Grahamsville Historic District
The Grahamsville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Grahamsville Historic District comprises six properties, with a combined total area of approximately twenty acres, on the eastern edge of the hamlet of Grahamsville. New York State Route 55 bisects the Grahamsville Historic District, separating the three residences on the northwest from the public areas on the southeast — church, church hall, cemetery, and a former store, now a dwelling.
The western most building of the Grahamsville Historic District is the Marenius Dayton House, on the northern corner of Hastings Drive and Route 55. It is a large two-story, seven-bay frame house constructed in an austere Greek Revival style. The central portion is three bays wide and has a giant portico with four fluted Doric columns topped by an entablature and a low pitched pediment. Symmetrical wings extend from the two sides and to the rear, each being two bays wide and one deep, and slightly lower than the central portion.
The next building to the northeast is the 1857 House, a two-story Gothic Revival cottage. Its twin gable-roofed wings are joined by a central hall, forming an irregular "H". The front door, set in the recessed central portion, is framed by a pointed arch. Originally, there was a porch at the front of each side wing; during the late nineteenth century, these were extended and joined to form a single long verandah, which was in turn trimmed in 1957 to form a small central entrance porch. The house was sheathed in asphalt shingling in the middle of this century, but the decorative trim on the gables and attic dormers was left intact. A long carriage barn behind the house retains the original board-and-batten siding, as well as the decorative bargeboard.
The Southwick House is the last building in the Grahamsville Historic District on the north side of the road. It is a large frame and clapboard Italianate residence, two stories high, and four bays wide at the front. A one-story porch wraps around most of the front and east sides, supported by delicate square columns and small brackets. At eaves level, larger versions of the same brackets support a hipped, metal roof. A shallow, one-room wing juts from the front on the west side, embellished by an ornate bay window on the first floor. A lower wing at the rear is graced by a small bracketed portico. Two simple barns sit behind the residence.
On the other side of Route 55, the western most house in the Grahamsville Historic District is a small Greek Revival building, formerly commercial but now used as a residence. The three-bay-wide gable end faces the road, its lower story sheltered by a modern porch. Corner pilasters, a wide frieze under the eaves, and an elegant cornice and returns on the gables distinguish the Greek-inspired building. However, much of this elaboration was lost to view when the building was sheathed in aluminum siding in 1976-77.
East of the Greek Revival store on Route 55 is the Grahamsville Rural Cemetery, a large knoll terraced at the rear to overlook a scenic valley. A dirt road circles through the area, bordered at some points by a low stone retaining wall. Wide gravel paths cross the cemetery, with flagstone steps where needed. Shrubs and trees retain the nineteenth-century landscape architecture, designed in the picturesque tradition.
East of the cemetery and almost surrounded by its burials, are the 1882 Reformed Church and its 1935 Memorial Hall. Both are simple, white, frame and clapboard buildings. The gable-roofed church bears a square belfry at the front, topped by a tapered octagonal spire. Its sides are lined with tall stained glass windows; the double doors and three, high front windows are also of colored glass. The hall is a side one and one-half story building with a shallow gambrel roof and tall multi-paned windows.
While the buildings in the Grahamsville Historic District were constructed over a period of more than 100 years, and some have undergone alteration, the Grahamsville Historic District appears as a unified whole. Even the modern church hall is harmonious with the other white clapboard buildings, some one hundred years older. Modern development adjoins the Grahamsville Historic District to the west and north; vacant land is adjacent on the other sides.
The Grahamsville Historic District is a cohesive grouping of structures and landscaping that reflects the short-lived prosperity which came to this remote region of the Catskills in the mid-nineteenth century. Each property exemplifies an American architectural fashion: the three large residences represent the Greek Revival, Gothic cottage, and Italian Villa styles. The church and its 1935 parish house reflect a continuing tradition of stark white country churches. Landscaped in a picturesque mood, the rural cemetery documents the popularizing of landscape architecture in the late nineteenth century. Finally, the tannery store typifies the adaptation of Greek Revival architecture to a commercial mode.
The hamlet of Grahamsville received its first permanent residents after 1788, when the owners of the Hardenbergh Patent began inviting tenants. The few earlier settlers had been driven away during the Revolution, for this wilderness area was continually harassed by Indian raids. One such skirmish, the 1778 ambush and massacre of eighteen Americans led by Lieutenant John Graham, is commemorated in the name of Grahamsville. Even after the Revolution, settlement was very sparse, but by 1809 the town of Neversink had its own Baptist society, and Grahamsville had a name and a gristmill. Although this region was not active in the anti-rent hostilities, the leasehold system of land tenure clearly retarded growth. Abolition of the manorial system, coupled with industrial prosperity, encouraged rapid population growth in the 1840s.
