Constableville Village Historic District
The Constableville Village 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.
Constableville is a small rural village located in southern Lewis County within the town of West Turin. Situated on the Tug Hill Upland, the core of the Tug Hill region, the village is bisected by the Sugar River which curves northeasterly through the village toward the Black River. Just east of the village, New York State Route 26 leads south 25 miles to Rome. The village is surrounded by farmland which has been designated by New York State for preservation in agricultural use.
Constableville Village Historic District incorporates seven streets and a section of the Sugar River. The eastern part of the Constableville Village Historic District is situated on the lowland adjacent to the river, while the western portion rises up a rather steep grade toward the center of the Tug Hill plateau to the west. The boundaries of the Constableville Village Historic District were drawn to encompass the historic commercial and residential core of the village including all the structures within the village limits that retain historical and architectural integrity. Beyond the district boundaries are open agricultural lands and modern development or historic buildings which have lost substantial integrity.
The 59.4 acre Constableville Village Historic District includes 112 commercial, residential, civic and church structures built primarily between c.1828 and 1900. Also included within the Constableville Village Historic District are a rural cemetery dating from the late nineteenth century, one historic bridge and an early twentieth century school.
The homogeneous architecture within the Constableville Village Historic District is, for the most part, based on nineteenth-century regional vernacular traditions. The Greek Revival and Italianate styles, in particular, provided the roots for the vernacular traditions favored by the builders of Constableville.
Each of the streets within the Constableville Village Historic District contains a mixture of building types. Main Street is composed of two-story frame commercial buildings at the southern portion and residences toward the northern section. James Street is lined with substantial, two-story frame residences and dominated by St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church and parish house. West Street is lined with two-story frame residences built in the 1860's and 1870's and the Methodist Church. High Street consists of the Constableville Rural Cemetery on the south side and two-story frame residences on the north. Along West Main Street are two-story frame residences and a school. Church Street includes a row of livery barns, several frame residences, an iron bridge over the Sugar River and St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Schuyler Street consists of the firehouse and a multi-family residence.
The historic street pattern of the community is encompassed within the Constableville Village Historic District. Main and Church Streets were laid out before 1800. West Street was shown as a swamp on an 1855 map, but by 1875, it had been developed. In the late nineteenth century the village was entered from the south across the Church Street Bridge (1887) over the Sugar River. A path off Church Street led directly to Constable Hall (outside the district boundaries; home of early settlers; National Register listed). In 1922, the John Street concrete bridge (non-contributing) was built over the river and John Street was built to link Church and Main Streets.
Focal points for the Constableville Village Historic District are located at the north and south ends of Main Street, each dominated by a significant structure or group of structures. To the south where Main, West Main, John and Church Streets intersect, a large, open, area extends southward to the Sugar River. The Parquet Inn, on the northwest corner, is the principal landmark dominating this space. The northern focus is the intersection of Main, North Main, High and James Streets. A small open green on the southeast corner surrounds a decorative gazebo and provides a setting for St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church and parish house across the intersection.
The major period of development occurred between 1830 and 1870 and by 1875 the general character of the Constableville Village Historic District had been established. However, in 1870 and again in 1887, major fires destroyed portions of the northwest part of Main Street. This section was immediately redeveloped as St. Mary's Church (1888), the Baptist Church (1889) (now St. Mary's parish house) and a park and gazebo (1894).
The village experienced very little growth after 1900; the only significant twentieth-century structures included within the Constableville Village Historic District are two residences (1900 and 1910) and a school (1928).
There are five non-contributing structures within the boundaries of the Constableville Village Historic District: a one-story cement block utility company structure on James Street, two mobile homes and a gasoline station on Main Street, and the concrete bridge over John Street (1922).
The Constableville Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as an intact cohesive group of commercial, civic, religious and residential structures representing the development of a North Country Village during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Developed primarily between 1828 and 1900, the Constableville Village Historic District is characterized by regional, vernacular variations of popular nineteenth-century architectural styles, including Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival. Remarkably free of modern development, the Constableville Village Historic District includes only two contributing twentieth-century structures — a residence constructed in 1910 and a Neoclassical style school built in 1928 that represents the last significant development in Constableville. The village's history is also represented by an historic bridge and a late nineteenth century cemetery. Constableville's outstanding level of integrity, including many surviving historic outbuildings and storefronts, extends to the farmlands outside the village boundaries, which have been designated by New York State for preservation as agricultural districts.
