Mexico Village Historic District
The Mexico Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. 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 Mexico Village Historic District is located in the central part of the built-up area of the small rural village of Mexico, Oswego County, New York. The Mexico Village Historic District is between the two principal streams that flow through the town and village, Black Creek and the Little Salmon River. Black Creek flows into the Little Salmon River at the northern edge of the village and the latter flows north into Lake Ontario at Mexico Point, where the town of Mexico borders the lake. The Mexico Village Historic District is in the densest part of the village and is on relatively flat land, which gradually slopes downward on the east and west side of the Mexico Village Historic District to the streambeds.
The streets traversing the Mexico Village Historic District are laid out in a relatively regular grid pattern. Main Street (State Route 104) is the busiest street, running east-west through the village and town, connecting Mexico to the city of Oswego twelve miles to the west and to a major interstate highway, U.S. Route 81, five miles to the east. As a crossroads community for a relatively large rural area, several roads intersect in the village and those streets have historically been heavily used, while short cross streets serve only local residents.
The density of the village is the same as that of the Mexico Village Historic District for two to three blocks in each direction from the district, but it becomes significantly less dense beyond. At the edge of the village limits, the village is rural in character, like that of much of the remainder of the town. On Main Street are a number of connected commercial buildings; most are in the Mexico Village Historic District. Most of the remainder of the historic district and village is characterized by fairly large lots with consistent setbacks, sidewalks, and street trees.
The Mexico Village Historic District includes 80 contributing resources; of these, 33 are residential buildings, 23 are commercial buildings, 17 are outbuildings, and 3 are structures. There are 13 non-contributing resources, including 10 buildings and 3 structures. The Mexico Village Historic District encompasses the following blocks: Main Street, north side, from Jefferson Street to Scenic Avenue; Main Street, south side, from Church Street to west of Jefferson Street; Jefferson Street, both sides, from Main Street to Spring Street; Church Street, both sides, from Main Street to south of Spring Street; Spring Street, both sides, from Jefferson Street to Lincoln Avenue.
The boundaries of the Mexico Village Historic District were drawn to include properties which, collectively, retain a high degree of architectural integrity. At the west side of the Mexico Village Historic District, on Main Street beyond Scenic Avenue, the demolition or alteration of historic buildings and new construction have destroyed the integrity of the historic streetscape, precluding the extension of the historic district. New construction and extensive alterations beyond the east end of the commercial area preclude extending the district in that direction. On the south side of the historic district, major alterations of historic residences preclude the extension of the district along Church Street, Lincoln Avenue, Jefferson Street, and Spring Street.
Also, on the north side of the Mexico Village Historic District, major alterations to historic buildings preclude extending the district along Scenic Avenue and Jefferson Street. Two historically and architecturally significant residences are located just outside the boundary of the historic district, and both are separated from the Mexico Village Historic District by modern construction and severely altered historic buildings, precluding their inclusion in the Mexico Village Historic District. These buildings are the Peter Chandler House on Main Street and the Timothy Skinner House on Scenic Avenue. They are both included in the multiple property nomination as individual components.
Residences are located on all of the streets in the Mexico Village Historic District; two are located in the commercial area on Main Street. Both of these are large Italianate style residences built c.1870. Number 5867 Main Street is wood frame and remains a residence. Number 5869 Main Street is brick and has been sympathetically converted into offices. The other residences in the Mexico Village Historic District vary in style and scale, ranging in date of construction from c.1830 to 1909. The majority were built c.1850.
A distinctive feature of the residential areas in the Mexico Village Historic District (and elsewhere in the village of Mexico) is that most are characterized by fairly large lots with buildings recessed from the street; streets usually have a sidewalk and shade trees. Also, the vast majority of residences were constructed as single-family dwellings on individual lots. Typical residences are of frame construction, one and one-half to two stories in height with gable roofs, and have carriage houses or garages at the rears.
Residences constructed before 1850 exhibit elements of the late Federal or Greek Revival styles, such as boxed cornices, molded friezes, six-over-six sash, corner pilasters, and sidelights flanking the entrance. Decorative elements are often very simple. The houses are typically three bays wide with gable roofs, gable ends facing the street. Kitchen wings are usually located at the rear of the house. Atypical examples of the earlier residences include sophisticated examples of the Greek Revival style, such as 5926 Spring Street, which features brick construction, a hip roof, square porch piers, and a full molded entablature enframing the entrance.
