Hamilton Village Historic District
The Hamilton Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Hamilton Village Historic District is located in the center and southern portion of the village of Hamilton, Madison County, New York. The former farming community is nestled in the broad Chenango River valley in the central portion of the state approximately twenty miles southeast of Syracuse. The Hamilton Village Historic District radiates out from the village park located in the center of the community. There are 157 contributing properties in the district, most of which are residential, but the Hamilton Village Historic District also includes commercial structures, churches and public buildings. A variety of architectural styles is represented in the district illustrating the village's development from the early nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. There are eleven non-historic buildings in the district.
Boundaries are drawn to include the most intact collection of historic buildings in the village core. Village park (1822), centerpiece of the Hamilton Village Historic District, is surrounded by intact residential neighborhoods on seven streets and well-preserved commercial buildings on two streets adjoining the park. Well maintained early nineteenth century residences are concentrated on Broad, Hamilton and Payne Streets. Intact late nineteenth and early twentieth century residences are most numerous on E. Kendrick Street and the lower portion of Broad Street. Turn-of-the-century architectural styles are predominant in the district's commercial area on Lebanon and Utica Streets. The Hamilton Village Historic District boundaries on Hamilton, Lebanon, Madison, Payne, Utica, and West Pleasant Streets were drawn as the integrity of the buildings diminished or modern, incompatible structures intruded on the area. The southern boundary on Broad Street includes the last residence before the large, modern Reid Athletic Center. The Colgate University campus, adjoining the southeast boundary of the district, is not included because it forms a separate grouping of historic structures, set off from the village by Taylor Lake and landscaped grounds.
The village park is a triangular shaped, tree-lined green, crossed by diagonal paths. The park was created in 1846 when this marshy area of the village was filled with soil from the construction of the Chenango Canal. The park is landscaped with mature trees, benches and tables as well as a variety of commemorative markers and plaques. Many of Hamilton's most distinguished historic buildings border the park such as the c.1850 Adon Smith Mansion, the 1842 Baptist Church, and the 1925 Colgate Inn, at the upper end of the park.
The oldest buildings in the district are residential and embody characteristics of the Federal and Greek Revival styles. The c.1820 Esek Steere House at 40 Broad Street is a temple-front Greek Revival style design and displays a full pediment supported by fluted Doric columns. The c.1804 Elisha Payne House at 35 Payne Street is a two-story, five-bay Federal style residence with a center Palladian motif window. The vernacular interpretation of the Federal style is seen more frequently in the district, characterized by a two-story, three-bay layout and often with a two-bay side wing, and chimneys, and elliptical gable windows. Representative of the vernacular Greek Revival form popular in the mid-nineteenth century is the residence at 23 Madison Street with gable roof returns, decorative window pediments, bay window, and spacious porch.
Popular architectural styles of the second half of the nineteenth century dominate the character of the Hamilton Village Historic District. The imposing c.1850 Adon Smith Mansion is an excellent example of the Italian Villa style, with an oversize cupola, huge molded brackets and lintels, and an intact wraparound porch with delicate wrought iron; it was individually listed on the National Register on May 2, 1978. Among the district's many Italianate style residences is the unique mid-nineteenth century version at 23 Madison Street, with a projecting center tower and variety of lintel and hood moldings. Though fewer in number, late-1800s Second Empire style residences are represented in the district. Many of these are older buildings to which a mansard roof was added in the late 1800s. The Richard Upjohn designed St. Thomas Church, dating from 1846, features elements characteristic of the Gothic Revival mode: board and batten sheathing, steeply pitched roof, and pointed arch windows. The Victorian Gothic style Delta Kappa Epsilon Chapel at 96 Broad Street features decorative gable ornament, hip roof, and pointed arch openings. Large Queen Anne style residences are prominent in the Hamilton Village Historic District, displaying large verandas, Palladian windows, circular towers, projecting gables, and decorative shingle patterns.
Early twentieth century styles such as Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, and English Tudor are concentrated in lower Broad Street's Fraternity Row section. An excellent example of the Classical Revival style is the Delta Upsilon House at 66 Broad Street, featuring a large two-story semicircular portico supported by Corinthian columns.
