Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District includes 19 properties (of which 16 are contributing) that constitute the historic core of the upland community of the unincorporated hamlet of Palisades, New York.
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District is located on a large plateau that overlooks the hamlet's riparian community to the east. Consisting of two linear streetscapes, the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District incorporates a one block stretch of Closter Road — a narrow residential thoroughfare — and an equal sized length of Oak Tree Road — an important east-west roadway that links the hamlet's upland community with the neighboring community of Tappan to the west. The boundaries of the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District were drawn to include only those properties which retain sufficient architectural and/or historic integrity. Beyond the boundaries of the roughly L-shaped area, modern intrusions and heavily altered older structures detract from the historic character of the hamlet's upland community. The southern, northern, and western boundaries partition the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District from non-historic residential structures. The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District's eastern boundary is the visual, geo-physical, and historic terminus of the upland community; east of it are located a number of non-historic structures, a large expanse of undeveloped wooded land, and Route 9W — a major north-south arterial — which delineates the upland plateau from Palisades's riparian community. Within the boundaries of the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District are a total of 30 features; of these 30 features, 18 are contributing buildings (11 contributing residences, 1 church, 1 school, 2 commercial buildings, and 3 outbuildings) and 11 are non-contributing buildings (3 residences and 8 outbuildings), and one is a contributing site.
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District contains residential, commercial, religious, and civic properties of architectural and historic significance dating from the closing years of the eighteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century. Stylistically, the majority of the structures were designed in the various revival styles popular in America during the period. There are seven examples of vernacular Greek Revival style buildings, two examples of vernacular Gothic Revival style buildings, four vernacular Italianate style buildings, one vernacular late Georgian style farmhouse, and one early twentieth century residence. The majority of the buildings are of frame construction.
The primary thoroughfare of the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District is Oak Tree Road, an important east-west street lined with mature trees. The street's north side is largely wooded and is characterized by a few non-historic residential buildings and a non-historic brick school building at its eastern end. Along the south side of the road, sited on narrow rectangular plots with relatively large front yards, are located a number of the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District's intact historic properties. Significant buildings include the John Post House, Henry Post House, and Matilda Gesner House — two-story, frame, vernacular Italianate style residences built in the 1850's and 1860s; and the Julia Post Denike House — a clapboarded Greek Revival style residence built circa 1855. At the eastern end of Oak Tree Road, near its intersection with Closter Road, is located the Palisades Community Center — a circa 1870 vernacular Gothic Revival style building which formerly served as the hamlet's schoolhouse.
At the intersection of Oak Tree Road with Closter Road — the historic north-south thoroughfare which came up from New Jersey and ran parallel to the Hudson River — is the functional core of the crossroads community. Here are located the non-contributing W.H. Gesner House — a circa 1840 heavily altered Greek Revival building which now serves as the hamlet's library — and across from it, at the northwest corner of the intersection of the two major historic roads, one of the few surviving commercial buildings in the hamlet — the Palisades Country Store, a circa 1840 front-gabled Greek Revival style building.
The south side of Closter Road is heavily wooded and unbuilt, on the north side, however, are located a number of historic properties. These include the circa 1840 Greek Revival style G.M. Lawrence House, the vernacular Gothic Revival style Samuel Brown House, and the Abram and John Post Houses — two Greek Revival style residences which incorporate Italianate style characteristics. Three non-residential properties can also be found here: the Palisades Cemetery — the hamlet's historic burial ground, a circa 1875 Italianate style residential/commercial building, and — at Closter Road's eastern terminus with Route 9W — the former Methodist Episcopal Church, an 1859 Greek Revival style building with Italianate style detailing.
