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Central Troy Historic District


Central Troy Historic District, National Register of Historic Places,  Rensselaer County,  Troy, NY

The Central Troy Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.

The Central Troy Historic District includes the core of the present city of Troy and encompasses residential neighborhoods as well as the city's commercial center. Geographically, it includes approximately 96 acres and represents about one-tenth of the incorporated city. There are 679 contributing features dating between 1787 and c. 1940. These include 659 contributing buildings, 17 contributing structures and 3 contributing objects. The numerous contributing outbuildings are mainly carriage houses.

Development Patterns and Architectural Characteristics

The Central Troy Historic District exhibits a diversity of architectural styles and development patterns.

Troy's early development as a leading Hudson River commercial center and its growth as an industrial center whose products received national and even worldwide renown can be gleaned from the warehouse/showrooms located along the quarter-mile stretch of River Street. The lower half of this street constitutes the River Street Historic District (National Register listed). As early as 1824, a gazetteer of the state called this thoroughfare "the mart of business." Originally constructed of wood, the earliest warehouses on River Street were destroyed in the fire that swept through the heart of Troy in 1820. The disaster is recalled by an inscription carved into the northernmost column of a building: "The destructive fire of 20 June 1820 arrested at this point." All of the structures now standing on both sides of River Street from Congress Street north to its intersection with First Street date from after the fire, the majority of them located on the west side of the street. These earliest structures are typically three- or four-story buildings with three-bay Flemish bond brick facades and brownstone trim, storefronts and cargo doors surmounted by hoists marking the center bays. The special quality of the terrain, a bluff that drops off to the shoreline, was used to the greatest advantage by the builder of these warehouses by excavating two or more stories below the street level so that a structure that was four stories above the grade of River Street would have a six-story facade facing the river. A good example of the earlier warehouse structures along River Street is the John L. Thompson and Co. Wholesale Druggists, one of the oldest businesses in operation in Troy. It occupies four buildings from the early 1830's on the west side of the street, north of Congress Street, and retains its original storefront. Several other structures in this area have brick facades laid up in Flemish bond, an indication of their early nineteenth century construction dates. Mid-century structures are characterized by slightly larger openings and sometimes greater story heights. Fairly typical of the buildings of this era, which according to the plaque on its facade, was erected in 1869 by M. S. Hovey, who was a flax merchant. The most prominent later nineteenth century building on the west side is located at the corner of River and Congress Streets. Dated 1888, this brick facade appears flamboyant in comparison with its more austere neighbor, the John L. Thompson Co., incorporating three-stories of windows with roundheaded arches, as well as small arched windows, rock-faced voussoirs and corbelled brick cornice details, and is reminiscent of H. H. Richardson's Marshall Field Building in Chicago.

At the head of the River Street Historic District, at the merging of First and River Streets is the Rice Building, an imposing five-story flat-iron shaped polychrome commercial building which has frontage on both First and River Street. It was designed by Calvert Vaux and Withers in 1871 and is an outstanding and rare example of the High Victorian Gothic style in Troy with its use of Venetian Gothic elements, most notably pointed-arch polychrome voussoirs. The Rice Building marks the entry to the first block of buildings on either side of First Street known as "Banker's Row" because during the nineteenth century over sixteen banks maintained offices there. The Fire of 1820, which ravaged lower River Street, also destroyed most of the existing structures on this part of First Street. The Bank of Troy (later the United National Bank), on the northeast corner of State and First Streets, is one of the few buildings that survived the disaster. Most of the buildings on the block which date from the period just after the fire to the Civil War period have undergone significant nineteenth-century alterations and, therefore, do not necessarily reveal their early to mid-nineteenth century construction dates.

Early twentieth century architectural styles are represented on two buildings from the first quarter of the twentieth century -- the YMCA Building, designed by W. L. and J. W. Woolett in 1905 in the Arts and Crafts style, and the old Troy Hotel (Monument Square Apartments), built in 1905-06 in a stripped down Classical Revival style. The Monument Square Apartments, a seven-story building with an angled brick facade, eases the transition to Monument Square, which is characterized by larger-scale commercial buildings centered around a triangular plaza; at the center of Monument Square is the 1890-91 Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which supports a bronze statue of Columbia. The oldest building on the square, which also forms it southern boundary, is the Cannon Building, designed by Town and Davis in 1835 (National Register listed). This imposing building is a late Federal style commercial block with a twenty-four bay Flemish bond brick facade that retains much of its original storefront. It was altered later in the late 1860's and early 1870's when it received a mansard roof. The square's eastern boundary is formed by the Hendrick Hudson Hotel, built in 1932 on the site of the former Troy House with frontage on both Second Street and Broadway. It is the tallest building on the square, with a total of seven stories. A steel framed building designed in the Colonial Revival style, it is sheathed in brick and includes a storefront with limestone piers. If not the tallest building on Monument Square, the McCarthy Building, built as the R. C. Reynolds Furniture Showroom in 1904, is certainly its showpiece, with its flamboyant three-bay white terra-cotta facade and a two-story cast-iron and glass arch across its facade.

