Franklin Village Historic District
The Franklin Village 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 Franklin Village Historic District consists of 169 properties and contains a total of 248 contributing buildings and features. The majority of contributing buildings are residential (139 structures) with a total of 83 contributing dependencies. Contributing elements also include three churches, twelve commercial buildings, one industrial structure, five institutional and/or public buildings, four historic cemeteries and one monument. There are fifteen non-contributing principal buildings.
The boundary of the Franklin Village Historic District incorporates most of the properties located within the village limits as well as five properties adjacent to the village at the north and south ends. These include the Ouleout Valley Cemetery at the north end, a 27-acre picturesque cemetery established in 1874 and historically and aesthetically linked to the village; the late nineteenth century Meadowbrook Farm at the south end, visually connected to the village by virtue of its farmhouse, which conforms with setbacks along Main Street; and three nineteenth-century residences, also at the south end of the village, east of Main Street, which continue the established streetscape to its southernmost terminus. A large area of undeveloped village land, located between the Ouleout Creek and the built-up village, three properties on the north side of Hill Street, and properties on both sides of Otego Street have been excluded from the historic district due to a lack of significant historic buildings. In each instance, the Franklin Village Historic District boundary follows established property lines, enclosing the minimum area required for the inclusion of significant resources. With the exceptions discussed above, the area outside of the Franklin Village Historic District is sparsely settled and is characterized by open fields, woodlands and scattered farmsteads.
Most of the popular American architectural styles of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are represented in the Franklin Village Historic District, with the residences consisting largely of vernacular two-story frame Federal, Greek Revival and Italianate style designs. Modest examples of late Victorian period and early twentieth century residential design are also present. Religious architecture includes examples of early nineteenth century Classical Revival and vernacular Gothic Revival design as well as an 1865 board and batten Gothic Revival style church attributed to the nationally prominent father and son architectural firm of Richard and Richard M. Upjohn. The Franklin Village Historic District features two impressive three-story educational buildings including a colonnaded frame dormitory built for the Delaware Literary Institute in 1854, (Masonic Hall) and the New Stone Hall, built for the institute in 1856. (The New Stone Hall was listed on the National Register individually in 1980). These buildings are complemented by the Neoclassical two-story brick Franklin Central School of 1932, located at Institute Street across from the Masonic Hall.
Commercial architecture in the Franklin Village Historic District is less diverse in terms of dates and styles, but equally significant architecturally. At the center of Franklin Village a row of six exceptionally intact Italianate style store buildings (c.1855-1875) sets the character for Franklin's small business district. All but one of these buildings are of frame construction with the one exception built of brick above a cast-iron storefront. Also noteworthy is an earlier unaltered Greek Revival style store building at 79 Main Street, built c.1840, and a small false-front lawyer's office at 73 Main Street built in 1880. The latest of the significant commercial buildings in the Franklin Village Historic District is a two-story service station and auto garage built in 1914 of rusticated concrete block laid in random ashlar at 54 Main Street.
Another significant category of buildings within the Franklin Village Historic District includes residential dependencies such as historic carriage barns, garages and privies as well as a small number of historic farm buildings, including barns, milk houses, chicken houses and sheds. Many of these structures reflect the dates and styles of their parent residences, whereas others reflect the vernacular building practices of their time. All of the contributing outbuildings are of frame construction. Although a number of historic outbuildings have been replaced over the years with modern dependencies, particularly car garages, it is remarkable that 129 significant outbuildings have survived.
Four historic cemeteries are located within or immediately adjacent to the village of Franklin and all four are included within the Franklin Village Historic District. Three of these are relatively small church-related cemeteries, located directly behind the sites of the sponsoring churches within the Center Street residential area. They include the Presbyterian Church Cemetery, near Old Stone Hall behind the site of the 1805 Presbyterian Church (burned 1918), the Baptist Church Cemetery, located directly behind the extant 1834 Baptist Church (now the Congregational Baptist Church) and the Congregational Church Cemetery, located directly behind the site of the former Congregational Church on Main Street, now occupied by the fire station. Each of the cemeteries is small and austere, characterized by typical nineteenth-century rectangular marble headstones and small obelisks. In contrast, the extensive Ouleout Valley Cemetery, established in 1874 at the north end of the Franklin Village Historic District, is characterized by a distinctive, picturesque Victorian period landscape design combining natural landforms with an artificial pond, ornamental plantings, and typical nineteenth and early twentieth century tombstones.
Much of Franklin's unique character can be attributed to the architectural compatibility resulting from common scale, materials, and building traditions, and from relatively uniform building setbacks complemented by rows of large, predominantly maple, shade trees. A number of bluestone sidewalks remain intact in the village as well. These features combine to distinguish Franklin as perhaps the most intact historic village in the western Catskill Mountains.
