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Court Street Historic District


The Court Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Description

The City of Binghamton, New York is sited on flood plains at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers (in south-central New York State at the eastern end of New York's Southern Tier). It serves as the commercial and industrial nucleus of the state's Susquehanna region. Its related metropolitan region embraces the urban communities of Johnson City and Endicott and suburban and rural areas in Broome, Delaware, Tioga and Chenango counties as well as adjacent Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania. Binghamton's downtown core is located immediately northeast of the point of land created at the juncture of the two rivers. It features a modest skyline of church spires, medium-scale office buildings, hotels, and a twenty-story state office tower set against a backdrop of rolling hills.

The Court Street Historic District includes the historic core of downtown Binghamton, which evolved on either side of Court Street immediately east of the Chenango River. A concentration of 104 buildings included in the district, 89 of which represent contributing structures built between c.1840 and 1939. The majority of these buildings house commercial establishments. Buildings have previously been listed on the National Register, the former City Hall at 79-96 Collier Street and the Broome County Courthouse at 89-94 Court Street.

The courthouse is located at the center of the district and together with its landscaped public square represents the heart of downtown Binghamton. Ten- and twelve-story office towers built early in the twentieth century are prominent visual features grouped near the center of the Court Street Historic District. However, the majority of the resources within the historic district consist of moderately scaled, three-to-six-story brick commercial buildings of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These buildings are generally built adjacent to one another on an asymmetrical grid of intersecting streets and form cohesive and often unbroken streetscapes with compatibly scaled but varied facades. Court Street forms an east-west spine through the Court Street Historic District turning slightly northward midway at the northern edge of the Court House Square. Principal cross streets extending north and south include Washington Street, State Street and Chenango Street.

A wide range of historic architectural styles are reflected by the contributing buildings within the Court Street Historic District. The earliest buildings, including one example at 144 Washington Street, illustrate characteristics of Greek Revival period commercial architecture common during the 1840's and 1850's. The Court Street Historic District includes numerous examples of modest vernacular Italianate style commercial buildings built between 1860 and 1880, as well as impressive and heavily ornamented rows of such buildings with Gothic or Renaissance details. The Court Street Historic District includes a single, but very important, cast-iron building, the Perry Block at 91 Court Street, and a single commercial building with a mansard roof combining aspects of both the Second Empire and the Stick styles in its facade at 56-58 Court Street. Several examples of Romanesque and Gothic Revival style religious architecture of the 1850's through the 1880's are present in the Court Street Historic District as well as several bold examples of Romanesque Revival and Richardsonian Romanesque commercial architecture of the 1880's and early 1890's. In later examples, such as the Brunner and Phoenix blocks at 137-141 Washington Street, Romanesque designs are combined with Queen Anne style features. The late 1890's and early 1900's witnessed the introduction of Beaux-Arts civic and commercial buildings in a variety of eclectic styles ranging from the French Renaissance, as in the Old City Hall at 79-96 Collier Street, to the rusticated Neoclassicism of the Security Mutual Building at 66-84 Exchange Street. Architecture of the early decades of the twentieth century also includes Georgian-inspired designs, simplified commercial buildings with progressively designed fenestration and classical spandrels and pilasters, a single example of a glazed terra cotta facade at 27 Chenango Street and two monumental Neoclassical style banks of the 1920's. The latest buildings in the Court Street Historic District feature conservative Art Deco detailing in otherwise conventionally designed buildings. Examples include the impressive Broome County Justice Building on Hawley Street and the remodelled facade of 69 Court Streets.

