Steven Slosberg: Renowned architect left his mark in Stonington

Steven Slosberg: Renowned architect left his mark in Stonington

The Westerly Sun

John Ware Lincoln was an architect by trade and an engineer, author and inventor by inclination and inspiration, who lived and worked and left a legacy of landmarks in Stonington. Still, he deemed his most successful design a rather dubious achievement: the modern Quonset hut.

Lincoln, then a senior architect for the Navy at Quonset Point during World War II, was credited with being the co-designer of the Quonset hut. But his skeptical assessment of such renown was revealed in a publication devoted to one of his passionate avocations — energy conservation. He was quoted in a 1977 issue of a magazine called The Steam Engine Quarterly in a review of Lincoln’s book, “Methanol and Other Ways Around the Gas Pump.”

The Quonset hut — the familiar galvanized steel structure manufactured by the hundreds of thousands for the government during the war, was, in Lincoln’s words, quoted by the reviewer, Tom Bayless, “A creation … that made him the ‘most prolific but unpopular architect of the era.’”

If only Lincoln, who died in Stonington at age 73 in 1982, was here today to behold what’s become of one shining example of that World War II-era construction: the winery at Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington.

The winery, with its vaulting roof and silvery milled aluminum exterior, was fashioned out of the Quonset hut-shaped hangar designed by Lincoln around 1940 for what was then a small, community airport called variously Foster Field, Foster Flying Field and Westone Airport, along Route 1 near Wequetequock Cove.

In 2001, Michael and Merrily Connery, living in New York but with roots here, bought the long-dormant airport property. They set about establishing a vineyard and winery, and preserved the vintage hangar including the handsome original wood sheathing and basilica-like interior network of timber trusses.

For a utilitarian airport hangar built in the early 1940s, it borders on a work of art. The vineyard is open again for the season, and so, too, the winery.

Another of Lincoln’s rather distinctive designs in Stonington, also on display, albeit at a distance, is a house set back from North Main Street, across from Stonington Cemetery and fronting Quanaduck Cove. He conceived it at about the same time he worked on the Quonset hut and airport hangar.

The house, recently renovated and restored, is a rectangular construction employing glass, stone and a flat roof, and conveying, in its angles and corners, the influence of Walter Gropius, whom Lincoln knew. Gropius, the German-born architect and founder of the Bauhaus School, is perhaps best known in this country for the home he built for his family in 1938 in Lincoln, Mass., the Boston suburb where John Lincoln also once lived.

The Stonington house’s sleek, box-like design strikes the observer for its modernity, especially in Colonial Stonington, though it was drawn up more than 70 years ago. At that time, Lincoln’s reputation was already well-established, and a book published in 1946 by the Museum of Modern Art (“If You Want to Build a House”) grouped him with a number of celebrated architects and designers, including Gropius, Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld, and Marcel Breuer.

Integral to the design of the Stonington home were radiant heating techniques, an area of particular interest to Lincoln, who, as noted, was dedicated to energy conservation.

Born in Arlington, Mass., and educated at Princeton and Columbia, Lincoln summered in Stonington for years before moving to the village in 1971. He married Clarinda York, known as Mimi, whose father, Edward Palmer York, was a prominent architect who designed the Washington Trust building in downtown Westerly.

From 1963 until 1975, Lincoln taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he was head of the Department of Industrial Design and Graphic Design.

Other Lincoln projects in the area included the restoration of the Mystic Depot, of which he was a trustee; the Robert Brackman Arts Studio in Noank, and his home on Grand Street in Stonington where he remodeled a barn into a residence on his father-in-law’s property known as “The Hill.”

He was fascinated by the challenge of alternative fuels for automobiles, designing, at one point, a wood-powered car, a “charcoal-burning gasogen.” Another of his books was titled “Driving Without Gas.”

In 1981, the year before he died, Lincoln was interviewed by The Day regarding a heating and cooling system installed in a room in his home that used the human body as a source of energy.

The 10-by-10-foot model room was lined with a special reflective wallpaper that deflected radiant heat from being absorbed by the walls and ceiling.

His explanation about heat generated by the body and its transference to a coated floorboard panel where water was pumped and recirculated for both heating and cooling seemed a bit esoteric for the average homeowner, never mind newspaper reader, but his enthusiasm was readily appreciated. “I hate seeing dollars go out the window,” he told the reporter.

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington. He was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day of New London.


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