Chenango County Courthouse District
The Chenango County Courthouse District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Broad Street-Main Street Historic District (Chenango County Courthouse District) is centrally located in the City of Norwich. Included in the district are two parks, governmental buildings, cultural and commercial buildings.
Broad and Main Streets form the major intersection of this district. East Main Street, the eastern portion of this district, is bounded by the City Hall (31 East Main Street) and the Palmer House (36-42 East Main Street). At the western end of Main Street, the district extends on the south side to Maple Avenue and on the north side to Court Street. The western boundary is formed by Court Street and Academy Avenue. Sections of North Broad Street included in the district extend to Fair Street on the west and to 56 North Broad Street on the east. On South Broad Street, the district extends to 12 South Broad on the west and to the four corner lots on the east. Rear property lines form the outer boundaries of the district.
East and West Park are two open spaces which face each other across Broad Street. West Park is also the site of the monumental Chenango County Courthouse. East Park is a well kept green with a circular bandstand. It is surrounded by the Sheriff's office, County Clerk's office, Baptist Church and the Ireland Building on the north. The Masonic Temple, Congregational Church and local school frame the south side of East Park. All of these buildings are constructed of brick, as are most of the buildings in the district.
East Main Street consists of a variety of commercial buildings. Variations in massing and decorative cornices add greatly to the character of this street.
Just north of the tracks are two fine three-story brick structures, the Old Norwich Hotel and City Hall. Other buildings are less pretentious, being modest two-story frame buildings. Also, in this part of the district is the 1902 Erie Lackawanna Railroad depot, which is being adapted for use as additional municipal office space.
The commercial area on North and South Broad Street contains primarily three-story brick commercial buildings dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Flat roofs and decorative bracketed cornices abound on many of the buildings.
A few buildings in the Broad Street-Main Street Historic District (Chenango County Courthouse District) warrant special discussion. These include:
1. The Chenango County Courthouse — Erected in 1837 on the site of the first log cabin built in Norwich, the two story grey stone building contains Greek Revival elements such as an entrance portico supported by Ionic columns. The front elevation overlooks East Park. The facade is symmetrical. Its gable roof has an elaborate enclosed cupola.
2. The 1878 Masonic Temple is the tallest building in the Broad Street-Main Street Historic District (Chenango County Courthouse District). It is a five story brick structure with a mansard roof and cast iron first floor store front. It was built by William Breese, a prominent citizen of Norwich.
3. Next to the Masonic Temple on the west is the Congregational Church, built in 1861. This one-story brick structure with Gothic elements houses the first organized church in Norwich. When the original building burned in 1858, the present structure was constructed to replace it.
4. A turn-of-the-century building, the City Hall was erected in 1903 as a two-story building. In 1906, a third story and hipped roof were added.
5. Opposite City Hall is the 1902 Erie Lackawanna Railroad Station, a one-story brick structure.
Approximately one sixth of the buildings included in the district may be classified as intrusions. Several of these are large buildings, such as the First City National Bank and Sears. Others are unsympathetic in terms of design and materials that do not blend with the character of the district. Although the upper stories of the nineteenth century commercial buildings are intact, many of the first stories have been modified.
The Broad Street-Main Street Historic District (Chenango County Courthouse District) in Norwich is typical of the architecture and town planning of county seats in the nineteenth century in the northeast. What distinguishes Norwich is the fact that it became an important industrial center relatively early in this part of New York State and has consequently been able to maintain a strong economic base. The resulting prosperity is reflected in the character of this historic district.
Around 1791, western New York was experiencing rapid growth in population. The settlement of Norwich resulted from this movement of population westward. Originally part of the Chenango Twenty Towns, Norwich was patented to Leonard Cutting, who decided to establish a leasing system rather than to sell the land outright. This system failed and shortly thereafter the land was sold in small parcels.
The Village of Norwich remained a small settlement within the township until 1807, when the State Legislature enacted a law authorizing the Supervisors of the county to select "within one mile of the residence of Stephen Steere, Esq., in Norwich Village a permanent site for building a courthouse and jail." The construction of these public buildings raised Norwich from the status of an ordinary hamlet to that of county seat.
It was at this time that two public spirited citizens donated the land for the village greens which still remain. These greens were described in 1850:
"These two greens containing between three and four acres, lying in a common are very ornamental to the village, as well as convenient to the citizens."
The present courthouse was built on the site of a log cabin after a bitter fight in the state legislature to retain possession of the county seat. Norwich had sent a group of citizens to lobby for their cause and when they returned:
"...festivities were opened by the firing of cannon, next a dinner was eaten and here we have the reader imagine what else occurred that eventful day."
The fact that the Village of Norwich was a county seat was not the only impetus to the town's development. Around 1833 the construction of the Chenango Canal proved to be the second decisive factor in the village's growth.
Until the canal was built, the New York City market was almost nonexistent so far as Chenango County was concerned. Furthermore, there was very little local industry with the exception of small shops that supplied local needs. But as soon as the canal was finished, large numbers of small factories were established in all communities, such as Norwich, along its course. In Norwich, during the nineteenth century, several types of industries became predominant.
One of the earliest and most important industries, the manufacture of pianos, was located on the west bank of the Chenango Canal. There were several small firms engaged in this business, but the most outstanding was the company founded in 1836 by Edward Hayes.
Accessibility to the Pennsylvania coal mines, provided by the Utica, Chenango and Susquehanna Valley Railroad, resulted in the establishment of foundries and other small iron works in the village. Also, the manufacture of carriages in Norwich was big business for many years.
By the latter half of the nineteenth century, the industry which still forms the major manufacturing concern was founded. Lafayette Moore, a retired Baptist minister, arrived in Norwich in 1855 bringing with him some equipment for the manufacture of pills. By 1888, this firm had attracted considerable investment and became the Norwich Pharmacal Company.
The range of architectural styles in the Broad Street-Main Street Historic District (Chenango County Courthouse District) reflects the growth and prosperity of the city. Several substantial buildings in the district give a feeling of urbanity to the townscape. All done in the Greek Revival style, the Chenango County Courthouse, County Clerk's office and Sheriff's office form a coherent unit on West Park Place. Reflecting a later style of buildings, the Masonic temple retains its original cast iron trim and mansard roof. A bracketed cornice and decorative lintels make this one of the most important buildings in the district. Commercial buildings in the district are two or three stories high and typical of the highly embellished commercial buildings of the mid-nineteenth century. The district presents a cross section of styles popular in the nineteenth century and many substantial buildings for a city of tis size.
The people who settled this area were mostly from New England. These Yankees, recreated the community pattern they knew best, "a system of outlots and house lots of ample size, one or more generous greens, wide streets, moderate size, and a general air of order and repose."
Today, the Broad Street-Main Street Historic District (Chenango County Courthouse District) stands as a reminder of the aspirations of the settlers in Western New York.
Clark, Hiram. History of Chenango County. Norwich, New York. Thompson, Pratt, 1850.
Phillips, Albert. "Along the Chenango Canal." Norwich, Chenango County Historical Society, 1965.
Reps, John. Town Planning in Frontier America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
† McDougall, Ellen T., N.Y. State Office of Parks and Recreation, Division for Historic Preservation, Chenango County Courthouse District, nomination document, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.