Boundaries of the Court Street Historic District have been drawn so as to include the largest concentration of intact resources that illustrate the evolution of the city's commercial and public core. The western boundary is formed in part by the Chenango River and excludes the modern five-story First City National Bank building with its promenade on the east bank south of Court Street. At the north, the Court Street Historic District boundaries are irregular, including five blocks with significant concentrations of historic buildings, and excluding a broad area at the northern fringe of downtown characterized by parking lots, garages, open spaces, and modern development. The eastern boundary of the Court Street Historic District occurs just east of Carroll Street at a point where downtown-oriented commercial development clearly terminates. A transition to low-density commercial development begins at this boundary and continues eastward for several blocks before changing into a residential district. The southern boundary east of Exchange Street includes only the historic buildings fronting Court Street and Exchange Street; south of this boundary a spatially unrelated district occurs which is characterized by lower building densities, numerous parking lots and mixed commercial and residential uses. West of Exchange Street, the southern boundary is clearly defined by the modern Governmental Plaza and Civic Center built during the early 1970's, which is composed of bulky, multi-story office buildings, a twenty-story office tower and a raised plaza erected above a parking garage. The southwestern boundary extends north along Washington Street and then turns west and north to exclude modern intrusions, large areas of parking and the nine-story Holiday Inn before continuing west on Court Street toward the river.

A description of the component streetscapes within the Court Street Historic District follows, with streets organized in alphabetical order.

Chenango Street. This street represents the major north-south artery in the Court Street Historic District, connecting the downtown business core with the railroad stations to the north. The street is architecturally diverse and includes outstanding buildings from 1860 through 1920. The west side of the street begins at Court Street with Isaac Perry's 1876 four-story cast-iron Perry Block and a similarly scaled five-story brick and stone Beaux-Arts style commercial building. The streetscape then rises twelve stories to incorporate the visually dominant 1904 Press Building, an exceptionally rich example of Beaux-Arts commercial architecture of the period. Adjacent to the Press Building is the three-story c.1910 Kilmer building with classically detailed granite pilasters, entablatures and cornice, ad large areas of fenestration. The north end of the street within the Court Street Historic District is terminated with the two-story glazed terra cotta Strand Theater, built in 1920, and the adjacent three-story Richardsonian Romanesque Stone Opera House, built of rock faced granite and sandstone in 1891. The east side of the street is less unified but includes important buildings such as the modified Neo-Georgian style Morning Sun Building (1920), which wraps around the arc created by Chenango Street's angled juncture with Henry Street at the north, and the flat-iron-shaped First National Bank (1929), which anchors the street's intersection with Court Street at the southern end. In between stands the Romanesque Revival style First Presbyterian Church (built of brick between 1860 and 1863 and distinguished by its slender, pointed spire), and a five-story brick commercial building with classical details dating from c.1900.

Collier Street. As a short street providing access to the west side of Court House Square, Collier includes two outstanding Beaux-Arts style buildings designed by New York City architect Raymond F. Almirall in the French Renaissance mode. The most important of these is the 1897 Old City Hall, which features a four-story rusticated cut-stone facade with a mansard roof and copper clad cupola. No. 99 Collier Street, built in 1899 for Binghamton Savings Bank, features a three-bay, five-story facade of red and cream brick with cut-stone detailing. It is flanked to the north by the seven-story People's Trust building of 1915, which features a cut-stone facade with classical pilasters, entablatures and tripartite windows separated by metal spandrels with cartouche details. These three buildings at the west side of the street form a dignified backdrop for the courthouse and square at the east side of the street.

