Main Street Historic District
The Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. 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 Main Street Historic District is located at the center of the incorporated village of McGraw, population 1276. McGraw is located in a predominantly agricultural area of Cortland County, approximately four miles east of the city of Cortland, the county seat. The village is situated in an east-west valley, drained by Trout Brook and flanked by steep hillsides, ranging in height from 200 to 500 feet above the valley floor. New York State Route 41 passes through the valley along the north side of the stream, forming Main Street within the village limits. The Main Street Historic District is linear in configuration and includes both sides of Main Street between South Street at the west end and Washington Street at the east end. The Main Street Historic District includes all of McGraw's business district, two of its principal churches, its library, and a number of the village's earliest and most significant residences. The Main Street Historic District consists of 27 contributing principal buildings, six contributing dependencies (buildings), one contributing structure, totaling 34 contributing resources. There are also three non-contributing buildings. Although other potentially eligible buildings and districts appear to be present in the village, none is contiguous with the Main Street Historic District. These resources may be proposed for nomination in the future when the necessary documentation is developed and evaluated.
The western half of the Main Street Historic District is relatively flat and includes a row of both connected and detached commercial buildings at the south side and detached residences and a small barber shop and a former tannery building on the north side. The commercial buildings between 2 and 28 Main Street were all built following a fire in 1906 and are generally similar in scale and detailing, ranging in height from two to three stories and forming a cohesive row, broken only by narrow walkways between several of the buildings and by the presence of one non-contributing building at 4 Main Street (a heavily altered 1906 commercial building). These commercial buildings are typically built of brick with first story storefronts and upper stories with segmentally arched windows, brick corbel tables and elaborate stamped metal friezes and cornices detailed with diaper work, swags, and wave motifs. No. 24-26 Main Street is typical of buildings in the row, featuring a six-bay, two-story facade with three storefronts and an elaborate entablature and pediment bearing the building's name, Warren & Alexander, and its 1906 date of construction in raised letters and numerals. No. 2 Main Street, the former Calkins Hotel, is built entirely of rock-faced concrete blocks decorated only by anthemion-embossed concrete block belt courses. At the other end of the row, 28 Main Street is built of conventional frame construction, but is completely sheathed in stamped-metal pans patterned to resemble rock-faced block construction. The east end of McGraw's business district includes three detached frame commercial buildings, all pre-dating the 1906 fire, and a non-contributing brick bank building at 30 Main Street, relatively inconspicuous in the historic streetscape due to its deep setback. The Empire Inn at 2 East Main Street, built c.1835, is the most important of these later buildings, featuring late Federal style massing and fenestration and an L-shaped Victorian-period verandah.
The north side of Main Street, across the street from McGraw's principal commercial block, includes several of the village's most distinctive historic houses. The Harry McGraw House, built in 1828 at 3 Main Street, is a vernacular Federal style house with a two-story five-bay center entrance facade and a c.1894 Victorian-period verandah and second story porch. This house anchors the northwest corner of the Main Street Historic District. Next door, to the east, stands the Lamont Memorial Library, an outstanding two-story frame Greek Revival style residence with a pedimented portico, built in 1845. An unusual house built of rock-faced concrete blocks and surmounted by a mansard roof is located on 1 Church Street, at the northeast corner of Church and Main. Built c.1906, this house is similar to the Calkins Hotel in construction and features a verandah with posts and balustrades built of small cast concrete units. A two-story frame barn, built 1870 and detailed with a cross-gabled cupola, is located at the rear of this house. It was originally built as a livery stable. A small, one-story frame building, built c.1875 as a physician's office and now used as a barber shop, is located a short distance southeast of the barn. The small building is detailed with pedimented windows and denticulated cornices and lintels. No. 7 Main Street (non-contributing) is a heavily altered early nineteenth century house, restyled in the late nineteenth century and severely damaged in a 1975 fire and rebuilt to its present non-historic appearance. No. 1 East Main Street and the Empire Inn at 2 East Main Street, mark the eastern end of McGraw's business district. The two-story frame building was built in 1885 as a tannery alongside North Creek, a small tributary of Trout Brook. It now houses a grocery store.
East of the Empire Inn and the former tannery, East Main Street ascends a gentle incline and is lined along both sides with nineteenth-century frame houses and two early nineteenth century churches similarly altered in the early twentieth century. Of the ten houses located in the east end of the Main Street Historic District, six were built between c.1835 and 1842 in the vernacular Federal style, featuring characteristic two-story five-bay center entrance facade designs (nos. 3-5, 8, 9, 11, 13 and 24 East Main Street). No. 15-17 East Main Street features a gabled three-bay side entrance facade design of the same period and style. Although several of these houses received Victorian-period porches and additions, many retain their original entrance details with pilasters and sidelights, their original cornices with attenuated profiles and gable end returns, and their original clapboard siding. Three houses in the east end of the Main Street Historic District were built later in the nineteenth century and represent vernacular expressions of Victorian-period domestic architecture (nos. 7, 10 and 22 East Main Street). Three houses feature picturesque massing, steep gable roofs with intersecting ridges, polygonal window bays, and L-shaped porches.
