Village Park Historic District
The Village Park Historic District was initially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Boundary extentions to the district were listed in 1983 and 2007. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from original copies of the nomination documents. [1,2,3] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Village Park Historic District in the geographic and social center of the North Country village of Canton includes three churches, the village library, the post office, a savings bank, and a brick commercial row, interspersed with a number of residences. The focus of the Village Park Historic District is the trapezoidal-shaped village park. In the center of the park is a fountain with a large circular base of rusticated stone. Throughout the park are numerous mature trees which in the summer form a lush canopy over the lawns and paths through the park. The village maintains the park and has replanted trees as the old ones have died. The local garden club maintains flower beds, and there is a commemorative honor roll on a plaque in the park.
The buildings around the park range in date from 1834, when the Silas Wright House (3 East Main Street) was constructed, to 1973, when its neighbor the Canton Savings and Loan Association building (127 Main Street) was built. The majority of structures were constructed in the late nineteenth century.
The three churches are focal points in the Village Park Historic District. The massive granite Presbyterian Church dominates the entire south side of the district. Its polychrome slate roof, slender steeple and two turrets are important visual elements in the district. Designed by L.B. Valk, the church was begun in 1876 and completed in 1880 on the site of an earlier stone church. It is flanked by two related structures, the 1906 frame 2-1/2 story manse on the east and the 2-story brick educational building constructed in 1963 adjoining the church on the west. Directly across the park on the north side of the district is the Unitarian Universalist Church. This rusticated stone Romanesque Revival church built in 1896-97 has a square tower with an open belfry. The church is rectangular in plan with an apse projecting on the west side. On the adjacent lot is the Baptist parsonage and church. The Baptist Church is a frame building dating from 1870 with a tower over the front entrance. Four Gothic turrets, erected at each corner of the main building mass, emphasize the linear appearance of the church. In 1965 a frame addition was made to the rear of the church. The 1912-17 frame parsonage is a harmonious neighbor to the Baptist Church. It is 2-1/2 stories with a center projecting bay which breaks the roofline with a single front dormer, a diminutive echo of the central tower of the Baptist Church.
Two other public buildings in the Village Park Historic District are on the west side of the district — the library and the post office. The Benton Memorial Library was built in 1908-9. It is a one-story stone building with a center arched doorway flanked by Ionic columns and pilasters. On either side of the front entrance are three windows grouped together. The building has a projecting cornice and a parapet surrounding the flat roof. A concrete and plate glass addition was made to the library in 1956. This wing is set well back and does not distract from the serious and academic demeanor of the small neo-classical library. The U.S. Post Office fills a corner lot adjacent to the library. Built in 1936 in a characteristic WPA Colonial Revival style, the Post Office is nine bays wide on the front (east) facade with a central arched doorway and cupola surmounted by a weather vane.
The other commercial structures in the Village Park Historic District are located near the Post Office at the northwest corner of the district. This row of six two-story brick structures built in the 1870's represents an overflow of the Main Street commercial activity into the essentially residential Village Park district.
The oldest building in the Village Park Historic District is the Silas Wright House (3 East Main Street) constructed in 1834. This two-story frame house is L-shaped in plan. It consists of a three-bay wide main portion with an elliptical fanlight in the front gable and an off-center doorway flanked by sidelights. The first floor of the side wing on the west was apparently the original part of the house and stood alone on the site for a few years. The second story of the west wing was added later in the nineteenth century.[†]
Two other houses of some architectural interest are located on Park Place. No. 1 Park Place is a two-story frame house with a large cupola, bracketed cornices and a pair of two-story projecting bay windows on either side of the front door. No. 7 Park Place is a 2-1/2 story frame house with a bracketed cornice and a mansard roof.
"The Eskimo," a one-story ice cream stand at 8 Park Street just south of the library, is one of the few intrusive elements in the Village Park Historic District. Also, the front facade of one of the six commercial buildings, 102 Main Street, was covered with metal siding in 1968. Otherwise the Village Park Historic District has a rhythmic arrangement and spacing of well-preserved structures and a pleasing relationship between open space and buildings.