The Hamilton Village Historic District's commercial buildings are largely two- and three-story brick blocks built soon after the fire of 1895, which destroyed most of the business section at the center of the village. Many prominent merchants commissioned architects to design eclectic commercial blocks employing Romanesque, Italianate, and Classical elements. Features of the buildings include: arcaded round arch windows, brick pilasters, Palladian motif windows, overhanging ornamental cornices, and stone trim including water table and lintels. The original scale and atmosphere of this turn-of-the-century commercial district has been maintained, with few major exterior alterations to buildings.
Architect A. W. Reynolds of Binghamton designed the Nichols & Beal Block at 6-12 Utica Street, an eclectic mix of architectural forms including round arch windows, Palladian motif windows, and a finial crowned corner tower. The Sheldon Opera House Block (1895) at 3-9 Lebanon Street, also designed by Reynolds, features Classical details, such as brick pilasters and garland panels, and a three-tier stepped pediment in the front gable. Hamilton's largest commercial building, the Smith Block (1895) at 2-28 Broad Street, was designed by Orlando K. Foote of Rochester. This large Italianate style block was built in four sections, with alternating roof designs and rows of bay windows, and features nine storefronts with cast-iron columns. The Oneida National Bank, another of Foote's buildings, displays Classical details including gauged brick arches, quoining, and monolithic Doric stone columns at the entrance. The work of Utica architect F.H. Gauge is represented by one structure in the Hamilton Village Historic District, the McNeilly Block (1895), a three-story brick commercial building on the north side of Lebanon Street.
Situated at the head of the village park is the 1925 Colgate Inn, center of social activities in the village. The third hotel on the site since c.1800, the inn is Dutch Colonial Revival in design incorporating shingle sheathing, gambrel roof, and a five-bay portico facing the park.
The Hamilton Village Historic District represents the historic core of the village of Hamilton and is significant for its collection of well-preserved nineteenth and early twentieth century residences and its remarkable intact turn-of-the-century commercial district. Settled in 1794, Hamilton emerged into a nineteenth-century mercantile and trading center serving the agricultural economy of southern Madison County. The resources in the Hamilton Village Historic District represent the period between 1800 and 1930. The buildings were designed in a wide range of nineteenth and twentieth century architectural styles and are characterized by a high degree of integrity in design and materials. Further enhancing the historic character of the Hamilton Village Historic District is the village park at center village, tree-lined streetscapes, and period carriage barns located behind many residences.
Hamilton was a part of the Indian domain until the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783. The town of Hamilton was established in 1795 and Madison County in 1806. The village's first settler was Samuel Payne, who arrived in 1794 and was soon followed by others attracted to the rich timber, game, and water resources the region offered. Elisha Payne, Samuel's brother, opened the first tavern on the crossroads, donated land for a park, and directed the survey for house lots; he is thus honored as the village's founder. By 1811, Payne's settlement included two taverns, three stores, a school, Baptist Meeting House, and twenty-five dwellings. In 1816 the village of Hamilton was incorporated adopting the name of Elisha Payne's hero, the statesman Alexander Hamilton.
There are quite a few buildings which survive from this early period of the village in the historic district. Elisha Payne's (c.1804) home at 35 Payne Street survives largely intact, as does the c.1797 residence of Dr. Thomas Greenly, Hamilton's first physician, at 25 Broad Street. The c.1820 residence at 15 Payne Street, thought to have been an early blacksmith shop, is an excellent example of locally quarried stone buildings. The c.1808 residence of General Nathaniel King, a prominent citizen who served as a state assemblyman, district attorney and commander of militia troops at Sackets Harbor during The War of 1812, survives at 34 Broad Street; however, its architectural integrity has been compromised by later alterations. James Cowell, the settlement's first merchant, built his home at 42 Broad Street in c.1808; it was enlarged in the Greek Revival temple style in the 1830s. Captain Esek Steere, partner with Cowell, also built a residence in this style at 40 Broad Street c.1820.
The Cherry Valley and Hamilton to Skaneateles Turnpikes were Hamilton's trade and migration routes in the early 1800s, thus fostering the growth of the village. However, it was the construction of the Chenango Canal in 1836-37 which provided access to the Erie Canal at Utica and the Susquehanna River at Binghamton that established Hamilton as a commercial trade center. As a result, many new commercial buildings were constructed as well as homes for the new businessmen. Among the surviving resources from this period is the Nower Block, part of the Exchange Buildings built by a group of businessmen adjacent to the Lebanon Street canal bridge. Vernacular Federal style two-story, three-bay brick residences were built for many local businessmen — at 60 Broad Street, for George Williams, printer, bookseller, and editor, and at 27 Payne Street, the likely home of C.C. Payne, owner of the C.C. Payne brickyards, which supplied brick for many of the residences in the Hamilton Village Historic District. Another prominent businessman, Willard Welton, built the Greek Revival style residence at 25 Payne Street in 1831 with a handsome Federal style fanlight.
