Earlville Historic District
The Earlville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. 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 Earlville Historic District is composed of approximately 165 properties which constitute the historic heart of the village. The Earlville Historic District includes the commercial area at the center of the village and residential areas on the main thoroughfares and on two small side streets. Most of the buildings in the Earlville Historic District were constructed between 1880-1920, a period of great prosperity and growth for Earlville. All of the commercial area was rebuilt in the 1880s after a series of disastrous fires. The oldest surviving buildings in the Earlville Historic District, residences from the initial period of the village's settlement, are concentrated on the periphery of the district. Buildings in the Earlville Historic District exhibit a variety of historic architectural styles but the eclectic designs of the late nineteenth century predominate. Buildings display a high degree of architectural integrity in workmanship, materials and design. There has been very little new construction since the early part of the twentieth century and the Earlville Historic District boundary has been drawn to exclude most non-historic and severely altered buildings. There are six non-contributing buildings within the Earlville Historic District.
The Earlville village commercial area includes one block on East Main Street, one-half block each on West and North Main, and a few buildings on South Main Street. Surrounding the commercial zone are large residential areas on East, West, North and South Main Streets and Fayette Street. All of tiny Cushman Avenue, a cul-de-sac off East Main Street, is included.
The cohesive character of Earlville's business district is defined by groups of two-story brick commercial blocks, largely constructed after the fires of the 1880's. The most imposing of these commercial blocks is the Earlville Opera House (listed in the National Register in 1973) and the contiguous Douglass Block on East Main Street at the corner of South Main. The two buildings, constructed as a unit c.1892 (after fire had destroyed the original blocks), share such decorative features as corbelled brick cornices, stone water tables, round-arched windows, and storefronts exhibiting tall, plate glass windows between narrow cast-iron columns. The Smith-Fay Block on the northwest corner of the main intersection, although more modest in design, exhibits the corbelled cornice, molded lintels, and trabeated storefronts of the late nineteenth century. (Originally constructed in 1860, it was substantially rebuilt in 1887.) Facing the opera house on East Main Street is the Odd Fellows Hall, an excellent example of Second Empire design with a third-story slate mansard roof, hooded dormers, denticulated cornice and two elaborate wrought-iron balconies. Two large masonry apartment houses, the concrete block and brick MacQueen Block on East Main Street and the brick Ross Block on West Main Street, which are similar in scale, design, and materials to the commercial blocks, also contribute to the cohesiveness of the village center. On the edges of the business district are some one-story frame commercial structures and some houses which have had storefronts added at the street level.
The few twentieth century additions to the commercial district continue the "brick tradition" — the 1923 Earlville Bank and the c.1930 Municipal building with attached c.1960's village library. Interspersed among the earlier large brick structures and small frame stores, these early twentieth century functionalist designs give variety to the prevailing Victorian architecture.
Earlville's three surviving churches are located just outside the commercial area. The Episcopal Church at 23 East Main Street is an excellent example of Gothic parish church architecture, with vertical siding, stick gable ornament, and steeply pitched roof. On North Main Street is the Methodist Church built in 1887, a large two-story frame church with round-arched windows and a square side tower (its spire was lost to storm damage in the 1920's). The 1888 Baptist Church on West Main Street is similar in form but more exuberantly Gothic with lancet windows and multi-stage tower topped by an octagonal spire pierced by clock-faced gablets.
The remainder of the Earlville Historic District is residential in character. The majority of the buildings are substantial single-family houses of wood frame construction. A wide range of domestic architectural styles is represented, but it is the eclectic fashions of the late nineteenth century which predominate. Most streets are lined with slate sidewalks and tall shade trees planted in the nineteenth century. Lots average 60-70 feet in width, so that building placement is fairly dense. Most properties have well-maintained lawns and foundation plantings. Many houses retain original carriage houses and other outbuildings.
The earliest residences in Earlville are located on the main thoroughfares outside of the commercial areas. These are buildings which survived the fires that destroyed the core of the village. Probably the oldest extant brick building in Earlville is the c.1830 L-shaped house at 22 South Main Street, featuring stone lintels, louvered fanlight and stepped Dutch gable with built-in chimney on the north facade. Another early residence is located at 23 South Main Street and exhibits delicate Federal period details. The simplicity of vernacular Federal design is exemplified by one and one-half story cottages at 19 and 20 South Main and by two large (much altered) residences at 10 and 12 South Main. In contrast to these are Victorian residences at 21, 16, 18, and 25 South Main Street.
