New Berlin Historic District
The New Berlin Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. 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 New Berlin Historic District consists of 122 properties arranged in an irregular cross centered at the main "Four Corners" of the village. The New Berlin Historic District includes the main commercial area, consisting of approximately one-half block each of West, Genesee and North and South Main Streets, several blocks of the oldest residential streets to the south (South Main Street), east (Genesee Street), and north (North Main, Academy and Cushman Streets); and a small grouping of railroad-related structures on Railroad Avenue. The New Berlin Historic District boundary encompasses the village's most intensive concentration of historically and architecturally significant properties and excludes areas which have lost their integrity to intrusive development and inappropriate alterations.
New Berlin is located on the narrow plain west of the Unadilla River. There is limited development on the river bank and the hills to the west. The village creek, around which New Berlin formed, now runs underground through the commercial district, emerging to form the rear boundary of properties on the north side of Genesee Street. The major axis of the village is Main Street (NYS Route 8), a north-south road roughly paralleling the Unadilla River. The central crossroads is formed by Main Street's intersection with a secondary east-west route known in the village as Genesee and West Streets. Genesee Street leads east and slightly northward to cross the Unadilla River into Otsego County. Railroad Avenue is a short street branching south and east off Genesee, ending in a cul-de-sac. The western radius of the crossroad, West Street rises steeply a block west of Main Street to begin the sinuous hill route to Norwich.
The commercial district occupies the village center, including approximately one-half block each of North and South Main, West, and Genesee Streets. Several properties combine ground floor commercial use with housing on the upper floors. Some buildings are vacant and/or deteriorated, but, as a result of a rehabilitation program initiated in 1980, the area is improving. Land occupancy is intensive, the flat-fronted buildings abutting the sidewalk directly. Although not attached in rows, many commercial structures adjoin neighboring buildings or are only inches away. The oldest remaining commercial buildings, such as the Greek Revival building at 7-9 South Main Street, are simple frame structures typical of period residential or industrial design, with limited adaptation for commercial use. Later stores feature the embellished cornices, hooded windows, and flat roofs of the Italianate style. The frame buildings in this style conceal their gable roofs behind ornate rectangular false fronts. Approximately half of the commercial structures are brick, the most recent ones exemplifying the simple functionalism of the early twentieth century.
Although there are only a few railroad-related structures in the New Berlin Historic District, they are important for their historical contribution and architectural uniqueness. The grouping on Railroad Avenue at the eastern edge of the historic district includes a depot, a large hotel, and a feed and coal store complex, as well as some unrelated housing. Each of these large frame buildings exhibits the distinctive form related to its use as well as the ornamental detailing characteristic of its era. Of particular note are the delicate curved brackets of the depot and the trabeated storefronts of the feed store.
Outside the Four Corners area, village properties are primarily residential, single-family housing being dominant. In contrast to the commercial buildings, residences are set well back from the sidewalk behind ample front lawns. Most of the streets are lined with mature trees, and yards have ornamental plantings of shrubs and flowers. The residential areas developed incrementally, with new construction replacing or filling in between earlier houses, so that each street displays a mix of architectural styles. Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne styles are well represented, with scattered examples of Gothic Revival, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow architecture. Most residences are frame structures of 1-1/2 to 2 stories with clapboard siding and applied stock ornament. Stoops, porches, and verandahs are common. There are few brick residences and only two of stone — the Horace O. Moss House (45 South Main Street, listed on the National Register in 1976) and St. Andrew's parsonage, a late example of the Gothic Revival. Although much of the village's housing stock has received unsympathetic alterations, residences in the New Berlin Historic District have retained a high degree of integrity, except for some examples of artificial siding.
Some public and religious buildings occupy prominent locations on residential streets, like the Masonic Hall. Others, like the First Baptist Church, lie at the edges of the commercial district. Three of the churches are simple white frame meetinghouses with central entry towers topped by narrow steeples. In contrast, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church is a low, grey stone structure with a small bell cote, a fine example of rural parish church design, by Richard Upjohn. The Municipal Building, a large brick structure at 20-22 South Main Street, is a good example of unadorned commercial architecture of the early 20th century. The New Berlin Central High School, a massive brick building in the Art Deco style occupies a unique site overlooking South Main Street. There is little open space in the village, with the exception of St. Andrew's cemetery and the neighboring high school fields, which rise on terraced hillsides west of South Main Street.
