West Side Historic District
The West Side Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. 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 West Side Historic District in the city of Saratoga Springs contains sections of two survey areas and one district already listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Franklin Square Historic District, 1973). While the boundaries are based on current conditions, they also reflect the historic development of the West Side neighborhood as Saratoga Springs' home community in the nineteenth century. The West Side Historic District as a whole can be defined as the area located west of Broadway, north of West Circular Street, east of the boundary marking the inner city limits of Saratoga Springs, and south of Greenfield Avenue. Division Street is aptly named because it approximates the division line between Walton's land on the north and Gideon Putnam's land on the south. These two horizontal lots together with a large vertical lot belonging to the Waterbury family west of Walworth Street comprised the original divisions in the West Side and determined the pattern of subsequent development. The West Side Historic District boundaries have been selected to contain the distinguishing features of the area's development in terms of plan, organization and architecture with adjustments made to exclude sections where the physical integrity of the plan and/or its architecture has been altered or otherwise compromised, especially in partially developed areas at its margins.
The historic district contains 501 properties, of which 472 are contributing and 29 are non-contributing. There are 500 contributing buildings and 57 non-contributing buildings; 18 contributing sites and 1 non-contributing site. There are no structures or objects. Eighty-seven contributing resources have been previously listed on the National Register in the Franklin Square Historic District.
In general, there is no real "core" to the West Side Historic District even while each component plot has its own integrity. In addition to the powerful influence of Broadway, especially on the immediately adjacent Woodlawn Avenue, three additional focal points can be distinguished to facilitate a description of the district. First, is Franklin Square in the center of the district, which had the functional asset of the train depot to help define it as a place amid the amorphous backdrop of the West Side. Next is the triangle formed by Church and Van Dam Streets and Broadway, which forms a geometric and functional focus because of the prominence of the streets. Like Franklin Square, here was a point where the significance of Broadway, especially in its late nineteenth century heyday, had an architectural impact, extending back at least to Woodlawn Avenue. Substantial, stylish houses and terraces are prominent here between Church and Van Dam. South of Church, urban renewal has taken its toll, and north between Van Dam and Greenfield, above the hustle and bustle of the "downtown" and along the more modestly scaled Alger Plot, the houses are still sizeable and well-ornamented, though plainer than in Franklin Square. The third focal point in the district is Grand Street, a central place formed when the Adirondack Railroad established its main offices and station there in the 1860's. From it was spawned a small stop-over with railroad hotel and a few shops area as well as a little oasis of middle class residences on the fringe of an immigrant quarter known as "Dublin."
The architecture of the West Side is almost exclusively domestic in type. Isolated examples of other types exist, many of them, however, notably stores and craft shops, use domestic buildings (houses, stables, garages) converted to that use.
The ubiquitous house form in the West Side is a rectangular, gable-roof building from one to two stories tall with its narrow, gable end facing the street. This building is neatly suited to the pre-determined lot pattern with 50'-60' frontage and 100' depth that defines the survey area's plan. This is typical of nineteenth century small city and village architecture during the period in the region, and virtually all the single family domestic types, as well as their secondary structures (stables, garages, sheds) were built this way. Most of the houses have rear ells with gable roofs in line with the ridge of the principal front section but stepped-down on a lower plane and/or offset to one side. There are many examples where there are more than one ell telescoping gradually down towards the rear of properties; some of the rear most sections have gable roofs, others have shed roofs, and later examples will at times have a flat roof.
Houses built towards the end of the 1800's and in the early 1900's incorporate shallow side wings, often no wider than a window bay, that are as tall as the house with a cross-gable roof intersecting the main roof just below the ridge-line. There are many variations on the theme; in some cases, wings on both sides join to form the principal ridge and the front-facing section becomes a cross-gable bay itself. In addition to these plan-altering cross-bays, larger and more elaborate houses also have small one story bay windows, with either straight or angled sides, on sides or on facades where they sometimes are inserted on second stories, resting on the roofs of porches below.
There are a number of multi-family dwellings in the survey area, built mostly during the turn-of-the-century. Aside from three or four larger tenement buildings, they appear as two-family types that follow the same form and configuration as single family residences. Some adopt a row house form, aligning the units side-by-side under a flat or side-gable roof; while others divide the units horizontally (floor-by-floor) which allows the building to turn its end to the street and take better advantage of the lot configuration and thereby conforming to the general aspect of the streetscape.
