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Sharon Springs Historic District


The Sharon Springs 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. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Sharon Springs Historic District encompasses the northeast portion of the village of Sharon Springs, a community located at the junction of New York State Route 10 and U.S. Route 20 in rural Schoharie County. The area surrounding Sharon Springs is generally characterized by rolling hills, cultivated fields and the pasture lands of large dairy farms. A large limestone outcropping and abandoned quarries define the southwest corner of the Sharon Springs Historic District. This same limestone bed extends beneath the village of Sharon Springs, where faults and fissures in the rock strata have yielded the mineral springs for which the community is famous.

The Sharon Springs Historic District encompasses all of what remains of the historic mineral water spa, including commercial, institutional and residential properties associated with its resort function during the period ca.1825-1941. The Sharon Springs Historic District includes 374 acres, and is generally bounded on the south by Route 20, on the west by rear property lines of parcels fronting on Main Street, and on the north and east by the boundary separating the village of Sharon Springs from the adjacent town of Sharon. The principal north/south axis of the Sharon Springs Historic District is Main Street (New York Route 10), which descends sharply from Route 20 at the south end of the district, extends through the center of the village, and ascends once again in a steep grade beyond the northern boundary of the district. The land within the Sharon Springs Historic District also slopes from east to west toward Brimstone Creek, which flows parallel to the district's western boundary. At the south end of the Sharon Springs Historic District, Main Street curves sharply. Here the district boundary is drawn to approximate the demarcation that historically separated the communities of Rockville and Sharon. Although the two were joined to create the village of Sharon Springs in 1871, the section that was once Rockville is oriented toward the former Great Western Turnpike (Route 20) rather than toward Main Street and the springs. With the coming of the automobile era, development continued primarily along Route 20, bypassing the spa area and thereby contributing de facto to the preservation of the earlier spa community.

The focus of the Sharon Springs Historic District is a group of mineral springs that together constitute the famous water spa for which the village was named. Those mineral springs currently in use (named the Magnesium, the White Sulphur, and the Eye Water) are all located in the vicinity of Brimstone Creek along Route 10 (Main Street) in the western portion of the district. Known locally as "downstreet" due to the sharp descent from Route 20 north toward the Mohawk Valley, the area encompassed by the Sharon Springs Historic District is characterized by a concentration of pavilions, bathhouses, hotels, boardinghouses, commercial buildings and residences associated with the use and development of the spa during the period ca.1825-1941.

Historically, Routes 20 and 10 have been the primary traffic routes into and through Sharon Springs. Route 10 (Main Street) became the commercial focus of the village. The east-west streets (beginning at the south) include School, Division, Union, Washington, South, and Pavilion; all except Union intersect Main Street. Washburn Avenue forms an indistinct loop extending north from Pavilion Avenue. Green, Center, Willow, Duane, and Grove are north-south streets one to three blocks long connecting Pavilion, South, Washington, or Union. Dublin Street (also known as High) curves around the eastern edge of the village, intersecting with Pavilion and Washington.

The buildings of the Sharon Springs Historic District are mostly concentrated along Main Street and on village lots along the principal east-west residential streets intersecting Main Street. Wooded or grassy areas characterize much of the Sharon Springs Historic District periphery. Vacant lots mark the sites of former hotels and boardinghouses and give much of the village a park-like landscape.

The Sharon Springs Historic District includes a total of 177 contributing features (167 contributing buildings, 10 contributing structures); the district includes 17 non-contributing features.

Included in the Sharon Springs Historic District is a remarkable collection of buildings constructed for the purpose of "taking the waters" — four springhouses and four bathhouses. These buildings define the character of Sharon Springs as a mineral water spa and distinguish it from other villages in the surrounding region. The Magnesia Temple built in 1863 is a cast iron, Renaissance Revival inspired pavilion. The Chalybeate Temple, built in the 1920s to shelter the Chalybeate or iron spring, has since been enclosed and converted to a cottage. The White Sulphur Temple is a Beaux Arts style pavilion built ca.1930; a nearby shed-like springhouse shelters the Magnesium Spring and another spring now capped.

