French Portage Road Historic District
The French Portage Road Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Situated on and around the two primary thoroughfares of the village of Westfield, New York, the 104 buildings of the French Portage Road Historic District depict a commercial and several residential streetscapes that evolved during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The village common, centrally located in the district, serves as a visual anchor from which the two primary streets, South Portage and East Main, diverge.
The French Portage Road Historic District encompasses approximately four blocks of South Portage Street and two blocks of East Main Street in the village of Westfield. At the village common these roads form an obtusely angled intersection. The common and portions of the side streets focusing around it complete the French Portage Road Historic District. Over fifty residences, approximately thirty commercial buildings, four office buildings, three churches, theatre, hotel, museum, library, diner and several other functional building types are included in the French Portage Road Historic District.
Along the south side of East Main Street, from Portage Street to Market Street, is a continuous row of primarily 1860's and 1870's commercial buildings. These two and three-story structures, most of which are brick, emphasize cast-iron window surrounds and detailed cornices. Several of these buildings display intact cast-iron storefronts. Opposite these buildings on the north side of East Main are modern intrusions which are not included within the boundaries of the district. Contemporary with the nineteenth-century structures are Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate style, and vernacular residences lining both sides of East Main one-half block east of Market Street. A number of other early to mid-nineteenth century residences appear along South Portage Street and on the several side streets in the district. Including representative and simplified examples of Greek and Gothic Revival, Italian Villa, Italianate, and Octagon styles, these brick and frame structures are intact or only minimally altered and display rich detail.
On the lots of South Portage and the district's side streets, between the mid-nineteenth century residences, are late nineteenth and early twentieth century residences. A few elaborate examples of the Queen Anne style, several illustrations of the Colonial Revival style, and a number of stately vernacular designs compose this group of buildings. These primarily frame residences feature a vast array of classical detailing. Contemporary with these later residential structures is a continuous commercial block between the nineteenth-century commercial row and the nineteenth-century residential buildings on the south side of Main Street. These near-identical, two-story, early twentieth century brick buildings, with bay windows and corbeled and bracketed cornices, draw an interesting contrast to the varying facades and roof lines of the nineteenth-century blocks to the west.
The central, unifying anchor of the French Portage Road Historic District, the village common, creates an imposing setting for several of the area's earliest extant structures. McClurg Mansion, constructed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, stands at the approximate center of the common. This brick residence, now housing the village's historical museum, displays elements of several early styles which illustrate the renovations that have occurred to it over its long history. Early features such as a stepped gable roof remain intact. Two nineteenth-century churches with Gothic detailing and a modern but compatible office building stand along the outer perimeters of the Commons.
The structures included in the French Portage Road Historic District are largely intact and in good to excellent condition. Set back from the tree-lined streets, the large, stately residences of the French Portage Road Historic District display a significant degree of integrity. On the commercial blocks, many storefronts have been altered but only several are incompatible with the nineteenth century and early twentieth century character of the commercial center.
Tied historically to the early French exploration of Lake Erie and its surrounds and to the initial development of the village of Westfield, New York, the French Portage Road Historic District encompasses a near-intact nineteenth-century and early twentieth century village core. The evolutionary development of the area is recorded by the stylistic diversity of the district's buildings. Similarity of scale, richness of detail, and quality of design bind the buildings into a cohesive district of significant architectural value.
Settlement of the area included in the French Portage Road Historic District was initiated in the early part of the nineteenth century. Prior to this time the area was uncleared forest, crossed only by the Portage Trail, which linked the Great Lakes to the headwaters of the Ohio River, and the Main Road, which connected Buffalo and Erie. The French Portage Road Historic District focuses around the intersection of the contemporary versions of these two roads.
Seventeenth-century French explorers used the Portage Trail in their travels south to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Champlain, Brule, LaSalle, and Celoron all took part in expeditions in the area. Conflict over the ownership of the trail led to the French and Indian War in America, which in turn caused the Seven Years War in Europe. Portage Road in the village of Westfield today follows much the same course of the original Portage Trail.
Perhaps the first store to open in the area was a log building built about 1810 and owned by James McClurg. About one decade later McClurg brought craftsmen from Pittsburgh to construct a brick residence on land he purchased from the Holland Land Company. Dubbed "McClurg's Folly" because it stood among simple log cabins, the mansion is situated in today's village common. It is one of the earliest buildings of Westfield still in existence. Remodelled in ensuing decades, the McClurg Mansion displays elements of Dutch Colonial, Federal, and Georgian styles.
The business center of the town grew up on East Main Street, part of an early stagecoach route. The initial buildings, primarily frame structures, were constructed on the south side of Main between Portage Street and "The Lane" (what is today Market Street). One of these early structures, originally a stone building (at 35 East Main), survives with a c.1860's brick facade. The other buildings on this block are 1860's and 1870's brick commercial structures with cast-iron detailing. Residential construction of considerable quality and style occurred further east on Main Street, on South Portage Street, and around the village common. The variety of architectural styles of these residences in the French Portage Road Historic District indicates a continuity of development in Westfield throughout the nineteenth century.
The large number of early twentieth century structures in the French Portage Road Historic District suggests a spurt in the village's commerce and development around this time. A long block of two-story commercial buildings on East Main Street and many Colonial Revival and richly detailed vernacular residences were built within the first quarter of the twentieth century. The twentieth-century commercial block was constructed subsequent to a 1909 fire along part of East Main Street. The turn of the century was also about the time that Charles Welch, creating the Welch Grape Juice Company, moved to Westfield and erected the first of a number of processing plants. Two buildings within the French Portage Road Historic District were constructed to house offices for the Welch Company. Both of these structures, the 1909 Academic Revival block on the corner of South Portage and Main and the modern office on South Portage, continue in use by the company today.