Jones Circle - historic photo of man in buggy with horse

Many places in Norwich embody rich intersections of history. But in the 20th century, the neighborhood of Jones Circle, a small cul-de-sac located just off Elm Street, stands out. A respected doctor, savvy investors, an ambitious builder, and a housing company that believed homes should be affordable joined forces in the 1950s to develop this neighborhood on a street that, according to kids who lived there, was shaped like a lollipop.

Dr. LeFavor B. Jones, 1930–1934

Before the subdivision of the lots in the late 1950s, the land that was to become known as Jones Circle, primarily a hay field, belonged to several families. Prior to 1942, Lefavor and Eva Jones cobbled together those properties behind their Main Street home, probably as pasture for their horses. To understand how the land became known as Jones Circle, we must explore Dr. Jones’s life and his and his wife’s many contributions to the community.

In 1907, after graduating from the University of Vermont School of Medicine, Dr. Jones settled in Norwich. For the next 37 years, he tended to the needs of ill folks in Hanover, Norwich, Union Village, and beyond. For the first few years he visited his patients at their homes, by horse and buggy, and in the winter “he drove his team of roan pacers hitched to a high-back sleigh.” As the years passed he stabled his horses and drove to see his patients in a Model T Ford. So dedicated was Dr. Jones to his patients that on the way to his wedding in February of 1911, he stopped to treat a pneumonia patient who had a successful convalescence. “Pleasure could not be permitted to interfere with sickness and duty,” declared the Hanover Gazette in February of 1936. Eva had been a school teacher in 1911 when they met and married. Through the years, while her husband tended to his patients, Eva, a full-time mother, was a member of the Congregational Church, Norwich’s Women’s Club, and for 25 years the treasurer of the Norwich Library. In February of 1936, the Hanover Gazette reported that 160 Norwich friends crowded into the Grange Hall to celebrate Eva and Lafavor’s 25th anniversary and honor their entire family,“ who give character to a community and uphold a tradition of service to humanity.” A toast was also raised to Doctor Jones, who was “always at the beck and call of his clients, morning, noon and night, days without end he just keeps going.”

In 1942, the Joneses sold the property to the Berry family, who in 1949 sold the land to Richard and Viola Putman. The Putmans took the first steps to subdivide the land into building lots, calling it the Jones Field Development in honor of Dr.Jones and his family. By 1953, all eleven lots had been sold to Charles and Helen McKenna. One of Charles’s great interests was real estate development. In 1961, he built the now-razed brick post office that was adjacent to the current postoffice. Helen, who had a long career as postmaster in Norwich, was the postmaster there until her retirement in 1966. Along with Jones Circle, the McKennas also developed McKenna Road.

The development of Jones Circle intersected with the boom times for the National Homes Corporation, a company that began making prefabricated houses in 1940. The walls were built, primarily of plywood, on assembly lines, shipped to building sites, and assembled quickly. The sale of National Homes houses took off during World War II. Before the war, the company sold 816 homes. But in 1945 alone, the company constructed a whopping 2,665 homes that were used for military camps and war plant workers.

National Homes cover

After the war, the company shifted gears and began making prefab homes for the thousands of returning GIs. National Homes Corporation created a straight-forward process for the public. Potential owners, introduced to National Homes by local builders, selected a floor plan from a company catalog, the home was ordered through the builder, and it was shipped to the building site where the house was assembled in a matter of months. Because the price of the house was set, banks were eager to finance the new homes.

Lebanon builder, Fred Brown, Jr., was probably the National Homes Corporation’s local representative. He started his own contracting business in 1950 at the age of 27. By 1955, the Valley News reported that he had a crew of approximately 15 carpenters and was building 12 to 15 houses a year. Between 1958 and 1961, Brown bought individual lots from the McKennas, built a house, and sold the property to the new owners. Brown’s outfit built 11 National Homes houses in Jones Circle. There were certain restrictions imposed by Brown and the Town of Norwich on each lot so that the neighborhood would appear as a unified and cohesive collection of dwellings. Each house had to be a single-family dwelling, built back 50 feet from the centerline of the street. At least $10,000 had to be spent on the home after the lot was purchased and the foundation was built. In addition, each home had a plaque installed, generally in the basement, that identified the house by a serial number and outlined suggestions for upkeep and painting.

The first homeowners on Jones Circle were employed around the Upper Valley in various professions. Some worked at Mary Hitchcock Hospital. Several army veterans worked at Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory or taught at Mascoma and Lebanon high schools. Others taught and did research at Dartmouth. The common theme for all of them is that their connection with Jones Circle did not last long. A majority of the homes were sold two years after they were purchased.

Cathy Girard Home

The turnover was quick for the first residents, but not for John and Cathy Girard. The Girards rented a Jones Circle house in October 1969 and then purchased the house in January 1971 for around $22,000. According to the National Homes catalog, the Girards’ new abode was a “California Contemporary” design, and like several other homes in Jones Circle, it rested on a concrete foundation, had a full basement, a carport, and a small garage. It was a peaceful neighborhood with woods behind the house where the Mascoma Bank and Norwich Inn parking lots are today.

Girard House, circa 1950s

After raising a family of four, Cathy worked for DesMeules, Olmstead & Ostler, a law firm in Norwich, as a secretary/office manager. John taught for 46 years full time at Marion Cross School. They each had the shortest walk to work for any couple in Norwich. According to Cathy, “John never said he was going to work – always to school.” Throughout its history, the Jones Circle neighborhood could have been a model for a Norman Rockwell painting or a Frank Capra movie. “One only had to go out the front door and children appeared to play,” said Cathy. “Many townspeople walked the Circle regularly and lots of folks brought their children here to learn how to ride their bikes! And the advantage of living in the Village was immeasurable!”

At Halloween, the Girards would have over 225 trick-or-treaters. For the 4th of July, neighbors grilled hot dogs and hamburgers in their driveways while kids dressed in costumes rode their bikes around the circle. For years John ran the summer Norwich Recreation program. Several kids attended “Mr. G’s” camp in the morning, went to Dan and Whit’s for a quick lunch, and then played pickup basketball games in the Girards’ driveway where there were no worries about traffic if a ball rolled into the street.

Today papers are being drawn up to nominate Jones Circle as a Historic District to the National Register thanks to a Certified Local Government Grant received from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.* Not only is it important to Norwich history but it also may be one of the best concentrated collections of National Homes Corporation houses in Vermont. Are there restrictions on what a homeowner can do if a property is listed on the National Register as many in Norwich already are today?

According to Nancy Osgood, chair of the Norwich Historic Preservation Commission, the answer is no. “Being on the National Register does not have any strings attached, rather it is an honorary designation,” she said. “It does not impede what a homeowner can do . . . it adds interest to the property but does not impact its monetary value. It should give the homeowner . . . a sense of pride in knowing that the property is worthy of such a designation and should spark interest in its architecture and moment in history.”

Along with its historic value, it’s wise to remember that the homes on Jones Circle were built from kits, quickly and efficiently, and then reasonably priced. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the country could get behind a building boom as it did after World War II? Then companies like the National Homes Corporation could return to small towns across America, knock together much needed affordable homes, and create new neighborhoods like Norwich’s Jones Circle.

*This program receives federal funds from the National Park Service. Regulations of the U.S. Department of the Interior strictly prohibit unlawful discrimination in federally assisted programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, age or handicap. Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility operated by a recipient of federal assistance should write to: Director, Office of Equal Opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240