The Lower Bath House (ca.1876) and the Inhalation Bath House (ca.1884) are rare surviving examples of nineteenth-century bathhouses. Although the men's side of the Lower Bath House was removed in the 1950's, the women's side remains with its interior nearly intact. Near the Lower and Inhalation Baths, the Beaux Arts Imperial Bath House was built in 1927. The three bathhouses are located on Main Street near the White Sulphur Spring which supplies the baths. The Upper Bath House near the Pavilion Hotel site was created in the early 1900s by remodelling the Pavilion's billiard hall and bowling alley built in the 1940s. The extant metal water tower formerly supplied the Upper Bath House.

Hotels and boardinghouses are prominent in the village landscape and help define the character of Sharon Springs as a community different from its neighbors. All are seasonal buildings of frame construction. The 150 room, Mission style Adler Hotel, built in 1928, was the last large hotel built in the village. The 100 room, vernacular Roseboro Hotel was created ca.1905 when the Howland House (ca.1850) and the Rosenberg (ca.1870-90) were joined. The highly intact, Greek Revival style American Hotel, built ca.1850, is the oldest extant hotel in Sharon Springs (National Register listed, 1975). Other medium-sized hotels are the Park View (ca.1870), the Washington (ca.1890), the Empire (ca.1927) and the Columbia (ca.1930-35).

In addition to these hotels, about 20 active boardinghouses are included in the district. Most of these were built as private residences and later expanded to boardinghouses, such as the Monticello Cottage on Main Street and Ida's Place on Willow Street. Some, such as the Ganz House (ca.1927), were built as boardinghouses.

Other types of spa resort accommodations include the Stick style East and Northwest Pavilion Cottages, built ca.1880 to offer Pavilion Hotel guests more private and elegant lodgings. Gurrell's Bungalows, a six-cabin court formerly located on Route 20, were moved to the village ca.1940.

Private residences constitute approximately half the buildings in the Sharon Springs Historic District. An exact count is impossible because of the common and often casual practice of taking in paying guests. There are few private residences in Sharon Springs that did not function as boardinghouses (formerly or informally) during the early twentieth century. Many homeowners casually took in paying guests, and some built rear additions or separate buildings on their property for boarders. All of the houses are frame buildings, with the notable exception of four houses built of locally quarried limestone. About one-third of the houses are vernacular, Greek Revival inspired dwellings dating from ca.1830-60. Nearly all of these have later additions, typically Victorian porches and rear wings; only a few have completely lost their Greek Revival appearance.

The Sharon Springs Historic District includes approximately a dozen Italianate-inspired houses of the mid-nineteenth century, most on large village lots. The most notable among them is the John H. Gardner (Stone) House (ca.1860), which is dramatically sited overlooking the Mohawk Valley to the north. The Loew House and the Fonda Cottage are characterized by rooftop belvederes. The next most common style represented is Queen Anne, which includes some fully developed examples such as the Smith House on Main Street, and a larger number of vernacular houses with applied Queen Anne style details such as turned balustrades. Other stylistic influences include Gothic Revival, Colonial Revival, and Arts & Crafts.

Four family estates were established in Sharon Springs in the last quarter of the 19th century, with ornate main houses and supporting outbuildings and structures. The Schaefer Estate at the north end of the Sharon Springs Historic District includes the former Bangs House (ca.1830-50, enlarged ca.1875) and Magnesia Temple, plus a gazebo, carriage house/cottage, and icehouse. The John Gardner, Jr. House (ca.1880), later the Charles C. Clausen property) on Washington Street is a highly intact Queen Anne style house elaborately ornamented with turned posts, balustrade and brackets. The Henry Clausen Estate on Route 20 consists of the original mid-nineteenth century, Italianate inspired house, the eclectic Main House, and an unusual Shingle style Casino guest house (ca.1892). The estate also included a tenant house, multiple barns, a shingled water tower, playhouse, smokehouse, springhouse, and swimming pool. The Mayer family estate on Washington Street includes a modified Gothic Revival house (ca.1865), a Queen Anne style house (ca.1908), two smaller houses, a swimming pool, and a tennis court.

In addition to the hotels and boardinghouses, there are 13 commercial buildings in the Sharon Springs Historic District. The majority are frame buildings concentrated on Main Street. There are three brick commercial blocks: Klinkhart Hall, ca.1885, which contained commercial space as well as a second-floor assembly hall; the Samson Block, ca.1906, housing a bank and post office; and the Smith, Empie, and Smith Department Store, erected in 1910. The mid-nineteenth century frame livery and carriage barns associated with the former Pavilion Hotel remain on the south side of Pavilion Avenue despite loss of the property they once served.