The form of houses in the West Side survey area remained remarkable consistent over the 100-plus year span of its architectural development. Later houses tend to be larger than earlier ones, both in height and length, but the traditional form and orientation persisted well into the twentieth century. Even when modest Bungalow types were introduced in the 1930's as a modern alternative to the antiquated side-passage plan house, it was still oriented gable end to the street with wide front porch, and although it was only one story in height, it had a narrow frontage and long side elevation with rear ells and shed extensions. Only after World War II did the house forms radically change, adopting a suburban ranch model, but to do so the plan in the remaining undeveloped areas of the West Side had to be altered (lots widened) to physically accommodate the new house form.
The West Side Historic District is significant under criteria A and C as the intact representation of the history of community planning, social organization and architectural expression in the residential community created by the permanent population of Saratoga Springs during the nineteenth century as the spa was becoming one of the nation's premier resort towns. Because of the reputation of its legendary springs, the town built up quickly in the period following the Revolutionary War, expanding principally as a real estate venture bent on capitalizing on the attractive value of its healthful waters. Its grand hotels, spas, commercial promenades, race tracks, casinos and other recreational diversions, as well as its elegant streets of genteel summer houses have the special qualities of the fanciful world of the tourist. These areas have long been recognized with National Register listings (i.e., Congress Park-Circular Street, Union Avenue, Broadway, and East Side Historic Districts). The West Side Historic District, so called because it is located west of the city's Broadway axis, is composed of a number of residential neighborhoods, some with commercial components, that are typical, architecturally, of the middle- and working-class areas of the Adirondack region's smaller cities. Essentially "on the other side of the tracks" from the spa city's watering holes and elite neighborhoods, the West Side developed as a back area of the tourist town and the place where the city's support functions and service population were concentrated. Here lived the merchants, businessmen and tradesmen, as well as the shopkeepers, hotel workers, warehousemen, teamsters, railroad laborers and servants. Here they divided into economic and class-based enclaves and built small houses on small lots in a tight urban pattern arranged in a bent plan determined by the fragmented development and angled intersections of streets and tracks typical of the organic nature of nineteenth century vernacular communities.
In the area of community planning and development, the West Side Historic District is distinctive for the evidence it provides about the overall planning and organization of the expanding city of Saratoga Springs as well as the more specific considerations given to the community's lower class citizens. In addition, the plan of the West Side reveals the manner in which other forces, such as transportation routes, occupational patterns, focal points activity, and social interaction reshaped the regularity of paper plans with human interaction and experience. Most of this area was already plotted into house lots by 1850. Many of the street names give testimony to the heroes of the age: Washington, Franklin, and Clinton; and the scale of their vision: Grand. However, most of the street names in the district provide reference to the numerous speculators involved in the partitioning and development of certain neighborhoods, such as Alger, Van Dam, Walton, Waterbury, Beekman and Marvin, and they reveal the underlying organization of the seemingly random growth of the West Side. Other streets, particularly Division, Church and Railroad Streets or the numerical streets at the northern limits of the city, reinforce the sense that some functional approach occurred in devising at least part of the plan. All this is borne out by a review of subdivision plans housed in the city archives.
In the area of architecture, the West Side Historic District is distinctive for its dense and remarkably intact collection of small vernacular houses and commercial buildings representative of late-nineteenth century Adirondack village design. Few modern intrusions mar the historic appearance of the community and its numerous social and economic enclaves. It is a grouping that is much more significant collectively than individually and, therefore, considerable as a district. The area is fairly unified as a residential zone populated by detached single-family houses. Certain streets have denser arrangements with attached and/or multi-unit dwellings, but the single-family house is clearly the defining building type. Some of the larger streets, such as Church, Van Dam and Clinton Streets and Woodlawn Avenue, have larger lots with larger scale houses. While these are some of the city's busier and more visible thoroughfares, their familiarity belies the predominance of the smaller, more modest residences that populate the less travelled streets. Brick houses are not uncommon on these prime streets, yet wood was, by far, the preferred building material overall. And while some of the larger houses show evidence of pattern book designs and ornament from the full range of eclectic nineteenth century styles, the more numerous small houses are restrained versions of the traditional gable front village house. The Franklin Square area contains a remarkable group of Greek Revival style houses, but most of the district's houses date from after the Civil War. They were situated on the front of narrow rectangular lots 50 feet wide by 150 feet deep, often with a small barn or workshop in the rear. Not all the lots were built upon ultimately, leading neighbors later to acquire and subdivide intervening lots and expand their yards.