From Monument Square, one of the commercial pulse points of the city, radiates upper River Street, which continues north toward the site of the Old Fulton Market, where it meets both Fulton and Third Street. Almost all of the earlier Greek Revival style buildings here have undergone later nineteenth century alterations. Most notable of these is the Market Block, a three-story flat-iron shaped commercial block which retains brownstone storefront piers and portions of the cornice from its construction.

The National State Bank Building on River Street, located diagonally across from the Frear Building (2-8 Third Street), signals entry into a section of the city that includes the largest concentration of late nineteenth and early twentieth century steel-framed commercial buildings designed in the Renaissance Revival style. Further down Fulton Street is the Ilium Building, which, like the National State Bank Building, was designed by Frederick Cummings in 1904.

Within the commercial center of the Central Troy Historic District, the Federal and Greek Revival style residences on First and Second Street have generally retained evidence of their early nineteenth century construction dates. Typically they are three stories in height with three-bay side entrance Flemish and common bond brick facades, raised basements and brownstone trim. The Federal style rowhouses generally have a gable roof form. These blocks of contiguous residences of uniform building heights, materials and configurations form harmonious streetscapes. Once the homes of Troy's most prominent families, many of these residences have been well adapted to changing needs by conversion to offices and apartments. A fine example of this is a three-story Federal style rowhouse with marble trim located at 35 First Street. Like the Vail House at 46 First Street from 1818, it retains the hallmarks of the Federal style -- its elliptically arched entrance, curved brownstone stoop with delicate wrought-iron work and flush stone sills and lintels with raised keystones. The Vail residence is especially grand, with its double-curved brownstone entrance and wrought-iron railing and basement grills reminiscent of the lyre motif wrought-iron fence and railing at the Hart-Cluett Mansion at 59 Second Street (Rensselaer County Historical Society) just around the corner. It too is a Federal style residence but from the later half of the 1820's. It is more grandiose than its First Street counterpart with its dressed limestone facade with vermiculated entrance and window detailing. Further up Second Street approaching Monument Square is the Paine Mansion, nicknamed "The Castle," designed by the Washington architect, P. F. Schneider in 1894. Like the Hart-Cluett Mansion, it is faced in limestone. Its massing and detail, however, reflect the Romanesque Revival style. It is distinguished by a quarry-faced stone facade, recessed round-arched entrance flanked by squat columns with botanical capitals and asymmetrical massing. Another Romanesque Revival style building can be found on the first block of Second Street -- the old Young Women's Association Building. It was designed in 1891 by Marcus F. Cummings in the Richardsonian Romanesque style with a characteristic quarry-faced brownstone facade and recessed round-arched entrance. Though dominated by rowhouses, this block of Second Street is punctuated by several very significant larger buildings, many of which were designed by leading architects having impressive national or local reputations. The most monumental of these is the Renaissance Revival style Troy Savings Bank Building, designed by George Brown Post and completed in 1875. Its second floor Music Hall has been acclaimed by well-known critics for its superlative acoustics, placing it among the finest auditoriums in the country. Directly across the street, adjacent to the old Young Women's Association Building, is the Caldwell Apartment House, with its main facade on State Street. Designed in 1907, this is an outstanding example of the Arts and Crafts style in an apartment dwelling with its characteristic expression of materials, sturdy rectilinear massing, multiple planes of action and eclectic decorative borrowings.

The majority of buildings on Third between Broadway and Congress Streets were originally early nineteenth century single family homes (with carriage house at the rear) that were altered in the later nineteenth century with the addition of storefronts and remodeling of the upper stories. The only surviving wood frame Federal style building on Third Street or in the vicinity is No. 47 (Rainbow Florists). The first block of Third Street facing the Uncle Sam Mall is characterized by densely packed commercial buildings from the post-Civil War period, including flamboyantly appointed Eastlake style edifices with storefronts and high-ceilinged upper stories. At the northwest corner of Third Street and Broadway stands the Keenan Building, a late nineteenth century commercial block with Eastlake style detailing. Diagonally across the street is an earlier nineteenth century Italianate style commercial block, the Quackenbush Building (Rite Aid), designed by Henry Dudley in 1857 as an early Troy department store. At the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, the Chasen Building is a Greek Revival style industrial building which was turned into a commercial block in the later nineteenth century and altered yet again with the addition of its Art Deco storefront. Prictor's Theatre was designed in 1914 as a Vaudeville Theatre and later used as a movie theatre. The facade, which takes up nearly half the block, is sheathed almost entirely in fanciful white terra cotta.

Many churches punctuate the district, including St. Paul's Episcopal Church at the corner of Third and State Street from 1827, a very early example of Gothic Revival style ecclesiastical architecture in Troy reputed to have been designed from plans by Ithiel Town. Its interior was remodelled at the turn-of-the-century by L. C. Tiffany and Company and includes a spectacular collection of stained-glass windows by that firm.