Religious properties located in the Sharon Springs Historic District include Trinity Episcopal Church (1856) and Rectory (1860), Gothic Revival style buildings of local limestone, and the Sharon Springs Synagogue, built in 1904 with Queen Anne style details. One building on Main Street, the Chestnut Street Schoolhouse (1864), was moved to its present location within the Sharon Springs Historic District from its former historic location in nearby Cherry Valley in 1989. Although an historic building, the school has been classified as non-contributing to the significance of the Sharon Springs Historic District because it lacks integrity of location.

Significance

The Sharon Springs Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as a distinctive collection of properties associated with the development and operation of one of New York's most popular mineral water spas of the nineteenth-early twentieth centuries. Sharon Springs had risen to national prominence as a health spa by the middle of the nineteenth century, attracting an elite Eastern clientele as spa resorts grew in popularity. By the late nineteenth century, the regional hops industry also attracted wealthy urban brewing families to the resort community of Sharon Springs, where they established seasonal estates in and around the village. Located along Main Street (New York Route 10) and several adjacent, tree-lined blocks within the village limits, the Sharon Springs Historic District encompasses a rare and significant collection of boardinghouses, small hotels, private residences, commercial buildings, bathhouses, mineral spring pavilions and family estate compounds that continue to evoke the distinctive atmosphere of this historic spa community. By the early twentieth century, Sharon Springs no longer attracted the upper social strata as the "water cure" fell out of fashion. The community rebounded to an extent by appealing to a new urban immigrant Jewish clientele, and continues to attract this seasonal population to the present day. Despite the loss of numerous structures to fire or demolition, the Sharon Springs Historic District retains a high degree of integrity reflecting the development of this popular seasonal resort community from its origins in the early nineteenth century to its decline on the eve of the Second World War. The Sharon Springs Historic District includes 177 contributing properties constructed between ca.1825 and 1941 that reflect the range of architectural influences and materials popular in the region during the period of significance.

Mineral water spas occupy an important place in New York State history. During the nineteenth century, belief in the health benefits of drinking and bathing in mineral water was at its height, and developed into a branch of medicine called hydropathy. Mineral water spas also were America's first resorts, emphasizing health treatment in an atmosphere of relaxation and entertainment. New York State had approximately 130 springs, more than any other state except Virginia, and resort communities grew up around the springs at Ballston Spa, Saratoga, Richfield, Clifton and Sharon. The mineral spas acquired a social status, and wealthy families annually toured the springs communities in summer. Sharon Springs was an early popular destination among socialites pursuing the "water cure."

Sharon Springs began to develop as a mineral water spa after 1825, when David Eldredge established the first boardinghouse near the springs. In order for the community to succeed as a fashionable spa resort, it needed convenient transportation links to population centers, as well as comfortable lodging for guests once they arrived at Sharon Springs. From its earliest days, the community benefited from its location on the Great Western Turnpike, the present U.S.. Route 20. The Utica & Schenectady Railroad completed in 1836 provided the first nearby rail connection; early visitors to the springs travelled the 14 miles from the station at Palatine Bridge via stagecoach. Construction of the large Pavilion Hotel above the springs commenced the same year. In 1842, John H. Gardner acquired and improved the Pavilion property; over the next two decades he proceeded to develop it into the community's premier hostelry. Sited dramatically on a ridge overlooking the Mohawk Valley north of the burgeoning village, the massive, Greek Revival style Pavilion throughout its history was larger and more elegant than any guest accommodations at the springs. Following Gardner's early success, other entrepreneurs built hotels to house the growing number of visitors. Extant examples from this early period include the Greek Revival style American Hotel (National Register, 1975) and the Howland House (now part of the Roseboro Hotel).

The most serious rival to the Pavilion Hotel was H.J. Bangs's Congress Hall, established in 1860 on Main Street where the Imperial Baths now stand. Congress Hall gained fame for its landscaped grounds surrounding the Magnesia Spring, with its centerpiece the cast iron, Renaissance Revival style Magnesia Temple, designed by L. Burger and manufactured by Daniel Badger's Architectural Ironworks of New York City. The Magnesia Temple at Sharon Springs was the only mineral water pavilion included among the completed structures listed in Badger's catalogue of cast iron architecture.

