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Athens Village

The Athens Village Hall is located at 2 First Street, Athens NY 12015; phone: 518-945-155

Athens Village, Greene County, New York

The Athens Village Multiple Resource Area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The village of Athens is situated on the west bank of the Hudson River, opposite the City of Hudson. It has a noteworthy river front being at the head of deep water navigation on the Hudson. The main channel of the Hudson runs close to the village shore affording ample facilities for large river-going vessels. The terrain is fairly level, rising gently from the Hudson.

Until 1800, the Athens area was mostly farmland with only a handful of scattered residences. By 1854, the village as it basically appears today was established. Through the nineteenth century, the village grew westward away from the river and northward along the river. Since 1900, the village has changed very little.

The character of the properties within the village of Athens is quite diverse, ranging from a Dutch Colonial structure virtually sitting upon the village's main roadway (Washington Street), to quiet tree-lined streets containing a variety of nineteenth- and twentieth-century architecture. The Albertus Van Loon House, built in 1724, is a stone Dutch Colonial structure representative of the early Dutch influence along the Hudson River. A fine collection of stately Federal residences as well as an unusual group of Federal rowhouses are found in the business district of the village. However, the most predominant style found in the area is the Greek Revival. Simple residences in this style are located along tree-lined North Warren. North Church, and North Franklin Streets. The Brick Row Historic District contains twenty-seven Greek Revival rowhouses in a totally isolated section of northern Athens.

Various structures reflective of the middle and late nineteenth century architectural styles are also found within the village. Especially significant in this regard are a number of elegant Second Empire style residences on small lots and Italianate commercial structures.

The majority of the structures outside of the two districts are relatively new residences and house trailers on lots set back from the road.

The Village of Athens is a community along the Hudson River which has retained much of its architectural and historical integrity since its settling in 1706. It reflects over 250 years of development and change, from farmland to a prosperous shipbuilding center and railroad terminus, to a tranquil residential and commercial community. Athens is also typical of numerous Hudson River communities which prospered in the nineteenth century due to the resources of the Hudson River, but which never greatly changed since that time.

The earliest residents of the Athens area were Indians of the Algonquin Nation, mostly Mohicans and Delawares. They fished in the river and planted corn along its banks. An area off Washington Street along the river, known as Black Rock, is thought to have been a significant ceremonial site for these Indians ...

Athens is mentioned in a diary kept by Robert Juet of his trip up the Hudson with Henry Hudson on the Halfmoon in 1609. He describes their running aground on the flats between Athens and Hudson, and their subsequent anchoring for several days. During the anchoring, the crew visited the west shore and marvelled at "the good ground for corne, and other garden herbs, with great stands of goodly oakes, and walnut trees, and chestnut trees, ewe trees, and trees of sweet wood in great abundance, and a great store of slate for houses. [1]

The earliest European settler in Athens was Jan Van Loon, who secured title to the land from various owners in 1685. In 1705, Van Loon was living on his land known as Loonenburgh. The Jan Van Loon House (39 South Washington Street) still stands, although only one wall remains from the original structure. The Alburtus Van Loon House (85 North Washington Street) and exceptional, stone, Dutch Colonial built in 1724, also remains from the Van Loon era.

In 1794, a company of New York City speculators led by Edward Livingston, purchased a tract of land forming what is now the upper village area. These men began to lay out a dream city called "Esperanza," which they hoped would become the capitol of New York State and the terminus of the Erie Canal. But, these plans never materialized, due to the loss of much of their financial support. The land was partitioned in 1799. A small community grew in the upper village area in the initial years of the 1800's, but it never rivaled the lower village in size or importance.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the village of Athens began to form. This was largely due to the efforts of Isaac Northrup who, in 1800, purchased the large farm of the Van Loons and other adjoining properties and set about planning of the village along the Hudson.

By 1805, a number of elegant structures were built, each reflecting the wealth of the early settlers of Athens. The Northrup House (32 South Washington Street), built by the village's founder, was constructed in 1803. Nichols fought at Yorktown, Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War.

The initial years of the village were so successful, that in 1805 the village of Athens was incorporated, making it one of the oldest incorporated villages in New York State. The incorporation joined the lower village and the small scattered community to the north known as the upper village.

Also, three turnpikes, the Schoharie Turnpike (1802), the Albany-Greene Turnpike (1806), and the Athens Turnpike (1809), were begun in the early years of the 1800's, bringing Athens in closer proximity to the surrounding area.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Athens was an established and successful community. Numerous factors were significant in the village's prosperity, the most important being its location along the Hudson. The Hudson-Athens Ferry, which operated from 1778 to 1935, attracted numerous individuals and industries to the area. The largest of the industries was the Athens Shipyards.

Established in 1843 by William Coffin, the shipyards were the center of industry in Athens until its closing in 1941. In its years of operation, numerous vessels were constructed, the majority of which were used for travel on the Hudson. Initially the shipyards produced canalboats and barges, but later expanded into the manufacture of towboats, schooners, and steamboats. At the shipyards, a marine railway was constructed in 1862 and is still in operating condition. This is though to be the oldest marine railway in the world. [1]

Another important industry which contributed to the village's growth and stabilization at mid-century was the Clark Pottery. This manufacturer of assorted stoneware began operating in 1805 and continued until 1900. Many examples of earthenware produced at Clark Pottery are in museums, including a large collection at Cooperstown, New York.

A number of beautiful structures reflect Athens' stability in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Lydia Coffin House (12 South Water Street) ca. 1840, the Stranahan-DelVecchio House (117 North Washington Street) ca. 1852, and the Zion Lutheran Church (102 North Washington Street), built in 1853, represent this period.

By 1877, a number of new industries had contributed to the village's prosperity. In 1864, the Saratoga and Hudson River Railroad was formed by two of the nations wealthiest men, Daniel Drew and Cornelius Vanderbilt. The southern terminus of this line was in Athens, where a large terminal was built in the upper village area. The Brick Row District was constructed at that time to house the railroad lines operating staff. But, the prosperous line lasted only twelve years, for in 1876 the Athens terminal and yards burned to the ground, leaving only Brick Row in testimony to the once successful cargo line.

Thus, by 1877, the village of Athens had experienced its peak in industrial and residential development. The years from mid-century to 1877 were fruitful and, although little remains from these industries, there are exceptional residences which testify to this period in Athen's history. The H.F. Dernell House (10 South Washington Street) ca. 1860, represents this period as does 4 Third Street. A fine collection of worker cottages also remains from this era.

At the turn of the twentieth century Athens remained virtually as in 1877. The vast majority of the homes from 1877 still survive, leaving the village rich in architecture and history. Athens remains a fine example of a small, nineteenth-century village of the Hudson River.

  1. Powers, Robert M., Village of Athens Multiple Resource Area, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
  2. Athens Bicentennial Committee, Athens, Its People and Industry, Athens NY, 1976, p. 29.
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