The North Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The North Main Street Historic District in Canandaigua covers approximately nine-tenths of a mile from the railroad tracks to the Buffalo-Chapel Street intersection. Within the North Main Street Historic District is an excellently distributed and well-preserved representation of nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural styles. Houses predominate in the northern 3/4 of the district and churches and civic buildings are concentrated at the southern end near the railroad tracks. Many former dwellings have been adapted as professional offices or for other uses without altering the essentially residential character of the streets.
In his architectural report of Canandaigua made in 1965, Harley McKee has loosely grouped the exterior appearances of buildings in the North Main Street Historic District.
In general, the buildings have been very well-maintained. Although the traffic is heavy on North Main Street, the architectural qualities of the buildings are not unduly marred since the street is unusually wide and the buildings are set well back.
The following are among the outstanding buildings on the street.
With the combination of spacious residences sheltered by trees and imposing civic buildings, Canandaigua's North Main Street forms a significant nineteenth century and early twentieth century environment. The buildings on both sides of the street of this virtually mile-long district show a notable consistency of architectural quality while at the same time they also show a diversity of styles. In addition, these buildings in the Ontario County seat have considerable historical associations with the settlement and development of Central New York.
Canandaigua developed on land traditionally inhabited by the Algonquin Indians (c.1500) and later by the Seneca Indians. As the western part of the State was thrown open to settlement in the wake of the Revolution the future site of Canandaigua was part of an ambitious six million acre purchase made in 1788 by Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, famed land speculators from Massachusetts. Settlement began the following year and the earliest settlers' houses were clustered around Atwater Park, at the extreme south of the historic district. No buildings of this early period remain but the names Phelps and Gorham have been perpetuated in street names, and several buildings within the district were built by their heirs reflecting the continued influence of these two families in Canandaigua. (252 North Main Street was the Phelps family house from 1852 to 1936. The Red Jacket Building at 33 North Main Street was built by Nathaniel Gorham, Jr. in 1850 and 143 North Main Street was built by Nathaniel Gorham III in 1855.)
From 1800 on, Canandaigua grew in size and importance as it provided an established urban nucleus in the midst of what was then still frontier land. Canandaigua provided land offices, law courts (the first court session was held in 1794), stores and taverns for settlers on their way west and for farmers in outlying areas. The town was linked by stage route to Albany in 1810, then bypassed by the canal in the twenties which took a more northern route. It was, however, on the earliest route of the railroad in the thirties.
A number of buildings within the North Main Street Historic District reflect the growth of Canandaigua in the first half of the nineteenth century and testify to its relative sophistication even in its earliest years. These include — the present City Hall built as Canandaigua's second courthouse in 1824, the First Congregational Church built in 1812, and a dozen substantial Federal and Greek Revival residences built by lawyers, land proprietors, statesmen, merchants and doctors.
Industrialism brought remarkably few changes to the character of Canandaigua and in particular North Main Street. The major commercial enterprises which grew up in the 1880's were the Lisk Manufacturing Company (enamelled steel ware), a New York Hydraulic Pressed Brick Works factory, a canning factory, Robinson Plow Works, a planning mill, a spoke factory, a cider mill, and a cracker factory. After an apparent building lag in the late 1850's, 1860's and early 1870's, the period of industrial growth shows in North Main Street's development with the resumption of building. Numerous Victorian residences appeared along the street and the construction of public buildings peaked in the early twentieth century with the First Methodist Church (1903), F.F. Thompson Hospital (1904), St. Mary's Church and Rectory (1903-06), additional wings to the Courthouse (1907), and the Post Office (1912). There have been virtually no additional buildings on North Main Street since that time (exceptions: the Y.M.C.A. and the hospital wing).
The architecture of North Main Street reflects its history as a central New York State County seat. Befitting a lawyer's town, the buildings are in solid, conservative "good taste." The respectability of Canandaigua precluded the whimsical flights of fancy that are familiar in the elaborate tracery, finials and turrets of buildings in other central New York towns.
Cribb, Hon. Joseph, "Society of Architectural Historians Tour Notes" 1965.
Granger, J.A. "A History of Canandaigua" 1905.
McKee, Harley, "To the Canandaigua Committee: An Architectural Report on Canandaigua" January 1965.
‡ Cornelia E. Brooke, New York State Historic Trust, North Main Street Historic District, Canandaigua NY, nomination document, 1972, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Main Street North