Wappingers Falls Historic District
The Wappingers Falls 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 Wappingers Falls Historic District consists of 130 contributing and 12 non-contributing properties in an irregular distribution including contiguous historic industrial, commercial and residential areas in the village to the extent which visual integrity would allow.
The Wappingers Falls Historic District is oriented along two axes, the Wappingers Creek, which forms the industrial corridor, and New York State Route 9D, composed of East and West Main Streets, on which is concentrated commercial and public architecture, and South Avenue, which is a distinctive residential street.
The Wappingers Falls Historic District reflects the combined industrial, commercial and residential area of the village to the extent of their significance and/or integrity. The industrial component is largely confined by the steep topography of the gorge. Workers housing is extensive south of the factory yet altered by modernization and adaptation to single family use. The most intact and representative examples have been included in the district. North of the factory and the district boundaries on West Main Street, the character of structures becomes more altered, modern and dispersed. There is not the same homogeneity and orderliness found in residential neighborhoods included in the district. Residential neighborhoods north of Mesier Park and east of South Avenue become more modest with a higher incidence of modern alterations and intrusions. U.S. Route 9 bypasses the village to the east immediately beyond these marginal neighborhoods. Wappingers Falls Historic District boundaries follow the lot lines of each of the properties included within the district.
At the foot of the falls, the creek flows into a hollow containing a dense concentration of industrial buildings. A small cotton textile mill established there in 1819 was the first component of what developed as one of the most extensive printworks complexes in the country. In 1856, the entire facility was destroyed by fire. Rebuilt immediately, the complex developed to its extant state over the next 75 years. The surviving group of fourteen masonry structures date largely to the last half of the nineteenth century and served a variety of needs for the textile bleaching process including an office building, power house, pump house and bridge. The largest building on the site was constructed during a late expansion period c.1910. Modern alterations and intrusions were minimal.
The water delivery system from the dam impounding the Wappingers Lake through the nine-foot-diameter penstock to the power house is an important visual and historical component of the industrial complex.
On the hillside overlooking the hollow, the mill company built housing for its employees. Three house types included in the Wappingers Falls Historic District demonstrate continuity and change in the design of these structures. Four two-story frame double houses occupy lots on the east side of Dutchess Avenue. Appearing to date from 1850-1860, they retain the original form and details although all have been resided with newer materials. Central chimneys, six-over-six sash, and entrances on opposing ends of the facade, each with its own porch, distinguish this type. Later, around 1870, five more double houses were built on the west side of Dutchess Avenue opposite the earlier houses. One and one-half stories in height, each of these Gothic styled houses is composed of two gabled facades connected by a recessed connector with paired entrances under a shared porch. Arched windows at the second story level, hooded lintels over first floor windows, and gabled dormers contribute to the Gothic aesthetic. Exterior alterations to siding and windows have not seriously diminished the significance of this row. The next street west, Dutchess Terrace, is faced by five double houses constructed c.1870-1880. Six bays wide with central doors and end chimneys, these two-story frame houses have full porches which were partitioned between housing units. This last group of houses form, with the rest, a distinctive visual and historical group. Market Street separates the housing from the factory complex and has associated industrial and residential structures fronting it including an office building, a fire house, and catwalks to buildings in the hollow, many of which survive.
For less than one block on the west side of the creek and two blocks on the east side, the Main Street portion of the Wappingers Falls Historic District is lined with attached, three-story structures which create a distinctive urban appearance for a village of such small size. The tall scale, proximity and density of the buildings combined with topography of the street, abruptly turning as it crosses the creek, contributes to a streetscape which relates Wappingers Falls to other industrial villages in the northeast U.S.