The Fifth Avenue/Fulton Street District is significant not only from an architectural and environmental standpoint but also for its impressive list of occupants during the nineteenth century. The houses, as well as the churches, show the influence of M. F. Cummings, Troy's most notable nineteenth-century architect, many of whose civic, institutional and commercial designs are included in the comprehensive downtown district. Cummings designed the Second Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue and possibly the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church (presently St. John's Lutheran Church), both in the Romanesque Revival style. In addition many of the Italianate style rowhouses may have been constructed from his pattern book, Architecture Designs for Street Fronts, Suburban Homes and Cottages, first published in 1865. At the center of the district at the corner of Fulton Street and Fifth Avenue is the 1862 W. and L. E. Gurley Company Building, which to this day manufactures scientific and surveying instruments. It is a three-story modified Romanesque style structure with magnificent corbelled brick detail and is an unusual example of an industrial building that is architecturally compatible with neighboring residences.

The Grand Street Historic District extends for one block along Grand Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue and abuts the north end of the Fifth Avenue/Fulton Historic district. It consists of three-story brick side entrance rowhouses with raised basements erected at a uniform distance from the curb line, a typical building type for Troy.

With the exception of the Fifth Avenue/Fulton and Grand Street Historic Districts, the primary residential neighborhoods in the Central Troy Historic District are located south of Congress on First, Second and Third Streets. The above-mentioned section of Second Street ending at Monument Square, as well as the three blocks extending southward toward Washington Park constitute the Second Street Historic District (National Register listed). Situated along Congress Street between First and Second Street and serving as a transitional area between the business and residential parts of First and Second Street is Seminary Park, an important landscape element in the district. It takes its name from the Troy Female Seminary, founded nearby in 1821 by Emma Willard, a leading educator of women in early America. The park dates from at least 1790. Just south of the park on the grounds of Russell Sage College, a large bronze statue of Emma Willard serves to commemorate her role in the history of Troy and in women's education. Near the statue, also on the Russell Sage Campus, can be found three institutional buildings designed by Marcus Cummings in the 1890's -- the Anna H. Plum Memorial, Gurley Memorial Hall and Russell Sage Hall. Adjacent to Russell Sage Hall is the former First Presbyterian Church (now Julia Howard Bush Center), whose Greek Revival hexastyle temple-front faces Seminary Park. It was designed by James Dakin in 1835 and is one of the only ten remaining examples of that important architect's Greek Revival style works in the United States.

All of the residences along the next two blocks of First Street between Congress and Division Street have been incorporated into the campus of Russell Sage College. In the nineteenth century, these were the homes of some of Troy's most prosperous citizens. One was the former home of Walter Phelps Warren, whose family founded the Fuller Warren Stove Foundry. It is part of a residential row that is composed of three- and four-story Federal and Greek Revival style residences with subsequent nineteenth and early twentieth century alterations. The Wool House, just down the street, is an early nineteenth century freestanding brick residence named for its principal occupant, General John Ellis Wool, Troy's most notable military figure. Below Division Street, an important row of Federal and Greek Revival style rowhouses for the middle class are to be found on the east side of First Street. St. John's Episcopal Church, completed in 1856 at the corner of Liberty and First Street, is another of the several religious institutions in the area. Designed in 1856 by Henry Dudley of New York City, it is an extremely well-preserved and important example of a stone Gothic Revival style parish church which closely followed English models prescribed by proponents of the Oxford Movement. Like the Julia Howard Bush Center (First Presbyterian Church), its original windows were replaced by ones from the L. C. Tiffany Studios.

On the Second Street side of Seminary Park, two important buildings dominate the primarily residential streetscape. The first of these, the Rensselaer County Courthouse, the third courthouse to be located on the site, was completed in 1894. Like the three Russell Sage College buildings across the street, it was designed by Marcus Cummings. The courthouse is a Classical Revival style structure. The adjoining Courthouse Annex to the south, which was remodeled in 1913, was originally constructed as the Second Street Presbyterian Church in 1833. The second major edifice on the east side of Second Street is the Hart Memorial Library (Troy Public Library) (National Register listed), which was designed by the firm of Barney and Chapman, architects of Grace Church in New York City. This Renaissance Revival style institutional building was completed in 1897.

The area of Third Street between Congress Street and Washington Park follow a similar pattern of development and use as the corresponding section of Second Street. There are no freestanding residences, however, and the rowhouses tend to be more eclectic in their later nineteenth and early twentieth century alterations. The block between Congress and Perry Street is noteworthy for its group of five three-story Federal style rowhouses. One, the Ross House, is a particularly well-preserved example with almost all its original features intact, including its handsome cornice embellished with an egg-and-dart motif.

The last important residential neighborhood is Washington Park (National Register listed). It includes Washington Park itself, as well as the residential and religious buildings that surround it on four sides. The area is located a few blocks south of Russell Sage College and just north of Adams Street, which signals the beginning of South Troy, the heavily industrialized section of the city. The oldest buildings are the ten residences along the south side of the park, which are collectively known as Washington Place and which were constructed in 1839-40 at the same time as Washington Park was being laid out. They were originally identical and were conceived of as a single composition, being three-story Greek Revival style rowhouses with a uniform roofline and a crowning pediment over the center four buildings.