McGraw's Baptist and Methodist Churches are located adjacent to each other at 16-18 and 20 East Main Street, respectively. Both were built in the early 1830's as simple frame rectangular church buildings with interior galleries and front towers. After a variety of small alterations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the two churches were extensively altered (in 1920 and 1919 respectively) to their present picturesque appearances with steep gable roofs, patterned slate work, off-center towers, and side entrances. Behind the two churches is a small cemetery used between 1823 and 1865 and retaining a number of well-preserved marble and sandstone headstones marking the graves of early village residents. A small two-story frame residence at 3 Clinton Street at the west side of the cemetery is believed to be an early stone cutter's shop, possibly built in the 1830's and remodelled to its present configuration and appearance in the 1870's with the addition of pedimented windows.
The Main Street Historic District is architecturally significant as an intact concentration of historic residential, religious and commercial buildings representative of building types, construction practices and stylistic influences common in the small town architecture of central New York State between c.1820 and 1920. McGraw's early development is represented by a group of eight vernacular Federal style houses which represent the first substantial frame dwellings built in the village and the only examples of their type to survive in McGraw. The Greek Revival style, which gained widespread popularity throughout central New York in the 1840's and 1850's, is represented in the Main Street Historic District by the 1845 Lamont Memorial Library, a former residence of the prominent McGraw family designed with a distinctive Ionic order portico. A former physician's office with Italianate style trim and a tannery building and livery barn illustrate typical nineteenth-century building types no longer common in small rural villages and reflect picturesque tastes in their form and detailing. Also included in the Main Street Historic District is a row of late Victorian period commercial buildings built in 1906 with brick and stamped-metal facades which illustrate McGraws early twentieth century prosperity and the impact of mass-produced building materials on the design of small town commercial buildings after 1890. Two 1830's churches in the Main Street Historic District, extensively altered in 1919 and 1920, serve to illustrate the unusually late persistence of picturesque tastes in some rural villages well into the twentieth century. After 1920, decline in the prominence of McGraw's principal industry slowed growth and construction in the village, thus helping to preserve Main Street's historic streetscapes and architectural character. Today, McGraw's Main Street Historic District represents one of only a handful of small town centers in Cortland County that survive with sufficient physical integrity to reflect the county's broad and diverse architectural heritage.
Buildings constructed in the village between 1820 and 1845 consisted of frame houses with vernacular Federal style designs, reflecting the New England origins and building traditions of McGraw's first settlers. The finest of these houses were built along Main Street and featured two-story five-bay center entrance facades, detailed with pilaster-framed entrances with sidelights, cornice moldings and elliptically arched attic openings centered in the gable ends. Several such houses (i.e. 3 Main Street, 1, 3-5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13 and 24 East Main Street) survive in the historic district, all built between 1828 and 1842, perhaps by the same carpenter-joiner of this group; 9 East Main is especially representative, altered only by the replacement of its original window sash in the early twentieth century and the construction of a small entrance porch. Others, including 3 Main Street and 3-5, 11 and 24 East Main Street, were updated in the later nineteenth century with picturesque, eclectic Victorian period porches and additions detailed with scroll-sawn brackets and turned posts and balusters that express the tastes of a later generation. The Baptist and Methodist congregations built Neoclassical frame church buildings at 16-18 and 20 East Main Street in 1832 and 1834; however, later nineteenth and early twentieth century alterations have completely obscured the original designs of these buildings while substituting the asymmetrical, picturesque architecture of the late Victorian period, still popular in rural New York in the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Greek Revival style ascended to popularity in central New York about 1840. Several Greek Revival style houses were built in scattered locations in McGraw during 1840's and 1850's, the finest example of which is the Lamont Memorial Library at 5 Main Street in the historic district. Built in 1845 as a residence, the one-and-one-half story frame building includes a three bay, side-entrance facade with flushborad siding and is distinguished by a pedimented, tetra-style Ionic portico. The library retains its original trabeated doorway and six-over-six double-hung sash windows and features small second story frieze windows with original cast-iron grilles. An earlier one-story frame house, built at this site before 1830 by Marcus McGraw, was connected to the rear of the main house during its construction and subsequently functioned as a rear wing.
