Chaumont Historic District
The Chaumont Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Chaumont Historic District is situated along the north and south sides of Main Street (State Route 12E) and the east and west sides of Washington Street in the village of Chaumont, in the eastern part of the town of Lyme. Included in the Chaumont Historic District are 31 contributing buildings, 2 contributing objects and 8 non-contributing buildings. A total of 23 residences, one commercial building, one fraternal building, one church, 15 associated outbuildings and objects, and a combined parcel of approximately 10 acres representing the land historically associated with the individual properties compose the Chaumont Historic District.
The Chaumont Historic District rests on level terrain in the western part of Chaumont and encompasses approximately two-thirds of the residential neighborhood along Chaumont's Main Street as well as a short stretch of Washington Street to the south and a small portion of the commercial district to the east. The rest of the commercial district, extending eastward along Main Street, consists primarily of low modern buildings replacing earlier wood-frame storefronts destroyed in a series of twentieth-century fires. Situated several hundred feet east of the district and hidden from general view is the Chaumont Railroad Station. West of the Chaumont Historic District along Main Street is another block of nineteenth-century residences, of much the same scale and character as those within the district but with a higher degree of structural modifications. Further to the west is the Chaumont riverfront facing the Chaumont River, with Chaumont House and the Evans/Gaige/Dillenback House as its principal buildings. South of the Chaumont Historic District is a small residential grid of streets developed in the late nineteenth century, also with a high degree of alterations; at the south end of Washington Street is the George House and Cedar Grove Cemetery. North of the Chaumont Historic District, across the former trackbed of the Rome-Watertown Railroad, are the open rolling grasslands of upper Lyme Township.
The Chaumont Historic District boundary lines have been drawn to exclude the largely modern commercial district to the east and the residential neighborhoods to the west and south, ineligible for inclusion due to overall loss of integrity. District lines have been extended across Main Street at the east and west ends of the district as well as across Washington Street to the south.
The 33 contributing features and 8 non-contributing features of the Chaumont Historic District comprises 26 principal buildings, including 23 residences, a commercial building, a fraternal building, and a church, as well as 15 associated outbuildings and objects, mostly carriage barns and carriage blocks. The contributing buildings span the period between c.1835 and 1931 and particularly reflect Chaumont's development in the mid to late nineteenth century. The residences vary in scale and character from early modest workers' cottages to large stylistically ambitious dwellings of the second half of the century, featuring elements of the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Eastlake, and Queen Anne styles. The commercial and fraternal buildings at the eastern edge of the Chaumont Historic District both date from the late nineteenth century and feature such characteristic Italianate elements as low shed roofs, bracketed cornices, and high flat fronts. The church, originally a Greek Revival style vernacular building of the 1840s, was rebuilt in ecclesiastical Gothic style in the 1880s.
Most of the buildings in the Chaumont Historic District are of wood-frame construction, though its two finest residences are of painted brick and its most unusual building is of limestone ashlar. Clapboards predominate as a sheathing material, although wood shingles, flush boards, board and batten siding, vertical planks, and stamped metal also appear. Foundations consist almost exclusively of high-grade Chaumont limestone, of either coursed ashlar or rubblestone construction; this material was also used for some slab walks in the district as well as its two surviving carriage blocks. Typical windows are six-over-six and two-over-two light double-hung sash with pedimented or ornamental surrounds; typical doors feature either four or six vertical panels or a segmental-arched light above horizontal panels. Roofing materials consist primarily of asphalt shingles or standing-seam metal. Although some structural modifications have occurred within the Chaumont Historic District, including porch and window alterations and modern siding, its buildings retain overall a high degree of integrity.
The earliest buildings in the Chaumont Historic District are three, one and one-half story cottages of the mid-1830s, each consisting of a main block and anterior wing. While the Pennock House features a traditional gable-end form with usual side entrance, the Forbes and Shall houses are gable-fronted, with the approximate classical proportions characteristic of the Greek Revival. Although the center-entrance plan of the Shall House has been radically modified, the Forbes House retains its original side-hall plan and side-lit doorway with Federal type surround. The Chaumont Presbyterian Church of 1845 also originated as a gable-front Greek Revival vernacular building, with a square belfry and center-aisle plan similar to those of the contemporary United Methodist Church and the Baptist Church at Three Mile Bay.