Significance

The Central Troy Historic District is architecturally and historically significant as a large and exceptionally intact historic urban center which retains significant streetscapes and buildings chronicling Troy's growth and development between 1787 and 1940. The district encompasses the city's historic commercial and residential core and includes five previously listed historic districts as well as adjacent areas of related development and comparable significance. Architecturally, the Central Troy Historic District includes outstanding examples of virtually all historic architectural styles popular during the district's period of significance, ranging from Federal style rowhouses built during the first three decades of the nineteenth century to several examples of Art Deco style design. The work of several regionally and nationally prominent architects is also represented within the historic district, including the firm of Town and Davis, James Dakin, Henry Dudley, Frederick Clarke Withers, Marcus Cummings and George B. Post. Together, the historic streetscapes and buildings of the Central Troy Historic District retain a high degree of integrity and cohesiveness and reflect Troy's historic prominence as a regional center of commerce and industry.

In the late eighteenth century, the east bank of the Hudson River above Albany was opened to settlement by a group of enterprising New Englanders. First at Lansingburgh in 1771 and later at Troy in 1787, the Dutch farmers who held the flatlands adjacent to the river were persuaded to survey and subdivide their land into town lots. Jacob D. Vanderheyden's settlement, renamed Troy by its new freeholders, became the dominant community, largely because of its strategic location at the head of sloop navigation on the Hudson. Troy grew rapidly as a center of river trade and commerce and passed charters in 1791 and again in 1798 when it was incorporated as a village. In 1793, Troy became the seat of Rensselaer County. Duke de la Rochefoucault visited Troy in 1795 and provided one of the earliest descriptions of the village:

"The houses are very neat and numerous; almost every house contains a shop; the inns are excellent; vessels are moored along the keys [sic], tar-yards, potash works, rope works, and mills are either in full work or building. The sight of this activity is truly charming."[1]

Troy's 1787 street layout and lot plan were patterned after the city of Philadelphia and consisted of a grid of north-south streets paralleling the river and numbered consecutively in an easterly progression and east-west streets which together divided the village into rectangular blocks. North-south alleys bisected each block, and lots were generally 140 feet deep with a 50-foot street frontage. The only divergence from this pattern occurred at River Street. Early commercial development gravitated to River Street, and frame houses, often with side yards, were built several blocks east of the river along First and Second Streets.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, Troy gained prominence as an exporter of grain and other agricultural products. River Street became crowded with granaries and warehouses extending down to the river's edge, and banking houses moved into First Street between River and State. Between 1800 and 1815, Troy's population rose from 1,801 to 4,841. Businessmen, eager to capitalize on Troy's potential for growth, built a turnpike to Schenectady in 1802, hoping to corner some of the western trade previously enjoyed almost exclusively by Albany. Although wheat exports dominated Troy's commerce during this period, the growing village became increasingly diversified with merchants dealing in dry goods, groceries and hardware. A vivid image of Troy during this period was provided by John Lambert, an English traveller who visited the village in 1807:

"Troy is a well built town, consisting chiefly of one street of handsome red brick houses... There are two or three short streets which branch off from the main one, but it is in the latter that all of the principal stores, warehouses and shops are situated. It also contains several excellent inns and taverns. The houses are all new and lofty and built with much taste and simplicity, though convenience and accommodation seem to have guided the architect more than ornament. The deep red bricks, well pointed, give the buildings an air of neatness and cleanliness seldom met in old towns."[2]

Although no buildings within the Central Troy Historic District are known to date from 1807 or earlier, several examples of the house type described by Lambert and built before 1820 remain on First Street and serve to illustrate Troy's early nineteenth century architecture. Foremost among these is the Federal style Vail House at 46 First Street, built in 1818. This three-story townhouse features a three-bay brick facade laid in Flemish bond and is distinguished by a rusticated marble basement, paneled sandstone lintels, and entrance porch with winding stairs, and decorative ironwork including lyre-motif basement window grilles.

In 1816, Troy obtained its charter as a city and within a decade grew in population to nearly 10,000. On June 20, 1820, a fire broke out in the stable behind 35 First Street and spread throughout First and River Streets, wiping out much of the warehousing district as well as numerous houses and business establishments. Fire smoldered for weeks in warehouse cellars as large quantities of grain and flour continued to burn within the collapsed riverfront buildings. The city rebuilt quickly, however, as stylish brick residences went up on First and Second Streets, and new warehouse buildings on River Street rose upon the foundations of those destroyed in the fire.

Beginning in 1825, Troy's natural transportation advantage at the head of practical river navigation was amplified by the completion of the Erie and Champlain Canals, connected to Troy by way of the Watervliet Side Cut. The Erie Canal opened new western markets to Troy businessmen and the Champlain Canal allowed for the cheap transportation of iron from the Adirondack region to early Troy manufacturers. In the same year, the Troy Steamboat Company was chartered, inaugurating a new and highly competitive era of relatively fast and economical freight and passenger transportation between Troy and New York City. Railroading was introduced to the city in 1835 with the completion of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad. Seven years later the Schenectady and Troy Railroad was completed, linking Troy to a network of railroads extending westward to Buffalo.