Court Street. Court Street represents the principal east-west artery in downtown Binghamton and forms the backbone of the Court Street Historic District. In terms of scale and massing, the streetscape on Court Street rises from modest four-story brick commercial buildings of the 1870's and 1880's at the east and west ends of the Court Street Historic District to its climax at the monumental ten-story high Security Mutual Building (1904) at the corner of Court and Exchange in the center of the district. The western half of Court Street includes diverse and significant structures ranging in date from a four-story c.1840 Greek Revival style hotel (modernized c.1875 with Stick style/Second Empire style window lintels and mansard roof) at 56-58 Court, to a conservatively designed, three-story cast-stone Art Deco facade built in 1928 at 69 Court Street. The majority of the contributing buildings along this end of Court are two- to four-story Italianate style brick commercial buildings of the later half of the nineteenth century, many of which incorporate altered first and second story facades. The Neoclassical style City National Savings Bank at 49-51 Court (1923) and the seven-story Romanesque Revival style O'Neil-Ross Block at 72-76 Court (1889-1892) are noteworthy exceptions. Midway through the Court Street Historic District, Court Street turns slightly northward. Occurring at the heart of downtown Binghamton, this point represents the visual and architectural focus of the historic district. In addition to the Security Mutual Building, distinguished buildings in this area include the domed Broome County Court House at 88-94 Court (1897-1898), the seven-story, modified Neoclassical style People's Trust Building at 84-86 Court (1915), the cast-iron Perry Block at 89-91 Court (1876), and the Neoclassical First National Bank at 95 Court (1929). East of the bank and extending eastward along the north side of the street is an exceptionally coherent and unified row of three- and four-story brick commercial buildings (97-125 Court) dating from 1869 to 1900 with only one modern intrusion, located at 111-115 Court. A non-contributing three-story addition to the Security Mutual Building at 100-120 Court Street (1980) retains the scale and rhythm of this section of Court Street and preserves the sense of enclosure historically associated with the street. Further east, at 130 Court Street, is the Centenary Methodist Church, built in the Gothic Revival style between 1866 and 1868. The church is flanked at the east by an intact row of four Victorian period brick commercial buildings ranging in date from c.1860 to 1889. At the south side of Court Street, the east end of the district is anchored by a major four-story brick commercial building with a corbelled cornice and segmentally arched windows at 162-164 Court, built c.1885. At the north side, the east end of the Court Street Historic District is marked by a four-story brick Romanesque Revival style building at 143-145 Court, built c.1890.

Exchange Street. Three buildings bordering Court House Square on Exchange Street reflect the affluence of early twentieth century Binghamton. At the center stands the Beaux-Arts Classical style Carnegie Library designed by Binghamton architects Sanford and Halbert Lacey and built in 1903. The library is two stories in height and features an Ionic portico and a red tile roof. Next to and left of the library stands the ten-story Security Mutual Building designed by Truman I. Lacey and completed in 1904. This building is also a distinguished example of Beaux-Arts Classicism and features a three-tier facade organization consisting of a rusticated three-story base, a five-story brick body with segmentally arched window bays, and a highly ornate two-story top, consisting of round-arched window bays and engaged columns. The third building on Exchange Street, located to the right of the library across Congdon Place, is the 1926 Binghamton Savings Bank, a five-story brick and cut-stone structure designed in a much simplified classical style. The three buildings are visually important in framing the east side of Court House Square.

Hawley Street. This street roughly defines the southern extent of the Court Street Historic District. It includes two significant buildings within the district boundaries. The Y.W.C.A. a Neo-Georgian style six-story brick building built in 1907 with a compatibly styled 1919 addition, represents the only downtown hotel to survive from the first decade of the twentieth century. The seven-story 1939 Broome County Justice Building, located in back of the courthouse but fronting Hawley Street, combines Beaux-Arts symmetry with conservative Art Deco massing and decorative relief panels. Massing, materials, and consistently developed landscaping visually connect this building to the 1897 Courthouse and the 1916-1917 Court House addition. The Justice Building represents the only major example of Art Deco architecture in the Court Street Historic District.