The Franklin Village Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as an unusually intact nineteenth and early twentieth century upper Catskill village that reflects, with its distinguished collection of buildings, the growth and continued prosperity of a typical village along the historic Catskill Turnpike. It also represents the local influence on architecture and development resulting from the presence of the Delaware Literary Institute, a regionally prominent secondary institution established in Franklin in 1835. The institute remained a major economic and cultural influence in the village until the late 1800s. Later development in Franklin represented in the Franklin Village Historic District reflects the changing orientation of the village from its transportation and educational roles to its later role as a small market center serving the needs of regional dairying operations after the 1870s. This industry continues to sustain the village. The high degree of preservation characteristic of the historic district is the result of Franklin's continuing ability to fulfill this role, as well as its relative isolation from the major transportation routes and urban centers of the mid to later twentieth century. The Franklin Village Historic District represents a period of significance from c.1820 to 1932 with very little development occurring after that date.
Despite the historical use of the nearby Susquehanna River as an important avenue of trade and transportation throughout much of the eighteenth century, settlement of the Western Catskills and the surrounding region remained sparse until after the Revolution. Subdivision of the great land patents after the war attracted the first significant wave of settlers to the region during the 1780's and 90's. Many of these early settlers came from New England, particularly, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Sherman Wattles was one of the first of these individuals to come to the vicinity of Franklin. Wattles built a cabin in or near the site of the village in 1785 and later operated a ferry at Unadilla. In 1791 Nathan Edgerton and Daniel Root arrived from Connecticut. Two years later, the town of Franklin was established.
The first settlers established various small industries: asheries, tanneries, gristmills, sawmills and distilleries. To transport their goods, particularly lumber and whiskey, to regional centers of trade, the first road was laid in 1793 from the Ouleout Greek to the Delaware River at Walton. The Catskill Turnpike, which opened in 1802, passed through the town of Franklin connecting the Hudson River at Catskill to the Susquehanna River at Wattles Ferry (now Unadilla). Hotels sprang up every few miles to serve the thousands of freight carriers and west-bound settlers who used the road. In these years, two settlements in the township vied for supremacy: the "Corners," now Bartletts Hollow and the present village of Franklin, each with only a dozen or so buildings. In 1827, John Edgerton purchased one hundred acres in the present village and had it surveyed and laid out in streets and one-half acre building lots. The investment paid off and in 1836 Franklin became an incorporated village, with a population of less than 300. Edgerton's plan for the village remains essentially unaltered today. The year 1836 also brought Franklin its first dairying operation, and industry which brought considerable prosperity to Franklin County, and Delaware County in subsequent generations. In 1835, the Delaware Literary Institute was chartered as "a literary institution for the instruction and education of youth of both sexes," with a primary aim of educating ministers and missionary teachers. The first campus building, a four-story stone structure, opened its doors in 1836. The institute's first catalogue in 1837 indicated an enrollment of 83. The school grew rapidly and in 1852 boasted an enrollment of 409. Two major buildings were added to the campus between 1852 and 1855 (one survives and is included in the Franklin Village Historic District) and in 1857 a second major stone structure was completed, replacing the 1837 building destroyed by fire in the preceding year. This building, New Stone Hall, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places individually in 1980 and is also included in the Franklin Village Historic District.
During the mid-nineteenth century, the Delaware Literary Institute gained statewide prominence for its educational excellence, drawing students from many states and sending graduates to Ivy League colleges. Its influence and enrollment declined after the Civil War, in part due to competition from free public schools. It closed in 1902 and the buildings were subsequently leased to the Union Free School. Centralization came in 1929, and in 1932 one of the institute's frame dormitories was replaced with the present Neoclassical style school building, a contributing element of the Franklin Village Historic District.
As transportation and private education began to decline as mainstays of Franklin's prosperity, they were replaced by the growth of the dairy industry in rural Delaware County. Dairying continues to sustain the village and remains the chief industry in the surrounding countryside. One small-scale dairy farm remains within the incorporated village at 122 Main Street. A second historic dairy farm Meadowbrook Farm is located immediately south of the village line and is operated as a small-scale truck farm. Both farms retain historic barns and farmhouses and are incorporated within the Franklin Village Historic District as contributing properties.
