Unadilla Village Historic District
The Unadilla Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. 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 Unadilla Village Historic District consists of 118 properties and contains a total of 146 contributing buildings and major features. The majority of contributing buildings are residential (79 structures) with a total of 41 contributing dependencies. Contributing elements also include four churches, eleven commercial buildings, and six institutional and/or public buildings, one historic cemetery, three monuments and a limestone railroad underpass. There are 21 non-contributing principal buildings.
The boundary of the Unadilla Village Historic District incorporates most of the properties located along Main Street (New York State Route 7), the village's principal thoroughfare, within the village limits. In several areas the boundary extends north or south of the immediate Main Street properties to encompass one or more adjoining properties, and along Bridge Street the boundary extends southerly to include twelve properties between Main Street and the Bridge-Fellows-Watson Street intersection. The westerly boundary of the Unadilla Village Historic District along Main Street has been arbitrarily set at the Interstate 88 access road; properties located west of this interchange, as well as north and south of the remaining delineated boundary have been excluded from the Unadilla Village Historic District due to a lack of continuity of significant historic buildings. In each instance, the Unadilla Village Historic District boundary follows established property lines, enclosing the minimum required for the inclusion of significant resources.
The Village of Unadilla, with a 1990 census population of some 1,260 persons, is located in the upper Susquehanna River Valley, approximately 90 miles southwest of Albany and 55 miles northeast of Binghamton. The village is situated on the flood plain along the northwest banks of the Susquehanna River, and continues up the southeast slopes of Kilkenny and Chestnut Hills. The valley floor is relatively narrow (2,000 to 3,000 feet in width) with 200-300 foot high hillsides at the north, and also south of the village, immediately across the Susquehanna River. New York State Route 7, Unadilla's Main Street, bisects the village from east to west and generally follows the route of the early 1800s Susquehanna Turnpike. At the eastern end of the village, approximately at the location of the intersection of N.Y.S. Routes 7 and 357 was the terminus of the 1802 Catskill Turnpike. Directly south of the village, across the Susquehanna River, is Interstate 88 connecting the cities of Binghamton and Albany. The development of the Village of Unadilla is generally linear, along approximately 1.5 miles of Route 7. The east and west ends are primarily residential. Two small business districts are located several blocks apart in the central portion of the village, each occurring along both sides of Main Street.
Historic industrial development within the village lies mainly outside the bounds of the Unadilla Village Historic District. North of Main Street are scattered areas of railroad-era industrial development; and southerly of Main Street at the Mill-Watson Street intersection is an industrial development encompassing the heart of the village's earliest mill district.
Most of the popular American architectural styles of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are represented in the Unadilla Village Historic District, with the residences consisting largely of vernacular two-story frame Federal, Greek Revival and Italianate style designs. Examples of the late Victorian period and early twentieth century residences are also present, including the Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Craftsman and American Foursquare styles. Religious architecture in the village includes examples of early nineteenth century Federal, Greek Revival and vernacular Gothic Revival design.
Both the uptown and downtown business districts have suffered devastating fires, with the result that few of the earliest commercial structures remain. However, the Unadilla Village Historic District features a row of impressive, elaborately detailed late nineteenth century brick commercial buildings anchoring the downtown area, built as a group following a devastating fire in 1879. The earliest remaining commercial structure in the downtown business district is the Unadilla House, established in 1804-5; a portion of the wood frame structure with later Italianate detailing may date to that time. Rounding out the downtown business area are several smaller two-story frame structures of Greek Revival and Italianate styling. A three-story brick hotel, the core of which dates to ca.1832, is the lone survivor of the earliest nineteenth century uptown business district. Two brick commercial blocks built in 1904 replace a number of earlier mid-nineteenth century commercial structures destroyed in a fire on February 9, 1904.
A significant category of buildings within the Unadilla Village Historic District includes residential dependencies such as historic carriage barns, garages, small farm barns and sheds, and smokehouses. Many of these structures reflect the dates and styles of their corresponding residences, while others are a reflection of the vernacular building practices of their time. The great majority of outbuildings are of frame construction, with a few of stone and/or brick.
One historic cemetery is located within the Unadilla Village Historic District; while associated with St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, this burial ground served all the early residents of the village. The cemetery is characterized by typical nineteenth-century monuments, and a portion is bordered by an ornate Victorian wrought-iron fence.
Much of Unadilla's unique character is derived from its spacious, well-maintained yards and relatively uniform building setbacks, complementing the variety of 19th and early 20th century architectural styles represented within the village. The many large shade trees and bluestone sidewalks lining Main Street are the result of an 1826 incorporation of the village, wherein a portion of the highway tax was dedicated to these items, reflecting an early and continuing interest and pride in the aesthetic character of the village.
The Unadilla Village Historic District is an outstanding concentration of nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture. The Unadilla Village Historic District encompasses the core of this historic village and represents a continuum of architectural development in the region between 1804 and 1940. Although the continuity of historic streetscapes is interrupted by a few modern buildings in two locations, the proposed district retains a strong overall integrity of design and setting.
