Main Street Historic District
The Roslyn Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Roslyn Village is an area kept geographically distinct from its surroundings by steep hillsides and water. It is due in part to these limitations that the village core has retained its original road system and many of the buildings that appeared along its streets during successive stages of its development. A significant portion of the old village, the Main Street Historic District consists of a corridor along Main Street from its junction with North Hempstead Turnpike to its junction with East Broadway, including Tower Street and a small portion of Glen Avenue. The Main Street Historic District is primarily residential, with a cluster of commercial buildings at the northernmost end. A park behind the dwellings on the east side of the street was developed out of a malarial swamp around the three ponds between 1915-1935. It contains a smaller replica (1915) of Roslyn's second paper mill, built by Hendrick Onderdonk in 1773, standing until 1906.
Along Main Street, where the houses are built into the hillside at the head of the harbor there is a certain urban reference in the compact verticality of the buildings. The Main Street Historic District contains about 50 structures, 40 of which antedate the Civil War, and most of which were constructed of wood frame sheathed by shingles on clapboards. The Main Street structures are for the most part somewhat retardataire in methods of construction and styles of ornament. However, since there was a lumber yard in Roslyn from 1832 or earlier, specific molding types tend to conform to contemporary styles. Therefore it is not unusual to find, in a structure thoroughly Federal in concept, some of the ornament executed in the Tuscan moldings developed for the Greek Revival style.
Clock Tower (1895)
An imposing structure of rock-faced random ashlar granite trimmed with red sandstone, the Ellen E. Ward Memorial Clock Tower occupies an island at the intersection of Main Street and North Hempstead Turnpike and therefore acts visually as the focal feature of the Main Street Historic District's northern end. The clock mechanism was made by the Seth Thomas Clock Company, and the Tower itself was designed by the New York firm of Lamb & Rich.
William M. Valentine Store and Nos. 19, 21, and 23 Main Street
Buildings entirely of brick were rare in 19th century Roslyn, but a contemporary account states that Valentine managed to buy them during the economic depression preceding the Civil War. A local builder, thought to have been James K. Davis, constructed the 1 1/2 story brick store, ornamented only by a lunette in the gable field and shallow brick arches above the second story windows.
Contiguous to the western end of Valentine's store is a long 2 1/2 story, wood frame structure erected as three attached stores ca.1840.
Obadian Washington Valentine House, 105 Main Street
Probably built between 1833-36 by Thomas Wood, a local builder, for O. W. Valentine, number 105 Main Street is a clapboard wood frame dwelling on the east side of Main Street. Since the land falls away to the east, the structure stands 1 1/2 stories on the street elevation and two and a half stories when viewed from the east. Built according to the side hall plan, the house is three bays in width on the west (front) elevation. A lunette in the gable field and the impressively framed doorway in the Greek Revival style are the only ornamental features of the exterior.
The three bay (front) by two bay form illustrated by number 105 Main Street is found repeated in several instances along Main Street (numbers 88, 94, 106, 140 and 148). The slope of the land causes the dwellings on the west side of Main Street to appear two and a half stories high on the street sides.
Warren Wilkey House (c.1865), 190 Main Street
Built for a successful New York businessman and lawyer, number 190 Main Street is unusually grand in scale and elegant in detail by local standards. Five bays by two bays the clapboarded wood frame house stands two and a half stories high with a mansard roof which is crowned with an elaborated belvedere. Altered in 1925 to accommodate three apartments, the house has been restored by the Roslyn Preservation Corporation.
Van Nostrand-Starkins House, 221 Main Street
Believed to have been begun ca.1680, the house was sold to Joseph Starkins, a blacksmith, in 1795. A clapboarded, frame dwelling, one and a half stories high, the dwelling is three bays long and is covered by a rather steeply sloped gable roof. A later frame wing has been moved back on the lot. The structure was restored by the Roslyn Landmark Society.