The Village Park Historic District was listed on the National Register in 1975. It is a collection of sixteen residential, ecclesiastical, commercial, and public buildings which face Village Park, a small public park with mature trees and a fountain. In a traditional arrangement around the park, the Village Park Historic District is a well-preserved collection of late nineteenth century architecture.
The 1983 amendment to the Village Park Historic District is based on additional research conducted by the St. Lawrence County Historical Society which was unavailable at the time (1973) of the original Village Park Historic District nomination. The expanded Village Park Historic District (in 1983) includes all the area recognized and protected by the Canton Preservation Advisory Board.
The additional area is west of and contiguous to the original district. It consists of the entire north side of Main Street from Court Street to Riverside Drive and a small portion of the south side of Main Street. Beyond this area to the west lies the Grasse River and to the north are substantially altered late nineteenth century residences. On the south side of Main Street, the expansion includes four commercial buildings at the eastern end of the street; the remaining portion of this street is not included in the district because it consists of all modern, non-contributing structures. Historically, the south side of Main Street was never commercially developed but was occupied with large private homes which have either burned or been demolished.
The 1983 expansion includes thirty-two structures constructed between c.1870-1924. They are primarily two-story, brick buildings similar in scale, materials and decoration to the commercial structures included in the original district.
The north side of the 1983 expansion consists of four brick commercial blocks, generally two stories high with flat roofs. Ornamentation consists primarily of Italianate style decoration and details. These buildings date almost exclusively from the 1870's and 1880's and were constructed following a series of fires that prompted extensive rebuilding. Most structures have a commercial establishment on the first floor with apartments and/or meeting halls on the upper floors. The south side of the expansion includes two commercial buildings which date from the 1870's and two early twentieth century buildings. The two commercial structures have Italianate style details similar to those on the north side; however, one, number 70, is constructed in wood. The eclectic style theater (1921) and Classical style bank (1924) are each distinctive examples of their type and period. Along with the adjacent Benton Memorial Library (1908-09) and the U.S. Post Office (1936) in the original portion of the district, they form a compatible, representative group of early twentieth century civic and commercial architecture in the center of the historic district. There are no non-contributing structures in the Village Park Historic District. As expanded, the Village Park Historic District is the most significant intact concentration of architecturally distinctive structures in Canton's central business district. Despite fires and numerous first floor alterations, these commercial buildings clearly convey the sense of this small villages nineteenth-century business community.
In a traditional arrangement of structures clustered around a public park, Canton's Village Park Historic District is a well-preserved late 19th century architectural enclave. Churches with their adjacent parsonages, shops, public buildings and other residences form this park-centered district. Most are late Victorian buildings which in some cases replaced earlier mid-nineteenth century ones, and in general the late development of this North Country community is evident. Although Canton was made the county seat in 1828, it was not incorporated until 1845, and as late as 1860 the population was hardly over one thousand.
The earliest extant house in the Village Park Historic District was the home of Canton's most distinguished political figure, Silas Wright, who was Governor of New York State from 1844 to 1847. Wright is credited with much of the early planning and development of the historic district. From 1819 when he arrived in Canton as a young lawyer, Wright's political career was a steady rise from village postmaster to state senator (1824-1827), to congressman (1827-1829), to state comptroller (1829-1834), to U.S. Senator (1834-1844), and finally the position of governor. He married Clarissa Moody, daughter of a Canton tavern keeper, and they bought their house on Main Street from Moses Whitcomb in 1834 soon after it was built. The house stands squarely overlooking the public park which Wright donated to the community jointly with his partner, Joseph Barnes, in 1827. At the same time Barnes and Wright donated the site south of the park for the Presbyterian Church. Wright was one of the first church trustees and contributed toward the construction of the first church which was built in 1831 and was later replaced with the grander Gothic structure, built between 1876-1880. As in many New York communities, the Presbyterian Church has a dominating effect on the Village Park atmosphere. The mature trees in the park cannot compete with the lofty church spire. The complicated angular rooflines of this stone building, designed by L.B. Valk, give the impression of great volume. Silas Wright's house, the park fountain and the Presbyterian Church are all constructed on a north-south axis running through the center of the historic district and linking the three elements of the Village Park Historic District in which the governor was personally involved.
Silas Wright died in 1847 in the west wing of his Canton home after he was stricken by a heart attack in the post office. After the death of his widow in 1870 and his younger brother, Pliny, in 1891, the house became the Universalist parsonage.
Aside from Wright's guiding hand in Canton's Village Park development, the presence of the Universalist Church relates to another distinctive local theme. The present 1896-97 stone building is the second Universalist Church constructed on the site just north of the Silas Wright House. The first building probably dated back to 1856 with the founding of the nearby St. Lawrence University under Universalist auspices. The university, which today is a distinguished liberal arts institution, was begun as a theological school for Universalist ministers, and two of the oldest college buildings have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Richardson Hall and Herring-Cole Hall). Like any other college town, Canton's historical growth and prosperity has been inextricably connected with the university on its eastern fringes. Many village residences including #1 Park Place in the Village Park Historic District, are now owned by the university and used as faculty or student housing. No. 1 Park Place, a prominent visual component of the Village Park Historic District with its bay windows, bracketed cornice and cupola, is said to have been constructed for Capt. Lucius Moody, brother-in-law of Silas Wright.
The rebuilding of all three churches in the Village Park Historic District in the last quarter of the nineteenth century is indicative of the village's growth and prosperity. The early twentieth century Benton Memorial Library is a continuation of this trend of substantial civic architecture around the village park, and the library's neighbor, the 1936 Post Office, fills an important corner site on the park's periphery.
Inspired by Canton's key historical figure, Gov. Silas Wright, the Village Park is an environmental amenity which has attracted the construction of the village's most distinctive architecture. Together the well-preserved buildings and open space form a cohesive district illustrative of the principal architectural and historical themes of the area.
The Village Park Historic District is architecturally and historically significant as an intact group of residential, civic, ecclesiastical and commercial structures representing the development of Canton between 1834-1936. The blocks which constitute the Village Park Historic District 1983 Expansion, containing structures similar in style, form and materials to those in the existing district, form a continuous cohesive streetscape with the portion of Canton's Main Street commercial area that has already been designated. The structures date from 1870 to 1924 and further illustrate Canton's prosperity as the county seat and the commercial and social center for the surrounding rural area.
Boundary Increase #2 (2007)
The boundary increase (#2) for the Village Park Historic District (listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and expanded in 1983) is comprised of three buildings on the north side of Main Street (NY 11) which are contiguous to the eastern boundary of the district. The buildings are consistent with the character of the existing historic district and extend its eastern boundary on the north side of E. Main Street up to the intersection with Church Street, rather than ending in the middle of a block as it had.
Boundary Increase #2 Significance
The significance of the buildings within the Village Park Historic District Boundary Increase #2 area is consistent with that of the buildings within the Village Park Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and expanded in 1983. The original Village Park Historic District included a collection of 16 residential, ecclesiastical, commercial and public buildings, which face in a traditional arrangement around Village Park, a small public park with mature trees and a fountain. In 1985, the Village Park Historic District was expanded to the west into the commercial core of the village to include an additional 32 buildings, primarily 2-story brick commercial buildings similar in scale, material and decoration to the few commercial buildings included in the original district. The period of significance for all buildings/structures within the existing district ranges from 1834-1936.
It is unknown as to why the three buildings included in this Boundary Increase #2 were not included in the original district, since they also face onto the Village Park and are contemporaneous buildings that are equally prominent and intact to those already listed. Also, the original district boundary unnaturally and abruptly ends mid-block on the north side of Main Street heading east, excluding these three buildings rather than following the street plan and natural rhythm of the historic resources and ending the district at its natural break at the corner of Church Street. Because these three buildings are so obviously compatible and actually integral to the cohesiveness of the original district that surrounded Village Park, we can only surmise that, at the time, there were owner objections for these properties.
7-1/2 E. Main Street — Built c.1850, possibly by farmer Thomas Conkey, who sold the property to H.H. Conkey, a son or nephew, by 1860. H.H. Conkey was a young deputy sheriff with a family of four in 1860. The building is sometimes referred to as the Andrews House, as it was the home of local Dr. Andrews and family. It was also the home of William R. Remington, uncle of artist Frederic Remington, who served as postmaster for 19 years and as St. Lawrence County Clerk for six years. While holding the latter office, William is credited with revising the index system. Later, he was collector of customs for the Oswegatchie district, including the Port of Ogdensburg. Today, the building houses offices for a real estate company. Originally constructed as a one-story front gable with ell wing dwelling, the building was doubled in size c.1890 and updated with Colonial Revival elements.
