Middlefield Hamlet Historic District
The Middlefield Hamlet Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. 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 Middlefield Hamlet Historic District consists of twenty-eight properties and contains a total of twenty-four contributing principal buildings and eight contributing dependencies. All but one of the contributing principal buildings are residences, the exception being a store. Three of the buildings now categorized as residential were historically used as hostelries or taverns as well. The Middlefield Hamlet Historic District includes three non-contributing features: a house trailer, a modern fire station and a former barn converted to a residence.
The boundary of the Middlefield Hamlet Historic District encloses the most intact concentration of historic structures within this crossroads hamlet and geographically incorporates approximately two-thirds of the community. Excluded are areas with higher concentrations of non-historic buildings, heavily altered historic buildings and, in several locations, historic buildings no longer contiguous with the historic core of the community. At the north side of the district, the boundary excludes a row of modern residences, a store, severely altered or deteriorated older structures along Cooperstown Road and an intrusive house trailer at the crossroads, while incorporating four significant historic houses, one historic commercial building and a non-contributing fire station. The southern boundary of the Middlefield Hamlet Historic District incorporates historic houses on both sides of Long Patent Road as well as open fields linking the rear yards of houses on the north side of Long Patent Road with those along the south side of Cooperstown Road. These fields are historically associated with three historic houses in the district and preserve significant vistas within the district. The southern boundary is limited to its present extent by continued residential development on Long Patent Road of noticeably less architectural distinction and integrity. In all cases, boundaries follow existing lot or right-of-way lines.
Because of their non-contiguous locations, three significant and visually prominent properties in the hamlet could not be incorporated within the Middlefield Hamlet Historic District: the 1826 Baptist Church, the 1832 Methodist Church with its 1893 parsonage, and the 1875 District No. 1 Schoolhouse. Individual National Register nominations are expected to be developed for these properties in the near future. [The Schoolhouse was National Register listed July, 1982]
The hamlet of Middlefield is situated in the Cherry Valley in a predominantly agricultural area of Otsego County midway between the villages of Milford and Cherry Valley. The hamlet is centered around the intersection of two narrow secondary roads approximately 2000 feet east of the Cherry Valley Creek at an elevation of approximately 1270 feet. The first of these roads, Long Patent/Rezen Road, parallels the creek in a southwest-northeast direction leading to the hamlets of Pleasant Brook to the northeast, and Westville to the southwest. Perpendicular to this road, the Westford/Cooperstown Road cuts across the relatively flat, mile-wide valley before climbing the steep elevations which separate the valley communities from Cooperstown to the west and Worcester to the southeast. Heavy traffic through the valley is facilitated by State Route 166, which bypasses Middlefield along the opposite side of the valley.
The physical development of the hamlet, despite the loss of several historic commercial structures in the twentieth century, is typical of crossroads communities established in central New York State in the early nineteenth century. Structures were typically sited in close proximity to one another with commercial buildings, inns and taverns congregating near the intersection and residences extending outward in parallel rows along both sides of the principal roads. In Middlefield, the area immediately surrounding this intersection includes a well-preserved Greek Revival style frame store building, the only such store building from the mid-nineteenth century to survive in the hamlet, two large Federal style frame residences built between 1795 and 1805 and both used historically as taverns and inns, three relatively large c.1840-1860 Greek Revival style residences, a small c.1850 Carpenter Gothic cottage, a modern non-contributing firehouse and two non-contributing house trailers, one of which is excluded from the district. Small frame houses are sited along both sides of each of the two roads to the edges of the district.
Buildings within the Middlefield Hamlet Historic District exhibit the range of vernacular architectural styles and building types commonly associated with nineteenth century development in New York State. The largest and most distinguished structure within the Middlefield Hamlet Historic District is the Federal style five-bay center entrance Pinney Tavern (c.1795) with its distinctive c.1833 portico. The former Central Hotel, built c.1800, features a similar facade without the portico. Smaller houses with Federal style details include three single-story houses with elongated five- and six-bay facades and center entrances with elaborately detailed frontispieces. Also represented is a two-story Federal style residence with a two-bay gabled facade (featuring fluted pilasters and an attic fanlight) and a single story side wing with two relatively sophisticated Federal style entrances. Vernacular variations on the Greek Revival style include four related examples of two-story houses with three-bay, side entrance gabled facades and single story side wings. Another common house type of the 1820 to 1860 period in the Middlefield Hamlet Historic District is the one and one-half story worker's cottage, often seen with a gabled, center entrance facade. Other building types and styles represented in the district are the two-story, five-bay center entrance Greek Revival style house with a hipped roof, a transitional Greek Revival/Italianate style house with a broad hipped roof and overhanging eaves built in 1859, a Greek Revival style store building from the 1840's and a modest example of a Carpenter Gothic cottage built c.1850.
