Katonah Village Historic District
The Katonah Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 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 unincorporated village of Katonah is located in the center of the northern section of Westchester County, halfway between Fairfield County, Connecticut to the east and the Hudson River to the west, and approximately twenty miles from the county seat of White Plains. Within the town of Bedford, Katonah is adjacent to two large man-made bodies of water: the New Croton Reservoir and the Cross River Reservoir.
The Katonah Village Historic District presented here for the village of Katonah is an outgrowth of an historic resources inventory conducted by the Katonah Village Improvement Society in consultation with the New York State Historic Preservation Office. Only Katonah's large residential area was evaluated for the National Register nomination. The buildings in its central business district need further study (due to some alterations).
The Katonah Village Historic District consists of the cohesive, primarily residential area which includes thirty-eight structures. Included are buildings on both sides of Bedford Road from the intersection of Edgemont on the north to the intersection with The Terrace and Allen Court on the south, and sections of Valley Edge, Edgemont Road, and Parkway. Although primarily residential, the Katonah Village Historic District also includes three churches, two combination residential-professional office space buildings, and there are no intrusions. The character of the area is enhanced by the varied topography and, in the center of Bedford Road and The Parkway, informally landscaped islands of green open space. The Katonah Village Historic District is immediately adjacent to Katonah's central business district on the east. It is surrounded on the north, west, and south by densely built-up single family housing, consisting of more recent, architecturally undistinguished houses or historic buildings which have received unsympathetic alterations.
The Katonah Village Historic District is defined by a significant concentration of mostly Queen Anne style residences and churches carefully sited within a grid plan designed by B.S. and G.S. Olmsted in 1895. The present location of the community of Katonah lies one mile south of the original (1847) settlement. Abandonment of the earlier settlement was forced by the rapid expansion of New York City necessitating the expansion of the city water supply, a component of which involved the creation of Muscoot Reservoir. When plans for the reservoir were completed by 1890, citizens of the original hamlet formed the Katonah Land Company and purchased farm lands where "new" Katonah now stands. The residential core area of new Katonah is significant not only as an important collection of stylish turn-of-the-century homes and churches set within a carefully planned, landscaped street plan (which represents the work of the important landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers), but also as a reminder of the resourcefulness and the strong sense of community which local residents demonstrated in the face of the large-scale reservoir creation projects which dramatically changed the character of north central Westchester County during the second half of the nineteenth century. Development of the residential core of new Katonah started promptly in 1895 and continued up to 1928 when the library was built. The Katonah Village Historic District, with its strictly turn-of-the-century architectural quality, is an unusual survivor in an area which has experienced extensive development and context change since World War II as the New York City suburbs expanded.
Present-day Katonah began when a plot plan for the new community was prepared in 1895 by B.S. and G.S. Olmsted, landscape architects. The plan created a grid pattern with wide streets, some divided by open green space, with the new central business district oriented around the railroad station. Most of the buildings of old Katonah were sold at public auction and many were moved to the new village, drawn by horses along timber tracks to lots on the newly laid out streets. Additional buildings were constructed.
The Katonah Village Historic District represents both old and new aspects of the community's development. Ten of the structures, dating from c.1840 to 1885, including St. Mary's Church and Rectory and the Presbyterian Church office, were relocated from the old village. The remaining twenty-eight buildings within the Katonah Village Historic District were erected between 1896 and 1910 with the exception of the library (1930).
Stylistically, the residences of the Katonah Village Historic District fall into two primary categories. Among the houses that were moved, most exemplify the Queen Anne style, characterized by irregularity of plan and massing and variety of color, texture, surface treatment, and window form. The majority of those built on the new village sites represent the influence of the Shingle style and illustrate Vincent Scully's description:
"Clearly, the ...shingle houses, like the colonial work which in part inspired them, were the product of an America which...was infinitely smaller and less psychologically beset than that of the present day. Regarded purely as architecture...these were the freest, and on the whole, among the most generous forms that the United States has yet produced, and they created that kind of architectural environment. In their own way they were also the gentlest form...the most relaxed and spiritually open and...the most wholly wedded to the landscape."
The Katonah Village Historic District's structures within both these groups are essentially intact, retaining for the most part original sheathing, form, elements, and details. The use of a wide range of forms and materials gives the Katonah Village Historic District a rich visual quality and provides a catalog of examples of massing, ornament and materials commonly found in turn-of-the-century residential architecture. The Katonah Village Library (1928), a distinctive Colonial Revival style building was the last major construction to occur in the Katonah Village Historic District.
Despite changes in the area surrounding the Katonah Village Historic District, largely brought on by the nearby I-684 limited access highway, the Katonah Village Historic District with its Olmsted-designed street plan featuring broad intersections, grassy malls, and tree-lined streets remains largely unchanged and provides important evidence, through its well preserved character, of the hamlet's early history, resettlement, and development.
Duncombe, Frances R. et al. Katonah: The History of a New York Village and Its People. Katonah: 1961.
Duncombe, Frances R. Katonah Village Improvement Society: 1878-1978. Katonah: Katonah Publishing Company, 1978.
Sanchis, Frank E. American Architecture: Westchester County, New York. Valhalla: North River Press, 1977.
Scully, Vincent J., Jr. The Shingle Style and The Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design From Richardson to the Origins of Wright. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971.
† Austin O'Brien, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Katonah Village Historic District, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.