9 E. Main Street/Grace Episcopal Church — Built 1903, to replace an 1842 frame church on the site, the church's long narrow plan was designed to fit between pre-existing dwellings on either side. This impressive Gothic Revival stone church, designed by architect Richard Hubbard of Utica, NY, is also individually eligible for listing. Built of locally-quarried stone, the building is a substantially intact representation of the English Parish Church form with a cruciform plan, castellated corner tower, distinctive rusticated gray stone walls, hallmark Gothic pointed arched openings. Other features of the building include its deeply recessed centered main entry on its gable end, and stained-glass windows (made by Mayer & Company of Munich, Bavaria) throughout with oversized ones set in both gable ends. The interior of the building is also in keeping with the parish church tradition of decorative wood ceiling, exposed wood trusses, and wainscoting. The cherry wood used for these finishes was a gift from James Spears. The altar, sanctuary seats and litany desk are black walnut and were taken from the 1830 church on the site. The pews and choir stalls are dark oak. The impressive beam featuring a carved Calvary group was given in memory of Leslie Russell, County Judge. The magnificent Ascension Window over the altar is a memorial to the Rev. C. Gregory Prout, beloved rector who died in 1927, in recognition of his faithful and heroic work in ministering to those stricken during the 1918-19 flu epidemic. The Russell family is credited with being benefactors in the construction of the church.
The current Grace Episcopal Church building is home to a congregation, Grace Episcopal Parish, which was formed in 1836 by 19 men who met under the leadership of Rev. Richard Bury. Included in this group were several distinguished Canton settlers, such as Richard Harison, Darious Clark, Harry Foote, and Henry Van Rensselaer. Five years later, the first chapel was erected on the site of the current building and was consecrated by the Rev. Benjamin Onderdonk, Bishop of New York on September 3, 1942. When the current church was constructed in 1903, the first chapel was moved around the corner facing Church Street to be used as a Parish House. However, it has since been demolished.
The church complements two other churches in the older-listed historic district: the contemporaneous Unitarian Universalistic Church, a few doors down at 3 E. Main Street, which is a similar gray stone church built in the Romanesque Revival style, and the massive, Vaux-designed, gray granite Presbyterian Church (1880) across the Village Park at 2 Park Place.
11 E. Main Street/Grace Episcopal Church Rectory
Constructed for the church in 1887 at a cost of $3,700, and remodeled c.1920, this building replaced the 1855 rectory on the same site. This 2-1/2 story building, which reflects early 20th century classical revival elements is significant for its historic association with Grace Episcopal Church.
[†]Harley J. McKee, "The Silas Wright House, Canton, New York," March 16, 1974. Unpublished report, p.1.
Brooke, Cornelia E. Village Park Historic District, Canton, St. Lawrence County, NY. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. 1975.
Casserly, Linda A., Julie Sherman Grayson & Judith C. Liscum. Images of America: Canton, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NJ, San Francisco CA. 2005.
Curtis, Gates (Ed). Religious Societies and Schools in Canton, NY from Our County and its People: A Memorial Record of St. Lawrence County, NY. The Boston History Company, Publishers. 1894.
Dale, Barry R. & Mark S. LoRusso. A Cultural Resources Reconnaissance Survey Report for an Archaeological Survey and an Architectural Survey/Historic Setting Analysis of PIN 7143.27.121, US11/Main Street, Village of Canton, St. Lawrence County, NY. New York State Museum. 2005.
Harwood, John F. Village Park Historic District, Canton, St. Lawrence County, NY. (Boundary Expansion). National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. 1983.
St. Lawrence Plaindealer, Canton, NY — Stroll Past Lovely Reminders of Canton's Heritage. July 3, 1979; Heritage Stroll, Part 2: An Historic Walk Down Main Street. July 25, 1979; Heritage Stroll Takes a Turn Around the Park. September 5, 1979.