Lowertown Historic District
The Lowertown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. 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 Lowertown Historic District is in a geographically distinct section of the city of Lockport defined by the Erie Canal on the north and the Niagara Escarpment and railroad tracks to the south and west. Along the canal on the eastern edge of Lowertown "city" graduates into "countryside," and the Lowertown Historic District terminates at the canal's wide waters.
Lowertown is predominantly residential in character with some commercial buildings and warehouses clustered west of the Exchange Street-Market Street intersection. The most elegant stone and brick residences face on the canal along Market Street east of Chapel Street; behind them on Garden and Fayette Streets stand simpler frame "workingmen's" cottages with a sprinkling of more substantial stone houses.
The typical Market Street House in Lowertown Historic District dates from the 1830's. It is two and a half stories with a gable roof and half elliptical windows at the gable ends. Most of these Market Street houses have bracketed cornices added later in the nineteenth century. The prototype house is three bays wide with an off-center entrance. The front door is framed with side lights in many cases. Those constructed of stone generally have cut coursed stone on the front facade and rubble on the sides and rear.
Additions and modern siding envelop most of the frame houses on the back streets which originated as simple one or two story cottages built in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The south side of Garden Street rises sharply, and many houses have high basements on the street facade with the first floor a full story above grade.
Both sides of Market Street between Adam and Chapel Streets are vacant since the 1972 demolition of some fine canal-related commercial blocks. This area is to be redeveloped through the Urban Renewal Agency.
West of Exchange Street along Market Street is characterized by later nineteenth century and some twentieth century commercial buildings: No. 255-257 Market Street is a commercial building trimmed with grey stone typical of the 1880's; No. 254 Market Street is a fire station with a date stone conjectured to have been taken off an earlier structure, inscribed "D. W. Clinton, No. 2, A.D., 1853." The most notable landmark of this section of Lowertown Historic District is the Western Block Company Warehouse, a two and a half story stone structure with irregular stone quoins and a gable roof, located on the north side of Market Street backing onto the canal and built prior to 1855.
The architectural continuity of Lowertown Historic District is highlighted by single structures which like the warehouse merit individual notation:
The Lockport Bank Building, No. 315-319 Market Street — built 1829, one of the two known existing structures designed by Hezekiah Eldredge (the other, the Batavia Club, formerly the Bank of Genesee, is nominated to the National Register). It is constructed of brick laid up in Flemish bond on front facade, carved limestone lintels, wrought iron railings at the two original entrances. H.A.B.S. 1967.
The Washington Hunt House, No. 363 Market Street — built 1831 and purchased in 1833 by Washington Hunt, Governor of New York. The house has carved stone lintels and Flemish bond brickwork on the front facade, surviving original ironwork includes fence and front archway which originally held a glass lantern in the center ring. H.A.B.S. 1967.
Former Christ Episcopal Church, No. 425 Market Street — a small Gothic Revival stone church built in 1854, bears remarkable resemblance to design for a church published in 1849 by the New York Ecclesiological Society, an organization dedicated to improving the calibre of religious architecture. H.A.B.S. 1967.
Former Rectory, northwest corner of Vine and Garden Streets — stone house with bay windows and steeply pitched roof which signals its kinship to the church rather than the earlier type of Lowertown residences.
Vine Street School, northeast corner of Vine and Garden Streets — one story brick schoolhouse with Italianate details built in 1864, arched window heads, elaborate bracketed cornice, and belfry; described as "the apotheosis of the one room schoolhouse." H.A.B.S. 1967.
No. 471, 485, 499 Market Street — all surveyed by Historic American Buildings Survey as fine examples of "the Market Street Type." No. 491 is brick; and No. 471, which has a circular staircase on the interior, and No. 499, which has the least changed exterior of all the houses on the block, are both stone.
No. 453 Market Street — built in the 1850's and stands out among its earlier neighbors as a later adaption of the "Market Street Type" (stone, two stories, three bays wide with wing) with Italianate details.
No. 189-193 Garden Street and the adjacent structure on the corner of Adam and Garden Streets — stone houses which appear to have originally had commercial or industrial uses due to the wide window openings on the first and second floors which have since been filled in.
No. 207 Garden Street — 1 1/2 story house with alternating thick and thin courses of cut stone, a technique carefully matched in the eastern addition.
No. 128 Garden Street — stone house with fine doorway framed with fluted columns, unusually elegant detail among buildings on Garden Street.
"A village within a city," Lowertown with its hillside cottages, handsome stone houses, churches and warehouses is little changed since its heyday from 1830's-1860's when it was Lockport's social, commercial, and industrial center.
Lockport's location was determined by the intersection of the canal route and the Niagara Escarpment necessitating the construction of a double flight of five canal locks. Between 1821 and the opening of the canal, Lockport emerged from wilderness to become a rough hewn canal village (located at the top of the lock construction site) where approximately 2500 laborers, speculators, merchants, and professional men lived.
Soon after the completion of the canal, the development of Lowertown began as a group of Albany capitalists systematically cleared the land and laid out streets and lots in this virtually uninhabited area below the locks in order to realize the water power potential there. "Lower Town" was advertised as the future center of business and industrial activity of Lockport soon to surpass "Upper Town."
The building program began on Market Street. Among the first commercial buildings at the west end was the Lockport Bank built on the corner of Chapel Street in 1829 under the supervision of architect Ezekiah Eldredge. This bank was the first and only one in the country for nine years. Diagonally across the street stood the Union Hotel (1830-1972) and nearby a large frame hotel called the Lockport House (1829-1841). At the foot of Chapel street was the first railroad depot.
A series of fine brick and local stone residences stretched out along Market Street to the east of the commercial area and overlooking the canal. These were the homes of Lockport's prominent citizens including lawyer-politician Washington Hunt, a short-lived New York State Governor (1851-3).
The Christ Episcopal Church and Rectory, the Vine Street School, the Italianate house at No. 453 Market Street, and the Western Block Warehouse attest to the continued growth of Lowertown in the mid-nineteenth century, however gradually Lowertown was losing its supremacy as the city's business center. In 1839 an upper town bank was chartered, in 1841 the famed Lockport House burned, in 1850 the railroad tracks were relocated through the upper part of town and during canal enlargements between 1841-60 industries suffered from the curtailment of water power. In 1870 came the final blow to Lowertown's industrial advantages with the utilization of water power from the canal by overhead cables to Upper Town.
Although relatively few remnants of Lowertown's industrial and commercial prominence remain, its solid residential landmarks still line the canal along Market Street interspersed with smaller cottages backed up against the escarpment. Lowertown has escaped the disruption of heavily-used automobile routes which converge on the upper part of town and traffic on the canal has dwindled to occasional pleasure boats on a sunny summer day; and thus a tranquil obscurity has fallen over one of the finest concentrations of early nineteenth century brick and stone architecture surviving in the state.
Progressive Architecture, November 1972, p. 80-1.
Lewis, Clarence O., "History of Lockport, N.Y." 1962 revised 1964.
Shelgren, Olaf William, Jr. Lowertown!: An Architectural Survey of the Lowertown Area of Lockport, N.Y., N.Y. State Council on the Arts, Nov. 15, 1968.
†Brooke, Cornelia E., New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Lowertown Historic District, nomination document, 1973, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.