The structures are largely of the post-Civil War period and retain a significant degree of architectural detail particularly on the upper stories where street level storefronts have been updated. Alteration has been minimal and only two modern structures visually intrude on the central business district. Distinctive structures located within the central business district include a building with a cast-iron facade at 3 E. Main Street, the village hall, built for the local savings bank in 1871; an opera house, now altered; and the public library, a Shingle style structure erected in 1887. The diversity of function and range of styles contribute to a visually interesting streetscape reflective of the historical development of Wappingers Falls. A massive sandstone twin arch bridge constructed in 1884 connects eastern and western portions of the commercial district. Wooden bridges preceded it in the same location.
The east end of the central business district terminates at a green space created by two parks on either side of East Main Street. Mesier Park, north of East Main Street, is focused on the Brewer-Mesier House and Wappingers Falls' most important landmark, built in the 1740s. Beneath a Gothic veranda and vergeboards and numerous additions and alteration, the one and one-half story frame and stone structure retains the integrity, character and associations of a pre-Revolutionary Hudson Valley house. Shared by the village police on the first floor and the village historical society on the second floor, the homestead is a significant local landmark defining the park and its immediate neighborhood. The heavily treed park contains 36 varieties of trees which were given to the village in 1892 by Mesier heirs.
Facing Mesier Park on Park Street and North Mesier Avenue is a group of detached two-story frame dwellings from the last decade of the nineteenth century. These streets were constructed on lots subdivided when the village acquired the Mesier property. General integrity is good and they contribute to and gain from their relationship to the park. The group represents a significant development of single family, middle-class housing in the village during the period. On Main Street, the park is also distinguished by the United Methodist Church, the Colonial Revival style Post Office, Zion Episcopal Church and the Grinell Library.
Zion Park, south of East Main Street, is an open plot faced by the Zion Episcopal Church complex, large-scale nineteenth-century frame dwellings, the village post office and the Odd Fellows Hall. The stone Zion Episcopal Church was built in 1834 with enlargements in 1869 and 1874 and major alterations in 1895 contributing to its current late Gothic Revival appearance. In 1881 a frame parish hall was attached to the south side of the church buildings. Designed by Henry M. Congden, the two-story shingled structure combines Gothic and Queen Anne details in a successful manner. The two-story frame rectory was completed in 1887 and survives intact as the most substantial Queen Anne residence in the village. Although unattributed, it shares many features with Congden's parish hall.
There are four residences facing Zion Park on Andrew Place. Three date from the mid-nineteenth century and are two-story frame structures retaining significant integrity and details. The fourth is a substantial, though architecturally modest, two-story frame structure built in the early twentieth century which contributes to the district in scale, materials and setting.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt influenced the design choice for the Wappingers Falls Post Office in 1939 while President. One of a collection of designs overseen by Roosevelt in his home county, the structure is reminiscent of the local colonial architecture and is an effective counterpart to the Mesier Homestead visible across East Main Street. The adjacent Odd Fellows Hall was built in 1877. The three-story brick structure contributes to the Wappingers Falls Historic District in spite of roof level and porch alterations.
South Avenue, a venerable residential section of the north-south thoroughfare through the village is distinguished by some of the most elaborate and substantial structures in Wappingers Falls. Architectural styles are diverse and range from early Greek Revival to turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival buildings. Intact examples of Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles contribute to the significance of the streetscape. Intervening buildings of a more modest character enhance the cohesion of the district. Residences predominate, although there are a few buildings with commercial space at street level (some intrusions) and two churches. Development appears to have been random, with newer structures interspersed with their predecessors; however, in general, there is a visual sense of stylistic progression as the traveller moves from the village's core at Mesier and Zion Parks south to the municipal boundary. Houses are set behind spacious lawns presenting a stately introduction to the historic village.