State Street. State Street represents the route of the Chenango Canal, which opened in 1837 and closed in 1878. Soon after closing, the canal bed was filled in and was thereafter used as a public street. Two small buildings with c.1922-1923 brick and stucco facades include remnants of canal-related industrial structures built c.1860. All other contributing buildings on State Street within the Court Street Historic District post-date the canal era and reflect the architecture of the 1880's. The first of these is a three-story brick commercial building at 77-79 State, built c.1880. The building retains ornamental cast-iron storefront columns and incorporates a handsome brick facade consisting of round and segmentally arched windows and extensive corbelling. North of, and adjacent to this building is the massive, five-story Stephens Block, including the eighteen-bay Stephens Square portion at the center and south (81-87 State) and the independently owned northern three bays at 89 State. The building is an exceptional example of Victorian period Romanesque Revival style commercial architecture. Its design incorporates a rustic stone round-arched entrance, stone and iron storefront piers, various forms of arched window openings, boldly corbelled cornices, a unifying central tower, and terra cotta medallions. The east side of State Street includes a four-story brick commercial building of the later nineteenth century (92-98 State) with its facade hidden by a modern aluminum covering. This alteration may be reversible; however, the building is currently listed as non-contributing.

Wall Street. Wall Street is located on the extreme western edge of the Court Street Historic District along the top of the Chenango River floodwall. The street and associated row of brick manufacturing and commercial buildings were built on reclaimed land between 1860 and 1880 with additions and infill structures built as late as c.1920. The facades along Wall Street are remarkable for their unity. All are brick and four stories in height with segmental or round-arched windows. Brick pilasters articulate the principal structural bays and modest corbelling marks many of the cornices. The separate buildings have recently been combined in a major private renovation effort culminating in their adaptive use for stores and offices. A modern pedestrian promenade along the floodwall complements the streetscape with small trees, light fixtures and other amenities.

Washington Street. South of Court Street, Washington Street retains much of its historic Victorian period commercial flavor. Contributing buildings range in date and style from altered vernacular Greek Revival period commercial buildings of the 1840's and 1850's (144 and 146 Washington) to the stylish Richardsonian Romanesque style Brunner Building (137 Washington) designed by Isaac Perry and completed in 1890. Buildings vary in height (three to five stories) but are related through the use of brick as the principal exterior material and similar fenestration and ornamentation. The east side of this portion of Washington incorporates an almost unbroken row of three- and four-story store buildings, the majority of which date from the 1870's and 1880's. These buildings are distinguished by corbelled cornices, cast-iron or stone window lintels and, in two buildings, stone-arched window openings. The west side of this portion of Washington features the architecturally significant Brunner Building (previously discussed), the adjacent Romanesque and Queen Anne style Phoenix Building at 139-141 Washington (c.1890), several altered Greek Revival period commercial structures, and a brick commercial building built in 1926 with decorative brickwork and leaded-glass window transoms (135 Washington). The southern portion of Washington Street has recently been developed as a brick-paved pedestrian mall including trees, benches and new lighting fixtures.

North of Court Street, the Washington Street streetscape is noted for the side elevation of the Neoclassical style City National Bank at 49-51 Court (1923), the highly ornamental four-story brick Bennett Block (153-157 Washington), built between 1867 and 1869 with modified Gothic style window openings and massive corbelled cornice, the four-story brick Ellis Brothers Building (159-161 Washington), built as part of the Bennett Block and later altered with a c.1930 facade with ornamental brickwork, and, finally, the three-story brick store building at 163 Washington, built c.1880 with a distinctive corbelled cornice. The two-story Metro Center shopping mall establishes part of the northern boundary of the Court Street Historic District and clearly terminates the exuberant and vertical streetscape which characterizes the intact portion of the street within the historic district.

Water Street. Water Street between Court and the new Metro Center retains much of the historic character associated with downtown Binghamton around the turn of the century despite alterations to the four contributing buildings. These buildings range in date from c.1870 to 1913 and stand three, four and five stories in height. They are related in a unified streetscape by their consistent use of brick at the exterior and a continuing tradition of ornamental brickwork in the form of recessed panels and arcades, projecting pilasters, patterned spandrels and corbelled cornices.

