Cincinnatus Historic District
The Cincinnatus 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.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Cincinnatus Historic District consists of 14 properties and contains a total of 27 contributing buildings and features. The principal buildings include a church, a public library and 12 residences which are complemented by 13 contributing dependencies including carriage barns, garages and sheds. No non-contributing properties are present within the Cincinnatus Historic District.
The hamlet of Cincinnatus is situated on the east and west banks of the Otselic River in central New York State. This river flows southward from its source some 20 miles north of the hamlet to its junction with the Chenango River at Whitney Point approximately 16 miles downstream. In the vicinity of Cincinnatus, the Otselic River flows through the center of a narrow, but relatively flat, valley enclosed between 400-foot elevations to the east and west. The commercial center of Cincinnatus occurs at the east bank of the river, and while several individually eligible buildings are present there, major losses of integrity and substantial modern construction preclude its consideration as an historic district. At the west bank, a small, well-preserved residential neighborhood is located at the intersection of Main Street and Taylor Avenue. The Cincinnatus Historic District includes most of this historic enclave, excluding only those structures which have experienced major losses of integrity or which are clearly separated from the contributing properties by the presence of intrusions. The boundaries of the Cincinnatus Historic District are congruent with existing lot and right-of-way lines enclosing the historic properties. They include only that land historically related to each of the principal buildings. At the north and west of the Cincinnatus Historic District, building density decreases markedly as the principal roads lead out of the hamlet into rural portions of the township. Here, buildings consist primarily of heavily altered early twentieth century residences or modern single story ranch houses. A large, open field owned by the Town Water Works occurs northeast of the Cincinnatus Historic District. South of the historic district, the boundary excludes a c.1950 gas station and auto garage. To the east, the boundary excludes an intrusive private residence built in 1982, a house trailer and several heavily altered nineteenth-century houses.
Buildings in the Cincinnatus Historic District range in date from c.1830 to 1930. With the exception of the brick and limestone Kellogg Free Library, all of the buildings are vernacular in design and built of wood frame construction. Five buildings in the Cincinnatus Historic District, including the former Congregational Church, date from the 1830's and exhibit Federal and Federal-Greek Revival transitional period characteristics such as entrances with sidelights, elliptically arched transoms and attic ventilators, triangular attic ventilators, 6-over-6 and 12-over-12 double-hung sash windows and narrow cornices. The former Congregational Church manse built in 1851 is a unique example in the Cincinnatus Historic District of the influence of Carpenter Gothic residential architecture popular at the time of its construction. Distinguishing characteristics include its complex massing multiple gables, and scroll sawn bargeboards. Two residences in the Cincinnatus Historic District reflect the influence of the Italianate style (popular through the 1870's) with their square-shaped plans, hipped roofs, and broad, bracketed cornices. The remaining houses in the Cincinnatus Historic District, built between c.1880 and 1904, represent a variety of Victorian period residential building types and practices, with several reflecting the Queen Anne style to a greater of lesser degree. Typical characteristics include irregular massing, cross-gabled rooflines porches and verandahs with turned details and three-sided window bays. The most recent structure in the Cincinnatus Historic District, the 1930 library, exemplifies the Neo-Georgian style in its classical proportions, Flemish-bond brickwork, round-arched windows and broken-pedimented portal. Designed by Carl W. Clark of Cortland and Syracuse, it also represents the only known example of an architect-designed building in the Cincinnatus Historic District; although, it is possible that the church and several houses may have been the work of nineteenth-century master builders. Although it clearly differs from neighboring buildings in terms of materials and date of construction, the library's scale and unpretentious design make it a distinguished but compatible element within the Cincinnatus Historic District.
The Cincinnatus Historic District is significant as an unusually well-preserved enclave of historic architecture representing the growth and development of the hamlet between 1830 and 1930. The Cincinnatus Historic District includes two distinguished buildings, the 1831 Federal period church building and the 1930 Neo-Georgian library, and ten relatively modest vernacular residences which illustrate the range of intervening stylistic influences common in central New York State. The Cincinnatus Historic District is distinguished from other areas of the hamlet by its cohesiveness, a product of similar scale, materials and setbacks, and by the total absence of modern intrusions. It represents the only sizeable group of historic buildings to survive intact within the hamlet.
