REPRINTS


Lakeview – A Housing Development With Long-Term Appeal
By Susan Barlow

In 2005, the Manchester Historical Society led a walking tour of the Lakeview section of town. Many participants expressed surprise that such an area exists right off South Main Street. They hadn't previously visited Arvine Place and Comstock Road, the two principal streets of the 1920s subdivision.

It's easy to drive right past Lakeview, without seeing the curving streets and charming houses, sandwiched between Spring Street and Comstock Road. The streets, with their old-fashioned grass triangles at the intersections, are somewhat hidden from view if you drive too quickly along Route 83/South Main.

The "Lake" that the area overlooks is actually Globe Hollow Reservoir, with its pretty causeway that you can drive along to get to the golf course, and beyond that into Glastonbury.

Lakeview was "platted," in 1925 – that is, the plat or map of proposed streets and house-lots was made. According to a 1998 Historic Resources Inventory (Connecticut Historical Commission), the development was considered part of the "growing automobile suburbs, usually situated near the community's principal roads…During the 1920s and 1930s, many Manchester residents occupied new homes…in the 'Lakeview' subdivision…which had emerged as an enclave of large suburban homes situated just north of the newly opened Manchester Country Club."

Homeowners bought the lots and then built a variety of houses of "attractive types, including Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial, and Picturesque English Cottage examples." Architectural features include decorative brickwork, molded eaves and cornices, wooden porch columns, and interesting window surrounds.

Restrictions

Lakeview's deeds had "restrictions," a common practice at the time. In the 1920s and 1930s, advertisements touted "restricted home sites," ostensibly to protect new homeowners from neighbors who wanted to conduct commercial activities, open a gas station, or build chicken coops in the backyard.

A Lakeview deed dated September 27, 1939, says, "No noxious or offensive trade shall be carried on upon said premises objectionable to the neighborhood." To maintain the upper-middle-class atmosphere, the deed bans houses from sprawling too close to the road, "No building shall be erected on said land whose front foundation line is less than 30 feet back from the street line…. Not more than one dwelling is to be constructed on this lot to cost less than $6500.00 and no dwelling is to be erected to house more than one family." These clauses presaged Manchester's zoning regulations enacted in 1938, and subdivision regulations, in 1943.

However, not all the restrictions were so innocuous, and couched in a "first offer" clause is a method of preventing "undesirables" from purchasing house lots: "...provision that in case the said Grantee herein desires to sell the above described land, they shall first offer the same for sale to other owners of lots in said 'Lakeview Tract.'" This was a mechanism to approve or disapprove of potential purchasers, possibly discriminating against people of color or the "wrong" religion or whatever the other owners might object to. Deeds such as this can be found in the archives of Town Hall, but the "approval" restrictions have long since been found unconstitutional, and the "chicken coop" clauses have been superseded by zoning and other regulations.

C. Elmore Watkins

On the lower left of the Lakeview plat (see picture), is the inscription, "Property of C.E. & F.E. Watkins." Watkins is a familiar name in Manchester: C. Elmore's father, Clarence Watkins, incorporated the Manchester Trust Company, served as the town's First Selectman and as a State legislator, and constructed large buildings along Main Street. Clarence and his brother Ernest started an undertaking business in 1874 and later took over the furniture department of the Cheney general store. (It was not uncommon to combine the furniture and undertaking businesses – another example is the North End's Apel Opera House, where Conrad Apel also operated a saloon and auditorium for traveling vaudeville shows). Many local homes have furniture purchased at Watkins Brothers Furniture store, formerly at 935 Main Street.

C. Elmore Watkins [1882-March 5, 1976], Clarence's son, joined his uncle, F.E., right after college to manage the many aspects of the furniture business. In the 1923 book "Who's Who in Manchester, Connecticut," author Thomas J. Quish lauds C. Elmore's work: "In 1920, the beautiful new store, recently voted in a nation-wide poll the finest small town furniture store in the United States, was built under Mr. Watkins' personal direction…It was Mr. Watkins who suggested a hospital as the proper memorial [to World War I veterans]. He was subsequently elected chairman of the Building Committee, overseeing the construction of the hospital building, and later was made president of the Board of Trustees, which office he still holds. Mr. Watkins is also a director of the Savings Bank of Manchester, president of the Life and Advent Union, vice-president of the Tufts College of Connecticut, also a member of the University Club of Hartford and the Manchester Country Club and Manchester Chamber of Commerce."

C.E. somehow found time to develop Lakeview, too. In laying out the plat, he and F.E. strove for an expansive, but homey, subdivision.

On the other side of South Main Street, Watkins later developed the Lakewood Circle subdivision, but that's another story for another time.

Ireanus Brown House

Intermixed with the Lakeview development are older houses – notably 211 South Main Street, the Comstock House, circa 1830-1840; and 189 South Main Street, circa 1752, the oldest standing house in Manchester. #189 is a handsome gambrel-roofed house, whose original owner is not known and so it goes by the name of a later owner, Ireanus Brown (1780-1873), supposedly a Colonel in the First Regiment of Connecticut infantry from 1822 to 1824. Former Town Historian Herb Bengtson couldn't verify Brown's military rank and was reluctant to call him Colonel Brown. Also unauthenticated is the Underground Railroad designation for the hidden compartment under the stairs. Ireanus Brown was one of the founders of Manchester's Baptist church, which met at his house before they had a church building.

Coincidentally, Ireanus's progeny lent their names to Lakeview's streets: Comstock Street from his daughter Leonora (1808-1897), who married Joseph Comstock; Arvine Place from his granddaughter Alice Jane (1847-?), who married Earliss Arvine.

A Mix

Interspersed with 1920s-era Lakeview houses are some newer houses, built in the 1950s to 1980s. They fit in with the older houses, maintaining the small-village motif.

Bucks Corner Store, 182 South Main, dates from 1843. It no longer sells bread, milk, and canned peas, as it did in the Buck family's day. And the owners of the current enterprise, a pizza emporium, probably don't live in the back as the Bucks did, serving customers when goods were needed during off-hours.

Also on the west side of South Main Street is the 1764 Watkins homestead, and two other Watkins houses, built in 1895 and 1904.

There are also some old worker houses, built for Globe Mill employees, along Lewis and Spring Streets. Some have been modified extensively, but the ones at 41 Lewis and 43 Spring retain their charming look of yesteryear.

The Old and New South School

An attractive feature for Lakeview was the nearby elementary school. The original wooden structure, believed to have been built in 1791, was replaced in 1922 by a brick school with such modern comforts as electricity, central heat, and indoor plumbing. Children from the new development could walk to school, and probably make it home for lunch and back without arriving late. Today the popular Lutz Children's occupies the "new" school.

Residents Then and Now

Among the residents in the 1920s and 1930s were Amos Friend, M.D., ear-nose-and-throat specialist; R. LaMotte Russell, treasurer of the Savings Bank of Manchester; Parker Soren, general manager of the Manchester Electric Company; Susan Gammons, President of Gammons-Holman Co., tool manufacturers, of 395 Main Street; and various business executives who commuted to Hartford.

Today the neighborhood continues to attract professional and artistic people who work in both Manchester and other towns – residents who keep up their yards and gardens, and who continue the tradition of an appealing Lakeview.


           

Susan Barlow serves on the board of directors of the Manchester Historical Society and leads walks in Manchester and nearby towns.