Church Street Historic District
The Church Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. 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 Church Street Historic District is located near the center of the small village of Richfield Springs, Otsego County. Richfield Springs, population 1668, is located in east-central New York, about mid-way between the cities of Albany and Syracuse. US Route 20, a major east-west artery, passes through the center of the village, forming its Main Street. Church Street runs north-south and bisects Main Street in the center of the village. The Church Street Historic District encompasses a rectangular two-block area between the village center on the south and the Herkimer County line on the north. It includes nearly all of Church Street, all of Sylvan Street and a few buildings on Gould Street, Warren Street and Dow Street. The Church Street Historic District boundary was drawn to encompass virtually all of the historic residential neighborhood in the northeast corner of Richfield Springs and excludes only a few scattered older buildings that are not contiguous to the district. Other surrounding development in this sector of the village is non-historic.
The Church Street Historic District is the third of three significant concentrations of historic resources identified and proposed for nomination as a result of a comprehensive historic resources survey undertaken by the Richfield Springs Historic District Association in 1992. These three historic districts meet at the intersection of Main and Church Streets. The West Main Street District (listed in 1994) extends west along Main Street, encompassing the historic commercial core of the village. The East Main Street District (listed in 1995), extending to the east from the intersection, includes a group of larger scale residences, as well as boarding houses, a hotel, a church and the village waterworks at the eastern end of the village.
The Church Street Historic District is a middle-class residential area developed between c.1822 and c.1940 and primarily characterized by two-story frame houses in a variety of popular nineteenth and early twentieth century styles, including Greek Revival, Gothic, Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne, Craftsman and Colonial Revival. The Church Street Historic District also includes two churches, a cemetery, a former hotel and bath house complex and a shop.
Buildings on Church Street, a prominent thoroughfare and the main route north out of the village, are generally set back from the street on small to medium sized lots. Buildings on Sylvan Street, a more isolated secondary street immediately west of Church Street, are set somewhat closer to the street on smaller lots. However, the overall character of the two streets is otherwise similar, in that the buildings are consistent in setback, size, scale, materials and age. The few buildings on Gould, Warren and Dow streets that are included are similar to adjacent buildings on Church Street and Sylvan Street. In general, the neighborhood is defined by a consistent, village-like character. The majority of the residences are of wood-frame construction, two stories tall, two or three bays wide and feature gable roofs. Many have front porches. A relatively large number (nearly half) retain intact barns or carriage houses from the period of significance.
The two churches are sited on opposite sides of the street, almost directly across from one another. The older of the two is the Universalist Church, originally constructed in 1833. The building has been remodeled several times, including an 1870 redesign that added two Moorish style steeples to the facade. The latter have since been partially removed. The first Presbyterian Church (now the Church of Christ, uniting Presbyterian and Methodist congregations) is a large, Gothic Revival style brick building constructed in 1877. Adjacent to this church is the earliest feature in the Church Street Historic District, a small cemetery with burials dating to 1822. This cemetery also holds the remains of several Revolutionary War soldiers, which were moved to the site at a later period.
The Church Street Historic District is significant for its ethnic history and architecture as a distinctive intact neighborhood associated with the nineteenth and early twentieth century development of Richfield Springs. Developed between c.1822 and c.1940, the Church Street Historic District encompasses the historic residential neighborhood in the northeastern corner of Richfield Springs, including properties on Church, Sylvan, Gould, Warren and Dow streets. The Church Street Historic District is one of the three major residential enclaves in Richfield Springs and it primarily represents the late-nineteenth century middle-class residential development of the village during the height of its popularity as a summer resort. As homes to a number of prominent professional and business persons, the substantial and stylish residences on Church Street illustrate the economic growth associated with the village's success as a resort. In contrast, the more modest buildings on Sylvan Street housed working-class residents who were employed on the railroad, in the knitting mills and in the service industries. Sylvan Street is especially significant for its association with Richfield Springs's African-American community, many members of whom were employed in the resort industry during the period of significance. Development of Sylvan Street was initiated by the large Teabout family, African-Americans who owned the majority of the property at the north end of the street and who held a variety of well-documented service jobs in the community. Church Street Historic District residences share qualities of size, scale and materials and embody a variety of popular period styles, including Greek Revival, Italianate, Carpenter Gothic, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Bungalow. The Church Street Historic District also includes two prominent religious buildings, a cemetery, and a hotel and bath house complex. The latter, a small establishment constructed in c.1920, was the last operating hotel in the village and marks the end of the most important era in the village's history. Together, the collection of buildings in the Church Street Historic District provide a good cross-section of the village's social and economic make-up during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The sulphur springs around which the village of Richfield Springs developed were well known to the Iroquois, who used the Ganowauges (stinking waters) as a curative to threat frostbite and other ailments. The springs are believed to have been discovered by Europeans in 1754; however, the location did not become the focus of permanent settlement until the 1790s. In 1791-92, William Turncliff built a small sawmill and gristmill near the western edge of the village and, a short time later, C. Robinson established a store at the corner of West Main and Elm Streets, where St. John's Church now stands. The extension of the Third Great Western Turnpike (now US Route 20) through the settlement in 1808 brought greater exposure to the springs and encouraged additional development, including construction of the Richfield Hotel on Main Street in 1816 (no longer extant).
