful street in America.'  It was part of a development by James Hillhouse, a congressman and Yale's treasurer for 50 years. . He laid out a road and planted elm trees along it. Houses had to be set back 50 feet from the street and homeowners had to hire a leading architect to design their homes. Aaron Skinner commissioned Town to build the house above. Yale bought it in 1978 and restored it for the  International Center for Finance.

Interior of the Contoocook Railroad Bridge showing the Town lattice truss. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Interior of the Contoocook Railroad Bridge showing the Town lattice truss. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Ithiel Town was an engineer as well as an architect. In 1820 he received the patent for a wooden truss bridge known as Town’s Lattice Truss.  It used criss-crossing diagonal planks fastened to the top and the bottom of the structure, which eliminated the need for large, expensive timbers. The Bath-Haverhill Bridge is the oldest existing Town lattice truss, and one of the oldest covered bridges in the country. It was in service for 170 years until it was bypassed in 1999.

Ithiel Town died on June 13, 1844.

 

 

 

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Diane Gingras

    October 4, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Very cool Donna Bogdanowicz Godzik

  2. Bernadette Quercia

    October 4, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    I found this so interesting…I googled Ithiel Town and discovered that upon his death, “in his will, he provided for an annuity for his aged mother, who married a Tourtellot (sic) after the death of Archelaus Town, his father.” Very interesting…and makes me realize that I don’t know enough about my hometown…

  3. Pingback: Six Covered Bridges - New England Historical Society

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