South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District
The South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. 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 South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District is located in the southern portion of the city of Little Falls in what was a densely developed manufacturing area during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District encompasses an area bounded on the north by the present CSX railroad right-of-way, on the east by rear property lines of buildings fronting on South Ann Street, on the south by Mohawk River and the Erie Canal and on the west by lot lines of contributing features. The boundary returns to the point of origin following the north side of West Mill Street. The South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District includes 16 contributing features reflecting the industrial, commercial and engineering development that characterized the area adjacent to the canal and railroad during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The focus of the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District is formed by two streets that intersect at right angels: South Ann Street runs north-south between the railroad and the Erie Canal; Mill Street extends westward from South Ann, following the former right-of-way of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Canal of 1795. The topography of the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District is consistently flat along the north shore of the Mohawk River, a rock ledge that formed a solid base for the large mills erected along the bank. South of the river and canal, the land rises sharply in an immediate series of steep hills. The defile formed by these rock cliffs and large boulders created the "Little Falls" of the Mohawk (so named to distinguish them from the "Great Falls" to the east at Cohoes.) Located at the only natural passage through the Appalachian Range, Little Falls was an important carrying place and portage for Indians, traders and the military during the eighteenth century. The falls inspired efforts to create an alternative transportation route around this natural obstacle. During the nineteenth century, this river-level passage became the natural right of way for the Western Inland Lock Navigation Canal (1795), the Erie Canal (opened 1825) and the New York Central Railroad (1853).
The water power furnished by the nearby falls was harnessed to operate the numerous mills and manufacturing enterprises that lined the north bank of the Mohawk in the area encompassed by the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District. Though many of these factories have been lost to fire, neglect and demolition in recent decades, the extant examples of stone and brick mill buildings included in the district are typical of what densely dominated this area of the city during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. A four story, stone masonry woolen mill (410 South Ann St.) erected in 1839 is the earliest extant industrial building in Little Falls. A second large stone textile mill (25 West Mill St.) built immediately to the west in 1855 became part of the expanded Mohawk Mills. A three story brick factory (20 West Mill St.) and attached two story, frame carriage works reflect later industrial development within the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District. The remains of a stone and concrete dam and a stone and brick hydroelectric power station (1910) on the Mohawk River illustrate the importance of water power to the history of industry within the historic district.
Transportation history is represented by several extant features. The masonry remains of the Little Falls Erie Canal basin (1822-1881) and the stone canal aqueduct are located south and east of the canal-era brick buildings along South Ann Street at the Mohawk River. A steel bridge (ca.1935) spans the Mohawk River on the site of several earlier bridges. The former New York Central Railroad passenger station (1895) anchors the northern end of the historic district at the intersection of Mill Street and South Ann.
Several vacant parcels formerly occupied by burned or demolished industrial and commercial buildings separate the extant historic buildings encompassed within the district boundaries. These properties are included in order to give overall continuity to the boundary and no systematic investigation of their archeological potential has been undertaken. One vacant parcel, site of the demolished Allegro Shoe Co. factory immediately north of the two stone mills, has been re-developed as Sterzinar Park, a public space containing a parking area, a small, permanent concrete stage and a modern outdoor sculpture installation. The features of this park do not contribute to the historic character of the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District.
The South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District is significant as a substantially intact, representative grouping of industrial and commercial architecture in the city of Little Falls. Constructed between circa 1827 and 1911, the masonry and wood frame buildings of the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District reflect the industrial and commercial development that occurred in Little Falls adjacent to the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. Despite losses to the fire and demolition, the extant buildings of the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District retain integrity of design and materials reflecting the functions and building practice characteristic of this Erie Canal community during the period of significance. The period of significance extends from the earliest date of construction, circa 1827, to 1911, the date of the last contributing feature.)