William Constable was a New York City shipping magnate and land speculator, who, with Alexander Macomb and Daniel McCormick, acquired the Macomb Purchase in 1791. This tract of 3,816,960 acres of northern New York represented one-tenth of the state and was the largest land transaction in the nation up to that date. Constableville was founded in 1796 when Constable's agent Nathaniel Shaler brought twenty men into the North Country from Connecticut to build a sawmill. To attract settlers, in 1797 Shaler built on the Sugar River the first grist mill in Lewis County and a road to Fort Stanwix (Rome). Constable died in 1803 without visiting the settlement. Members of his family took a personal interest in the outpost and William Constable, Jr. built the imposing stone Constable Hall (1810-19) a short distance across the Sugar River from the center of the settlement. The family resided at Constable Hall until 1948 when it became a house museum. It was listed on the National Register in 1973.
Long, harsh winters with extremely heavy snowfall and short growing seasons discouraged all but the most hearty from settling in this Tug Hill region. However, Shaler and later agents did sell land to New Englanders who settled farms and a few who built homes in the village. Constableville grew slowly before the 1830's. Welsh and German immigrants arrived in the 1830's and the Irish followed in the 1840's. Between 1850 and 1880 the population expanded to a peak of 712.
Agriculture and lumbering were the mainstays of the economy as the village was taking shape. Cheese factories operated from 1861 until 1939. Dairy farming continued as the basis of the local economy on the farms surrounding the historic district.
Saw mills operated as a major industry beginning in the 1820's. Ash whale boat oars, spruce spars for sailing vessels, spruce shingles, wood for New York City wharves and two-thirds of the birdseye maple harvested in the world were hauled from the forests northwest of Constableville until 1900. In Constableville, woodworking factories produced for export and local use. The Steam Mill Company on the Sugar River manufactured sash, blinds and doors beginning in the 1860's. Remains of the company's structures survive within the Constableville Village Historic District. On James Street, Eames and Bridgeman manufactured pumps and wooden cheese boxes, and the Union Manufacturing Company processed logs on West Street. When the Tug Hill forests became sparse through over cutting in the early twentieth century, local industries declined.
Several structures make a special contribution to the architectural significance of the district. The Parquet Hotel on Main Street has hosted visitors since before 1830. Typical of inns erected in numerous upstate villages, the two-story, nine-bay frame structure with Federal and Greek Revival stylistic elements has a two-story portico supported by wooden columns. St. Paul's Episcopal Church (1835) is a distinguished example of a Greek Revival style structure that was erected on land donated by the Constable family. Parishioners of Trinity Church in New York City contributed funds to meet building costs. The Octagon house built by Moses Eames in 1856 on James Street is the only octagonal house in Lewis County. Constructed of board and batten siding, the design incorporates an octagonal cupola and two-story porch. The building at 55 West Main Street (1856) is a notable Italianate style residence with a hipped roof and decorative bracketed cornice and handsome entrance. The single-span metal pony truss bridge that carries Church Street over the Sugar River was built in 1887 incorporating the patented Pratt truss system of iron structural members. The bridge was manufactured by King Iron Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio and replaced a wooden bridge.
The majority of the residential structures in the Constableville Village Historic District reflect regional vernacular traditions. More than half are two-story, three-bay frame structures with the gable ends of the pitched roofs facing the street. Bold Greek Revival style entrances and partial or full returns of the cornice characterize structures built in the 1830's and 1840's. In subsequent decades, this basic design was modified to incorporate taller proportions, simple molded or overhanging cornices, ocular windows in gable peaks and entrance hoods. Another vernacular form inspired by Italianate designs featured a hipped roof and bracketed cornice. More than a dozen examples of this building type are included among the residences and commercial structures built in Constable during the 1870's and 1880's. Frame residences on James and West Streets and on West Main Street retain their original designs and materials including clapboard siding, windows, entrances, cornices and porches. Many properties include historic outbuildings such as carriage barns with flush vertical or board and batten siding.
The streetscapes in the commercial area exhibit an integrity of purpose and design and contribute to Constableville's architectural quality. Most of the commercial structures on Main Street are intact with original facades, entrances, and storefront display windows.
Constableville's remarkable state or preservation is due in part to the attitude of the citizens who have sponsored many restoration and adaptive use projects within the village. The Constableville Village Historic District survives today as perhaps the most intact example of a nineteenth-century village in rural, northern New York.
Bowen, G. Byron, Ed. History of Lewis County, New York 1880-1965. Board of Legislators of Lewis County, 1970.
Conway, Matthew J. Highmarket "As You Were": Two Hundred Years of Tug Hill. 1977.
Hough, Franklin B. History of Lewis County. Merrick, NY: Richmond Publishing Co., 1860.
Traxel, Mary E. A History of Constableville. 1977.
Resources of the Tug Hill Region. Syracuse: College of Environmental Science and Forestry, 1974.