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Dryden Historic District

Dryden Village, Tompkins County, NY

Dryden Historic DIstrict

Photo: Homes in the Dryden Historic DIstrict, Dryden Village. The District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Photographed by wikipedia username: Doug Kerr, own work, 2010, [cc-2.0], accessed September, 2022.

The Dryden Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The Dryden Historic District is a significant concentration of Dryden village's most distinct, representative and intact examples of popular architectural styles dating from 1800 to 1905. Although additional concentrations of historic buildings exist in the commercial center and on residential streets of the village, they lack the architectural integrity of the historic district due to alteration and unsympathetic modern construction. The district contains 44 properties, the majority of which are residential. (There are a total of 58 contributing structures.) Three, two-story commercial structures are included which represent simple, vernacular interpretations of the Federal, Greek Revival and Italianate styles. The remaining portion of the historic district is composed of tree-lined residential streets with pleasantly spaced homes built predominately in the Greek Revival and Italianate styles. Also represented in the historic district are examples of Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Victorian Gothic, and Queen Anne styles, as well as several early-to-mid twentieth century styles. These generally two-story frame structures are examples of local vernacular interpretations of the popular nineteenth-century "high styles," many of them built with considerable skill by several of Dryden's locally known carpenter/builders.

Although the majority of the earlier Greek Revival style structures in the district are somewhat simple and austere, several display fine proportions and detail worthy of special note, for example, the houses at 12 Pleasant Street and 29 South Street. The Union Street residential block is notable for its parade of two-story Italianate style structures embellished with handsomely carved brackets and decorative porch details. Two of the finest Italianate style structures in the village are located at 12 East Main Street and 19 South Street in the historic district, featuring elaborately carved brackets, fine window moldings and decorative porch detailing. Still other masterful examples of local craftsmanship to be found within the historic district include the Second Empire style structures located at 10 Pleasant Street and 25 South Street, the Victorian Gothic style residence at 19 Union Street, and the Queen Anne homes at 26 East Main Street and 3 Pleasant Street. Each of these residential structures reflects the local appreciation and talent for fine detail and multi-textured surfaces. The innovative nature of some of Dryden's builders is also evident in the district, such as in the rusticated cobblestone and geometric patterned concrete blocks designed and cast by the builder of 30 East Main Street.

The seven individual components of the Dryden Village Multiple Resource Area are as follows: the Southworth House (1836), a distinctive and rare example of a late Federal style structure that is unique in the community for it is built of brick, a material infrequently used in Dryden; the Luther Clarke House (circa 1820-1830), the only intact and most distinctive example of a Federal style residence constructed of wood that remains in the village today; the Lacy-Van Vleet House (1845), a unique architectural interpretation reflecting a transition between the Federal and Greek Revival styles; the Rockwell House (circa 1860-1866), one of the village's finest Italianate style residences, featuring wide overhanging eaves, carved brackets and decorative window heads; the Jennings-Marvin House (1897), a unique vernacular structure in the village, incorporating elements of the Queen Anne and Shingle styles and notable for its massive shingled tower with a conical roof and oval keystoned windows; the Methodist Episcopal Church (1874), located strategically on the northwest corner of the main "four corners" intersection, an unusual example of the Romanesque Revival style (having been built of wood rather than masonry), and featuring an original colored slate roof and a tall spire that serves as a landmark for the entire community; and the Southworth Library (1894), built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style and the most notable masonry structure in the village; constructed of rough-cut Ohio sandstone, it features an off-center bell tower and steeply pitched slate roof.


