Russia Corners Historic District
Russia Corners Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. 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 Russia Corners Historic District encompasses the core of a hamlet located in the southern portion of the town of Russia, Herkimer County. The surrounding topography consists of undulating hills that rise to a height 800-1000 feet above the Mohawk River Valley to the south. The setting is characterized by a mix of scattered residences and agricultural buildings sited amid woodlands, pastures and cultivated fields associated with small local farms. The central axis of the small historic district is the Military Road (County Route 113), which runs diagonally from southeast to northwest through Russia. At the center of the Russia Corners Historic District, Church Road intersects Military Road from the north; Beecher Road enters from the south. The Russia Corners Historic District includes a cluster of six contributing buildings: The Russia Union Church (1820), District No. 5 School (1816) and four frame residences built during the community's settlement period (between ca.1803 and 1830). The buildings are oriented toward Military Road, historically and currently the hamlet's principal thoroughfare, and are sited on village lots landscaped with large shade trees. The boundaries of the Russia Corners Historic District correspond to historic lot lines in the community, and are drawn to encompass all properties that are contiguous, possess integrity and contribute to the historic and architectural character of the district. The Russia Corners Historic District includes six non-contributing features (mostly small dependencies), which do not substantially detract from the visual integrity of the historic district.
The architectural character of the Russia Corners Historic District derives from similarities in scale, massing and materials among the contributing properties, all of which retain a high level of integrity. The principal buildings generally are heavy timber frame structures built on fieldstone foundations, sheathed in board siding and covered by gable roofs. To a greater or lesser extent, each property within the Russia Corners Historic District boundary exhibits vernacular Federal or Greek Revival design and decorative elements typical of regional building practice during the period of significance.
Properties included in the Russia Corners Historic District are:
The Russia Corners Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as an intact crossroads cluster of frame vernacular Classical revival period buildings associated with early settlement of Herkimer County. Consisting of six principal contributing buildings constructed between ca.1803 and 1830, the Russia Corners Historic District reflects development that occurred in the region as immigrants from New England and Revolutionary War veterans settled on lands of the former Royal Grant. The Military Road connecting the Mohawk Valley with Sackets Harbor gained importance during the War of 1812, and was an impetus to settlement at Russia Corners. The Russia Corners Historic District encompasses four frame residences, a frame school and the Russia Union Church, all of which retain integrity to the period of significance. The Russia Corners Historic District is a rare surviving example of a settlement period crossroads hamlet in Herkimer County containing some of the most intact examples of vernacular architecture in the region.
The hamlet of Russia Corners developed when the State of New York opened confiscated Loyalist landholdings to settlement. Following the close of the Revolutionary War, the Royal Grant formerly held by Sir William Johnson and his heirs was both offered for public sale and awarded as bounty lands to veterans of the Continental Army. By the end of the eighteenth century, more than 10,000 settlers from New England and eastern New York had moved into Herkimer County (established 1791) to populate the rolling hills north of the Mohawk River. A principal route through this region was the Military Road.
First used by British colonial forces during the French and Indian War, the trace known as Military Road facilitated overland passage of troops and supplies from the Mohawk Valley to the northwest frontier. During the Revolutionary War, Loyalist-led raiding parties struck south from Canada along this route to attack settlements in the Mohawk Valley. Improved as a state road opened after 1806, the Military Road became a vital conduit for the flow of troops and war material during the War of 1812, linking the Mohawk region to Sackets Harbor and the Canadian frontier of Lake Ontario. Soldiers during this latter period frequently bivouacked at Russia Corners, where a tavern established during the first decade of the nineteenth century in the Samuel White residence provided a welcome respite on the march northward.
The town of Russia (originally formed as Union in April, 1806) received its current name in 1808. The hamlet of Russia Corners grew up around the road juncture anchored by the tavern and general store then located in the Samuel White House. Lured by the promise of cheap and abundant land, a surge of New Englanders moved into the region during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The buildings in the hamlet included in the Russia Corners Historic District had all been constructed by ca.1830, and reflect the vernacular interpretation of the popular Greco-Roman Classical revival architectural influence brought to Russia by these early New England settlers. Generally distinguished by their plan and form, finely molded detail, and use of available native materials, the residential structures of the Russia Corners Historic District include some of the earliest examples of their type, period and method of construction in rural Herkimer County. The most architecturally significant of Russia's dwellings is the Adam Frink House of 1812, notable for its Federal design and wealth of delicate detail. Recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1934, the house was also the subject of a feature article in The Architectural Forum for July, 1935.
The one-room school (1816) and the Russia Union Church (1820) are significant extant examples of settlement period civic buildings that provided the focus of this early hamlet. Modified somewhat during the late 1880s, the school remained in use for educational purposes until 1933. Restored by the Russia Civic Association in 1994-95, the school building continues to be used for public gatherings, elections, etc. Dramatically situated on a knoll at the center of the historic district, the Russia Union Church is a distinguished regional example of a Federal style New England meetinghouse, reflecting the tradition of Russia's early settlers. Although the tall upper stage of its steeple was felled by a storm in 1851, the church building nevertheless retains substantial exterior and interior integrity. Organized in 1818 and built in 1820 to serve multiple local congregations of various denominations, the Russia Union Church is exceptionally well documented historically through surviving construction documents, original pew subscription lists, etc. The building continues to be used for occasional religious services as well as for large public gatherings, and this continuity of use contributes to its historical significance to the community.
When much of upland Herkimer County proved only marginally suitable for most types of agriculture, the population originally drawn to Russia gradually drifted away. Employment opportunities resulting from completion of the Erie Canal (1825) and railroads through the Mohawk Valley also served to channel and concentrate development in southern Herkimer County during the latter nineteenth century. The rural vernacular interpretations of classically inspired architectural forms concentrated in the Russia Corners Historic District together form a cluster of rare surviving buildings reflecting the early (if ultimately unfulfilled) promise of this upland region during its settlement period of the early nineteenth century.
Denton, Emily R. Prayer and Praise: Churches in Herkimer County, 1723-1981. Herkimer, 1981.
Harden, George A. History of Herkimer County. Syracuse, 1893.
Herkimer County Historical Society. Herkimer County at 200. Herkimer, 1992.
Kelly, Virginia B., et.al. Wood and Stone: Landmarks of the Upper Mohawk Region. Utica, 1972.
†Raymond W. Smith, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Russia Corners Historic District, nomination document, 1996, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.