Village of Monroe Historic District
The Village of Monroe Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. 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 Village of Monroe Historic District (also known as Smith's Mill Historic District) encompasses 36 residential, industrial, and religious properties in the historic core of the incorporated village of Monroe, Orange County, New York. The village is located in the center of Orange County in the suburban/agrarian town of Monroe. The village is centered around the intersection of the Ramapo Creek. Stage Road and NYD Route 17M. Developed originally as an industrial community, the village has now become a bedroom community with easy access to New York City and northern New Jersey. The Monroe Village Historic District is approximately 81 acres in extent. The entire historic core of the village has been included within the boundary of the Monroe Village Historic District. The Monroe Village Historic District, in general, and numerous individual buildings, in particular, retain remarkably high levels of integrity of design, setting, feeling, association, materials and craftsmanship. There are 8 non-contributing primary and secondary resources within the district.
The Village of Monroe Historic District is clearly delineated from the surrounding areas of the village by land use, density and age. The district is composed of a residential core centered at the intersection of the Ramapo Creek and Stage Road.
The area around the mill pond on State Road is historically significant as the site of the earliest settlement in the village. David Smith from Smithtown, Long Island established his grist mill here in 1741. Today the visually and historically prominent Mill Pond (ca.1741) and numerous mill ruins mark the site of Village's earliest settlement.
The Village of Monroe Historic District retains a high level of visual and architectural integrity as well as an identifiable orientation and cohesiveness.
The Village of Monroe Historic District is architecturally and historically significant as an intact village residential center, which retains significant streetscapes and buildings illustrating the growth and development of a small manufacturing center between ca.1741 and 1940. The Village of Monroe Historic District encompasses the village's historic industrial, ecclesiastic and residential core. The Monroe Village Historic District includes representative examples of national architectural styles popular during the district's period of significance, including Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne. Together, the historic streetscapes and buildings of the Monroe Village Historic District retains a high degree of integrity and recalls the development and evolution of the community.
Following the withdrawal of the Dutch from New York in 1664, the area to the west of the Hudson River became one of the first divided for settlement in the form of lotteries of vast tracts which had been granted as patents. One such patent, the Cheesecock Patent, consisting of thousands of acres of rough country in Orange County, was purchased from the Indians in 1702 and in 1707 was granted to seven patentees: Doctor John Bridges, Hendrick Ten Eyck, Derick Vandenburgh, John Cholwell, Christopher Denn, Lancaster Syms and John Merritt. These men received their patents from Queen Anne in 1707, but had purchased the area from the native Indians Moringamaghan, Skawgus, Ughquaw, Onickotopp and Aioqhquaherae in 1702.
In 1738, Charles Clinton surveyed the land under the Cheesecock Patent, beginning on the river at Haverstraw. The patent was divided into seven lots each containing several thousand acres. In the fertile lowlands smaller lots were established. Three sets of lots were laid out in what is now Orange County and Rockland County. Following the survey, lots were drawn by many of the influential and well-to-do British settlers, among them was the first Smith to own property in "the Clove." His name was William Smith, Sr. and he was a successful attorney in the city of New York. He had come to America from England, and became attorney general of the Province of New York and later an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court.
Among the six sons of the noted Loyalist were his sons Thomas, John and William, Jr., all of whom became attorneys. James became a physician and founder of the medical school at Kings College. His fifth son, Joshua Hett Smith, also became a lawyer and achieved notoriety for his part in the conspiracy to betray West Point to the British through Benedict Arnold.
William Smith, Sr. had made three purchases of land in the Cheesecock Patent in 1734 and 1736, taking over the ownership of the holdings of two of the original patentees, and was co-owner with James Alexander of Geat Mountain Lot 4. The patentees were listed as John Chambers, Phillip Livingston, John McEvers, Catherine Symes, William Smith and James Alexander.