Much of the land on the north side of the Mohawk opposite the falls originally was owned by a Scottish speculator. Alexander Ellice. Through a local agent, John Porteous, Ellice and his heirs continued to control rights to water power, collect rents and monopolize land development until 1831, thereby retarding development of a community at Little Falls. Soon after the Erie Canal was opened on the south side of the Mohawk, a compromise was reached with the Ellice interests: In 1827, an aqueduct, trunk line and basin were constructed to provide canal access to and from the north bank of the river. Ellice gave the land and building stone necessary to construct these engineering features, but local tensions remained. The stone masonry remains of the Little Falls aqueduct and canal trunk are visible within the historic district at the Mohawk River. The walls of the Little Falls aqueduct burst in 1881, draining the basin forever. The former basin and canal trunk were gradually filled in over time. The coming of the Erie Canal brought commercial development to the adjacent community. The extant brick commercial buildings on Mohawk Street facing the canal and the rare, connected row of brick Greek Revival-era buildings facing South Ann Street attest to the canal's influence on the architecture and commerce of Little Falls during the nineteenth century.
In 1830, local citizens petitioned the state legislature for a new charter giving permission to the village of Little Falls to lay out public streets at the expense of the Ellice landowners. In the wake of several adverse legal rulings, the Ellice interests began selling off their holdings during the 1830s. A company formed by Arphaxed Loomis in 1836 established a power canal along the north side of the present West Mill Street (the course of the former Western Inland Lock Navigation Canal of 1795, supplanted by the Erie Canal.) Water from the Mohawk was impounded by a stone dam constructed to span the river. In 1839 Seth Stitt erected a large stone woolen textile mill on the Mohawk at South Ann Street. As Stitt & Underhill, this factory produced wool uniform cloth under military contracts during the Mexican-American and Civil Wars. This mill building is a notable example of its type, period and method of construction and is the oldest extant building in the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District. A second large masonry textile mill constructed in 1855 (now the Little Falls Antique Center) suffered fire in 1863 and flood damage in 1865. Rebuilt by Seth Stitt as part of his Mohawk Mills industrial complex, the building manufactured cloth for New York merchant A.T. Stewart during the 1870s and later housed the Stafford & Holt knitting machine factory during the early twentieth century. The first hydroelectric generating facility in Little Falls was located on the first floor of this building from 1896 until the separate power plant was erected on the Mohawk River in 1911.
These two stone mills are significant as the earliest extant industrial buildings remaining in Little Falls, reflecting the hydraulic engineering and building construction methods that shaped the community's industrial development for over a century. The power canals and later hydroelectric power drawn from the Mohawk River resulted in a dense build-up of industrial facilities in the area encompassed by the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District. Fulling mills, turning mills, carriage works, knitting mills and a massive shoe factory were erected on the parcels adjacent to the early industrial and commercial buildings. The main line of the busy New York Central Railroad (the north boundary of the present historic district) served the numerous adjacent industrial facilities of Little Falls. In 1894, an imposing new brick and sandstone passenger station was erected to serve Little Falls. Located at the northeast corner of South Ann and Mill Streets, the station is a well-preserved example of late nineteenth century railroad architecture that retains many of its distinguishing design and decorative features.
By the 1890s, the South Ann Street-Mill Street area was densely developed with factories and workers. Transportation arteries made Little Falls one of the leading manufacturing centers of the Mohawk Valley. Construction of the city's infrastructure of canals, mills and factories and employment in these completed facilities attracted a succession of European immigrants to Little Falls through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The community retains considerable ethnic diversity as a legacy of the early development that occurred first in the area of the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District.
Throughout its history, Little Falls has been plagued by a series of devastating industrial fires and periodic destructive flooding of the Mohawk River. Many of the large mills, factories and commercial buildings once located along Mohawk, South Ann and Mill Streets succumbed to these disasters; many others were abandoned when industries left the region and subsequently were demolished during the "urban renewal" era of the 1960s. Expansion of New York State Route 5 and the railroad line isolated South Ann Street from the remainder of Little Falls north of these transportation arteries. Recognizing the rapid disappearance of the city's historic character and the importance of the Erie Canal/Mohawk River resources, a core group of property owners, merchants and concerned citizens came together during the late 1980s with the goal of preserving and enhancing what remained. Dubbed "Canal Place," the South Ann Street-Mill Street area became the focus of private investment that has resulted in rehabilitation of long-neglected historic industrial and commercial buildings and a resurgence of activity along the river and canal. The South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District (Canal Place) encompasses shops, residential units and restaurants housed in historic industrial and commercial buildings. The resources encompassed by the South Ann Street-Mill Street Historic District demonstrate the realized potential of adapting buildings significant in the history of Little Falls to renewed uses and continued economic viability.