Lower Genesee Street Historic District
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District is a collection of commercial and industrial buildings located near the north center of Utica. There are a variety of nineteenth and early twentieth century stylistic influences represented in the designs of the 45 buildings. The oldest extant buildings in the city are located in the Lower Genesee Street Historic District, which encompasses buildings ranging in date from 1830 to 1929.
Architecturally, the buildings exhibit Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Romanesque, and Neo-classical stylistic features. Most commercial buildings are three or four-story brick structures. A five-story manufacturing building at 20-24 Whitesboro Street reflects the Romanesque influence of the late nineteenth century. An early twentieth century structure, 110 Genesee Street, is Utica's first tall office building. Residential structures, once located throughout the entire district area, survive predominantly on Seneca Street. The four others located on Hotel and Whitesboro Streets have been adapted for use as commercial structures.
Some of the first-floor storefronts in the Lower Genesee Street Historic District have been substantially altered, but most buildings retain original architectural details such as lintels and cornices on their upper stories. Two buildings, 114 Genesee Street and 10-12 Liberty Street, have had complete facade changes in the nineteenth century. One building, at 88-90 Genesee Street, has had the second-floor windows altered.
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District is bounded by Seneca Street on the west, by Water Street on the north, by West Genesee and Division Streets on the east and by Liberty Street on the south. Liberty Street is now one lane of a boulevard incorporating the path of the original Erie Canal, from which no extant features or associated structures remain. The wide boulevard forms the southern boundary. The western boundary is along Seneca Street due to the extensive demolition which has occurred further west. The adjacent Conrail right-of-way makes Water Street the logical northern boundary. The elevated highway extension of Genesee Street forms a strong visual barrier as the eastern district boundary.
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District encompasses the earliest extant group of contiguous buildings remaining in the city of Utica. Except for six modern non-contributing structures the Lower Genesee Street Historic District has generally retained integrity despite extensive demolition in the area during the twentieth century.
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District is the oldest part of the city of Utica and contains a significant collection of nineteenth and twentieth century commercial, industrial and residential buildings that illustrate the city's development as an important commercial, financial, transportation and manufacturing center. The majority of the buildings in the district were constructed between 1830-1930 and are representative examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Romanesque and Neoclassical styles, including work by two prominent local architects, F. H. Gouge and G. Edward Cooper. Among the few residential buildings in the district are Utica's earliest surviving residences and the homes of several of the city's notable early citizens. Despite alterations, the buildings that survive in the Lower Genesee Street area continue to reflect the stylistic influences that characterized much of Utica during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District encompasses the oldest part of Utica, which was developed after 1795, when Moses Bagg established a blacksmith shop and tavern near the ford of the Mohawk River. Bagg's tavern became the focal point of the city and the area became known as Bagg's Square. Water Street, Whitesboro Street and Genesee Street radiate outward from Bagg's Square.
The Genesee Turnpike, the Mohawk River, the Erie Canal, and several railroads made Utica an important transportation center during the nineteenth century. The Utica freight yards immediately north of the district were the largest east of the Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s.
There were several Uticans who became active in transportation circles, the most significant being John Butterfield, entrepreneur in stagecoaches, packet boats, and railroads. Butterfield also created a transportation company at the Isthmus of Panama, the Overland Mail stagecoach line between St. Louis and San Diego, and the American Express Company. The Federal period house at #30 Whitesboro Street, which he occupied from 1854 until his death in 1869, remained in the Butterfield family until 1905 when it became part of the present Horrocks-Ibbotson complex. Built in 1812-1813, the Butterfield House had earlier served as the first Bank of Utica and remains significant for its historical associations despite extensive alteration.
Other buildings within the Lower Genesee Street Historic District are associated with financial institutions. The Commercial Travelers Building (designed by Frederick H. Gouge in the style of Louis Sullivan) is built on elements of an 1815 masonry structure, The Ontario Branch Bank. In 1904, the structure was rebuilt to serve as the home of the Commercial Travelers Mutual Accident Association of America, organized in 1883. The last financial institution within the district, the Utica City National Bank Building, was built in 1904 as Utica's first tall office building. Designed by Robert W. Gibson (who also designed the Utica Savings Bank and the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany) and built by Ambrose B. Stannard, it is the only skeletal steel frame structure in the district.
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District was the location of a number of manufacturing firms. Textile production was the leading industry of Utica, and a number of manufacturers and wholesalers of ready-made clothing were located within the district along Lower Genesee Street during the nineteenth century. The national headquarters (1840-1898) of the Warnick and Brown tobacco company, manufacturers of pipe, chewing, snuff tobacco and cigars, was located at 86 Genesee Street from 1840 to 1898. Its factory and warehouses were built directly behind, at 121 Hotel Street. The Divine Brothers Company, manufacturers of buffing wheels, had one of its early factories (1904-1924) at 100 Whitesboro Street. This building and others located on Whitesboro Street later served as the principal manufacturing and distribution facilities for the Horrocks-Ibbotson Company, manufacturers of fishing tackle. In 1905 it was the largest such firm in the world; the Gladding Corporation subsequently purchased the firm and closed the Utica plant in 1978.
Publishing was an important industry in Utica and several publishing houses were located within the district. The most prominent of these was the Saturday Globe, a national weekly newspaper famous for its front page color printing. It was the first newspaper to print color pictures, and editors from across the country would send their Sunday editions to Utica for color printing. As other papers acquired color presses, the Saturday Globe's business declined, and it filed for bankruptcy in 1924. The Saturday Globe building on Whitesboro Street was built in three stages from 1885 to 1892. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style by Utica architect G. E. Cooper, it is one of the best examples of this style in the city.
One of the most interesting structures in the Lower Genesee Street Historic District is Mechanics Hall at the northwest corner of Liberty and Hotel Streets. Designed by J. McGregor in 1836 with additions in the 1850s, it was the cultural, scientific, and educational center of Utica throughout the nineteenth century. Started in 1827, it was an early manifestation of an English and American intellectual and educational movement to provide instruction and encouragement in the practical arts. The institute sponsored manufacturing fairs, art exhibits, lectures, recitals, plays and operas. It encouraged the arts by awarding prizes and certificates and it served as the early home of Utica's public library and art museum. Most of the city's leading manufacturers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen and artists were members, including John Butterfield, Theodore S. Faxton, and Horatio Seymour.
Horatio Seymour was mayor of Utica (1842), speaker of the New York State Assembly (1845), twice governor of New York State (1853-54, 1863-64), and a presidential candidate in 1868. The Seymour house, at 100 Whitesboro Street, is the oldest residence (1810-1812) in the city.
The Lower Genesee Street Historic District holds a special place in Utica's early development. People who lived and/or worked in the Lower Genesee Street Historic District and events which took place there contributed to make Utica an important commercial, financial, transportation, and manufacturing center of upstate New York.
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