Wolcott Square Historic District
The Wolcott Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Wolcott Square Historic District in the Village of Wolcott, Wayne County, New York, consists of Northrup Park and the surrounding buildings on West Main Street to the north and New Hartford Street to the south. Included in the Wolcott Square Historic District are the First Baptist Church, the First Presbyterian Church, the Village Hall, the 1.9-acre village green (Northrup Park), a bandstand, and a public fountain. The Wolcott Square Historic District is located one block west of (and adjacent to) the village's central business district, which consists of several contiguous rows of relatively intact, late nineteenth and early twentieth century attached brick buildings. Although the commercial buildings appear to be eligible for listing in the National Register, additional research is needed to justify their specific integrity and significance in terms of the criteria.
The incorporated Village of Wolcott is located in the rural town of Wolcott in northeast Wayne County. State Route 143 (Main Street) runs east-west through the village and State Route 256 (Lake Avenue/New Hartford Street) runs north-south; the historic core of the village is at the intersection of the two. During the early nineteenth century, the village park and the village's primary civic and religious buildings were laid out to the southwest of the four corners. Commercial development spread eastward along both sides of East Main Street, while residential development occurred south along New Hartford Street, west along West Main Street, and north along Lake Avenue. (Little residential activity occurred east of the central business district due to a deep gully and falls that precluded development.) Additional religious and civic development occurred sporadically in several of the residential neighborhoods as the village grew during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The focal point of the Wolcott Square Historic District is Northrup Park, a 1.9-acre village green laid out in 1813 for use by the local school district. The northern half of the park is occupied by the First Presbyterian Church and the First Baptist Church, both of which are massive, Romanesque Revival style edifices erected in the early 1880's. The front facades of both churches face West Main Street and their rear elevations overlook the village green. Both buildings are distinguished by asymmetrical massing, brick and stone construction, soaring front corner towers, and a variety of finely crafted stained-glass windows. Roughly centrally placed in the remaining open space of the irregularly shaped green is a Classically inspired bandstand dating to 1926. The bandstand features a hipped roof supported by fluted Doric order columns and is accessed by a simple network of concrete walkways. Mature trees and shrubbery are scattered randomly around the park.
Park Street defines the southern boundary of Northrup Park; the village hall — a two-story brick building built in 1910 — is located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Park and New Hartford Streets; its front (east) facade faces New Hartford Street. Village Hall, which also originally served as the community's firehouse, is distinguished by a variety of simple, classically inspired features, including a decorative cupola, a pediment front gable end with a Palladian-inspired attic window, two-story brick pilasters on the front facade, and an oriel window above the central (altered) entrance. A wide frieze and projecting cornice are embellished with prominent brackets.
The final feature of the Wolcott Square Historic District is "Venus Rising," a public fountain located on a small traffic island in the middle of New Hartford Street just eat of the First Baptist Church. The fountain, dating from 1913 and created by Mott Iron Works of New York City, consists of a concrete water basin, out of which rises a classically inspired, cast-iron statue of Venus surrounded by cast-iron cherubs and fanciful water creatures. There are no non-contributing properties in the Wolcott Square Historic District; nor are there any non-contributing secondary buildings associated with any of the primary properties in the district. As a group, the collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century components retains a remarkable high degree of integrity of design, materials, craftsmanship, feeling and association.
The Wolcott Square Historic District is an architecturally and historically significant collection of intact religious and public architecture in the middle of downtown Wolcott, a small, quiet village in northwestern Wayne County. Grouped around Northrup Park, a New England-inspired village green, the three buildings, a bandstand and a fountain comprise the historic civic core of the village. Together, the park and surrounding elements — dating from 1813 to 1926 — chronicle the development of Wolcott, a once-thriving center of commercial, social, and educational activity in this predominantly rural agrarian region of Wayne County. Encompassing approximately three acres, the Wolcott Square Historic District is a compact and highly cohesive collection of elements reflecting several distinct architectural types and periods, with two massive, Romanesque Revival style churches predominating. The churches are complemented by the 1813 village green — a reminder of Wolcott's settlement era — and the classically inspired Village Hall, a bandstand, and a public fountain, all of which attest to the village's continued growth and prosperity well into the twentieth century.
Wolcott, first called Melvin's Mills after Jonathan Melvin, one of the community's earliest settlers. Melvin established a grist mill during the first decade of the nineteenth century; the town's first meeting, held on April 3, 1810, was held at Melvin's grist mill. In 1812, Melvin — who owned much of the land in the settlement — donated land to the town for use as a village green and upon which a school was to be built; religious groups were also to have access to space on the green. A school was built soon thereafter, and survived until the mid-nineteenth century when a second school, funded by Isaac Leavenworth in 1856, was erected. (Neither building survives; the school district built a new, centralized school during the early to mid-twentieth century on a site further south on New Hartford Street.) The village green — still publicly owned — survives intact today as an important reminder of eighteenth and early nineteenth century New England-inspired public landscape design: traditionally, village greens were the focal points of numerous community activities, such as social, recreational, cultural, and political gatherings.
During the first half of the 1800s, Melvin's Mills flourished as a mill village, with several saw and grist mills providing employment for local citizens and economic stability for their families. Support services and secondary industries augmented the mill, particularly after the 1872 arrival of G.H. Northrup, who quickly became the village's leading entrepreneur and philanthropist. The village was incorporated as Wolcott in 1873, and new commercial/industrial enterprises — including a lumber business, a creamery, a pickle factory and a fruit business — were booming. Northrup, one of Wolcott's leading public figures, was instrumental in influencing the development around the village green; he was a trustee and elder of the Presbyterian Church and played a leading role in securing a site on the north side of the green upon which the current Presbyterian Church was erected in 1883; it was built next door to the First Baptist Church, which had been erected in 1881. Together, the two massive, Romanesque Revival style churches are the most intact, architecturally significant components of the Wolcott Square Historic District; both survive with a high degree of integrity of location, setting, design, materials, craftsmanship, feeling, and association. Both embody the distinctive features of the Romanesque Revival style of the Victorian era and are characterized by finely crafted masonry construction; symmetrical configurations; soaring corner towers; huge, round-arched door and window openings; and elaborate, stained-glass windows.
Wolcott continued to thrive during the early twentieth century, in great part due to Northrup's continued civic and commercial acumen. In 1910, a fashionable new village hall was built on the south side of the village green; three years later, a prominent fountain with a statue depicting Venus Rising was built in the middle of New Hartford Street near the intersection with Main Street. (The fountain marks the western terminus of Wolcott's historic commercial core, which appears to be eligible for listing in the National Register; However, additional surveys and research need to be conducted in order to justify significance according to the criteria.) In 1926, Northrup's widow sponsored the erection of the current bandstand and had the green landscaped in her late husband's honor; that same year, the green was officially renamed Northrup Park. The park, village hall, bandstand and fountain/statue are intact, representative examples of early twentieth century civic art/architecture.
The Wolcott Square Historic District survives as a significant collection of nineteenth and twentieth century civic and religious elements that together illustrate the prosperous history of a small former mill village in this predominantly rural region of northeast Wayne County. A small, yet devastating fire recently swept through the former narthex of the Presbyterian Church, wiping out spaces important to the congregation but non-contributing according to the National Register criteria. In addition to repairing the fire-damaged portion of the church, the congregation is in the process of sensitively restoring deteriorated and/or altered historic fabric in other portions of the building.
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