Growth in McGraw was spurred in 1848 by the establishment of the New York Central College in the village with a campus located south of Main Street. McGraw also profited from the inauguration of railroad service to nearby Cortland in 1854. Although a number of Greek Revival and Italianate style buildings in McGraw reflect the general prosperity of the village in the 1850's and 1860's, a 1906 fire in the commercial core destroyed much evidence of this period within the historic district. The Main Street Historic District does, however, include a number of later nineteenth century vernacular frame buildings representative of local building practices in the village after 1870. Among these buildings is the former tannery at 1 East Main Street, built c.1885 and designed in a purely utilitarian manner with a raised stone foundation, novelty siding and a steeply pitched gable roof. The former livery stable at the rear of 1 Church Street, built c.1870, is an unusual surviving example of a building type once common in many small towns. Its design is embellished with a cross-gabled roof, diagonally sided gable fields, panelled doors with diagonal wainscoting, a picturesque cross-gabled cupola with louvered openings and an elaborate galloping horse weathervane. A small one-story physician's office on Main Street, just east of the former livery, features a gabled three-bay facade, pedimented window and doors and denticulated window lintels and raking cornices. Now used as a barber shop, the building is significant as a rare and intact example of the many small specialized commercial and professional buildings that constituted much of the fabric of small, upstate New York villages during the nineteenth century.
The corset industry, begun in McGraw c.1873, and a complementary paper box industry became major factors in McGraw's economic development in the 1880's and 1890's and employed many of McGraw's residents. These industries were aided in 1895 by the extension of the Cortland Street railway system to McGraw in 1895 and by the completion of a branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad through McGraw in 1898. Although much of the growth resulting from these industries occurred near the factories at the south side of the village, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century prosperity created by these manufacturers is evident along Main Street where new, modified Queen Anne style parsonages were built for both the Baptist and Methodist pastors in 1880 and 1887 (7 and 22 East Main Street). Other, older houses were updated with elaborate porches and scroll-sawn or turned trim characteristic of vernacular Victorian-period architecture (nos. 3 Main Street and 3-5, 11, 15-17 and 24 East Main Street).
McGraw's Main Street was dramatically transformed in 1906 when a disastrous January fire wiped out the entire business district on the south side of Main Street east of North (Mosquito) Creek. The affected area was immediately rebuilt, resulting in a cohesive row of late Victorian period commercial buildings unified by simultaneous construction dates and similarities in scale, use of materials, and architectural details. The majority of these buildings are built of brick and stand two stories in height. Storefronts are generally framed by brick piers and most second story windows are segmentally arched with one-over-one double-hung sash. The buildings are embellished by decorative brick panels and corbel tables and by mass-produced stamped metal friezes and cornices detailed with diaper work, swags and wave motifs, all commonly employed in Queen Anne style architecture. No. 28 Main Street, the only frame building in the row, is sheathed entirely in stamped-metal pans, patterned to resemble rock-faced block construction. At the opposite end of the row, 2 Main Street, the former Calkins Hotel, is built entirely or rock-faced concrete blocks, detailed with patterned belt courses between each of its three stories. A residence across the street at 1 Church Street is built of the same locally manufactured material. Together, the buildings in the Main Street business district herald a shift form McGraw's nineteenth-century vernacular frame building tradition to a building technology based increasingly on mass-produced components.
In 1919 and 1920 the Methodist Church and Baptist Church buildings were altered to their present, late Victorian period appearances, both after a series of earlier alterations to their original, classical, 1830's forms. These changes resulted in two very similar church buildings with picturesque massing, steeply pitched gable roofs, off-center towers with principal entrances within their bases and contrasting exterior surfaces reminiscent of the Queen Anne style. The persistence of these design qualities as late as 1920 reflects a degree of isolation from mainstream architectural trends characteristic of some small upstate New York communities during the first three decades of the twentieth century.
The village of McGraw experienced little or no economic growth after 1920, and failed to attract new industry to offset declines in corset manufacturing. Consequently, no new construction occurred in the Main Street Historic District until 1966 when a branch of the First National Bank of Cortland was built at 30 Main Street (non-contributing). This lack of growth served to limit modernization or redevelopment of McGraw's Main Street and, by so doing, was responsible for its current state of preservation. Today, the village benefits from its proximity to the city of Cortland, a growing center of regional employment opportunities. Recent efforts by a number of McGraw's merchants and other property owners have been responsible for significant improvements to the appearance and vitality of the village's business district and several of its historic houses. Recognition achieved through the listing of the Main Street Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places will reinforce these efforts and contribute meaningfully to the continuing preservation of this historic village's Main Street.
Cortland, New York. County Historian's Office. Local history collection including Grips Historical Souvenir of Cortland (n.p.) c.1899.
Goodwin, H. C. Pioneer History of Cortland County. New York: A.B. Burdick, 1859.
Smith, H. P. History of Cortland County. Syracuse: D. Mason. 1855.