Gilbertsville Historic District
The Gilbertsville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Gilbertsville Historic District comprises the entire central portion of Gilbertsville, an unspoiled residential village. Sixty-nine buildings, two parks, three bridges, and one monument are included within the district. Almost without exception the structures date from the 19th century predominating. There is a wide range of architectural styles, ranging from simple Federal homes to late Greek Revival commercial structures to the unique "Neo-Tudor" style of the centrally located Major's Inn and Gilbert Block.
The buildings of primary architectural interest within the Gilbertsville Historic District are the Grange Hall, or former Presbyterian Church, with delicate Classic Revival lines, Gothic windows, and a skillfully executed "Christopher Wren" tower; the two "Brewer Houses" — ambitious Greek Revival residences at 4 Spring Street and 7 Maple Street; the small Federal "Doctor's Office" building on Marion Avenue; the Academy Building; and the above-mentioned Major's Inn and Gilbert Block. Features of interest in the village include the number of modest Greek Revival structures, some of which housed small industries throughout the course of the 19th century, the number of "grille windows" in these Greek Revival buildings, with a variety of wrought iron patterns, and the number of large, flat-roofed homes with elaborately carved scrolls and brackets. The houses are mainly wood; there are two stone houses, one stone church, a stone library building, and a brick church.
Gilbertsville village has an air of open space, many houses having extensive lawns with large shade trees lining the streets. For such a small village the number of open areas and small parks is a delight; the two focal points of the village are the small green around the Soldiers' Monument at one end of Commercial Street and the park, or "Overlook," built on several levels near the site of the old "Stag's Head Inn," overlooking the village from the other end of Commercial Street.
The Major's Inn and The Gilbert Block, already on the National Register of Historic Places, are in the center of the Gilbertsville Historic District.
Coming from Mt. Upton on State Route 51, the Gilbertsville Historic District starts on Marion Avenue after its junction with Sylvan Street ("Quarry Hill" and the Richards House are at the limits of the district in this direction) and continues up Marion Avenue until after its junction with Green Street (the Mosher-"Doctor's Office" House and the Empire Hotel are at the limits of the district in this direction).
On the northwest, it goes up Cliff Street to include Nos. 2 and 3 (the Garrens' and the Silveys'). On the south it takes in all of Maple Street, and to the east all of Commercial Street and all of Green Street, as well as all of Elm Street, which runs between and perpendicular to Maple and Commercial Streets. The Gilbertsville Historic District takes in Bloom Street as far as Grove Street on the south and Green Street on the north. It also takes in Spring Street until its junction with Sylvan Street.
The energy and drive of English settlers and their descendants, together with a location which provided waterpower and good farmland, have combined to create and sustain the village of Gilbertsville. The English derivation of the settlers has had a noticeable influence upon the architecture of the village. The quality of its structures, the lack of modern intrusions, the small parks and many trees, all contribute to making this one of the most beautiful and historically intact villages in Otsego County.
The Town of Butternuts was one of the first in Otsego County to be settled. This was probably due to its location on the Unadilla River, as both the Unadilla River and the Susquehanna River were at that time navigable.
The first settlement in the vicinity of the village of Gilbertsville occurred in 1786 when Abijah Gilbert bought 1000 acres of the Morris Patent. This patent had been granted to the Morris brothers as an indemnity for the loss of their own property during the Revolutionary War. Those few scattered settlers that had been in the area before the Revolution, had been swept away by the conflict, leaving the land empty of inhabitants, Indian or white.
Abijah Gilbert was an Englishman from Warwickshire. It is said that his family was prosperous and had more than the normal degree of education for that day. In early middle age, Abijah must have been captivated by tales of the opportunity to be found in the New World, for he left his wife and children and came to America, where he met the Morrises and purchased land from them.
He spent several years in preparing his land and building a home, after which time he returned to England to fetch his family. At least one friend, Joseph Cox, accompanied them on the return trip. The little community was later augmented by other settlers from England and by New Englanders moving westward in search of better land. Thus, it was that the village of Gilbertsville was established and cast into the English mold.
In particular, the interest of the first settlers in education was stamped upon the community at an early date. According to Hurd, "the first buildings in the village were a blacksmith shop and dwelling...and a school-house." A small stone schoolhouse constructed in 1818 was renovated for use as the first public library in Otsego County in 1888. An academy constructed in 1840 made Gilbertsville the educational center of a large surrounding territory. The academy still exists, though without its third floor and its function.
The prosperity of the beginning of the 19th century was due in part to the activities of Joseph Gilbert and Samuel Cotton, who started many of the local enterprises such as a hat factory and a linseed oil factory. English cheese-making had been introduced by Joseph Cox and was an important part of the village economy. In addition to small industries which exploited the waterpower, the village provided services and goods to the surrounding farm region. There were the usual sawmill, gristmill, tannery, blacksmith shop and distillery. The proximity to Norwich on the Chenango Canal, made possible the export of products.
The coming of the railroads doomed Gilbertsville's small industries, as it did in so many other communities. But the enterprising villagers substituted a lively summer resort trade. By the time this faded, the automobile had freed the inhabitants from dependence on the local economy.
Not surprisingly, the English derivation of the settlers has been reflected in the village architecture. The Old Presbyterian Church which was built in 1833, and now serves as the Grange, has a steeple very reminiscent of the work of Asher Benjamin, whose inspiration was derived from English models. The Major's Inn and Gilbert Block with their half-timbering and gables are decidedly the result of English influence.
In its general appearance, the white frame houses and green spaces of the village remind the visitor of a New England village. Buildings from all the various stages of the community's development remain essentially unchanged, creating a record in architecture of the history and growth of the village.
Hurd, A.H. History of Otsego County, New York. Everts and Fariss, Philadelphia, 1878.
Biographical Review. Biographical sketches of the Leading Citizens of Otsego County, New York. Biographical Review Publishing Company, Boston, 1893.
Homecoming Days-Village of Gilbertsville, New York. 1972.