Cottage Lawn (435 Main St.) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Cottage Lawn, an 1849 Gothic Revival cottage, (now Madison County Historical Society headquarters) is situated facing west on Main Street, Oneida (NY State Route 46) in a residential section of the city. The house is L-shaped with several additions attached to the back of the building. It is two stories high and has both an attic and a basement. The central bay projects nine feet from the three-bay facade and is resolved vertically by a gable rising from the eave to the roofline. Twelve feet south of the central gable there is a small wall dormer. The house is constructed of brick and covered with an earth-colored stucco that has been scored to simulate the ashlar masonry of its foundation.
Six quatrefoil columns support the Tudor arches spanning the veranda. Merlons that ran the border of the veranda roof are still visible beneath the modern tar covering. On the south side of the house, a twenty-four foot porch is supported by a single octagonally shaped column and two semi-octagonal columns. A shed roof, supported by a cylindrical metal column, hangs over the stoop at the rear entrance.
The windows piercing the facade and the adjoining north and south bays are predominantly square headed with inset trefoil arches pierced by Tudor spandrels echoing those in the veranda arches. Above the windows there are square-headed hood molds with label stops. Within the archways, casement windows, containing diamond-shaped lights, open inward. Two sets of casement windows on the veranda are French windows that open into the house. Beneath the small, wall dormer, the facade is pierced by a pointed arch window containing two diamond glazed casements. Windows on the south, east, and north sides of the house are square headed and usually contain diamond-shaped lights, but they are often sash windows with neither trefoil arch nor hood mold. In the semi-octagonal bay that extends from the south bay of the house, there are three square-headed windows with inset and spandrel pierced trefoil arches and diamond glazed casements. The north and south gables of the house feature quatrefoil attic windows.
Entrance is gained from the veranda through inward opening arched double doors glazed with triangular and polygonal-shaped stained glass. The pointed arch of the entrance and its arched hood molding are suggested on the arched entrance of the beaded vertical board sided winter entrance cover that projects thirty inches from the facade. The single outward opening door is glazed with clear diamond-shaped lights. The south (side) and east (rear) entrances are gained through square-headed panel doors.
Three chimney stacks are located in the western (front) portion of the house. Two are situated along the north-south ridge of the roof; the other is located on the east-west ridge. A few feet above the ridge line, the chimneys form paired square rectangles set diagonally on their bases and are topped by projecting square pots. Two rectangular tack chimneys rise several feet above the roof line in the rear of the house. All are brick, covered with stucco.
The house is simply trimmed with sawn vergeboards running along the rake boards of the wall dormer and the three gables in the western portion of the house. The crocketed finial in the projecting gable is repeated by dome-shaped finials in the north and south gables. Only the south gable finial retains its pendant.
Throughout the interior, the woodwork retains most of the original graining. Only a few of the doors, baseboards, shutters, and moldings have been stripped or painted. Most of the louvered interior shutters fold back into recessed pockets parallel to the wall. Many of the rooms are floored with original wide boards, but the dining room has later, narrow flooring and the music room has a parquet floor. Portions of the upstairs hall and the south bedroom are painted with alternating bands of light and dark brown.
Several fragments of old wallpaper remain. In the entrance hall, a circa 1875, eight-by-ten-foot fragment made of strips of grained paper forming a trompe l'oeil of wooden panels is embellished with an escutcheon. In a small closet under the staircase, there is a piece of what may be the original wall covering. Several rooms retain the wallpaper of the original owners.
The south parlor, music room, and dining room are embellished with plaster medallions and plaster border moldings on the ceilings. None of the present chandeliers belonged to the family although most of the gaslight wall brackets are original. Throughout the house, the hardware on the doors, windows, and shutters is original or an early replacement.
Five original fireplace mantles remain intact: two black marble mantles in the south parlor and music room, two marbleized wooden mantles in the dining room and present-day museum office, and a white marble mantle in the bank vault.
There is evidence of at least three major early changes. In 1851, a bank was added to the eastern end of the house. The bank vault is entered through two wood-grained doors separated by a square-headed archway of cut stone eighteen inches thick. Behind two sash windows are inward opening steel shutters. About 1880, the second floor of the attached carriage shed was remodeled into a gymnasium. Although the actual date of change is unknown, structural evidence strongly suggests that the main stairway was moved from the entrance hall to rise in the adjoining hallway.
The house is situated on 2.6 acres of ground with some of the original landscaping remaining. Located in the southeastern portion of the property, a mid to late nineteenth century T-shaped barn rests on a rubble masonry foundation and is covered with board and batten siding. A twenty-eight foot shed was attached to the barn in 1974. About seventy feet south of the veranda stands a pointed-arch hexagonal gazebo, apparently dating to the construction of the house.
