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Waterloo Library

The Waterloo Library (31 East Williams Street) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. 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.


The Waterloo Library and Historical Society is situated on the north side of Williams Street between Virginia Drive (Route 96) to the west and Church Street to the east in the Village of Waterloo, Seneca County, New York. Located two miles west of the Village of Seneca Falls, Waterloo is a rural village with a population of approximately 5,000. Chartered in 1824, the village retains much of its historic nineteenth century residential and commercial architecture. The Waterloo Library and Historical Society is located on a one acre plot about a block from the commercial core of the village (intersection of NYS Route 96 and NYS Routes 5 and 20). The National Register listed Waterloo Library and Historical Society building faces south and coincides with the current legal lot lines associated with the residence, which is flanked to east and west by nineteenth-century churches. Across Williams Street to the south are low density residential dwellings and the M’Clintock House (National Register 1980), a National Park Service property associated with the Women's Rights Historic Sites Thematic Resources nomination. The Seneca/Cayuga canal is approximately 1/4 mile south of Williams Street, and to the southwest is the commercial core of the village. Behind the Waterloo Library and Historical Society to the north is nineteenth and early twentieth century low density residential development along Williams Street, and a railroad track. The topography in and around Waterloo is generally flat. Mature shade trees and shrubs dot the property. Attached to the rear of the building is a non-contributing concrete block dependency hidden from the main viewscape.

The Waterloo Library and Historical Society is a rare, intact example of Queen Anne style institutional architecture. Utilized continuously as a library since its completion in 1883, the building has maintained interior and exterior architectural integrity to a high degree. The two-story main block features an intersecting gable design with a projecting pavilion facing east on Church Street. The side gable wing faces south on Williams Street. An elaborate, shouldered exterior chimney is attached to the front facade, and the offset front entrance appears in the ell between the east facade and projecting pavilion. An attached, non-contributing two story concrete block dependency extends to the north behind the main block. The main block features paired and tripartite casement windows with colored glass transom lights, and the slate roof has jerkinhead dormers and decorative terra cotta blocks; iron cresting appears on the ridge.

The main block has a balloon frame structural system sheathed in brick. The foundation is rusticated limestone with a plain limestone watertable. Exterior walls have limestone belt courses. The building features an intricate gabled roof system sheathed in slate, with jerkinhead dormers appearing on the south, west, and north facades; the east projecting pavilion also has a jerkinhead roof. The roof ridge has iron cresting, and decorative terra cotta appears on dormer ridges. Fenestration is symmetrical on the front (south) facade, including tripartite casement sash with colored glass transom lights and flat stone sills and lintels on the first level, while dormer fenestration is paired, fixed pane sash with colored glass. The front gable wing facing south has round-arched, fixed pane sash with colored glass on the first level, with smaller paired round-arched, fixed pane sash with colored glass below the gable peak. The west facade of the front gable wing features two 4-panel, rectangular stained glass windows above the limestone belt course, and two jerkinhead dormers in the roof slope above. The north facade has one paired first floor casement window with two jerkinhead dormers in the roof slope above. The east facade contains a paired round-arched casement above the porch, four symmetrical tripartite casements on levels one and two of the projecting pavilion, and a smaller tripartite casement below a decorative lunette in the jerkinhead gable. The main block is three-bays wide with an offset entrance in the ell at the southeast corner of the building. The entrance is covered by a shed-roofed hood supported by a heavy wood column with a decorative round-arched bracket extending to a matched pilaster on the brick facade. The wood column and pilaster have plain capitals and pedestals. A wood ramp for physically challenged persons wraps around the northeast corner of the building to access the rear (north) entrance adjoined to the rear concrete block extension.

The side gable brick wing to the west projects about two feet out from the planar surface of the main block. In addition to the water table, this facade has three limestone belt courses. The middle belt course defines the lower part of the triangular pediment. The upper belt course within the pediment defines the lower border of the upper pediment section which is accentuated by terra cotta blocks surrounding a paired, round-arched casement with stained glass. A first floor tripartite round-arched casement contains geometric tracery within the arch. An inscribed stone panel resting on a flat stone lintel forms an apron-like base for the window. The west facade of this wing features a single limestone belt course and two 4-panel fixed pane colored glass sash with colored glass transom lights. Two jerkinhead dormers pierce the sharply pitched slate roof above. The non-contributing concrete block wing extends from the north (rear) face of this wing.

The projecting pavilion facing east features a jerkinhead roof with decorative terra cotta along the ridgeline. Three belt courses also accentuate the east face of the pavilion; the upper course defines the pediment, which contains a blind, decorative lunette above a tripartite casement below the lower edge of the belt course. On floors one and two are four symmetrical tripartite casements with transom lights. A blind round-arched brick panel is inset on the south face of the pavilion above the front entrance hood.