The Dryden Village Multiple Resource Area contains a significant collection of 68 historic structures (one historic district of 44 properties and 7 individual components which reflect the history of the crossroads community, from a prosperous lumbering community of the 1820's and 1830's, to a local manufacturing community of the 1840's to 1860's, and finally to an agricultural center in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Included within the historic district are three commercial structures dating back to the greatest period of commercial development of the village, 1840 to 1860. In addition, two of the finest public structures to be built in the village are included. These are the Methodist Episcopal Church (1874) and the Southworth Library (1894), the latter designed by the prominent Ithaca architect, William Henry Miller. Their architectural designs and styles, as well as their prominent locations within the village, mark them as significant community landmarks. The majority of the structures, however, represent the various phases of residential development in the village, from the very fine residences of entrepreneurs to the more modest structures of the local working class. In addition to several of the finest residences included as individual components, residential structures constitute a significant portion of the original "four corners" community along East Main and South Streets, as well as a neighborhood developed by subdivision in the 1850's through the 1870's (Dwight's "Square"), the most intact portion of which constitutes the Dryden Historic District. This development occurred in response to the growing demand for housing spurred by the economic development of a prospering community. Reflecting the major periods of development and growth in Dryden, the multiple resource area contains distinctive and representative examples of numerous and diverse architectural styles, including: Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Victorian Gothic, and Queen Anne as well as their vernacular modes. The structures are architecturally significant for their quality of design, craftsmanship, and decorative and artistic detail. Equally important, however, is their association with the overall growth and development of this nineteenth century crossroads community.

Settlement in the Dryden village area began in the 1790's as the result of a New York State law calling for a two million acre tract of land in central New York to be surveyed, subdivided, and set aside for settlement by the state's surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War. One of twenty-eight townships thus established, Dryden township was surveyed by Simeon DeWitt, Surveyor General of New York State, who named it after the English poet, John Dryden. The township was fully incorporated on February 22, 1803.

Although lots had been drawn in 1791, many of the war veterans who had been issued titles were reluctant to embark upon the harsh task of settling in the wilderness. As a result, many of these men chose to trade or sell their titles to adventurous inhabitants of some of the more populous communities of the state, particularly from Schenectady, Saratoga, and Albany. The first resident freeholder to arrive in the Dryden area was Amos Sweet, who in 1797 constructed the first log cabin on land northwest of the present-day Methodist Episcopal Church on the northwest corner of Dryden village's "four corners."

A primary deterrent to settlement was the lack of transportation into the area, as several attempts at cutting roads from Ithaca to Dryden had resulted in only semi-permanent paths. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, Dryden had no more than two rough roads. But these roads, which ran along the boundaries between lots 38, 39, 48 and 49, were passable and were destined to form the "four corners" of Dryden village.

During this early portion of the nineteenth century, log cabins were the most common building forms to be found. However, Dryden's first physician, Dr. Nathaniel Shelden, built a small frame house in 1800 at the present-day corner of West Main and, South Streets. Although moved in 1836 to its current location at 18 East Main Street in the Dryden Village Historic District, it is the oldest frame house existing in Dryden.

Dryden township was originally endowed with high quality pine trees and many creeks and tributaries with suitable milling sites. Thus, once the area had surmounted its transportation problems, it began to prosper with the development of a flourishing timber industry. As evidence of such growth in industry and population, the number of sawmills had grown from twenty-six in 1824 to fifty-three in 1834, and the town population from 3,950 to 5,000.

The Dryden crossroads community enjoyed two fairly distinct periods of building and expansion during the nineteenth century, The first of these is linked to the burgeoning timber economy, as the lumber industry stimulated the development of trade and service economies and the construction of new commercial and residential structures. This new prosperity led to the replacement of rather crude log houses with more imposing Federal and Greek Revival style frame structures. Some particularly fine examples are the Luther Clarke (c. 1820-1830) and Lacy-Van Vleet (c. 1828) houses on West Main Street.

As the population increased and the local economy diversified a commercial node developed at the Dryden "four corners" intersection. As with almost all residential structures in the area, most commercial structures were of wood frame construction due to the relatively cheap and superior quality pine lumber that was locally available. A few exceptions to the general rule of wood frame construction during this period are several masonry buildings constructed beginning in the 1850s. One of these is the brick Southworth House, built by John Southworth in 1836 and located at 14 North Street. Another is the brick commercial structure built by Joseph McGraw, Jr., in 1840 and located at 2 East Main Street in the Dryden Village Historic District.

