Signs of old times: Hubbard Heights posts proof of historic past
STAMFORD — In Hubbard Heights, the icing is officially on the cake.
After an arduous effort to earn recognition from the National Park Service, signs heralding the neighborhood’s century-old architecture now are posted.
“Hubbard Heights Historic District,” read the vintage-style, pole-top markers. “Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
One sign is on Hubbard Avenue and the other on Bridge Street — the edges of the neighborhood. A third will be installed in the spring somewhere mid-neighborhood, said Andie Jodko, secretary of the Hubbard Heights Association, which formed in 1960 with an aim to protect the neighborhood.
“This puts a really nice bow” on the national designation, Jodko said. “Now you can see when you drive into the neighborhood that there is history here.”
It’s remarkable for Stamford, a city known for relinquishing historic structures to developers, which the National Park Service noted in its certification of Hubbard Heights.
“The district is locally unique as a rare surviving, early middle-class neighborhood,” the document reads. It “maintains its feeling … as an early 20th-century neighborhood.”
Hubbard Heights “has an exceptionally high degree of architectural integrity,” it reads. “The street grid has remained unchanged since the original plats were laid out. Nearly all of the original houses in the district remain and … very few homes have been so modified that they have lost their original form.”
According to the certification, 504 of 519 Hubbard Heights homes, plus eight brick columns that mark neighborhood boundaries, qualified as historic.
That doesn’t happen in Stamford, said Renee Kahn, founder of the Historic Neighborhood Preservation Program.
“It’s one of the last intact neighborhoods in the city,” Kahn said. “The homeowners were careful about monitoring zoning, and fighting off development that would not fit with the character of the neighborhood.”
And the neighborhood — bordered by downtown, the West Side, Westover and Bull’s Head — is full of character.
“It’s a diverse display of good-quality architecture from the mid-1800s to the 1930s,” Kahn said. “That’s an 80-year span of early 20th-century American architecture. On North Street there is a unique Italian villa-style house from the 1860s. Craftsman-style homes on Hubbard Avenue have stained-glass windows.”
Besides Craftsman and Italianate, other styles include French Second Empire; Colonial Revival, including Dutch Colonial and the 1920s Storybook-style; Prairie, including American Foursquare; Tudor; and Ranch-style.
Hubbard Heights adds another historic dimension — it is one of Stamford’s fabled hills, Kahn said.
“Old-timers say Stamford was built on seven hills, like Rome. But it’s oral history. I’ve never seen it written,” she said. “It’s a struggle to find the hills, but that is what it was said to be — Stamford, the new Rome.”
Hubbard Heights formed around Hubbard Hill, where Nathaniel Hubbard, a descendant of the Pilgrims, built a medical practice in 1796.
Stamford Hospital now sits on the hill. The stone Hubbard mansion on Hubbard Avenue is a short distance away.
The Hubbard family hung onto the land until about 1900, when they began to subdivide it for interested developers.
“The hills ring the city, and they were desirable places for the wealthy New York commuters to live, because they had views of Long Island Sound,” Kahn said. “Some of the best mansions in Stamford were on the hills.”
Besides Hubbard Hill, there is Richmond Hill, Strawberry Hill, and Clark’s Hill.
“I’m not sure what the others would be, but it could include Fairfield Avenue, which has views of the Sound, and there are heights in the Cove,” Kahn said.
Hubbard Heights is the fifth Stamford neighborhood to be designated a Historic District, and the first in almost three decades. The others — downtown, South End, Revonah Manor, and Long Ridge Village — were recognized in the 1980s.
Vicki Zacharewicz, president of the Hubbard Heights Association, said neighbors spent years researching, organizing and gathering the resources needed to apply for the historic designation.
“A lot of people in the neighborhood are history geeks, and they came up with a lot of details about the houses,” Zacharewicz said. “We enjoy visiting each other’s houses to see what they look like.”
The new markers are a reminder to safeguard history, she said.
“I hope people stop and take notice, and realize the value in preserving a neighborhood,” she said.