The changing loyalty from the Dutch to the British population is reflected by the names of the inhabitants of Orange County in 1702 (all of which were Dutch), and by the growing population listed in reports from the Provincial Governors of New York to London. By the time of Governor Clinton's report to London of 1746, a population of 763 white males between the ages of 16 and 60 were shown as inhabitants of the county. Of these, many were small landholders who bought from the original patentees, and among them was the second Smith family to buy land in the Clove, David Smith (b.1701-d.1787) of Brookhaven, Long Island. He was forty-six years old, and came with his four sons, buying from Phillip Livingston Lot 43 containing 276 acres for the price of ninety pounds. This lot, and a second lot bought by David Smith in 1761 (Lot 34) from James McEvers, are the site of the present village of Monroe. Clinton's Field Book describes Lot 43 as situated on "a sudden bend of the Ramapo," at a point where a fall in the river made possible the building of a grist mill, the ruins of which still survive.
Smith erected his home (ca.1741), the first structure in the village, opposite what is now the intersection of Maple Avenue and Stage Road. This original dwelling was later subsumed within the present Federal era dwelling (315 Stage Road). In that same year he dammed the Ramapo River creating a mill pond to service a grist mill. This early settlement became known as Smith's Clove. In 1764 this enclave was formally set off from the Precinct of Goshen and named Cheesecock. In 1800 the name of the growing town was again changed to Southfield. In 1807 the road now known as Stage Road was formally incorporated as the Orange turnpike, which served as one of the region's significant north-south thoroughfares.
By the early nineteenth century Smith's Mills had developed into a self-supporting community. It became a busy milling and commercial center for the surrounding rural township. The waterpower of Ramapo was a key factor in the development of Smith's Mills for it supported several industrial sites and mills.
In his 1813 Gazetteer of the State of New York, by Horatio Spafford the town of "Munroe" is described as follows:
"It is well watered by numerous streams, and there are several ponds of 1 to 3 miles in length, which are the source of many mill streams that afford eligible sites for mills, factories, & c... . The hills, or mountains, abound with iron-ore, and with wood for coal; and these circumstances, connected with the advantages for water works, have induced a vigorous prosecution of such combined facilities in the manufacture of iron. There are now 3 furnaces, 5 bloomeries, a rolling and slitting-mill, an extensive manufactory of nails, and an anchor-works. These various works employ from 400 to near 500 men, and make a market for much of the surplus products of agriculture in this and adjacent towns."
On April 6, 1808 the village of Southfield was formally renamed Monroe. In 1836 the village is listed as having a post office, 1 Presbyterian Church, 1 tavern, 1 store, and 6 dwellings. Within ten years the village grew to include a population of 450 and contained 60 dwellings, 1 Presbyterian Church, 1 Methodist Church, an academy, 1 tavern, 4 stores, 1 grist mill, 1 saw mill, and 1 fulling mill and cording machine. In 1841 the New York Lake Erie and Western Railroad completed a line through the burgeoning village. The new station and line were located just east of the original Smith's Clove settlement.
During the last half of the nineteenth century additional mill and industries developed along the mill pond and adjacent to the rail line. In 1892 a major fire destroyed much of the growing village's commercial core, just east of Smith's settlement. As a direct result of this devastating event the village was incorporated in 1894 and a water board was established. In 1895 running water was piped into the village. The village fire company was subsequently established in 1898.
Architecturally, the Village of Monroe Historic District reflects Monroe's development as a manufacturing center during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although few buildings survive from the earliest decades of the community's settlement and development, several houses and industrial ruins remain within the historic district to represent the growth of the village during the last decades of the eighteenth and first decades of the nineteenth centuries.
Prominent among these resources are the stabilized ruins of David Smith's grist mill and many of the hydro-power features associated with this earliest industrial venture as well as later industries.
In addition to the industrial resources associated with this period several examples of Federal style residential architecture survive within the Monroe Village Historic District. Among the earliest examples in the historic district is the frame residence, located at number 315 Stage Road. Built ca.1805, the two-story, one-by-five bay dwelling features a finely crafted entrance surround and the remnants of a bee hive oven. Located across Stage Road is the McGarrah's Inn. Also erected in the early years of the century, this building features a finely executed Adamesque entry. This building also served as a Masonic Temple. Chartered in 1814, the lodge room remains intact in the attic level of the dwelling. A few modest frame residences with Federal influences also survive throughout the district, with varying degrees of integrity.
