Charlton Historic District
The Charlton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. 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 hamlet of Charlton is located in the town of Charlton in the southern part of Saratoga County. The topography consists of gently rolling hills and knolls. Alplaus Kill, a sizeable creek, meanders to the south of the hamlet. The town of Charlton contains good farm lands, some areas being underlaid by limestone. Due to its proximity to the Tri-City area, (Schenectady, Albany, and Troy), suburbia is gradually engulfing the little hamlet, replacing the surrounding pastures with new housing, but the approach is still pleasantly rural.
The Charlton Historic District encompasses a rectangular area approximately 1320 feet by 4660 feet, one hundred and twenty three acres in extent. It contains forty-nine buildings. Most of the structures are residences, but the district contains as well a fire hall, historical society headquarters, furniture store, garage, church and tavern.
Most of the structures in the hamlet are strung out along County Route 51 (Main Street). County Route 52 (Swaggertown Road and Jockey Street) forms one intersection to the west while County Route 53 (Old Stage Road) forms another to the east.
The Charlton Historic District contains six structures believed to date from before 1800, fifteen from the period 1800-1830, thirteen from 1830-1880, three from 1880-1930 and twelve from 1930 to the present. Almost all of the buildings are sided with wood painted white or with a modern shingle replacement. The fire house, Charlton village shop and one dwelling are of brick. The old schoolhouse (now St. Paul's library) is stucco, as is one 20th century home.
Eleven residences are one story high, fifteen are one and a half stories high, and the remainder are two stories. Ten homes are typical New England style farmhouses with five bays across the front facade and a central entrance. Only one of these latter structures has the cornice returning on the gable ends and one has a fanlight over the door. There are three L-shaped Greek Revival period homes in the district, complete with cornices over the entrances and pilasters. A common type is a simple cottage, one and a half stories high with three bays on the facade, roof ridge parallel to the street and very little roof overhang. Late 19th century ornamentation is conspicuously absent throughout the district except for two decorative bargeboards and one Italianate home which has a bracketed cornice.
The significance of the Charlton Historic District lies in the fact that the hamlet reached its maturity before the Civil War, with the result that the area is unusually homogeneous in character. Until modern times and the construction of new residences within its boundaries, almost nothing was built after 1870, and very few alterations were made during the late 19th century. The area still retains the green spaces, unornamented white clapboarded dwellings and simplicity of an early farming village, despite an altered economic base.
Before the Revolution, the unsettled conditions of the times and fear of Indian raids made settlement away from the forts hazardous. The area of Charlton had the potential for excellent farmland and mill sites. However, in the late 18th century, this was still pioneer country despite the proximity to Schenectady, a community which had been settled for a hundred years.
The Kayaderosserus Patent, which included the town of Charlton, was created in 1770. To defray the cost of the survey, a parcel of land consisting of 5,000 acres was set aside. The northern boundary of this "5,000 Acre Tract" ran along the present Main Street in the hamlet of Charlton.
By 1775, settlers were moving into the lands of the patent despite the obstacles. Early settlers to the town were Sweetman, Maxwell, Holmes, LaRue, McKnight and Taylor. A group of Scottish families also came at this time. Several waves of settlers arrived before 1800. The names are largely of English, Scottish or Irish origin.
By 1802, a cluster of farmhouses on the northern border of the "5,000 Acre Tract" had become a central focus for the region and a post office was established there. In 1804 the Episcopal Church was built. The carpenter is said to have been Eleazar Dows, a New Englander who constructed other buildings in the area. This original building still stands intact. An interesting example of the early churches inspired by Christopher Wren, the church is now the headquarters of the Charlton Historical Society. The Presbyterians had a church on the site of the present Freehold Presbyterian Church as early as 1787. The present church was built in 1852-53 in the finest tradition of the Greek Revival style. It resembles the Kingsborough Presbyterian Church in Gloversville built in 1838.
Mills were located on the Alplaus Creek just south of the hamlet. During the 19th century, stage coaches passed through the hamlet. One road entering Charlton hamlet from the south still bears the name "Old Stage Road." Swaggertown Road, which also enters from the south, is thought to have been an ancient Indian trail. At one time or another, Charlton had all the small businesses found in communities which had to be self-sufficient: the Belding Store, Calloghan Store, Slover Store, Harvey Smith Tin Shop, Ely Leather Factory, Van Epps Shoe Shop, Curtis Blacksmith Shop, Heaton Wagon and Blacksmith Shop, Raymond Tannery and Bark Mills and Charlton Union Cheese and Butter Factory. The pump factory building is still standing. Pumps were manufactured there well into the 20th century.
Farm product statistics of 1875 show the farms of Charlton to have produced a wide variety of crops. Hay, buckwheat, corn, oats, rye, hops, potatoes, apples and grapes are listed. Today, the northern half of the town is still agricultural but the emphasis has shifted to dairying.
Because the railroads, whose coming changed existing patterns of growth all over the state, bypassed Charlton, a slow decline set in after the 1850's. Gradually the small industries disappeared. The good soils made it possible for farms to survive, but in modern times suburban development has invaded the southern part of the town just below the hamlet of Charlton.
It is interesting to contrast the history of Charlton with that of a neighboring city, Schenectady. Schenectady was settled by the Dutch at an early date (1660's) and, being located on a main transportation route, the Mohawk River, became a thriving community long before the Revolution. The imprint of English culture was slow to take precedence over the Dutch language and customs. The influence of the Dutch upon building construction, especially the love of brick as a material, far outlasted Dutch political power and may be seen today.
Although located just north of Schenectady, the hamlet of Charlton displays no trace of Dutch culture. The white frame dwellings and two white churches are typically of New England inspiration. The difference in character between the two communities resulted from the much later date of settlement in Charlton, the distance from main transportation routes and the fact that settlers to the area were chiefly of Scottish, English, New England or Irish origin.
A number of years ago it became evident that the inexorable suburban pressure would engulf the remaining open spaces before long. A coordinated and determined group of citizens succeeded in obtaining a two acre minimum plot size which has slowed growth considerably. In addition, the group, desiring to retain the early 19th century character of the hamlet of Charlton, proposed and obtained an historic district zoning ordinance in 1974. The boundaries of the area protected by the local ordinance coincide with those of the National Register district.
Taylor, W. Bronson, Levi Packard and Percy Van Epps. Stories and Pictures of Charlton, New York. Middle Grove, New York: W. Bronson Taylor, 1959.
Sylvester, Nathaniel Bartlett. History of Saratoga County, New York. Philadelphia: Everts and Ensign, 1878.