In addition to transportation achievements, the period between 1825 and 1850 witnessed great strides in the development of manufacturing in the city. Early industrialists used available water power along the Poestenkill and Wynantskill streams, south of the historic district, to power grist mills, paper mills, textile mills and iron foundries producing nails, horseshoes, stoves and railroad equipment. In 1849, the area's first steam-powered rolling mill was built in Troy near the mouth of the Wynantskill, leading the area to national prominence in the manufacture of iron products. The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in Troy in 1824 (located east of the district), provided the growing industrial city with engineers responsible for major advancements in industrial technology.

Troy's continuing growth and prosperity as a center of trade, transportation and industry between 1825 and 1850 is clearly expressed by a large number of architecturally significant buildings of the period within the Central Troy Historic District. One of the most remarkable survivals of this period is the virtually uninterrupted row of brick warehouse buildings along the west side of River Street between Congress and First Streets (River Street Historic District, National Register listed 1976). The majority of these buildings were built between 1820 and 1840.

An impressive example of Troy's architectural sophistication during this period is St. Paul's Episcopal Church, an early and nationally recognized example of Gothic Revival ecclesiastical architecture, built in 1827 at the northeast corner of Third and State Streets (National Register listed, 1977). Built to replicate Ithiel Town's 1814-1817 Trinity Church in New Haven, Connecticut, the church is constructed of random ashlar limestone walls detailed with Gothic-arched windows and a Tudor-arched entrance. The church is crowned by a tall wooden bell tower with finials, crenellations and tracery copied from Trinity but originally inspired by Town's admiration for the English Perpendicular style.

After 1835, the Greek Revival style became dominant in Troy's architectural development. One of the finest and earliest examples of the style in the historic district is the former First Presbyterian Church at the southeast corner of First Street and Congress. The monumental church, begun in 1835, was designed by James Harrison Dakin in the image of a Doric order temple. Somewhat similar, but less intact, is the First Baptist Church on the east side of Third Street between State and Congress. Built in 1846, the church features a monumental Ionic order portico and windows with battered and shouldered architraves.

Significant commercial buildings in the Greek Revival style include the Cannon Building (notwithstanding its later mansard roof) at the Broadway side of Monument Square, designed by the nationally prominent architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis and built in 1835 (National Register listed 1970). The original Troy Savings Bank and Atheneum Building at 10 First Street, built in 1846, is smaller but equally distinguished. Also linked to this period is the three-story, flat-iron shaped Market Block at 288-296 River Street, built circa 1840. Built of brick, the building features a tall auditorium space at the third story, readily identifiable at the exterior by tall rectangular windows.

The popularity of the Greek Revival style in Troy's domestic architecture is equally apparent in the historic district. In 1839, six Troy businessmen created Washington Park, near the southern extent of the developed city between Second and Third Streets (Washington Park Historic District, National Register listed, 1973). Developed in the tradition of British residential squares, the park was designed as an exclusive amenity for the surrounding owner-residents and was complemented by equally distinguished architecture. The first series of residences built on the park were collectively known as "Washington Place" and were constructed between 1839 and 1840 along its south side. Similar in conception to the residential rows in Bath and London, Washington Place consists of an entire block of ten three-story rowhouses unified by a single, monumental Greek Revival style facade. Despite later Victorian-period alterations to several units and the loss of a portion of the original crowning pediment, Washington Place retains its significance as a distinguished example of Greek Revival style architecture and an important and early example of urban planning in America.

Nearby, another planned group of Greek Revival residences is located at 160-168 Second Street (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed, 1974). Built in 1843, the three detached frame houses are unusual as urban residences, built with one-and-one-half story porticoed facades with Ionic order columns. The three houses were originally flanked by side yards and joined at the front by a classically inspired wooden garden fence. Each house retains an ornate mid-nineteenth century cast-iron fence at the front. Later, a fourth house, similar in design, was built south of this group at 170 Second Street. More typical of the many Greek Revival style rowhouses built between 1835 and 1850 in the historic district is the Ross House, built circa 1835 and located at 110 Third Street. Other similar rowhouses can be seen throughout the Central Troy Historic District, especially on First and Second Streets, with scattered and sometimes altered examples present as far east as Fourth Street.

Troy grew steadily in the 1850's, reaching a population of 33,269 in 1855 with an economy increasingly dominated by manufacturing and textiles. Iron manufacturing was particularly prominent, dominated by the extensive Burden Iron Works with its immense, 60-foot diameter water wheel on the Wynantskill, a major producer of nails and horseshoes; the Starbuck and Gurley Company, manufacturers of stoves and architectural iron, and six other stove foundries which collectively employed 670 men in 1853 and produced 75,000 stoves. Other industries which rose to prominence in this period included rail car manufacturing, led by the Eaton and Gilbert Company, and scientific instruments, led by the internationally famous firm of W. and L. E. Gurley. Troy's textile industry grew rapidly with the invention of detachable collars and cuffs by early Troy entrepreneurs and the introduction of sewing machines in 1852. By 1855 the textile industry included fourteen Troy companies, nine of which used steam power for their operations. Other new companies produced agricultural implements, tools and oil cloth.