On North Main Street, again, the earliest structures are located on the outskirts of the village center. These include number 27, which displays the simple classical cornice of the Greek Revival/Italianate transition and an elaborately detailed porch added later in the century, and number 51, an L-shaped house (c.1850) with classical detailing.
The Italianate style is represented by numbers 27, 46, 49 and 65 North Main Street. Number 65, the northernmost house in the Earlville Historic District, exhibits the most elaborate Italianate style ornamentation in the Earlville Historic District, including bracketing, rows of sharktooth appliques, fine sawn detail, and a wrap-around porch.
Large Victorian-era homes, built after the fires, dominate the southern end of North Main Street. The rambling mansion at #25, built c.1886 by perfume manufacturer Cyrus Cotton, is notable for its scroll ornamentation, found also on the tiny springhouse.
The most fanciful of the Victorian-era mansions is at #47, which displays a polychrome slate roof, iron cresting, circular gable trusses, and tower of the High Victorian Gothic style. Several examples of the T-shaped Victorian form known locally as "Stafford houses" (after a prominent builder-craftsman) are found on North Main Street; examples are #35 and #37 and #62.
Early twentieth century residences are concentrated at the northern end of the Earlville Historic District. Both #55, in brick, and #57, in rock-faced cement block, are simple Colonial Revival forms, while #59 and #54 represent Bungalow and Foursquare designs respectively.
West Main Street exhibits a wide mixture of styles from the early 1800's through the Victorian era. Early 19th century residences are perhaps more numerous on this street than on any in the Earlville Historic District. Of the gable-front forms, the Ionic portico of #32 and the modillioned cornice of the pediment at #58 are particularly noteworthy. Number 31 is typical of the Federal/Greek Revival homes on this street. The Italianate style is well represented, with many vernacular examples, both flat and hip-roofed forms. Most retain their bracketing (often elaborate) and porches with spindles and turned posts.
There are also several large late nineteenth century houses on West Main Street. Number 3, one of the few Second Empire residences in Earlville, features a full slate mansard, hooded dormers with segmental pediments, and a large columned front porch. The Queen Anne style is represented by several brick and shingle houses such as #48 and frame versions such as #11 and #30, with well-preserved carriage house.
Fayette Street, running north from West Main Street, was originally called School Street and still retains the c.1845 Select School (on the corner of West Main, #16), part of the first public school (#19), and the present consolidated school (at the end of the street, beyond the district boundary). The first public school, built in 1855, was a two-story, four-room frame building which was expanded later in the century. After the fires of the 1880's, it was sheathed in brick and a shingled third story was added to the entrance. Most of the school was demolished, leaving only the unique three-story tower at #19 Fayette.
The remainder of Fayette Street consists of well-preserved nineteenth-century houses. Modest Greek Revival style houses are located at #8, #11, #12 and #15. Also well represented is the Italianate style, at #9, #14, #18 and #20; all have bracketed cornices, bay windows, and elaborate porches. The north end of the street is dominated by several "Stafford houses" with the best examples of gable and porch decoration in Earlville: #22 to #32 and #27 to #29.
East Main Street, beyond the commercial buildings, is most noteworthy for its late nineteenth century homes but also includes some mid-century examples of Greek Revival architecture. The easternmost house in the Earlville Historic District, #72 and #52 are similar 5-bay center hall forms with the heavy frieze and corner pilasters of the late Greek Revival style. Both are set on very large properties; that of #52 includes a section of the Chenango Canal berm and a barn originally used for canal storage.
The post-Civil War development on the street includes numerous modest examples of Italianate design and several ornately decorated wood frame houses form the late nineteenth century. The brick and shingle house at #69 is one of several such Queen Anne houses in Earlville. The brick Bungalow at #65 and the shed-roofed cottage at #68 are among the few twentieth-century buildings on the street.
There are only two houses on Cushman Avenue, a cul-de-sac which runs south off East Main Street.