For most of its history, the West Side Historic District had a large country seat as its northern neighbor. First Col. Henry Walton and, later, Judge Henry Hilton maintained the estate, known as "Woodlawn," and although all the principal buildings have disappeared, the land mass survives today as the campus of Skidmore College. This property had an impact on the West Side plan in two significant ways. One historic effect was that during the Saratoga spa's heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a series of vacation homes were built around the southern periphery of "Woodlawn," introducing the resort house type into the West Side. The other impact has been more recent. The demise of the enormous "Woodlawn" estate has been followed in the past twenty years with the construction of a college campus, a high-density, high-rise elderly housing complex and new homes on lots created there. This has necessitated drawing in the periphery of the historic district from the traditional boundaries of the West Side, particularly in the area north of Van Dam Street between Clinton Avenue and Van Dorn Street, which had been an open and park-like area throughout the West Side's historic period.
The period of significance for the district extends from c. 1800, when the first plans for Broadway and the West Side were drafted by the proprietor, Henry Walton, to 1940 when the final phase of historic embellishments and modernizations were applied. The heyday of the district, however, was between 1860 and 1900, when the greatest period of growth and house construction occurred.
The architecture of the West Side Historic District is uniform in its scale, form and materials and illustrates the course of vernacular urban architecture in the Adirondack region. As a small, non-industrial city well off the beaten track of major systems of transportation and interstate commerce, Saratoga Spring's nineteenth century architecture was modest and traditional by design and inexpensively constructed. Using the great reserves of timber and stone contained in the nearby mountains, the prevailing house materials were wood for framing and siding and slate for the roofs. Even as the city grew into a prosperous resort metropolis with international renown, its pretensions were firmly rooted in the village vernacular of its local context and mental templates of its builders and material suppliers. With the exception of the biggest hotels and summer cottages of the high-society "400" that began to appear at the end of the nineteenth century, Saratoga's architectural theme could be easily considered simply a more prolific and ornamented mode of that which was being built in the resort villages throughout the region.
The West Side was almost exclusively a residential zone; so much so that its anomalous factory, school, store and hotel architecture needs no mention here. As domestic space, the West Side's architecture is far less varied than its correspondent on the east, and it clearly evinces the lower class and simpler, domestic outlook of its residents. This is not to say that distinctions cannot be made among them. A few distinctive classes of houses are worth examining.
Townhouses are the largest and most expensive residences in the district and are found around Franklin Square, along Clinton Street between Division Street and Van Dam, along the Church Street and Woodlawn Avenue corridors and at the western end of Van Dam Street. They are generally two or more stories tall and are designed incorporating formal stylistic forms and decorative elements conceived within a professional architectural discipline. The design of these houses transcends local building traditions, craft networks and material sources incorporating stylistic design references and ornamentation from a broader conceptual and material supply network. They also have more extensive and specific room functions and would have required a financial outlay that exceeded the common requirements for habitation and design expression. In a class context, they were generally built by and denote membership in the upper class of the local nineteenth-century society. They were built as detached houses or combined in terraces and sited on spacious lots to allow for perspectival views and accommodate yards and gardens. Because of limitations of lot size and the influence of the overall urban context, many townhouses adopted common forms — i.e., front-facing gable, front gable with wing — particularly those built earlier in the nineteenth century.
These houses are large scale, sited at a comfortable distance back from street, and set within planned landscape, often with curbing, fencing and carefully placed plantings. Designs incorporate complex elevations and roofs with conspicuous materials and ornament, often using brick or stone. Porches are standard, either frontal or "wrap-around," with ornamental posts, railings and cornice lines. Window and door openings are highlighted with ornamental surrounds; bays and oriels are common. Form and decoration evince major American style periods, notably: Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Tudor Revival, Chateau, Queen Anne, Shingle and Arts & Crafts.
