Rutger-Steuben Park Historic District
The Rutger-Steuben Park 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 Rutger-Steuben Park Historic District of Utica includes properties along Rutger Street from its inception at Steuben Park as far east as Taylor Avenue and Second Street. There are nine properties facing on the publicly-owned Steuben Park and two properties on side streets; namely, numbers 1001 Brinkerhoff Avenue and 914 John Street.
Straddling the hillside to the south of the Mohawk River flats, Rutger Street forms an east-west axis in the heart of the modern city. Two blocks from Steuben Park, forming a private area known as Rutger Park, are five exceptionally fine buildings set back about a half a block from Rutger Street.
Although the five residences mentioned above are especially worthy, the Rutger-Steuben Park Historic District as a whole contains numerous examples of late nineteenth century villas executed in the Italianate style. This is one of the largest groupings of such structures in the northeast. Despite the changing functions of these mansions, from private homes to apartments and institutional headquarters, the outstanding architectural and historical value, the area is worthy of preservation. It has been designated as an historic zone by the Utica City Planning Board.
The elegant mansions of the Rutger-Steuben Park Historic District reflect the prosperity of Utica between the years 1830 and 1890, when the establishment of the textile mills, together with the opening of the Erie Canal and Chenango Canal, brought a major economic growth to the area.
The first white man to have ownership of the land now known as Utica was the notorious Governor Cosby. After his death, Cosby Manor was sold for back taxes. The purchaser of the land in the vicinity of Rutger Street, Rutger Bleecher of Albany, never occupied it, but his grandson Rutger Miller built the first house there in 1830 from plans by the eminent architect, Philip Hooker. The place was referred to as "Up the Hill" or "Miller's Folly" because of its remoteness from the community of 8000 persons thriving on the river flats below.
Utica's very first fortunes were made in businesses relating to the transportation of people and goods westward. By 1830, the beginning of the period under discussion, these occupations were phasing out and various small industries were being established. Undoubtedly, the proximity of the canals, roads and railroads, provided the needed stimuli. Millstones, lumber, oil cloth, cigars, clothing, machinery, textiles, shoes and bicycles were soon manufactured. The advent of steam to power the mills caused the city to grow by leaps and bounds, as Utica became the knit goods center of the world.
All this activity created wealth; and wealth, in turn, created a demand for good living, as exemplified by the fine mansions which were built in the fashionable part of town, "Up the Hill."
The names of the original owners of the properties in the Rutger Street area are a roster of the important merchants and industrialists of central New York.
Five homes of exceptional merit are grouped together in a private park in the center of the Rutger-Steuben Park Historic District in an area known as Rutger Park. The first house here, "Miller's Folly," was soon joined by a larger mansion whose architectural style was obviously derived from Design VI in Cottage Residences by A.J. Downing. Another villa in this grouping was inspired by the owner's trip to Italy. Alexander Jackson Davis designed still another villa; it is considered one of his finest. An exceptional home showing Romanesque influence is also located in this park.
Stretching out along Rutger Street in either direction from Rutger Park are many mansions only slightly less beautiful than those in the park itself. Set back from the tree-lined street, they display all the magnificence and variety of the Italianate style.
Today the descendents of the original owners have moved to the suburbs and their large ancestral homes are no longer fashionable places in which to live. Utica has moved on, engulfed the area and spread far beyond it. New owners have put the buildings to new uses as apartment houses, offices and institutional headquarters. Some now have a look of decayed gentility while others are well-maintained. Yet because there have been few alterations and no modern intrusions, the area retains the gracious dignity of its heyday; a dignity which should be preserved to remind future Uticans of their debt to the past.
Memorial History of Utica, NY ed. M.M. Bagg, 1892, Syracuse.
The Pioneers of Utica, M.M. Bagg, 1877, Utica.
A Sketch of Old Utica, Blandina D. Miller, 1913, Utica.
Utica for a Century and a Half, T. Wood Clarke, 1952, Utica.