Significance

The Court Street Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as a relatively intact urban center retaining many significant buildings and streetscapes which chronicle all but the earliest years of Binghamton's growth and development. The historic resources represent the period from c.1840 to 1939 and include a diversity of architectural styles ranging from small, altered three-story Greek Revival style commercial buildings of the 1840's and early 1850's to the twelve-story Beaux-Arts classical Press Building of 1904 and the restrained, Art Deco-detailed Broome County Justice Building, built in 1939, representing the only major example of Art Deco architecture in the historic district. Buildings previously listed on the National Register in the Court Street Historic District include the Broome County Courthouse (listed 1973) and the former Binghamton City Hall (listed 1970).

Historically, buildings and patterns of development within the Court Street Historic District reflect the impact of successive periods of growth in the city, beginning with the decade following the completion of the Chenango Canal in 1837 and including a period of expansion resulting from growth in the cigar and rail industries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Binghamton's growth as a regional financial center and its central role as the seat of local and county government are expressed by significant buildings in the district erected at the turn of this century through 1939.

The Court Street Historic District includes regionally significant examples of nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial and public architecture, many of which represent the work of important regional architects including Isaac Perry, Truman I. Lacey and S.O. and H.A. Lacey. Of these, Isaac Perry (1822-1904) is generally regarded as the most significant historical Binghamton architect. His commissions included the imposing Gothic Revival Inebriate Asylum, in Binghamton (1858), the Gothic Revival St. Patrick's Church, also in Binghamton (1867-1872) and extensive work at the State Capitol in Albany including the Great Western Staircase and the monumental eastern stairs, both of which were completed in the 1890's. In the Court Street Historic District, his legacy includes the Gothic Revival Centenary Methodist Church at 126-132 Court Street (1866), the cast-iron Perry Block at 89-91 Court Street (1876), significant as Binghamton's only cast-iron building, the Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne style Brunner and Phoenix buildings at 137-141 Washington St. (1884-1890) and Beaux-Arts style Broome County Courthouse at 92 Court Street, completed in 1898.

The establishment of Binghamton was a result of the land speculation schemes which carved up the former Iroquois lands acquired by New York State after the Revolutionary War. The eastern section of a tract stretching along the Susquehanna River from Owego to the bend south into Pennsylvania was acquired by William Bingham (1752-1804) in 1790. Serving as land agent for Bingham was Joshua Whitney, Sr., who was succeeded on his death in 1798 by his son Joshua Whitney (1771-1845). Young Joshua, although only 25 years old, convinced the other settlers along the Chenango River valley north of the confluence of the Susquehanna to join him in a move down to Chenango Point, where a new bridge was to be constructed on the site of the present Court Street Bridge. A view of the new village as it looked in 1810 was sketched by George Park, who served as Whitney's surveyor, for a later publication. Looking down Court Street toward the courthouse, located on land donated by the Bingham estate in 1804, the view is of frame one and two-story houses along a dirt road with the forest clearly visible back from the road. By 1825, when J.C. Morre's pen and ink map of the settlement was drawn, Chenango and Water Streets had been laid out, with churches east and west of Chapel (now Henry) Street north of Court. In F.B. Tower's map of 1836, the major north-south street is shown as Washington Street, named in honor of one of Joshua Whitney's sons. Binghamton was incorporated as a village in 1834 and its central role as the County Seat is symbolized by the view of the Broome County Courthouse that embellishes the map.

Tania Werbizky has succinctly summarized the growth of the city in her introduction to Parlor City Center: An Architectural and Historical Survey (1978):

"Binghamton's growth has been intimately linked with the introduction of transportation systems that stimulated mercantile and industrial activities. In 1837, the Chenango Canal joined Binghamton with the Erie Canal via Utica. New construction in the downtown during the late 1830's reflected the period of expansion. The first railroad through the area was the New York and Erie Railroad, completed in Binghamton in 1848. Lines west to Erie and Buffalo and north to Syracuse soon followed. The impact upon the Village of Binghamton was substantial and the 1848 population nearly doubled by 1858 to 8,500 inhabitants ...by 1870, the population had grown to 12,692 residents, and the railroad had clearly superseded the canal as the major transportation system... By 1885, the canal had been transformed into State Street. The City was enjoying its prominence as the second largest producer of cigars in the United States during this decade. Over 700 new structures were erected between 1880 and 1890 and the population swelled to 35,000 by the latter date." (pp.3-5)