The Main Street Historic District culminates on the south at Kirby's Corners, a tract acquired c.1844 by Jacob Kirby, a merchant. The frame building immediately east of Main Street was a warehouse while behind it stands a simple, small, mid-19th century, frame cottage recently enlarged.
In the face of exceptionally heavy modern development in Nassau County the survival of an essentially uncompromised cluster of vernacular 19th century residential and commercial structures in their village context is particularly remarkable. The Main Street Historic District, protected today due to the efforts of local organizations, is a fine illustration of the architectural development of the village of Roslyn primarily during the first three quarters of the 19th century.
The village of Roslyn (Hempstead Harbor until 1844) was originally settled during the mid-17th century as a port of entry for the town of Hempstead on the plains to the south. Main Street has been a major thoroughfare since those earliest days, being the northern section of the connecting road between Hempstead and the landing piers at the harbor. One of the Main Street structures, the Van Nostrand-Starkins House is believed to have been built in part c.1680, thus dating from the earliest period of European settlement in the area.
The first significant period of community expansion coincided with Hendrick Onderdonk's operation of the old (c.1700) grist mill during the 1750's and his establishment of the first paper mill here in 1773. Although the grist mill had been in operation before, the paper mill was the first real industry in the village, and around its operation a community formed. The house at 150 Main Street was built c.1775 by Wilson Williams, a cooper who made the vats for the paper mill, and who established the first stage between Roslyn and New York in 1811. His son John built his house at 130 Main Street. George Washington's diary for 1790 describes a visit to Roslyn in April, during which he breakfasted at Onderdonk's, and noted the grist and paper mills.
The most prolific period of house-building within the Main Street Historic District took place during the first three quarters of the 19th century, represented by about 30 houses and stores in vernacular versions of the styles popular during that period. In addition there are a number of barns and outbuildings dating from this period. Thomas Wood, a carpenter and builder who bought and enlarged the Wilson Williams House c.1825, is thought to have built most of the houses on the street which date between 1825-1865. His son John, whose home remains at number 140 Main Street, followed him into the trade of carpentry and probably worked with him on some of the houses.
Still another family involved in building lived within the Main Street Historic District. Samuel Dugan, an Irish immigrant stonemason, lived at number 148 Main Street, a house which he may have built himself c.1855. Dugan is known to have built the former stone overpass for the Long Island Rail Road where it crosses Roslyn Road, and his substantial masonry technique may be represented in the foundation of the c.1865 Warren Wilkey House, which has withstood the impact of several landslides. The restorations of this house and the Williams-Wood House at number 150 Main Street, were early projects of the Roslyn Preservation Corporation.
Only one house in the Main Street Historic District was conceived as an "estate," number 110 Main Street, built c.1830 for John Hendrickson. Most of the dwellings in the Main Street Historic District were typical village residences for local craftsmen and tradesmen: tailors, blacksmiths, a mortician, doctor, storekeepers, businessmen,, journalists, bankers, and mill keepers. Main Street derives a great deal from the buildings of the Valentine family, dating from c.1830-1860. The Onderdonk paper mill was acquired early in the 19th century by William Valentine and was operated throughout the century by his family.
Many of the historic structures along Main Street have been restored and/or protected from demolition or incompatible alterations through the efforts of the Roslyn Landmark Society and the Roslyn Preservation Corporation. In addition to the survival of many of its early structures, the Main Street Historic District is notable for the continuing tradition of land and building use. Several shops on the eastern side of the street at the northern end (the William M. Valentine store and the series of attached shops immediately to the south, c.1840) still house small independent businesses. On the eastern side of the street near the southern end of the Main Street Historic District, a parcel which was open land in 1859 is still undeveloped, but used as parkland.
Bryant Library, Local History Collection, files.
Gerry, Roger & Peggy, Early Roslyn Houses, tour guides, (Roslyn, 1961-1972).
Moger, Roy, Roslyn Then and Now (Roslyn News, pub. 1895.
Skillman, Francis, Letter to the Roslyn News, pub. 1895.
Benjamin, Ashlar, The American builder's companion...6th ed. (Boston, 1827).