Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District
The Washington Spring Road-Woods 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 © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District includes 42 properties (of which 34 are contributing) that constitute the historic core of the riparian community of the unincorporated hamlet of Palisades, New York.
The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District is located in a narrow valley that descends to the Hudson River from the hamlet's upland community to the west. Characterized by a rough and hilly terrain, the district incorporates the length of Washington Spring Road (aka River Road) — a central thoroughfare that winds down from the upland plateau on the west to the Hudson River on the east — and two smaller, secondary lanes — Woods Road and Dirt Lane, which branch off from Washington Spring Road. The boundaries of the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District were drawn to include only those properties which retain sufficient architectural and/or historic integrity to merit inclusion on the National Register. Beyond the boundaries of the irregularly shaped district, modern intrusions and heavily altered older buildings detract from the historic character of the hamlet's riparian community. The southern, northern and western boundaries partition the district from these non-contributing properties. The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District's eastern boundary is formed by the banks of the Hudson River. Route 9W — a major north-south arterial that is the visual, geo-physical, and historic terminus of the riparian community — is located to the west of the historic district. Within the boundaries of the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District are a total of 59 features; of these 59 features, 36 are contributing buildings (33 residences, 1 church, and 2 outbuildings) and 22 are non-contributing buildings (8 residences and 14 outbuildings), and one is an unevaluated site.
The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District contains residential and religious properties of architectural and historic significance dating from the eighteenth century to the first third of the twentieth century. A broad range of popular American architectural styles of the period, including ethnic vernacular "Dutch," Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, French Second Empire, Neo-Colonial, Medieval Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, and Craftsman are represented. Numerous eclectic and vernacular adaptations survive as well. Buildings are executed in brick, stone, and wood.
The primary axis of the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District is Washington Spring Road, a meandering rural thoroughfare along which many of Palisades's intact historic properties are located. Significant buildings include the Captain Larry Sneden House, the Mann House, and the Watson House — ethnic vernacular "Dutch" style dwellings built in the 1700s; the Captain John Willsey House and Stansbury House — Greek Revival style residences dating from the first third of the nineteenth century; and Cedar Grove and the United Presbyterian Church — two distinctive Gothic Revival style mid-nineteenth century buildings; and a few Dutch Colonial and Neo-Colonial Revival style residences (one being the Willard House).
North of Washington Spring Road, the land rises in a series of hills and ridges. Dwellings located along Woods Road and Dirt Lane — narrow country lanes — occupy modest sized, heavily wooded lots and most were erected during the first third of the twentieth century. These buildings are generally two stories in height and exhibit a high level of craftsmanship. Stone and brick construction predominate. Styles represented include Dutch Colonial (Bruere House), Craftsman (Spite House), and Medieval Revival (Doolhagen House). Woods Road is characterized by a concentration of Craftsman style residences (Thatched House and Adams House), constructed of local materials, set on a high ridge overlooking the valley and commanding expansive views of the Hudson River. A large pile of stones, the unevaluated remains of a Revolutionary War era block house are also evident.
South of Washington Spring Road are located a number of former country seats situated on the incline of Torrey Hill whose northern slope descends to the valley's major thoroughfare. These country seats, visually and geographically separated from the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District are nominated as individual components of the multiple resource area. Set on large lots, often elaborately landscaped, these estate houses and their outbuildings were built between 1861 and circa 1930 and are sophisticated and elaborate examples of Gothic Revival, High Victorian Gothic, Flemish Colonial Revival, and Neo-Colonial styles.
The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District is unified visually by the similar size and scale of its resources as well as by their placement in the landscape. A majority of the buildings were built as medium sized, freestanding single-family residences two stories in height. Although the styles of the buildings vary, together they illustrate the progression of American architectural styles popular in the Hudson River Valley from the mid-eighteenth century to the first third of the twentieth century as well as their vernacular adaptations by local builders. The Washington Spring Road-Woods 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. Most of the buildings are of frame construction, although many are built of locally quarried stone, and feature wide verandahs, architectural moldings and details that articulate their facades, and nineteenth-century picturesque qualities that contribute to the visual cohesiveness and architectural quality of the area. Despite some minor alterations and additions to a few of the buildings, an overwhelming majority have been well preserved and the district retains the scale and character of a rural river settlement. Initially an important Hudson River landing area, the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District was later developed in the nineteenth century as a country retreat for wealthy New Yorkers and in the first third of the twentieth century as an enclave for many of America's most distinguished cultural and artistic leaders. Today, this distinctive residential community retains its rural character while most of the surrounding area has witnessed extensive twentieth-century suburban intrusion.
