State Street Historic District
The State Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group. [Note: A number of the structures referred to in the 1983 documentation were destroyed by fire in 2002.]
The State Street Historic District encompasses a three-block area in the Village of Carthage in the Town of Wilna, Jefferson County. State Street is the main thoroughfare of the village and crosses the Black River to connect the villages of Carthage and West Carthage. The State Street Historic District is the commercial center of the two villages. The building concentration runs perpendicular to the river and the topography is slightly sloping, rising from the riverbed.
The State Street Historic District extends from 246 to 274 State Street on the south and from 249 through 401 State Street at the north. One structure is included at the Mechanic Street intersection (106-108 North Mechanic Street). A small cohesive core of late nineteenth century structures, the State Street Historic District's boundaries are clearly defined by adjacent, non-contributing commercial structures and neighboring, later residential development. On the south side at State Street at the west end, the State Street Historic District boundary was drawn to include 246 and 250 State Street due to similar scale and materials and the dramatic change in scale and landscape beyond. However, these buildings do not contribute to the historical significance of the district.
The State Street Historic District consists of twenty-nine structures, representing an excellent concentration of substantially intact late nineteenth century commercial architecture. The State Street Historic District is comprised of attached brick rows constructed between 1860 and 1900 in a variety of styles including Gothic, Italianate, and Romanesque Revival.
Of particular note is the First National Bank Building. This four-story elaborately decorated building is noted in Haddock's history of Jefferson County (1894) as "one of the most unique and convenient bank edifices in the State." The brick exterior finish is highlighted by contrasting rusticated stone basement, quoins, belt course and window trim. The slate mansard roof has elaborate gabled dormers with Eastlake detailing. The building is the visual focal point of the commercial district and its eclectic styling is unique to Jefferson County.
Other structures on State Street are three and four-story commercial structures, harmonious in decoration, scale and proportion. The buildings' street level storefronts are occupied by retail enterprise, while the stores above provide space for professional offices, living quarters or storage areas. Although many storefronts have been altered, intact wooden fronts remain at some establishments.
Upper levels, however, retain a high level of architectural integrity. Roofs are flat with decorative cornices of elaborately corbeled brick or pressed sheet metal and facades exhibit a variety of stylistic detail. Gothic style pointed arch windows are found at the Gallager Block (256 State Street) while structures at 249-257 and 253-255 State Street exhibit the tall thin windows and pronounced moldings characteristic of the Italianate style. The Romanesque Revival style is evident at 263-267 and 269-271 State Street where the semi-circular arch highlights window openings and smaller arched windows create an arcaded effect at the cornice level. The Frederick Building (281 State Street), so identified at the cornice pediment, boasts the only sheet metal building front in the village. The design is attributed to the Mesker Brothers of St. Louis and is readily identified by the characteristic paired rosettes on the column base blocks.
The State Street Historic District contains one of the outstanding collections of late-nineteenth century commercial architecture surviving in northern New York. Settled in the late eighteenth century, Carthage enjoyed prosperity in the nineteenth century due to its abundant supply of water power and low iron deposits. Despite a fire in 1884 which destroyed one hundred fifty-seven structures including most of the business area of the village, Carthage was rebuilt and enjoyed prosperity again with the introduction of paper manufacturing. The majority of the structures in the State Street Historic District date from this major reconstruction period between 1884-1900. The result is an intact, cohesive collection of brick commercial blocks in a variety of late nineteenth century architectural designs. The State Street Historic District is especially significant for the high concentration of cast metal cornices and an entire building facade manufactured by the Mesker Brothers of St. Louis, Missouri. Due to the small amount of new construction after 1900, the State Street Historic District retains a high degree of cohesiveness and nineteenth-century design integrity.