Railroads became a major influence in the industrialization of Troy during the 1850's, bringing raw materials such as coal, iron ore and limestone into the city and carrying its products to markets throughout the northeast. Four railroads served the city by 1853, when their operations and transfers were consolidated within the city by the Union Railroad Company. In 1854, the new company connected the tracks and terminal facilities of these separate companies and built a single terminal and station building at the east side of the city near Sixth Avenue and Broadway, one block east of the historic district. In later decades, the location of this facility encouraged the expansion of the city's business and retail core eastward from the Monument Square area along Broadway.

During the 1850's, the architecture of the Central Troy Historic District reflected the growing national popularity of the Picturesque taste and included representative examples of the Gothic Revival and Italianate styles. Several excellent examples of early Italianate style commercial architecture are present in the Monument Square area of the historic district and along the "Bankers Row" block of First Street between State and River Streets.

Religious buildings reflected the wealth and style of this era as well. One prominent and architecturally significant example of the ecclesiological Gothic Revival style architecture of the period is St. John's Episcopal Church, located at the southeast corner of First and Liberty Streets. This church was designed by prominent Troy architect Henry Dudley and built in 1856.

The city's residential buildings of the 1850's include excellent examples of both the Gothic Revival and Italianate styles. In the exclusive Washington Park neighborhood (Washington Park Historic District, National Register listed, 1973), significant Gothic Revival houses include a row of three at 201, 202 and 203 Second Street, built in 1855. The three connected three-story brick houses feature crenellated cornices, Tudor-arched entrance porches and windows with label molding. Similar but earlier in construction is a pair of rowhouses built in 1846 at 177-179 Second Street for Russell Sage, a Troy businessman who later became a wealthy railroad magnate. The Sage houses retain many of their Gothic Revival style features, including their Gothic-arched iron fences, but have lost other features such as their octagonal finials and crenellated cornices. Nearby, at 187 Second Street at the west side of Washington Park, is the Gilbert Mansion, built in 1856 in the Italianate style. Owned several years after its construction by railroad car manufacturer, Uri Gilbert, the mansion features a three-story five-bay center entrance brownstone facade detailed with elaborate cast-iron window balustrades. A variation on Italianate style residential architecture rare for its urban context is St. Paul's Place, built circa 1850 on the south side of State Street between Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue. The six attached three-story brick rowhouses are unified behind a balanced facade detailed with bracketed gables, rectangular and round-arched windows and doors, and a central parapet bridging the two houses at the middle of the row.

Troy's apogee as a center of iron and steel production occurred in the 1860's as the city's manufacturers mobilized their resources to support the Union war effort during the Civil War. The Burden Iron Works, employing some 1,400 men, produced upwards of 50 million horseshoes per year and is said to have outfitted the entire Union army. In 1861, Troy iron manufacturers John Winslow and John Griswold, obtained the contract for the iron used in the construction of the iron-clad gunboat, Monitor, and in 1863 the same company purchased the American rights to the Bessemer Steel Process. In February 1865, the company's new South Troy furnaces produced the first Bessemer Steel in the United States. Fortunes were earned in the 1860's and early 1870's and much of this wealth was expressed in stylish residences, churches and commercial buildings built in the Central Troy Historic District.

In the midst of this prosperity, Troy suffered its worst fire in history. On May 10, 1862, sparks from a passing locomotive set the wooden Troy-Green Island railroad bridge on fire, and when efforts to open the draw span failed, the fire spread eastward destroying 507 buildings in a sixteen-block area of the city. The area was rebuilt immediately, resulting in a remarkably homogeneous collection of rowhouses, churches and factory buildings of the period along Fifth Avenue between Broadway and Grand Street. A number of these buildings were designed by prominent Troy architect Marcus Cummings, including the 1864 Second Presbyterian Church at 1917 Fifth Avenue with its Italian Romanesque detailing and sharply pointed octagonal spire (Fifth Avenue-Fulton Street Historic District, National Register listed 1970). Cummings also designed a row of five Italianate style brick rowhouses after the fire at 506-516 Grand Street (1865-69, Grand Street Historic District, National Register listed 1970). The three-bay three-story facade design used for these houses was published in Cummings' 1868 architectural pattern book, Modern American Architecture, together with other rowhouse and commercial building designs. Examples of buildings clearly based on Cummings' plates are evident throughout the Central Troy Historic District.

Anther significant example of the post-fire reconstruction is the W. and L. E. Gurley Company plant at 514 Fulton Street, begun in 1862 (National Register listed, 1970). Built to house the internationally renowned scientific instrument manufacturer, the four-story brick building is architecturally significant for its modified Romanesque design, featuring arcaded fenestration, an elaborate bracketed cornice and projecting cast-iron balconies on its Fulton Street facade. Despite its four-story height and ten-bay-long Fifth Avenue facade, the Gurley Building is a compatible element in the predominantly residential streetscape of Fifth Avenue due to its brick construction, the scale of its details and the rhythm of its fenestration.