Village Residences are the predominant house form in the West Side Historic District. These houses were built by the large and widely-dispersed middle-class population who made up the bulk of the community's population. As a result, they are found throughout the district in concentrations and mixed in areas where larger or smaller house types predominate. They are large houses, one and one-half to two stories tall, that are designed in a vernacular tradition reflecting the evolution of living patterns and building practices within the local (city or regional) context. The design of these houses was conceived within a uniform conception of localized architectural and social traditions which favored consensus over individuality. They exhibit a restraint in their architectural and personalized expression, although each is distinguishable with its own subtle manipulation of forms and/or ornament. They are generally found sited on smaller lots than townhouses, although many have incorporated adjoining lots to create larger yards. Village Residences are located closer to the street, as are smaller, cheaper houses, and tend to focus their architectural embellishments on the front elevation.
The design of these houses is based in the standard front-facing gable form with in-line gable ells telescoping to rear; a few have side gable wings; later ones have tall, cross-gable side bays. Frame construction was almost the exclusive building method, with clapboard siding the norm, sometimes applied only on the front with novelty on sides and rear. Many of these houses were resided with wood shingles c. 1920, asbestos shingles c. 1940, and aluminum/vinyl clapboards c. 1970. Window and door surrounds are generally plain; some have pedimented or incised headers. The full-width front porch is a usual feature with restrained ornament, such as turned posts and bracing where posts meet the porch roof. Compared to Townhouses, there is little cornice embellishment, either at the roof or the porch, but occasionally widely-spaced brackets (singly or in pairs) exist or survive. Some front gable decoration, i.e. shingles or spindle work appeared in the 1880's. After 1870, when the large cross-gable side bays and wings were introduced, porches began to wrap around to meet these wings. In this case, there was usually a second entrance inserted in the front elevation of the bay or wing.
In the hierarchy of nineteenth-century house types, the Worker's Cottage is the smallest and plainest residential building. It has the same front-facing gable form found on Village Residences and some Townhouses, but it is narrower, shorter (often just one story but never more than one and one-half), less spacious and virtually unornamented. Like the others, the house has a requisite front porch, usually full-width, and service appendages off the rear in the same telescoping progression of other narrow-lot house types. The Worker's Cottage is the most basic house; one limited in its use of space and economical in its materials. Far more responsive to function than style, it is difficult to discern cottages built in the early twentieth century from their predecessors in the early nineteenth other than by noticing changes in building craft practice or technology, such as, roof pitch or window pane dimension. The persistence of the Worker's Cottage reflects the endurance of simpler and more traditional living patterns in nineteenth century mass society as well as continuing class and economic divisions.
These houses are generally found concentrated in areas where lots are narrower and more densely spaced. In the district they are found on the south side of Van Dam Street between Woodlawn and Church and at the northern end of State Street. Depending on the area, they can be built with their facades at the sidewalk plane or recessed slightly for a small front yard; however, the density and siting project a more urban aspect, with a sparing use of exterior as well as interior space. The height of Worker's Cottages seldom exceed 1-1/2 stories and are often only one story tall. Wood was the exclusive construction material with extensive use of "novelty" siding, a cheaper alternative to clapboard usually reserved, in other instances, for rear house sections and outbuildings. Sometimes clapboard was used on the facades indicating that the design of these smaller houses followed certain hierarchies as did their more expensive and highly developed counterparts. Windows are smaller, and every feature was conceived on a reduced scale. There is no extraneous ornament; features that use tooled materials, such as porch posts, balustrades, door and window surrounds, exhibit conscious restraint. Fenestration was subjectively organized, appearing to respond to interior function more than a taste for symmetry. Nevertheless, facades display that some attention was given to balance and order, but the restricted scale often prevented parity between bays on the ground floor and bays in the attic floor under the rake of the roof.