The commercial promotion of the sulphur springs was initiated by Dr. Horace Manley, who purchased the site of the Great White Sulphur Springs in 1820. Manley built a bath house at this site the following year and brought twenty-five patients to take the water cure. As the springs grew in popularity, demand for lodgings increased, supporting construction of new and larger hotels. Hotels and associated business establishments were built along both sides of the turnpike, where a thriving Main Street business district also emerged. Residential construction occurred throughout the village but eventually coalesced into several distinct neighborhoods, separate from but immediately adjacent to the business district. These residential enclaves included areas on James Street, East Main Street and Church Street.
Richfield Springs prospered as a mineral springs spa and by mid-century the village included a number of large hotels with capacities ranging from one hundred to five hundred guests. Richfield Springs incorporated as a village in 1861 with a permanent population of approximately four hundred. In 1870 a branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad was brought to the southern edge of the village, facilitating transportation to the resorts from major urban centers in the northwest and midwest. The railroad heralded a new era of growth and prosperity in the village that continued into the first decade of the twentieth century. New hotels and boarding houses were built to accommodate the two to three thousand guests who arrived each summer, and expensive summer estates were built in and around the village by prominent industrialists and businessmen, including Cyrus McCormick of McCormick Harvester Co. By 1890, the year-round population of the village had increased four-fold to more than sixteen hundred residents. Although the medicinal qualities of the sulphur springs continued to be a significant attraction, the village also emerged as a popular summer gathering place for individuals of wealth. Among the more prominent summer residents and guests of the resort were Richard C. Croker, the infamous boss of New York's Tammany Hall, General George McClellan and General Joe Hooker, Admiral George Dewey, inventor Thomas Edison, and writers Sarah Orne Jewitt and Oscar Wilde.
The destruction of the massive Spring House Hotel by fire in 1897 and the decision not to rebuild were turning points in the history of the village. Although Richfield Springs remained viable as a resort well into the first decades of the twentieth century, both seasonal and permanent populations began a slow but steady decline. An electric railroad connected the village with Oneonta and Cooperstown in 1902 and the local economy was supplanted by light manufacturing and a creamery complex built at the south edge of the village.
Automobile transportation became commonplace in the village in the 1920s, bringing another wave of tourists. However, the economic depression of the 1930s stifled new construction in the village and hastened the loss of many of the large-scale hotels and their dependencies.
Church Street is the major approach to Richfield Springs from the north, and it became one of the village's prime residential locations. Development on Church Street spans much of the history of Richfield Springs, with the earliest building constructed in c.1828 and the latest in c.1940. Several of the early residences, such as the ones at 7 and 9 Church Street, located near the turnpike, were used as shops and stores. A few others represent the mid-nineteenth century history of the village. The residence at 35 Church Street (c.1828) served as the village's first post office and the building at 10 Church Street (c.1840) was the home of the first doctor in the village. However, the vast majority of the residences represent the 1870s and 80s, the period of the village's greatest growth and prosperity as a resort, and were constructed as the homes of middle-class professionals and prominent business persons. Most continued to serve a similar population over time. A directory from 1905, for example, lists an attorney, a baker, a merchant and the owner of a coal yard and a livery as residents of Church Street. A few buildings were themselves part of the resort development. These include Ingleside 1885 (50 Church Street), a boarding house, 9 East Main Street, possibly a remnant of the Spring House complex that served as a cottage for the caretaker of Spring Park, and the Terrace Hotel and Sulphur Baths (c.1920, corner of Gould and Sylvan), the last operating hotel in the village. A few residences, such as Crombie Cottage (1898, 28 Church Street) and Waiontha Cottage (1902-1906, 37 Church Street) represent the stability of the village as a prosperous summer community into the early twentieth century.
