Chestertown Historic District
The Chestertown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination documentation. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Chestertown is a small village of modest mid and late 19th century buildings located on U.S. Route 9 in the north central section of Warren County. The area is within the Adirondack Forest Preserve, but is zoned for rural use rather than forest. Lakes abound and the town is bordered on the west by the Schroon River and on the east by the Hudson River. Route 9 was at one time a major north-south artery. In recent years the Adirondack Northway has taken over its function.
The Chestertown Historic District consists of a grouping of three architecturally worthy buildings which face on Route 9 in the center of the village; the Fowler Homestead, the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Chester Town Hall. There are no other architecturally significant buildings in the immediate area. Several barns and outbuildings are located to the rear of the farmhouse; the Fowler cemetery and a centennial monument of 1913 are also within the boundaries of the Chestertown Historic District.
The Fowler House is a rambling wood sheathed structure which was built in several stages. The portion reputed to be the oldest is a small one and a half story section with eyebrow windows on the front facade. A rectangular wing abuts this at the rear. The most prominent part of the house is the Greek Revival section. This is a typical, well-executed and well-preserved example of the style with pediment, frieze, architrave and paneled pilasters. The paneled window surrounds have projecting ears and fine cornice moldings. The two verandas appear to have been built during this period; however the balustrade is late 19th century. This portion of the house has the kind of fine wood detailing which creates interesting surface patterns of light and shadow and makes a notable building out of a rectangular box. There are two old barns and two sheds on the property.
The Church of the Good Shepherd is an L-shaped wood-sheathed building which has been doubled in size by the addition of a parish hall at the rear in 1954. The original 1884 building is still remarkably intact. It is a small, L-shaped building with a steeply pitched gabled roof, bell tower and separate vestibule.
The roof has a deep overhang with a stick style decoration in the gable end, similar to that illustrated on Plate IV of Palliser's Model Homes (1878). The open belfry has jig-saw work, brackets and a bellcast roof. The small vestibule repeats the steep pitch of the roof but has a small cross gable, creating a complicated pattern which provides visual interest at the entrance. The church demonstrates how much can be done to create a feeling of intimacy and appeal using the simplest of materials and forms.
The Chester Town Hall is a two story, symmetrical building with a hip roof. Three bays of the five bay front facade are occupied by a central projecting block containing a tower which rises an additional story. The tower projects slightly from the block over the roof of a one-bay open porch. Windows vary. Most are spaced singly but there are paired windows on the front facade and two banks of four windows at the rear. The only decorative elements are the widely-spaced roof brackets, the entrance with barrel-arched transom, and the windows of the tower with similar arches. A massive brick chimney rises from the center of the roof.
Three adjacent buildings derived from as many historical periods and serving diverse functions, comprise a small but locally significant grouping in the village of Chestertown.
The first building is a well-preserved example of a Greek Revival farmhouse together with its barns. A portion of the house is thought to date from the 18th century pioneer occupation of the area. The adjacent small church is a translation into rural vernacular of the parish church revival style and illustrates the success of the late 19th century Episcopal missionary work in the Adirondacks. Lastly, the building now used as a town hall and museum was built in the early 20th century in an form to serve its first purpose of public school.
The village of Chestertown is said to have come into being between 1805 and 1820. By 1835 the place contained two churches (a Baptist and a Presbyterian), a grist mill, sawmill, academy, two taverns, three stories and about 150 homes. Early industries were lumbering, tanning and mining; later came dairying, sheep raising and some small textile industries. Tourism was on the rise in the latter part of the 19th century when the village had two hotels, both of which are now gone.
The Fowler farmhouse appears on the county map of 1858. Charles Fowler had purchased the property during the first quarter of the 19th century, but a portion of the house is thought to predate his ownership. The substantial Greek Revival period portion of the house was probably built by Fowler in the 1840's.
The large farmhouse was carefully detailed in the best tradition of the period. Although houses of this calibre are plentiful in other parts of the state, they are much less frequent in the Adirondacks, which was sparsely settled at this time and had few prosperous farms. Charles Fowler kept a store. His sons, Byron B. and Joseph, both born in Chester, went on to become prominent merchants of Glens Falls. Byron B. ran Fowler Bros. while Joseph organized the Glens Falls Shirt Company, the Lime Company and the Brick and Tile Company and was also president of the Glens Falls Corporation.
The Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1883 at a cost of $2500. The small rural church was a result of the missionary zeal and reaching out of the Albany Episcopal Diocese which had been formed from the New York Diocese in 1868. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, New York under Bishop Hobart had been noted for its support of struggling new parishes. By 1859 there were five churches in Warren County, the most important being the 1855 Church of the Messiah in Glens Falls. The church in Chestertown is an example of the small mission church which resulted from this impetus.
Since Upjohn's work was the chief influence in guiding the architecture of small wood parish churches at this time, especially the Episcopalian, the Chestertown Church understandably expresses this influence. As originally built, its proportions and massing closely resembled the country church design in Rural Architecture. A steep roof, small lancet windows, and attenuated spire were combined to create the type of "naive, quaint charm" alluded to in Richard Upjohn: Architect and Churchman."
The Chester Town Hall, which houses an historical museum on the second floor, was built in 1913 to serve as a high school for the towns of Chester, Horicon, Hague and Johnsburg. Pupils also attended from Schroon Lake in Essex County. The building has had a varied career. During World War II it was used as a factory and later became an antique shop. The town of Chester then took over the building for use as a town hall and museum.
The architecture of 19th century school buildings, like that of industrial structures, was largely governed by practical considerations. Early academies were usually plain, with the only embellishment often being a bell tower or cupola. Texts on school architecture throughout the century show buildings with less embellishment than was the rule for domestic architecture, while in texts dealing with rural areas, schools are depicted as providing only basic shelter. In 1909, in his book Modern American School Buildings, Warren Briggs comments:
"As to the exterior, it seems to me that a school building should show some idea of architectural proportion and symmetry; because a structure is designed for simple and homely purposes it does not follow that it must be unsurpassingly ugly; yet how few of the village schools that dot the pleasant landscape of our country are pleasing to look upon? It is true that they have the simplest of lines and are usually built of the homeliest materials; but even with these drawbacks, well-studied lines and carefully proportioned masses combined with the plainest materials may in skillful hands make a village school building a thing of beauty."
The Chestertown High School embodies the principles of this statement to perfection. Though conceived of as a hip-roofed, wood-sheathed box, the building achieves visual interest through the projection of the central section with its tower. The play of light and shadow upon these masses together with the contrast between the monolithic forms and the delicate surface patterns of wood siding and trim, combine to make this a worthy expression of the vernacular.
It is these same qualities of austerity, simplicity and the chiaroscuro of wood detailing which gives continuity and unity to these three contiguous examples of anonymous architecture, making them worthy of attention and future preservation.
† Doris Vanderlipp Manley, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Chestertown Historic District, Warren County, New York, nomination document, 1976, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Upjohn, Everhard M. Richard Upjohn: Architect and Churchman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939.
Smith, H.P. History of Warren County. Syracuse: D. Mason and Co., 1885.
Briggs, Warren Richard. Modern American School Buildings. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1909.