Sharon Springs' rapid growth during this period, from a population of 230 in 1855 to 520 in 1870, is evidenced by the large number of houses built between the 1830s and 1860s. Approximately one-third of the houses in the Sharon Springs Historic District are vernacular Greek Revival inspired buildings, such as on Union Street and Pineview Cottage on Pavilion Avenue. These and most other examples have added Queen Anne style porches and details, but one on Washington Street retains its Greek Revival appearance with little alteration. By the 1850s, Italianate village were beginning to reflect changing tastes, most notably Fonda Cottage on Pavilion Avenue, home of Dr. Sebastian Fonda who publicized the springs in his book Analysis of Sharon Waters. About 1860, John H. Gardner built an imposing Italianate stone villa on the ridge near his Pavilion Hotel.

Sharon Springs achieved the zenith of its popularity as a fashionable resort among the nation's social elite during the 1870s-1880s. Hotel registers listed Vanderbilts, Van Rensselaers, De Peysters, Leas (of Philadelphia), social registrar Samuel Ward McAllister, and other prominent families who stopped at Sharon Springs as part of their annual tour of summer resorts. The Cherry Valley, Sharon & Albany Railroad completed in 1870 included a station at Sharon Springs, thereby making travel to the spa more convenient. Among the fashionable resorts such as Saratoga Springs and Newport, Sharon Springs was noted more for its strong waters than for its social life, and in this period new facilities for "taking the waters" were developed. In 1875 Congress Hall burned, taking with it the wood frame bathhouses of the Pavilion Hotel. The Gardners replaced them in 1876 with a modern brick bathhouse with slate tubs. In 1884 Dr. Alfred W. Gardner toured Europe's leading spas and returned to build the Inhalation Bath House with rooms for inhaling sulphur steam or gases. The fashionable Pavilion Hotel was also expanded during this period, nearly doubling the size of its front wing and adding three buildings of more private cottage suites, complete with marble fireplaces. The Pavilion's prosperity was also reflected in the ornate Queen Anne style house built on Washington Street by hotelier John Gardner, Jr.

The popularity of Sharon's mineral springs supported ten additional hotels in the community during the post-Civil War decades, including the Parkview built in 1870. Main Street was dominated by hotels interspersed with commercial buildings. Although most of the latter have been lost to fire, a notable survivor is Klinkhart Hall, which originally contained a hardware store on the first floor and an opera house above.

By the late nineteenth century, east-central New York State had become the largest hops-producing region in the United States. Many year-round residents of Sharon Springs were farmers who grew hops; the resort community also attracted wealthy urban brewers, who established family seasonal estates in and around the spa community. After the Congress Hall Hotel burned in 1875, H.J. Bangs sold his property (including the Magnesia Temple) to Max Schaefer of the Schaefer brewing family. Schaefer raised up the Bangs House to build a larger first floor below, and developed a village estate that included a gazebo, carriage house/cottage, ice house, and a tennis court.

The Clausens were another New York City-based brewing clan. In 1890, Henry Clausen, Jr. bought an imposing Italianate style house and a small Greek Revival house on the Great Western Turnpike (present U.S. Route 20). Clausen more than doubled the size of the small house, and for his male guests built the Shingle style Casino, which included a bowling alley, gymnasium, card room, guest quarters and a three-story circular tower overlooking the Mohawk Valley. The estate grew to include a tenant house, ornate barns, a shingled water tower, playhouse, spring house, smokehouse, swimming pool, tennis court, and other recreational facilities. Henry Clausen, Jr. was a founder and president of the American Brewers Association, and in his summer home of Sharon Springs he founded the Central National Bank. His cousin Charles C. Clausen purchased the John Gardner, Jr. house in 1892, establishing a second Clausen family estate in the village.