Three maps from the second half of the nineteenth century graphically show Binghamton's growth and the changes in transportation that accompanied it. In John Bevan's 1851 map, the Chenango Canal flows from north to south through the central business district, as it had in Tower's map 15 years before, but the speculative plan for the Erie Railroad right-of-way in 1836 had become, by 1851, a definite east-west axis defining the northern limits of the downtown business district. Along with the prominent residences inset in Bevan's map are two hotels that served the growing village. The Exchange Hotel, shown along the canal on Court Street, would survive for a century until replaced by the F.W. Woolworth Company building, and the addition at 56-58 Court Street, with the added mansard roof from the 1870's, still survives. By 1873, in the Bird's Eye View of Binghamton by H. Brosius, the westward growth of the soon-to-be city is clear, and the landmarks inset in the map include not only the second Broome County Court House, but the newly erected high school on Main Street west of the Chenango River, built in the French Second Empire style by Binghamton's leading regional architect, Isaac G. Perry. Court House Square has been cleared of non-county buildings, and several new bridges connect the central city with developing areas to the west and south. Brosius's Bird's-eye View still shows the canal along what would soon become State Street, but the vigor of the railroads, with the roundhouse and yards east of Chenango Street, dominates the upper section of the map. These trends are confirmed in the map of Binghamton by the L.H. Burleigh Company drawn in 1882. The canal has been filled, the railroad is dominant, and the perspective has shifted to include more of the growing west and south sides of the city. At the center of the map, however, is the commercial and governmental core along Court Street. Three quarters of the buildings in the Court Street Historic District were built during this nineteenth-century canal and railroad era. Only a handful, three on Court and three on Washington, survive from the era of growth following the opening of the Chenango Canal in 1837. These simple brick buildings in the Greek Revival commercial style have, in some instances, been incorporated into later structures or have had later Italianate or Second Empire style upper stories added.

Buildings in the Court Street Historic District built between 1850 and 1875 (which equal one-third of the total) are concentrated on Court Street at each end of the district, from Water to Washington and from Chenango to Carroll, and on the east side of Washington Street north of Hawley. As shown on the 1873 Birds Eye View of Binghamton, solid rows of business buildings lined Court and adjacent streets, with hotels on the south side of the street at Water Street and the canal. Other major hotels were located at the intersection of the canal and the railroad at the north end of downtown. Major churches built during this period included the Romanesque Revival First Presbyterian on Chenango Street by J.J. Lyon of New York City (1861) and Gothic Revival Centenary Methodist on east Court Street by Isaac G. Perry (1866). Richard Upjohn's more ecclesiological stone Gothic church had been built for Christ Church, Episcopal, in 1853-55, although it was not to receive its planned spire until the early twentieth century. This building (National Register, 1974) is isolated from the district by modern parking garages. The commercial row of Italianate style structures that survives at 112-128 Washington and a similar row at 97-103 Court Street are the best examples of this popular style, often characterized in vernacular commercial architecture by cast-iron storefront round and segmentally arched window openings in upper stories headed by cast-iron or stone lintels, and the extensive use of brick corbelling in the designs of broad entablatures and cornices.