The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District contains a significant collection of intact residential and religious properties which together reflect the evolution of vernacular architecture in the riparian community of Palisades in Rockland County, New York. This concentration is also significant as an intact example of a Hudson River waterfront community that retains architectural and spatial characteristics which illustrate changing living patterns as the surrounding area developed from a small agrarian port into a fashionable suburban retreat. The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District's period of significance spans the period between c.1750 and c.1936, which coincides with Palisades's growth as a locally important transshipment center into an enclave for prominent artists. The district contains numerous distinctive and/or representative examples of ethnic "Dutch," Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Craftsman, Dutch Colonial, Medieval Revival, and Neo-Colonial styles which illustrate the tastes and prosperity of the local citizenry. A majority of the buildings are vernacular adaptations of popular contemporary styles and many illustrate the impact the nineteenth-century romantic revival styles and picturesque conceptions had on traditional buildings in the Hudson River Valley. A few high-style examples are also represented in the district, reflecting the community's transformation in the second half of the nineteenth century and first third of the twentieth century into a suburban retreat for prominent New Yorkers.
The relatively level terrain which characterizes the upland region and the intersection of two major historic thoroughfares, Closter Road and Oak Tree Road, established it as a farming and crossroads community. The riparian section — traditionally known as Snedens Landing in reference to the family that operated the landing in the eighteenth century — as the first portage area north of the Palisades escarpment, became a small transportation and transshipment center which prospered throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the gradual demise of river sloop traffic and the advent of the railroad began the transformation of the hamlet into a suburban retreat for wealthy New Yorkers. The crossroads community on the plateau became an active residential/commercial center with a service oriented economy that attracted a number of craftsmen, tradesmen, and mechanics while the riparian area around the landing became the focus of a series of large country estates and a thriving ship-building industry. In the first third of the twentieth century, Mary Tonetti — a major landowner and member of a locally prominent family — transformed the riparian area into a suburban enclave for America's artistic elite. Moving in the highest artistic circles of the period, she attracted to it cultural luminaries such as Bertram Goodhue, Carl Sandburg, Pare Lorentz, John Steinbeck, among others.
The Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District developed between circa 1750 and the 1930s as a middle-class and upper-middle class area during Palisades's period of greatest prosperity. Residents of the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District included river sloop captains, shipwrights, tradesmen, and merchants who prospered with the development and expansion of the community's local transportation and shipping industries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and later — in the second half of the nineteenth century and first third of the twentieth — also included wealthy New Yorkers and prominent artists who made it the site of their summer homes. The built resources of the district illustrate the range of architectural styles popular during the area's period of significance, including ethnic vernacular "Dutch," Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, French Second Empire, Neo-Colonial, Medieval Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, and Craftsman.
As early as 1689 or 1700 a ferry service was in operation between Palisades and the eastern bank of the Hudson River. Reflecting the importance of this river traffic in the growth of the hamlet, a large number of the oldest dwellings in the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District are clustered near the hamlet's landing at the foot of Washington Spring Road. These include the circa 1750 Watson House, the circa 1780 Captain Larry Sneden House, and the circa 1800 Joshua Martin House. At the western end of Washington Spring Road, the commencement of the upland plateau, stands one of the few remaining eighteenth-century farmhouses in the multiple resource area — the circa 1784 Mann House. All of these dwellings embody the distinctive hallmarks of the eighteenth-century regional ethnic Dutch vernacular building tradition, specifically a one-and-one-half story, gabled roof form with a linear plan featuring multiple entrances that characterize areas of the Hudson River Valley initially settled by the Dutch.
Illustrating the influx of British settlement in the area in the eighteenth century and the ethnic Dutch vernacular architecture's loss of vitality by the later years of the century are dwellings such as the circa 1790 Caroline Heider House and the circa 1810 Peggy Parcels House at the landing area and the circa 1820 Hagen House on the plateau. These Anglo-American houses are characterized by a one-and-one-half story, three-bay-wide elevation of frame construction as opposed to the traditional Dutch one-and-one-half story, five-bay elevation. Furthermore, in contrast to the linear distribution of rooms in the Dutch vernacular model, the Anglo-American form assembled rooms vertically with a side entrance hall and often elevated the basement to ground level or left it exposed on hillside sites. This distinctive form, most popular in areas of the Hudson River Valley where Anglo-American populations settled and particularly prevalent in river slope communities, soon became the dominant architectural expression of the Palisades area. The older Dutch tradition, however, continued to exert its influence, as can be witnessed at the circa 1822 William Sneden House, whose finely executed stone walls, paneled shutters, and well-crafted molded trim distinguishes it as a product of a more affluent period when the hamlet was transformed into a locally important transshipment center.