The Unadilla Village Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as an unusually intact nineteenth and early twentieth century Susquehanna River Valley village which reflects, in its physical setting and distinguished collection of buildings, an important role both in the early post-Revolutionary War settlement and turnpike era, and the mid- to late-nineteenth century railroad era.
Prior to the American Revolution only scattered small settlements appeared within the upper Susquehanna River valley. While four small settlements are known to have occurred within the area of present-day Unadilla Village, there is no concrete proof that the present village site was occupied prior to the Revolution. The small settlements that dotted the upper Susquehanna River Valley were alternately raided by Tories and their Iroquois Nation allies, and the American patriot soldiers, until by the end of the war very little remained.
Post-revolutionary settlement of the area was perhaps most greatly influenced by the coming of Sluman Wattles and his cousin Nathaniel Wattles, of Lebanon, Connecticut. While Sluman Wattles settled a few miles up Ouleout Creek near the present village of Franklin, Nathaniel followed the Ouleout to its confluence with the Susquehanna River, just above the present village limits, and there he established a ferry, and built a hotel. The arrival of the Wattles cousins in the mid-1780s signaled the beginning of a tide of Connecticut migration which followed an old primitive road west from Catskill on the Hudson to the Susquehanna. Until the first bridge was constructed in 1804, Wattles Ferry provided the strategic transportation link for westward-bound settlers. Early arrivals, after scouting the area, determined the village should lie on the northerly side of the river, where a fast-moving, multi-channel stream flowing into the Susquehanna River provided sufficient power for the mills they were to establish.
Unadilla's early history is closely associated with the development of turnpikes in New York State's central and southern-tier regions. As the primary means for channeling people and goods to New York's interior during the early decades of the nineteenth century, Unadilla's strategic location at the intersection of two vital early turnpike systems contributed to its commercial prominence in the region during that time period. The major road was the Catskill Turnpike, which linked the Hudson and Susquehanna Valleys. The Susquehanna Turnpike, beginning in the Mohawk Valley, passed through Unadilla and continued to Binghamton, where it connected with the Delaware River Road to Philadelphia.
Building design and construction in the fledgling village strongly reflected the traditions of its transplanted Connecticut settlers. Permanent residences appear to have been built, with few exceptions, of frame construction, following standard center hall, side hall, or Cape Cod configurations. Some of these buildings were plainly detailed, while others, including the 1804 Hayes and Noble Houses, and the 1805 Abijah Beach House, reflect the Federal style taste in their fine proportions and Classically derived details. Clapboard siding, 12/12 sash windows and attenuated cornices are particularly characteristic of these first generation buildings.
Unadilla's most significant period of growth parallels that of the region, occurring during the first half of the nineteenth century. The 1820s and 1830s saw the architectural character of the burgeoning village begin to reflect a degree of taste and sophistication characteristic of the more prominent and established centers of trade and transportation in Central New York. The wealth and status of the merchant families were expressed in large and stylish homes lining both sides of Main Street. While the majority of residences built during this period continued to be variations of the Federal style, they began to achieve popularity in the village during the late 1830s. Two standard house plans of the period predominate: the two-story side hall house with three-bay facade, and the two-story center hall house with a symmetrical five-bay center entrance facade. Prominent examples of the side hall house type of this period within the Unadilla Village Historic District include the Federal style 1823 Roswell Wright House (National Register listed 1988) with its Composite order portico, and the John Eells house, built of brick ca.1835. Greek Revival style examples of this house form include the ca.1837 Joel Bragg house and the ca.1840 Frederick Sands house. Surviving center hall examples include the ca.1825 Charles Noble house and the original portion of the ca.1825 Arnold Sherman house. The Hotel Bishop built of brick in 1832 as a residence and later expanded, was originally designed with a five-bay center entrance facade and parapet wall at the gable ends. Its Federal style facade is still discernible within the larger, late nineteenth century composition.
Despite the decline in relative commercial importance of the turnpikes during the 1850s and 1860s, Unadilla continued to function as a prosperous local market and business center throughout this period. Architecturally, construction on the village began to reflect the influence of nationally popular picturesque and romantic styles including variations on the Gothic Revival and Italianate styles. Significant examples of the former style, marked by steeply pitched roofs, cross-sawn bargeboard and applied details derived from Gothic sources include the ca.1850 Vanderlip residence on Cottage Lane, and the elaborate Gothic Revival remodeling of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, completed between 1845 and 1854. The Italianate style, distinguished by its cubic massing and broad, bracketed cornices, is represented in the Unadilla Village Historic District by "Northwood" the residence of Col. S.S North, banker and developer of the Unadilla Water Works, and the ca.1850 residence of Rev. Lyman Sperry. The Italianate style remained popular in Unadilla and other New York villages thought the 1870s.