Lumbering was Sullivan County's first industry. At first, the little up-and-down sawmills supplied a local market, and frame houses began to replace the earlier log structures. In order to reach city markets, transport was required, and as early as 1813 the town of Neversink levied a tax to build a road from Wawarsing to the Neversink River. Indian trails, such as the one that led through Grahamsville, were widened and paved with plank. In 1828, Neversink got a post office, and was served by a weekly stage route between Wawarsing and Monticello.
The two western most buildings in the Grahamsville Historic District date from this earliest period of Grahamsville's development. The Marenius Dayton House, built in the 1820s, served as an inn and an official stagecoach stop. With its imposing Doric portico, it is the finest example of Greek Revival architecture in northern Sullivan County. Across the road, the tannery store is a more modest example of the Greek Revival styles; its date of construction is not known.
The tannery industry originally developed as a by-product of lumbering, but as the tanneries flourished, the huge hemlock forests came to be exploited solely for their tannin-rich bark. Although tanning prospered in the northern Catskills in the 1820s, the industry did not take hold in Sullivan County until mid-century. In Grahamsville, one of the wealthiest citizens, Judge Stoddard Hammond, turned from his prosperous lumbering enterprises to tanning. On the banks of Chestnut Creek he constructed a 250-foot-long tannery, several storage barns, and five cottages for the tannery workers. Then in 1857 he built a fashionable Gothic cottage on the stage road, sited to overlook the tannery. This house, unique in the area for its sophistication of style, appears to derive from a Gervase Wheeler "Plain Timber Cottage-Villa" published as design twenty-five in A.J. Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses.
The Civil War years were a boom-time for the Catskill tanneries, as they supplied leather to the Union army for boots and harnesses. After the war, however, the market dwindled, at the same time that the great stands of hemlock began to be exhausted. In 1867, Hammond sold the tannery complex to his partner John Reynolds, along with the Greek Revival store — by then known as the Tannery Store — and his Gothic residence. While most of Sullivan County reverted to lumbering and farming, Reynolds kept the tannery going, but was finally defeated by the depression of the 1870s. In 1878, "the tannery, the barns and store house in New York City were packed with leather. All were sold. The tannery was down; the store was closed."
Grahamsville, subsisting on its agricultural and lumbering interests, continued to be fairly prosperous though isolated. In 1874, a group of prominent citizens joined together to incorporate a rural cemetery for the community. The site they chose, bounded by Chestnut Creek on the south and the old stage road to the north, incorporated the Hammond family burial plot and lands purchased from R. Childs and John Reynolds. Although no landscape architect was employed, the trustees were clearly following the landscaping fashions of mid-century in the way they laid out the cemetery: the minutes of their meetings document the attention to detail in sloping the ground, laying out flagstone paths and steps, bordering the gravel drive with maples, and building benches for visitors. In 1882, the Reformed Church acquired property adjacent to the cemetery and constructed a simple frame and clapboard house of worship there. Their first meeting house, built in 1844, was sold and removed to a neighboring community. The gambrel-roofed Memorial Hall was built next to the church in 1935.
Also in the 1880s, the Southwicks built a fine residence in the Italian Villa style, complete with marble fireplaces and wainscoting. It is an elegant house, but very late for this Italianate fashion, attesting to the remoteness from urban fashions by this date. By this time, pollution from the tanneries had dissipated, and northern Sullivan County was attracting summer tourists. Many farmhouses of the region began catering to visitors who came to breathe the fresh air and fish the trout streams. Although Grahamsville was many miles from the nearest railroad, the village had its share of summer boarding houses, the Reynolds (1857) house among them.
As the summer boarding house business faded in the 1920s, northern Sullivan County turned once again to a subsistence economy, based on small farms and sawmills. Grahamsville is one of several tiny hamlets which serve as social and mercantile centers for this quiet mountain region. In 1945, the Rondout Creek was dammed at Lackawack, forming the Rondout Reservoir which reaches west almost to Grahamsville. About the same time, the Tri-Valley School was built to accommodate over a thousand students from thirteen local school districts. The reservoir and the school notably altered the eastern boundary of the hamlet. The commercial center of the village farther west on Route 55 has also changed over the years, as deferred maintenance and unsympathetic alterations have affected the historic buildings there. Wedged between the declining village on the west and the reservoir to the east, with modern housing to the north and sewage disposal plants on the tannery site to the south, the Grahamsville Historic District is an intact grouping which retains its historic character, a rare survival of stylish nineteenth-century design in a forgotten corner of the Catskills.
Beers, Frederick W. County Atlas of Sullivan County, New York. New York: Waller and Jewett, 1875.
Evers, Alf. The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1972.
Quinlan, James Eldridge. History of Sullivan County. Liberty, New York: G.M. Beebe and W.T. Morgans, 1873.
Reynolds, George B. "Memoirs." Tri-Valley Townsman. Grahamsville, New York, 1973.
Memories of Long Ago. Ellenville, New York: Ellenville Press, 1936.
Wakefield, Manville B. T the Mountains by Rail. Grahamsville, New York: Wakefair Press, 1970.
† Lucy A. Breyer, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Grahamsville Historic District, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.