One of the most significant connections between Church Street and the resort era was the location of the summer estate of Cyrus McCormick at the far northern end of the street, just outside the village and county line (and outside the Church Street Historic District). The McCormick residence, no longer extant, was perhaps the grandest and most important of the summer houses associated with the village, and the McCormick family became prominent in local affairs, especially those of the First Presbyterian Church (now Church of Christ Uniting, 14 Church Street). This distinguished Gothic Revival style building was the scene of many important social activities in Richfield Springs, including the wedding of Anita McCormick in 1889.
The Church of Christ property includes the earliest resource in the Church Street Historic District, a small, one-acre burying ground that was given to the village by Nathan Dow in 1822 and received its first interment that same year. The cemetery gains additional significance as the resting place of thirteen Revolutionary War soldiers, whose remains were moved to the cemetery from other burial sites in the town.
Directly across the street is the Church Street Historic District's other important religious building, the Universalist Church (now the Bible Church), constructed in 1833 and substantially remodeled in a Moorish influenced design in 1870. In the period 1929-1971, this building served the Congregation of Adas Israel as a synagogue. Located directly behind the church on Gould Street were the Terrace Hotel and Bath House, which catered exclusively to Jewish guests.
Development on Sylvan Street, one block to the west, began somewhat later than on Church Street. In contrast to Church, Sylvan is an isolated street laid out parallel to what was once the north end of Lake Clements and Fish Creek. The Beers Atlas of 1868 shows only two buildings on Sylvan. These appear to be a residence at the southwest end of the street (possibly 5 Sylvan) and the Teabout House, no longer extant, on the east side of Sylvan at the corner of Hyde. Most residences on Sylvan were built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the 1905 atlas shows buildings at 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 13 and 15 Sylvan. The last house on the block, 31 Sylvan street, was constructed in 1924.
Residents of Sylvan Street were employed in the village's industrial concerns and service industries. Several worked on the railroad. Others worked in the knitting mills, first the Waiontha Knitting Company, then Utica Knitting, which operated between 1890 and 1932. Several of the women who lived on this street were housekeepers in the homes of the more prosperous middle-class citizens.
The documentation of Sylvan Street preserves an important record of African-American history in Richfield Springs and, in particular, recalls the history of the Teabout family, who owned several properties at the north end of the street. In general, African-Americans had a somewhat more visible and better documented presence in Richfield Springs than in other nearby towns, largely due to the hotel and resort industry. Like many others, Jerome Teabout, an African-American, came to Richfield Springs in 1864 to work in the hotels. Teabout was accompanied by his wife, Katherine Vedder Teabout (a French-Canadian Indian). In 1867, the Teabouts purchased a plot of land on the east side of Sylvan Street and built a house, apparently shown on the 1868 atlas. This building, a small, one and one-half story wood-framed residence with a full-width porch, was extant until only a few years ago. Some time later, a second Teabout residence was constructed on an adjacent lot (also no longer extant). The Teabouts were long-time residents of Richfield Springs and of Sylvan Street. Nearly all of their six children have well-documented places in the community's history.
The oldest son, William (Will) was born in 1867. He was an excellent machinist and built the metal-clad machine shop at the corner of Hyde and Sylvan streets, where he practiced his trade for many years. In the 1920s or 30s, Will became involved in the automobile business. The manufacturer sent Buick parts to him by rail and he assembled the cars in his shop. In 1924, he built the residence at 31 Sylvan Street, across the road and toward the north, also included in the Church Street Historic District.
The second son, Richard (Dick) was the most popular and well-known of the Teabouts. He began his career as a waiter in one of the popular resort hotels. His talents as a cook and chef and the excellent help of his wife Bessie, made him a much sought after caterer in the community. During the "off-season," Teabout often traveled with hotel owners, cooking for them in more temperate climates. When they were in town, Dick and Bessie Teabout catered for the local elite. Often parties were given on the second floor of Will's machine shop for residents returning from an afternoon of skiing. Dick and Bessie had no children; however, Bessie lived to be 104 and died in "The Meadows," the county facility.