With the increased prosperity of the cigar industry and the new opportunities for building along State Street that accompanied the closing of the canal, the period from 1875 to 1900 was an especially active one. The Stephens Building, completed in 1889, possibly designed by Truman I. Lacey, whose architectural office was one of the first tenants, is an outstanding local example of later nineteenth century commercial architecture, freely combining Romanesque details such as rusticated stone piers and an entrance arch with elaborate brick corbelling and terra-cotta medallions and panels. Its symmetrical five-story, seventeen-bay facade culminates in a central tower. The renovation of this building into the Stephens Square shopping center, while not commercially successful in its first phase, was influential in calling attention to the possible adaptation of long neglected historic commercial buildings, which in some cases had been slated for demolition. One of the most important structures from this period is the Perry Block at 87 Court Street, designed by Isaac G. Perry in 1876, it contained his office and apartment on its upper floors. The Perry Block is the architect's only cast-iron design in Binghamton and is a regionally significant and rare example of Italianate style cast-iron architecture. Perry's progressive example was never followed in Binghamton, although several other cast-iron blocks designed by the architect were built in nearby Scranton, PA. The 1883 commercial row at 117-21 Court Street includes vernacular Italianate style buildings with elaborate details incorporating segmental round and ogival window arches, brick quoining, and extensively corbelled and panelled entablatures and cornices. Similar complexity occurs in the Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne style Brunner Building and Phoenix Block, designed by Isaac Perry in the late 1880's after he had been appointed by Governor Grover Cleveland as superintending architect of the still unfinished New York State Capitol. Another significant Richardsonian Romanesque style building in the Court Street Historic District is the 1891 Stone Opera House at 31-35 Chenango Street, designed by Sanford O. Lacey while he was working with Perry in Binghamton and Albany. This important cultural center, along with the 1920 glazed terra-cotta Strand Theater next door, are being renovated for entertainment purposes during 1983-84. Sanford Lacey's two other buildings in the district were in later styles; the Boston Store of 1899-1900 at 17-23 Court combined Queen Anne and Romanesque elements, and the Morning Sun Building at 66 Chenango Streets (1920) is in the Neoclassical commercial style that characterizes the early twentieth century buildings in the district. A major renovation of the Boston Store in 1971-74 removed its turret and covered the building with a blank brick facade. It is now listed as a non-contributing building. Another major building complex in the Court Street Historic District, the O'Neil-Ross Block at 70-76 Court Street, was designed in 1889-92 by Truman I. Lacey in an eclectic Romanesque Queen Anne commercial style, which has been only partially compromised by removal of the pediments and a brick overlay on the two lower floors.

The two major governmental buildings in the Court Street Historic District were both built at the end of the nineteenth century and were harbingers of new architectural trends in Binghamton. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and stand as symbols of the prosperity of turn-of-the-century Binghamton. The Broome County Court House was designed by Isaac Perry in 1898 after a fire had destroyed its elegant 1856 Greek Revival style predecessor. Perry's design refers to the massing and composition of the earlier courthouse, with its projecting portico and central dome, but departs from the simplicity of its predecessor with a battery of Neoclassical details and a monumental Baroque style clock tower and dome clad in copper and crowned by a cupola and a large state of Justice. The south wing, built in 1916-1917, complements the original design by repeating the materials and details.

The Binghamton City Hall, built in 1897-98 and in use until 1972, was the result of an architectural competition in 1896 won by the New York City architect, Raymond P. Almirall. The five-story French Renaissance Beaux-Arts style structure with its rusticated ground floor and mansarded fifth story is Binghamton's finest example of this style. Together with a companion building built in 1899 for the Binghamton Savings Bank, the city hall commission was influential in defining Beaux-Arts Classicism as the favored style in Binghamton for important public and commercial buildings at the turn of the century and its completion ushered in a new period of growth around Court House Square. After discouraging attempts to find a new owner in the 1970's, the building was successfully converted for use as a hotel in 1983.