The Wappingers Falls Historic District is significant for its collection of distinctive nineteenth-century structures linked to the development of an important Hudson Valley industrial center. The Wappingers Falls Historic District contains well-preserved examples of factories, workers' housing, commercial buildings, stylish middle-class residences, and public structures including churches, banks, a library, a post office and an arched sandstone bridge spanning the Wappingers Creek in the midst of the gorge. Distinctive regional examples of Colonial, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Shingle style design are included in the Wappingers Falls Historic District as well as significant vernacular architecture, particularly factory-built workers' housing. Surviving in an intact historic setting, the Wappingers Falls Historic District illustrates the physical and social character of a nineteenth-century industrial village. The period of significance extends from the introduction of milling on the creek by Adolphus Brewer in the early eighteenth century to the decline of factory influence in the Depression era, c.1740-1934.
Included in the Wappingers Falls Historic District is an extensive industrial complex of nineteenth-century mills and water power systems in the gorge of the falls, some of them representing the period when the cotton textile industry was introduced into the region. The surviving complex of factory buildings was largely built in the 1850's following a fire which devastated the prior complex. New buildings were erected on the west side of the creek following the conversion of the plant to a bleachery and dye works and the upgrading of equipment in 1910. Within this industrial area, an evolution of mill architecture and technology is interpretable from the early 1700's to the present.
Workers' housing was an integral component of nineteenth-century mill society, and Wappingers Falls retains hundreds of the double house units typical in such communities. The Wappingers Falls Historic District contains intact representative examples adjacent to the mill which exhibit a range of periods (1840-1880), styles (Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate and Second Empire), and status, (workers and managerial). The grouping of workers' houses in the Wappingers Falls Historic District includes the earliest as well as the most stylish examples in the village.
The industry work force required consumer goods and services. At the peak of the industrial population in the 1870's, a small commercial business district was erected on East Main Street. The two facing rows of attached three-story structures were built in a similar form and style and, surviving in a good state of integrity, contribute to the historic ambience of the village and district. A similar, less homogeneous commercial area developed on the opposite side of the creek, on West Main Street, in what was known as Channingville before its consolidation into the village in 1871. The descending streets and abrupt bend in West Main Street provide a picturesque streetscape which add a sense of quaintness and charm to the area. Portions of West Main Street, visible from the bridge and extending to where buildings of lesser date and greater alteration predominate, are included.
The commercial district also includes areas on the east side of the creek where industrial buildings once existed and have been replaced by early twentieth century architecture. One industrial building built by the Sweet-Orr Company survives near Main Street on Mill Street representing the expansion of the textile industrial community to include garment manufacturing.
Beyond the commercial district to the east, East Main Street becomes visually defined by open park space, church buildings and the historic Mesier Homestead. Subdivided when the Mesier family sold their estate to the village in 1884, the park, homestead and surrounding housing reflect the divestiture of the industry and industrial families in village life and the growth of a more democratic, suburban community. The South Avenue residential area in the Wappingers Falls Historic District contains the most architecturally distinguished nineteenth-century (1830-1899) residences in the village.
Although not as pretentious as the large suburban estates of mill owners which were built on nearby Clapp Avenue, these houses and streetscape survive as a significant collection of stylish, moderately scaled nineteenth-century residences. The most notable examples of Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Second Empire and Queen Anne style residences are located in this part of the district. Early twentieth century houses were erected in voids along South Avenue and contribute further to the eclectic nature of the street and its representation of growth and style in the village. The park area was the focus of much of the new building at the turn of the century which culminated in the erection of the post office in 1939, a Works Project Administration project which received the direct input of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The architecture of federal structures in Roosevelt's home region was based on the eighteenth century Dutch vernacular architecture of the region at the President's request. The Wappingers Falls Post Office is of exceptional significance for its association with Roosevelt's WPA Projects in the Hudson Valley and contributes to the Wappingers Falls Historic District.
The Wappingers Falls Historic District remains an important visual reminder of industrial history in the Hudson Valley and the pervasive influence it had in the growth and social and economic patterns of communities in the nineteenth century. The exceptional intact quality of the village contributes to an understanding of the design and character of regional architecture as it evolved in the two hundred years of the village's history.