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District is unified visually by the similar size and scale of its structures as well as by their regular siting along the street. Unlike the neighboring Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District to the east, the relatively level terrain which characterizes the upland plateau allowed for the regular siting of its built resources and the more unified streetscapes. All contributing buildings were constructed between circa 1780 and circa 1910. The majority (11) were built as medium sized, freestanding, single family residences two stories in height; 3 feature original outbuildings. The remainder, all of which in terms of style, scale, workmanship, method of construction, and materials are related to the residential structures, consist of one former ecclesiastical building, one schoolhouse, and two commercial buildings. All of the buildings are sited on small lots that feature narrow street frontages. Although the styles of the individual buildings vary, they illustrate the progression of American architectural styles popular during the period as well as their vernacular interpretation by local builders. The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District as a whole is unified by the high quality of workmanship and design, as well as by similarities in details and materials. All of the buildings are constructed of wood and most feature wide verandahs, architectural moldings that articulate the buildings, and nineteenth-century picturesque qualities that contribute to the visual cohesiveness and architectural quality of the area. Despite some minor alterations to a few of the buildings, an overwhelming majority have been well preserved and the district retains the scale and character of a nineteenth century residential neighborhood. Originally settled as a farming community in the eighteenth century and later developed into a middle-class residential/commercial area in the nineteenth century, the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District maintains its distinctive nineteenth century ambience while most of the fabric of the surrounding area has witnessed extensive twentieth century intrusions.
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District contains a significant collection of intact residential, commercial, religious, and civic properties which together reflect the prosperity and taste of middle-class residents of nineteenth and early twentieth century Palisades, New York,. The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District's period of significance spans the period between circa 1780 and 1910, which coincides with the area's growth and development as a crossroads community. This grouping represents the most intact collection of buildings in Palisades's crossroads community and includes excellent illustrations of the mid-nineteenth century Hudson Valley picturesque taste in architectural design and the placement of buildings in the landscape. Included within the district are distinctive examples of Georgian, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate style architecture. A majority of the buildings illustrate the impact the Picturesque movement had on nineteenth-century American architecture and buildings incorporating features associated with the Gothic Revival and Italianate modes predominate, although representative examples of vernacular Georgian and Greek Revival style buildings can also be found in the district.
Palisades is the southernmost hamlet in Rockland County and is located on the northern slope of the Palisades ridge. The lands comprising the present-day hamlet of Palisades are essentially the New York portion of the 3410 acres on the west side of the Hudson River patented to Dr. George Lockhart in 1665. In the mid-eighteenth century this land was sold off in parcels and opened for settlement. The hamlet was settled along two basic routes: a north-south road which came up from New Jersey along Closter Road and thence ran parallel to the Hudson River and an east-west road (Washington Spring Road and its continuation Oak Tree Road) which connected the hamlet's landing area on the Hudson River with Tappan and other communities in the interior. The intersection of these two roads forms the functional core of Palisades's crossroads community.
The crossroads community, the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District, is located on an elevated plateau that extends inland from the ridge to Tappan and beyond. The relatively level terrain which characterizes this plateau made it especially suitable for farming. East of the plateau is found the hamlet's riparian section, which is characterized by a steep incline that descends from the upland plateau to a landing area at river's edge. As the first landing north of the Palisades escarpment, this part of the hamlet became a small transportation and transshipment center.
In the eighteenth century the hamlet enjoyed relatively quiet prosperity as its situation on the Hudson River and the quick and efficient transportation afforded by the river enabled a variety of crops to be shipped to market from the farms in the upland area of the hamlet and beyond. In the second half of the nineteenth century the demise of the river sloops along the Hudson led to the deterioration of the hamlet's docking area and a slackening of activity in the riparian area. Furthermore, the community lost its importance as a transportation center with the opening of the Piermont railroad in 1841 and the Hudson River Railroad in 1849. The railroads, though, made the hamlet far more accessible to New Yorkers who began to buy land in the area for summer houses. The crossroads community became an active residential/commercial center with a service-oriented economy that attracted a number of craftsmen, tradesmen, and mechanics who built modest frame houses, while the riparian area around the landing became the focus of a series of large country estates.
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District developed between circa 1780 and 1910 as a home of the middle classes during Palisades's period of prosperity as a locally important crossroads community. Residents of the neighborhood included small independent merchants, craftsmen, tradesmen, and mechanics who prospered with the development and expansion of the local transshipment center and later the transformation of the area into a summer enclave for wealthy New Yorkers. The residences in the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District illustrate the range of architectural styles popular during this period, including vernacular Georgian, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Gothic Revival. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the built environment of the area was characterized by scattered farmhouses, with a few dwellings clustered around the intersection of the two major thoroughfares. In the 1850s and 1860s, the area became increasingly characterized by suburbanization with development spreading along Closter Road and Oak Tree Road.
The Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District includes one of the few eighteenth century farmhouses surviving in the Palisades area. Built circa 1780, the vernacular Georgian style Trenchard House is further distinguished as a rare example of a building in the area exhibiting English tectonic influences instead of the Flemish Colonial characteristics that mark the majority of dwellings of its date in the regions of the Hudson River Valley that were originally settled by the Dutch.
Two examples of vernacular Greek Revival buildings, the G.M. Lawrence House, and the Palisades Country Store, both built circa 1840, are architecturally significant as representative examples of the period and style and they reflect the relatively simple building tradition in the hamlet during the first half of the nineteenth century. The Palisades Country Store is also distinguished as the oldest surviving commercial building located within the Palisades multiple resource area. Its front-gabled configuration is unusual for the area, as all but two of the Greek Revival buildings built in Palisades feature side-gabled main elevations.
Numerous significant buildings dating from the last half of the nineteenth century reflect the upland community's transformation from an agricultural to a middle-class residential area and commercial center. The influence the picturesque movement had on architectural design in America during the time is especially evident in the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District. Although conservative builders continued to erect buildings in the Greek Revival style in the area as they had done 20 years earlier, these later buildings often incorporate characteristics that are associated with the picturesque movement and romantic revival styles that dominated the architectural scene from mid-century onwards. The James Post House and the Abram Post House, for example, are modest two-story dwellings whose configurations and elevations are essentially Greek Revival in style; however, their sloped soffits, relatively high pitched roofs, round-arched windows, robustly molded entablatures, and deeply paneled entrance embrasures are features that reveal not only their later construction dates but also the influence picturesque conceptions had on earlier stylistic forms. Similarly, the former Methodist Episcopal Church, a front-gabled building, is distinguished by a Greek Revival pedimented roof with broad fascia and raking eaves and paneled pilasters; however, it also incorporates robustly carved scrolled modillions, segmental-arched windows and entrance pediment, and a broad, balustraded staircase, all features of the romantic revival Italianate style. This building is further distinguished as being one of only two historic ecclesiastical buildings remaining in the multiple resource area.
The influence the Picturesque movement and the romantic revival styles had on the architecture of the hamlet is clearly reflected in the number of Gothic Revival and Italianate buildings included within the district. Modest, but, nonetheless, well-crafted, interpretations of these styles are scattered throughout the area and reflect the relative prosperity of the middle-class in Palisades during the era. The Henry Post and John Post Houses are significant not only as distinctive examples of Picturesque architecture in the Hudson River Valley but are also distinguished as part of a group of four houses located along Oak Tree Road united not only by similar visual qualities but also by having been built by members of the Post family over a 20-year period. Both are characterized by highly picturesque compositions and combine features associated with the Gothic Revival and Italianate styles. As vernacular interpretations of the romantic revival styles popular during the period, they are representative of many of the unpretentious residences built in the region in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
An outstanding example of a nineteenth-century civic building, the Palisades Schoolhouse is included in the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District; and as the only historic civic building in the multiple resource area, its importance to the community is greatly increased. Built in 1870, its cruciform plan, irregular silhouette, and cross-gabled roof are all hallmarks of the Gothic Revival style, while its flaring eaves, inspired by the numerous Flemish Colonial style dwellings in the region, reveal the persistence of regional characteristics well into the late nineteenth century.
Although no French Second Empire style dwellings are represented in the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District, a number of houses constructed in other styles boast French Second Empire style mansarded wings. The addition of these wings to houses, such as the late eighteenth century Trenchard House, the circa 1855 Julia Post Denike House, and the circa 1864 James Post House, reflects the relative prosperity enjoyed by the community during the last decades of the nineteenth century.
Early twentieth century architecture in the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District is confined to one residence located on Closter Road. More modest and less distinctive than the early and late nineteenth century buildings in the area, its simple plan and eschewal of ornamental details reflect changes in architectural tastes and fashions at the time; its use of fewer siding materials and the elimination of most ornament not only made it cheaper to build but also lent it the stripped-down "modern" look that echoed the utilitarianism espoused by many turn-of-the-century architectural reformers.
Featuring a cohesive collection of largely intact middle-class residences and properties associated with the growth and development of a small crossroads community, the Closter Road-Oak Tree Road Historic District recalls Palisades's period of prosperity as an important local transshipment center and summer retreat for wealthy New Yorkers.