The prosperity of the 1860's and early 1870's is evident in a number of prominent commercial buildings in the historic district located on or within a block or two of Broadway, a major business street linking the train depot at Sixth Avenue with the river front. One of the finest examples of the city's Victorian-period taste and sophistication is the 1871 High Victorian Gothic style Rice Building (formerly the Hall Building) at 1-5 First Street. Designed by the nationally prominent architect Frederick Clarke Withers, the five-story flat-iron shaped building is highly representative of Withers's work. A similar but less flamboyant example of the style, built circa 1875, is the four-story commercial building at 11-13 Second Street (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974).

Other buildings in the historic district, built in previous decades, were updated in the early 1870's to reflect more current tastes. The most famous example of this trend is the Cannon Building, designed and built in 1835 in the Greek Revival style by Town and Davis and altered with the addition of an elaborate Second Empire style mansard roof and cornice twice, after successive fires in 1868 and in the 1870's.

One of the finest examples of ecclesiastical design of this period in the historic district is the Congregation Berith Sholom Temple at 167 Third Street, built in 1870 and attributed to Troy architect Marcus Cummings. The building is historically significant as the oldest reformed Jewish Synagogue in New York State.

Troy's post-Civil War prosperity also helped to build the 1871-1875 Troy Savings Bank and Music Hall Building, one of the region's most significant and architecturally distinctive cultural landmarks. Located at 32-38 Second Street (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974), the monumental building was designed by prominent New York City architect George B. Post for a competition sponsored by the bank. The profusion of rich surface ornamentation on this building reflects the popularity of Renaissance-inspired design in the decorative arts in the 1870s; however, Post expanded the style to include forms and decoration that would become common expressions of the Beaux-Arts style by the 1890s.

A financial panic in 1873 and the ensuing national depression slowed Troy's industrial growth and construction activity. Later in the decade, the city's iron and steel industry began to decline in relative importance, as new centers of heavy industry rose to prominence in western Pennsylvania and the Midwest nearer large supplies of coal and iron ore. Labor disputes and occasional violence hastened the decline of iron and steel manufacturing in the 1880's. However, as iron and steel declined in economic importance to Troy, the collar and cuff industry continued to expand.

Architecture in the 1880's and 1890's in the Central Troy Historic District reflects the city's continued well-being and cosmopolitan tastes, featuring significant examples of the nationally popular Queen Anne, Romanesque and Beaux-Arts styles. Typical of some of the smaller scale neighborhood commercial buildings of the 1880's, often built on corner lots, is the three-story store building at 137 Second Street, built circa 1880 (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974). Housing a pharmacy at street level for many years and apartments in the upper floors, the building's facade is richly designed with a decorative cast-iron storefront, curving window bays, and terra-cotta ornaments suggesting the influence of the increasingly popular Queen Anne style. Infill residential construction on some of Troy's older streets also illustrates the style. One of the best examples in the historic district is the Jonas Heartt house at 169 Second Street in Washington Park (Washington Park Historic District, National Register listed, 1973). Built in 1880 for the railroad wheel manufacturer, the three-story rowhouse features many of the salient characteristics of the style.

The Central Troy Historic District features several outstanding examples of Richardsonian Romanesque design, dating from the late 1880's and early 1890's. Three of the best examples are located on the campus of Russell Sage College on Second Street between Congress and Ferry (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed, 1974). Designed by Marcus Cummings and built between 1890 and 1891 as new academic buildings for the historic Emma Willard School (founded 1821), Plum, Gurley and Russell Sage Halls feature varied combinations of round-arched and Tudor-arched entrance porches, windows with transoms, smooth and rock-faced stone exteriors and tall hipped and gabled roofs typical of the style. In its exterior composition, the Plum Memorial Building is quite closely related to Richardson's Crane Memorial Library of Quincy, 1880-1883. Also by Cummings is the former Young Women's Association Building at 33 Second Street built in 1891 (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974). Nearby, the John Paine Mansion at 49 Second Street (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974) features an asymmetrical Romanesque design built of limestone and noted for its arcaded entrance loggia, curved window bay and corner tower surmounted by a red tile pyramidal roof. Designed in 1894 by Washington D. C. architect P. F. Schneider, the Paine Mansion is evidence of the continued desirability of downtown Troy as a place of residence through the end of the nineteenth century.

The Romanesque style was also popular during the late nineteenth century for the design of large commercial and industrial buildings. Several examples of Romanesque style industrial design are present in scattered locations throughout the city; one outstanding example is present in the Central Troy Historic District. Located at 155-157 River Street (River Street Historic District, National Register listed 1976) and built in 1888 as an annex to the Thompson Drug Company complex, the five-story brick building is highly representative of the type.