One of Dryden's most prominent citizens, a local merchant named Jeremiah W. Dwight, became one of the earliest "developers" of the village beginning shortly after he built Dryden's only stone masonry commercial structure (8-10 West Main Street, c. 1852), near the "four corners" intersection. (Although extant, this structure has been severely altered and is not included.) Having purchased the Goddard farm located in the southeast quadrant of the village center by 1853, Dwight had "... laid out 'The Square' by cutting Pleasant and James Streets through the farm, platted the farm into building lots, and reserved for himself that portion which is now known as the Dwight homestead." (Goodrich, p. 216)

The "Square," as developed by Dwight, today provides an approximate boundary for the Dryden village Historic District. On the Dryden map from 1853, Pleasant and James Streets can be found, along with several of the Greek Revival style houses built by the local carpenter/builders Darius Givens, William Givens, and Daniel P. Bartholomew, Jr. One unique exception to the predominance of Greek Revival style structures is the Gothic Revival influenced house at 8 Pleasant Street featuring a steeply pitched cross-gabled roof with "shark's teeth" bargeboard embellishment. The house is unique not only within the historic district, but within the village as well.

The close of the first period of expansion associated with the timber industry was appropriately marked by the official incorporation of Dryden village in 1857 and by the coming of the Civil War. As did many communities throughout the northeast, the village suffered from the death and injury of many of its men who had fought for the Union. In terms of growth and prosperity, the Civil War served as a transition period in Dryden, for by this time it had largely exhausted its timber stands. As a result, residents began to cultivate the new stretches of cleared land, and the area made a rapid change from a timber to an agricultural economy. Dairy and livestock farming became the area's staple, and in time Dryden village came to serve as a vital agricultural center to which farmers brought their crops and dairy products.

Dryden's second period of expansion, from the close of the Civil War to the 1890s, was the most prosperous time in Dryden's history. A further incentive to development was the establishment of the South Central Railroad's Owego-Auburn line through the village in 1869. Thus the village became an important stop on a railroad route which brought Dryden into a more broadly based economy. New industries came to provide needed services to the rising agrarian economy and the village experienced new construction in both the residential and commercial sectors.

The new prosperity was reflected in local architecture by the large number of Italianate style structures built in the village at this time. Among the most notable examples of the style in Dryden are the Rockwell House, built between 1860 and 1866, at 52 West Main Street and two residences located in the historic district and built by Jeremiah W. Dwight and his business partner, Isaac P. Ferguson, in 1865 ("Towering Elms" or the "Dwight Homestead," located at 12 East Plain Street, and the Ferguson Home at 19 South Street). These homes feature elaborate carved wooden detailing in their bracketed cornices, window trim, and decorative porches. The Dwight Homestead was described in an article entitled "The Village of Dryden" from the Elmira Daily Advertiser, October 30, 1878. It stated that, "this would be classed as a fine house, even were it located upon the most aristocratic of your city avenues." The article also provides a description of the grounds, which were landscaped with ornamental trees and shrubs, plants and flowers.

In order to meet a growing demand for residential building lots, Jeremiah Dwight again subdivided his "Square" in 1864, cutting it in half east to west to form Union Street. The map of Dryden from 1866 shows a number of buildings built along the new street in the ensuing two years, with others to follow in the late 1860s and into the 1870s. These fine, two-story Italianate houses in the historic district were built primarily by Darius Givens and Daniel P. Bartholomew, Jr. Their nearly identical scale and siting, along with their uniformity in style and decorative detail, contribute to the outstanding level of cohesiveness on this block. Like other residential streets forming the "Square," Union Street was lined with maple trees which remain today a part of the historic landscape.

Along with the fine Italianate structures built in Dryden during this period, other notable examples of vernacular interpretations of "high style" American architecture were also constructed, including some rather unique Second Empire style homes. Two such homes are located within the historic district at 25 South Street and 10 Pleasant Street (circa 1870s). These homes feature delicate carved detailing and steeply pitched mansard roofs serving as the second floors. An original colored slate and floral patterned roof remains intact at 25 South Street. In addition, examples of Victorian Gothic style structures were also built in the village, perhaps the most notable of which is located in the historic district at 19 Union Street (c. 1887) featuring a decorative porch, Stick style bargeboard ornament, and vertical board and batten siding in the gable ends.