The Middlefield Hamlet Historic District is an architecturally and historically significant concentration of buildings representative of the development of a typical rural crossroads community in central New York State between 1795 and 1910. The historic district is located in the Cherry Valley, historically important as an early transportation corridor, a source of water power and a fertile agricultural resource. The Middlefield Hamlet Historic District's relatively intact collection of twenty-six significant Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Gothic Revival style buildings and the close physical relationships which unite them provide an increasingly rare illustration of typical settlement and development patterns in early nineteenth century rural communities. Such settlements thrived on the rapid growth of an agricultural economy, the exploitation of natural resources and a burgeoning network of roads and turnpikes which facilitated trade. These self-sufficient centers provided essential services within their limited locales such as milling, blacksmithing, tanning leather and lodging, and they served as convenient centers for health care, education and worship. The need for such communities began to diminish in the last quarter of the nineteenth century when many of the traditional services were consolidated more efficiently in larger regional centers. In Otsego County, many hamlets similar to Middlefield expanded beyond recognition due to the advent of railroads after 1870; Milford, Oneonta, and Worcester are examples. Others, such as Gilbertsville, found new lives as late nineteenth century resorts. Still others lost their early nineteenth century character due to extensive twentieth-century highway construction and the development of attendant roadside services and modern intrusions. Because of its relative isolation from major thoroughfares and economic decline during much of the twentieth century, Middlefield retains a significant degree of architectural integrity and much of the feeling and association of an early nineteenth century crossroads community which evolved to reflect a sampling of architectural styles and tastes popular as late as 1910.
The hamlet which was later to become known as Middlefield was settled in the 1790's on lands conveyed to George Clark in 1772 by Volkert Outhout and others. The settlement, initially known as Clarksville, grew up on the east side of the Cherry Valley Creek along an important stage route connecting Unadilla and Albany via Milford. The availability of water power at this location was important to the early prosperity of the settlement, encouraging the development of saw mills, grist mills and tanneries. Brisk traffic along the Unadilla stage road generated a demand for inns and taverns in the earliest years of the hamlet's existence.
A number of the new settlers to the region were of Scotch and Irish descent, arriving in many instances from Connecticut. Prominent among the early arrivals was Joshua L. Pinney, who settled in Clarksville in the 1790's and opened his home as an inn in 1803. The inn, standing two stories in height and distinguished by a massive columned portico added in 1833, is an extremely well-preserved and relatively sophisticated example of Federal style architecture. Noteworthy features include scenic wall painting in the dining room attributed to the noted artist William Price (c.1833) and a vaulted third floor hall which served as home to Widow's Son Lodge 391, Free and Accepted Masons, chartered in 1824. (The lodge is distinguished historically by the fact that it continued to meet clandestinely during the "Morgan Affair" c.1826-1831. The affair represented a period of great hostility toward the Masonic order and other secret societies incited by the alleged abduction and murder of William Morgan in 1826, supposedly resulting from his attempt to publish an expose on Masonry. During this time, members traveled from as far away as Salina (Syracuse) to meet at the lodge.)
Pinney was instrumental in establishing the community's first school in 1807 and in founding the Baptist Church. He was also involved in the operation of tanneries, a distillery, stores and agriculture in addition to maintaining the inn, and he served as Clarksville's first postmaster from 1819 to 1835.
Another leading citizen of the hamlet in its early years was Dr. Sumner Ely, who arrived from Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1810. Ely also built a distinctive Federal style house befitting his wealth and status upon arrival. He was active in the Otsego County Medical Society until his death in 1857.
The hamlet of Clarksville received the name of Middlefield upon the establishment of the town's first post office in 1819. It continued to be referred to as Clarksville, however, by residents until well into the twentieth century. By 1827, the settlement had become established to the extent that it could support an "Academic School" offering a classical education in Greek, Latin, Rhetoric, History and English Composition. School was taught in a modest one and one-half story frame building with twin Federal style doorways by George Washington Johnson, a Dartmouth graduate, and Albert Sawin. Seventy-eight scholars were initially enrolled.
By 1836, the hamlet had grown to include two churches (Baptist and Methodist), one grist mill, one saw mill, two taverns, four stores and twenty-five dwellings. Some of these dwellings were modest one and one-half story worker houses with gabled facades, five of which remain intact within the historic district. None of the mill buildings or water impoundment features survive, however. The hamlet continued to thrive in the second quarter of the nineteenth century and, by 1853, additional industries, stores, shops and houses had been established in Middlefield as recalled by George Washington Parshall in 1903:
"On the fourth day of April, 1853, fifty years ago, I went to Clarksville now called Middlefield, to learn my trade as a wagon builder. Few villages have changed more than this one in the same length of time. Then it was a hustling, busy, progressive, little community with a variety of industries, now it has nothing scarcely worth the name.
