Covert Historic District
The Covert Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Covert Historic District encompasses twenty-one individual properties clustered around the intersections of Route 96, County Road 146A, and the town roads of East Covert Road, West Covert Road, and Lower Covert Road. The hamlet of Covert is situated at the southeastern corner of Seneca County within the town of Covert. The topography surrounding the Covert Historic District is characterized by agricultural lands and a steep slope eastward to Cayuga Lake.
The Covert Historic District is primarily residential and the structures represent a variety of functions and styles spanning the period from 1810 to 1920. The typical building is a timber-framed, clapboard-sheathed, two-story Greek Revival style residence with simple decorative elements such as frieze windows, wide entablature, shouldered architrave trim, and deeply molded post and lintel doorways. Although Greek Revival is the predominant style, transitional Federal and Gothic examples can also be found within the Covert Historic District. In several instances, simple Federal or Greek Revival style homes have had elaborate Stick style porches added.
The earliest structure was built as a tavern and is notable for the Adamesque swag motif found on its frieze board. Throughout the nineteenth century, other buildings were constructed to serve the inhabitants, including the Greek Revival Town Hall, First Baptist Church, a modest schoolhouse and the Grange Meeting Hall.
The buildings are generously spaced along Route 96 and many homes retain their simple clapboard barns. The large open spaces and small clusters of trees provide the scenic rural landscape typical of the small farm communities found in the Finger Lakes region of New York. However, Covert is rare in Seneca County as the self-contained hamlet retains a high level of architectural integrity, and almost all of its original nineteenth-century buildings. The boundaries of the Covert Historic District encompass the entire linear development of the early community including all outbuildings and enough agricultural land to visually provide its rural environment.
The Covert Historic District is a significant cluster of structures which illustrate the historical development and popular nineteenth-century architectural styles of rural Seneca County. Covert was originally known as "Pratt's Corners" and had its origin as a crossroads community with a tavern and general store (demolished). The hamlet was renamed "Covert" sometime between 1852 and 1859.
Settlement in the town of Covert began in 1788 with the granting of military lots to Revolutionary War veterans. The hamlet of Covert is located on one of two former trails in the county which were created by the Clinton-Sullivan Expedition in 1779. These trails paralleled the shores of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, respectively. Early settlers in the area were former soldiers primarily from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The earliest remaining structure from this period is the Pratt Tavern which was built before 1810 by Colonel Graham. This Federal style building was used extensively as the location for Town Board meetings before the erection of the Covert Town Hall in 1853.
The owner of the tavern, Colonel Chauncey Pratt, also lavished care on his home, built in 1835, as the following description relates:
"This place is known far and wide as the Colonel Chauncey Pratt place. Colonel Pratt came into this country in 1811, locating in what is now Trumansburg. — In 1830 he bought a farm in Covert by Sylvester King and in 1835 erected the present residence. His wife as strongly opposed to the building of such a pretentious edifice, but Colonel Pratt was a rising man, one of the stockholders in the Newburg and Geneva Turnpike, a director of the Tompkins County Bank, a prosperous merchant, a distiller, a heavy shipper on the Erie Canal, and abundantly able to own, and occupy a residence in keeping with his social and business standing.
The contractors who built this house were the Vanderbild Bros. of Lyons, and Mrs. Pratt never saw it until it was completed for occupancy and the family moved in. — Its spacious rooms and halls, its wide fireplaces with hand-carved mantels, its elaborate finish throughout, it stands as a monument of good material and honest workmanship."
Covert experienced most of its growth between 1810 and 1860 as reflected in the high percentage of Greek Revival buildings. The First Baptist Church is an outstanding vernacular interpretation of the Greek Revival style and remains intact on the exterior except for the rear addition of a chapel in the early twentieth century. Notable also is its little changed interior with its original pulpit and altar balustrade framed by the Greek Revival reredos. The Cole-Cochrane House is another excellent example of the Greek Revival, with a full temple front and a Doric colonnade.
During this expansion period, the principal crop was wheat which finally depleted the soil by the 1850's and forced the migration of settlers further westward to Indiana and Michigan. In addition, Covert's isolation from canal and rail traffic stifled further growth in the village. This lack of continuous development has preserved the scale and density of the small, nineteenth-century community. Most residences were placed near the road with expanses of farmland located behind the homes. Almost all of the houses in Covert were working family farms until this century and many retain barns and other farm-related outbuildings. Little infill of later structures has occurred and there are no modern intrusions. As Covert is too small to support commercial activity and contains a population of less than 100, the rural residential character of the hamlet has been maintained to the present.
Maurice L. Patterson, Between the Lakes, This History of South Seneca County (Interlaken, New York: I.T. Publishing Corp., 1976), p.36.
Patterson, Maurice L. Between the Lakes, The History of South Seneca County. Interlaken, New York: I.T. Publishing Corp., 1976.
Stannerd, Philip. Personal archives. Box 184, Interlaken, New York.
† Donohue, Mary M., and Covell, Anne B., New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Covert Historic District, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.