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Avon Village Historic District

Avon Village, Livingston County, NY


MacAlpine

Photo: J. Francis Kellogg House, circa 1908, located at 255 Genesee Street, Avon. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Photographed by User: Pubdog (own work), 2010, [cc-1.0, pubic domain], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2022.


Avon as it became a regional transportation center by the late nineteenth-century and continuing well into the twentieth century. For a brief period, the village became a resort destination made possible by improvements in transportation as it capitalized on the local mineral springs. The Genesee Valley developed as an important transportation link in the movement of people and goods across Western New York beginning with the opening of the Rope Ferry in 1789 and expanded in importance as major roadways were opened through the village, aided by the construction of the first bridge to cross the Genesee River, and finally, with the arrival of the railroad in 1853. The roads and railways linked Avon to other communities in the region and the resulting growth in the village attracted new commercial ventures. With the expanding economy came an increase in population and the demand for more housing. The nominated district achieved significance from the early nineteenth century settlement era through the mid-1940s when the decline of the railroad began after the last passenger train left Avon in January 1940.

The district contains a large collection of commercial, civic, and residential buildings reflecting the village's vibrant nineteenth and early twentieth-century growth. The buildings throughout the commercial and residential portions of the nominated district village contain building types and materials that reflected a village economy built around the railroad during this period. Residential streets in the nominated district contain buildings representing popular architectural styles ranging from a small number of Greek Revival and Gothic Revival houses to a larger number of Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, and Craftsman residences signifying the major growth periods of the village. Civic and commercial buildings are clustered where two major roadways intersect, attesting to the importance of these long-established transportation routes. Located along village rail lines were industrial buildings and collections of modest worker housing illustrating another facet of Avon's history. The resources in the nominated district range from high-style buildings to more modest in scale. More investigation needs to be done to identify local designers and builders; however, the village's proximity to the city of Rochester led some residents to hire well-known Rochester architects including Claude Bragdon and James G. Cutler (previously listed resources at 255 Genesee Street and 130 Genesee Street).

Avon was one of the first settlements in the Genesee Valley following the American Revolution. Originally named Hartford, it was established by settlers from Massachusetts and Connecticut attracted to the area by land for sale from two New Englanders, Oliver Phelps, and Nathaniel Gorham. In 1788, the two men purchased the rights to six million acres of land in Western New York from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This purchase encompassed the land from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania and Seneca Lake to the west side of the Genesee River. The settlers found that the topography and geology of the Genesee Valley were ideal for farming, with rich soils and easy access to the Genesee River to transport their crops. The first permanent white settlers in the region arrived in the spring of 1789 when Gilbert and Maria Berry journeyed from Geneva, New York westward to Canawaugus at the southwestern edge of the present-day village of Avon. They built a log cabin and after frequently hosting travelers and surveyors making their way west, they opened a tavern, store, and rope ferry. Berry also established trading posts at Big Tree (present-day Geneseo) and at the mouth of the Genesee River near the falls in Rochester.

In that same year, a land office was opened in Canandaigua and the tract known as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase was offered for sale, divided into townships and ranges. After visiting the Genesee country in 1790, Dr. Timothy Hosmer and Major Isaiah Thompson purchased townships ten and eleven in the seventh range on behalf of a consortium of five men from Farmington, Connecticut. Along with Hosmer and Thompson, the purchasers included William Wadsworth, Thomas Lewis, and William Judd. They named their newly acquired land 'Hartford' after a city in Connecticut; however, the name would change in 1808 to Avon, to distinguish it from another New York village with the same name.2 Hosmer and Thompson were the only two of the group to ever reside in Avon, arriving together in 1790. The early 1790s saw a rapid increase in the population of the Genesee country, with a great number of settlers arriving in the summer of 1792.

The Village of Avon was developed along the thoroughfare, Main Street, that ran through the center of the village, known today as Routes 5 and 20. The road bisected the central public square in the village, which is sited at the top of the gradual incline from the river overlooking the flood plain flats. Spreading mostly east and south from Main Street and the village public square, the remainder of the streets that comprise the village was set in a mostly grid-like pattern typical of towns and villages laid out by settlers from New England in the early nineteenth century. Commercial buildings and other important buildings were constructed above the flood plain, which protected the village from flooding of the Genesee River below.

