The Stockade 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 © 2007, The Gombach Group.
The Schenectady Stockade Historic District occupies a wedge-shaped piece of land in downtown Schenectady, New York. It is bounded on the north by the Mohawk River, on the east by the railroad tracks, on the south by the rear property line of structures on the southerly side of Union Street and on the west by the Binne Kill. It includes structures on both sides of Washington Avenue from State Street to Union Street.
Front Street, Green Street and Union Street run roughly east-west, while Washington Avenue, Ferry Street, Governor's Lane, Church Street, North Street, College Street and Ingersoll Avenue run roughly north-south.
Due to its location in the downtown district of a sizeable city and to a concomitant history of transmutation over a period of more than three hundred years, this area has become exceptionally diversified both as to function and architectural style of its structures.
Actually a village within a city, the area juxtaposes modest city dwellings and mansions with stores, churches, old factories, public buildings, clubs, a YWCA and apartment houses. These heterogeneous functions are housed in structures which cover the gamut of architectural styles. Some have been altered very little, while others have been metamorphosed by successions of fashion-conscious owners.
Of structures built before 1800, some have survived relatively intact. The earliest of these are brick or clapboard Dutch Colonial homes with sharply-pitched gables facing the street. A later style, reflecting the influence of the British conquerors, is a commodious oblong house with symmetrical facade, rafter ends to the street and a center hallway. A number of buildings were constructed by Samuel Fuller, the "master builder of the Mohawk," during this period, among them the oldest portion of the St. George's Church on N. Ferry Street.
The Federal Period is represented by numerous medium-sized to large square brick dwellings with rafter ends to the street. These have brick fire walls (or stepped gables), high basements with a water table and a transomed entrance on one side of the facade.
From the Greek Revival Period, too, remain a plethora of examples. Mainly of brick with a side hall and a somewhat flattened gable towards the street, these have a brick frieze with brick dentils along the rafter ends. A transom and side lights are standard treatment for the entrance. A notable public building in the Greek style is the Old Court House on Union Street.
Several engineering projects have left a residue here. A great wooden suspension bridge designed by the noted bridge architect, Theodore Burr, spanned the Mohawk at the foot of Washington Avenue. Its stone abutment may still be seen. Traces of the walls of the Erie Canal, another feat of engineering performed in the days of muscle and mule power also may be found incorporated into the railroad bridge along the north side of the Erie Boulevard near the intersection of Union Street and Erie Boulevard. The railroads have left traces of their heyday in the bridges which were built to span the Boulevard, Front Street and Green Street in the first decade of the 20th century. The advent of the balloon frame may be observed in modest unadorned frame homes built in the 1860's and later. In addition, various and sundry styles popular in the mid to late 19th century may be found. While the prevailing taste favored adding Italian detail, and it was the rare old house that escaped having its face lifted during this era, there are also samples of Baroque, Romanesque and French experimentation. A domed synagogue (now a Catholic Church) was added to the College Street scene in 1898. Ingersoll Avenue consists solely of comfortable two-family frame railroad flats" which were built in the 1890's.
By this time the neighborhood was densely packed with all types of structures. Despite this fact, construction was not neglected in the first half of the 20th century, for the Riverside School and the YWCA, both Colonial Revival buildings, were added to the neighborhood in the twenties.
In recent years a few fine buildings such as the old Schenectady County Surrogate's Court on Union Street, an irreplaceable example of the Gothic Revival, have fallen to the bulldozer. However, with the help of restrictions imposed by the Stockade Historic Zoning Ordinance of 1962 and with a continuing program of education perpetrated by the Stockade Association, the future preservation of the area seems assured.
The Stockade Historic District has been the site of continuous human habitation for over three hundred years. Evidence of every chapter of this long history may be read in the asymmetry of the street patterns, the dense accumulation of structures and the rich diversity of architectural styles which remain today.
First established in 1664 between Front Street, Ferry Street, State Street and Washington Avenue, the pioneer Dutch village of Schenectady was burned to the ground by the French in 1690.
Recovery was slow, but the fertile flats of the Mohawk River were enticing and the village's location as the "gateway to the west" made further settlement a foregone conclusion. For more than a hundred years until the building of the Erie Canal, all goods and travellers going westward came overland from Albany and reembarked at the port of Schenectady. Thence, the heavily-laden bateaux left daily in good weather to commence the long trip up the Mohawk to Lake Erie.
Coincident with this trade, wharves, warehouses and shipbuilding concerns thronged the banks of the Binne Kill until 1819, when a great fire destroyed these structures. The construction of the Erie Canal soon afterwards made superfluous the rebuilding of the harbor. We owe the preservation of the historic structures of the Stockade in part to the accident of this fire which caused the merchants to move their businesses westward to State Street. Had the merchants remained on Washington Avenue, most of the area would have been demolished to make way for commercial enterprises long before modern times.
Schenectady resumed its former prominence slowly after the advent of the Canal, this time as the chief producer of broom corn and brooms in the nation. In July, 1972, Whitmyre's broom factory in the Historic District was still in operation.
In the Stockade in 1795, Union College, the first institution of higher learning to be chartered by the Board of Regents, was originally located; first on the corner of Ferry Street and Union; later on College and Union (Phillip Hooker, architect, 1972).
The old dormitories on College Street are still extant, though the West College building has been demolished and the college has long since moved up the hill.
In modern times, this small oasis of dwellings in the commercial center of Schenectady has played a different, but important, role. By the 1950's the area was manifesting all the signs of decay typical of the city core; dilapidated old structures, absentee landlords, etc. A few hardy souls, attracted by the convenience and underlying charm of the district, purchased homes and renovated them for their own use. Others followed suit. The Stockade Association was formed and in 1962 the Stockade Historic District Zoning Ordinance (the first such law in New York State) was passed by the City Council.
Today the Stockade Historic District furnishes us with a shining example of urban renewal without government handout. Solely through private initiative, this pleasant neighborhood has avoided the fate of nearby areas which have become wall-to-wall parking lots. With its lovely parks, elementary school, swimming pools, walled gardens, slate walks, trees, churches and charming variegated facades, it provides as much of a quality environment for its inhabitants now as it did a hundred years ago.
Conde, Edwin Groot. The Most Beautiful Land. Edited by Warren Joyce. Unpublished, Schenectady County Public Library, 1945.
Committee on Historic Markers, Schenectady County Historical Society. Data on Old Houses. Unpublished, Schenectady County Historical Society.
Committee on Historic Markers. Schenectady Historic District. Bulletin of The Schenectady County Historical Society, Vol. 7, No. 1, Sept. 1963.
Van der Bogert, Giles. Walls Have Ears. Schenectady, New York: Schenectady Herald Printing Co., Inc., 1966.
Veeder, Millicent W. Door to The Mohawk Valley. Albany, New York: Cromwell Printing, Inc.