Village residences constructed after 1850 exhibit characteristics typical of the eclectic Victorian era styles popular during that period, such as an asymmetrical composition, intersecting gable roof, and ornamentation such as bracketed cornices, decorative lintels, and bay windows. Most of these residences are vernacular interpretations of popular architectural styles, such as the Italianate, Eastlake, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles. A handful are sophisticated examples of their styles, such as the large frame Colonial Revival house at 5309 Jefferson Street, which features a modillioned cornice and full-width porch supported by Ionic columns.
There are four churches in the Mexico Village Historic District, all on Church Street. The churches typify those constructed in villages throughout New York State in the nineteenth century by their respective denominations. The Presbyterian Church and Methodist Church, constructed in 1829 and 1852, respectively, are both of frame construction and are Greek Revival in form, with central steeples and pedimented facades. The Presbyterian Church has Victorian period alterations and a large early-twentieth century wing. The Baptist Church, built in 1872, is constructed of brick with a central tower (steeple removed) and simple ornamentation. The Episcopal Church, built in 1870-1, is constructed of stone and has a tower along the side of the main structure.
Twenty-one of the 23 commercial buildings in the Mexico Village Historic District are located on Main Street. The majority of the buildings are constructed of brick, two stories in height, and attached, often as part of an identical block. The earliest intact commercial building is the former office on Jefferson Street that is now the Mexico Museum. Built c.1850, the small-scale one-story building is a well-proportioned example of the Greek Revival style with a pedimented gable roof supported by a square pier on one corner. The latest commercial building is the former bank building on Jefferson Street. Built in 1903 and now used as village offices, the one-story brick building is a typical example of a small commercial building in the Colonial Revival style. The attached commercial buildings on Main Street are mostly characterized by storefronts on the first stories, decorative brick corbelling, and decorative brick, stone, or cast-iron lintels. There are four groups of identical commercial buildings: a group of three constructed in 1855, two groups of two constructed in 1882, and a group of four constructed in 1869. Beck's Hotel, at the corner of Main Street and Scenic Avenue, is the largest building in the Mexico Village Historic District and was constructed in 1897 in a similar style and scale to the other buildings.
The contributing outbuildings in the Mexico Village Historic District include 11 carriage houses and 6 garages. All are constructed of wood. Most of the carriage houses were constructed in the nineteenth century and are two stories in height. Carriage houses often relate architecturally to the main residence, such as that of the Becker House at 5303 Jefferson Street, which has a bracketed cornice like that of the house. The garages, constructed in the early-twentieth century, are mostly smaller than the carriage houses and one story in height. Contributing structures include a nineteenth-century hitching post at 5309 Jefferson street, a c.1868 cut-stone wall at 5303 Jefferson street, and a nineteenth-century carriage stepping block at 5927 Spring Street.
Alterations are numerous on the buildings in the Mexico Village Historic District, but none of the residences or commercial buildings is altered to such an extent that it no longer conveys its historic appearance. Asphalt, asbestos, aluminum, or vinyl siding is commonplace. Small additions, both historic and non-historic, are also prevalent. Many residences have replacement window sash, both historic and non-historic. Carriage barns have often been replaced by smaller historic or contemporary garages. Many of the commercial buildings have altered storefronts.
The general prosperity of the town and village of Mexico in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is reflected in the large number of residences, commercial buildings, and churches constructed in the village of Mexico from 1829 to c.1926. The Mexico Village Historic District is historically significant for its association with the development and prosperity of the village of Mexico an important rural crossroads and market community. The Mexico Village Historic District is also architecturally significant for containing well-preserved and representative examples of the vernacular building traditions of New York State. A number of these buildings are architecturally significant as distinctive examples of architectural styles prevalent during their period of construction. The period of significance of the Mexico Village Historic District extends from 1829, the date of construction of the earliest extant building, to 1926, when the latest one was completed. Encompassing a large portion of the central core of the village of Mexico, the Mexico Village Historic District is a concentration of residences, commercial buildings, and churches that collectively retain a high degree of integrity and sense of historic association with the development of Mexico Village.
The village of Mexico became the most important community in the town of Mexico early in the nineteenth century due to its location on the primary routes through the town and its good mill sites. The growth of population in the town and the increasing prosperity of farms and industries reflected the development of the village as the center of industry, commerce, business, education, and religion. The population of the town by 1810 was already 845 (Spafford 88) and it had almost doubled by 1820, with 1,590 inhabitants (Simpson 25). By 1830 the population was 2,681 (Simpson 115), although that number included a larger area than the present town. In contrast, Mexico Village only had a few residents in 1810, but by 1840 had "about 500 inhabitants, 60 dwelling houses, 1 Presbyterian, 1 Baptist and 1 Methodist Church, an incorporated academy, 2 taverns, 5 stores, 1 gristmill, 2 sawmills, 1 oil mill, 2 tanneries and 1 clothiers works" (1842 Gazetteer 42). The village was incorporated in 1851.
