South Otselic Historic District
The South Otselic 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.
South Otselic is located in an isolated part of northwestern Chenango County in the Otselic River Valley. The terrain is particularly rugged; ridges rise above fertile valleys; streams are abundant. Although there are other hamlets in the town of Otselic, South Otselic is the town's principal population center as well as its commercial and social hub. South Otselic Historic District includes sixty residential, commercial, industrial and religious structures encompassing most of the hamlet. The boundary is drawn to exclude properties which lack integrity of design and workmanship. There are six non-contributing structures in the South Otselic Historic District.
Functional distinctions between various parts of the hamlet have blurred as buildings were adapted for new purposes, usually housing. Only Potter Avenue and Plank Road have always been exclusively residential streets; elsewhere residential and non-residential uses intermingled.
Historically, the hamlet's industry was concentrated near the Otselic River which flows through the center of the hamlet east of and roughly parallel to Main Street, on a millrace southeast of the river, and on Gladding Street which crosses both waterways. Only the Gladding Corporation's large late-nineteenth century factory and its single story office retain both industrial form and function today. One of the oldest structures in the South Otselic Historic District is the J. Brown Grist Mill, dating possibly to the early 1810s. Other simple, non-residential structures on Gladding Street are Noonan's Blacksmith Shop, c.1870, South Otselic's first firehouse, built in the 1840s, and a former fishing box factory/newspaper office/print shop — all have been converted to housing.
Commercial buildings were at one time located all along Main Street. The few remaining businesses are now concentrated at the intersection of Gladding and Main Streets. The southwest corner is dominated by the massive three-story Cox Block, built in 1890 in an eclectic design of owner Frank Cox's own invention. Two other large business blocks add to the late nineteenth century character of the business district: the 1878 Perkins Block, now residential, and the 1896 Dew Drop building, now the post office. The low, tile-roofed 1930s gas station at the northwest corner of the intersection contrasts sharply with the tall frame buildings around it. The oldest commercial building in the South Otselic Historic District is the Wheeler Harness Shop, a wedge-shaped building at the intersection of Main Street and Clarence Church Hill Road dating from the 1840s.
Representing the hamlet's earliest residential development are plain gable roofed vernacular houses such as the grouping on the north end of Main Street. Many of these pre-Civil War dwellings display simple Greek Revival detailing: boxed cornices, gable returns, and sidelights or transoms. Each of the two churches also exhibits the wide frieze and rectilinear form of the Greek Revival style, although both have been altered. The hamlet's only example of historic masonry construction is a rubble-filled concrete Octagon, an extremely well-preserved example of that form with simple Greek Revival detailing.
During and after the Civil War, Italianate motifs — cornice brackets, bay windows, and peaked or pedimented lintels — began to be incorporated into the vernacular idiom. Structures such as one on Plank Road exemplify this modest innovation in domestic architecture. Its commercial application is also represented; as well as the fully developed Italianate fashion can be seen.
Victorian eclectic design made an appearance in South Otselic late in the nineteenth century, evidenced mainly in the use of imported standardized building parts. Applied ornamentation, stained and leaded glass, textured wall surfaces, and a variety of decorative pieces such as finials and pendants are indicative of this. The gambrel roof, introduced around the turn of the century, was very popular, appearing in several buildings and in many garages.
The South Otselic Historic District is a cohesive grouping of historically and architecturally significant buildings which includes representative examples of both the modest vernacular housing of the early settlement period and the ostentatious commercial blocks and residences of the late nineteenth century. Prospering as the social and commercial center for an isolated rural area, the hamlet's growth peaked in the late nineteenth century. The Gladding Corporation, manufacturing line and cordage in South Otselic since the 1890s, has provided stability to the hamlet economy despite population decline in the twentieth century.
South Otselic, located on the banks of the Otselic River in the southwest corner of the town, was the leading population center by the mid-1800s. In 1850, it boasted a millrace with grist and saw mills and a ropewalk and many business establishments: two hotels, three blacksmith shops, wagon makers, an ashery, a large tannery, and assorted shops.
As local industries and agriculture developed, transportation routes were improved. A twenty-mile plank road was built to Norwich, the county seat, in 1840. In the 1870s, the Auburn Branch of the Oswego-Midland Railroad stopped at Otselic Center, four miles north. Locally known as the "Butter and Cheese Express," the railroad provided an outlet for the town's dairy farms and local industries.