The earliest buildings surviving in the Cincinnatus Historic District date from the 1830's and include the c.1830 Rockwell-Randall House, the 1834 Kingman-Prior House and store and the 1831 Congregational Church. These buildings represent vernacular adaptations of the then popular Federal style with some details indicating a transition to the Greek Revival style. The Rockwell-Randall House, for example, is an excellent representative of the common five-bay center entrance two-story residence popular in other Cortland County communities in the early 1830's. It retains its original six-over-six window sash, door with sidelights and elliptically arched louvered attic ventilators. The Kingman-Pryor residence, built by Judge Oliver Kingman, (son of the pioneer and a distinguished public servant) illustrates another common house type of the period, the three-bay, two-story, side entrance house. The elliptically arched entrance with sidelights is a Federal style feature; however, the broad entablature with taenia molding and the triangular attic ventilator indicate a transition toward the Greek Revival style. Kingman's store, also built in 1834 and later converted to a residence features proportions and details common during the transitional period between the Federal and Greek Revival styles. The former Congregational Church, built in 1831, is an outstanding example of a vernacular Federal style meeting house. Noteworthy details include the flushboard facade with its trabeated entrance, three part window with sidelights and bell tower cornice with small-scale mutules. The side elevations consists of simple rectangular twelve-over-twelve sash windows (later modified with the selective removal of several muntins each) at both the main floor and gallery levels. The belfry, spire and western most bay were added in 1860 and represent historical modifications to the structure which indicate continued growth in the congregation during the mid-nineteenth century. Because of its scale and central location, the former church, now Heritage Hall, is the key structure in the Cincinnatus Historic District.
Chronologically, the next important structure built in the Cincinnatus Historic District is the 1851 Congregational Church manse, designed in a vernacular interpretation of the Carpenter Gothic style. Its complex massing, steeply pitched roofs and scroll sawn bargeboards are true to the style; however, its clapboard exterior, entry with rectangular transom and sidelights, and simple rectangular windows are more indicative of traditional local building techniques. A single and very late example of vernacular Greek Revival design is present on Taylor Avenue in the district. Built in 1874 as a school house and converted to a residence c.1895, the Shore residence features characteristic Greek Revival style entablatures and broad roof pitch. The verandah and rear extension reflect the Victorian taste for ornamentation popular at the date of its conversion.
More typical of the 1870's are the Italianate style Barnes-Brown residence, built c.1874 and the White-Glezen residence, built at about the same date. Both houses feature the cube-like massing, flat hipped roof, broad, bracket-supported cornices, and two-over-two double-hung window sash characteristic of the style. Both houses are large in comparison to their earlier neighbors and reflect a period of continuing social and economic expansion in Cincinnatus following the Civil War.
In the 1890's and early 1900's, Cincinnatus became an important regional milk processing center with creameries, a large ice cream plant and a cheese box factory. This industrialization coincided with the arrival of a branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad in 1898. In the Cincinnatus Historic District, the prosperity of this period is represented by four intact Victorian period houses on Taylor Avenue at the north end of the district. These include the Meldrin-Totman residence, the Staley residence, the Brown-Forshee residence and the Smith Wigh residence. All are vernacular in design with Queen Anne style references, including decorative shingle gables, ornate porches with turned posts and balusters, irregular massing, cross-gabled roofs and one-over-one double-hung sash.
The hamlet's turn-of-the-century prosperity was short lived and by the 1920's, several leading industries had closed their doors. The only significant change in the Cincinnatus Historic District after that date was the construction of the Kellogg Free Library in 1930. Built through the philanthropy of O.U. and Jasper Kellogg of Cortland and California, respectively, the library is a small but distinguished example of Neo-Georgian institutional architecture. The brick and limestone structure was designed by Carl W. Clark, a regionally significant early twentieth century architect with offices in Cortland and Syracuse. The scale and traditional detailing of the library are compatible with the predominantly nineteenth-century village streetscape.
Cincinnatus and other similar rural upstate New York communities experienced a long period of decline following the 1930's Depression from which they have never fully recovered. Decline is particularly evident in the eastern half of Cincinnatus where historic commercial buildings stand vacant or under-utilized and where modern alterations, have irreparably compromised key historic buildings. Conversely, the lack of growth associated with this decline has probably been responsible for the lack of modern change within the historic district at the west side of the hamlet. Today the Cincinnatus Historic District remains as a rare and unspoiled collection of architecturally significant buildings worthy of recognition.
Cincinnatus Times, 1898-1925; Cortland County Historic Society Collection.
Historical archives compiled by Town of Cincinnatus Historian Cortland Co. Historical Society Collection.
Goodwin, Hermon Camp. Pioneer History of Cortland County. New York: A.B. Burdick, 1859.
Smith, Henry Perry. History of Cortland County. Syracuse: D. Mason, 1885.