The Franklin Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Franklin Square Historic District is located west of the Oswego River in the city of Oswego. The city lies forty miles northwest of Syracuse in central New York State at the point where the Oswego River empties into the eastern end of Lake Ontario.
The center of the Franklin Square Historic District is Franklin Square. The western edge of the Franklin Square Historic District is West 6th Street, the western boundary of the original village of Oswego as laid out in 1797. The eastern edge of the Franklin Square Historic District is the rear property lines of the houses bordering the east side of the park, a line corresponding to the present zoning ordinance of the city, which divides the downtown commercial zone from residential areas. The Franklin Square Historic District extends north and south of the park as the architectural integrity of the buildings warrants.
Most major architectural styles of the 19th century are represented by houses located around the square, including Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne. The variety of styles is a result of the subdivision of original estates and the erection of later houses. In some cases a house occupies a site in which one or two others have stood.
Two of the earliest houses in the Franklin Square Historic District are Federal style homes located at 60 West Cayuga Street and 64 West 5th Street which were built in the 1830's and incorporate elements of the Greek Revival style. While both houses are square in plan, the stone Bronson house has a heavy portico supported by stone columns in antis, and the Mott house has a classic recessed main entrance with engaged, fluted Ionic columns. This doorway is approached by a double stair built of cut stone.
One of the best surviving Greek Revival style structures in Oswego is the Penfield house (1849) at 124 West 5th Street. The two-story portico is surmounted by a triangular pediment. Inside, classical mantels and a curved staircase are consistent with the style.
Three other Greek Revival style houses on West 3rd Street were built in 1847 by Elisha Carrington. They all incorporate typical elements of the style and have fluted Ionic or Doric columns which flank the doorways of these structures.
About one-third of the ninety-one houses in the Franklin Square Historic District exhibit Italianate stylistic details. An unusual example of this style is a pair of houses, #108 West 3rd Street and #110 West 3rd Street. They were built side by side exactly on the property line in 1848-49. Both houses have paired brackets supporting their cornices, unusual balconies (curved and square), and paired windows with stone lintels and sills.
The Italianate style house at 116 West Third Street exhibits single brackets, rectangular half-story windows, a two-story bay window on the south side and, as with many of the houses in the Franklin Square Historic District, the house has a wall and steps in the front yard of cut stone.
Two elegant houses whose mansard roofs denote the Second Empire style are located at 80 West 5th Street and 140 West 5th Street. The entrance approach of the former divides the surrounding low stone wall and ornamental iron fences.
The Queen Anne style houses located at 35 West Seneca Street, 70 West Bridge Street, and 119 West 4th Street are well preserved examples of this late Victorian house type. The latter one has corner balconies on the second floor, cutout pattern in the porch frieze, a decorative bargeboard, and wood panels in the gable apex. Two eminent architects, Claude Bragdon and W.B. Reid, designed two Neoclassical style houses located in the Franklin Square Historic District: the Salisbury house (c.1880) at 44 West Fifth Street, and the Emerick-Sullivan house (1901) at 59 West 5th Street, respectively.
This significant assortment of architectural styles surrounds Franklin Square, the heart of the Franklin Square Historic District. Designed in 1797 by Simeon DeWitt, New York State surveyor general, and modeled after a typical New England green, the square became the building focus of Oswego's socially elite in the 19th century. The square retains its original form and dimensions and is a cherished urban green space for the residents of the city.
The impressive residences of Oswego's Franklin Square Historic District represent the significant period of growth the city experienced in the nineteenth century. Oswego merchants, who capitalized on the economic benefits of the fast water transportation network between Lake Ontario and New York, constructed homes in a variety of architectural styles around Franklin Park. Built between 1825 and 1900, the majority of buildings remain intact amid many original landscape features. Although prosperity declined at the end of the century, the Franklin Square Historic District survives as a nineteenth-century neighborhood within an urban environment.