Historically, South Otselic has been a rural center, serving the commercial, social, and religious needs of a remote rural area. As the agricultural economy prospered, trips to South Otselic by farmers and their families for supplies, entertainment, etc. sustained a diversity of small business enterprises in the hamlet as well as a district school and two churches.
Reflecting the increasing prosperity of South Otselic, a building boom ensued in the late 1870s, lasting until the turn of the century. Large commercial blocks were built in the center of the hamlet: The grandest of these was the Cox Block, built as a department store featuring groceries, household goods, a drug store, and an ice cream parlor with apartments and Masonic rooms above. When local businessmen organized the Otselic Valley National Bank in 1905, the bank office was installed in the Cox Block too. The Perkins Block, (a two-story section survives) relocated in the 1930s, was another three-story mercantile structure with stores and a large ballroom for public gatherings. The Dewdrop Block housed a theatre and offices.
In 1895, a three-story factory was built by the Gladding Line Company near the Otselic River crossing in the hamlet. The firm, founded by John Gladding in 1816, had previously been located 1-1/2 miles south of the hamlet. By mid-century there were ten employees (besides family members) and products included pulley cords, halters, bed cords, chalk lines, and fishing lines. The business grew steadily, eventually achieving a national standing in the specialized line/cordage markets.
Gladding's new home in South Otselic afforded it several advantages: closer proximity to labor and supply markets, ample room for a new factory and future expansion, and readily available water power. The hamlet benefited from additional jobs created as the factory expanded and from the paternalistic attitude of the Gladding family, which engaged in many public-spirited ventures. When the company built a dam and pipeline to power its machinery, the system was shared with the hamlet to provide a dependable public water supply and fire protection for the community. Gladding also installed the first public telephone system, built sidewalks, and stocked the Otselic River with trout.
The late nineteenth century prosperity was reflected in residential construction. New homes were built on vacant lots in established neighborhoods and on Potter Avenue, where lots were first offered for sale in 1880. Existing structures were remodeled to incorporate the latest modern conveniences and architectural fashions. One of the most elegant homes was that of B.F. Gladding, built in the Italianate style ca.1880 but updated at the turn of the century with the addition of a gambrel-roofed third floor and a variety of stylish details — Palladian windows, rounded porches, stained glass, foliate appliques and imbricated shingles. Other executives of the Gladding Corporation took part in the building boom as well: Colonial Revival style alterations were made to the homes of Silas Hill and M.M. Perkins, and Ralph R. Brown built a fine Queen Anne style home next to the Gladding factory (it was demolished, but its carriage house remains). Merchants and professionals also profited from the turn of the century prosperity, as reflected in the residences built for Frank Cox and Dr. D.W. Crumb.
Like many rural communities in New York State, South Otselic settled into a period of relative quiescence after the turn of the century. The town population decreased from a high of 1700 to less than 1000 in 1920 where it has stabilized. With increasing ease of communication and travel to nearby cities, area residents no longer look to South Otselic for commercial and other services. Today, the Cox Block is the center of most commercial activity, with the only grocery and bank in the hamlet. The other intact large commercial structure is the Dewdrop Block housing the post office. Major buildings erected since the early part of the century are few: the Otselic Valley Central School, a new firehouse, and the only gas station. With the decline in commercial activity, some surviving structures have been converted to residential use — the Roberts Block and a section of the original Perkins Block are examples of this change.
The growth of the Gladding Corporation to an international supplier of fishline and sporting equipment has helped ensure the survival of the rural community. The company maintains its corporate offices in South Otselic and today employs 160 area residents. South Otselic was designated "Fishing Line Capitol of the World" by Governor Rockefeller in 1966.
The South Otselic Historic District is a cohesive grouping of well-preserved, largely intact residences and commercial structures which represents the history and development of the hamlet of South Otselic in the nineteenth century.
Cox, Frank E. "Otselic History" Lecture, 1941. Xeroxed transcript. Guernsey Memorial Library, Norwich, New York.
Disturnell, J. A Gazetteer of the State of New York. Albany, New York, 1842.
Norwich, New York Chenango County Planning Board Research file for Gladding Museum National Register Nomination.
Smith, James H. The History of Chenango and Madison Counties. Syracuse: D. Mason and Company 1880.
Truesdell, Mrs. Ward "History of the Gladding Line Factory" xeroxed. Guernsey Memorial Library, Norwich, New York.