The rear, or north, facade of the building is adjoined to the west by the non-contributing concrete block wing and contains one first floor tripartite casement with transom lights situated above a limestone belt course. The plain rear entrance is enframed by a projecting pavilion. Two jerkinhead dormers with paired stained glass windows appear in the steeply pitched roof above. The roof is hipped above the northeast corner behind the projecting east pavilion.

The interior floor plan survives virtually intact, and many original details remain in the building. The main block retains high integrity, although the rear concrete block extension has been attached to the western portion of the north facade. Original floors, trim, windows, stained glass, structural elements, and a fireplace survive throughout the building, while elements associated with the second floor's use as a theatre such as a box office near the front entrance and the performing hall itself survive intact.

The two-story main block, originally designed as a library and theatre, contains a one-over-three floor plan with a large theatre occupying the second floor, and a vaulted main stack area, circulation desk, and children's stack room below. The first floor also contains a central hallway and small librarian's office. Access to the first floor spaces is provided through the main entrance and central hallway. The main stacks are also accessed from the circulation desk area and the children's stacks. The office is accessed through the box office doorway near the front entrance. The box office features a wood enframed niche where a person can stand behind a black walnut ticket counter to dispense tickets. The long central hallway features heavy wood door trim with corner blocks. The circulation desk area features a fireplace with a wood panelled Eastlake overmantel. The main stack room has a vaulted gambrel ceiling with trusses, and large free-standing wooden bookcases. The children's stacks contain heavy wood trim with corner posts. An enclosed stairway leading from the north wall of the first floor central hallway provides access to the theatre above. The theatre occupies the entire second floor attic space of the building, and has a raised wooden stage, tiered platforms with wooden seats, and decorative trusses with open rondels. Behind and under the stage is a bathroom/dressing area, and an enclosed stairway leading down to the first floor. There is a full basement under the building with stout floor joists measuring 3" x 12". Large, coursed limestone rocks appear in the foundation walls. Intricately designed round metal radiators appear in the first floor spaces, and stained glass windows throughout the building contribute to the unique extant historic setting of interior spaces.

The attached, non-contributing two-story wing contains open museum exhibit space. There are no outbuildings associated with the property.


The Waterloo Library and Historical Society is significant in the area of architecture as an intact representative example of nineteenth-century rural educational design in western New York. The Queen Anne style building is primarily composed of a main block and gable wing built in 1883. These sections include a two-story main block with projecting three-story pavilion to the east and a one-story intersecting gable wing to the west. The second story of the main block contains an original, intact performance hall. As constructed in 1883, the building embodies distinctive Victorian-era features such as: steeply pitched and intersecting gable roofs; stone elements including belt courses, sills, lintels, chimney abutments and cap; and terra cotta wall surfaces and ridge blocks. Typical interior features include wide band trim with corner blocks, decorative metal radiators, an Eastlake overmantel, and vaulted spaces with trusses. Of particular note is the extensive use of original stained glass throughout the interior spaces. The Queen Anne style perfected to such a high degree as an educational/library facility is extremely rare in the region. The Waterloo Library and Historical Society, constructed as a library/performance hall in 1883, is substantially intact, retaining a wealth of interior and exterior features. The non-contributing concrete block wing to the north is well hidden from the major viewscape areas facing south. The building provides important information on late nineteenth-century educational architecture.

The Village of Waterloo developed on the site of a former Native American settlement known as Skoi-Yase, meaning "rapid water." Members of the Seneca and Cayuga tribes used the spot along the Seneca River to catch and dry fish, until eventually a permanent village appeared on the north bank of the river near the major east-west Indian trail running between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. The Sullivan Expedition of 1779 destroyed the village of Skoi-Yase, although the Native Americans continued to use the area as a fishery. Defeat of the Iroquois Confederacy, including the Seneca and Cayuga tribes, opened the wilderness from German Flats on the Mohawk River westward to Lake Erie, and many settlers migrating to the area from New England subsequently utilized the Seneca River for transport. In 1786, lands along the Seneca River between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes became part of the Military Tract, a large land grant set aside for Revolutionary War veterans. However, the Cayuga tribe retained rights to the Skoi-Yase area until 1795, when they ceded title to the State of New York. This development did not delay white settlement by any significant amount of time, since Samuel Bear had obtained approval from the Cayuga Nation in 1792 to settle the south side of Seneca River across from Skoi-Yase (the first permanent settler in the adjacent Village of Seneca Falls arrived in 1789).

