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Out & About: Norwich Goes ‘Mad for Mid-Century Modern’ Architecture

  • Photographs and items that are on display as part of the "Mad for Mid-Century Modern: A New Architectural Style Comes Norwich" exhibit at the Norwich Historical Society Museum in Norwich, Vt. (Courtesy Norwich Historical Society)

  • Photographs and items that are on display as part of the "Mad for Mid-Century Modern: A New Architectural Style Comes Norwich" exhibit at the Norwich Historical Society Museum in Norwich, Vt. (Courtesy Norwich Historical Society)

  • Photographs and items that are on display as part of the "Mad for Mid-Century Modern: A New Architectural Style Comes Norwich" exhibit at the Norwich Historical Society Museum in Norwich, Vt. (Courtesy Norwich Historical Society)

  • Photographs and items that are on display as part of the "Mad for Mid-Century Modern: A New Architectural Style Comes Norwich" exhibit at the Norwich Historical Society Museum in Norwich, Vt. (Courtesy Norwich Historical Society)



Valley News Calendar Editor
Saturday, June 24, 2017

Norwich — What’s the first image that comes to mind when imagining New England architecture?

Most may think of old farmhouses, steepled churches and Cape Cods. But a new exhibit at the Norwich Historical Society wants you to think of Mid-Century Modern.

“Mad for Mid-Century Modern: A New Architectural Style Comes Norwich” focuses on the architects who built homes in the town in the decades after World War II.

“This was a radically new design in America,” historical society Director Sarah Rooker said.

Norwich’s role in the architecture style started when Walter Curt Behrendt came to the Upper Valley after escaping Nazi Germany.

“He came to Dartmouth to be an artist-in-residence,” Rooker said. “Dartmouth was really a flourishing art community in the 1930s.”

Other prominent architects featured in the exhibit are Allan J. Gelbin, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, and husband-and-wife duo Edgar Hayes Hunter and Margaret King Hunter who looked to build homes that are “more integral to the family and family life,” Rooker said. This can be seen in a Life magazine photograph of the kitchen in the Hunters’ Norwich residence, which showed the open-concept style in action. “It was the hub of the home.”

Mid-Century Modern architecture changed the placement of homes on properties.

“They wanted to fit them tightly into the landscape,” Rooker said, adding that the homes would be set back from the roads. The back of the homes would have “all glass windows looking out on the hills,” a reflection of passive solar heating techniques. “They were really looking at living within the landscape.”

And once the homes started being built, there was a demand.

“The people who wanted to live in these modern homes were the people coming to these academic communities,” Rooker said, naming Burlington, Boston and New Haven as other cities where they appeared. “The architects really felt like they were doing something new and exciting.”

The exhibit is a partnership with Norwich Historic Preservation District, which has nominated Hopson Road, a neighborhood featuring many of the homes, to be added to the National Register.

“We decided to partner with them and put together an exhibit that builds off the research that was done for the district,” Rooker said. “By putting them on the register and raising awareness we hope to be able to preserve them.”

Community members who live in the homes have come forward with furniture and other items that were built to go with the homes, some of which were furnished. “Figuring out these personal anecdotes was a very interesting part of the process,” Rooker said. “We discovered that a lot of (what) people were loaning us had an active connection to the story.”

The historical society also plans to hold lectures and tours.

Editor’s note: The Norwich Historical Society at 277 Main St. is open year-round Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11a.m. to 3 p.m., June-October on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-noon, and by appointment. For more information, visit norwichvthistoricalsociety.org or call 802-649-0124. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.