Jane Griswold Radocchia
The Norton-Fenton House, 206-208 Pleasant Street, Bennington. This is a two-family house. Did you notice?
What catches our eyes are those tall columns and the triangular pediment above, white against the red brick. The high end walls and chimneys that rise above the roof, all the white trim, the doors in a line below the columns, all just reinforce that first impression. This is a house with presence.
Ignore, if you can, the little front porches. They were added later.
In 1838, Luman Norton, owner of the Norton Pottery, moved down the hill from Old Bennington to this new house on Pleasant Street. He wanted to be able to oversee his pottery on the Walloomsac River. His son Julius had joined him in the business which included a new factory manufacturing firebrick.
Norton had also served as an Assistant Judge for Bennington County and as Bennington’s Representative in Montpelier. His house reflects his success. It is still impressive 175 years later.
The columns he chose have Ionic capitals with curling horns, the style favored in the Old Center. They symbolized virtue and beauty. Ionic columns are usually fluted, but these are not. Perhaps, like those in the Old First Church, they are whole trees, set in place and planed smooth.
The brick walls are structural, three bricks thick, laid in a pattern called Flemish Bond. The pattern alternates one brick laid to show its side, with the next, called a header, laid to show its end. The next row reverses the order. The headers tie the layers together. If the work is not done carefully it looks messy. This is neat and handsome work. Norton could afford the best.
Norton’s daughter had married Christopher Fenton, a potter from Dorset who for a while joined the family firm. They lived on the other side of the house. Fenton’s United States Pottery Co. received great acclaim at the 1853 Crystal Palace Exposition in New York City for an ornamental pottery piece about 12 feet tall. It was built like a wedding cake, with columns around the second and third tiers, a mother and child on top.
For more than 100 years this piece lived here on the porch behind the columns. Today it is at the Bennington Museum.
The house is now the Heritage Family Credit Union and the Tutorial Center. If you stop in, be sure to admire the graceful turned staircases with curving hand rails to match and the broad window and door moldings with deeply cut profiles. Both the stair and the casing designs were the latest styles as were the sidelights and transoms at the doors. The Tutorial Center still has the original cooking fireplace. The bake oven with a cast iron door is tucked around the corner. The oven must have served both families, as there is no matching oven on the other side.
Luman Norton and his children were one of the earliest families to move down the hill from the original Bennington. Just as farmers wanted to be close to their barns, manufacturers wanted to live near their factories. Soon many other families would build stylish new houses on Pleasant Street.
A correction to my column on the Safford House: It probably wasn’t built until 1769. A simpler, smaller house would have served the family at the beginning in 1762.
Jane Griswold Radocchia is a Banner columnist.