Washington Park Historic District
The Washington Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Washington Park Historic District consists of Washington Park itself and the residential and religious buildings facing its four sides. The area is located a few blocks south of Russell Sage College and Troy's central business district and just north of South Troy, the once heavily industrialized section of the city containing a number of large factories and rows of modest workers' houses.
The core of the district is the large green-space of the park, which is bounded on the east by Third Street, on the north by Washington Street, on the east by Second Street, and on the south by Washington Place. Modeled after an English residential square, the park measures about 270 feet along each side. Its level lawn is shaded by a variety of large trees. During a recent renovation program, many shrubs and young trees were planted and flower beds laid out. The park is bordered by an iron fence about five feet high and a sidewalk consisting of concrete slabs and brick paving laid in a herringbone pattern. Since it is a private park, only residents have keys to the gates, but the park is opened to the public regularly for annual festivals. In keeping with its ornamental nature, there is no permanent sports equipment in the park.
The buildings facing the square are generally characterized by a consistent size and scale, the harmony of brick and brownstone building materials, and the integrity of their original designs. An important feature of the area is the uniform building line maintained on all four sides of the park. Probably the oldest buildings are those along the south side, which were built during the 1840's to a unified over-all design in which the bays are articulated by pilasters rising the full three-story height and the whole facade is surmounted by a common pediment (since altered on some buildings). The St. Mary's Church structures, the largest in the area, were built during the opening years of the twentieth century.
The other sides of the park are framed by groupings of detached and semi-detached residences and rowhouses, built to a consistent three-story height. Erected at various times during the second half of the 19th century, most follow the pattern of the three-bay-wide facade with side entrance, although some of the larger houses have central entranceways. While many residences have been adapted from single family occupancy to apartment use, most interiors retain much of their nineteenth century character, featuring generously proportioned rooms with high ceilings, elaborate plaster work, rich woodwork, and impressive marble trim. At the rear of most lots are carriage houses, separated from the houses by small gardens.
The following properties surrounding the park and adjacent to it are included within this district:
Nos. 168, 169, 170, 171, 177-179, 183, 185, 189, 191, 193, 195, 197, 199, 201, 202, 203, 205, 207 Second Street
Nos. 114, 161, 200, 204, 250, 254-256 Washington Street
Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 Washington Place
Nos. 185, 191, 206, 212, 216, 218, 220, 222, 224, 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238 Third Street and St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church at the northeast corner of Third Street and Washington Street.
The park itself, bounded by Washington Street, Second Street, Washington Place, and Washington Street
The owners of these properties, legally constitute the membership of the Washington Park Association.
Washington Park in Troy, laid out in 1840, is an important example of the tradition of private residential squares established in London during the late eighteenth century and transplanted to America during the early decades of the 19th century. Composed of the open expanse of a park enclosed by three-story masonry residential and religious structures, this district is particularly notable today for the remarkable integrity of not only the original design but also the purpose of both the park and the surrounding buildings. Philip Johnson, the architect, has called it "one of the finest squares in North America."
The founders of the park, six well-known Troy businessmen and civic leaders, adopted several features of the residential squares that were then popular in the Bloomsbury section of London. Aimed at creating an area that was congruous and unified in appearance, covenants on the deeds to the plots facing the park specified that a consistent building line be maintained by structures on all sides of the park. The park itself was intended to be "devoted to the purpose of a private ornamental park for the use and recreation" of the owners of the lots fronting upon it. Following the English example, provision was also made in the deeds for assessing owners for the expenses incurred for "fencing, improving, ornamenting, planting, keeping and maintaining" the park and the walks and streets around it. Today the Washington Park Association, the neighborhood group created during the 19th century to care for the park, still assesses the owners of the surrounding properties for maintenance costs.
Like their English predecessors, the founders of Washington Park were also desirous that the structures facing the park be compatible in design. Before 1840 they had already determined that the buildings along the south side of the park, called Washington Place, would be constructed as a unified block crowned with a common pediment. Later they prescribed in the deeds that the two buildings needed to fill out the east end of the block could take no other form than that of the already established design. Despite some later alterations, this exceptional row has been heralded as a "remarkable piece of urban design" and as a rare survivor of an elegant age. While the buildings that arose around the other sides of the park did not follow a similarly integrated design, they are compatible in their height, scale, use of materials, and detailing.
As the founders had hoped, the spaciousness of the central green space of the park attracted the wealthy and the well-known to erect fashionable houses around the park. Indeed, a list of the 19th century residents reads like a Who's Who of 19th century Troy business and industrial magnates, whose offices and factories were located not far away. The roster includes among others, Russell Sage, financier; Joseph Fuller, stove manufacturer; James M. Ide, collar maker; John Griswold, iron manager, Uri Gilbert, maker of railroad cars; and John Stanton, brewer.
One outgrowth of this foresight and planning (a precursor of modern-day zoning) and of the obviously cooperative spirit of later builders is a district characterized by an expansiveness and generosity of scale not often encountered in residential areas of this period. Another result is a pervasive quality of cohesiveness that sets the area apart physically and aesthetically from other parts of the city. Today Washington Park continues to provide an exceptionally pleasant residential district with one of the most important urban amenities -- a park -- not only serving as a visual focal point for the buildings around it but also encouraging a sense of community in the neighborhood.
 Quoted in Albany Times-Union, August 30, 1970.
 Harley J. McKee, Report on Historic Buildings Survey for Rensselaer County Historical Society, 1972.
Rensselaer County. Deeds. Various volumes.
Weise, Arthur James. City of Troy and Its Vicinity Troy: Edward Green, 1886.
† Waite, Diana S., New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Washington Park Historic District, nomination document, 1973, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.