Typical of the development of Hudson River Valley transshipment centers, the landing area and the upland plateau were initially settled. As the hamlet's role in the local economy grew, development spread along the primary thoroughfare — Washington Spring Road — which connected the landing with the upland's crossroads community. The prosperity of the community in the nineteenth century is borne witness to by the number of dwellings built along the road during the period. For the most part, these dwellings retained the basic Anglo-American form which had already become well established. Dwellings such as the Souterman and Stansbury Houses were constructed in the 1830s and 1840s and incorporate characteristics of the Greek Revival style. Despite the area's relative prosperity and the opening of a quarry in 1821 along the river bank, however, the hamlet remained a rather small, provincial river port. Buildings erected in the Greek Revival style, therefore, tend to be vernacular interpretations of the mode, lacking much of the decorative detailing that is associated with high-style residences. Instead, local builders relied upon a rather simple, easily producible decorative vocabulary whose forms suggested the salient elements of classical architecture.
By the second half of the nineteenth century, especially after the opening of the Piermont and Hudson River railroads in 1841 and 1849, respectively, the community lost its importance as a transportation center. The railroads, however, made it far more accessible to New Yorkers who began to buy land in the area for summer houses and fostered the community's suburbanization and its service economy. The rough terrain of the riparian area restricted much of this growth to Washington Spring Road, especially as land to the north and south of the thoroughfare was bought up for estates.
These changes in the local economy coincided with the ascendancy of the picturesque movement in American architecture. Although Palisades had lost its importance as a transportation center, the arrival of new settlers in the hamlet, especially wealthy New Yorkers who were more conscious of recent architectural development in urban areas, was instrumental in introducing the new styles to the hamlet.
The impact the picturesque movement had in the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District is clearly discernible in the design of Cedar Grove, the Coles House, and the Presbyterian Church, all of which are rather sophisticated Gothic Revival style buildings.
The picturesque's close association with the Hudson River Valley made it the dominant aesthetic of the region during the second half of the nineteenth century. Few buildings constructed in the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District during the era escaped its pervasive influence. Initially, local builders simply applied the hallmarks of the picturesque aesthetic to the basic Anglo-American form, such as the Henry Dobbs and Henry Dobbs Jr. Houses, whose sloped soffits embellished with brackets, high pitched roofs, and robustly carved moldings area are applied to the traditional Anglo-American building form. Increasingly, however, houses began to evince the form and details associated with the picturesque. The Coates House, for example, utilizes an "L" shaped plan to lend it an irregular air and the Presbyterian Parsonage and Savage House employ prominent central gables to break up their main frame.
The gradual transformation that Palisades had witnessed in the second half of the nineteenth century into a suburban retreat for wealthy New Yorkers reached its apogee in the district by the first third of the twentieth century. By 1936, Mary L. Tonetti — a member of the locally prominent Lawrence family — owned most of the riparian area. Tonetti, a well-known sculptress, rented the houses on her land to some of America's most celebrated artists of the period who were attracted by its bucolic and picturesque character. Tonetti also stamped the community with a unique character, often adding to older dwellings details culled from a number of eclectic sources. Buildings such as Chateau Hash & Hachette, the Log Cabin, and the Laundry were extensively remodeled to her idiosyncratic tastes.
Tonetti's policy of lavishly remodeling houses and renting them to artists at low prices, however, soon forced her into reluctantly selling off parcels of her holdings. Newcomers to the area built dwellings, like the Dutch Colonial Breure House, whose designs were inspired by the early architectural traditions of the Hudson River Valley. Others, such as the Spite House, the Thatched House, and Doolhagen, were built in the Craftsman and Medieval Revival styles — their architecture continuing the eclectic, personalized nature of the riparian area's built fabric that had been so carefully cultivated by Tonetti.
Unlike the older buildings of the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District, whose traditional placement along Washington Spring Road reflected the growth of the community as a transshipment center, these later houses reflect the suburbanization of the community. Sited on small, winding roads branching off from the main thoroughfare, these dwellings were conceived as small, independent estates set relatively far back from the street frontage.
Featuring a cohesive collection of largely intact middle- and upper-middle class residences and properties associated with the growth and development of a small Hudson River port community, the Washington Spring Road-Woods Road Historic District recalls Palisades's period of prosperity as an important local transshipment center and summer retreat for wealthy New Yorkers.