Designed in 1849 by Alexander Jackson Davis, Cottage Lawn is significant for its architectural statement and for its association with the early history and economy of the city of Oneida. This unaltered cottage is a superb example of the Gothic movement's principles of antiquity and domesticity through quiet tones and restraint of design.
On June 30, 1849, Davis noted in his journal the design of an "English cottage style" dwelling for Niles Higinbotham of Oneida. Included in the entry are a list of plans for various architectural details and a sketch of the floor plan and facade of the proposed house. Close examination of the sketch reveals that Davis had planned a building reflecting the principles of simplicity and domesticity as articulated by Downing in his Architecture of Country Homes. That these principles were faithfully executed is obvious through comparison of the sketches to the actual floor plan and facade of the building.
Other documents may demonstrate the interpretation of Davis' design by local house carpenters. In the Madison County Historical Society's collection of manuscripts, there are six sheets of what may be details of doors, banisters, vergeboards, and finials as drawn by Davis. If these plans are in fact in Davis' hand, they serve to illustrate the faithful translation of Gothic principles by local craftsmen working under the direction of Mrs. Higinbotham.
The use of Tudor arches and spandrels, trefoil and quatrefoil forms, thick half-octagonal moldings, sawn vergeboards, and crocketed finials are in perfect keeping with Davis' intent as expressed in extant documents and with Downing's prescription for an ideal Gothic cottage. The statement of these architectural elements is reinforced in interior features including wallpapering, wood graining, mantles, and hardware. The pointed-arch hexagonal gazebo and board and batten barn are wholly compatible with the design and style of the house.
The construction and ornamentation of the house were complemented by appropriate landscaping done by an unidentified Boston firm under the supervision of Mrs. Higinbotham. Extant landscaping and pictorial evidence reveal that the house was properly situated and landscaped and was a model of Gothic Revival architecture in the locality.
That the house has had only two owners is a contributing factor to its architectural integrity. Completed in 1850 for the Higinbotham's, Cottage Lawn remained in the family's possession until 1931 when Louise Higinbotham, Niles' last surviving unmarried daughter, willed the house and grounds to the historical society. The property has been maintained by the society since that time with little change or alteration to the buildings or site.
Cottage Lawn is important as an historic house, too, for Niles Higinbotham was the son of Oneida's "founder," and the house served as the location of Oneida's first bank. Sands Higinbotham, Niles' father, came to Oneida in 1829 when it was a tiny settlement with a population of about six families. After Sands gave land in 1834 to the Syracuse and Utica Railroad for its right of way and after a feeder to the Erie Canal was completed a few years later, the settlement grew rapidly. Slator's 1857 "Map of the City of Oneida" depicts a thriving commercial village of several hundred families. It is interesting to note that the only house appearing in illustration along the map's border is Cottage Lawn. In 1851, Niles had a bank vault attached to the house and on the twelfth of December of that year Oneida's first bank opened for business. In 1852, it was chartered as the Oneida Valley Bank and maintained operation at Cottage Lawn until 1865 when it moved into new quarters in Oneida. It continues operation today as the Oneida Valley National Bank.
Cottage Lawn is one of a few surviving examples of Alexander Jackson Davis' work in upstate New York. The house, grounds, and outbuildings all reflect the principles of the Gothic movement as articulated by Davis and his contemporaries and as interpreted by local artisans. This important and significant architectural work is a symbol of local heritage and pride: in the nineteenth century it served as the dwelling of Oneida's prominent and important family and as its first banking establishment, and in the last fifty years as the headquarters for the Madison County Historical Society.
" 'Cottage Lawn' — Residence of Miss Louise A. Higinbotham, Oneida, N.Y.," Country Homes VI: 11-12 (November-December, 1926), pp.4-7.
Crawford Stearns Coffey, Cottage Lawn: A Preliminary Report on the Physical and Functional Condition, Syracuse, NY: January 1980.
Davis, Alexander Jackson. Journal. The Alexander Jackson Davis Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc. 24.66.1400.
Downing, Andrew Jackson. The Architecture of Country Houses. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1969.
Slator, T. & J. Map of Oneida, New York, NY: 1857, Collection, Madison County Historical Society.
Solms, Jennifer and Schoonmaker, Paula. Country Roads Wampsville, NY: Madison County Planning Board, 1976.
Swinnerton, George B. "The Higinbotham Family," Madison County Heritage. No. 2 (December, 1977), pp.9-13.
† Braunlein, John H., Director, Madison County Historical Society, Cottage Lawn, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.