Beginning in 1861, disastrous fires destroyed much of Carthage Village resulting in the late nineteenth century character of the district. The first notable fire occurred on July 15, 1861 and nearly destroyed the business portion of the village. About twenty buildings were burned, including nine occupied stores. Even more devastating was the Great Fire of October 20, 1884. The fire originated in the Eaton Sash and Blind factory in West Carthage, and, while the Carthage fire department had gone to its neighbor's assistance, the wind increased its force and the fire swept across the river. The ruins covered about 70 acres, leveling one hundred fifty-seven structures, including one hundred homes, mills, stores, churches, schools, the village hall, the opera house, blast furnaces, a knitting factory, and carriage and wagon shops. This was by far the most disastrous fire ever to occur in Jefferson County, and Haddock's history notes that "For a while it seemed as though no earthly power could save from destruction the brick block and other buildings comprising the business portion of the Village on State Street."
The Bones Building (262 State Street), the brick block described, did survive, and rooms were secured to house school children from the Carthage Academy, which has been destroyed.
That block also survived a subsequent fire in 1892. On December 16, a fire in the Hubbard Block (272-274 State Street) consumed everything on the south side from the Bones Block to Mechanic Street. Reconstruction of the commercial district was rapid and photographs in Souvenir of Carthage (1899) document the district as largely rebuilt by that year. The central business district retains much of the character of that nineteenth-century commercial center. Although many of the storefronts have been altered, upper stores are remarkably intact and are reminders of that decade of reconstruction.
During this reconstruction period, the new buildings were built in a variety of late nineteenth century designs but most with Italianate details. A significant feature many of these buildings have are cast and sheet metal cornices and storefronts which were popular in the late nineteenth century. Many of these sheet iron elements were produced by the Mesker Brothers Iron Company in St. Louis and have been documented through name plates and catalog designs. The firm was founded in 1879 by Frank & Bernard Mesker and became a major supplier of custom-made, mail-order, sheet iron architectural elements in the country. Many examples of their cornices appear on several buildings including 256, 262, 266-270 and 281. The finest example of the Mesker Brothers work is the entire front of 277 State Street known as the Frederick Block. The three-bay, three-story front has many of the Mesker standard characteristics such as paired columns with the rosettes in their bases, recessed window openings, and sunburst caps at the cornice line.
During this period of reconstruction, the industrial base of Carthage shifted from iron to paper manufacturing. Carthage's first paper mill was started in 1888, and by 1898 there were six pulp and paper mills in the Twin Villages. By 1923, the twin Villages of Carthage and West Carthage had twenty manufacturing establishments, many of them producing paper and paper products with an annual tonnage in excess of 100,000 tons. Over the years, however, the normal sources of supply for the chemical pulp requirements of the paper mills have dwindled until, today, only three paper mills remain active in the area. Relatively undisturbed during the last three decades, the State Street Historic District is a remarkably intact survivor of a nineteenth-century commercial streetscape in Jefferson County.
Haddock, John A. The Growth of a Century: as illustrated in the History of Jefferson County, New York from 1793 to 1894 Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1894.
History of Jefferson County, New York with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1878.
Hough, Franklin B. A History of Jefferson County, New York Watertown, New York: Sterling & Riddell, 1854.
Jefferson County Centennial 1905. Speeches, Addresses, and Stories of the Towns, compiled by Jere Coughlin, Secretary (Watertown, New York, Hungerford-Holbrook Co., 1905).
Jefferson County Sesqui-Centennial Program and Historical Almanac, compiled by Ernest C. Gould, Watertown, New York, 1955.
Our County and Its People. A Descriptive Work on Jefferson County, New York. Edgar C. Emerson, ed. The Boston History Company, Publishers, 1898.
Souvenir of Carthage, Illustrating Its Manufacturing Establishments and Various Points of Interest Carthage, New York: Charles H. Weber and Kelsey B. Coffin, 1899.
Welsh, William D. A Brief Historical Sketch of Carthage, New York (based on a manuscript by Floyd D. Rich), May, 1941.
†ohn Harwood, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, State Street Historic District, Carthage NY, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.