Main Street Historic District
The Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. 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 Main Street Historic District is composed of six properties, three residential and three commercial, containing six contributing buildings, one non-contributing outbuilding and no intrusions. It occupies both sides of Main Street west of the railroad tracks. Its boundaries are defined by the lines of four properties on the north side of Main Street: nos. 9A, 11, 13 and 15, and two properties on the south side: nos. 10 and 12. The Main Street Historic District is approximately one acre in area. The train tracks create an effective boundary on the east side of the district. In 1928, the railroad enlarged its right-of-way, eliminating Main Street's crossing and constructing a new bridge slightly to the north. The resulting road, Bridge Street, bypassed the district area, effectively isolating this small mixed-use enclave from traffic patterns and architectural association with other streets. This representational collection of traditional Main Street village buildings is essentially intact except for an historic church east of the store at 12 Main Street which has been radically altered into apartment housing units and excluded from the nomination. Individually, the Main Street Historic District elements reflect the range of forms and styles found in the hamlet and introduce other non-residential building types into the context. As a group, the buildings give a visual indication of the character of village activity during the railroad age. Main Street originally was the main route into the hamlet and to transshipment areas at the railroad and the river. Typical of the era, there was a casual mix of residential, commercial, civic and religious architecture with development extending in a linear pattern from a major intersection (here the railroad).
The three residential properties are distinctive examples of the local vernacular building tradition. All basically contemporaneous (c.1850), they represent three typical house forms: a one and one-half story side-passage residence (11 Main Street), a one and one-half story center passage residence (13 Main Street) built in two stages and expanded from the more common side passage format to create a more pretentious five-bay facade — and a full-scale, two-story, center-passage residence (9A Main Street). They also show application of the two common choices of construction materials, frame, sheathed with clapboard and brick. Furthermore, the houses illustrate the persistence of rectilinear Greek Revival style design, particularly in the local brick tradition, as well as the popularity of picturesque embellishments easily incorporated into the standard format by the addition of cross gable, bracketry and ornamental porches (9A Main Street).
The commercial buildings also follow traditional forms and decoration. Most closely associated with the residential examples is the Central House Hotel (15 Main Street). It parallels the Gothic Revival inspired design of the house at 9A Main Street yet uses more substantial brick construction. The two-tiered porch and upper level entrance betrays its commercial function. Adjacent to the tracks, the hotel's situation relates it to the railroad history of the hamlet. The old post office building also links the district to the activity of the railroad. Its simple one-story form is dignified by prominent detailing. The later railway express wing is a physical representation of the growing significance of the train as a transporter of freight. While the store (10 Main Street) is the least distinctive architectural specimen in the Main Street Historic District, it is compatible in design and contributes to the district in scale, materials and theme. It maintains a restrained commercial appearance characteristic of village architecture and is an integral part of the streetscape.
The Main Street Historic District provides a distinctive visual experience of the nineteenth-century character of New Hamburg's railroad center. Due to the enlargement of the railroad right-of-way and alterations to other buildings, there is no other area in the hamlet that represents this idea or contains a concentration of intact historic buildings.
The Main Street Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as an intact example of a nineteenth-century commercial area that reflects the transformation of New Hamburg's economy from maritime to railroad-based during its most prosperous era. This small, yet distinctive, grouping of residential and commercial buildings illustrates the evolution of local architectural forms and designs as well as the transition of the community's focus from the river to the train. Ranging in date from c.1845 to c.1876, the buildings display an increasing scale, formality and ornament as architecture in the hamlet became more regional and cosmopolitan. Growing prosperity and the east of transportation contributed to a mobility of people and the availability of goods that eventually obscured the local identity of small river hamlets. While conventional designs and methods are in the Main Street Historic District's architecture, traditional tastes are still distinguishable in the use of materials and ornament. At no where else in the multiple resource area is the continuity and change in the vernacular architecture and living patterns more effectively demonstrated.