Samuel Bear, of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, brought many of his Dutch neighbors along with him when he journeyed to western New York. The new settlers quickly constructed a dam across the river to channel sufficient water flow into a millrace to power a grist mill. Since millers paid ready cash for grain, new settlers found the area amendable, and Samuel Bear's settlement on the south side of the Seneca River steadily grew to include other water-powered industrial activities such as a carding mill, tannery, sawmill, distillery and several grist mills. In c.1796, Samuel opened the village's first general store, and, in 1799, he petitioned the New York legislature for legal title to his settlement. Although legal ownership was not acknowledged by the state until 1808, one year after Samuel's death, the village (which had various names such as Beartown or Jefferson) was parcelled out in 1802 when surveyed by David Cook of Geneva, New York. Legitimized in 1808, the survey provided a blueprint for subsequent development along the south side of the Seneca River.

In 1802, John McKinstry of Hudson, New York, received title to 640 acres on the north side of the Seneca River across from Samuel Bear's settlement. McKinstry sold the parcel in short order to his fellow Hudson townsman, Elisha Williams, who did not aggressively develop the land until 1815 when he sold a half-interest to Reuben Swift of Columbia County, New York. Swift quickly arrived on the scene, and on behalf of the Williams-Swift partnership, began to lay out streets and parcel the land for sale. The new village benefited immensely from its location on the Seneca Turnpike, and, by 1820, the Seneca Lock Navigation Company completed a canal along the Seneca River linking the headwaters of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. The proximity of the road and canal systems ensured economic prosperity for both the north and south side settlements, which had finally merged under the common name of "Waterloo" in 1816.

The village experienced a building boom from 1816-1818, was officially incorporated in 1824, and thereafter maintained steady growth until the late nineteenth century. The early boom produced "two flouring mills, an oil mill, two fulling mills, a trip hammer, an air furnace, a distillery, seven stores, six public houses, five physicians, six lawyers and about 100 dwelling houses." Village population in 1821 was about 500 persons. Between 1821 and 1850 the population rose to 3500 persons, an annual average increase of about 100. In 1836, attorney and surveyor William H. Burton drew a survey map of the north side settlement based on earlier efforts by Valentine Brother in 1814 and John Ewin in 1833. Although Waterloo has developed beyond the boundaries of Burton's 1836 map, most of the principal northside streets coincide with those laid out in the original Burton map.

The building has been owned and maintained since its completion in 1883 by the Waterloo Library and Historical Society. Waterloo has had a library since 1830, when local citizens formed a public library association. In 1861, the Waterloo Library Association and other small local repositories donated their collections to the newly formed Waterloo Union District #1 school library. No practical plan for another public library was broached until prominent local citizen Thomas Fatzinger challenged the Waterloo Literary and Historical Society to establish one. Fatzinger backed up his offer with a generous financial donation, and the Society accepted his proposal. Originally incorporated in 1875 after several years of unofficial operation, the Society re-incorporated in 1876 as the "Waterloo Library and Historical Society," a name that has endured to the present time. Although Mr. Fatzinger passed away in 1878, the Society initiated and successfully completed its drive to build a new public library building. Nichols and Brown of Albany provided architectural services, and the foundation was laid by 1881 on lots donated by Mrs. Fatzinger and S.R. Wells. The building was placed in service in late 1883, and in 1884, the Waterloo Wrought Iron Fence Company installed the iron fence remaining on the property today.

Although popular as a residential idiom in western New York during the late nineteenth-century, the Queen Anne style is not usually associated with library design. Newer buildings have replaced most earlier library facilities, and it is unusual to find a surviving rural library still occupying its original premises and operating under its initial charter, as amended. The survival of the original library/performance hall design is also rare, and provides a unique glimpse into late nineteenth-century concepts of civic responsibility. The Queen Anne design allows the building to conform to a residential setting, and the copious use of stained glass, dark wood trim and high, vaulted ceilings lends an almost religious dignity to interior spaces. The appearance of large, clipped gables in steeply pitched roof slopes emphasizes restrained verticality and solid massing. The use of limestone, terra cotta, brick, slate, and metal is a faithful rendering of the Queen Anne style, but such an extensive use of stained glass is more typical of a church.

Still owned and operated by the Waterloo Library and Historical Society, the building offers a rare glimpse into late nineteenth-century library design. The modern concrete block wing, built in 1959, does not detract from the historic setting of the building on a large lot encircled by two Victorian-era churches and residential dwellings. Large, mature shade trees and shrubs dot the area.


Becker, John E. A History of the Village of Waterloo and Thesaurus of Related Facts. Waterloo: Waterloo Library & Historical Society, 1949.

Everts, Ensign & Everts. History of Seneca County, New York — 1876 — With Illustrations. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1876.

Preservation Planning Workshop. Historic Resource Survey, Village of Waterloo, Seneca County, New York. College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Cornell University, 1982.

Stewart, Ruth W. History of the Waterloo Library and Historical Society. Unpublished manuscript in collection of Waterloo Library and Historical Society, 1967.

  1. Todd, Nancy L., New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Waterloo Library, nomination document, 1996, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Waterloo Library Map

Street Names
Williams Street East

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