Four daughters were also born to Jerome and Katherine Teabout. Annie, born 1877, lived only to the age of 23. Christabelle (Belle) was a housekeeper to the Reeds and a nanny to Daisy Reed (the long-time librarian in Richfield Springs). The Reeds were residents of Church Street. Alberta Marie Teabout was born in 1883 and Stella Marie in 1885; both were seamstresses.
The architectural character of the Church Street Historic District is defined by the siting, size, scale, materials, and styles of its buildings. With the exception of two churches, a small hotel complex and a shop, the buildings are all residences. They are generally set back from the street on small to medium sized lots, and many retain period carriage houses or barns. Although buildings on Sylvan Street are somewhat smaller and less embellished than those on Church Street, district residences exhibit a remarkably consistency of forms and features. The vast majority of them are two-stories tall, two or three bays wide and of wood-frame construction. Gable roofs predominate, many with the gable ends oriented to the street. A large number feature front porches and others have small entrance porticoes.
In style, the buildings of the Church Street Historic District overwhelmingly represent the popular picturesque styles of the Victorian era. Those few buildings constructed before the mid-nineteenth century are modest in style, with forms or features derived from the Neoclassical or Greek Revival modes. The residence at 31 Church is a larger and more typical representative of the Greek Revival. Several residences are fully developed examples of the Italianate style, including 32 Church Street, the only brick house in the Church Street Historic District and one of few in the village, and 39 and 40 Church Street, two large-scale frame residences. In others, the Italianate influence is limited to the application of decorative details, such as bracketed cornices or arched windows. There is one example of the Carpenter Gothic style at 34 Church Street and one example of the Second Empire at 50 Church Street. The largest and most elaborate residences in the Church Street Historic District represent the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, such as the buildings at 26, 28, 29, and 37 Church street. Smaller examples of the same styles can be found at 47 and 48 Church Street and, as with the Italianate, several of the more modest residences include features such as decorative gables or porches with scroll-sawn members, that suggest the influence of these popular period modes. Most of the residences on Sylvan Street fall into this category, embodying characteristic forms and massing but lacking elaborate decorative detail. Several residences are clearly products of twentieth century taste. These include the buildings at 19 and 53 Church Street, which were built of decorative cast-concrete blocks, and 31 Sylvan; all three show the influence of the Craftsman or Bungalow modes.
Of the district's two churches, the First Presbyterian is a large, brick building constructed in 1877 in a fairly sophisticated version of the Gothic Revival style. This church was the place of worship for many of the village's prominent summer residents, including the McCormicks. The other, the former Universalist Church, is the oldest church in the village, dating to 1833. The latter building has a more complicated architectural and social history. As originally built, the church was of stone construction and was probably a typical rectangular meetinghouse of the era. At some time around the mid-nineteenth century, the church received round-arched windows and an application of Italianate style decoration. In 1870, the building was completely remodeled both inside and out, including the addition of a new brick facade defined by two large and ornate steeples of Moorish design. In this period the church is reported to have assumed an important role in the social and cultural life of the region through the influence of several very prominent and active pastors. In the early twentieth century (c.1929) the building was redefined once again, this time as the home of the village's Jewish Congregation Adas Israel, which used the building until it was acquired by the current owner. At some point the Moorish steeples were partially removed, leaving the hybrid building that survives today.
The final resource type in the Church Street Historic District is the hotel and bath house, constructed in 1920. As the last operating hotel in the village, this complex presents a contrast to the large-scale and highly decorative hotel buildings that characterized East Main Street during the height of the resort era. Instead, these two buildings are long and low, of modest scale and restrained decoration. The complex occupies a secondary location, tucked into the corner of Gould and Sylvan, and it served a largely Jewish clientele. Interestingly, this complex is immediately behind the former Universalist Church Building, which was used as a synagogue beginning in 1929. In its location, design and history, the Terrace recalls the themes represented by this district: the development of Church and Sylvan streets, the social relationships between them, and the history of the resort era in Richfield Springs.
Cooper, Eunice. "Richfield's First Black Family Left Lasting Heritage." Cooperstown Crier 26 Feb 1997.
Hughes, Greta G. and Winne, Ella L., eds. The Town of Richfield: A Collection of Local History Articles. Richfield Springs: Richfield Springs Mercury, 1961.
Richfield Springs Historic District Association and New York State Historic Preservation Office. "Village of Richfield Springs Comprehensive Historic Resources Survey" 1991. Copy on file at New York SHPO, Peebles Island, Waterford, New York.
Ward, Henry A. Annals of Richfield. Utica: Firestone, 1887.