In 1853 there were two large tanneries there, both doing a thriving business. One was run by William Shipman and Harrison Bailey. The other, the Hayden tannery by Geo. Pratt and John Eckerson. There were three prosperous general stores, one conducted by Anson C. Parshall, one by S.M. and B.M. Gilbert, and the other by Harrison North and Moses R. Brown. The latter firm had a well stocked lumber yard. In addition to these Alfred Hayden traveled about the nearby country with a wide stock of dry goods and millinery goods, which was replenished from a well filled store house. Arra Knapp and James Parshall each conducted an up-to-date merchant tailoring establishment, and the two harness shops were run by Edwin Macumber and George Herdman. The place supported four or five blacksmith shops, three wagon shops, three boot and shoe shops, a saw mill, a grist mill, a gunsmith shop, and a broom handle lathe. The distillery had closed the year before I went there. There were two hotels and two school houses...There were two resident physicians there at that time, Dr. Sumner Ely and Dr. Asa C. Metcalf." (sic) (Azel E. Metcalf)
Middlefield's mid-nineteenth century prosperity was based in large measure on the availability of water power and is reflected by examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, and Gothic Revival style architecture in the historic district. Anson C. Parshall's Greek Revival store building, built c.1840, survives as the only historic commercial structure of its kind in the district. It exemplifies the distinctive characteristics of the vernacular Greek Revival style including broad entablatures, squared columns, and six-over-six double-hung sash windows. Other noteworthy examples of the style built primarily during the 1840's and 1850's are the two-story portion of the Jones House, the Allen-Natale House, the Fayette Gilbert House, the Moses Brown House, and the Crandall-Luchsinger House. The design of the building built for merchant Harrison North in 1859 illustrates the architectural transition from the Greek Revival to the Italianate style by integrating features of both (Greek Revival massing, fenestration, entrance with transom and sidelights and spiral staircase; Italianate style hipped roof with broad, flat eaves). Picturesque styles had little influence in Middlefield during this period with the exception of the vernacular Gothic Revival style cottage at the southern corner of the main crossroads, which features a characteristic cross-gabled massing and handsome trefoil bargeboards.
Growth in Middlefield appears to have halted by 1870, and by 1903, the hamlet, as previously described by George Washington Parshall, had experienced a considerable decline in population and economic activity. The reasons for this decline are probably varied. One important factor may have been improved transportation facilities, especially railroads, which made mass-produced goods accessible to farm populations, expanded the markets for agricultural products, and reduced the need for the goods and services which caused the hamlet to thrive earlier in the century. Regional centers of trade emerged in nearby railroad towns such as Cherry Valley, Milford, Worcester and Cooperstown, making traditional, small-scale manufacturing activities in Middlefield obsolete, redundant and non-competitive. This decline is reflected by the complete absence of late nineteenth century buildings in the historic district. A handful of buildings in the district were embellished or altered on a small scale during this period, especially the Deyo House, a Greek Revival style house, which received a Victorian period entrance porch and a three-sided bay window, and the Moses Brown House, a Greek Revival style house to which a three-sided bay window and a porch with scroll sawn brackets were added. Similarly, several early nineteenth century houses were altered during the first decade of the twentieth century with the addition of verandahs composed of simple round columns and balustrades with turned balusters. There are only two examples of such improvements remaining in the historic district.
Middlefield continued to decline through the first half of the twentieth century. Its relative impoverishment during this period was a factor which has prevented modernization of the district's stock of nineteenth-century buildings. Improvements to State Route 166, which bypasses the hamlet and which now carries the bulk of through traffic in the region, has relieved the historic district of heavy traffic, noise and congestion. It has also permitted preservation of the narrow tree-lined streets in the district, which contribute substantially to the historic ambience and pedestrian scale of the district. Today, the hamlet is becoming a desirable residential community and a number of historic houses have undergone, or are scheduled to undergo, major rehabilitations or restorations. Residents believe that the listing of the Middlefield Hamlet Historic District will have a positive effect on these efforts and will encourage the continued preservation of the hamlet's historic resources.
Parshall, George Washington, "Middlefield Fifty Years Ago," 1903. Town of Middlefield Historical Association Collections, Middlefield, New York.
Historic Photo Collection, Town of Middlefield Historical Association Collections, Middlefield, New York.
Historic Photo Collection, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York.
Otsego County Land Records, Otsego County Courthouse, Cooperstown, New York.