Although the architectural elements to be found in the district run the gamut of the 19th and early 20th-century styles, continuity and unity are derived from the compatible scale of the buildings and from their close juxtaposition on narrow streets.
The historic district consists of more than half of the incorporated village and contains all the components of a complete community: residences from mansions to factory workers homes, churches, commercial buildings, industrial buildings, schools, governmental buildings and transportation-related structures.
Within the general matrix, several neighborhoods may be identified. The business district is concentrated on Broad Street in the center of the village and consists of many fine Federal as well as mid and late 19th-century buildings. Some of these commercial buildings have been denatured by the use of aluminum siding and the removal of important architectural elements. The majority are essentially intact and could be restored to an historic appearance with minimal effort. The very large concentration of almost a dozen brick Federal buildings with stepped gables gives Broad Street a unique flavor. The Waterford Town Hall and National Commercial Bank and Trust Company building are early 20th century structures of high architectural quality.
At the northern end of Third Street is located the Robert Reis and Company mill (1896) with its brick corbeled tower. The southern end of Third Street and the area in the general vicinity of Third and Middle contain many fine homes built by Waterford's industrialists.
The neighborhood around the intersections of Fourth Street with South and Middle Streets is sometimes referred to as "Canaltown." It consists of small frame or brick houses, consistent in scale and detailing and located on narrow streets, which were built as a result of the stimulus provided by the building of the Champlain and Erie canals which meet here. The Waterford Flight of Locks leading from the canal to the Hudson River is located along the southern part of this area and is included in the district.
Sixth Street and the western portion of Broad Street between the Champlain Canal and the Barge Canal were built up during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Waterford has an unusually high concentration of two architectural types. The first is the Federal period brick townhouse with stepped gables, of which there are more than twenty examples. Most are located on Broad Street but there are fine intact examples scattered elsewhere in the district. The second type is the Greek Revival frame dwelling with a full portico, of which there are four examples on Third Street, three on Second Street and one on First. The Presbyterian Church also has a portico.
Only thirty buildings have been constructed in this district since 1900 and only a handful since 1940. There are two obvious modern intrusions; one gas station on the corner of Broad Street and Sixth Street and another on the corner of Division and Third Streets. A few other modern buildings are concrete boxes with token brickwork or modern one story ranch houses. Modern sidings now envelop many of the small old residences to the detriment of architectural integrity. It is for this latter reason that Front Street and the northern end of Fourth Street have been omitted from the district.
First settled around 1633, the Village of Waterford was formally incorporated in 1794, making it the oldest incorporated village in the county. Its location at the junction of the Hudson River and the Mohawk River (major transportation routes since the earliest period of settlement) and the waterpower to be derived from the rivers at this location combined to produce a community exceptionally rich and diversified both as to historical associations and architectural heritage. Although imbedded in a matrix of urban and suburban growth, the village has retained its 19th century character, cohesiveness and feeling of intimacy to the present day.
Originally a Dutch settlement of traders and trappers, Waterford's waterpower was developed in the late 1700's with sloop trade opening up actively in 1799. Around 1825, this already prospering community took another great leap forward with the opening of the Champlain Canal, of which Waterford was the southern terminus. As the established head of Hudson River navigation and now the terminus of a canal which opened up all the resources of northern New York, Vermont and Canada, Waterford became an even greater center of business and industry. With its central location at the river junction, its ideal accessibility to both river navigation and the canals, and with the rivers providing a ready source of waterpower, Waterford had all the ingredients needed for growth and prosperity. This era, needless to say, brought the building of many fine homes, mills, churches and commercial structures in the village.
Waterford's continuing prosperity covered a period of changing architectural fancies (app. 1825-1860's) and thus became a mixture of different styles. Unlike many other districts which are very homogenous in style and period, Waterford Village more or less "filled in" over a period of time which, although comparatively brief in span, was a period of great change in tastes, including Federal, Georgian, Empire, Greek Revival, and early Victorian fads, with a variety of mixtures thereof.
In addition, this was a period of individualism, when one did not merely choose a home from a book of designs. Businessmen and industrialists of Waterford took pride in their homes, and each used originality in combining styles. A prime example of Waterford architectural individuality is the Col. Smith House at 64 First Street. Built in 1863, the home is solid, cast in place concrete, and is considered to be one of the oldest poured concrete houses in New York State. Called a "mudhouse" by contemporaries of Smith, it stands today as a monument to architectural individuality and originality.
Also significant are the people who started the mills and occupied these homes, the industrialists, traders and inventors who either helped build or came later to share in the prosperity of this community. Here lived Isaac Eddy (37 Middle Street), inventor of the formula for making modern printers' ink; his sons, Thomas Eddy (60 Third Street), inventor of colored printers' ink, and George Eddy (19 Broad Street), inventor of the tapered seat valve and his famous Mohawk fire hydrant: Lysander Button (22 Third Street), famed builder of Button Fire Engines in Waterford; and Samuel Stewart (15 Broad Street), important sloop magnate, political figure, War of 1812 General, architect, and active abolitionist. To Waterford on visits came Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Horace Greeley, Frederick Douglas, and Henry Clay.
As Waterford advanced, however, it always maintained an attachment to past roots, retaining the remnants and contributions of each new generation and historical era as it moved on. Even its earliest Dutch origins retained their place in Waterford: the Van Sehoonhoven family, Dutch founders of the original village, remained a vital force in Waterford politics, business, and education well into the 19th century.
The village grew and prospered until the very late 19th century, at which time growth and construction all but ended with the decline of river navigation, the simultaneous decline of the canals because of the rise of the railroads, and the increasing trend away from smaller, locally-owned industries to national corporations. Waterford went from an era of prosperity into an era of relative obscurity. Bypassed by more modern development, the community's physical integrity remains as it was at Waterford's peak as a 19th century industrial and commercial center.
1st Street • 2nd Street • 3rd Street • 4th Street • 5th Street • 6th Street • 7th Street • 8th Street • Ballston Street • Broad Street • Columbia Street • Division Street • Fane Court • Hudson Street • John Street • Middle Street • Parker Lane • Route 32 • Route 4 • South Street • State Street