Tracy S. Lewis House
Beacon Falls, CT
Almost all of the historic landscape has gone away over the past century as this 2019 photo shows.
Aspects of the Olmsted plan were still evident in this 2012 image including the old Spruce tree and shrub border along the property line.
Imagery taken from Google Street View.
As part of the civic improvements being made to the Hill neighborhood of Beacon Falls1 , Tracy Samuel Lewis, owner of the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company, undertook efforts to modernize his residence located at 35 Wolfe Avenue. Architectural evidence suggests that the home may have elements dating to as early as 1863 when a boarding house was located in much the same footprint. In 1916, Lewis engaged Naugatuck architect F. Alton Clark to update the home's facade in the popular Colonial Revival style of the time. The interior featured technological marvels such as a Bohn Syphon refrigerator, ice drop hatch, and an electric call box in the kitchen2.
Concurrent with the architectural upgrades, the Olmsted Brothers firm prepared a planting plan for the grounds. The landscape architects had already made suggestions for appropriate treatments for the worker's cottages and modest homes in the neighborhood. The home's prominent location fronting on the proposed public park made it an ideal place to showcase their landscape ideas.
The plan is simple in materials yet ambitious in scope. The elements would not be out of place in a modern residence which speaks to the utility of the design. A privet hedge along the sidewalk defines the edge of the property, but allows for views of the architecture and ornamental plantings. On either side of the house, ponderous perimeter beds with Pines, Dogwoods, Hemlocks, and Junipers create a sense of enclosure for the property and filter views from neighboring homes. Just below, Spiraea, Hibiscus, Rhododendron, Wisteria, Hollies, Roses, Viburnums, and other flowering shrubs to fill in the understory with foliage, branches, and flowering interest. Perennials such as Daylilies, Phlox, Sedums, and flowering bulbs fill in the gaps in addition to a feature bed off of the driveway.
Open turfgrass areas dominate the plan, a common feature in Olmstedian landscapes. On the Lewis property, they offer two distinct garden "rooms" for the family and guests to explore. The smaller front yard garden expresses itself towards the street; the plantings are large and visible from afar. The larger side yard garden calls for rich plantings with perennials and groundcovers for the enjoyment of those invited on the premises.
Correspondence records from the Olmsted Brothers firm suggest that installation of the design did not go forward as planned in 19162. The Fairchild Aerial Survey imagery from 1934 shows a relatively unimproved landscape dissimilar to the plans. The sudden death of Tracy S. Lewis in 1921 was a significant shock to the fortunes of both the home and the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company. The United States Rubber Company assumed management of Lewis's factory; Tracy's widow sold the home and left town in 1924.
In 2008, the Town of Beacon Falls purchased the home with the intention of adapting it for municipal use and engaged the architect Paul Bailey to evaluate its condition. However, in 2010, the Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 to immediately demolish the structure, citing concerns about the cost of repairing and renovating the home to public building codes. After much debate, lack of funds needed to undertake the work gave the home a stay of execution. A listing on the State Register of Historic Places in November of 2010 has ensured that the Town and public stakeholders will have a chance to weigh in again before any further actions are undertaken to raze or renew the home. As of 2021, the Tracy S. Lewis House is still standing as a reminder of the Lewis family and their role in the development of Beacon Falls.
Historic Plans & Images
Planting plan prepared by the Olmsted Brothers to accentuate the recent architectural work done on the Tracy S. Lewis House
ca. 1910 view of the Tracy S. Lewis House prior to landscape renovations, looking west from Wolfe Avenue.
Undated image of the front of the Tracy S. Lewis House prior to landscape renovations.
Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.
Historic Home Photos Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons