East Main Street Historic District
The East Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The East Main Street Historic District is situated east of the intersection of U. S. Route 20 (Main St.) and N.Y. Route 167 (Church St.-Lake St.) in the incorporated village of Richfield Springs, Otsego County, New York. Richfield Springs, (population 1668) is located in east-central New York State, approximately 65 miles west of Albany and 65 miles east of Syracuse. The village achieved prominence in the nineteenth century as a resort community and was substantially developed before 1940. Main Street, the portion of U.S. Route 20 located in the Village, forms an east-west axis through the village and contains business and institutional uses at the center, bracketed by residential development east and west of the center. The East Main Street Historic District is the second of three significant concentrations of historic resources identified and proposed for nomination in Richfield Springs as part of a comprehensive historic resources survey of the village completed in 1992.
The East Main Street Historic District developed historically as a tree-lined residential corridor lined with stylish nineteenth century houses, a church, several large hotels near the village center, and the village water works at the extreme eastern end. The majority of these elements, including 31 historic residences, two historic boarding houses, a theatre, a post office, a former hotel and one church remain, constituting the body of the East Main Street Historic District. Many of the houses are complemented by contributing barns and outbuildings. At the western end, a park was developed in the early years of the twentieth century on the site of the Springs Hotel. This park remains largely intact and anchors the western end of the East Main Street Historic District. A rustic style bandstand built in 1904 and an imposing 1918 post clock are located in this park. With one exception, the nineteenth century hotels at the west end of East Main Street were demolished during the resort's decline and were replaced by non-historic commercial buildings and parking lots. These properties are incompatible with the historic scale and character of East Main Street and have been eliminated from the boundaries of the district. The eastern end of the East Main Street Historic District is anchored by the nineteenth century village waterworks comprised of two landscaped reservoirs, a fountain and a pumping house. Of the 47 principal properties contained in the East Main Street Historic District, 39 are classified as contributing and eight are classified as non-contributing. Two properties involving three contributing buildings were previously listed on the National Register: the Richfield Springs Post Office, (United States Post Offices in New York State Thematic Resources, 1989), and Sunnyside, 1988.
The majority of the historic buildings in the East Main Street Historic District are houses built of frame construction and range in date from 1836 to ca.1910. Although several of these houses have origins in the first half of the nineteenth century, most feature the popular picturesque and eclectic architectural styles of the second half of the nineteenth century. Six houses are good representative examples of the Italianate style and several other houses reflect Italianate style elements, but were later updated in fashionable late nineteenth century forms and styles. Three houses exemplify the Second Empire style, and nine feature designs closely allied with the Queen Anne and Shingle styles, modified in several instances with Colonial Revival detailing. The East Main Street Historic District also includes three unusual Chalet style houses and a two examples of the Stick style, one of which features a four-story tower. The former Methodist Church, built of brick in 1872-1874 is a late, but otherwise typical exponent of the early Romanesque Revival style. The pumphouse at the waterworks is also constructed of brick with round arched openings and a cross-gabled, jerkin-headed roof suggests both Romanesque and Chalet style influences. The 1904 bandstand in Spring Park exemplifies the Rustic style and features a cobblestone foundation, log columns with branchwork brackets and balustrades and a bell-cast wood shingle roof. The United States Post Office building, built in 1941-1942 in a modified Colonial Revival style, represents the most recent historic feature of the East Main Street Historic District.
Mature trees and informal lawns complement many of the historic properties in the East Main Street Historic District and contribute to the district's historic setting and sense of place. Large sugar maple trees are an important element in landscape character of Spring Park and many appear to pre-date the destruction of the Spring House Hotel at this site in 1897. Others stand in front of residential properties on both sides of East Main Street. Large spruce trees and other pines planted in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stand near houses and carriage barns in the historic district and complement the East Main Street Historic District's picturesque architecture. Extensive plantings of evergreen trees are present at the village waterworks where they contribute to a park-like atmosphere. Crab apple trees planted through the efforts of the Richfield Springs Garden Club are also present throughout the East Main Street Historic District.