Chaumont architecture of the 1850s and early 1860s reflected the prosperity of its first railroad boom as well as the impact of the national Romantic movement. Traditional styles and plans persisted early in the decade; the Alexander Copley House of c.1852 was a late example of the high-style Greek Revival, with its pedimented gable-front, wide panelled cornerboards, and Atticurge window surrounds. The contemporary Cross and Thompson houses were expanded versions of traditional gabled-ell Greek Revival vernacular cottages, built in great numbers throughout the North Country in the 1840s and 1850s. Later residences began to display elements of the newly popular Gothic Revival and Italianate styles. The Jewett House of c.1857 combined a conventional high gable-front with Gothic porch details (no longer extant) and a lunette plaque with eclectic foliated ornament; the Backus and Gaige houses, tenant cottages of c.1860, featured more modest elements of the Gothic style, including bargeboards trimmed with cusps and shouldered drip moldings. The Backus/Copley House of c.1860 and the Inman/Enos House of 1861-62, both high style brick residences, were the fullest local expressions of the Romantic period tastes. While the Backus/Copley House was a rare example of the Downingesque Gothic, with twin high-pitched gable-fronts, ornamental bargeboards, and lancet windows, the Inman/Enos House was a faithful version of an Italianate palazzo, with a low hipped roof, Foursquare plan, and wide bracketed eaves.
The trend towards greater scale and elaboration and the popularity of the Gothic and Italianate styles continued in the prosperous 1870s and 1880s. The Copley Office Building of 1872, unusual for its type as a domestic commercial building, featured monumentally scaled eclectic Gothic elements and fine limestone ashlar that marked its semi-public character. While the Knapp House of c.1877, with its hipped roof, cupola, and wide bracketed eaves, imitated the Italianate palazzo style of the Inman/Enos House, the Adams House of c.1878 adopted the more fashionable flat-roofed Italianate mode. The Crumb House of c.1880 and the Darrow House of c.1883 introduced an eclectic phase of the Gothic, with trusswork in the gable peaks and a variety of turned Eastlake-type features. Conversely the L-plan Phelps House of c.1884, similar in scale and massing to the Darrow House, was more simply detailed and foreshadowed the non-eclectic houses of the 1890s.
Chaumont's ecclesiastical and commercial architecture also reflected stylistic and other trends of the period. In 1885 the Chaumont Presbyterian Church was substantially re-built in an ecclesiastical Gothic style, with stained-glass lancet windows and a high steepled tower. The contemporary McPherson Funeral Parlor was typical of other storefronts in Chaumont and Three Mile Bay, with low shed roofs, bracketed cornices, and high flat fronts. The Masonic Hall of 1898, while incorporating these standard elements, was sheathed in stamped-metal siding that made the building more fireproof and gave the impression of masonry construction. It also introduced the community building type to Chaumont, with its downstairs dining room and kitchen and upstairs meeting hall.
The 1890s saw the emergence of a new house type at Chaumont, characterized by a square plan, hipped roof, and non-eclectic details. The McPherson House of c.1895 combined these basic features with Queen Anne style elements, including a round bell-roofed tower and gabled projections; the contemporary Dewey House also featured a square plan, gabled projections, and turned porch posts, but little stylistic elaboration. The Taft House of c.1900 carried this simplifying trend further, with a cubic massing, full porch, and center-entrance plan similar to the Foursquare rectilinear houses of the early twentieth century. The contemporary house was similar in feature to the Taft House but displayed a gable-front facade and rectangular massing characteristic of the many carpenter-built houses constructed in Lyme in the 1900s.
Little other new residential construction occurred in Chaumont in the 1900s, though many Eastlake-type porches with turned posts and spindle friezes were installed on existing dwellings. The only post-1910 building in the Chaumont Historic District is the 1931 Daniels House, with a low form and open plan typical of the Bungalows and Cottages of Chaumont Bay but distinguished by a formal over-scaled front dormer, clipped gables, and classical porch columns.
The Chaumont Historic District is architecturally significant as a well-preserved concentration of mostly residential buildings spanning the period between c.1835 and 1931 and representing nearly a century of development in a rural eastern Lake Ontario village. Greatly varied in scale and character, the Chaumont Historic District's buildings include early modest workers' cottages, the first style-conscious houses of the 1850s railroad boom, and the large fashionable dwellings of the last quarter of the century, as well as the village's first fraternal building and its principal church. Together they reflect Chaumont's economic prosperity in this period, engendered by its sawmills, stone quarriers, fisheries, and shipyards, as well as the impact of Romantic period taste on local building traditions and the evolution of construction methods and materials. The Chaumont Historic District is also historically significant for its associations with Alexander Copley and his son Hiram, business and civic leaders of nineteenth-century Chaumont. While Alexander Copley was instrumental in shifting the village center away from the riverfront in the 1850s, thus spurring the development of Main Street as a residential neighborhood, it was Hiram who in the 1870s and 1880's developed the family's many village properties and helped introduce a new era of style and fashion to Chaumont.
