Equinunk Historic District
More or less bisected by the Equinunk Creek, the portions of the district are located in both Buckingham and Manchester Townships.
The Equinunk Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Equinunk Historic District is located at the confluence of Equinunk Creek and the Delaware River, with the river to the north and the forested hills of New York State beyond. Equinunk Creek flows south to north through the district. Wooded hills to the east and west frame the community, with the relatively narrow valley of Equinunk Creek continuing on to the south. The Equinunk Historic District generally surrounds Lordville Road, State Route 191, Factory Creek Road, Pine Mill Road, and Grocery Hill Road, in the village of Equinunk. It consists of three topographically distinct, but visually connected areas: the "downtown" lowlands on the west side of Equinunk Creek; a cluster of buildings on the east side of the Creek in a narrow strip along Lordville Road; and the adjacent Grocery Hill area, overlooking the creek and river valleys. It is characterized by nineteenth and early twentieth century vernacular architecture, including Queen Anne, Italianate, Greek Revival, Second Empire, and Gothic Revival styles. With the exception of one masonry building (Bleck's Hotel, built 1905), all contributing buildings are wood framed, most being clapboard sided. They range in size from small outbuildings to hotels and a church. None exceed two and a half stories in height. Setbacks vary, with residences generally fronted by deep lawns with mature landscape features, and commercial buildings close to the road and unlandscaped. Much of the river and creek flood plain is undeveloped open field. Both the majority of features and the district as a whole have retained their architectural integrity. A total of 74 buildings, one site (Equinunk Cemetery) and one structure (Lordville Road Bridge) are listed in the inventory of the Equinunk Historic District, with buildings smaller than a one-car garage omitted; 56 of these features are contributing, 20 non-contributing.
The Equinunk Historic District is principally residential with some commercial buildings, found mostly in the downtown area. Total inventoried resources include 43 single and two-family residences, 3 apartment houses, 22 outbuildings, a church, five commercial buildings, one site, and one structure. Contributing resources outnumber non-contributing resources by more than two to one.
The single site inventoried is the contributing Equinunk Cemetery, a burial ground with 370 graves marked by vertical memorial stones of varying heights up to six feet, with 36 graves of Civil War veterans. The Lordville Road Bridge (c.1960), crossing Equinunk Creek, is listed as a non-contributing structure. Two smaller bridges, crossing Factory Creek, are of the same vintage and are little more than culverts in size; they are not listed in the inventory.
The downtown section fans out from the intersection of Route 191, Pine Mill Road, Factory Creek Road, and Lordville Road. Along Route 191, setbacks are narrow grass strips or paved parking areas; buildings are a mixture of commercial and residential. Nelson's Store (c.1850) — a modified Greek Revival style building housing a general store, is directly across the intersection from the picturesque Gothic Revival Lafayette Lord House (c.1875) and the more restrained, Greek Revival style Calder House (c.1836). Pine Mill Road, with Calder House and the Lafayette Lord House at its eastern end, is a residential street with spacious nineteenth century homes, bluestone sidewalks, broad front lawns, and tall shade trees. Factory Creek Road is a steep, narrow road with just two developed properties, the Lord/Quick House (c.1900) and the Lord/Gray House (c.1895), unpretentious vernacular residences tucked into the narrow creek valley, on the outskirts of the village. Lordville Road, west of Equinunk Creek, is a mixture of commercial properties, such as Nelson's store (c.1850) and Cain Lord Store (c.1880), now a saloon, and Greek Revival and Queen Anne style residences including the Richard Knight House (c.1832), the Nelson House (c.1875), the Cain Lord House c.1885), and the Barnes House (1901), with varying depth of lawns separating them from the road. This section of Lordville Road is anchored by the Gothic Revival style Equinunk Methodist Church (1895) surrounded by a broad expanse of lawn stretching out to Equinunk Creek.
The cluster along Lordville Road, east of Equinunk Creek, is a small strip of buildings, with very little set back from the road. Two of the late nineteenth century buildings were recently destroyed by fire, resulting in the cluster now including, in the middle of the row, two new non-contributing residences with similar mass to the buildings they replaced. An adjacent non-contributing residence has been remodeled with the loss of architectural detailing and a change in fenestration. A contributing two-story, vernacular, wood frame building (Spratt House) remains along the north side of the road. The masonry Craftsman style Bleck's Hotel (1905) anchors the east end of the strip, marking the edge of the village.
Grocery Hill, adjacent to and overlooking Lordville Road, is characterized by larger wood frame buildings. Most are surrounded by sizeable lawns, although those along the west side of Grocery Hill Road are necessarily close to the road, due to a steep drop-off behind them. The Lloyd brothers residences, built in 1873 and 1874, are Second Empire style buildings with no major alterations. Bullocks' Store (c.1888) is a fine, though restrained, example of the Greek Revival style. A few of the buildings, notably the Taft Hotel (c.1870) and the Central House (c.1880), have deteriorated or been renovated to the point that their original design has been all but obliterated; both are listed as non-contributing.
The dominant characteristics of buildings within the Equinunk Historic District are gable roofs, wood framing, clapboard siding, and Victorian architectural details, such as frieze bands, decorative shingles, and wraparound porches. There are a number of architecturally notable buildings displaying these characteristics. The two Lloyd houses (1873, 1874), examples of Second Empire style, with mansard roofs and decorative bracketing, were constructed by and for brothers who were builders. The Richard Knight House (c.1832), perhaps the oldest building in the village, is Greek Revival style, with a low pitched roof, a cornice emphasized by a wide band of trim, and pilasters at each corner. Lafayette Lord House (c.1875), despite later porch and rear additions, clearly reveals its Gothic Revival styling, with steeply pitched cross gables, decorative vergeboards, and pointed arch windows extending into the gables. Bleck's Hotel (1905), although of the same time period as other Equinunk buildings, has a style and features not found elsewhere in the village: massive brick masonry construction, native bluestone lintels and window sills, Craftsman style eaves overhang, exposed roof rafters, and low pitched roof.