The East Main Street Historic District represents an 1836-1942 period of significance, buildings, structures and landscape elements within the East Main Street Historic District reflect all major phases in the evolution of the village, including the turnpike and early spa period (ca.1800-1860), the era of the large mineral springs resorts and rail transportation (ca.1860-1920), and the early automobile era (ca.1920-1940). Architecturally, the East Main Street Historic District is marked by significant examples of Italianate, Second Empire, Stick style, Chalet style, Queen Anne style, Shingle style, Rustic style, and Colonial Revival style architecture. The East Main Street Historic District is compromised by relatively few intrusions and retains its historic scale, setting and landscape character to a significant extent.
The commercial promotion of the sulphur springs was initiated by Dr. Horace Manley, who purchased the site of the Great White Sulphur Springs at the eastern end of the historic district in 1820. Manley built a bath house at this site in the following year and brought 25 patients here to take the water cure. As the springs grew in popularity, demand for lodgings supported the construction of new and larger hotels including Page's Tavern in 1823 (site of Spring Park) and the American Hotel in 1830 (site adjacent to historic district on south side of East Main Street). By the mid-nineteenth century, existing hotels were enlarged and new hotels were built with capacities ranging from 100 to 500 guests each. Many of the more prominent hotels were situated at the west end of East Main Street, forming unbroken rows of three and four-story facades with two-story porticoes detailed with classical architectural elements inspired by the Greek Revival style. A business district emerged along Main Street west of Lake Street, and residential development gravitated toward the eastern and western approaches to the village along the turnpike, particularly along East Main Street. The only extant building from this initial period of development in the East Main Street Historic District is the house at 19 East Main Street which later became associated with the Carey Cottages resort. Built in 1836, the house illustrates a standard two-story, five-bay center entrance configuration typical of residential construction during this period in Central New York. Unfortunately, unsympathetic alterations obscure many of the original architectural details of this early and significant residence.
See also: Beginnings: Richfield Springs Village.
The increased wealth and sophistication of the resort in the decades following the Civil War gave rise to the emergence of East Main Street as a stylish residential avenue. New hotels including the International Hotel, the Berkeley, and the Kendallwood were built near the western end of East Main Street and designed in variations of the Italianate and the Second Empire styles. Today, only the lower two stories of the International Hotel at 2 East Main Street survive. By contrast, however, excellent examples of the residential architecture of this era remain within the East Main Street Historic District. The Italianate style, distinguished by its use of flat roofs, bracketed cornices and rooftop cupolas in many instances is well-represented by houses at 23, 35, 46, 49 and 60 East Main Street, reflecting dates of construction ranging from ca.1860-1870. The Second Empire style, identified by its use of the mansard roof, is illustrated by "the Elms" at 28 East Main Street, built ca.1870, 41 East Main Street, built ca.1870 and Stansfield Villa at 76 East Main Street, built in 1883. The church at 29 East Main Street, built in 1872-1874, illustrates the Romanesque Revival style, popularized in the mid-nineteenth century and frequently associated with ecclesiastical design.
Significant examples of other leading architectural styles of the Victorian-period are also present in the East Main Street Historic District. The Stick style is illustrated by the Eugene Hinds House at 39 East Main Street. Built in 1883 for the one-time village Postmaster, the house is noted for its four-story tower, bracketed verandah, truss supported gables and Eastlake interior trim. Examples of the Queen Anne style and the Shingle style, including several residences combining elements of both, are characteristic of residential architecture in the village in the 1880s and 1890s. Excellent examples of the Queen Anne style include Applecott at 26 East Main Street, built ca.1880, and a house at 68 East Main Street, built in 1883. The Shingle style in Richfield Springs may have been inspired by the work of McKim, Mead and White in the design of the Cyrus McCormick estate in the village in 1882. The best example of the style in the East Main Street Historic District is Bella Vista at 63 East Main Street, designed by W. Niver of Fultonville and built in 1886 for Robert Westcott. The house is characterized by its swelling window bay and tower, verandah and sleeping porch, prominent roof and tall chimneys. Houses combining elements of both styles as well as some Colonial Revival details include Spring Park Lodge at 17 East Main Street, built ca.1880 and Sunnyside at 72 East Main Street, built in 1890 (listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988).