The Two-family House differs from the attached Townhouse in that it was designed as a single two-part unit rather than as a series of single units, even if those units contribute to a distinctive form such as a terrace. Also, Townhouses tended to be owner-occupied, whereas Two-family Houses were generally built as investment properties, belonging often, to the occupant of some part (who then derives income from the second part) or by an absentee landlord. This fact places these large houses in a lower middle- or working-class category. As a result, these houses are frequently found in industrial areas and working-class neighborhoods. Their income potential made (and continues to make) them an attractive alternative for lower income people to own property they might not otherwise be able to afford. Architecturally, they exhibit a restrained design and ornamentation on the same scale as a Village Residence. Because of their class status, they are more economical than expressive. However, in some cases, particularly at the turn-of-the-century, some architects took advantage of the increased size and complexity of these buildings and designed more substantial and articulated versions of the form.
These houses are large scale and, usually, two stories in height. Because of their abnormal size and their location in sections of the city where lots are small, they tend to fill up their lots (at least side-to-side) and leave little space for yards. Sometimes the two living units are divided vertically and the house looks like two attached row houses. In these cases, the roof is usually side gabled or hipped to accommodate for the extreme width of the double facade; entrances can be either paired in the center or opposed at the corners. A popular variation was to divide the living units horizontally, which in a two-story house would put them on different floors. This method took advantage of the site limitations of the narrow frontage and longer depth of the street plan, although it created stretched-out "flats," a modern, turn-of-the-century departure from the traditional side-passage duplexes that the vertically-divided houses created. The form of the horizontally divided house, with its two story facade and front-facing gable, corresponds neatly with that of the Village Residence and is belied only by the presence of two front doors and, at times, a two-story porch. Both variations of the Two-family House were handled in innovative ways to achieve more fashionable appearances, though the type rarely invited more than a moderate display of ornament overall. Nevertheless, decoration found on porches, rooflines, gable ends, window trim reflect the effect of the added attention to detail that the more complex design required.
Tenements were the precursors to apartments. Use of the term here is done to associate the type with its historic period rather than as a commentary on the living conditions in any specific example. The Tenement is a large building containing numerous (more than two) living units that was owned by an absentee landlord who derived income from the property as a commercial venture. Two Tenements that exist Waterbury Street and Russell Street are three stories tall (six or more units), constructed of wood and are devoid of ornament. They are located on "back streets" in decidedly working-class neighborhoods. Little effort was made to organize or ornament the features of these buildings. A later and more stylish tenement is located at 190-194 Grand Avenue.
Size and bulk are the most distinguishing feature of these 3 story, flat roof boxes with repeating asymmetrical bands of windows and various doors. Porches were built on the back rather than the front to provide an alternate means of escape in case of fire and maintain interior light levels in the front. Wide expanses of clapboard or novelty siding characterizes the economical approach towards materials; the rooflines on the facades terminate in a simple cornice, but unlike the Two-family House, virtually no effort or expense was devoted to the decoration of low-rent housing.
Stables/Carriage Houses are outbuildings constructed to house horses and vehicles prior to the advent of the automobile. These buildings are found at the rear of residential properties and on the West Side, access to many is made via alleys between main streets. The scale of these buildings varies dramatically from the huge and highly ornamented stables of the elite Summer House owners, many of them larger than a Village Residence type, to the small and mundane gable roof sheds with a single wagon bay and horse stall. Many of these buildings were converted into garages when cars replaced carriages; the more elaborate have been converted into equally elaborate homes. With the exception of the rare examples, such as the stables behind the Marvin House on Division Street in Franklin Square, these buildings are quite basic and more significant in terms of individual house site development and urban planning (e.g., they were the premise for a whole system of alleys).
Stables are barn forms with differentiated features such as stable, carriage and hay doors and stall windows. Larger examples have more of these and are often designed to compliment the architectural program of the house and lot; the smaller ones have the same function but are more limited in space allocation, sue of materials and ornament.
Like the stable, the garage is a plentiful and important building type in the West Side Historic District as a functional component in the urban plan and the daily activities of the neighborhood. Architecturally, garages are even less distinctive than stables, which have added features that their numerous functions require, and unless they are found in converted stables, a second floor for workshop space or habitation, some garages reflect the design of the house, some garages illustrate changing development practices (such as a collection of pre-fabricated "Woodcraft" buildings from the 1930's); but the vast majority are simple, functional and there because they are necessary shelter for the automobile.
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