Although the New Berlin Historic District boundary was drawn to exclude as many intrusive modern structures as possible, there are three non-contributing buildings in the district. Two of these, the Masonic Hall (46 North Main Street) and the Post Office (6-10 Genesee Street) are one-story brick replacements of earlier historic structures. The third, 11 Cushman Street, is a modern ranch house occupying a previously vacant lot on a street of Italianate and Queen Anne houses. There is also, at 34 North Main Street, an intrusive addition to an interesting brick structure, a late example of the Federal design. The New Berlin Central High School contributes to the significance of the New Berlin Historic District due to its unique design and prominent setting.
The New Berlin Historic District forms the core of modern New Berlin and contains the village's greatest concentration of historically and architecturally significant properties. Embodying the numerous historical forces that have shaped village development, the New Berlin Historic District includes properties associated with early settlement; with social, religious and educational institutions; with the communication and transportation systems; and with the dairying, manufacturing, and insurance industries which have successively provided the area's economic base. The New Berlin Historic District architecture displays design and workmanship of high overall quality and coheres to form a distinctive entity notable for its integrity of feeling and association.
The area around New Berlin has always had an agricultural base, with the village providing merchandise and services to the surrounding agricultural region. New Berlin Village residents were predominantly craftsmen, merchants and professionals. There were also a number of small manufacturing operations which either processed local raw materials — gristmill, paper mill, tannery, distillery — or provided goods to serve local needs — iron products, tin and copperware, wagons, and furniture. New Berlin village was the center for social and cultural activity as well. The Masonic Lodge was formed in 1802, and the first church — the first Episcopal congregation west of the Unadilla — was founded in 1814. The Baptists organized in 1831 and in 1840 built the church which was moved in 1900 to its present location on South Main Street. The Methodists (org.1832) still occupy their 1841 church on South Main Street although it is much altered. The elegant meetinghouse at 18 Genesee Street was built ca.1850 by a Congregational/Presbyterian congregation formed in 1838. The New Berlin Academy was founded in 1843, and its building at the corner of Cushman and Academy streets was a village landmark for nearly a century. The present central school system developed from the academy, but no early school buildings remain. Village newspapers also developed at this early period — the first in 1831. The New Berlin Gazette has been published continuously since 1850.
By the middle of the 19th century New Berlin's street and land use patterns were well established: commercial enterprises centered at the crossroads, gradually yielding to institutional and residential development on the radial streets. Most of the mills lay on the western edge of the village near West Street, lining the steep village creek or clustered along the power ditch just to the east of the river. Of the early industrial development, only the Gazette office at 13 West Street, originally a wagon shop, remains. Of similar design is the large plain building at 1 Genesee Street, originally a tavern. The tiny 1-1/2 story house at 37 Genesee Street which marks the eastern boundary of the New Berlin Historic District, and the 5-bay cottage at 37 South Main Street, both dating c.1812, are good examples of the oldest dwellings in the area. A more ostentatious example of the Federal style, 5 bays wide, 2 stories high, with an elliptical fanlight over the center door, remains at 24 Genesee Street. Several examples survive of a popular house form of the 1830's and 1840's — an L-shape combining a 2-story main section, its 3-bay pedimented gable end facing the street, with a 1-1/2 story side wing set back behind a one-story porch. Ornamentation for such houses ranges from the Adamesque delicacy of the lunette at 23-25 South Main Street to the thick Doric pilasters of 35 South Main Street. The molded cornices, wide friezes, and square lines of the Greek Revival were dominant until the Civil War, although the New Berlin Historic District has no examples of the full porticoed temple style. Such prominent landmarks as the elegant stone Horace O. Moss House (45 South Main Street), the 1840 First Baptist Church (30 South Main Street), and the Steere-Lyon House (14 Academy Street) exhibit the hallmarks of Greek Revival style. In the 1860's, there was a gradual transition to the Italianate fashion, which remained popular through the 1870's. The transition is embodied in 50 South Main Street, built in 1863, which combines the L-shaped Greek Revival form with the bracketed eaves and bay windows of the Italianate mode. Genesee Street and Cushman Street are particularly rich with examples of the box-like bracketed Italianate vernacular.