Although along the primary connecting road to Wappingers Falls and Poughkeepsie, Main Street began as a residential area. Point Street down by the docks was the center of commercial activities. The earliest house on this street was John A. Lawson's (#9A), which was built in the mid-1840s. The Lawsons were descendants of one of the first families of white settlers in this immediate area. Soon after on the corner across Stone Street, Charles Griffin, Jr., a boot and shoemaker who probably worked out of his house, built a small one-half story Greek Revival form. Then, just after mid-century, Conklin Bishop, whose family owned one of the principal stores on Point Street, erected #13, also a modest Greek Revival form, in brick.
But in 1848, the railroad sliced through the town just to the east of this area and, working westward from the tracks, commercial development began to reshape the appearance of the block. For a time, while the over 800-foot-long tunnel was being built through the New Hamburg hillside, the hamlet became a busy bottleneck as trains had to be unloaded and ferried around the construction site. What had been a small river port almost entirely connected to the waterfront now had a new impetus for business activity. The open land on the south side of Main Street began to be filled in with small shops, attracted by the hub of the train depot at the end of the block. A post office and drug store were established on the far eastern corner and the Presbyterian Church was moved down from the hill across the tracks and located in this now central road between the docks and the tracks.
Gillette's 1858 map shows the four buildings that still exist on the north side in place. Three were private homes and one was known as the Old Hotel (at first the property contained a carriage store with A. Lawson, a blacksmith, living in a small house (now gone) in the rear. Another Lawson — Cornelius — who was listed in the business directory as a boatman from New Hamburg to Kingston, was soon the primary owner in the Main Street Historic District. He inherited #9A from John Lawson in the early 1850s. He bought #13 from Conklin Bishop in 1853 and was deeded the store parcel in 1865 from the late William P. Lawson. Charles Griffin Jr. still owned #11.
The carriage store soon gave way to a hotel in response to the business created by the railroad. The 1867 Atlas map lists it as the Central House, as distinguished from the older New Hamburg Hotel down on the point and the Madison House right by the tracks. It advertised "Meals at all hours, Oysters in every style, Board by the Day or Week, Boats to let for Reeffishing," with Robert Sackrider the proprietor. The attic was divided into tiny sleeping rooms and the main floor housed dining rooms and a tavern.
By 1876 the O.W. Gray Atlas map shows the area as it now exists complete. The post office had been established next to the church. Then in 1876, Walter Millard leased the property across from the end of Stone Street to John W. Myers for 70 years for the purpose of erecting a store and dwelling, with the written stipulation that no ale, lager beer, or intoxicating liquor would be sold on the premises. And thus the block remained until 1928, when the railroad widened its right-of-way and leveled the east end of the block up to the hotel. At the same time Bridge Street was created immediately to the north angling into Main Street just west of #9A. The houses fronting Main Street on the west end were moved backwards and thus was created the surviving remnant of this residential/commercial block. No longer the track-crossing through street, Main Street became an isolated side road, central to the community only because of the remaining general store.
Each of these buildings represents a distinctive aspect of New Hamburg's architectural development. The residences illustrate the traditional form and floor plans of the local vernacular, from the basic one and one-half story, side-passage house (11 Main Street) to the larger more formal center-passage varieties. The Bishop House at 13 Main Street achieved this format through addition, retaining its low, one and one-half story form. From structural analysis, it appears that the Lawson House (9A Main Street) began as a full-scale, two-story center passage residence and was later embellished with its cross gable and pattern book embellishments sometime after 1850.
The Central Hotel may have influenced the Lawson House and others when it was developed in the 1860s. Architecturally, it is the most unified and distinctive example of the application of the picturesque taste in the hamlet. Its use of the local brick as a material further distinguishes the structure. The Central House and the post office are good examples of the style applied to non-residential buildings.
The Main Street Historic District is an intact mixed-use enclave embodying the characteristics of a small town main street and reflecting the variations and styles of architectural evolution in New Hamburg. Its representation of the community's changing orientation to the railroad in the last half of the nineteenth century is also significant in the local context. It is an important reminder of the course of development of this and many other Hudson Valley communities in the region's industrial period.