Despite the brewers and their estates, Sharon Springs was slipping in social prominence by the 1890s. The year-round population peaked at 627 in 1880, then began a gradual decline to 600 by 1900. Reputed from the 1830's as a health resort, Sharon Springs fell out of fashion with the general decline in popularity of the "water cure." Sharon also failed to offer the recreational attractions such as horse racing and gambling featured by its closet rival, Saratoga Springs. By the turn of the century, Sharon Springs was developing a new identity as a Jewish resort, symbolized by the synagogue built on Willow Street in 1904. The shift occurred in part because of the growing segregation of Gentile and Jewish resorts, and in part because of the continuing popularity of mineral water spas among European immigrants. Most early Jewish visitors were of German origin, most prominently the Mayers, who established a family compound of large "cottages" on Washington Street. In the early 1900s, Jews of Eastern European background became predominant, and came to Sharon Springs in large numbers. In the late 1920s, the baths at Sharon Springs reported administering more than 100,000 baths per season.

Sharon's new clientele stayed mostly in small hotels and boardinghouses. During this era most residences in the community became boardinghouses, or existing boardinghouses grew larger. Small hotels and boardinghouses such as the Hotel Washington (ca.1898), the Ganz House (ca.1927), the Empire Hotel, and the Columbia (1930-35) were also built. The 100-room Roseboro Hotel, created ca.1905 by joining the Howland House and the Rosenberg, was larger than most. The largest and most elaborate hotel built in Sharon Springs in the twentieth century was the 150 room, Mission style Adler Hotel (1928), with a ballroom, theater and its own baths.

Bathing facilities were expanded to accommodate the emerging new clientele. In the early 1900s, the Gardners converted the Pavilion billiard hall and bowling alley to a bathhouse and added baths to the Park View Hotel, in addition to operating the Lower Bath House (1876) and the Inhalation Bath House. Because more modern facilities were still needed, in 1927 they built the Imperial Bath House on Main Street, with 43 tubs, private resting rooms, four douche rooms, and four massage rooms. Within a few years the Lower Bath House received a new arcaded entrance and the adjacent White Sulphur Spring was sheltered by a Beaux Arts inspired temple pavilion, which quickly became a symbol of the spa community.

Additional recreational facilities were built in an attempt to create a complete resort. A swimming pool complex was constructed in the 1920s around the Chalybeate Spring, and in 1932 the Pavilion Hotel opened a nine-hole golf course on the slope below the hotel. Yet visitation continued to decline. In the 1930s some hotels burned under suspicious circumstance. The once-grand Pavilion Hotel, having passed completely out of fashion as the spa declined, was demolished in 1941, a footnote to the most prosperous and elegant era in the history of Sharon Springs.

After World War II, visitation to Sharon Springs increased briefly, but soon resumed its decline. More hotels and boardinghouses burned or were demolished; they stood on most of what are now vacant lots in the historic district. Sharon Springs still operates today as a mineral water spa, with a small clientele of primarily Hasidic and Russian Jews. Much of the spa is vacant, deteriorated, and for sale.

Despite its diminishing clientele and reduced fortunes, the Sharon Springs Historic District is especially significant for the high degree of integrity it retains relative to New York's other mineral water spas. With its complement of hotels, boardinghouses, baths, mineral spring pavilions, commercial and residential properties in a village setting, Sharon Springs continues to reflect the spatial and functional relationships that characterized the spa community during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Where buildings have been lost to fire or neglect, generally they have not been replaced with modern structures. The Sharon Springs Historic District's rare property types, notably its bathhouses and mineral spring temples, are distinctive architectural features found in few other communities in New York. Taken together, the various elements of the Sharon Springs Historic District constitute an extraordinarily intact representation of spa history.

References

Beers, S.N. New Topographical Atlas of Schoharie County. Philadelphia: Stone & Stewart, 1866.

Blumin, Stuart. The Short Season of Sharon Springs. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.

"Map of Schoharie County, N.Y." Philadelphia: A.O. Gallup & Co., 1856.

Sanborn Insurance Co. Maps, 1898, 1904, 1909, 1927, 1927-1939.

Sharon Historical Society Archives, Sharon Springs.

Primary location of additional data: Other — Sharon Historical Society, Sharon Springs.

  1. National Register nomination document, 1994, prepared by Raymond W. Smith, N. Y. State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Sharon Springs Historic District, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Sharon Springs Historic District Map

Street Names
Great Western Turnpike • Main Street • Route 10 • Route 20

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