The major buildings which still dominate Court House Square were erected early in the twentieth century. In 1904, a local insurance firm, Security Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, erected a monumental ten-story headquarters building at 80-84 Exchange Street. Designed by Truman Lacey and Son, the structure is an elaborate expression of Beaux-Arts architecture characterized by a balanced composition and rich classical detail. Upon completion, the Security Mutual Building became a major vertical element of the skyline. The same year witnessed the completion of the Carnegie Library, built adjacent to the bank and designed by Sanford O. and H.A. Lacey under the supervision of Isaac Perry. Also in 1904 Willis Sharpe Kilmer (of patent medicine fame) engaged Arthur T. Lacey to design the twelve-story Press Building at 19-21 Chenango Street in a more heavily ornamented variation of Beaux-Arts architecture designed to compete with the Security Mutual Building in both height and style. These two towers, along with church spires and the courthouse dome, dominated the skyline of Binghamton until the erection of the twenty-story New York State Office Building in 1971-73. Towers for elderly housing were later constructed and provide a new visual focus to the north and south of the district.

The early twentieth century buildings that fill out the Court Street Historic District are mostly in the Georgian or Neoclassical Revival style, and the major buildings represent consolidation and relocation of prominent local banks. The seven-story People's Trust building at 84 Court Street, from 1915, represents a restrained example of Neoclassical style commercial design contrasting with its more flamboyant neighbors around the Court House Square. The City National Bank Building, designed by Alfred Hopkins of New York City in 1923-24 and incorporating a monumental Ionic portico crowned by an eagle and shield cartouche, will be incorporated in the new downtown mall now under construction. The flat iron shaped First National Bank Building at 95 Court Street, designed by Halsey, McCormack and Heller of New York City and built in 1929, is being maintained as a branch of the merged First City National Bank. Its Neoclassical elevations are composed with a rusticated ground floor and round-arched window bays articulated by Ionic pilasters. Completing the buildings in the district bordering Court House Square are the classically detailed 1907 Fowler Hotel,, with its 1919 addition by T.I. Lacey and Son to house the YWCA, and the six-story Binghamton Savings Bank Building, designed in 1926 in a simplified Neoclassical style.

Two examples of Art Deco architecture are included in the Court Street Historic District. The earliest is a store facade at 69 Court Street which represents a remodelling of a circa 1890 commercial building. It features a smooth limestone facade with an arched center bay, raised decorative panels surrounded by neon lights, and wrought-iron balustrades in front of the third story windows. A more important example of Art Deco architecture, and in fact the only major building designed from the onset in this style in the Court Street Historic District, is the Broome County Justice Building. Designed by Walter Whitlock of Binghamton and completed in 1939, the seven-story building is an architecturally significant combination of Beaux Arts planning and symmetrical composition with Art Deco massing and detailing. The exterior walls are finished in smooth limestone laid on courses of alternating widths. Window bays are articulated by flat pilasters which give the fenestration a vertical emphasis. Art Deco massing is evident in the stepped up design of each of the four elevations, culminating in a single story penthouse at the center of the building. Art Deco details also include stylized relief panels at the fifth story, representing Broome County historical scenes. The Justice Building and the 1898 Courthouse with its 1918 addition immediately to the north on the same block form an aesthetically unified complex at the center of the district, related by the consistent use of stone as an exterior material, similar building heights and building mass. Although less than fifty years old, the Justice Building is one of only three distinguished examples of Art Deco design in Binghamton and contributes to the Court Street Historic District in terms of scale, materials, and function.

The Court Street Historic District recalls the major period of Binghamton's commercial and institutional growth and contains outstanding examples by local and regional architects as well as solid vernacular interpretations of popular nineteenth century architectural styles.

Despite minor alterations and some obliteration of storefronts, the Court Street Historic District retains overall integrity as a cohesive urban center constituting the historic commercial and governmental core of Binghamton.

References

Bothwell, Lawrence. Broome County Heritage, an Illustrated History. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1983.

Landmarks Society of Broome County. Parlor City Center: An Architectural and Historical Survey. Binghamton: LSBC, 1978.

  1. Peckham, Mark L., N.Y. State Department of Historic Preservation, Court Street Historic District,, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Court Street Historic District Map

Street Names
Carroll Street • Court Street • Exchange Street • Hawley Street • Henry Street • State Street • Washington Street • Water Street

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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