Oswego's recorded history began in the seventeenth century when French explorers and missionaries traveled across Lake Ontario and up the river to Onondaga. By the 18th century, Dutch and English fur traders were using an important inland water route from Schenectady to Oswego. This passage led west up the Mohawk River, across a short portage from the Mohawk into Wood Creek, then into Oneida Lake. From there, they followed the Oneida River westward to Three Rivers, then north on the Oswego River to Lake Ontario.
After 1796, when the British army finally evacuated Fort Ontario, this famous watercourse, and later the Erie Canal and Oswego Canal, enabled Oswego businessmen to amass fortunes in trade, milling, brewing and manufacturing. Grain flowed in from the west for transshipment to the eastern seaboard, lumber and barley arrived from Canada for shipbuilding and brewing, and local agricultural products traveled in both directions. While wharves and shipyards dominated the waterfront two blocks away, Franklin Square Historic District became the popular neighborhood for the prosperous businessmen of the city. The fine homes that constitute the Franklin Square Historic District are a reflection of the remarkable economic development of Oswego during the 19th century.
One of Oswego's most outstanding citizens was Alvin Bronson. Besides dominating the activity of the port from 1810-1830, he was the first state senator elected from Oswego (1823) and the first president of the village (1828). Bronson lived at 60 West Cayuga Street until his death at the age of 98. Similarly, Thomas Smith Mott was also a prominent shipbuilder and a merchant who was said to have handled more grain and built more vessels in Oswego than any other one man.
Two important mill owners who built in the Franklin Square Historic District were Joel Penfield at 124 West Fifth Street and his partner, Samuel Burbank Johnson, at 130 West 5th Street. In the 1850's the Penfield and Johnson flour mills, along with many others, made Oswego the flour milling center of the United States. The total daily capacity of these mills, 8,750 barrels, was the backbone of Oswego's commerce.
The socially elite of the city also chose to live around Franklin Square. George Fisher, who built his home at 41 West Seneca Street in 1824, was an alumnus of Brown University and a one-time member of Congress. John H. Lord, publisher, built a Federal style house at 36 West 5th Street in 1840 and the Reverend John McCarty, rector of Christ Church, chose the site at 54 West 5th Street for the church rectory. John M. Casey was a superior office lawyer and was master in chancery (110 West Third Street).
The solid business and professional accomplishments of these early Oswegonians permitted them to build distinctive homes. The interiors, as well as the exteriors, reflected their attention to craftsmanship, and many Franklin Square houses retain original parquet and mosaic floors, curved staircases, hand-carved mantels, masonry work, and stencil decoration. The Bond house, 49 West 5th Street, (1850) is particularly significant for its details executed by local craftsmen, which include carved woodwork by Louis Lavonier and the pressed tin designed and manufactured in Oswego by Fred Murdock. With an abundant supply of carpenters from the furniture factories and shipyards, even a small house could boast of hand-carved interior adornment.
Oswego's most prolific woodcarver during the latter half of the 19th century was Louis Lavonier. His works included mantels, breakfronts, wainscoting, and door and window cases into which he carved the daisies, grapes, thistles, pears, and oak leaves which were characteristic of his work. Besides the Bond house, two other houses within the Franklin Square Historic District exhibit his carving: the Kogan house, 88 West 5th Street and the Nesbitt house, 119 West Fourth Street.
The economic development of Oswego from the 17th century to the end of the 18th century progressed steadily from lucrative Indian fur trading to ship building, flour milling, brewing, the manufacture of corn starch, and the transshipment of coal, lumber, and grain. In the 20th century, tariff policies, the removal of canal tolls, the success of the railroads, and changes in transshipment methods caused an economic decline in the city that persisted almost to the present day. So few changes have occurred in Oswego since the late 19th century that most of the homes within the Franklin Square Historic District retain their original character and architectural integrity.
Snyder, Charles M., Oswego From Buckskin to Bustles, Port Washington: Ira J. Friedman, Inc., 1968. pp.1-286.
Churchill, John C., Landmarks of Oswego County, Syracuse: D.Mason & Co., 1895, pp.1-950.
‡ Harwood, John, Franklin Square Historic District, nomination document, 1981, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
3rd Street West • 4th Street West • 5th Street West • Bridge Street West • Cayuga Street West • Seneca Street West