By the mid 1840s the village had grown dramatically. Many new residences, religious, and commercial structures had been erected. A substantial portion of the housing stock from this period remains. The majority of these buildings reflect the strong influences of the Greek Revival style in this region. Many fine examples of local interpretations of this national style survive with varying degrees of integrity. The house located at number 403 Stage Road (Nicholas Knight House, ca.1811), a one and one-half story, frame "gable fronted" residence with Doric inspired posts, broad corner boards and a broad frieze. The First Presbyterian Church of Monroe (1853) is an outstanding intact example of Greek Revival ecclesiastical architecture as shown in its monumental temple front portico composed of fluted Doric columns supporting a triangular pediment.
The advent of rail transportation (both passenger and freight service) in the 1840s was a major influence on the prosperity and expansion of the village during the second half of the nineteenth century. Monroe thrived on the rapid growth of an agricultural economy, the availability of natural resources, and the expanding railroad network which facilitated trade. The coming of the railroad to the village created rapid economic changes. Shipping costs for most goods were reduced, and agricultural products could be transported to urban markets without spoiling, thus opening new markets for local farmers. The railroad encouraged the development of industry by establishing year round access to raw materials and by providing a reliable network for the distribution of manufactured goods.
One of the industries that developed around the new rapid transportation system was cheese production. In 1873 the Monroe Cheese Company opened. Over the next several decades this business, under the direction of Emil Frey would gain international recognition for its Liederkranz brand and its twentieth century creation, Velveeta. The company moved to Van Wert, Ohio in 1926. The separate Velveeta Company was purchased by Kraft Foods in 1927 and also relocated out of Monroe. An Italianate style brick processing plant associated with this important regional industry remains intact in the Village of Monroe Historic District.
The renewed economy brought to the village by the railroad was marked by a large increase in the village's population in the second half of the nineteenth century and the need for additional housing during this period. The housing stock associated with this period reflects a large variety of styles and trends popular during the period. Representative examples of the nationally popular architectural styles including Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne are present in varying states of integrity throughout the district.
The Italianate style is represented by a number of residential buildings in the village. Notable examples of the style include the residences at number 42 Maple Avenue. This finely crafted dwelling features a bracketed cornices, round arched gable windows and projecting bay windows.
Between 1875 and 1900 architectural tastes grew increasingly eclectic and ostentatious and were most often expressed in the Queen Anne, Stick, Romanesque Revival or Shingle styles and toward the end of the period, the Colonial Revival style. Representative and vernacular adaptations of these styles are located throughout the residential portions of the historic district.
The most popular of these styles in Monroe during this period was the Queen Anne style typified by their picturesque asymmetry, steeply pitched, multi-gabled roofs, vergeboards, towers, spindled porches, irregular fenestration, projecting bays, and varying degrees of decorative woodwork. Notable intact examples of the style both the Church of the Sacred Heart (1896, now the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and the Methodist Church (1841, renovated ca.1885).
Construction of new housing began to drop off during the early twentieth century and continued to decline until the end of World War II. The Queen Anne style proved to be more popular in Monroe than the early twentieth century Colonial Revival style. Nevertheless there are a few intact, typical Colonial Revival houses in the Village of Monroe Historic District. Representative examples include the American Foursquare house at number 132 Stage Road with its gambrel roof, cornice returns and classical porch.
Despite the loss of several historic buildings to fire, deterioration or demolition, very little post-World War II development has taken place within the Monroe Village Historic District. The Monroe Historic District retains a nineteenth century character that recalls the history and development of the village. The outstanding degree of integrity of the streetscapes and the many distinctive examples of intact historic architecture are distinguishing features of the village of Monroe.
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† John A. Bonafide, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Village of Monroe Historic District, Orange County, NY, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.