In 1874, the Methodist Episcopal Church was built to replace the original structure, which was lost due to a fire. The fine design and detail of this Romanesque Revival church, as well as its prominent location in the village makes it an important village landmark. Also during this prosperous period of Dryden's history, another of Dryden's finest landmarks was built, designed by the prominent Ithaca architect, William Henry Miller (1848-1922). This was the Richardsonian Romanesque style Southworth Library (1894). Miller is the best known architect of Ithaca, New York, having practiced there from 1871 to 1920. He came to Ithaca from what is now known as Barneveld, New York to enroll as a student of Cornell University in its first year of classes in 1868. Although leaving the school two years later, he was nonetheless Cornell's first architecture student. Working mostly in the Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance Revival styles, Miller was responsible for the design of over seventy buildings in the Ithaca area. The most notable of these include the Gothic Revival style Sage Mansion on Schuyler Place (1877); his own home, Heller House, at 122 Eddy Street (1876); the Richardsonian Romanesque style Uris Library (1888) and the Renaissance Revival style Risley Hall (1911) on the Cornell campus; and the Romanesque Revival style Greek Orthodox, Baptist and Unitarian churches, all located in Ithaca. Miller had an exceptionally fine sense of texture and detail in his works, which is well reflected in his design of the Southworth Library in Dryden village. The Southworth Library is particularly notable for it was designed as a small-scale version of Miller's design for the Uris Library on the Cornell campus.

During the post Civil War era, the railroad brought to Dryden the economic growth promised by the railroad companies. The farmers especially profited from the broadening of their markets. However, the railroad which had ushered Dryden into the modern era of transportation eventually had a negative effect on the community. By the 1890s, merchants and farmers were forced to compete with the large industries and agricultural centers now made accessible by the railroads, and customers gravitated to these centers for their trade and business.

However, even in the 1890s and into the early years of the twentieth century, buildings of considerable architectural significance continued to be constructed in the village. Among the most notable examples of the period is the Marvin House) built in 1895 and located at 9 Library Street. Its conical tower, Queen Anne style massing and Colonial Revival style decorative details make it unique in Dryden village. Other distinguished examples of turn-of-the-century designs located in the historic district include the Queen Anne style residences at 3 Pleasant Street (c. 1905) and 26 East Main Street (c. 1894-1897), featuring multi-textured surfaces, irregular massing, and other characteristic decorative details. A particularly unique house to Dryden, also located in the historic district at 30 East Main Street (c. 1905), is the "Catalog" style house built by its first owner, Franklin Hutchinson. Hutchinson, a Civil War veteran, designed and cast the concrete blocks to imitate cobblestone (foundation blocks) and rough cut masonry. He also fashioned a decorative geometric trim.

Lacking an industry to replace its agricultural service center base, Dryden began a long period of economic decline that lasted well into the twentieth century. Although farming was to remain successful in the village area, it took a new character after the turn of the century, as subsistence farming came to be replaced by business farming. A reflection, perhaps, of this turn of events was the increasing number of alterations made to earlier structures at the turn of the century. These appear as attempts to remodel and "modernize" old facades. In particular, many Greek Revival style houses were updated with the addition of Queen Anne style attributes; the most notable example is the house at 27 South Street in the historic district. Here, the addition of a central tower, bargeboard decoration, shingles and a porch have transformed the original structure in a unique manner.

In the early twentieth century, new construction in Dryden was more sporadic and less intense; it is represented within the historic district by some small-scale residences built upon some of the few remaining open lots within the original "Square." An example is the small house at 5 Union Street, c. 1924. These less pretentious structures reflect a suburban style, as in the Bungalow cottage at 20 East Main Street (c. 1947) and the Cape Cod [Colonial Revival] house at 18 Union Street (c. 1940).

The entire multiple resource area represents the development of a rural crossroads community from its early beginnings, circa 1800, through its flowering in the mid- to late-nineteenth century and finally to the culmination of its growth in the mid-twentieth century.


Goodrich, George E. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden: 1797-1897. 2nd edition, Ithaca, New York: Wilcox Press, 1975.

Selkreg, John H. Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York. 2nd edition, Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, 1976.

  1. Johnstone, Janette, New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Dryden Village Multiple Resource Area, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
James Street • Lake Street • Main Street East • Pleasant Street • Route 38 • Route 392 • South Street • Union Street