The Gothic Revival fashion that swept America in the pre-Civil War years touched New Berlin little, with two notable exceptions: At 41 North Main Street is a perfect example of a Carpenter Gothic cottage, intact with vergeboards and finials. At 42 South Main Street is St. Andrew's Church, designed and built by the noted ecclesiastical architect Richard Upjohn in 1847-8. Constructed of roughly coursed and squared local fieldstone, the little church is a fine example of UpJohn's rural parish church design, with a central bell cote, narrow pointed windows, and a simple nave graced with massive oak trusses. At the time of its construction it was cited as "a rude structure, different from every other and all things else in the county."
New Berlin was never a transportation center but was well-served by secondary roads and stagecoaches. As early as 1824 the village had a post office, and by 1833 it had a daily stage to Utica. By 1859 daily stages served Oneonta, Norwich, and Sherburne as well. The local economy continued to be enclosed and self-subsistent, however, cheese being the only major export. This picture changed sharply in the 1870's when a branch of the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad opened New Berlin to New York City and national markets. With transportation of fluid milk feasible, the dairy industry rose to new peaks and the conversion from cheese and butter to fluid milk production was rapid. Small export manufactories developed (brickyards, furniture shops) while some local industries (foundries, paper mills) were killed by the availability of cheaper imports. Besides such merchandise, the primary incoming freight was western grain for dairy feed and Pennsylvania coal to power the pasteurizing plants.
Though New Berlin benefited greatly from the Midland Railroad's southern connection, the town was always oriented more to the north and east and markets in Utica and Albany. In 1895 after some false starts and many delays the Unadilla Valley Railroad opened Western which linked Utica and Richfield Springs and provided a market for the dairy farms of New Berlin. Milk production again increased and soon the New York Condensed Milk Company built a large plant just across the river from New Berlin. The condensary was to be the principal industry of New Berlin Village until well after the turn of the century. The Unadilla Valley Railroad also fostered a prosperous passenger traffic, not only local traffic to Utica, but as a channel for excursions from New York City to such prominent resorts as Richfield Springs and the Thousand Islands. Passenger service was excellent, with three trains each way every day, and at the peak there were as many as ten trains daily through New Berlin.
The railroad brought a period of tremendous growth to New Berlin's economy. New services developed, such as telegraph, telephone, water and electric lines. As industries shifted from water power to coal, the old industrial area on the creek was abandoned, the power canal was filled in, and new factories were built near the railroad line. The factories have lost integrity and so are excluded from the New Berlin Historic District. A cluster of large buildings on Railroad Street exemplify this development: the freight station itself, with delicate curved brackets under its broad eaves; the coal and feed store displaying fine 19th century storefronts despite a century of additions; and the huge Railroad Hotel (38 Genesee Street) a massive frame building in the late Federal tradition. Prosperity also brought additions to the residential and commercial areas. Typical of commercial architecture of the period are the tall, frame buildings at 12 and 14-16 Genesee Street, their flat false fronts embellished with bracketed cornices and first story plate-glass storefronts. Towards the end of the century, brick structures such as 12-14 South Main Street and 26 North Main Street were also popular. The simpler heavier styles of early twentieth century commercial architecture are also represented, as in the 1913 Municipal Building (20-22 South Main Street), a large brick building with a central clock tower. In domestic architecture, the richly textured asymmetrical forms of late-Victorian eclecticism were dominant. The west side of North Main Street is particularly rich in large frame homes from this period. Houses built after the turn of the century are similar in form but simpler in ornamentation; Cushman Street has several such homes.
At the end of the nineteenth century the insurance industry became an important element in New Berlin's economy. The Preferred Mutual Fire Insurance Company, specializing in Chenango County property, was founded in 1896. Although nearly bankrupted by New Berlin's 1809 fire, the company recovered and has become the village's largest employer. The Preferred Mutual headquarters at 17 South Main Street is a small-scale Colonial Revival cottage notable for its massive Art Deco bronze doors. Behind this is the firm's large modern office block, excluded from the New Berlin Historic District.
Aside from the continued growth of the insurance industry, New Berlin has changed little since the 1920's. Dairying continues to be the mainstay of the local economy and the village still serves as the merchandising center for the surrounding region. School consolidation has intensified the village's role as a cultural and social center, as well as bringing monumental architecture to the village. Rail transport has given way to trucks and automobiles. The turn-of-the-century prosperity is gone, as evidenced by neglected building maintenance. However, modern alterations to the historic environment are relatively few, and the village center continues to reflect its nineteenth and early twentieth century development.
Entwistle, O. Herbert, Jr. "A History of New Berlin New York to 1907." Unpublished Master's Thesis, Colgate University, 1953.