The Earlville Historic District is architecturally significant as a cohesive concentration of nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings which conveys the feeling and association this small rural village acquired in the period 1880-1920. There are significant examples of early nineteenth century architectural styles and a few examples of early twentieth century styles, but it is the abundance of late nineteenth century buildings that imparts the district's distinctive historic character. The wealth and variety of applied wooden ornament is particularly noteworthy. This richness of surviving Victorian-era craftsmanship reveals the dynamism of the railroad era in Earlville.
The village of Earlville is located in a wide valley corridor just north of the confluence of the east and west branches of the Chenango River. Earlville is particularly distinctive in its political boundaries — the main intersection divides the village into four townships in two counties. The center line of East and West Main Streets forms the boundary between Madison and Chenango counties, a line established in 1806, when there was not a significant settlement at the present village location.
The lands in this vicinity were in the Indian domain until after the close of the Revolutionary War. In 1388, New York State Governor George Clinton transacted the "purchase of the twenty townships," which included present-day Earlville. The first settlers arrived around 1792, building log cabins along the Chenango River. The land was a thick forest wilderness, rich with water and game. Asheries and water-powered saw and grist mills were the earliest industries, but the principal activity, then as now, was farming. Farms primarily supplied the family staples, the major crops being wheat, barley, oats and hops. Surplus grain was converted into liquor. By the mid-nineteenth century, hops were a major cash crop in central New York and remained so until a hop blight and western competition late in the century. Today dairying is the dominant industry.
The settlement, known as Madison Forks, developed slowly in the early nineteenth century. Overland transportation evolved from paths to primitive dirt roads, then to corduroy and plank roads. In 1803, the Third Great Western Turnpike passed just north of the settlement, providing an outlet for the developing economy. The Utica to Oxford Turnpike established the major north-south axis that is now North and South Main Streets. Another plank road extended northeast to Waterville. Settlement clustered along the turnpikes and the first concentration of commerce and industry was at the northern edge of today's village limits, a section now known as "Red City." By 1808, the settlement included a tannery, large distillery, hotel and post office. Further south, on the Chenango River, were a gristmill and sawmill. Baptist and Methodist congregations formed in 1802, but their existing churches date from the last quarter of the century.
The oldest extant buildings in the Earlville Historic District display the classical detailing typical of Federal and Greek Revival styles. The most common early homes are small gable-front buildings, two or three bays wide with narrow boxed cornices and gable returns. Other common plans are the five-bay center hall design and the L-shaped form with side wing recessed behind a low porch. Pedimented gables, fan lights, and sidelights are common decorative motifs. The village's earliest extant brick structure, 22 South Main Street, exhibits heavy stone lintels, a delicate elliptical fanlight in the gable, a stepped gable on the north wing, and multi-paned sidelights and transom at the door.
In 1824, construction began on the Chenango Canal which was to pass through the village and have a major impact on village development. With hopes that the canal would bring an era of prosperity, the settlement was rechristened Earlville in honor of canal commissioner Jonas Earl. The location of a lock at what is now the eastern end of Main Street caused the establishment of canal-related business near the lock. This, in time, was responsible for the present location of the business center, south of Red City at the junction of North/South Main Street and Canal Street (now East Main). With the completion of the canal in 1836, local industries expanded and new ones were developed: quarrying and lumbering, the hay, grain, horse, and warehouse businesses, and taverns and hotels. Stone masons, iron founders and coopers, lock tenders, toll collectors and canal maintenance workers were needed to build and maintain the canal. Of the considerable canal-related development of this period, the most notable examples are the storehouse and home of George Page, an Earlville entrepreneur owned three canal boats and operated a warehouse business. The still visible canal ditch and the first stone sidewalk in the village is also on the property of Page's imposing Greek Revival house at 52 East Main Street.
Earlville experienced its greatest spurt of growth and prosperity with the coming of railroads. The railroad's advantages over the canal soon became obvious — railroads faster, cheaper, easier to maintain and operate year round. Although the canal and its usefulness for transporting heavy loads (e.g. coal) it could not compete with the railroads and was abandoned in 1878.
In 1880 the hamlet of Earlville population reached 400. The location of the village center was established by this time, but the focus of new commercial and industrial activities were to the outskirts of the village. Among the new industries were: the Parsons Wagon Co. (est. 1887) producing the famous "low down design" milk delivery, the Earlville Furniture Works (est. 1886), and the Arnold Furniture Co. (est. 1890).