The Chalet style, a less common nineteenth century expression of the Picturesque Movement with allusions to Alpine resorts, appeared in Richfield Springs during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Of the three examples present within the East Main Street Historic District, Hillcrest Farm, built ca.1875 at 78 East Main Street represents the most fully-developed and best-preserved example, featuring broad overhanging roofs, prominent brackets, and inverted picket friezes. An unusual pair of small Chalet style cottages with various alterations is also present at 56 and 58 East Main Street, and dates from 1887.
The growing summertime population of Richfield Springs after the Civil War and the presence of some thirty wood frame hotels and boarding houses quickly demanded the construction of improved water supply and sewerage systems. A reservoir and pumphouse were completed in 1879, and expanded and updated in 1885 and 1921. Two hose companies were immediately established in 1879 and 1880 to offer improved fire protection to the resort. The park-like village reservoirs, octagonal valvehouse and brick pumphouse are located on a hill on East Main Street at the east end of the historic district, and are significant reminders of these historic public works initiatives. They further serve as the symbolic gateway to the village as one approaches from the east.
The destruction of the massive, 450 guest Spring House Hotel by fire in 1897 and the decision not to rebuild may have represented a turning point in the history of the village. Richfield Springs remained viable as a resort well into the first two decades of the twentieth century, however, both seasonal and permanent populations began a slow but steady decline. Nevertheless, several significant public amenities were added to the village during this period, including a park at the site of the Spring House, an unusual rustic style bandstand in the park, built in 1904 through the philanthropy of Mrs. J. Herman Aldrich and a large, four-sided post clock donated to the village by Thomas Proctor in 1918 for the center of the intersection of Main Street and Church Street (relocated a short distance to Spring Park in 1962). In 1914, Melvin Shaul constructed a new theatre on Lake Street which showed silent movies and "talkies" after 1925. The building housed the village post office until the current facility opened in 1942. The theatre building, although currently deteriorated, is one of only several buildings in the village constructed wholly of rock-faced concrete block, and features a facade decorated with quoins and string courses created from smooth concrete bricks.
The automobile era was inaugurated in Richfield Springs in 1904 when Frank Roff of 26 East Main Street built and operated the first automobile in the village. Automobile transportation became commonplace in the 1920s and became an important source of tourism and business in the village in the face of the declining popularity of the mineral springs and the large nineteenth century hotels.
The economic depression of the 1930s and early 1940s stifled new construction in Richfield Springs and hastened the loss of its nineteenth century architecture. However, one major public building emerged from this period in the East Main Street Historic District, the 1941-1942 post office. Built with Public Works Administration funds under the supervision of Louis Simon, the modified Colonial Revival style post office is distinguished by its formal composition, limestone entrance portico, multi-light window sash and cupola. The interior includes a 1942 mural by John W. Taylor depicting a local dairying scene, processing plant and an octagonal dairy barn still located in the Town of Richfield. Overall, the post office building retains an unusually high degree of integrity and represents one of the finest examples of public works design in the region (listed on the National Register in 1989).
The 1940s and 1950s were years of loss for historic resources in Richfield Springs. Although the demolition of hotels began in the 1930s, six of the largest were demolished between 1940 and 1960. Four of these hotels, the Berkeley-Waiontha, the American, the Tuller House and the Kendallwood were located on the south side of East Main Street in the area now occupied by a convenience store, a motel, a supermarket, a restaurant and a bank. With these exceptions, however, there have been comparatively few changes to the historic fabric of the East Main Street Historic District since the Second World War. The East Main Street Historic District continues to reflect the social, economic, and distinctive architectural development of the village between 1836 and 1942 and represents an important symbol in efforts to recognize and preserve Richfield Springs' distinguished past.
Brown, Robert C. and Ronnie McCoy. A study of Early Hotels of Richfield Springs, Richfield Springs, N.Y.: Richfield Area Chamber of Commerce, 1991.
Hughes, Greta G., and Ella L. Winne, eds. The Town of Richfield, A Collection of Local History Articles, Richfield Springs, N.Y.: Richfield Springs Mercury, 1961.
Ward, Dr. Henry A. Annals of Richfield, Utica, N.Y.: Fierstone Printing House, 1897.
Richfield Springs, N.Y., Historical collections including issues of the Richfield Springs Mercury on file at the Richfield Springs Public Library, 59 West Main St.