Two types of features in the historic district have been designated as non-contributing: 1) post-1940 construction, and 2) buildings so altered by remodeling that they have lost their original architectural character. The one-story, clapboard sided post office building, completed in 1998, is an example of this new construction. The Taft Hotel, in severely deteriorated condition, with replacement siding, cinder block replacement posts in its exposed basement level, and recycled storm windows enclosing the second story porch, is an example of a building that has lost its architectural integrity. Although such buildings are non-contributing, they are similar to contributing buildings in the district in height, mass, and set back. The non-contributing features have had little impact on the district's overall architectural integrity.
With the exception of Calder House — now a museum and historical society headquarters — all extant residences still function as residences. Some commercial buildings are no longer used as originally conceived, notably Block's Hotel, which has been converted to apartments, Cain Lord's Store, which is now a saloon, and Bullock's Store, which is used as a residence.
Although Equinunk developed as a result of the booming tanneries and other natural resource exploitation, all of the buildings that housed those businesses have been destroyed by fire or abandonment. Today, only residences and a few commercial buildings that served those industries remain.
Before European Americans came to the river valley, the Lenape and Iroquois tribes primarily used the region for trading routes and seasonal hunting and fishing sites. It was the Lenape who named the place "Equinunk," variously translated as "trout water" or "safe harbor."
Like other pioneers throughout the river corridor, Equinunk's first white settlers came in search of unoccupied land and economic opportunity. Unlike other sections of the valley, where settlers came from Connecticut, New Jersey, and Orange County, New York, Equinunk's first permanent residents came from southeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York. In 1791, Samuel Preston, who came from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, bought Equinunk Manor, a 2,200 acre proprietary parcel owned by William Penn. But it wasn't until 1831, when Preston's son sold the lands surrounding Equinunk Creek to upstate New Yorkers Israel Chapman and Alexander Calder, that a village began to develop. Chapman and Calder divided the property, with Calder retaining the site where the village now stands. Calder House (c.1836) and the Richard Knight House (c.1832) remain as representatives of this period.
One of Calder's first actions was the building of a sawmill. In 1847, D.C. Scudder, an experienced tanner, arrived in Equinunk and joined forces with Calder to build a tannery which utilized the bark of the hemlock trees to tan leather for shoes. In 1866, J. P. Dillon and C. H. Cole built their first axe factory along Factory Creek. In 1880, L. W. Lord established a planing mill. Two years later, the Equinunk Chemical Company opened a wood distillation plant (aka "acid factory"), producing acetate of lime, wood naphta, and charcoal. That same year, Joseph G. Holbert built an excelsior factory and a grist mill. All of these businesses were located within the boundaries of the district, but are no longer extant. Only residences and commercial buildings associated with those who owned or worked in these industries remain.
Writing in his 1886 history of the county, Alfred Mathews said, "The little village has grown up here, almost entirely from the lumber and tanning industry." By 1897, there were 445 residents, two churches, six stores, three saloons, two acid factories, an excelsior mill, a creamery, a furniture store, a millinery, a blacksmith, a carriage shop, and a harness shop. Among the intact resources remaining in the Equinunk Historic District from this period are the Lafayette Lord House (c.1875), the Equinunk Methodist Church 1895), and Nelson's Store (c.1850). Bullock's Store (c.1888) remains on the brow of the hill overlooking the settlement, where its location gave rise to the name "Grocery Hill."
Meanwhile, in the 1840s, the Erie Railroad pushed through the river valley, setting up a station for freight and passengers at Lordville, just across the Delaware River. With construction of a bridge across the Delaware in 1904, vacationers from the New York metropolitan area sought the fresh air and wholesome country atmosphere provided by local hotels and boarding houses. Although the Taft Hotel and Central House are seriously denatured, Bleck's Hotel (1905) remains as an intact representative of these hostelries.
Soon after the turn of the century, these businesses began to fade throughout the Upper Delaware Valley. The forests were cleared, forcing the tanners, lumbermen, and acid factory owners to move their operations elsewhere. One by one, wood based businesses fell victim to fire: Dillon and Cole's axe factory (burned in 1867, again in 1877), Scudder and Chapman's tannery (burned 1875), Halbert's excelsior mill (burned 1885, again in 1915). The few that were rebuilt eventually fell into disuse and ruin.
By the end of the period of significance (c.1940), readily available automobiles and paved roads elsewhere had drawn tourists away from railroad travel. Equinunk, which had depended upon summer boarders arriving at the Lordville station, was now off the tourists' beaten path.
Like the other communities in the river valley, Equinunk, with its industries fading, slid gently into economic depression. Only in the 1980s and 1990s, with the influx of recreational vacationers and second home owners, did the area show some signs of revival.
Equinunk has much in common with the other villages of the river valley, in terms of age and industrial context, coming closest in industrial development to the Milanville Historic District. In terms of both number of features and acreage, it is the largest district, with the most contributing features, in the Upper Delaware Valley. Although the architecture found in the Equinunk Historic District is of the same period and styles as the other nearby communities, there are more examples of relatively unaltered period architectural styles than can be found in any other Upper Delaware community. The two finest examples of Second Empire style to be found in the valley are Equinunk's Alan Lloyd and Anthony Lloyd houses. Bleck's Hotel stands alone as a masonry Craftsman style building with native blue stone ornamentation.