Towne Street Historic District
The history of the Towne Street Historic District is simple. Towne Street, at the edge of Attleborough Falls, existed before the buildings here were constructed. No apparent development occurred here until the first house was built in the 1830s, and development was slow and sparse. The existing houses, still at the edge of the Falls Village, appear to be the only ones constructed within the district.
Located at the edge of The Falls village, the Towne Street District illustrates the evolution and transition from village to countryside in the orientation of its buildings. The earliest houses, the Stanley and Thomas Wilmarth Houses, were built when this area - and, indeed, most of The Falls - was out in the country; both houses follow the tradition of south-facing orientation dating to the 17th century and continuing into the 19th century. The later Miller and EB. Wilmarth Houses, built in the late 19th century as The Falls was growing during its period of greatest growth and prosperity, assume a road-oriented posture typical of villages, towns, and cities. This juxtaposition of rural spatial organization, including the larger lot sizes for the earlier houses, with the growing village, and smaller lot sizes for the later houses, illustrates the evolution of the community and makes a striking visual ensemble.
Buildings in the district include examples of Greek Revival, vernacular Italianate, Modem Gothic, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival domestic architecture. The earliest buildings, the Stanley House (circa 1835) at 260 Towne Street and the Thomas Wilmarth House (circa 1850) at 251 Towne Street are both five-bay facade center-entrance Greek Revival houses: the Stanley House, with a center chimney and smaller scale, feels more like a late Federal house, but its strongly geometric trabeated entrance with sidelights and transom light is typically Greek; the later Wilmarth house has the breadth of scale more typical of the full-blown Greek Revival. The Miller House (circa 1870) at 240 Towne Street is a simple vernacular box of a house with only a heavy Italianate bracket hood for ornamentation: restriction of ornamentation to the principal entrance is typical of many rural vernacular structures. The Thomas Wilmarth House was enlarged and remodeled circa 1882, with a Modem Gothic cross-gable addition on its southeast end, including an inset porch framed with chamfered post and pierced-work brackets and an elaborate king post and pierced bargeboard in the gable end; a similar gable-end treatment was added to the northwest gable end of the original section of the house.
These three earlier houses within the district approach the organization of space subtractively: that is, creating a simple rectangular-plan box and subdividing its interior into the required rooms. The Edwin B. Wilmarth House, in the Queen Anne style, shows variety of massing typical of an additive approach to spatial organization, in which rooms of varying size and configuration are placed around the central circulation space, halls and stairs. The massing of the Edwin B. Wilmarth House is further enlivened by the projecting tower porch which wraps around the facade and one side elevation as well as the projecting tower that rises above the roof.
In the early part of the 20th century, Walter and Mabel McAlpine added the handsome red-brick Colonial Revival garage at the rear of the Thomas Wilmarth House; the dignification of what was often approached as a strictly utilitarian structure with stone lintels and modillion cornice suggests a continuing interest in maintaining the visual quality of this residential complex.
The Commonwealth Avenue Historic District demonstrates a pattern of living and working that helps to explain 19th- and early 20th-century social history. The organization of workplace and home show an equivocation between mill village and small city that gave The Falls its distinct sense of time and place.
The proximity of home to working place reflects a particularly localized attitude typically found in mill villages. Colonel Obed Robinson's house at the comer of Robinson and Commonwealth was immediately adjacent to his button-manufacturing factory on the Ten Mile River. Both Robert Simmons and Edwin Evans, who lived respectively at 188 and 212 Commonwealth Avenue, owned and operated factories around the comer on Robinson Street. Samuel D. Mason's box company is still located at the intersection of Mount Hope and Chestnut Streets, little more than half a mile west of his house at 204 Commonwealth A venue. Even in the twentieth century, the Reverend Ebor Eldon Craig, pastor of Central Congregational Church, lived at 172 Commonwealth Avenue, a short walk from the church at 115 Commonwealth Avenue.
The positioning of large houses well back from the street on a major thoroughfare into the center of a community was typical throughout the United States in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. The phenomenon represents a desire on the part of upper-middle-income families to establish a physical presence that reflected their position in the community. Another similar thoroughfare in North Attleborough may be found on South Washington Street in North Attleborough Center.
Very little has changed in the district since the period of significance. All buildings retain a high degree of integrity individually and collectively. All are well maintained. No new construction has occurred. The district's being listed in the National Register of Historic Places is a recognition of it being a well-preserved neighborhood.