Another successful business was the C.L. Cotton Perfume and Extract Co, (est.1878) which began in Cotton's Victorian Gothic residence at 25 North Main, later moved to the brick laboratory he constructed at 25 East Main Street (now the Cornell University Regional Mastisis Laboratory).
A series of disastrous fires at the end of the nineteenth century precipitated much new construction in the village. The first major fire struck in 1859, leveling four stores. The "Great Fire of 1886" reduced the commercial center to ashes and also destroyed many residences, leaving 125 persons homeless. Another fire in 1890 burned the opera house and a group of other buildings; in 1892, the east section of the Douglass Block and the opera house were again burned (this section was rebuilt in similar style).
The combination of railroad-induced prosperity, the presence of woodworking industries, and the necessity for large-scale rebuilding after the fires engendered a building boom in Earlville which established the present-day character of the village. Most of the new commercial buildings were built of brick, displaying decorative relieving arches, stone water tables, and corbelled brick cornices. Brick was also used in residential construction. It appears several times in combination with imbricated shingles and carved Gothic detail and also in simple multi-family dwellings such as 8 West Main Street. Some of the brick buildings are good examples of period domestic architecture to which minor commercial features were added, such as the MacQueen and Ross Blocks, on East and West Main streets, respectively.
The majority of new residences were built of wood and the abundance of skilled woodworkers and woodworking machinery contributed greatly to Earlville's building spree. Village homes exhibit a wealth of sawn, carved, and turned wood ornament on gables, porches, skirts and eaves. Large homes, reflecting the fortunes made by prominent citizens, retain the most elaborate examples of these carpentry skills. Of particular note are the Second Empire residence of George King at 47 North Main; the Colonial Revival mansion and carriage house built by Dr. White, a prominent village physician, at 30 West Main; and the elaborately spindled house and matching springhouse of perfume manufacturer C.L. Cotton (25 North Main). Of the more modest homes built at this period, a particularly popular form is a narrow T-shaped gabled roofed type with ornately decorated gables and side porches known locally as Stafford houses, after carpenter/builder E.E. Stafford. Many owners of older homes spared by the fires added some sort of woodwork to their residences, typified by the porch Mr. Bentley of the Bentley Furniture Factory added to his residence at 27 N. Main Street.
Incorporated in 1887, the village of Earlville settled down to a much quieter mode of existence in the twentieth century, losing much of its commercial and industrial base to larger nearby communities and distant cities. Present-day institutions including the opera house theater, bank, fire department, public school, and churches were well established by the early 1900's. In this century three brick buildings were added to the commercial district — the 1923 Earlville Bank Block, the c.1930 Municipal Building, and the c.1960's Village Library — between older commercial structures. Today's business district consists of a handful of stores, service industries, and public offices. The Earlville Paper Box Factory, a manufacturing facility, is located in a residential area outside the Earlville Historic District boundaries. Residential growth has been limited to southwest sector of the village but includes examples of Bungalow, Foursquare, and modern one-story homes filling in spaces in the older neighborhoods.
Since the early 1970's there has been community interest in historic preservation, focused primarily on the restoration of the Earlville Opera House (listed in the National Register of Historic Places, 1973) as a theater and village museum. Several other projects have resulted from this activity — restoration of storefronts adjacent to the opera house and the reclamation of the Smith-Fay Block as a viable commercial structure.
Chenango County Planning and Development Board. Chenango Canal 1833-1878. Norwich, New York: Chenango Union Printing, Inc., 1976.
Hammond, L.M. History of Madison County, State of New York. Syracuse, New York: Truviar, Smith and Co., 1872.
Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. "Historical Analysis of the Village of Earlville." Unpublished manuscript, Chenango County Planning and Development Board, Norwich, New York, 1979.
Robson, Belle Lawrence. "A History of Earlville, New York." Transcript of a lecture on file at the Earlville Free Library, no date.
Sawdey, Myrtle, "A Condensed History of John Parson's Notes on the History of Earlville." Unpublished manuscript, Earlville Free Library, no date.
Smith, James H. History of Chenango and Madison Counties. Syracuse: D. Mason and Company, 1880.
Smith, John E. Our Country and its People, a Descriptive and Biographical Record of Madison County, New York. Boston, Mass: The Boston History Company, Publishers, 1899.