Hamilton's oldest religious congregation is Baptist (est. 1797), which built its third church in 1843 on the edge of the park. This massive brick structure was designed in the Greek Revival style with classic elements such as a low pitched pedimented roof, Doric pilasters and corner boards, and a wide frieze with a denticulated cornice. In 1904, a Colonial Revival style semicircular portico and a gold-dome clock tower were added giving the church a commanding architectural presence in the village. Another architecturally significant church in the Hamilton Village Historic District is St. Thomas Episcopal Church, a Gothic Revival structure erected in 1846 and designed by the prominent architect Richard Upjohn. Nationally, Upjohn was an influential and prolific architect who popularized Gothic Revival style architecture based on medieval English forms in the United States. Upjohn designed churches throughout the eastern United States, many of which survive today.
Higher education played an important role in the history of the village. The Baptist Education Society of the State of New York was established in 1817 and soon founded a Baptist seminary. By mid-century it had grown to be a respected school known as Madison University. The school changed its name again in 1890 to become Colgate University; its campus borders the Hamilton Village Historic District to the southeast. The school has had a significant influence on the district with many of its professors and students residing in the district. For example, the well-preserved Federal style residence at 62 Broad Street was home of A.C. Kendrich, a professor of Greek, as well as the home of local author Emily C. Johnson, who wrote under the pen name Fanny Forrester. More important are the numerous fraternities and sororities which were built as a result of the university's location. They line Broad Street in the southern portion of the Hamilton Village Historic District and are predominantly examples (several of them outstanding) of early twentieth century architectural styles. Two nineteenth-century fraternity buildings survive along this "Helenic Row." The Phi Gamma Delta annex is a small Greek Revival style house with fine stone craftsmanship and the Delta Kappa Epsilon chapel is an outstanding example of the High Victorian Gothic style with polychrome brick and carved decoration.
Adon Smith, a wealthy Hamilton merchant and the first president of the Hamilton Bank (org. 1853) resided in the residence at 3 Broad Street, today housing the village offices. The most notable feature of this large Italian Villa is its especially distinguished intact original wrought-iron porch.
Hamilton finally established rail connections in 1870 when the New York and Oswego Midland Railroad built facilities on the west end of the village. The canal was abandoned but the central business district continued to prosper. Newly successful businessmen built large residences in the popular Queen Anne style. During this period, Charles Alvord, proprietor of the Park House (forerunner to the Colgate Inn) built the c.1893 residence at 17 Payne Street, distinguished by a large conical roof tower. The stately brick mansion of Arthur J. Smith at 20 Payne Street features large elliptical gable windows and patterned shingles. Two other outstanding Queen Anne style residences are 49 Payne Street, designed by Binghamton architect A.W. Reynolds, with a large nineteenth-century carriage barn at rear, and 13 E. Kendrick, featuring circular towers and side porch.
A great fire in February 1895 swept through the central business district, leaving few mercantile blocks standing east of the canal. A total of twenty-five business blocks were destroyed and merchants immediately built a group of temporary shelters on the village park, known as Shanty Town. Rebuilding was swift, and many wealthy merchants secured the professional services of architects to design their new buildings, including A.W. Reynolds of Binghamton, Orland K. Foote of Rochester, and F.H. Gauge of Utica. Their work represents various eclectic, turn-of-the-century styles. As a group it retains an outstanding level of visual unity and cohesiveness. Many original architectural details remain, such as garland panels, decorative brickwork, ornamental iron cornices, and cast-iron pillars. Minor alterations and business signs have been handled in a manner sensitive to the historic character of the commercial district.
Hamilton's many nineteenth-century homes and business blocks recall the nineteenth-century pride and prosperity of the community. While the economy of the village now relies on the presence of Colgate University rather than the surrounding farms, there remains an historical awareness and economic prosperity which contributes to the preservation of homes, businesses, and churches in the community.
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