Three Squares Historic District
The Three Squares Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Three Squares Historic District is an area which constitutes both the historic and the present commercial center of Glens Falls. Located on a plateau above the falls of the Hudson on the north bank of the river, the 23-acre Three Squares Historic District encompasses ninety-three commercial and civic structures, of which seventy-seven contribute to the historic significance of the district. The boundaries of the Three Squares Historic District generally conform to rear property lines of buildings constituting the visual and physical terminus of the city's commercial district. Extensive urban renewal demolition during the 1960's destroyed a significant portion of the Glen Falls business district in the vicinity of Glen Street and Warren Street, and the remaining vacant land is excluded from the historic district. Beyond the Three Squares Historic District boundaries, the character of the surroundings changes: residential neighborhoods are located immediately to the west, north, and east, while industrial facilities are concentrated below the bluffs of the Hudson River to the south.
The Three Squares Historic District is oriented around two primary axes: Glen Street, the principal commercial street of Glens Falls, runs generally north-south; South Street, which intersects Glen, extends generally west. Shorter commercial streets intersecting these axial routes are also included within the district boundaries. The Three Squares Historic District is generally bounded on the north by Maple Street, on the east by Ridge Street and Glen Street, on the south by the Hudson River bluffs, and on the west by South Street. The focal points of the Three Squares Historic District are Fountain Square at the intersection of Glen, Ridge and Warren Streets. Union Square at the intersection of South and Broad Streets, and Monument Square at the intersection of South, Glen and Bay Streets. Near the center of the Three Squares Historic District is City Park, a landscaped, one-block open space.
The buildings of the Three Squares Historic District generally consist of brick commercial, office and institutional structures which vary between two and five stories in height. Because devastating fires destroyed much of the Glens Falls business district in 1864 and again in 1902, the majority of buildings within the Three Squares Historic District were built between 1902 and 1930. The commercial blocks generally exhibit uniform facade lines and most storefronts remain substantially intact above the first story. Buildings located along Glen Street are generally brick structures decorated with corbels, molded stone pediments, cornices and lintels, intricate terra-cotta detail, or limestone veneer. The structures located along South Street and side streets generally consist of less ornate brick or frame commercial buildings with simple sawed, carved or molded details.
The architectural styles most represented in the Three Squares Historic District are those of the "American Renaissance" movement of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century, including Italianate, Romanesque, Queen Anne, Beaux-Arts, Neoclassical and Colonial Revival. The Three Squares Historic District contains many notable examples of commercial structures embodying these late nineteenth-early twentieth century styles. Among these are: the Italianate style Cowles Block (1865) at the corner of Warren, Glen and Ridge Streets, the Neoclassical style Rogers Building (1926-1927) at the corner of Bay and Maple Streets, 234-238 Glen Street (1907), with its ornate Beaux-Arts style facade of polychrome glazed terra-cotta, and the Beaux-Arts style Empire Theatre (1899) on South Street. The imposing Neoclassical style Glens Falls City Hall (1900) on Ridge Street is a prominent civic building located near the center of the Three Squares Historic District.
The Three Squares Historic District is significant for its architectural merit and its historical importance to the development of Glens Falls and the southern Adirondack Region. Located near important sources of water power, transportation and raw materials, the city of Glens Falls emerged as a regional center of banking, commerce and manufacturing during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, reaching its zenith about 1900. The Three Squares Historic District, centered on Glen, South, Warren and Ridge Streets, contains the finest examples of late nineteenth-early twentieth century commercial and civic architecture in the upper Hudson-north country region of New York State. Designed in a variety of popular styles and embellished with finely crafted brick, stone, metal and terra-cotta architectural details, the seventy-three contributing buildings of the Three Squares Historic District reflect the prosperity and the architectural tastes which characterized the region's most prosperous commercial center during the period from 1865 to 1930.
Since the late eighteenth century, the plateau above "The Glen" and the dramatic falls of the Hudson River has been the focus of business activity in Glens Falls. Fountain Square, at the intersection of three important roads, was flanked by leading banking houses and hotels serving the region's burgeoning lumber and tourist industries during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. From Fountain Square the city's business blocks expanded northwest to Monument Square, dominated by a cenotaph commemorating the community's Civil War dead, and southwest from the monument to Union Square. The city's commercial growth was spurred by the great Adirondack river log drives and the growth of local sawmills, the manufacture of dressed stone, lime, and paper, the shipping of bulk products on the Feeder Canal, and a brisk trade in manufactured goods within the Adirondack region. By the decades following the Civil War, Glens Falls was a boom town, a financial, commercial and transportation hub of the southern Adirondacks. Ravaged by devastating fires in 1864 and 1902, the business blocks encompassed by the Three Squares Historic District were immediately rebuilt on both occasions, testifying to the prosperity which prevailed in Glens Falls throughout the era.
The Three Squares Historic District is significant as a remarkably intact concentration of late nineteenth-early twentieth century commercial and civic architecture. The Three Squares Historic District contains some of the most exuberant designs for commercial structures remaining from this era in New York State. Designs for many buildings in the Three Squares Historic District were commissions from the city's leading financiers and merchants to regionally recognized architects such as Gilbert Croff, Marcus Cummings, Albert Fuller, S. Gifford Slocum, and Glens Falls architect Ephraim B. Potter. Designing in the styles which achieved popularity with the eclecticism of the "American Renaissance" movement during the late nineteenth century, these architects gave Glens Falls some of the most outstanding and elaborate examples of Italianate, Romanesque, Queen Anne, Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical commercial architecture to be found in northern New York.
Several notable buildings in the Three Squares Historic District exemplify their type, period and style. The Calvin Robbins Blacksmith Shop (circa 1835) is among the earliest extant buildings in Glens Falls and one of few to have survived the devastating fires in the downtown area. The Cowles Block is a significant Italianate style brick structure designed by noted architect Marcus F. Cummings in 1865. The ornate brick and terra-cotta facade of the Leggett and Peddie buildings is an outstanding example of Romanesque commercial design in the city. The Neoclassical style is particularly well-represented in such structures as the Colvin Building (1903), and the Glens Falls Trust Company Building (1907) designed by Albany architect Marcus Reynolds. The polychrome glazed terra-cotta facade of the Saunders Building (1907) is an outstanding representation of the Beaux Arts style within the district. The finest example of Gothic Revival style ecclesiastical architecture in Glens Falls is the Episcopal Church of the Messiah, designed by architect John W. Summers. Built between 1854 and 1865, the church is also significant as one of few extant buildings to have survived the "Great Conflagration" of 1864.
Incorporating locally manufactured building materials such as pressed and molded brick, limestone, terra-cotta and iron and reflecting the skills of local masons and carpenters, the buildings of the Three Squares Historic District continue to evoke the period of Glens Falls' most sustained economic growth.
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