Though James LeRay had founded Chaumont in 1802 to serve as a port of trade on the Chaumont River, the prevalence of malaria checked its early growth, and it was not until after the War of 1812 that settlers from New England and New York established a permanent community. In 1815 the Cape Vincent Turnpike was laid out between Brownville and Cape Vincent, with Chaumont as its midpoint; the subsequent development of "Chaumont Ferry" was supervised by Musgrove Evans, one of the turnpike's surveyors. As LeRay's principal gent at Chaumont from 1818 to 1823, Evans completed Chaumont House, constructed his own Evans/Gaige/Dillenback House, and named the stretch of turnpike east of the village "James Street" in honor of his patron.
Though the Erie Canal bypassed the North Country and reversed its economic fortunes, Chaumont was supported by its well-established water-powered mills on Horse Creek and its fisheries on Chaumont Bay. To these were added its first limestone quarry in 1825 and its first shipyard in 1832, specializing in fishing boats and commercial vessels for the Great Lakes trade. In the mid 1830s sixteen new families settled at Chaumont; among them was Alexander Copley, who in 1835 purchased a local mill and store as the groundwork of an empire that was to influence Chaumont's later development. Other settlers found work in the local mills and quarries or in related support industries, such as tailor William Shall, and built simple cottages along James Street outside the village core. While the gable-ended Pennock House reflected traditional building forms, the gable-fronted classically proportioned Forbes and Shall houses heralded the coming Greek Revival movement. By the 1840s the Presbyterian congregation, organized at Chaumont in 1831, was ready for its first building. The Chaumont Presbyterian Church of 1845 was also a gable-front Greek Revival vernacular building, with a square belfry and center-aisle plan that evoked the New England origins of many of Chaumont's early settlers.
The Cape Vincent branch of the Rome-Watertown Railroad, which first passed through Chaumont in 1852, profoundly effected its subsequent development. Alexander Copley succeeded in his efforts to locate the depot close to his own Horse Creek sawmill and Chaumont Bay fish dock, rather than at the riverfront; with the shift from water to rail as a principal means of transport came a shift of the village center from the river to the depot, where it remains to this day. To mark his victory, Copley built a fine new residence across from the depot, the only high-style Greek Revival house in Chaumont and the first of many ambitious dwellings to be constructed along James Street between the old and new village centers.
The railroad connected Chaumont with urban markets throughout the state and spread the fame of its barreled ciscoes (lake herring) and marble-like limestone. The ensuing residential development of the north side of James Street in the 1850s and early 1860s reflected the prosperity of the period as well as the effect of Romantic period inspired styles on local building patterns. The Cross and Thompson houses of c.1852, constructed and occupied by local carpenters, were based on earlier gabled-ell cottages and displayed an expansion of scale and plan facilitated by the ready availability of locally-milled lumber. The still larger Jewett House of c.1857, built by Chaumont's first doctor, incorporated a Gothic Revival porch and an unusual foliated lunette plaque that were among the first signs in the village of a new spirit of eclecticism. The relative ornateness of these details also demonstrated the versatility of the new steam-driven engines at the Copley sawmill. At the end of the decade, local businessmen developed parts of James Street with tenant cottages that also incorporated modest Gothic Revival elements; the Backus House of c.1860 featured bargeboards ornamented with cusps and trefoils, while the contemporary Gaige House, built by quarry owner Lawrence Gaige, displayed shouldered drip moldings above its doors and windows.
But it was Chaumont's "dealers in general merchandise" who most profited from the 1850s railroad boom and who gave full expression to the new picturesque taste. Just prior to the Civil War, Absalom Backus Jr. and Ira Inman built fine new houses of imported brick that represented a final break with established traditions. The Backus/Copley House of c.1860 was the only high-style Downingesque Gothic house ever constructed in Lyme, with high-pitched roofs, ornamented bargeboards, peak finials, and lancet windows; the palazzo style Inman-Enos House of 1861-62 was the first and of Chaumont's many later Italianate houses, with its low hipped roof, wide bracketed eaves, and square porch posts.
Though the Civil War and post-war slump temporarily curtailed economic growth in Chaumont, Alexander Copley continued to purchase residential properties in the village and other parcels throughout Lyme; at the time of his death in 1871 he was the largest land owner in Jefferson County. Having inherited his father's estate, Hiram Copley's first act was to construct a small office building on the grounds of the family home, from which to coordinate his milling, quarrying, and shipbuilding enterprises. A rare example of its type and the only stone building constructed at Chaumont after about 1825, its strong Gothic detailing proclaimed its semi-public character, while its distinctive masonry work constituted a standing advertisement for the products of the Copley quarries.