As agricultural-related industry and the mineral spring spas and sanitariums began to grow during the nineteenth century, Avon saw a boom in commercial businesses to support these ventures. More vernacular detached, mainly frame, commercial buildings were constructed along West Main Street, which housed businesses such as taverns, general stores, cigar and liquor shops, and hotels that catered to the railroad traffic — both workers and travelers. The higher style commercial block of one, two, and three-story masonry and frame buildings were constructed on Genesee Street along the edge of the upper slope overlooking the river flats. This commercial area catered more to the residents of Avon and resort visitors and included businesses such as drug stores, jewelers, general stores, hardware stores, bakeries, cobblers, restaurants, grocers, meat markets, barbers, professional offices, a public hall, and the post office.5 According to one historian, "The scale of Main Street was comfortably related to its users" as was evident in the village of Avon which was and remains a bustling rural village whose commercial core illustrates success in a rural community. Constructed at the outer edges of the commercial corridor, the churches acted as a visual gateway between the commercial and residential sections of the village. This can be seen today with the location of four remaining historic churches within the village boundary: St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church to the north of Circle Park on Prospect Street, Zion Episcopal Church to the park's northeast side on Park Place, and the Avon United Methodist Church and Central Presbyterian Church positioned just south of the commercial block on Genesee Street. The residential streets developed around the commercial corridor and the village square, now Circle Park. Most of the residential streets and buildings were laid out during the early-to-mid-nineteenth century into the early twentieth century as the agricultural processing industry grew and the mineral springs and resorts popularized, bringing more people to Avon to work in these industries.

In 1858, the village of Avon was incorporated and most of the streets within the present-day village of Avon had been laid out, parceled from farm tracts of the early settlers. Main, Prospect (Genesee), and Spring Streets were some of the first roads in Avon, connecting the main route passing through the village to the mineral springs at the end of Spring Street in the southwest corner of the village. Homes along Temple, Oak, and Clinton Streets were typically built for those who worked in banking, commercial businesses, professional offices, and the mineral spa industry. In the 1860s, Centre Street (Wadsworth Avenue) was laid out and developed from a portion of the former Wadsworth tract. This road would become a major thoroughfare connecting Avon to Geneseo and Mt. Morris to the south. By the late nineteenth century, the southernmost extension of Temple Street, Bronson Avenue, and a portion of Lacy Street were completed, adding to the middle and upper-class housing stock within the village. During this same period, the northernmost block of Prospect Street, along with Cemetery and Rochester Street were also constructed, providing housing and other conveniences to the railroad, agricultural processing, and mineral spa industry workers and travelers. Although residential buildings had been constructed throughout the village by the end of the nineteenth century, a majority were found clustered toward the center of the village nearest the commercial core, railroad, and public square. At the end of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries, larger parcels moving toward the outer portions of the village boundary were further divided into smaller parcels and more homes constructed, according to historic maps.

Avon's development pattern of the nineteenth century carried into the early twentieth century, with the commercial center of the village remaining at the intersection of Main and Genesee Streets, the railroad that crossed West Main Street, and adjacent residential development. Although tourism related to Avon's mineral springs significantly declined by the early 1900s, the village continued to thrive in the early twentieth century as the epicenter of both passenger and freight railroad traffic. In 1912, 35 passenger trains ran daily between Avon and Rochester and nearby branches of the Erie Railroad allowed for quick and easy shipment to a wider market. During this period, Avon also benefited from improved roads with the pavement of most of the roads in the village and one of the first automobile garages in the region was in Avon.

During the early twentieth century, Avon's location between numerous destinations and its advanced electric power development allowed the rural village the ability to grow into an industrial town while still holding on to its residential charm. Given this opportunity, by the mid-twentieth-century, there were fewer manufacturing facilities in the village and the ones that did remain had moved closer to the intersection of Spring Street and the railroad to build larger facilities. The area along West Main Street also started to see new services, including automobile sales and repairs. In 1920, Avon had seven auto garages indicating the beginning of the automobile era moving into the village. The steady growth and peak in population in the 1920s was, in part, attributed to the growth in manufacturing. In the 1910s and 1920s, Avon was a desired location for many industries but lacked sufficient housing for workers. This led village residents, with support from the village government, to commit to constructing at least 150 new houses within five years. By 1922, several new houses were already underway.

When the last passenger train came through Avon in January of 1940, it sparked the transition from predominantly railroad to highway connectivity. Beginning in the 1950s, the village's commercial center started to shift from the historic central business district at the intersection of Main and Genesee Streets to an area along East Main Street (Routes 5&20) east of the nominated district. This new development includes the famous 1955 built Tom Wahl's restaurant, 1967 constructed Avon Plaza shopping center, and in 1996 a new shopping center on the north side of Routes 5&20. Construction of Interstate 390 began in the 1960s and was completed in the 1980s, with the Avon exit being completed in 1980. The relatively short drive from professional workplaces in Rochester and its suburbs further encouraged the development of some of the village's agricultural land into residential tracts, which were distinct from the village's older core in density, massing, form, and materials. This trend of developing underutilized agricultural tracts continued into the late twentieth and is still seen today. This development is responsible for most of the recent change in Avon's landscape, especially after the completion of and connection to I-390 made the drive to Rochester even shorter.

Adapted From: Megan Klem, Preservation Planner (edited by Virginia L. Bartos, Ph.D., NYS OPRHP), Landmark Society of Western New York, 2022, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Cemetery Street • Clinton Street • Fisk Place • Genesee Street • High Street • Main Street East • Main Street West • North Avenue • Oak Street • Park Place • Prospect Street • Rochester Street • Spring Street • Temple Street • Wadsworth Avenue