Architectural tastes changed rapidly in Troy following the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the rapid popular acceptance of a variety of classically derived styles which followed. The remaining years of the nineteenth century in Troy were marked by the design of stylish and beautifully crafted Neoclassical and Italian Renaissance style buildings, led by the monumental Rensselaer County Courthouse at 80 Second Street (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974). Representing the third courthouse building on this site, the Neoclassical style building was designed by the prominent Marcus Cummings of Troy, in partnership with his son Frederick Cummings, and built in 1894 and 1898. On the same block stands the Renaissance Revival style Hart Memorial Library at 100 Second Street (National Register listed, 1973), built of Vermont white marble between 1896 and 1897 and designed by the New York City architectural firm of Barney and Chapman. The Hart Memorial Library retains excellent integrity at both the interior and exterior and represents one of the finest public buildings in the city of Troy.

A third example of the rapid acceptance of classicism in Troy's architecture during the 1890's is the Frear Mansion a modified Renaissance style rowhouse, located at 65 Second Street and built circa 1895 (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974).

Troy continued to prosper through the first three decades of the twentieth century, experiencing continued growth in textiles. By 1923, the detachable collar and cuff industry employed 10,000 Troy employees, and the city's population exceeded 60,000. The city also grew in importance as a regional center of retail trade and banking, clearly reflected in the historic district by a large number of impressive department stores, banks and office buildings constructed between 1900 and 1936. After 1900, however, downtown Troy was no longer favored as a residential location, and construction of new upper- and middle-class housing shifted to suburban areas east of the built-up areas of the city. Churches and schools eventually followed this trend as well.

Twentieth century architecture in the Central Troy Historic District is unusually distinguished for a city of Troy's size and illustrates a wide range of Neoclassical and eclectically styled commercial buildings concentrated in the northern half of the historic district between River Street and Fifth Avenue. The finest examples were built during a building boom in 1904: the Frear Building, the McCarthy Building (National Register listed 1970) and the Ilium Building (National Register listed, 1970).

Other major Neoclassical style commercial buildings continued to be built through the 1920's. Noteworthy examples include the former Troy Gas Company Building at 19-23 Second Street (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974), designed by Troy architect Louis N. Milliman and begun in 1914, the circa 1910 Gay building at the southwest corner of Third Street and State (now housing Stanley's Department Store), the 1922 Manufacturers' National Bank Building at 6-12 Fourth Street, the 1924 Masonic Temple Building at 17 Third Street and the 1926 National City Bank at the northwest corner of Third Street and State.

Alternatives to Neoclassical style architectural design in the early twentieth century are also present in the Central Troy Historic District, including several examples inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement. Prominent among them is the unusual 1905 YMCA building at 8 First Street, designed by Albany architects W. L. and J. W. Woolett and featuring a marble and Roman brick facade.

The six-story Caldwell Apartments at the northwest corner of State Street and Second Street (Second Street Historic District, National Register listed 1974), built in 1907, represents the city's first large-scale apartment building and also illustrates Arts and Crafts style composition and detailing.

The Colonial Revival style became popular in institutional and commercial design in Troy after 1910 with four exceptional examples built within the Central Troy Historic District. The four are the 1916 YWCA building, the 1926 Hendrick Hudson Hotel, the 1931 Marine Midland Bank, and the 1936 Union National Bank.

Aside from the construction of several previously mentioned banks, there appears to have been relatively little building activity in downtown Troy after the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. As a result, the Central Troy Historic District includes only one major building influenced by Art Deco style design, that being the United States Post Office Building at 400 Broadway. Begun in 1936 and designed by Louis A. Simon, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, the post office building combined Neoclassical massing and architectural elements such as piers, recessed window bays and a projecting cornice, with stylized elements such as "stars and stripes" entablatures with winged shields and cast aluminum transom decorations more in sympathy with Art Deco style design. In this respect, the building is similar to many of the monumental government buildings erected during the Great Depression by the federal government in cities throughout the United States. The Troy Post Office is a particularly handsome and well-crafted example. The most recent contributing feature in the Central Troy Historic District is exhibited on the building at 46 Third Street. The enameled metal facade and storefront added to a nineteenth-century building in c. 1940 are downtown Troy's only illustration of the Art Moderne style.

Wartime demands nor textiles and metal products appear to have sustained Troy's economy during the Second World War. By the 1950's, however, Troy began to experience a decline in both jobs and population losing many of its textile firms to the non-unionized South. During the 1960's and 1970's huge areas of the city north and east of the Central Troy Historic District were obliterated through the Federal Urban Renewal Program, and other important historic resources were lost due to abandonment or fire. By contrast, however, there have been relatively few losses of historic buildings within the boundaries of the historic district. In recent years, the outstanding collection of historic resources in the Central Troy Historic District has provided one of the primary incentives for new investment in the city, and prospects for the continued revitalization of historic commercial and residential sections of the city are excellent.

Endnotes

  1. Arthur James Weise, Troy's One Hundred Years, Troy: William H. Young, 1891, page 44.
  2. [2]Arthur James Weise, Troy's One Hundred Years, Troy: William H. Young, 1891, page 44.

Peckham, Mark, N. Y. State Division for Historic Preservation, Central Troy Historic District, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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