The architectural character of Franklin reflects the early development and growing prosperity of the community. Most buildings in the Franklin Village illustrate local vernacular interpretations of nationally popular nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural styles; however, a handful of high-style buildings in each period illustrate the fashion awareness and economic resources of the more wealthy and prominent individuals and institutions. The earliest remaining buildings in the Franklin Village Historic District are houses dating from the 1820's and 1830's which represent variations of the Federal style or the transition between the Federal and the Greek Revival styles. These houses are generally two stories in height with clapboard and/or flushboard exteriors. Foremost among them is the 1822 Isaac Platt House at 68 Main Street, which features an attenuated Ionic portico. The elliptically arched entrance with sidelights is repeated at the second story in an elliptically-arched tripartite window. More typical of this period is the c.1835 residence at 141 Main Street, which features a three-bay gabled facade, an entrance with sidelights and an attenuated cornice. The shingled exterior and the Eastlake style verandah are later nineteenth century improvements to the building that have achieved significance over time and which illustrate a common phenomenon in Franklin.
Greek Revival style architecture is especially well represented in Franklin and includes examples in virtually all of the building types. The style coincides with Franklin's first major period of growth following the establishment of the Literary Institute in 1835. Noteworthy buildings of this group include the 1834 Baptist Church on Center Street, which combines details and forms derived from both Greek and Roman precedents; the c.1840 residence at 46 Main Street, typical of many houses of this period in the village in its proportions and details; the c.1840 store building at 79 Main Street, a rare surviving example of Greek Revival style commercial architecture in the village; and the former institute chapel and dormitory (now Masonic Hall) at Institute Street, featuring a monumental three-story high portico.
Gothic Revival style architecture is less well represented in the village. The best vernacular examples include the 1834 Methodist Church at 89 Main Street, which incorporates modest Gothic detailing in an otherwise typical meeting house, and an exceptional c.1860 Carpenter Gothic house at 115 Main Street, which is embellished with unusual Gothic-inspired details and forms including pedimented windows, an arched entry, slender paired porch colonettes and scroll-sawn fascias reminiscent of icicles. St. Paul's Episcopal Church, attributed to the nationally prominent firm of R. and R.M. Upjohn and completed in 1865, is a regionally significant example of board and batten Gothic Revival style architecture with Stick style embellishments to the bell tower. No other significant examples of Gothic Revival style architecture are located in Franklin.
Numerous Italianate style residences are located on Main and Center streets. Most of these houses were built between 1850 and 1870 and share the common identifying characteristics of relatively flat, hipped roofs, bracketed cornices and broad front porches. All are built of frame construction. The residences at 119, 123, and 125 Main Street are typical examples illustrating the variation found within this style in Franklin. The Italianate style predominated in the commercial architecture of this period as well. A very distinguished row of such buildings remains between 80 and 90 Main Street, constituting an 1870's streetscape rarely found in such a well-preserved state. All of these buildings are two stories in height, with all but one built of frame construction.
The 1870's also marked the establishment of the Ouleout Valley Cemetery, a regionally significant example of picturesque rural cemetery design. The move to establish a non-denomination cemetery adjacent to the incorporated village was caused in part by dwindling space in the three church-sponsored burial grounds located at the center of the village. It also reflects the growth of an increasingly heterogeneous population with worldly tastes. The cemetery design combines natural landforms with artificial landscape features including a pond, contoured roadways, scattered clusters of cedar trees, and several rows of large maple trees. In addition to impressive obelisks and other monuments, the cemetery also includes a Civil War memorial monument with stone statue, a cast-iron fountain, an 1897 rusticated stone receiving vault and an outstanding triple-portal cast-iron entrance gate erected in 1890. Careful maintenance over time and an adherence to the picturesque tradition in new and replacement planting have generally preserved the historic character of this landscape. The cemetery is closely linked to the village historically and aesthetically and provides a transition between the open meadows north of the village and the formal tree-lined streets within the incorporated village.
By 1880, the village of Franklin was for the most part built up, with later construction consisting primarily of infill buildings and less distinctive houses built at the fringes of the village. A number of houses from this period can be classified as simple vernacular versions of Victorian period styles such as Eastlake, Queen Anne and Shingle. Twentieth-century architectural styles are poorly represented in the historic district due to a lack of growth in Franklin after 1900. Notable exceptions include the Neoclassical school building at Institute and Center Streets, built in 1932; the 1914 auto service station at 54 Main Street, built of novel rusticated concrete blocks laid in random ashlar; a 1906 Neo-Georgian house at 155 Main Street; a c.1910 Arts and Crafts inspired house at 149 Main Street; and a c.1925 builder's house at 61 Main Street, reminiscent of the English Cottage tradition.
Despite the loss of a handful of significant historic buildings to fire, deterioration or demolition, very few post-Depression Era buildings have been constructed in Franklin. As a result, very few intrusions compromise the historic character of the Franklin Village Historic District. The Franklin Village Historic District retains a primarily nineteenth-century character that recalls the history and development of the village. The outstanding degree of architectural integrity of the streetscapes and the many distinctive examples of intact period architecture distinguish the village within the region.