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Mid-Century Modern Comes to Norwich

Categorized as: Art & Galleries
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Norwich is best known for the stately Federal structures that line Main Street, but tucked away on a hillside less than a mile from Dan and Whit’s is a cluster of angular, light-filled mid-century modern homes. Two examples of this style are featured on the 2017 Norwich Historical Society House and Garden Tour, to be held Saturday, June 24, from 10 am to 4 pm. A coordinating exhibit, “Mid-Century Modern Comes to Norwich,” will open at Lewis House on June 16 with a talk by Devin Colman, architectural historian for the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation.

The NHS House and Garden Tour, now in its 8th year, is a highlight of the summer calendar for Upper Valley architecture and gardening buffs. This year’s tour explores a less-known aspect of the town’s history: the expansion of dwellings beyond the town center in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the introduction of a cutting-edge architectural style. There was little new building in Norwich during the period of population loss in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and as a result there are few examples of Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco or bungalow-style buildings in town. Between 1954 and 1974, however, a dozen low-slung homes of the style now known as mid-century modern popped up on the hillside behind Bloody Brook. Often architect-designed, these homes featured the abundant windows and open interiors that were seen as promoting modern, post-war American family life.

This was not the first large-scale conversion of farmland to housing in Norwich (the Hazen farm had been developed in the 1920’s – 1940’s, producing the Hazen and Cliff Street neighborhoods), nor is it likely to be the last, but it is distinctive for the infusion of modernism and internationalism into an otherwise traditional setting.

In addition to the midcentury modern homes, this year’s tour includes several next-generation homes and gardens. The tour is self-guided, although docents are present at each property to assist and educate. As usual, lunch will be available for purchase at Lewis House and guests enjoy complimentary lemonade and cookies on the tour. Although we cannot allow strollers inside the homes, we welcome children under 12 free of charge with an accompanying adult. Tickets are $25 ($20 for NHS members) and may be purchased online at norwichhistory.org or at the Historical Society (277 Main Street) from 9:30 am on the day of the tour.

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