With the completion of the Albany and Susquehanna (later known as the Delaware & Hudson) Railroad between Albany and Binghamton in 1869 came opportunity to expand the industrial base of the village. While the major industries of the area continued to revolve around farming and to some extent lumbering, the railroad provided the means for diversification within those industries. Notable in this diversification was the building of the H.Y. Canfield Condensery at the end of the Mill Street cul-de-sac. H.Y. Canfield was a local inventor who developed one of the first processes for condensing milk. Located just south of the Unadilla Village Historic District boundary, the three-story brick industrial building Canfield constructed for his processing plant is presently the home of the York Modern complex, which has manufactured road rakes at this location since 1921. The remaining early mill buildings located along this cul-de-sac are also part of the York Modern complex. Other industries located immediately along the rail line, north of the Unadilla Village Historic District boundaries, included feed stores, lumber mills, two silo factories, and the Tie Company. In the downtown business district, the 1879 Mulford & Siver Block became the home of W. Mulford & Son, cigar makers, who for a number of years were reported to be the area's largest employer.
The railroads also brought thousands of tourists to the western Catskills, including many city-dwellers who vacationed at the many local resorts which proliferated after the rail line was completed. Within the Unadilla Village Historic District this expansion is seen in the renovations and/or additions to the Unadilla House and the Bishop Hotel (earlier Kingsley's Hotel).
The railroad and accompanying increase in manufacturing facilities facilitated a continued pattern of growth through the early decades of the 20th century. Within the Unadilla Village Historic District this growth is manifested in the construction of additional large gracious homes, particularly along Main Street. These homes reflect the national architectural styles popular during the Victorian era, particularly the Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne and Shingle styles. Perhaps the foremost example of early Stick architecture in the village occurs in the ca.1865 Silvernell House located at 15 Bridge Street. The four major gables feature diagonal flat stick-work, fine bracketing, fish-scale shingle detailing and triple-massed gable windows. One of the most notable examples of Queen Anne construction with Shingle elements is the 2-1/2 story frame residence located at 64 Main Street. The three-story ca.1900 Wiesmer House is an elegant example of a late Queen Anne residence, highlighted by carved gable detailing, round tower with curved windows, and multiple porches. Additional Queen Anne style residences bearing marked similarities indicating a common builder, are located at 16 Main Street, and at 2 and 4 Page Street within the Unadilla Village Historic District. Other similar examples occur randomly on several side streets outside the district boundaries. Early twentieth century styles are also represented, notably the Colonial Revival, the American Foursquare and Craftsman styles. Notable examples of the American Foursquare style include the Hodges House at 13 Main Street and the Hopkins (now Schwartz) home located at 53 Main Street. Within the Unadilla Village Historic District Colonial Revival features, including a broken pediment front door surround, are perhaps most notable on "Ill-a-hee," the long-time residence of the Harold Tyson family. A blend of Craftsman and Queen Anne elements is noted in the Nowiski residence at 23 Main Street. The two-story Craftsman style Struble residence at 36 Main Street represents a number of ca.1930 "catalog houses" in the village, and is probably a "Van Cott's Modern Homes" plan. A single California-style Bungalow located at 85 Main Street features a stucco exterior, a large stone chimney and extensive lattice work.
Despite the loss of a handful of significant historic buildings to fire, deterioration or demolition, very little post-Depression Era residential development has taken place within the Unadilla Village Historic District. Several intrusions of modern commercial structures occur in both the uptown and downtown business cores; however, the architectural strength of the remaining historic commercial elements, most notably the downtown 1879 brick blocks and the uptown Hotel Bishop, diminishes the impact of the smaller, modern structures. As a result, few intrusions compromise the historic character of the district. The Unadilla Village Historic District retains a nineteenth-century character that recalls the history and development of the village. The outstanding degree of architectural integrity of the streetscapes and the many distinctive examples of intact historic architecture are distinguishing features of the Village of Unadilla.
Comprehensive Historic Resources Survey, Village of Unadilla, Otsego County, New York, conducted in 1991 by the Village of Unadilla Historic Preservation Committee, coordinated by Patricia Sheret, Village Historian and Committee chairperson, and supervised by Mark Peckham, Historic Preservation Program Assistant, New York State Historic Preservation Office. Files located at the Historic Preservation Field Services Bureau, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Albany, New York.
Evarts & Fariss, Pub. History of Otsego County, New York 1740-1878. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1878. Republished by W.E. Morrison & Co., Ovid, N.Y., 1978.
Goerlich, Shirley B. At Rest in Unadilla. RSG Publishing, Sidney, N.Y., 1987.
Halsey, Francis Whiting. The Pioneers of Unadilla Village 1784-1840. Unadilla, N.Y. 1902.
Halsey, Francis Whiting. The Old New York Frontier. Chas. Scribner's Sons, N.Y., 1901.
Hunt, Walter L. ed. The Village Beautiful - A Local History of Unadilla, New York. Unadilla, N.Y.: Unadilla Rotary Club, 1957.
Morse, Ralph. Unadilla in Its First Century. n.d.
National Register Nomination: Roswell Wright House, Unadilla, New York, 1987. Listed on National Register 1988.
Schull, Diantha Dow. Landmarks of Otsego County. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1980. pp.207-20, "Village of Unadilla."
Windows to the Past - A Pictorial History of Unadilla. Unadilla, N.Y.: Village of Unadilla Historic Preservation Committee, 1990.