NAUGATUCK — From the former train station on Water Street to Hillside Covenant Church on Hillside Avenue, architect Earl Lindgren has left his mark on the borough.
After five decades in Naugatuck, Lindgren closed his office — Earl R. Lindgren Architect at 266 Church St. — at the end of October and moved with his wife to Philadelphia to be near the couple’s two daughters.
“I think I would like to be remembered for adding quality to downtown Naugatuck,” said Lindgren, 86, in an interview before closing up shop.
Lindgren developed a love for drawing and painting as a child.
“My dad was a builder and I had an uncle who had been an architect. Building was kind of in the family, and I was artistic, so I thought that would make a good combination,” Lindgren said.
Lindgren graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in architectural engineering in 1956. Shortly after graduating, Lindgren and his wife, Ann Elise, moved to Seattle, Wash.
In Washington, Lindgren said he found a passion for working on churches, and won an award from the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture for church architecture. Over his career, Lindgren said he’s done designs for churches throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
In 1963, Lindgren and his wife, who was originally from Naugatuck, moved back to the borough to take care of Ann Elise’s dying mother.
“We never got out. All of her relatives were here. So, we stayed here,” Lindgren said.
Lindgren took a job working for architect Joe Stein in Waterbury. During this time, he worked on a project to transform the former train station at 195 Water St. into the office for the former Naugatuck Daily News, the predecessor of the Citizen’s News.
In 1967, Lindgren decided to start his own architectural firm in the borough, where he stayed for 51 years.
Soon after opening his own firm, Lindgren was hired by the borough to renovate the aging firehouse on Maple Street.
“The impetus for that was the firehouse was built for fire wagons pulled by horses. Because of the weight of the new trucks the floor was [sagging]. They were afraid something bad was going to happen,” Lindgren said.
Many jobs in Naugatuck followed, including a project in the early 1980s to help revitalize the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library on Church Street.
“My wife and I walked around town in the early 1980s and I said to her, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to renovate that library and really bring it back to life.’ I don’t know how it happened, if it was my idea or somebody came to me and said we want to renovate the library,” Lindgren said.
At the time, Lindgren said, the library’s reading room was closed off and not used by too many patrons.
“It was in an isolated corner and hard to get to. It was used by people who just slept in it all day. So, we brought that back to life,” Lindgren said.
The room is now often used to host authors or library programs, as well as to give patrons a quiet area to read.
Much of Lindgren’s work involved churches, including a few local ones.
“We were church architects in New England. That turned out to be the major thrust of our work,” Lindgren said.
Lindgren worked on renovations for the St. Francis Church parish hall on Church Street after it was destroyed by a flash flood in 2012, and he said he’s also done work at St. Michael Roman Catholic Church in Beacon Falls.
Lindgren said the most interesting church project in Naugatuck was one he did at Hillside Covenant Church, where he was a parishioner.
Lindgren recalled one day a fellow parishioner asked him if there was any way to get rid of metal tie rods inside the church holding the building together.
“What I discovered was the walls had been built in 1894,” Lindgren said. “The roof was pressing down on the walls and the walls were bending out. So, they had to jack them together with tie rods. What we did was take the entire roof off, including the rafters, jack the walls back in so they were level, and put on a new roof.”
Shortly after he finished that project, he was contacted by officials with the Immanuel Lutheran Church, now the Grace Lutheran Church of Naugatuck, which was having the same problem with its walls bending.
“So, we took that roof off and did the same thing,” Lindgren said.