In 1874, Chaumont was officially incorporated, with Hiram Copley as its first president, and in the last quarter of the century was at its economic, civic, and cultural peak. Its sawmills and quarries continued to produce great quantities of fine building materials; lime kilns throughout the village manufactured barrels of lime used as agricultural fertilizer throughout the North Country; and, though the waters of Chaumont Bay were fished out for commercial purposes by the 1880s, an important new seasonal economy arose to take its place. By the late 1870s the prosperous of Chaumont, like their pre-War predecessors, were constructing fashionable Gothic and Italianate style dwellings along James Street. This development centered on a large Copley-owned parcel on the south side of the street, which Hiram Copley subdivided and sold as three house lots with specific setback requirements. Around 1877 retired steamboat captain Jason Knapp built the first of three contiguous houses on this parcel, with Italianate palazzo style elements recalling those of the neighboring Inman/Enos House. The Adams House of c.1878, built by quarry owner Ashton Adams, adopted the more fashionable flat-roofed Italianate mode that also informed Chaumont's commercial storefronts in this period. Miller Waitstill Crumb's house of c.1880 broke entirely with the Italianate and introduced the more eclectic, Eastlake phase of the Gothic Revival.
In the early 1880s Copley also developed a large family owned tract south of James Street, on which he had established the 1874 Cedar Grove Cemetery, as a residential neighborhood. At the north end of Washington Street, its principal thoroughfare, the first house lots were sold to Frank Darrow and retired farmer John Phelps. Their large L-plan houses matched the scale of neighboring James Street residences; and while the Darrow House of c.1883 featured eclectic Gothic elements similar to those of the Crumb House, the Phelps House of c.1884 was essentially styleless, relying on its scale and use of materials for its distinction and foreshadowing the simple non-eclectic houses of the late 1890s.
The Gothic Revival movement, as well as another significant national trend, also affected the Chaumont Presbyterian Church. In 1876 a Sunday school wing, divided from the sanctuary by high folding doors, was added to its west wall. This addition and its relationship to the Church reflect the Akron plan, developed as a means to diversify the plans of Protestant-worship churches. In 1885 the church was rebuilt in ecclesiastical Gothic style, considered more suited to the purpose than the "pagan" classical, with new high-pitched gables, stained-glass lancet windows and a steepled entrance tower.
While other Chaumont building types reflected fluctuating trends and fashions, its wood-frame commercial storefronts consistently followed a flat-roofed pattern, characterized by such Italianate elements as bracketed cornices and elongated windows with molded caps. To these standard features were added distinctive bracketed hoods above the display windows in the 1880s, such as once featured by the McPherson Funeral Parlor (now the Becker Funeral Home). Yet an 1897 fire which destroyed much of the commercial district underscored the vulnerability of wood-frame buildings; and the following year, when the local Order of Freemasons constructed a new building on the site of the town hall, they sheathed it with stamped-metal siding. Similar to that of the contemporary George Brothers Building, the siding of the Masonic Hall was ordered by the square or linear foot from a catalog, and may have been manufactured by Meaker Brothers Architectural Company. It helped make the building more fireproof and gave the impression of masonry construction at a fraction of the cost. The Masonic Hall, along with the Chaumont Grange Hall and Dairying Company Building, also introduced the community building type to Chaumont, with its downstairs dining room and upstairs meeting hall performing important roles in a community, which had lost its town hall.
A "hay boom" resulting from the lucrative New York City hay market brought a new wave of prosperity to Chaumont in the 1890s and 1900s. It was a time of re-building rather than new development along James Street, as many families replaced their old homesteads with more convenient and fashionable dwellings. In the mid-1890s undertaker Childs McPherson built the only example in Lyme of a high-style Queen Anne house, with variegated wall surfaces and a distinctive bell-roofed tower. It was also an early indication of a new hip-roofed Foursquare house type. The contemporary Dewey House across the street, built by retired quarry owner Francs Dewey, also featured a square hip-roofed form with gabled projections but with a far simpler character. The Taft House of c.1900, built by retired farmer O.C. Taft, gave full expression to the new type, with a simple cubic massing and non-eclectic details that foreshadowed the "comfortable" house at the other end of James Street incorporated similar details with a high gable-front and rectangular form that characterized the many carpenter-built farmhouses built throughout Lyme in this period.
By 1900 Chaumont's sawmills had been displaced by larger operations at Watertown and other urban centers; most of its stone quarries had closed as the result of escalating costs. It was Lyme's seasonal economy, based on the attractions of Chaumont Bay for fishing and recreational boating, that fostered a new wave of residential construction in the form of hundreds of shoreline bungalows and cottages. The only new residence built on James Street after 1910 was the 1931 Daniels House, with a low form and open plan that reflected the influence of the Bungalow House type. At the same time its over-scaled front dormer, clipped gables, and classical porch columns gave the house a formal character in keeping with its distinguished older neighbors.
Since that time, most of the residences along Main Street, no longer "James" Street have been preserved by sensitive owners. Though some interior and exterior alterations have occurred in response to changing domestic patterns, the Chaumont Historic District continues to evoke the prosperous era which shaped it. Within the past decade a new spirit of appreciation for its historic resources has arisen at Chaumont, promising much for the future preservation of this lakeshore community.