Main Street, which had been surveyed in 1803, became the most important thoroughfare the village expanded, containing virtually all of the businesses, but also many private residences. Although Main Street and subsequent streets were planned, there does not appear to have ever been a central public square, as is often seen in other villages in upstate New York. Perhaps the relatively large building lots provided adequate green space, as they still do. Many of the building lots in the village were initially surveyed as farm lots of 40 to 75 acres, but these were broken up in the 1830's and 1840's as the village grew. Some of the early farmhouses of the town, initially outside the village, are now on relatively small lots within the village. In the 1830's, frame residences and businesses were constructed in the late Federal style on or near Main Street. In the 1840's and 1850's, more substantial residences and businesses were constructed in vernacular interpretations of the Greek Revival style, mostly in wood, but increasingly of brick and stone.
Several religious institutions were founded and constructed places of worship in the village. The Methodists organized a church c.1810 at the home of Leonard Ames and built their first church in 1833 on Main Street; this was replaced by the present building in 1853. A Congregational Society, organized in 1814 in the village, continued as a Presbyterian Church after 1818 and erected the present church building in 1829. A second Baptist Church was founded in the village in 1831 and erected its church building in 1872. Grace Episcopal Church was organized in 1848 and built the present church in 1870. Outside Mexico Village, Catholic and Protestant churches were constructed in the French Street settlement area in the 1840's and several other small churches were erected in the crossroads hamlets.
In addition to being the center of the abolition movement in the town, Mexico Village also became a seat of learning at an early date, with the establishment of the Mexico Academy in 1826. Although the first school in the town was a log school in Colosse (1806), Mexico Village soon had a school, first held in Shuball Alfred's barn in 1811, until a school was built in 1813. Common schools were built in each hamlet. First established as a private school, the Mexico Academy had a tradition of academic excellence throughout the nineteenth century, becoming a public school in 1893. An impressive three-story brick Italianate building was constructed on Main Street in 1854 to house the academy, with funds donated from many of Mexico's most prosperous inhabitants. In 1928 a large building was constructed for the Mexico Academy and High School, but it was destroyed by fire in 1936. In 1937 the present large Neo-Georgian stye building was constructed, serving most of the town of Mexico.
From 1809 until 1838, the Primitive Cemetery at the edge of the village served the needs of the village as well as part of the town. Some early settlers had small family plots on their own property, but in 1838 a new cemetery, the Mexico Village Cemetery, opened to serve the expanding village. Located one block north of Main Street on Academy Street (outside of the Mexico Village Historic District), the cemetery was expanded several times and much of it was laid out as a landscaped rural cemetery, reflecting the popular taste in burial grounds of prosperous communities after the 1840's. The first monument erected in the cemetery was the Asa Wing monument in 1855. Two cemeteries served the French immigrant population in the French Street area, one for Protestants and one for Catholics. In the St. Ann's Catholic Church burial ground, many inscriptions were carved in French; the stones carved by and for the Salladin family, for example, reflect the ethnic heritage of the French community. None of these cemeteries has been evaluated against National Register eligibility requirements and, therefore, they are not included in the multiple property nomination at this time.
As Mexico Village prospered in the nineteenth century, small residential areas were developed north and south of Main Street. After the mid-nineteenth century, many of the several commercial blocks of Main Street, two- to three-story rows of attached commercial buildings were constructed. Professional offices and banks were often small scale one-story frame or brick buildings. A number of residences were built in the eclectic styles of the later nineteenth century. Several elaborately decorated frame and brick residences were built in the Italianate style for Mexico's lawyers, bankers, and manufacturers, and a few buildings reflected styles popular later in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, such as the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Larger houses were complemented by commodious carriage barns that often reflected the architectural styles of the main residences. The village boundaries were doubled in 1866 and civic improvements, such as replacing plank sidewalks with stone, planting street trees, and installing street lighting, become increasingly important to the residents.
By the 1870's the village appears to have reached its peak of prosperity and its population remained substantially the same through the 1940's (1305 in 1875; 1348 in 1940). Several fires destroyed commercial blocks on Main Street and they were replaced by similar attached brick blocks, but otherwise little expansion of the village occurred. A few important buildings were constructed during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, such as Beck's Hotel and the Mexico Academy, but otherwise little construction occurred. The buildings constructed between 1870 and 1926 represent sporadic infill construction that maintained the size and scale of the village. Because the declining prosperity of agriculture and industry in the town, due to the availability of cheaper products from the midwest and the general drift of people from rural areas to the cities, virtually stopped growth, the village substantially retains much of its historic character.